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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