Hi, I’m Sam Jon Smith – computer science graduate, freelance web designer and managing director of Specific Gravity Ltd. As of July 2012 I aim to write short but sweet posts on a daily basis for people like myself that live and breathe the web with other techy and non-techy bits thrown in now and again. Thanks for reading!
API Ammonia False Positive
So this bank holiday weekend, I decided to spend some time on the nano reef – things hadn’t been doing great and I wanted to find out what the issue was. I had ordered the API Saltwater Master Test Kit. pH was a bit low at 8.0 (slightly concerned), nitrite 0 (gooood) and nitrate 10 (slightly disappointing) so all in all not massively bad – then the shocker ammonia: 0.25/0.50 (oh shit). For those that aren’t reef keepers, ammonia at any level in an established tank is a BAD sign.
I couldn’t understand the ammonia issue, I was expecting the tank not to be doing great because of higher than normal nitrates or something wrong with the pH (which it is slightly). So I decided to test the source (the saltwater used for new water changes) – this also tested the same for ammonia. This seemed very strange to me, surely my LFS wasn’t selling saltwater with ammonia in it or perhaps I had left it in the container too long! At this point I was having doubts on the accuracy of the test and looked up online to see some others suggesting the same. So I thought ok I’ll test the presumed source source, the fresh RO water from the same LFS used for top ups. This read 0. So this suggested that the test was accurate, and the saltwater from the LFS (and the tank) did have ammonia in.
At this point I was VERY angry, I decided to go to the OTHER LFS to buy some salt (and live rock and D&D aquascape – see further down). After mixing this new saltwater with the RO water (which had already been tested 0 for ammonia) I tested again and got an ammonia reading of 0.25/0.50. Actually it turns out that the API saltwater ammonia test kit result for 0 in saltwater is very misleading – its not the 0 colour, and its not green enough to be any of the other colours. So essentially I’ll be buying a different test kit for ammonia.
This photo actually shows 0 reading for ammonia. Left: RO water, Center: new salt mixed with that same RO water Right: tank. All readings are therefore presumed 0.
D&D Aquascape and Tank Rescue Advice
I have used this product in the past (in much larger tanks) with absolutely no problems at all (even with cloudy water). So I had no hesitation in using it in my nano and as it claims to be ‘reef safe’ with no clear ‘do not used too much’ warning – I went ahead and did some aquascaping. I ended up using the whole pack – this stuff is a nightmare to use, it doesn’t stick until its set so you end up having to use quite a lot more than you would think.
After I had completed aquascaping the water was unusually cloudy (purple), and I thought nothing of it – if it was reefsafe it wouldn’t matter, the protein skimmer was taking it out very quickly and the canister filter was doing the rest. No worries.
Then Danny said ‘Sam the clownfish is dead’. I went and had a look (sometimes fish can look dead when they are just hiding) and although he wasn’t dead, he was definitely more than half way there! Searching online frantically I immediately then suspected the D&D aquascape and found this admission on ‘incorrect usage’ from them (through ultimatereef).
Essentially… “The powdery substance in the putty that can cause cloudiness if over worked is talc. This is inert however if an excessive amount is dispersed in the water then it may possibly further lower the oxygen levels in poorly oxygenated aquariums and cause problems with the fish’s breathing.”
My aquarium was not ‘poorly oxygenated’. And surely the fact that it lowers oxygen levels at all proves that it is not inert. To my annoyance they don’t even provide an estimated amount that can be safely used for X amount of water – why? I suspect it is because they don’t even know. So how they can determine whether something is inert or reef safe without knowing how much of the stuff has what effect on what percent of saltwater I do not know. *very unimpressed*.
Anyway if you have yourself in the same pickle (small tank + lots of aquascape = fish dying due to lack of oxygen)… this is what I did (and to my surprise it actually worked – although it’s going to be tricky if you have many fish!). Follow it at your own digression - I can’t take any responsibility for any loss or damage from following this advice. (Although if your fish are already dying – it can’t get much worse can it!)
1) Firstly the inverts: It didn’t effect them in my case (maybe they didn’t need as much oxygen as the fish?) although I have read posts that say it has effected but in those cases I’m not convinced it wasn’t due fish dying which in turn had a knock-on effect causing a die-off or perhaps rash water changes to clear the water (inverts are more sensitive to sudden changes in temp/pH)
2) I mixed saltwater and got it heating to the temperature required. Only do the amount you need – time is really important here (the fish can’t breathe properly). If you only have 1 or 2 small fish just mix a small bucket or jug that will fit in a microwave to heat up quickly (you can mix more later) – as I did.
(Note even if you have a second tank to put the fish in – whilst you can use water from this instead of mixing fresh water to save time on getting levels correct, I wouldn’t suggest putting the fish in the other tank. The stress would be too much and the fish would struggle against the power filters in that tank)
3) IMPORTANT: CHECK pH, salinity and temperature of new water before moving fish. Putting the fish into water with incorrect levels will shock it even more. Do things promptly but do not rush. Rushing causes mistakes.
4) I put the fish in the new water and put an aerator in the jug – this allowed the fish to quickly get the oxygen it much needed in clean water. If you do not have an aerator or airstones then I can only suggest blowing into the water through a tube or pipe temporarily. Do not use a power head – remember your fish is struggling to breathe, therefore forcing it to swim against the current of a powerhead in such a small amount of water would finish it off.
5) Back to the tank. I needed to clear the water as quickly as possible – I knew my fish couldn’t stay in such a small amount of water without any filtration for a long period. I turned the skimmer right up (I needed a very wet skim at this stage, and the resulting micro bubbles are harmless compared to this stuff IMO). I also added a lot of filter floss to remove what the protein skimmer missed.
6) You need to increase the oxygen levels in the tank – a quick way to do this is take off any plastic cover (this can reduce the potential for oxygen exchange) and point power heads towards the surface of the water so that the water surface is very agitated (but of course so that the pumps are still in the water and that the water is not splashing out of the aquarium).
7) With the fish tank set on its path to recovery, I decided to leave the clownfish in a bucket over night with heater and aerator, I knew if it made the night he would probably be well enough to go back in the tank.
8) The next day I removed the filter floss, cleaned the protein skimmer, cleaned the canister filter and performed a 20% water change. The tank was looking a lot less cloudy.
9) I introduced the fish back into the water slowly over the period of an hour or two. (Follow normal acclimatisation procedure for introducing new fish). My method was to float the jug in the tank and introduce a small amount of tank water into the jug over a period of time before eventually releasing the fish into the tank.
10) I then left well alone and the clownfish was recovering.
My advice is to not use D&D in a stocked nano reef – the effects on the livestock are too great, and I suspect that nano reefs were not around when this product was tested (i.e. in the days where to keep a reef you needed a 200 gallon tank minimum).
And if D&D read this – it would perhaps be useful to improve your packaging so that it is much clearer that the epoxy is harmful when used in large quantities in small/nano aquariums and include some guidance on how much is too much (we shouldn’t really have to ‘guesstimate’ on our tanks).
So all in all – a good easter :-/
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