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Results 1 to 6 of 6
  1. #1

    Join Date
    Oct 2013

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    Default Ammonia off the charts.

    0 Not allowed!
    i am going to try to break this down, please bare with me if i get a little wordy:

    -29 gal glass, older style long and tall, only 10 in deep
    -medium size river rock substrate
    -Penguin 100 HOB filter
    -API NEXX external filter/pump
    -Tetra Whisper 60 air pump w/18 in air-stone buried in substrate
    -150 watt marineland heater
    4 brilliant raspborras
    2 harlequin raspborras
    1 dojo loach
    1 albino pleco

    Typical Maint:
    -20% water change once a week
    -new water conditioned with specified amounts of API Leaf Zone (plant food), API StressCoat+, API StressZyme+ and API freshwater aquarium salt (my water is softened so i use this to add some minerals back in)
    -NEXX Carbon media replacement - one bag every 4 weeks (canister holds 2)
    -Penguin cart replaced every 2 weeks, never on same week as a media bag change.

    I had to move and restart this tank about 6 weeks ago. I upgraded from 2 of the penguin 100 HOBs to the API NEXX at that time. Cycled the tank for 2 weeks, no fish, with old filter cartridges that had been transported in a small bucket of used aquarium water. Ran both penguins and the API for the full 2 weeks then removed one penguin to use on a small isolation aquarium where i was keeping the fish that i transported in buckets of water from the previous set up.

    once the cycle was beginning to establish itself i planted the aquarium with Java Fern and Asian Sword, two small clusters at each end of the aquarium and a small clump of Java Moss left to float on the surface. allowed the plants to establish themselves for 1 week, checking the water once a day, usually in the evening, to verify that the plants were not rotting from the roots.

    At this point the water parameters were perfect: Ammonia 0 ppm; Nitrates 0 PPM; Nitrites 0 ppm; PH 7.6; Hardness 150-200 ppm.

    Beginning of week four i added 4 brilliant raspboras, 1 large African Cichlid (Size of my hand) and the pleco. at this point i began checking the water 2 times daily to ensure that the cycle was established and the fish were not distressed. the first two days there were no changes. the morning of day three i had ammonia levels of .25 ppm, with all other parameters unchanged. I performed a 50% water change, removed several sword leaves that were loosing color and added a dose of API AMMOLoc. that evening Ammonia barely registered above 0 and well below .25 ppm.

    Week 4 day 4:
    Morning reading of ammonia .50 ppm. Did not have time to change water that morning so added another dose of AMMOloc and stirred up the substrate to help move some detritus into the filters, added a dose of Stress-Zyme to aide in breaking down the detritus. that evening ammonia was closer to .25 ppm so allowed it to go overnight.

    Week 4 day 5:
    Morning ammonia still below .25 ppm, did not add anything or change water as it appeared that the ammonia was dropping as the cycle caught up.

    Rest of week 4 and all of week 5:
    Only performed water change as part of maint, all parameters remained normal with ammonia registering but just barely above 0 ppm

    Week 6:
    Added 2 harliquin raspborras and 1 dojo loach as it apeared that the aquarium had stabilized. removed the cichlid as he was having issues swimming in the increased current from the NEXX, he is old and had severe damage to his tail fin from another aggressive cichlid. after 4 days all parameters were normal

    Week 6 day 5:
    2 hours after weekly water change ammonia was at .50 ppm, most detritus had settled/been filtered out, all other parameters normal. removed one Java Fern and a Small clump of moss after the loach dug up the fern and the moss clogged the HOB.
    noticed that there was a decent amount of uneaten food (freeze dried brine shrimp and cichlid floating pellets) mixed into the moss. removed all moss and thoroughly shook it out in a 5 gal bucket of used aquarium water.

    Week 6 day 6:
    tank looked cloudy in the morning so checked parameters at lunch: Nitrate, Nitrite and PH normal, Hardness was lower but not drastically and ammonia was at 2 ppm. Immediately removed all plants, performed 75% water change and dosed with AMMOloc. After work (4 hours later) ammonia was still at .75 ppm. swapped one of carbon bags in the NEXX for an API Nitra-Zorb bag. Added another dose of AMMOloc.

    Week 6 Day 7 (today):
    after closer look at moss and ferns noticed that many leaves were wilted/discolored these were hard to see in the water. ammonia still at .75 ppm, performed a 75% water change focusing on vacuuming up as much detritus as possible, skimmed tank after water change and rinsed filter media bags to remove excess amounts of detritus from the cleaning. at this point the carbon media in the NEXX is six weeks old, and after rinsing does not appear to be deteriorating, but will be replaced next week, Nitra-Zorb media is only a day and half old but it will be removed soon as the media will release captured ammonia if it becomes overloaded, and the penguin cart is 1 week old.

    so my question is: what did i do wrong to cause the ammonia problem and what can i do to correct the damage done?

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Saskatchewan, Canada

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    0 Not allowed!
    If you have uneaten food in the substrate, then you are feeding too much. When your stir up the substrate, you are sending this decomposing material into your water resulting in ammonia into the water. This would be my guess as to what is going on

    Feed less and stop stirring up the substrate. Instead of stirring, complete a gravel vac so all the nasty stuff that you get out of the substrate is removed from the tank before it can have a negative effect on your water quality

    Edit: I would also suggest to replace at least some of the carbon and other chemical media with some biological filter media to allow for greater capasity to remove ammonia. Nothing beats beneficial bacteria for removing ammonia
    Last edited by Cliff; 10-23-2013 at 12:08 AM.
    If you take your time to do the research FIRST, you can successfully set-up and keep ANY type of aquarium with ease.
    "Not using a quarantine tank is like playing Russian roulette. Nobody wins the game, some people just get to play longer than others." - Anthony Calfo
    Fishless Cycle Cycling with Fish Marine Aquarium Info [URL=""]

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Oct 2013

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    0 Not allowed!
    Thanks for the ideas, I do have BioStars in the top chamber of the API NEXX. I reduced my feeding to about half as much when I noticed the build up the first time, I removed the plants because no matter how little I fed some was getting caught in the moss and the fish either couldn't or wouldn't get to it. I was hoping that adding the loach to the mix would help to keep any excess food in the substrate to a minimum. Maybe it was just too dirty when I added him...

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Oct 2013
    Moore, SC

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    0 Not allowed!
    I agree, feed about 1/3 to 1/4 as much as you think the fish need, even skipping a day occasionally won't hurt. Ideally, minimal food should make it to the bottom. Plants can help by taking up some of the ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites. I agree with Cliff's post about the biomedia, you really don't need to constantly use carbon in a tank.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Vancouver, BC, Canada

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    0 Not allowed!
    I see several real issues here, aside from the ammonia though some of these undoubtedly contribute to that too.

    First, the substrate. Just how large are the grains? If by medium you mean pea gravel, that can work though it is harder for bacteria to colonize and be effective, and the majority of your bacterial activity is (or should be) in the substrate. This goes beyond nitrifying bacteria.

    Second, the fish stock. Pleco are known as waste factories, even the small ones add more than the average fish, so keep this in mind. Dojo Loach should be in groups no less than three as they are very social. Also, they get large (9-10 inches, but a foot is not out of the question) and will often eat smaller fish. There is no room for 3 in a 29g, not even for one truthfully, so I would suggest re-homing this fish soon.

    Third, all the chemicals going in the water. Salt is about the worst thing you could add to a fish tank with pleco, loaches and rasbora. Aquarium salt is sodium chloride, and it does nothing to increase GH in the sense of adding mineral to help the fish (if they needed it, which these do not). Also, if you have a water softener, it may operate by using sodium salt to replace true mineral salts, so this is a double whammy. And all this salt is detrimental to plants.

    API Stress Coat is a basic water conditioner, so that's fine. But API StressZyme is not. Their product data:
    Improves the development of the biological filter and helps clean a dirty aquarium. Contains over 300 million live bacteria per teaspoonful. Breaks down organic compounds that cause dangerous conditions such as ammonia and nitrite poisoning and low oxygen levels. Continuous use assures an active biological filter, cleaner aquarium, healthier fish and good water quality.
    is quite misleading. No chemical is going to clean a dirty aquarium, and this product actually increases ammonia substantially. The "breakdown of organic compounds" is where this happens. It is best to leave this task to the substrate bacteria, since they do it better and the plants can use the resulting ammonia/ammonium and CO2. I do not recommend this product. And, if you are still adding this, it may be the source of your ammonia. Also bear in mind that when you use ammonia-detoxifying products, most do this by changing ammonia to harmless ammonium, but test kits will still read ammonium as "ammonia."

    To the plants; how are they growing? With live plants one should never see ammonia above zero, unless a real disaster occurs. Plants need nitrogen, and they prefer ammonium (which they can get by changing ammonia internally), and they take up a lot of it both as a nutrient and as a toxin. They do this faster than nitrifying bacteria/archaea.

    The API fertilizer only contains iron and potassium, so all the other 15 essential nutrients are missing. These can occur from fish foods but it is best to use a complete liquid fertilizer. Seachem's Flourish Comprehensive Supplement or Brightwell Aquatics' FlorinMulti are both good products, and you use very little. Light is also important, no idea what may be present here.

    Last edited by Byron; 10-23-2013 at 06:07 PM.
    Byron Hosking, BMus, MA
    Vancouver, BC, Canada

    Something we all need to remember: The fish you've acquired was quite happy not being owned by you, minding its own business. If you’re going to take it under your wing then you’re responsible for it. Every aspect of its life is under your control, from water quality and temperature to swimming space. [Nathan Hill in PFK]

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Dec 2010

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    0 Not allowed!
    When feeding your fish, it's easy to drop in a tiny amount, watch them eat, drop in a little more, watch them eat - when fish are sufficiently hungry, they don't miss food.

    As suggested, it doesn't hurt to skip a feeding once or twice a week. I agree with Cliff that stirring up substrate when there's excess food down there is asking for ammonia - unless you are already doing this, it helps to just stick your siphon down into the substrate when doing a water change til it hits the bottom and watch all the gunk fly up - remove the siphon when the water is all clear.

    It's also not a great idea to purchase a fish to clean up after you. And most people only use carbon when they're trying to absorb medication from the water.

    Byron also had good points to make.

    Also, even if the ammonia wasn't from stirring up the substrate, it generally signifies your tank is in the middle of cycling and you need to keep it down to .25 until it drops to 0 by itself.

    You said you let the tank cycle for 2 weeks - there's no time frame for cycling. As I'm sure you know, a cycled tank generally means your parameters read 0 ammonia, 0 nitrites & 20 or less nitrates.

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