Need help with cycling a salwater/reef tank

Jan Cavalieri

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I purchased a 32 gallon Biocube quite a while back but just got around to setting it up. I have white live sand for the bottom and about 30lbs of reef rock - a comination of coraline "painted" life rock and some plain colored real reef rock. Sombody on one of these forums said you cycle these just like you would cycle a fresh water aquarium but something's not working correctly. I used the meter for calculating how much ammonia to add after I discovered the ammonia levels are already at .25 already (I'm using a freshwater test kit because the API reef kit doesn't test ammonia????? In the "old days" of 4 yrs ago you could use the same test kit for freshwater as you did saltwater but you used different cards to compare the values to. Plus the Reef kit doesn't have any test kits for ammonia. So I am just using the freshwater kit to get an ammonia reading - which as I said initially read .25 - the calculator on this website said I should add 3 whole drops of ammonia to get it to .30, Now when I read the nitrite value initially it read zero. So I added the ammonia and nitrite drops from the test kit into my little test tubes. Here is the shocker - it was immediately zero for Ammonia and now the Nitrites read high at .50. I measured the PH at the beginning and it reads 7.5 which won't work - I understand it needs to be about 8.3. Online all it said was to use Seachem Reef Kalkwasser ie., calcium hydroxside, . It tells you to add 1 teaspoon to 1 gallon of the water. But the instructions also say that what also matters is due to CO2 levels and the evaporation rate in your tank (no idea how to figure that out). The lid closes tight on the BioCube - I doubt much of anything is evaporating They also have PHup - which is what I would use on a freshwater tank if I ever had that problem (actually our city PH level is 9,4 - but after adding the salts it dropped to 7.5.

*If you're not familiar with the biocube it's meant for saltwater but instead of what we think a normal sump looks like they have just built a rather narrow structure on the back. It come with 3 compartments in the sump but the 2nd one was so huge I bought an overpriced divider to divide chamber 2 into 2 parts so now there are 4 chambers. Chamber 1 is my protein skimmer. Chamber 2 is stuffed with various kind of filters, carbon, sponge, bioballs. Chamber 3 has my heater and chamber 4 has water return hose. So the front of the cube is all display.

So what have I done by adding that ammonia - and how do I get the nitrites down and -overall= how do I cycle a saltwater reef tank - this isn't working at all.
 

Colin_T

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Normally to cycle a marine tank you add some ammonia and let it run. Over the course of about 2-3 weeks, you get the first lot of beneficial filter bacteria developing and they cause the ammonia to come down and nitrite to go up. A few weeks after that and the nitrite comes down and the nitrates go up. When the ammonia and nitrite have both gone up and come back down to 0ppm, and the nitrates have started to go up, the tank is cycled. It's exactly the same process as a freshwater tank.

The live rock will usually have beneficial filter bacteria on it and can help speed up the cycling process. If you have enough healthy live rock in the aquarium, it can filter out any ammonia that is produced and the filters won't develop the beneficial filter bacteria. However, if the live rock has die off (things dying on the rock during transport), the dead organisms (including bacteria) can and do produce ammonia. This might be the cause of the 0.25ppm reading. If there is die off on the live rock, lift the lid on the tank and smell the water, it is pretty unpleasant when there is die off in the tank.

When cycling an aquarium for fresh or salt water, you want the ammonia level around 3ppm. It can be a bit lower or higher but should not go above 5ppm otherwise the cycling process will stall due to the filter bacteria not being able to live in water with a higher (above 5ppm) level of ammonia.

If you have lots of interesting life forms on the live rock, do not add much if any ammonia because it will kill them. Under these circumstances you should add a bottle of liquid filter bacteria supplement and let the tank run for a few weeks, then add a couple of small fish and feed them sparingly (once or twice a week) for the first month. This will allow the life forms on the rock a chance to live and you can cycle the tank at the same time. It becomes a fish in cycle.

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Marine salts should not drop the pH of your tap water. They are designed to increase the salinity (salt level), pH, GH & KH of the water. The pH for a marine tank should be around 8.4-8.5 and the marine salt mix should make it that high. Your tap water has a higher pH and it should not have dropped to 7.5 after adding marine salts. That could be caused by a freshwater pH test kit or something else.

The rock in the aquarium should be calcium based and raise the pH to 8.5 by itself. If you have a lot of rock in the tank and the rock is white (it might be patchy from life on the rock) then it should be limestone or sandstone and should raise the pH. A marine pH test kit or high range pH test kit might give you a more accurate reading.

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As long as there is some aeration/ surface turbulence in the tank, the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels should remain pretty low.
 
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Jan Cavalieri

Jan Cavalieri

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Thanks so much for your help. Actually just about everything you said I already knew. When I added those few drops of ammonia I was trying to get the ammonia to .30 but it wouldn't budge off of .25 so I figured it was close enough, My first test of nitrites showed zero nitrites but after adding the sad 3 little drops of ammonia to the tank, I came back and ammonia now measured zero and the nitrites were at .50. Obviously that's what is supposed to happen - but not in 15 minutes! So I wonder if I should add more Ammonia (along with the bottle of bacteria) to try to at least get it to .25 and wait around and see if it gets eaten again that fast? Or should I also add a couple of small fish (the tank can only handle about 5 fish so these are fish I would plan on keeping if they don't die - so what kind of fish should I purchase? I did see some Clowns for sale for $16.95 online at Live Aquaria - all the others were either too expensive or aren't fish I would ever want. The stores here don't take back fish that you can't use because I tried that with my DoJo's so I wouldn't have to buy a bigger tank. Well, they are now sleeping in a 90 gallon tank. I've never spent so much in the last 3 months as I've spent in my life (other than having the pleasure of being able to pay cash for my car) This hobby is a financial drag. I still just can't figure out the PH of my water. I just ran it through the RO/DI system then measured the water one gallon at a time and added however much salt it said to add. I never read it anywhere but I always assumed the process of adding the salts would adjust it to the proper PH. Now I measured the water that's been sitting in the tank with my reef rather than measure it right after I made it. I'll go test the salt water I'm storing in a Hefty trash can (Hefty is food safe and doesn't release any plastics toxins) and see if it's higher than the saltwater in my reef tank. My water filled reef tank has just been sitting there for a couple months because I ended up buying the 90 gallon tank for the DoJO's - my assistant pissed me off for showing up 3 days AFTER he was suppposed to and I just told him to leave. So then emptying DoJO's old 50 gallon bank, besides being a lot of heavy water lifting I wrenched my back really bad and can barely walk -earliest I can get into the Pain management clinic is Oct 20 so I'm sure I'll regrent firing my assistant - but I did hire a new one that starts on October 18th. His wife's mother was my best friend in HighSchool and is now an ER nurse (actually the nursing head of that ER) that has treated my mother, my husband and even me. Small world. I'm off to test and then probably should go to be at 5:18 am or not
 
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Jan Cavalieri

Jan Cavalieri

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Well I am so glad I tested the PH again. The purified water is what tested 7.4, When I tested the water from the aquarium (ie., has salt in it) it tested 8.2 possibly 8.3 but the scale jumps from 8.2 to 8.6 so I'll never know. You know you pay so much for those test kits you'd think they would have designed it with better color changes - they're chemist they should be able to do that but I remember being a newbie and I could not tell the difference between zero ammonia and .25 ammonia - now I know to look for that little dab of green. So I'll pour in some biologicals and let it go through the whole cycle even though I think it has cycled itself - probably because I've had that live rock (that was good and wet when it arrived) sitting in there for a couple of months just growing all that wonderful bacteria. On another subject - what kind of "clean up crew" should I get? Live shrimp just gross me out maybe because I eat so many in their cooked form. With crabs you need to locate a bunch of different shells for them to eventually fit in, I really detest snails but at least i'm used to them. I don't know - just no good options there.
 

Colin_T

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Live shrimp just gross me out maybe because I eat so many in their cooked form.
LOL :)

R/O water should be aerated for 30 minutes before you test it for pH. This allows the gasses to get back into the water at the correct levels.

Salt water made with artificial marine salts needs to be aerated for 24 hours before adding it to the tank, and or checking the pH and salinity. The salts can take up to 24 hours to dissolve completely and get the pH, GH, KH and salinity to the required levels.

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I'm not sure on the dimensions of the 32 gallon biocube but you want to avoid the bigger species of anemone fish (clownfish) because they can be quite aggressive when they mature and start breeding. The 2 smaller species (Amphiprion ocellaris and A. percula) look very similar to each other (Nemo is A. percula) and are the most peaceful of the anemone fish.

If you get a pair of anemone fish, either get 2 juveniles and try to have one slightly bigger than the other so they don't fight over who is going to be boss. Or get a bonded pair. This simply means 2 fish that have paired up. Any 2 juvenile fish will form a pair but 2 adult females will fight. The females are the biggest fish and are in charge of the anemone and relationship.

Small dottybacks, gobies and blennies are usually fine in smaller tanks and don't normally cause problems. Most blennies will graze on algae and pick up bits of food from the bottom. This doesn't mean you can overfeed them, it just means they can help as a clean up crew.

A small starfish might be ok for part of the clean up crew. Short spined sea urchins will graze on algae but you need to watch them because they chew through power cables in the tank. Sea cucumbers will pick up bits of food on the bottom but if they die in the tank, it will probably wipe out the tank.
 

PheonixKingZ

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what kind of "clean up crew" should I get?
Hermit crabs are great for eating algae. (Blue legged are generally cheaper, but scarlet legged are gorgeous) Nassarius, astrea, conch, and trochus snails are all great choices.

I find that astrea snails are more active and eat a lot of algae, compared to the other snails mentioned. If you have lots of algae, Mexican turbo snails are also a great option.
 
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Jan Cavalieri

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Well a summary to my situation - things have been stagnant a while as I train my new tank cleaner. Great Dad of 4 children and I think I said I know his wife. She is a nurse and the oldest daughter of my best friend in high school.

I plan to take a while before adding too much to my tanks since the most reasonably priced online fish store is so often out of what I need - such as the smaller clown fish (actually they were out of all the clown fish for a very long time I just waited and let my tank cycle again and then purchased of the small variety of clown fish and lovely and plum green-pink tipped anemone. The clown fish (one was larger than the other) - were curious but afraid of their anemone. They'd get really close and then back off and spent most of the time with the anemone closed up and ignoring it when it was open, I tried my best by finely chopping a piece of frozen krill in his mouth. Spit out the first two but accepted the third. I was trying to see what the clown fish would eat after I spent over 100 on different foods. What do they like? Tetra dried flakes. OK that is certainly easily enough. I haven't observed them feeding those or anything else to the anemone. I was hoping to trigger the clowns to feed but they won't touch the krill. Here is what is going on now. I purchased 4 more (at $9.00 each) coral. Sounded like great practice coral - especially during the expensive holidays. With all the feeding tried and nobody to fetch the food in the aquarium with 20% of the salt water and suction out where I could see- all the dead krill. Without taking the rocks out I can't get the rest - if any are left. BUT while trying to peek a bit around one rock it shifted and brought several down. I haven't seen the clowns since before that happened, hadn't seen the anemone since it happened - but I didn't really notice where she was since she seemed to like to move every day and often behind rocks. I can see 2 corals - one a brown coral about 1/4" high and the other is something pink on a branch that looked really small, but what was this white thin paint swirlled throught the water and just falls apart when picked up. Also - everything was covered in white powder which I suspect is salt. When I mixed up 6 gallons of salt water for a water change, I measured more or less carefully - I know on big solutions like this you just really have to watch it as you approach the target mark. I nailed it at the highest level my hydrometer recommended. I stirred until it felt like my arm was going to fall off, but I didn't wait 24 hours before changing the water. And this is a LOT of salt covering everything. I don't see how I could put in the exact amount and have this happen.

I read the hydrometer today and the salinity was a perfect 34. Specific gravity was lower than it was when I created it because I had read that coral do better at the high end of specific gravity at so then it read -1024, But when I mixed the salt water the specific gravity was: 1026 - I didn't measure salinity when I mixed the water because I had never read about how accurate they are, So it's probably obvious that I lost salt that is what likely is covering all over my tank insides. This will be relatively easy to fix but I may suction out some of the excess sand if it surrounds some krill. I found several PILES of krill that did not get eaten, I minced them up very small and I can see the anemones mouth, however, is very large so if one of the color fish had dropped the biggest piece, she would have been able to eat it.

So any explanation for the salt incident other than not waiting 24 hours? Anything better food for the clown fish to eat? I feel like I bought out the store but have only tried the krill and the bloodworms. I suspect the fish are dead so once I get past Christmas I order some more. I don't know about the anemone she jumped from place to place all the time,
A couple of other things bother me - 1. I have 2 fans running and pointed in different direction - it looks like too much flow to me but I have no idea how much flow is normal - we don't even have a store that carries saltwater fish any longer. 2. Are there smaller size fans that are out there for this use - I just found the list of fans on Amazon and they were all basically the same size,
 

Colin_T

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DO NOT OVERFEED THEM.

Any ammonia produced by the rotting food will be extremely toxic in the seawater due to the high pH (8.5).

You have to mix the salt water for 24 hours before using it otherwise you can have sudden changes in salinity when the salts finally dissolve. Have minerals spread over rocks can also happen and this is probably the white stuff on everything.

I used prawn, fish and squid for my marine fish, and each week they got some live brinesrhimp, grindal worms and mozzie larvae if I had any spare.

Anemonefish (clownfish) should only be kept in pairs in tanks. Having too many can cause problems if 2 turn into females.

Anemones will move around if conditions are not good. When they find a happy place, they usually stay put. If the anemone doesn't open up and have its tentacles out, there is either lack of light or poor water quality.
 

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