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Ammonia Refuses To Go Down!!! :(

Discussion in 'New to the Hobby Questions and Answers' started by BigDummy, May 14, 2019.

  1. BigDummy

    BigDummy New Member

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    Before I get into my issue, let me give you some background info about my tank.
    • Tank up time: 1 1/2 months (Started at the beginning of April)
    • Size: ~52 G/182 L
    • Type: Freshwater
    • Filter: 2x 6-inch bar airstones, AquaOne 600 Filter
    • Substrate: Small tan/white/brown gravel substrate approximately 2 inches to 4 inches thick in depth dependent on the spot in the tank.
    • Plants: ~12 stems of great ambulia, ~12 stems of water wisteria, 4 small cryptocorynes, 4 small anubias, 2 large amazon swords, 1 small patch of dwarf baby tear. All plants are growing excellently except for the dwarf baby tears, which I kind of expected due to my substrate being gravel, but I thought I'd try it anyway.
    • Fish: 1 2inch pearl lace gourami, 2 1.5inch angel fish, 6 1-.5inch corydoras, 2 1inch siamese algae eaters, 11 .5inch ember tetras. I started putting fish in about 2 weeks ago on different days. I started with the corydoras, then the gourami, then the siamese algae eaters, then angel fish and finally the tetras.
    • Temperature: ALWAYS between 25-27C(77-80F) day and night. I have no need for a heater due to the area I live in and the temperature my house stays at. I live in the northern area of Australia, so it's pretty much always summer. I do own a heater... it's just not in the tank.
    At the start: I thought my tank was cycled at the time I started putting fish in because my ammonia was 0, nitrites 0, and nitrates barely at a detectable amount after about a 20% water change. I figured my plants were growing so well that they were handling a lot of the toxins. pH was ~7.2 - 7 at this time. When I first set up the tank, I used API Tap Water Conditioner & API Quick Start. I put some fish food in a small stocking and let it sit in the tank for a while to speed up the cycling.

    After adding fish: Shortly after adding all the fish, the ammonia started rising and stayed around 4 ppm with no nitrites/nitrates. It's been a full week since all of my fish have been in the tank and now I have no nitrates or nitrites and my ammonia is STILL at a whopping 4 ppm. The temperature is still at 25-27C. The pH has gone down to from 7 to 6.8 and now today to 6.6. All of the fish seem fine & happy. Their colors are good, they are not lethargic, not struggling to breathe, eating fine when I do feed them. I am assuming they are okay because the pH is so acidic and the temperature isn't very high so the ammonia is currently ammonium.

    Now: On the first day I noticed this spike this time last week, I immediately did a 50% water change. The ammonia dropped from 4ppm to about 2ppm. The next day, the ammonia was right back up to 4ppm. I did another 50% change and it dropped to about 2ppm again. The next day, again, 4ppm, so I did another 50% water change. And it's been like this every day this past week. I cannot get the ammonia/ammonium any lower than 2ppm and even then it still rises back up to 4ppm even when I don't feed the fish. I scoop the water out with a small 2L bucket. For half of the week, I was putting water in straight from the hose and then adding in the tap water conditioner(API Stress Coat), but then I thought about it and the chlorine in the water and how it could harm the bacteria, so I started doing something different half way through. I fill a large cooler up with water from my hose and mix the appropriate amount of water conditioner in it, swirl it around with my hand and let it sit for about 10 minutes. I then scoop the water back in from the cooler. The water from the hose tests at 7 pH, 0 ammonia, 0 nitrites, 0 nitrates, and has the same temperature as my tank. I have not cleaned the gravel as I did not think it was necessary given to how short of a time the fish have been in the tank & how long it has been set up. I started only feed them a couple small pinches of tetra tropical fish fish flakes once a day, but now once every 3 days.

    Basically, now I feel like an idiot with new tank syndrome and I don't know what to do. :-( I am lost. I don't really know why the ammonia/ammonium won't go down. I have no other tanks, so I can't put my fish in another one. They seem happy right now and have no signs of ammonia poisoning anyway.

    I know that bacteria lives on the plants, in the gravel and in the filter and not necessarily too much in the water, but with the frequency/amount of water changing I am doing, am I removing too much of the good bacteria?
    Could I have killed off bacteria by adding in the water straight from the hose and THEN adding in the tap water conditioner?
    Should I keep doing 50% water changes every day? It seems to do nothing.
    Should I do multiple 50% water changes in one day?
    Should I do a lesser amount?
    Should I just leave it alone for a week, but test the water every day?
    Is the ammonia/ammonium too high for the bacteria to do anything?
    Is the bacteria struggling to deal with that much ammonia/ammonium?

    I've tried looking this issue up in several different places, but so many people say very different things online for slightly different situations. I don't have a local fish store as I live in a rural area. The pet stores aren't as knowledgeable. I don't know anyone else experienced in fish keeping.

    Please help :unsure:

    Thanks in advance for your help and advice!
     
  2. Colin_T

    Colin_T Member

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    Hi and welcome to the forum :)

    If you can post a picture of the tank we might be able to see something that is causing the ammonia.

    What is in the substrate?
    Is there driftwood in the tank?

    ---------------------------
    Ammonia levels need to be kept as low as possible and if it goes above 4ppm, the beneficial filter bacteria can stop growing. If you are not feeding the fish much, the ammonia has to be coming form something in the tank, perhaps a dead fish, rotting plant, or something in the substrate.

    If you get some buckets of tap water and make sure they have 0 ammonia in, you can add a handful of substrate to one bucket, ornaments to another bucket, driftwood to another bucket and leave one bucket with only water in.
    Monitor the ammonia and pH levels in these buckets of water for a couple of days and see what happens. If one bucket gets an ammonia reading, then whatever is in that bucket is causing the problem.

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    You can change 90% of the tank water every day, as long as the new water is free of chlorine/ chloramine before it's added to the tank. And as long as the new water has a similar chemistry (pH, GH & KH) and temperature to the water that was removed from the tank.

    You should get a couple of big plastic buckets, rubbish bin, storage container and fill it with tap water. Add enough dechlorinator to treat that container of water. Aerate it for at least a couple of minutes (preferably 30 minutes or more), and then use a small water pump and some hose to pump the water into the tank.

    Adding tap water to a tank and then dechlorinating it is unlikely to wipe out filter bacteria but could poison all the fish.

    ---------------------------
    If you add some floating plants like Duckweed or Water Sprite (Ceratopteris thalictroides/ cornuta) to the tank, they will use some of the ammonia in the water and help keep the levels lower. They might even be able to use it all, but you need to try and work out where it's coming from.
     
  3. BigDummy

    BigDummy New Member

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    Hey! Thank you so much for responding!
    The substrate is "Whites Landscaping Stone 10kg 3-5mm Fine Pebble" Link to it: https://www.bunnings.com.au/whites-landscaping-stone-10kg-3-5mm-fine-pebble_p3452481
    I washed the pebbles several times over over the course of 3 days before I put it in to set up the tank. I figured it would be okay if I washed it. I still have some left over that I did not put in, I will try what you suggested and put it in a bucket with water and see if the ammonia is coming from that.
    I have no driftwood, but I do have 3 ornaments. One is a ceramic log with holes, the other is a small plastic stump with holes, and the third is a plastic top half of a crocodile skull. I also have a few small black/dark gray rocks(not sure of the composition) and 2 large rock schist rock slabs.

    I did not even consider it could be any of the rocks. I don't know much about geology and chemistry on rocks... I just kind of assumed "a rock is a rock, right?" It definitely makes a lot of sense that they could be the source.

    Here is a picture of the tank: [​IMG]
     
  4. Colin_T

    Colin_T Member

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    My guess is the gravel is releasing something or there is a dead fish or uneaten fish food trapped in one of the ornaments.

    Lift each ornament out and check for dead fish or food.

    Do the test with the gravel and ornaments just to be sure. The ornaments should be fine but you sometimes get a weird one that can release stuff into the water.

    I would put a picture on the back of the tank to help the fish feel more secure. You can buy aquarium backings form any pet shop or online (ebay, gumtree, etc). You can also use coloured card, a plastic bin liner, newspaper, or anything. Just sticky tape it to the outside of the back of the tank.
     
  5. BigDummy

    BigDummy New Member

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    I've got some gravel, croc skull, and the plastic stump all in separate buckets with water. PH of the water is currently 7 & the ammonia is 0. I'm out of buckets now, so I'll see how these 3 things go for the next few days and then test out some of the other stuff in the tank if no ammonia shows up in the bucket water. I'm really thinking that its one of these 3 though if any of them ARE the source of the ammonia because the paint is peeling off of the croc skull and tree stump. I can definitely see that causing some problems, but I don't know if it's toxic or not. I also don't know if it's just the ammonia being so high it's damaging the ornaments.

    No dead fish, but when I lifted up the ornaments out of the gravel there was a lot of debris. Should I clean the gravel?
    I'm about to do a big water change. The pH is currently 6.6, ammonia 4ppm, nitrites 0, nitrates 0.
     
  6. Colin_T

    Colin_T Member

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    I recommend gravel cleaning the substrate any time you do a water change.
     
  7. BigDummy

    BigDummy New Member

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    After doing a 90% water change the ammonia went down from 4ppm to 1ppm. The pH was 7. This morning the ammonia is at 2ppm & pH of 6.6. I tested the water of each item in the buckets as well. Croc skull: 0 ppm ammonia, fake tree stump: 0ppm, & gravel: 1ppm. I’ve yet to test the large schist rock slabs, but I think it’s safe to say I found the reason why I can’t keep my ammonia down.
    time to go get a new substrate.

    Thanks for your advice & help Colin!
     

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