Planted Tank Guru
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Contra Costa CA
I would do this:
Do a better effort at cleaning the tank- substrate, filter, sponges. Do perhaps 25-50% water changes twice a week for a couple of weeks. This will provide cleaner conditions when you really start disturbing things.
Also, go through the procedure and make sure you have all the things you need.
If you need to prepare water ahead of time, prepare enough for 100% water change, or more. Rinse the substrate, have the plants ready.
The day of the change:
Turn off the equipment, unplug, remove.
Drain some of the cleanest water into several buckets for the fish. Catch the fish. Cover their buckets.
Gently remove the plastic plants, and other decor. Try not to stir up the substrate or debris. (This is why you did some really good cleaning ahead of time). Continue catching fish.
When you are ready to remove the substrate skim the top layer. Save this in a bucket with enough water to keep it damp. If you have a small pump or air bubbler, get it going in this.
Normally, a UGF grows beneficial bacteria all through it. But if you have not been keeping up the maintenance the substrate will revert to typical of a tank without a UGF- the only place the substrate has enough oxygen for the bacteria is the top layer or two.
Continue removing the rest of the substrate, the plates and the debris. Wipe down the walls of the tank.
Begin assembling the new tank: Substrate, decor, hills and valleys.
Plant, misting often.
Begin filling with the prepared water. Put a plate or plastic bag over the substrate and run the water in slowly, allowing it to seep over the sides of the the plate. This minimizes clouding. As the tank gets closer to full you can run it in faster, but lift the hose up so the water is not jetting into the substrate.
Put the reserved substrate in mesh bags and hang them in the tank in areas with good circulation. Another way to increase the bacteria population is to add a bottled product that includes Nitrospira species of bacteria. Read the label and do not waste your money on anything else.
Add the equipment, and turn it on when the water is deep enough.
Net the fish out of their buckets. Do not use the water from the buckets. Fish under stress produce excess ammonia and stress hormones, and you do not want to add this to the tank.
Keep the lights off the rest of the day, and do not feed.
Next day: Lights on. Feed only of the fish are acting normal, and perhaps only half as much. Test for ammonia, be prepared to do a water change, if needed. (If you added bottled bacteria, follow label directions about water changes)
Day after that: If there is any ammonia, feed less.
About once a week, remove one of the mesh bags that hold the substrate with lots of bacteria. This gradual removal will allow the bacteria colonize the new substrate and decor without depriving the tank of such a big % of its bacteria all at once.