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post #1 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-22-2018, 04:22 AM Thread Starter
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What else to do before starting over

All,

I have a huge mystery going on where I am unable to keep any fish alive, for more than two weeks, in all new 55gal tank. Before giving me the nitrogen cycle, your a newbie, standard answers, note I have raised fish for over 20 years. This post will be long but going to try to cover all the items and history with this tank. Looking for any last ideas before I shut this tank down and start all over.

The tank:
* 55gal SeaClear Acrylic Tank
* Aquaclear 70 filter -- two foam blocks and the bag of the biomedia that comes with it on top
* Fluval 250W heater
* Airpump and airstone.
* Black sand from Petco
* Several rocks from a previous tank that I have used for years.
* One new white rock from aquarium store, looks like coral but isn't (can't tell you what it is but came out of a cardboard box buried under some shelves)
* A few new plastic plants
* Two live plants left in their plastic containers.
* API Master Water testing kit.

My water source:
* Local city water. It tends to run at pH 7.6-7.8. Does sometimes smell like Chlorine. Area is a high limestone area and most of the city water comes from wells. Water seems to have a high Calcium (but I can't test that but have seen the results in my shower).

My method for adding water:
* Adjust bathtub faucet water to 78ish degrees. Fill two 5gal buckets.
* Treat water with Seachem Prime and stir in.
* Use a smaller 1gallon pitcher to slowly add water to tank. Once the Lowes bucket is light enough, I lift and add the rest of the water. It typically takes me about 5-8min to get 10gal added to the tank.

My method for adding fish:
* Remove water and fish from plastic bag into a 1gal plastic pitcher (the one used for adding water).
* Use airline with a knot to drip acclimate from my tank into pitcher.
* Make sure I don't fill the pitcher or go more than 1/2 new added water in less than 30min
* Once 3/4 my water to 1/4 fish store water, I move the pitcher into the tank and use it's handle to keep the pitcher from sinking into the tank.
* Typically takes an hour for the temperature to equalize
* Net each fish, one at a time, and into the tank they go.

Tank History:
Tank has been up now for a solid five months. When I got this new ClearSea tank, it came in a plastic bag. It washed the tank out really well but has never had a drop of soap in it. After two months of fish dieing, I stopped adding fish and did a fishless nitrogen cycle using pure ammonia (took forever to find but Tractor Supply Company has it) using a popular method posted on here and many websites. The cycling took 22 days and I plotted all the results in a spreadsheet. The ammonia and nitrites cycled as expected and big water change at the end brought nitrates back down. At the end, I could raise the tank's ammonia to 4.0ppm and it would be back to 0ppm within 24hrs. The plants seem to be soaking up some of the nitrates because nitrates never went above 20-40ppm.

During the fishless cycle, brown algae set in. We took out the white coral-like rock because we didn't want to have to scrub it. Left the other plants in there. Once we were done, scrubbed the remaining rocks and put them back in the tank. We left the brown algae on the plastic plants.

Fish:
We have been focused on mollies and platies. After the big cycle at the end of the fishless cycle, we added six Dalmatian mollies. One was pregnant. For 3 days, ammonia remained 0. Finally gave them a touch of food and momma gave birth to babies overnight. Ammonia was at 0.5 in the AM, Day 4. I did a 20gal water change before work, tested ammonia again and I was back in the 0.25ppm, no feeding for Day 6. When I got home from work on Day 7, the ammonia was back to 0. Nitrites never left 0ppm, Nitrates came up to 5ppm. Unfortunately, the babies were not in a breeder net and the mollies ate most of them, and the first molly was dead. For the next two days, I lost one molly per day. Meanwhile the ammonia never went above 0.25ppm and was either 0 or up just a touch.

When we got down to three Dalmation mollies (now at day 10), we added three Platies. I tested the store water to find their ammonia to be 1.0ppm. Mine was 0. Got them added to the tank (per my method above) and everyone was doing well again. At Day 12, I fed them and everyone went nuts for food. Then, one more molly died on day 13, and then next molly died on Day 14. The three Platies and the one remaining Dalmation were doing really well.

Two days ago, the last Dalmation died and one of the Platies died yesterday. The remaining two Platies just swim at the top and show signs of ammonia poisoning. I've tested the water every day for the past seven days and ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates have been 0ppm. I even compared tap water vs tank water in two tubes and cannot see a color difference.

Saturday, I pulled another 10gal (25ish% water change), no effect. Today, ammonia at 0ppm, Nitrities 0ppm, and Nitrates almost 0ppm (just up alittle but not enough to be 5ppm). Last two remaining platies are at the top just breathing heavily. I forecast at least one of them to be dead by morning despite it's been 3 days back at 0ppm Ammonia

Random other notes:
At one point before I did the fishless cycle, we wanted to see if we could keep even one Betta alive in this tank. She started showing unhealthy signs and stopped eating after only 3 days in the tank. We pulled her out and put her in a glass jar with freshly-treated tap water. Within a few days, she started eating again and she is beautiful now. That's what pushed me to do the fishless cycle.

My next steps:
Yesterday, I got out an old 10gal tank that I used 10+years ago for a "new babies" tank. I have set it up repeating my steps I did with the 55gal. Except, I'm using the heater, filter, and gravel that already went with the 10gal tank. I'm going to add a couple fish to it and see what happens. If the fish live there, then I know it's specific to the 55gal tank. If the fish die, then I know it's either something with my city tap water or my process.

Questions:
* What other chemicals could be present that would result in fish showing the same behavior as ammonia poisoning?
* Was there a prep step with acrylic over glass that I didn't do? I just rinsed it out real good nad moved on.
* Could chemipure elite possibly get out whatever this chemical is?
* The Fluval Heater keeps temperature spot on but could it be bad sending current through the water that would give the fish "ammonia posioning look"?
* Is it possible the sand is "bad"?

IF I decide to tear down the tank and start over, is there anything I can do with the sand? Like bleach bath it? Or should I trash the sand and start over? Or what if I let it completely dry out for several days?

What about washing the filter? Should I wash the foam out with bleach and then restart a nitrogen cycle .. just in case?

Any thoughts, insights, or recommendations...I'm all ears!

Thank you ahead of time!
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post #2 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-22-2018, 04:59 AM
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start with the 10 gallon to rule out water issues. If you succeed then start looking at other problems. you can test for stray voltage in your 55 using a multimeter (can't remember exactly how but you can search how online) if it's not heater or water then it's either the substrate or decorations in the tank or the source that the fish came from. did you get the fish from the same store? maybe it was a problem at the fish store and they werent doing well before you got them. lastly you can tear down the tank and bake the sand and other decorations in the oven to sanitize them or just buy new supplies and start over. hope you figure it out and get up and running soon!

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post #3 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-22-2018, 04:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mcdansg View Post
My method for adding water:
* Adjust bathtub faucet water to 78ish degrees. Fill two 5gal buckets.
* Treat water with Seachem Prime and stir in.
* Use a smaller 1gallon pitcher to slowly add water to tank. Once the Lowes bucket is light enough, I lift and add the rest of the water. It typically takes me about 5-8min to get 10gal added to the tank.
You should dose Prime for the total water volume of the system not just the new water being added in. You did mention the tap water sometimes has a chlorine scent? Enough chlorine in the water can cause fish to show similar symptoms to ammonia poisoning.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mcdansg View Post
My method for adding fish:
* Use airline with a knot to drip acclimate from my tank into pitcher.
I know plenty of people swear by the drip acclimation method. I've had far better luck with the good old plop and drop method. I float the bag from teh store in my tank til temperatures are close; then pour the bag/water/fish into a net to get rid of the fish store water and place the fish in the tank. Quick. Simple. Done. This also lessens the possibility of a sudden explosion of ammonia in the bag that the fish traveled in. You note below that the water from the fish store had an ammonia reading of 1ppm. The bag that you brought the fish in had that....doesnt mean the tank did. How long are the fish in the bag before you get home? The sudden release of co2 and influx of oxygen when opening the bag can cause some whacky chemistry to happen!


Quote:
Originally Posted by mcdansg View Post

The cycling took 22 days and I plotted all the results in a spreadsheet. The ammonia and nitrites cycled as expected and big water change at the end brought nitrates back down. At the end, I could raise the tank's ammonia to 4.0ppm and it would be back to 0ppm within 24hrs. The plants seem to be soaking up some of the nitrates because nitrates never went above 20-40ppm.

The remaining two Platies just swim at the top and show signs of ammonia poisoning. I've tested the water every day for the past seven days and ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates have been 0ppm. I even compared tap water vs tank water in two tubes and cannot see a color difference.
I know its not what you want to hear but sounds like the cycle is either not complete or the chlorine in your tap water decimated the population of beneficial bacteria. I think I messed up the quote a bit above, but the small ammonia readings you saw after adding some fish just shouldn't happen in a cycled tank.....not with so few fish anyway. Also the nitrate reading of 0 in the tank is suspect as well. Its all but impossible for there to be zero nitrate (even in a planted tank) if the system is established. Nitrate is the end result of the nitrogen cycle. No nitrate means its likely not cycled.

Rich's Fishes
Curator of an ever growing fishroom that currently houses 30 different tanks. Most full of at least water....some even have fish!
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post #4 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-22-2018, 09:01 PM Thread Starter
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Ok, so let's say I'm under-dosing on the Prime and the chlorine coming out of the tap is exceptionally high, let's see if my logic is right...

1) I add said chlorine to tank
2) It instantly kills bacteria
3) But then chlorine evaporates off
4) I react to slight ammonia spike and "do a water change" to bring ammonia down
5) When in reality I'm adding more chlorine which just killed off more bacteria that was recovering from the first water change

Due that a few times and fish start to die off, I can't find the chlorine because it's now evaporate off and I'm stumped why I'm seeing an ammonia spike.

Next question...what causes nitrates to come back down? I thought that once Nitrates were coming up, it should stay up. In my graphing, at one point in the fishless cycle, I had Nitrates above 100ppm. As I got through the Nitrite spike and the tank was processing the ammonia and nitrites within a day, the nitrates actually started to fall. I assumed it was the plants. How can nitrates reduce?
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post #5 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-22-2018, 09:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mcdansg View Post
Ok, so let's say I'm under-dosing on the Prime and the chlorine coming out of the tap is exceptionally high, let's see if my logic is right...

1) I add said chlorine to tank
2) It instantly kills bacteria
3) But then chlorine evaporates off
4) I react to slight ammonia spike and "do a water change" to bring ammonia down
5) When in reality I'm adding more chlorine which just killed off more bacteria that was recovering from the first water change

Due that a few times and fish start to die off, I can't find the chlorine because it's now evaporate off and I'm stumped why I'm seeing an ammonia spike.

Next question...what causes nitrates to come back down? I thought that once Nitrates were coming up, it should stay up. In my graphing, at one point in the fishless cycle, I had Nitrates above 100ppm. As I got through the Nitrite spike and the tank was processing the ammonia and nitrites within a day, the nitrates actually started to fall. I assumed it was the plants. How can nitrates reduce?
Your logic seems plausible to me!

Plants will consume nitrates. Really the only other way to lessen nitrates is via manual removal (water changes).

Rich's Fishes
Curator of an ever growing fishroom that currently houses 30 different tanks. Most full of at least water....some even have fish!
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post #6 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-22-2018, 09:29 PM
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I use the Python system to add water, so it basically adds my tap water directly into the tank. I switch off the filter when adding water. I add the dechlorinator to the tank directly when I am adding the tap water. I do this because I understand the denitrifying bacteria primarily live in my filter, not in my tank. So, my logic is that I don't want chlorine in my tank to kill the bacteria (steps 1 and 2 in your post above) so I never have the filter running when I am potentially adding chlorine to the tank. I only switch on the filter after my tank is filled up and dechlorinator has been in it for at least 5 mins.

Also, as far as I know, chlorine does not evaporate off. I've read that leaving tap water standing will not automatically dechlorinate it.

Full disclosure: I am a newbie too, and I havent had fish for too long. So, who am I to speak? But I've been doing a lot of research to set up my tank and the above thoughts that I provided are consistent with my research as well as my limited but current experience. Hope this helps.
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post #7 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-22-2018, 09:43 PM
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If I read the posting correctly, and that is not a certain thing, so correct if needed, but I think you are doing the dechlor correctly. I am reading you treat the water BEFORE adding to the tank. If that is true, it only requires treatment for that amount of water. If adding the water to the tank and then treating, it should be the amount for the total tank volume but in either case, I don't see chlorine as the primary problem. Some question about the period between finishing the cycle and adding fish, perhaps? Was this a long enough time to allow the bacteria to back down far enough to bother as it does grown and decline to meet the food supply.
Doesn't really sound likely as you have been aware and have been testing for ammonia, etc. but something to review.
Other theories, perhaps? There can be things in new tanks that should be cleaned to avoid the unknown factors. Things like pesticides get sprayed around shops and some are pretty careless with where so I do a bleach soak and run all equipment, just to clear that questions. Not thinking it likely since some fish survive while other newer fish don't. Just a thought.
Got a place to move the fish for a day or so? I might start with making sure of the cycle as being somewhat easy and definite. You need to get some definite answers before jumping to the big tear down thing. So if one can move the fish out, add ammonia to bump the level up just like one might at the end of the fishless cycle, it may tell you that point. If the tank is processing the ammonia, consider that point off the table.
Meantime, I might look at decor items, even if bought at a shop. We do not really know the supply change as well as we might have 20 years ago and there are some things imported that are actually dangerous, so I do not bet on all things from the store, if there is reason to doubt. Remove any suspects until the solution is found?
The sand is a question of how much expense if thrown out versus how much time/effort to clear/clean it. Sand is durable and does fine in a bleach soak but it does require more work than many things as it does need more time and moving it around to get it dried fully. Ten dollars expense versus several days spreading out and turning sand might make me buy new! But I would not tear down -----not yet, anyway!
Note that chloramine treated water can often show ammonia on tests when it is actually ammonium left due to the way Prime works. It changes the dangerous ammonia to the far less dangerous ammonium but it still tests on our kits, at times. The .25 sounds like ammonium and that is just plant food. No hazard.

EDIT/NOTE:
On the post above? Chlorine does gas off fine and it was normal to just let water set to clear chlorine treatment but when chloramine was developed to make it stay in the water longer, we had to start using a product like Prime to break the bond and clear the chloramine.

Last edited by PlantedRich; 05-22-2018 at 09:51 PM. Reason: added
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post #8 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-22-2018, 09:55 PM
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Originally Posted by SkyLight View Post
I use the Python system to add water, so it basically adds my tap water directly into the tank. I switch off the filter when adding water. I add the dechlorinator to the tank directly when I am adding the tap water. I do this because I understand the denitrifying bacteria primarily live in my filter, not in my tank. So, my logic is that I don't want chlorine in my tank to kill the bacteria (steps 1 and 2 in your post above) so I never have the filter running when I am potentially adding chlorine to the tank. I only switch on the filter after my tank is filled up and dechlorinator has been in it for at least 5 mins.

Also, as far as I know, chlorine does not evaporate off. I've read that leaving tap water standing will not automatically dechlorinate it.

Full disclosure: I am a newbie too, and I havent had fish for too long. So, who am I to speak? But I've been doing a lot of research to set up my tank and the above thoughts that I provided are consistent with my research as well as my limited but current experience. Hope this helps.


Just to clarify a few things for you. Chlorine does evaporate out of water but chloramine does not. (If you can 100% confirm your water source has no chloramine you can age tap water for water changes with no issues instead of using a dechlor). Your understanding of the the bacteria is correct it does primarily live in the filter. But not the filter alone. It will colonize on literally every single surface within the tank (the substrate, the walls and floor, the cord from your heater, etc.). It needs the surface area which is why bio media is nothing other than something with lots and lots and lots of surface area. Pretty much the only place its not is the water itself! But, its also a bit hardier than you might realize so its probably not necessary to shut off your filter when adding new water (although its theoretically not wrong to do what you're doing!)

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post #9 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-22-2018, 11:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lksdrinker View Post
Just to clarify a few things for you. Chlorine does evaporate out of water but chloramine does not. (If you can 100% confirm your water source has no chloramine you can age tap water for water changes with no issues instead of using a dechlor). Your understanding of the the bacteria is correct it does primarily live in the filter. But not the filter alone. It will colonize on literally every single surface within the tank (the substrate, the walls and floor, the cord from your heater, etc.). It needs the surface area which is why bio media is nothing other than something with lots and lots and lots of surface area. Pretty much the only place its not is the water itself! But, its also a bit hardier than you might realize so its probably not necessary to shut off your filter when adding new water (although its theoretically not wrong to do what you're doing!)
Thanks! Great distinction between chlorine and chloramine! Learnt something new today!

And yes, agreed on the bacteria front - it does grow everywhere, just that the filter is the primary location. I just didn't want to test its hardiness if I could avoid it by merely turning off the filter during water changes :-)
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post #10 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-22-2018, 11:50 PM
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Some details to add may make it a bit easier to deal with the dechlor process. The reason for the different amount when we treat first or after the water is in the tank is what they call diffusion. It's sounds silly but easier to understand diffusion if we think of something we can see and do.
Say we are a bit of Prime and we want to find our girl (chlorine??) at a party. At a party of ten (gallon?) we can find her easy enough. But if the party is 100 (gallons again?) we may need 10 times as many folks helping to find her before one of us wanders off somewhere!
So if we are treating a ten gallon bucket we can use 1/10 of what we need to use in a 100 gallon tank! Use the amount for the container where you are treating.
But the idea of treating isa not really as super critical as we might sound. The bacteria is all around and it does bounce back really much quicker once it is established. So if we do happen to kill some with adding at the wrong time or a bit too little, there is a lot of slack built in the products. If I remember correctly it is designed to deal with 10 PPM of chlorine content and that is the max allowed by regs in the states. So it is normal to find the water is arriving at our house with far less chlorine than allowed, often more in the range of 4PPM of chlorine. And it is true that Prime allows for a pretty wide range of overdose. Not like a whole bottle overdose but we are covered for any small mistakes like two teaspoons instead of one.
Time is also not critical as many dose either before, during, or after adding the water and all three seem to work the same with no known bad results.
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