High phosphates and nitrates

Discussion in 'New To The Hobby' started by beamer, Jun 5, 2004.

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  1. beamer

    beamer Sea Dragon

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    I've posted this on another board and thought I'd post here and see what opinions I get here.

    I've had my tank for 8 weeks now. Its a pre-existing 120 gl rr with reef coral and fish. I have a heavy bioload with about 23 fish, 160lbs of LR,  corals (mostly lsp ) on most every rock.  LS, I use PC lighting, Aqua CEV 180 skimmer, and external Gen-x pump , 14 gl sump and 5 gl fuge. I have just gotten some cheato for my fuge. And I have recently added 2 power heads  which I've been told needs to be replace with something else. (maxi-jet 600 and some generic ph that the previous owner had but never used. He didn't use any ph and didn't have any algae problems. I have a little.

    The previous owner was very meticulous with his tank and recorded EVERYTHING!. I am following his foot steps in keeping a journal.  He had no problems with his chemistry and I'm doing everything that he did. The tank is 2 years old.

    As of my last water change :
    amonia  0
    nitrites 0-0.1
    nitrates 80
    phosphates  off the chart
    pH 8.0
    calcium 490
    temp 78-80
    salinity usually 1.023 but now 1.025 due to wacky hydrometer.
    alk normal

    I do use Ro/Di that I purchased from AWI (Dual Home/Reef)

    I made the mistake and used the original sand bed. I was told it would be ok since it was only a few inches deep.

    I have been doing weekly water changes of 15-20 gals and the last couple of weeks around 30-35 gal.

    Some have told me that water changes wont do any good. Another said to do a 20 gl change daily for a week, and others have said to get rid of the sand bed and start new.

    No doubt that a new sand bed would take care of the problem but if still a little time can take care of it I'd rather do that. However if changing out the sand bed is the best thing to do then I will do it. I will just need to locate some sand and get someone back over here to help me. I certainly don't have enough containers to break down the tank nor enough water for 120 gls. But if I need to I will do it.

    I'm already confused enough so I may as well get some more opinions. :p

    Thanks,  Cindy
     
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  3. Land_Fish

    Land_Fish Guest

    The best way to reduce Nitrates is doing alot of water changes but since you have high phosphates then this would lead me to believe you are over feeding do to your bioload,

    IMO I would cut way back on feeding and use a phosphate sponge or a polly filter pad.
    Your algae is from the phosphates and needs to be dealt with.
    They make a nitrate sponge but that is just a quick bandaid.

    What kind of sand bed do you have right now?
    Do you use charcoal? this can also leak phosphates.

    To swap out sand see the sand forum here and do it a little at a time and you don't need to remove anything to do this.
     
  4. JohnO

    JohnO Moderator

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    Hi Cindy :)

    Firstly, what is " cheato " ?

    Secondly, is the 'fug' up and running and how well is it working?

    I would not do anything just yet except ( as Nautillus advised ) run a phosphate remover for a while.  Do that for a few weeks and see if the Phosphates come down.

    How are the fish and coral behaving?  Normally?  If so then I wouldn't be rushing to do anything in a hurry as you may just do more harm than good


    John
     
  5. Matt Rogers

    Matt Rogers Kingfish Staff Member

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    23 fish! Wow..
    Please let us know what kind too..
    And what your feeding them and how often.

    Welcome to 3reef. [smiley=2thumbsup.gif]
     
  6. NaH2O

    NaH2O Astrea Snail

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    First let me comment on chaeto (a type of macroalgae). It is a slow grower, and probably won't make a noticable dent in your phospates and nitrates.

    Secondly, how much and what are you feeding? What species of fish are your 23 fish?

    Regarding Phosphates: You can determine where they are coming from by taking a sample in various locations. I know you said they are off the charts, so it probably won't do you any good unless there is a higher measureable value. For information: You can take a sample 1/2" down in the sand and measure the phosphates there, you can take a sample in an algae patch and measure phosphates there, and you can also do the same with live rock. If you are at the top of the scale of measureable phosphates in your water column, then it wouldn't do you any good to test anywhere else. The sand bed functions as a sink, so it will sink products until it eventually fills up. This is the reason shallow beds tend to fill up quicker than deep sand beds. Phosphates can also be coming from the live rock, so the culprit isn't necessarily the sand.

    I also wanted to comment on your specific gravity. It is important to know what your value is - that way you can make sure your water parameters are correct for your salinity. Natural Sea Water has a salinity of 35ppt, which is 1.0255 specific gravity (refracts need to correct for 0.001 difference = 1.026). Why don't you tell us what your alk reading is, that way we can look at your calcium and alk together.

    Lastly, if you do decide to change out your sand bed, you can keep the water that is currently in the tank, and reuse when you fill the tank again. Buying some cheap rubbermaid tubs will help with the process.

    Anyway, hope this helps!
     
  7. inwall75

    inwall75 Giant Squid

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    Great points everyone!!!  Before giving recommendations, we have to know where the Phosphates are coming from.

    How old is your test kit?  Have you run a TDS meter on the water coming out of your RO/DI unit?  Have you run a Phosphate test on some new water before adding it to the tank?  (PS...not all test kits work in freshwater).  The RO portion of RO/DI units does nothing for phosphates.  If the DI resins are spent, then you aren't filtering phosphates at all.

    While most Phosphates come from poor water sources and foods (which is why Matt asked about them), Phosphates can also come from salt mixes.  Have you tested some newly made salt before adding it to the tank?

    However, once phosphates enter our systems, they have their own life-cycle.  Bacteria grab the phosphates and use them for food.  This is Organic Phosphate and cannot be tested for with hobbiest test kits.  (The following is NOT completely correct scientifically but might help you to remember the types.......if it's inside an Organism, it's Organic Phosphate).  Bacteria eventually die and then the Phosphate (which is no longer in an organism) has become INorganic Phosphate.  

    Phosphates unfortunately have an attraction for CaCO3 and naturally precipitate on them.  Then the Inorganic Phosphates will be sitting there for other bacteria to eat (and become organic again).  Here's some good info http://www.advancedaquarist.com/issues/sept2002/chem.htm

    If you can test for it in the water column, it means that all of the bacteria are "full".  You can remove a lot of the phosphates with the Iron-based Phosphate removers like Rowaphos and the like but you can only grab the inorganic phosphates in the water column.  (I despise the aluminum-based ones).

    Somewhere in your tank your bacteria are "full" and can't eat anymore.  Nikki's idea will give you an idea of where most of them are but we still have to figure out where the original source is coming from so that you can limit inputs of Phosphates from this source in the future.  Unfortunately, things temporarily get worse before they get better for a short period of time.

    Since excess food is usually the culprit of high Nitrates, I'm guessing that you are feeding fish high phosphate flake food.
     
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  9. beamer

    beamer Sea Dragon

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    Thanks guys , I will start with a link to some pics. These were the last ones I took in May and things don't really look any different. In fact, I think they look pretty darned good. If you are interested , after you see the ones on this link you can click on periotherapists photos in the upper left hand corner to see my other photo albums. I only have one other you would be interested in . The others were pics of setting up the tank, plumbing etc.

    http://f2.pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/pe...tos.yahoo.com/ph/periotherapist2001/my_photos

    I have been doing weekly water changes for about 8 weeks, plus another one or two in there. I started with 15-20 gls and progressed. Today I think I did about 40 gals.

    Believe it or not over feeding has not been the problem. I've been feeding 1/2 of a frozen cube per day with a tiny little pinch of flakes, and a small strip of Nori.

    The last couple of weeks I have not even been feeding them daily. I went as long as one week with no feeding at the advice of someone, I don't remember who it was. I felt guilty about that and feed either once per day or every other day. I was told not to feed daily until I can get the phosphates down. It was either Eric Hugo or Randy Holmes of RC said to start feeding daily one frozen cube, forget the flakes, selcon, DT, etc and only feed the nori every 2-3 days for the Tangs. (everyone in the tank really seems to like the nori, not just the tangs)

    FISH: Yellow Tang, rabbit fish, regal tang, 3 blue green chromis, 4 lyretail anthias, clarks clown, two spotted hogfish, spotted hawk, 2 zebra wrasses, christmas wrasse, 2 gobies, coral beauty, 2 six lined wrasses,(I forgot, another anthias commited suicide, and my lawnmower blenney died so I guess that makes it 21 fish ) and a BTA and a clam.

    CORALS: Frogspawn, fox coral, tube worm anenome, green brain, orange brain, green and brown button polys, some other kind of polyps I don't know the name of, green ricordia mushrooms, pearl bubble, lots of star polyps, flaming torches, finger leather, devils hand, toadstool leather, purple and orange mushrooms, galexia, candy cane and a kenya tree.

    I am now using Kent's nitrate sponge and PhosBan. I want to get a PhosBan reactor to use with it. I use carbon but only for 3 days.

    My sand bed is only 3-4 in deep. I don't have a big algae problem but I don't want it to get that way either.
    I have 160 lbs of LR.

    The tank is 2 years old. The tank was moved about 130 miles. And most feel the problem is from using the existing sand bed and also from the rocks. They were all transfered in buckets and I don't recall the tank guy using anything to aereate the water once we got everything on the truck. It took us at least 3.5 hours to get to my house after we left the Dallas area, maybe more cause we had to stop by his house. I gave him my purple tang so we had to take a little time to accimate it to his tank. ANd then of course it took awhile to get things set up. However once we got to the house he started areating the water in the different containers.

    I'm sure its not the algae cause I haven't had it very long. Im not sure how to go about testing the sand as you suggested. I use the Salifert test kits. Do I just take a sample of the sand along with water to put in test vial and follow the same procedure for the water?

    I blow my rocks off with a turkey baster a couple of times a week plus right before I do a water change. The last 2 water changes I've tried to vaccum off stuff from the rocks and the bottom of the sump.

    My little 5 gl fuge has only been actively set up for about 2.5 wks. I have some kind of red algae and a type a caluerpa, and then fri I got a full bag of cheato.

    I bought a Magnum 350 thinking it might help using it periocically but havent' finished putting it together yet.

    I do use Ro/Di water. I even checked it with my test kits and everything is zero. I will test my tank water later on this evening or tomorrow. I'm worn out from doing the water changes. Surely there has got to be an easier and a less messy way of doing water changes.

    I just checked my salinity and it is 1.024. I usually match my new SW to the tank. But my tank SW was higher than usual due to a malfunctioning hydrometer. My new SW was 1.022 this morning and tank was 1.025. (using my new refractometer)Randy Holmes from RC said to just go ahead and use my new SW rather than bringing it on up to the 1.025. I was needing to go ahead and do a water change and If I added more salt I would not have been able to do it today.

    Like I said , I will get the other numbers to you when I can.

    Maybe I just need to leave it alone and stop worrying about it.

    Thanks for the advice---I'm all ears! (or I guess I should say eyes!)

    Cindy
     
  10. beamer

    beamer Sea Dragon

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    inwall 75, I guess you and I were posting at the same time. I can't remember if I tested the new salt water or not before. I've tested so much I just can't remember (Damn! I hate getting old!!! :-[ :'()

    I think I already mentioned that I use Salifert test kits. I ordered all new ones since I didn't see an expiration date on them. The new ones all tested the same.

    I have run a TDS meter on my Ro/Di and it comes out zero.

    I tested the Ro/Di for phosphates but not the new SW. I continued using the same salt that the previous owner gave me so I don't think that's the problem. The last couple of water changes I have used Oceanic, but still , I have had these high numbers since day one.

    Even when I was feeding flake food it was only a few little flakes crumbled up it wasn't even a pinch.

    When I start making up salt water this week I will test
    for phosphates.

    So far, only two things have died and that was just 2 weeks ago. My lawnmower blenny. He was breathing really hard and I found him dead -or at least what was left of him_ the next day. A few days or so after that my grasping xenia died. I thought maybe it was because my salinity had gotten kind of high. But any way it did die and was pretty smelley! :eek:

    I think I answered all of the questions. If not , ask me again.

    Thanks, Cindy :)
     
  11. inwall75

    inwall75 Giant Squid

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    Congrats!!! You are doing all of the right things. You're clearing detritus, using RO/DI water, feeding sparingly, etc.

    I agree with Eric Borneman and Randy Holmes-Farley here. Flake food is almost always nothing more than, "Algae waiting to happen". Phytoplankton is not used by corals but can be useful if you have a lot of fanworms, clams, or sponges. If you don't have a large population of those, DT's is nothing more than Phosphate in a Bottle. If you need it, use it sparingly.

    Since you are now using frozen foods, there are still phosphates in there (some were in the shrimp by nature and some was added as a preservative). Soak the frozen food for an hour in RO/DI water, strain off the food, dump it into a container of tank water to bring it to temperature and then dump in the tank.

    Ok...now that we are limiting all new inputs, you had some Phosphates from the first day you set up your tank. It was in your rock and sand. Even if it was pulled right out of the ocean that very day and not from someones tank, it was saturated with Phosphates.
    What's going to happen if you start starving the rapidly growing batch of bacteria of Phosphates they need (as does every other living creature)? The population will start starving. Their death will throw Inorganic Phosphate back into the water column. (Since we can only test for Inorganic Phosphates, positive things we do to our tanks sometimes temporarily look bad testwise).

    If you were to drop a piece of live rock into a dark container of saltwater for 30 days with nothing but a powerhead, and heater, you would be shocked at how much detritus and bacterial floc the live rock will "spit out" and would accumulate in the bottom of the bucket. Bacterial turgor is constantly cleaning live rock in this manner.

    This is normally where a sand bed comes in to serve as backup. The detritus and bacterial floc fall onto the sand bed and the bacteria there say, "Hmm, Hmm, Good". Sandbeds can accumulate the mulm, bacterial floc, and detritus for quites some time. However, eventually they have to be maintained. The deeper the sand, the longer before if fills up and must be pulled and scrubbed. It's possible that the thinner sand bed is causing problems....it's too soon to tell though so lets not jump to conclusions yet.
     
  12. JohnO

    JohnO Moderator

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    Cindy,

    That's my opinion too, at least in the short term.

    IMO with that amount of fish you will always have high phosphate levels in you current set up.  Most marine tanks these days are set up using the " natural "  approach utilising live rock and live sand to create a generally self sustaining environment. The only drawback with this approach is you just can't have that amount of fish in such a small amount of water.  

    If it was my set up I would be running some extra filtration ( BIG canister/cartridge filter eg) to help the "natural" filtration and I would be cleaning and changing those filters regularly instead of changing the water.

    As a generality fish only consume ( use ) about 20% of what they eat, the rest is discharged. It is this discharge that is probably accumulating in the sand and other places and as it decomposes elevates your phosphate levels.

    John