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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi all,
I'm not totally new to aquarium living, but it's been a few years since I've had one set up. What I have currently is a 65 deep (24" height). I have (2) OTB Fluval C filters on either end and an airstone for looks. Lighting comes from a Finnex LED fixture which I love for the programmability (even if it is only in 3 hour increments). I have 14 assorted small Tetra (Neona nd Glowlight), 2 small Cory, 2 Yoyo loaches and 7 Otos (though there could be less - they are very good at hiding and we haven't found all of them at once in a while). I have some floating Frogbit which almost covers the top (thinned out every other week), micranthemum, swords and some other small plants I can't recall the names off off the top of my head. All are doing well - some of the taller plants are straggly but I try to keep them trimmed so they'll off-shoot. Decorations include 2 large-ish pieces of real driftwood (Eucalyptus from That Pet Place in Lancaster, PA), and a few misc granite and sandstone rocks. Rear wall decoration is a dimensional fish-safe epoxy creation.
Anyway, a few weeks ago we had an ammonia surge. I'm still trying to figure out where it came from, but it seems that all the beneficial bacteria suddenly disappeared for some reason. The tank has been set up since April, and was well cycled before we added any fish. I had algae growing on the outflow of the filters and all that suddenly turned white and sloughed off. We had a sudden insurgence of a white fungus growth on all the live plants (mostly the Frogbit roots, but was on the leaves and stems of the other plants - all except the micranthemum).
Current water parameters are:
PH: 7 (adjusted with a stabilizing agent - it had dropped to 6.3 last week with all the water changes)
Nitrates/Nitrites: 0
Ammonia: off the chart high
hardness: high to very high (using only those test strip things - have yet to purchase a hardness tester)

I've been doing 50% water changes every 4 days or so and adding AmmoLock with the changed water. I've added pre-filters and substituted the 'normal' floss filter media for a coarse mesh to help bacteria grow. We've been adding (over adding, probably) beneficial bacteria solution every couple days. It's been over two weeks since I tested the water and noticed the initial ammonia issue - but I absolutely cannot get the level to drop, no matter what I do. The fish, oddly, seem to be ok - gills look ok, no odd behaviours. I have cut back on feeding to once every other day in case that was/is part of the issue.

I'm totally at a loss. Out of the tap we have a fairly high chloramine level, so I've been adding SeaChem Prime conditioner to knock that down (and did run an independent test between the SeaChem and API products to see which worked better - SeaChem by a long shot). I've upped the flow through the airstone to see if that helps, but nothing seems to be.

So... I'm narrowing it down to missing Otos (if they are, indeed, dead and just not found) or possibly the driftwood. But I can't understand why I can't get it even remotely under control.
Thoughts?

Thanks, Rick
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks Mark. The SeaChem actually reduced the chloramine level by more than 50% over what the API was able to do. Still, after a week I would think I would see a reduction in the level as I test the waters from the bacteria doing their thing. So far, that hasn't happened.
 

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Any chance your test kit could be expired and giving inaccurate readings? Do you have a separate test kit for ammonia, just to make sure your readings are correct? If nitrite is neg, you must have something converting the ammonia to nitrite then nitrate. Anything changed or recently added with the tank - new decoration, etc? What kind of substrate do you have? Is the fungus still present?
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I thought about that, Afra. We bought the test kit with the tank, so it's under a year old. My wife brought home one of those "strip" kits a couple weeks ago and it reads the same way. So I bought SeaChem's free/total ammonia kits that arrived yesterday. With that kit, there indicated no free ammonia, but off the chart with total, so that tells me that the ammonia is bound but still present. No no decorations. Substrate is a mix of gravel and a plant substrate from CaribSea. The fungus, or whatever it was, seems to have resolved with the pH being raised back to 7. That was a weird happening...

One thing I hadn't mentioned is I have several trailing vining philodendron branches in the corner which have a nice grouping of roots. I was hoping that they would aid in the nitrite cycle with the other plants and give the Otos a place to hide. My wife is afraid that they are causing the issue, but I'm not so sure. Another person said I should be changing 75% of the water every day until the ammonia is gone - I'm hesitant to do that as I don't want to cause a pH crash.. though that can be mitigated with the buffer.

It's weird. Everything seems to be fine except for the bound ammonia level. If the bacteria for some reason did die off initially (maybe I cleaned the filters too often or incorrectly), maybe it's just taking some time for them to get back to a level where they can mitigate the ammonia again.
 

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I would say you have the test kit side covered so that can be ruled out. I would keep with the WC to try and keep the ammonia level from getting too far up there. 40%, 75% - at this point the larger can't hurt. More on that later on...

Any chance you can post a few pictures of your tank? Just to give us an idea of how it looks.

A few things to consider (and they may be on the extreme side) - I would probably want to move the fish to a hospital tank so you can get them out of the high ammonia environment. It's just the tetras, Cory's, loaches, and Otos, right? They may look fine but not really worth chancing it.

Plants should go in a separate container, not with the fish.

Next thing is to remove all the decorations/driftwood and place them in separate buckets. Use fresh water for that and you can test the water periodically to see if anything is causing the ammonia spike in the buckets.

Now you can do a 75% WC for the main tank. Check the ammonia levels and see where you are starting at after the WC and if it rises over the next few days. Also take out any ammonia removers from the filters (if your using them) so you can get an accurate reading on the main tank. You will also want to clean your filters (plastic wirebrush for any algae in the filter), change filter material, etc.

You also said you checked your WC water for ammonia - its negative or 0.0? Have you considered a water filter for your tap, at least to help remove the chloramine? Might be something to consider down the road.

Mark
 
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