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Need some advice post-new-tank-disaster


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I've been wanting to get into aquarium keeping for years, and I finally sprung on it about 3 weeks ago today. I let my excitement get away from me and made the huge mistake of not doing nearly enough research beforehand, and disaster ended up striking a few days later. Initially, I purchased a 10 gallon tank with basic blue gravel, various fake plants, a fake rock cave, a basic rgb led tank light from walmart, an appropriate filter and heater for the tank size, a tank thermometer, some API tropical fish flakes, and a bottle of water dechlorinator/conditioner.

I set up the tank, and the same day I stocked it with two zebra danios, two pristella tetras, two hifin platy, and two assorted snails. Two days later, throughout the duration of the day, 5 of the fish and both of the snails died for reasons that were a mystery to me. Since then I have been doing research almost every single day, and it is apparent to me that after testing the water for ammonia and it returning a result of 3+ ppm, the fish and snails died to the high ammonia levels due to my failure to cycle the tank prior to adding them, and it likely didn't help that I bought two schooling species in such low numbers.

In an attempt to keep my last remaining hifin platy alive, about a week or so ago I added some Tetra Safestart, and a couple very small whispy plants from a friend's established betta tank, along with a couple bunches of rotala macandra and anacharis from the pet store. I've been doing daily water changes (30-50%) to keep the ammonia levels down and testing the water with strips every day for pH, KH, and GH which have all been in good standing since the start, for Nitrites and Nitrates which have not shown up at all yet, and for ammonia which usually hovers around 0.25-1.5 ppm between water changes.

In the last week, most of the rotala has turned brown and rotted away so I removed them. The anacharis has melted a little and doesn't seem to be growing, but looks mostly ok since it has a tiny bit of new-looking yellow growth on the ends. The platy continues to live, and I've been feeding him twice a day with a mixture of tropical flakes and dried bloodworms. I plan on getting a gravel vacuum to help with the water changes and clean up some of the detritus on the bottom, and might get some driftwood since I removed the fake plants when I planted the real ones.

My planned stocking setup for this tank in the future is 6 neon tetras, 2-3 amano shrimp, and the one lone hifin platy if he's still alive by then. I still haven't seen any nitrites or nitrates yet. Is there anything I can do to help my current situation or should I just keep up the water changes and wait for the tank to cycle?
 
 
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On 2/7/2024 at 11:45 AM, buildingaqua said:

I still haven't seen any nitrites or nitrates yet. Is there anything I can do to help my current situation or should I just keep up the water changes and wait for the tank to cycle?

Many brands make bottled beneficial bacteria that's supposed to help jump start the cycling process. I've personally only had good results with the refrigerated stuff by Fritz. I think its called Turbostart. It can be more difficult to find.

There are also products that will "lock up" the ammonia so its not harmful to the inhabitants. I would recommend Seachem Prime which is a comprehensive water conditioner and it locks up ammonia and nitrite too. You will need to double dose Prime daily if you choose that.

Keep doing the 50% water changes daily if you detect any ammonia at all. Once ammonia is zero you will need to keep doing daily water changes and dosing Prime until nitrite is also zero.

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On 2/7/2024 at 12:07 PM, Supermassive said:

You will need to double dose Prime daily if you choose that

Actually, I'd be very cautious about that. better just to use a regular dose of prime (label directions), after doing the water changes. Primarily for dechlorination, but it can have the side effect of neutralizing the ammonia, and nitrite. Best practice is, if you see ammonia, change water and prime to dechlorinate. Then, if prime does its job, you're good. I used to do the heavier dose of prime, but it can be rough on your fish. I've had a betta go down to the bottom of the tank and just hide and shake. I won't do that again. I think normal dose is okay. You're still going to test positive for ammonia even when it's been neutralized. it only changes into a much less toxic form. 

Another thing I'd do is cut the amount you're feeding by about 80%. Fish don't have stomachs like we do. It would be better feeding a very tiny amount for now. The more food in, the higher the ammonia is going to be. Most fish can easily go a week with no food, so cutting way back isn't going to hurt them. 

Testing for ph gh and kh is not going to do much for you. Those are not lethal issues. your fish will be fine in most of those values. best to use what comes out of your tap and not really worry about those for now. you do need to be testing for ammonia and nitrites daily at this point as those are the lethal ones. you can test for nitrates as well, but it's nowhere near a problem as ammonia. when you see ammonia at all you need to do a water change and adding prime for dechlorination. if ammonia remains high after 4 hours you can do another one. until it comes down. then just constantly test and watch to make sure it stays there. when you have several days of reading zero ammonia, you can resume testing for nitrates. nitrates are the end product of the cycle. so, nitrate readings at this point are a good thing.

 

Supermassive's turbo start is a very good product, it has the same bacteria as fritzzyme7, but in a concentrated form

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safestart can work. It's not as good as Fritzzyme 7 or turbostart. there is also Seachem Stabilty. You can actually use them every other day or so, they are completely fish safe and just add to your beneficial bacteria count.

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On 2/7/2024 at 12:43 PM, Tony s said:

Actually, I'd be very cautious about that. better just to use a regular dose of prime (label directions), after doing the water changes. Primarily for dechlorination, but it can have the side effect of neutralizing the ammonia, and nitrite. Best practice is, if you see ammonia, change water and prime to dechlorinate. Then, if prime does its job, you're good. I used to do the heavier dose of prime, but it can be rough on your fish. I've had a betta go down to the bottom of the tank and just hide and shake. I won't do that again. I think normal dose is okay. You're still going to test positive for ammonia even when it's been neutralized. it only changes into a much less toxic form.

I was advised by @Colu to double dose prime when I was dealing with ammonia. I was dosing the fresh water with the standard dose of prime and then after the water change I was doing another double dose on the entire tank volume. The bottle also says up to 5x dose can be used in an emergency. I've used double doses on my betta tank before too and it seemed to help.

Do a normal dose and if your fish doesn't react add another dose. If the fish seems upset like Tony said then just do the single dose.

On 2/7/2024 at 12:43 PM, Tony s said:

Another thing I'd do is cut the amount you're feeding by about 80%. Fish don't have stomachs like we do. It would be better feeding a very tiny amount for now. The more food in, the higher the ammonia is going to be. Most fish can easily go a week with no food, so cutting way back isn't going to hurt them. 

Testing for ph gh and kh is not going to do much for you. Those are not lethal issues. your fish will be fine in most of those values. best to use what comes out of your tap and not really worry about those for now. you do need to be testing for ammonia and nitrites daily at this point as those are the lethal ones. you can test for nitrates as well, but it's nowhere near a problem as ammonia. when you see ammonia at all you need to do a water change and adding prime for dechlorination. if ammonia remains high after 4 hours you can do another one. until it comes down. then just constantly test and watch to make sure it stays there. when you have several days of reading zero ammonia, you can resume testing for nitrates. nitrates are the end product of the cycle. so, nitrate readings at this point are a good thing.

That's all good advice I would follow. Feeding less will cause less ammonia and fish can eat a lot less than most people think and be just fine. I would feed them a small amount once a day.

And yeah, as long as your PH KH and GH are in a decent range for those fish you don't need to be testing them right now.

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On 2/7/2024 at 1:07 PM, Supermassive said:

The bottle also says up to 5x dose can be used in an emergency

Yeah, I Know. And I've done it before. But, anymore, I think it's just simpler to do another change. Especially for someone with limited experience.  It helps get them into good habits. Ammonia = water change

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Cut back feeding. Then cut it back more. Then cut it back still more. For 1 fish, if you gave an amount of food equivalent to 1 grain of white rice, that's more than enough each day, and in fact because fish are cold blooded they can go for days and days without food, if necessary. 

Water changes. Keep doing it as often as necessary to maintain ammonia at or below 1 ppm. 

Prime (don't be afraid to 2x dose).

Add an airstone, regardless of what type of filter you have.  Prime, along with many other chemicals, can reduce oxygen levels in the water. An airstone is a simple way to combat or counter that. And it's good practice anyways. 

 

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This is the classic new to aquariums mistakes and fixes....Guilty as charged!! :classic_laugh: :classic_rolleyes:  Live and learn and boy did I learn a lot...  I think Fritz-zyme helped me , not really sure... Can't test for beneficial bacteria 🤔. I believe there's almost no way to really avoid the chaos of cycling a tank and getting it seasoned.  :classic_rolleyes:. Lots of live plants and as much stuff from a seasoned tank as possible!   Add some fish food, try and grow some algae and wait.......

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On 2/7/2024 at 10:45 AM, buildingaqua said:


 I've been feeding him twice a day with a mixture of tropical flakes and dried bloodworms. 

 
 
 
 

I would feed much less. Like once every other day and small in amount. The more you feed, the more ammonia you are adding to a tank that already has ammonia issues. Once the tank cycles, you can up the feeding.

Edited by NOLANANO
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On 2/7/2024 at 1:51 PM, Matt B said:

This is the classic new to aquariums mistakes and fixes....Guilty as charged!!

And me as well. and this is also how most of us learn about ich, bloat and dropsy. mostly stress diseases from bad water conditions.

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Given that the tank has been set up for 3 weeks, you are probably looking at 2-3 more weeks for the cycle to complete.  Very little feeding and water changes are the way to go.  You can use Prime (and you should use a dechlorinator), but don't rely on it for handling ammonia (it might, but it might not).

You'll see threads like this probably every week.  It's basically something that most of us go through when we first start.  For your next tank, you will be able to used some media from your current tank in order to hasten the cycle.  Also, you can consider a fishless cycle where you simply add ammonia and wait for the cycle to complete.

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IMO the whole conversation about fish in vs fishless cycling is moot here. There's already fish in. It's just a waiting game now, interrupted by regular water changes. You'll get there.

With live plants you are ASSURED of having a source of beneficial bacteria, it's just a matter of letting them multiply until you have an amount of bacteria that reflects how much ammonia your running tank produces. Ammonia will come from fish poop, uneaten fish food, rotting plants, and decaying microoganisms. This assumes there is none in your source water. So the bacteria that consume ammonia are doing their thing, you just need to keep the ammonia level below 1ppm for that 1 fish you have. Water changes.

Those same water changes will keep nitrite levels in check, when it starts to occur (ie when you DO have lots of bacteria that consume ammonia, but DON'T have a matching amount of the ones that consume nitrites). With fish-in cycles, it's not unusual to reach the end of the process and never see nitrites. You just go from ammonia, to lower ammonia, and climbing nitrates. What I'm saying is there are many paths to a satisfactory outcome, and it's hard for a newb (no slur intended) to be sure the path they want is the one they're on. Not that non-newbs have any guarantee either, for that matter. 

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On 2/7/2024 at 2:01 PM, Tony s said:

And me as well. and this is also how most of us learn about ich, bloat and dropsy. mostly stress diseases from bad water conditions.

I've been praying not to see any of those issues yet... but luckily my little platy seems to be a trooper 😄

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Cutting back on feeding is the #1 evident thing to me that would help, but that has been mentioned many times here.

You mentioned you had a friend with an established tank. My suggestion would be to take some wet media from his filter and use it in yours. If you cant do that, you can simply squeeze out the wet media into your filter/tank. Yes, the tank may get cloudy, but that brown mulm is loaded with beneficial bacteria, and will be an instant boost to speed up your cycle.

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On 2/7/2024 at 1:32 PM, quikv6 said:

Cutting back on feeding is the #1 evident thing to me that would help, but that has been mentioned many times here.

You mentioned you had a friend with an established tank. My suggestion would be to take some wet media from his filter and use it in yours. If you cant do that, you can simply squeeze out the wet media into your filter/tank. Yes, the tank may get cloudy, but that brown mulm is loaded with beneficial bacteria, and will be an instant boost to speed up your cycle.

You might also be able to get some used media from a local fish store.

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