Persistent Ammonia at 2.0 - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-12-2016, 01:20 AM Thread Starter
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Persistent Ammonia at 2.0

Just established a new planted tank, front loaded bacteria when I first set it up and ran it for another week before planting. Up and running with Finnex Ray2, GLA CO2 injection, Flourite substrate and moderate ferts. Checked the ammonia a day after I added the first fish (Betta) and it was 2.0. I immediately did a 50% water change and then checked it the next day...again, 2.0 and yet again another 50% water change. Today I checked it again (now three days in a row)...yep, 2.0 ammonia and the third 50% water change. Now in a near panic, I filled up a media bag with Marineland charcoal/ammonia removing media and hung it in the tank. I'll eventually layer it into the Eheim 2213 I have, but didn't want to disrupt the filter yet.

Any ideas on why I cannot get this ammonia level down??? I should also mention the Betta just got added so there isn't any significant waste material in the tank yet.
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post #2 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-12-2016, 01:27 AM
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What you do mean by front loading the tank with bacteria? Did you use something out of a bottle? Cycled filter media? Something else?

Have you tested for nitrites?
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post #3 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-12-2016, 04:42 AM
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The Betta should be removed. Maybe floated in a container until your tank cycles. It takes about six weeks to get a filter cycled. After that, they sometimes crash. Like when you forget to turn the filter back on after a water change. Usually, it's alright to have one fish to get things started but one fish doesn't pass that much ammonia. It seems like something is leaching ammonia into the water. Was your Fluorite rinsed in a bucket that ever contained ammonia for household cleaning? Were you using Ammonium Chloride or something to feed your seeded denitrifying bacteria? Maybe your calcite clay substrate with it cation exchange capacity retained some ammonia.
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post #4 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-12-2016, 11:56 AM Thread Starter
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Yes, Tetra SafeStart. No, I have not tested for Nitrates...what should I be looking for and what will it tell me?

Bump: I put a full bottle of Tetra Safe Start in when I first filled the tank and waited another week before planting. The point of the Safe Start is being able to avoid a six week cycle. Yes, the Flourite was extensively washed in a brand new 5 gallon plastic bucket I drilled holes in for drainage. It was completely clean when it went in the tank. There really isn't anything else that would cause this...that's my frustration. The Eheim filter even has a new charcoal pad in it.
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post #5 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-12-2016, 12:01 PM
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I have a sneaking suspicion that your tank is not cycled which is why you are having ammonia issues. All the other causes for ammonia do not apply.

You tank needs to cycle. It starts with ammonia which is processed by nitrites, which are then are converted to nitrates. Testing for nitrites will tell you if your tank is cycling / the ammonia in the tank is being processed, which according to your post, it isn't.

Flourite doesn't cause ammonia spikes. Tanks have to cycle. There is no avoiding it.
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post #6 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-12-2016, 02:52 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks Smooch...I guess I don't understand the purpose of loading up on bacteria (in this case with Smart Start) if it still has to cycle. However, I think you're right because there is no explanation otherwise. I'll test for the NITRITES when I get home tonight...still learning the chemistry of this process and appreciate the guiding light!
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post #7 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-12-2016, 03:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Mr. Bean View Post
Thanks Smooch...I guess I don't understand the purpose of loading up on bacteria (in this case with Smart Start) if it still has to cycle. However, I think you're right because there is no explanation otherwise. I'll test for the NITRITES when I get home tonight...still learning the chemistry of this process and appreciate the guiding light!
No problem.

Don't sweat the whole bacteria thing. Companies make the stuff with bogus promises and the places that carry the crap tout the same bogus promises because it makes them money as well. It's a problem hobby wide and the only thing hobbyists can do is educate.

As for your betta, lots of water changes are going to keep him or her going during the cycle process. Keeping the ammonia down will prevent ammonia burns to the gills which is not something they recover from.

For many people, the nitrite to nitrate part of the cycle lasts the longest. Nitrites are less toxic than ammonia, but you still don't want those numbers getting out of control. Again, water changes will help as well as water conditioner such as Prime which detoxes both the ammonia and nitrites. I use Prime in my tanks as well as many others around here. The only trouble you could get into using Prime is overdosing, so don't do that. Dose appropriately as otherwise your betta will be at the top gasping for air.

Water changes, test kits ( ammonia, nitrite, nitrate) water conditioner, time and patience. Those will 'fix' this problem. Keeping the betta's stress as low as possible should be your end goal aside from having a cycled tank.
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post #8 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-12-2016, 11:12 PM
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I'm not saying Fluorite causes Ammonia spikes. I was just speculating on whether or not the Fluorite somehow came into contact with Ammonia and could be leaching it into the water. Which the OP says didn't happen. Just troubleshooting here. Also, 2.0 ppm Ammonia is a ridiculous amount of Ammonia. It is probably 0.2 ppm Ammonia which is distressing. Otherwise, anabantoid or not, the Betta would be dead already.
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post #9 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-12-2016, 11:21 PM
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The info below is from @Diana

Here is the fishless cycle. I know it is long, but there is a lot of info that may be helpful.
Cycle: To grow the beneficial bacteria that remove ammonia and nitrite from the aquarium.

Fish-In Cycle: To expose fish to toxins while using them as the source of ammonia to grow nitrogen cycle bacteria. Exposure to ammonia burns the gills and other soft tissue, stresses the fish and lowers their immunity. Exposure to nitrite makes the blood unable to carry oxygen. Research methemglobinemia for details.

Fishless Cycle: The safe way to grow more bacteria, faster, in an aquarium, pond or riparium.

The method I give here was developed by 2 scientists who wanted to quickly grow enough bacteria to fully stock a tank all at one time, with no plants helping, and overstock it as is common with Rift Lake Cichlid tanks.

1a) Set up the tank and all the equipment. You can plant if you want. Include the proper dose of dechlorinator with the water.
Optimum water chemistry:
GH and KH above 3 German degrees of hardness. A lot harder is just fine.
pH above 7, and into the mid 8s is just fine.
Temperature in the upper 70s F (mid 20s C) is good. Higher is OK if the water is well aerated.
A trace of other minerals may help. Usually this comes in with the water, but if you have a pinch of KH2PO4, that may be helpful.
High oxygen level. Make sure the filter and power heads are running well. Plenty of water circulation.
No toxins in the tank. If you washed the tank, or any part of the system with any sort of cleanser, soap, detergent, bleach or anything else make sure it is well rinsed. Do not put your hands in the tank when you are wearing any sort of cosmetics, perfume or hand lotion. No fish medicines of any sort.
A trace of salt (sodium chloride) is OK, but not required.

This method of growing bacteria will work in a marine system, too. The species of bacteria are different.

1b) Optional: Add any source of the bacteria that you are growing to seed the tank. Cycled media from a healthy tank is good. Decor or some gravel from a cycled tank is OK. Live plants or plastic are OK. I have even heard of the right bacteria growing in the bio film found on driftwood. (So if you have been soaking some driftwood in preparation to adding it to the tank, go ahead and put it into the tank) Bottled bacteria is great, but only if it contains Nitrospira species of bacteria. Read the label and do not waste your money on anything else. At the time this was written the right species could be found in:
Dr. Tims One and Only
Tetra Safe Start
Microbe Lift Nite Out II
You do not have to jump start the cycle. The right species of bacteria are all around, and will find the tank pretty fast.

2) Add ammonia until the test reads 5 ppm. This ammonia is the cheapest you can find. No surfactants, no perfumes. Read the fine print. This is often found at discount stores like Dollar Tree, or hardware stores like Ace. You could also use a dead shrimp form the grocery store, or fish food. Protein breaks down to become ammonia. You do not have good control over the ammonia level, though.
Some substrates release ammonia when they are submerged for the first time. Monitor the level and do enough water changes to keep the ammonia at the levels detailed below.

3) Test daily. For the first few days not much will happen, but the bacteria that remove ammonia are getting started. Finally after a week or 2, the ammonia starts to drop. Add a little more, once a day, to test 5 ppm.

4) Test for nitrite. A day or so after the ammonia starts to drop the nitrite will show up. When it does allow the ammonia to drop to 3 ppm.

5) Test daily. Add ammonia to 3 ppm once a day. If the nitrite or ammonia go to 5 ppm do a water change to get these lower. The ammonia removing species and the nitrite removing species (Nitrospira) do not do well when the ammonia or nitrite are over 5 ppm.

6) When the ammonia and nitrite both hit zero 24 hours after you have added the ammonia the cycle is done. You can challenge the bacteria by adding a bit more than 3 ppm ammonia, and it should be able to handle that, too, within 24 hours.

7) Now test the nitrate. Probably sky high!
Do as big a water change as needed to lower the nitrate until it is safe for fish. Certainly well under 20, and a lot lower is better. This may call for more than one water change, and up to 100% water change is not a problem. Remember the dechlor!
If you will be stocking right away (within 24 hours) no need to add more ammonia. If stocking will be delayed keep feeding the bacteria by adding ammonia to 3 ppm once a day. You will need to do another water change right before adding the fish.
__________________________

Helpful hints:

A) You can run a fishless cycle in a bucket to grow bacteria on almost any filter media like bio balls, sponges, ceramic bio noodles, lava rock or Matala mats. Simply set up any sort of water circulation such as a fountain pump or air bubbler and add the media to the bucket. Follow the directions for the fishless cycle. When the cycle is done add the media to the filter. I have run a canister filter in a bucket and done the fishless cycle.

B) The nitrogen cycle bacteria will live under a wide range of conditions and bounce back from minor set backs. By following the set up suggestions in part 1a) you are setting up optimum conditions for fastest reproduction and growth.
GH and KH can be as low as 1 degree, but watch it! These bacteria use the carbon in carbonates, and if it is all used up (KH = 0) the bacteria may die off.
pH as low as 6.5 is OK, but by 6.0 the bacteria are not going to be doing very well. They are still there, and will recover pretty well when conditions get better.
Temperature almost to freezing is OK, but they must not freeze, and they are not very active at all. They do survive in a pond, but they are slow to warm up and get going in the spring. This is where you might need to grow some in a bucket in a warm place and supplement the pond population. Too warm is not good, either. Tropical or room temperature tank temperatures are best. (68 to 85*F or 20 to 28*C)
Moderate oxygen can be tolerated for a while. However, to remove lots of ammonia and nitrite these bacteria must have oxygen. They turn one into the other by adding oxygen. If you must stop running the filter for an hour or so, no problem. If longer, remove the media and keep it where it will get more oxygen.
Once the bacteria are established they can tolerate some fish medicines. This is because they live in a complex film called Bio film on all the surfaces in the filter and the tank. Medicines do not enter the bio film well.
These bacteria do not need to live under water. They do just fine in a humid location. They live in healthy garden soil, as well as wet locations.

C) Planted tanks may not tolerate 3 ppm or 5 ppm ammonia. It is possible to cycle the tank at lower levels of ammonia so the plants do not get ammonia burn. Add ammonia to only 1 ppm, but test twice a day, and add ammonia as needed to keep it at 1 ppm. The plants are also part of the bio filter, and you may be able to add the fish sooner, if the plants are thriving.


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post #10 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-12-2016, 11:28 PM
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Tetra SafeStart is one of the good bacterial starters. Your tank should have cycled within 48 hours.

You say you let the tank run for a week without any plants or fish, then added plants and let it run for a while, then added a fish. Since the bacteria eat ammonia, if the tank went that long without fish or another source of ammonia, it's likely you starved all the bacteria that were in the SafeStart. You'll need to add another bottle.

BTW, if your tank is small, you can get away with adding less than the whole bottle. I've had success adding just a few tablespoons to my 5.5g to cycle it. Just make sure you shake it well first.

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post #11 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-13-2016, 12:27 AM
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Fishless cycling is the best way to go IMO. If things go bad for some reason, no fish harmed. However, since it can't be done with fish in the tank and moving a already stressed fish from one place to another causes more stress, I personally think it is best to deal with the situation at hand.

I found a FAQ thread regarding Safe Start. Q & A With Tetra About Tetra SafeStart - 58116

Tetra tells people to only add one fish per 10 gallons, but it's okay to fully stock a tank as long as a person keeps tabs on things.

They go on to talk about how a tank is not fully cycled for 2 weeks.

Then there is this:

Quote:
In regards to ammonia products, yes, they kill TSS. Any type, whether a chloramines remover or detoxifier, etc, anything that says it locks up ammonia or removes ammonia. Do not add TSS for 24 hours after using such a product, and do not add such a product for at least 7 days after using TSS. The bacteria is housed in a special stabilized solution of ammonia, so if you remove/lock up the ammonia, you remove all of the food the bacteria require to live.
So since most of the world does not function on RO or well water, what is a person supposed to do to treat their water from the very things that kill a healthy bacterial cycle?

I'm not picking on anybody that likes and or uses these types of products, but honestly, even Tetra's own answers do not make any sense whatsoever.
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post #12 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-13-2016, 11:39 AM
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Interesting. I've never read that article before. I've used safestart several times without fail. I usually have the tank set up and running (prime added when the tank was filled), then add fish and safestart at the same time. I've also added safestart after a heavy filter cleaning if the fish showed signs of ammonia stress. Usually the fish are back to normal within a day or two.

I will add the caveat that I don't test my tank water. I go by fish behavior. If the fish are gasping at the surface, flashing, or if their gills are red, then I assume ammonia is the problem and either do a water change or add some safestart (depending on the suspected cause - safestart won't help if the tank needs maintenance).

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post #13 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-13-2016, 11:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Fishly View Post
Interesting. I've never read that article before. I've used safestart several times without fail. I usually have the tank set up and running (prime added when the tank was filled), then add fish and safestart at the same time. I've also added safestart after a heavy filter cleaning if the fish showed signs of ammonia stress. Usually the fish are back to normal within a day or two.

I will add the caveat that I don't test my tank water. I go by fish behavior. If the fish are gasping at the surface, flashing, or if their gills are red, then I assume ammonia is the problem and either do a water change or add some safestart (depending on the suspected cause - safestart won't help if the tank needs maintenance).
Over the years I've tried many of the so-called instant tank cycling products and none of them have worked. A bottle of pure ammonia and a couple test kits works best for me or using cycled filter media.

I sat here and giggled with their mention of fully stocking a cichlid tank. A brand new, fully stocked ( typically overstocked, undersized tank) african cichlid tank is going to have issues in the wrong hands and that's not even addressing the behavioral stuff. Said newbie is not going to trot off to the store and buy many things of bottled water to do water changes should problems arise. Water changes as a rule are something many want to avoid.

Even their advice for how many fish to add to a non-cichlid tank. 1 fish per 10 gallons. That's fine, but what about the people that try to cram in as many fish as they can into a 2.5 gallon?

The disconnect from the corporate world and the real world will always rear it's ugly head.
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post #14 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-13-2016, 01:10 PM
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Did you treat the tap water before you put the SafeStart in? I wonder if the tap water killed the bacteria up front. Do you know anyone in the area who is a fish keeper? You could just get some filter media rinsing leftover and toss them in the tank. Would work as well or better than the SafeStart and it's free.
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post #15 of 18 (permalink) Old 07-13-2016, 01:51 PM Thread Starter
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Wow...lot of feedback in these posts...and greatly appreciated one and all. YES, I treated the water before I put it in the tank, and then added the Safe Start. I was intrigued by FISHLY's post that my letting the tank run for a week without any plants or fish may have starved the bacteria. That makes sense, and may have been at least part of the problem. I'd previously mentioned I added a sack of charcoal and ammonia removing Marineland media and before I did yet another 50 percent water change last night checked the ammonia which had gone from 2 down to 1...so I'm hoping I'm on a downward path here.

Also noted the comment that Tetra admits a tank won't be fully cycle for two weeks...I missed that on the bottle/directions...so obviously if that's the case I'm on that two week edge right now and should see some improvements soon.

Its clear there are a lot of different approaches to this cycling issue, and perhaps my novice experience level contributed to my current problem...but I honestly expect some improvements in the next few days and really do appreciate everyone's input/contributions.
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