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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Six weeks ago I added 11 juvenile fish at once, which doubled the tank population. My filter had been running for 18+ months and even though everything else was new in the tank, I figured I might have a little spike but it would go away fast. So for the first 3-4 weeks, I treated it as an ammonia spike and did lots of big water changes and used Prime. Then I learned Prime could give false results on ammonia tests so I stopped using it but it didn't change anything.

It's been six weeks now and I still have 0.15 ppm to 0.25 ppm ammonia all the time, even after a 50% water change, which makes no sense. I never had ammonia in my tap water but I thought maybe there was some now. I've tested the tap water 2-3 times and compared it with my tank water and there is definitely a green tint to the tank water, which wasn't there for 2 years prior to getting these new fish. I thought it might be the filter being filled with diatoms (I have 100+ lbs of rocks and they are covered with a thick layer of diatoms) so I did a complete maintenance on the sponges, leaving the bio media alone. This helped and for 1 day, I seemed to have 0 or very, very low ammonia.

But it came back right away. I'm really at a loss here. Is the problem not enough surface area to harbor BB ? This would be very unusual as the tank is filled with rocks and sand and the filter has 3 big baskets full of bio media (very rarely rinsed). The filter is a Fluval 407.

is the problem the huge amount of diatoms ? But then why would diatoms cause permanent traces of ammonia ?

I need to pick your brains as I don't know how to fix this and don't want to try expensive solutions like getting a new filter if it's not going to fix the problem.

Water parameters :
PH : 8.1
Ammonia : 0.25 ppm for six weeks straight
Nitrites : 0
Nitrates : 5 ppm
GH : 300 ppm
KH : 280 ppm
Temperature : 25 C (77 F)

Maintenance schedule :
Once a week : 33%-50% WC, vaccuum substrate and clean the glass. Change Maxi-jet 1200 filter floss but don't rinse bio media (small amount)
Once every 4-6 weeks : filter maintenance with sponges cleaned in rotation but don't touch bio media or lightly rinse in tank water

Feeding :
Northfin veggie pellets in the morning
Spirulina flakes at night

Both in reasonable amount.

Thanks anyone for your help. Any advice welcome.
 

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Couple of thoughts:
- has your test kit expired?
- any reduced flow to your filter?

Idech said:
My filter had been running for 18+ months and even though everything else was new in the tank, I figured I might have a little spike but it would go away fast. So for the first 3-4 weeks, I treated it as an ammonia spike and did lots of big water changes and used Prime.
I would expect your BB population to grow to support the new stocking levels as you anticipated. Could it be there is some die-off happening of the diatoms you mention contributing to the ammonia levels? You also stated everything else in the tank new - does this mean all substrate/rocks? Maybe BB hasn't been able to colonize those surface areas yet?

I had a 20g bare bottom grow out tank with a couple of 1-2" juvies which was cycled and had stable parameters. No ammonia or nitrites and ~20ppm nitrates each week after heavy daily feeding. I ended up adding 4 other 1-2" juvies to the tank. The ammonia in the tank did start to spike and I proceeded to do daily 50% water changes with prime(and seachem stability - don't think that stuff does anything btw) to control the ammonia. Four weeks later I was still doing 50% daily water changes to manage the ammonia. It seems to me I never gave the BB colony a chance to catch up. I then viewed the tank as a "fish in" cycling scenario, reduced feedings, and only made water changes every 3-4 days to allow the BB colony to catch up, of course monitoring all parameters daily. A week and a half later I was back to only nitrates showing up.

Curious to see others thoughts.
 

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Read the fine print on your dechlorinator, some like Prime cause a low ammonia reading.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
TROK4614 said:
Couple of thoughts:
- has your test kit expired?
- any reduced flow to your filter?

I would expect your BB population to grow to support the new stocking levels as you anticipated. Could it be there is some die-off happening of the diatoms you mention contributing to the ammonia levels? You also stated everything else in the tank new - does this mean all substrate/rocks? Maybe BB hasn't been able to colonize those surface areas yet?

I had a 20g bare bottom grow out tank with a couple of 1-2" juvies which was cycled and had stable parameters. No ammonia or nitrites and ~20ppm nitrates each week after heavy daily feeding. I ended up adding 4 other 1-2" juvies to the tank. The ammonia in the tank did start to spike and I proceeded to do daily 50% water changes with prime(and seachem stability - don't think that stuff does anything btw) to control the ammonia. Four weeks later I was still doing 50% daily water changes to manage the ammonia. It seems to me I never gave the BB colony a chance to catch up. I then viewed the tank as a "fish in" cycling scenario, reduced feedings, and only made water changes every 3-4 days to allow the BB colony to catch up, of course monitoring all parameters daily. A week and a half later I was back to only nitrates showing up.

Curious to see others thoughts.
Thanks for your thoughts. The tests have been bought recently and I do so many I've been through more than 1 bottle of ammonia test and they both have the same readings.

Rocks ans substrate : maybe the diatoms are so heavily covering them they make it impossible to colonize ? But the filter should be enough, shouldn't it ?

Reduced flow : not that I know of but I'll check it on the input and output, just to make sure. I've done filter maintenance so all the parts are okay I'm sure of that.

Feedings : yeah, this might not be helping. My regular feeding schedule has always been once a day, skip Sundays. But with these aggressive Mbunas, I'm afraid they're going to kill each other if they're not fed enough. Also they're juvies so I figure they need to eat more. Feeding twice a day and everyday might be my biggest mistake, contributing to ammonia traces lingering and diatoms blooming.

I've read that PH buffer might cause diatoms so I've started lowering the amount I use. I will do it slowly so the PH doesn't crash.

Diatoms : I think it's possible that when dying off, they produce ammonia. I've read about it but I don't quite understand why algae dying off would cause ammonia building instead of nitrates ?
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
DJRansome said:
Read the fine print on your dechlorinator, some like Prime cause a low ammonia reading.
Yes, as I said I have stopped using Prime because of that and went back to my old dechlorinator that didn't give false results for 2 years with the same tap water.

Are Mbunas more aggressive when fed only once a day versus twice a day ? Is it okay to feed juvies only once a day and skip one day a week ? (they're medium sized juvies, not tiny ones)
 

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I do not find feeding schedules make fish more or less aggressive, I usually find tank size and stocking to be the things that can improve aggression. It is OK and desirable to feed most mbuna 1X daily and skip a day if they are larger than one inch including tail.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
DJRansome said:
I do not find feeding schedules make fish more or less aggressive, I usually find tank size and stocking to be the things that can improve aggression. It is OK and desirable to feed most mbuna 1X daily and skip a day if they are larger than one inch including tail.
Thank you, I will go back to this way of doing things then !
 

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What is your water supply for water changes? Test your water supply. Maybe your utility changed to chloramine recently. Chloramine can give a false positives for ammonia even if treated with a dechlorinator.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Cosi said:
What is your water supply for water changes? Test your water supply. Maybe your utility changed to chloramine recently. Chloramine can give a false positives for ammonia even if treated with a dechlorinator.
It's plain city water. I've tested it many times, last time was yesterday or the day before and it has 0 ammonia.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
TROK4614 said:
Good call on reducing the feedings! That should help.

Here is an article on fish-in cycling which may have some useful info to get you through what seems like a mini cycle. I don't think I would be comfortable letting my ammonia get all the way to 2 though.
https://aquariumscience.org/index.php/2 ... n-cycling/
My ammonia has never been above 0.25 ppm and most of the time even less. I'm not doing a fish-in cycle at all, my filter has been running for two years.
 

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Totally get you are not doing fish-in cycling. Just suggesting that by doubling the tank population you exceeded the capabilities of the existing beneficial bacteria colony to process the increased amounts of ammonia produced resulting in a mini cycle and fish-in cycling techniques could be useful. It just takes some time for the BB colony to grow to the new stocking level of the tank. Again, I think reducing the amount fed will help a lot!
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
TROK4614 said:
Totally get you are not doing fish-in cycling. Just suggesting that by doubling the tank population you exceeded the capabilities of the existing beneficial bacteria colony to process the increased amounts of ammonia produced resulting in a mini cycle and fish-in cycling techniques could be useful. It just takes some time for the BB colony to grow to the new stocking level of the tank. Again, I think reducing the amount fed will help a lot!
Thank you for your input. Yes, the trigger was definitely doubling the population. What puzzles me is that it's been more than six weeks now and I managed it just like a new tank cycling for the first 4 weeks, wit no change whatsoever. Cycling doesn't take 6-8 weeks so it doesn't make sense to me.

I am hopeful the food decrease will solve the problem. On the other hand, I wish I knew why the BB isn't able to catch up. Do I need a bigger filter ? I'd like to be able to feed more sometimes without fearing an ammonia spike. You know what I mean ?
 

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What is your GPH compared to your gallons? Shoot for 8X to 10X GPH. Personally I have found tanks can operate without ammonia with surprisingly little filter media so I doubt that is the problem. Is your tank overstocked?
 

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API test kits measure total ammonia, so can be thrown off by ammonium. The Seachem Ammonia Alert measures harmful ammonia gas. I'd go get one of those and stick it in there to see if your fish are having an actual problem. Then you may be able to troubleshoot why the API test it measuring it that way. I know somebody who could not get dead zero readings either, and it turned out they were not administering clean drops. It does not sound like this is your issue though. Just throwing it out there.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
DJRansome said:
What is your GPH compared to your gallons? Shoot for 8X to 10X GPH. Personally I have found tanks can operate without ammonia with surprisingly little filter media so I doubt that is the problem. Is your tank overstocked?
The Fluval 407 filters 245 gallons per hour and the Marineland Maxi-jet (a powerhead with a quick filter attached used with a venturi) is 1200 gallons per hours but I don't use it at full capacity, so let's say 400 gallons per hour. It has a handfull of bio-rings inside of it and filter floss that gets tossed every week, so I don't know if that counts.

So only the Fluval is about 4X and if I count the Marineland it's about 9-10X total for both.

Yes, I'm overstocked : 22 fish at about 50%-60% of their adult size but some will be on the smaller side.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
SenorStrum said:
API test kits measure total ammonia, so can be thrown off by ammonium. The Seachem Ammonia Alert measures harmful ammonia gas. I'd go get one of those and stick it in there to see if your fish are having an actual problem. Then you may be able to troubleshoot why the API test it measuring it that way. I know somebody who could not get dead zero readings either, and it turned out they were not administering clean drops. It does not sound like this is your issue though. Just throwing it out there.
Thanks, I had never heard of this badge. It looks very helpful but since I don't use Seachem or similar product to bind ammonia, I don't think it would be useful in my particular case.

I might be it anyways, I'm still thinking about it.
 

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Let me see if I can break it down

Idech said:
My filter had been running for 18+ months and even though everything else was new in the tank,
If everything else is new in the tank, it still needs to be cycled. Established bio media from a used filter will speed the process up.

Idech said:
I treated it as an ammonia spike and did lots of big water changes and used Prime.
Water changes made to reduce the ammonia levels also reduce the amount of food for the beneficial bacteria to expand their population increasing the amount of time to complete the cycle

Idech said:
What puzzles me is that it's been more than six weeks now and I managed it just like a new tank cycling for the first 4 weeks, wit no change whatsoever.
What technique did you use for new tank cycling? Fish-less or Fish-in? Did you dose ammonia(fish-less) or add fish immediately(fish-in)? Keep your feeding down here!

DJRansome said:
What is your GPH compared to your gallons? Shoot for 8X to 10X GPH.
^Great advice - I overfilter all of my tanks. Haven't used the maxi-jet before so I am not sure how to use that in the calculation of total GPH.

SenorStrum said:
API test kits measure total ammonia, so can be thrown off by ammonium. The Seachem Ammonia Alert measures harmful ammonia gas. I'd go get one of those and stick it in there to see if your fish are having an actual problem.
^Great advice - 0.25 ammonia reading on an API test kit may not be that big of a deal. Consistency and avoiding huge swings are the key.

I think at this point patience is the key. Keep your feedings down and don't do anything drastic. As long as your fish look happy you are good!
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
TROK4614 said:
Let me see if I can break it down

Idech said:
My filter had been running for 18+ months and even though everything else was new in the tank,
If everything else is new in the tank, it still needs to be cycled. Established bio media from a used filter will speed the process up.
Thanks, I appreciate your help. It's a way of seeing it but I don't agree because it's a little more complicated than it seems. Let me explain without writing a novel.

First, I had 11 fish in a 45 gallons tank that had been running for 18 months and that was tranformed from a community tank to a cichlids tank. New substrate and rocks, no more plants. These fish were in this tank for about 6-7 weeks. Perfect parameters, not a hint of ammonia or nitrite, very low nitrates the whole time. They were introduced in the tank in groups of 4.

Then I sold the 45 gallons tank and bought a 75 gallons for the fish. I transferred all the rocks (about 50 lbs) and all the substrate (40 lbs) and of course kept the same filter. These 11 fish were in there maybe 1 week before I added 1 single batch of 11 fish. Same thing : not a hint of ammonia or nitrite and low nitrates.

Then, I added the 11 fish at once and bang ! 0.25 ppm or less of ammonia ever since. That was six weeks ago.
 

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Ok, understood. I was thinking all the rockwork and substrate may have been replaced brand new. Probably just a case of your new tank getting fully established and catching up to the additional bioload. Keep an eye on it but I would suspect it to settle down shortly with feeding reduction. You may also consider adding additional filtration in the future as your fish grow depending on how much biomedia the maxi-jet supports.
 
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