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I have recently been asked to take over care of a large African cichlid tank at my local daycare. I have no experience with anything larger than a 10 gal goldfish aquarium, and am trying to get up to speed on large cichlid tank care. The tank's previous caretaker refuses to give me any information regarding care or maintenance, so I'm trying to figure things out on the fly. The basic setup is a large corner aquarium with approx. 15 African cichlids and a large pleco. Gravel substrate with rocks and plastic plants, and aquarium heater. The front of the tank is approx 48" wide, and an automatic feeder is in place.

After some inspection and online research, the filtration unit appears to be a Marineland Tidepool I Biowheel sump system, and I am not even sure how to look down into the back corner of the tank to see what else is attached to it that might need to be maintained. I would welcome any advice on this subject, and will browse through the forum for answers in the meantime.

However, my immediate problem is this: the bottom tray of the filter stack on the Tidepool appears to have been last inserted backwards, and the water has not been flowing over the biowheel; instead it is just dumping into the pump reservoir. The biowheel, which is stagnant, is covered in sludge, as is the area immediately around it. I tried turning the tray around the right way for about 30 seconds, but so much sludge poured out of the biowheel area that I quickly put the tray back in the "wrong" way and decided to ask for help before proceeding. The water in the tank immediately clouded up, and I replaced the filter media in the trays to help get things clean again, but I want to get this system running properly.

I would think that I should turn off the pump and somehow clean out the sump tank, wash off the biowheel, and restart the pump, but I want to do it right. This tank, like the others at this facility, appears to have been only minimally maintained for quite some time. Any advice regarding proper steps to correct this problem would be greatly appreciated.
 

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I think you've got the right idea, but gently rinse the sludge off the biowheel and anywhere else you find it. That will preserve any beneficial bacteria that may still be living within it. There should be some sort of prefilter pad that is supposed to catch organic solids before they get to the biowheel. Pics of the tank and filter including everything under the cabinet would be really helpful. Best to leave things alone for another day or two than get over zealous about getting things right and do more harm than good, as you've seen.
 

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By gently Tim also probably meant to say , use tank or other dechlorinated water. Don't use tap water with chlorine as it might kill a lot of the good bacteria. If there are fish there, go easy and slow with cleaning things. For info on the bacteria and how they fit together to make filters work, some reading here might be good:
http://www.freshwater-aquarium-fish.com/water_chemistry.htm

Unlike many jobs, doing tank cleaning is best if it is NOT thorough. Clean one part while leaving another part alone so that all the bacteria is not disrupted at the same time.
 

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Yes, that's correct. I was on my way out the door, so was a bit brief. As PfunMo said, go easy and don't be in a rush to clean and correct everything all at once. Fill a bucket with water (new and clean bucket that's never had cleaning fluids in it) and add some dechlorinator. Use this to rinse out pads etc. Of course turn off the sump system power first. You may need to gently clean out all grunge in the sump to avoid kicking it back into the tank as you saw, but, go easy. Gently rinse, don't scrub.

Did any portion of the biowheel get flow or is it comletely dried out?

I'd also suggest getting an API freshwater test kit and the GH/KH test kit. Run all of those tests and log them. Keep a running log of results. Post those results along with pics so we can help you determine what fish you have and more about your filtration system. You may need to slowly get water parameters back in line, but again, it'll need to be done gradually. Also test the pH, KH, and GH of your tap water there.

I wouldn't worry about not getting info from the past keeper. Doesn't sound like you want to do things the same way.
 

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That is correct on the advise from the former. Nothing like an "expert" telling you exactly how he did it wrong! Sometimes they are leaving the job because they know they did not know how to do it right.
 

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For all we know, the last 'caretaker' did the reversal on purpose, to avoid cleaning a sluggish biowheel.

prov356 is right: test the water. Ph and hardness are very important. Also check for nitrate buildup, as if it goes too high your fish will begin to get sick.

Sounds to me like the previous 'caretaker' wasn't doing his job, so he got bumped, and is bitter about it, and is trying to feel better by withholding information that is obviously flawed to begin with. Lots of good advice to be found here.

:cool:
 
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