View Full Version : Nitrates and my aquarium...I just don't understand it

Slim Jim
10/03/2012, 07:10 PM
Hello everybody, first off I would like to introduce myself as a new member to this forum. My name is Jim and I am 26 years old....lol. I have maintained a 75 gallon reef aquarium for about 4 years now. I started off with a 60 gallon freshwater aquarium with Angel Fish and Silver Dollars, so on...

I soon discovered how much more fun a saltwater aquarium is!

Here is my problem:

Recently (according to my test kit) my nitrate levels have sky rocketed! Apparently my nitrates are over 160 ppm. I don't understand what has happened.

I have a 75 gallon display tank with a 20 gallon refugium/sump tank.

Here is some info on the tank:

2 Firefish - 3/4" long
2 Clown Fish (Ocellaris) - 3/4" length
1 Green Bubble Tip Anemone - 8" diameter and healthy as can be
1 Yellow Tang - 1.5" length
1 Six Line Wrasse - 1" length
1 Arrow Crab - 3" diameter
1 Black Spine Sea Urchin - 6" diameter
2 Emerald crabs - 1" diameter
---Plus, a pretty good clean up crew including lots of various snails and crabs.

Devil's Hand Leather
Kenya Tree
Pulsing Xenia
Various Mushrooms
Green Button Polyps

Live Rock:
I have over 100 pounds of it. Extremely purple with an abundance of Coraline Algae.

Sump pump that provides (head pressure accounted for) 450 GPH of flow
Coralife Super Skimmer rated at 150 gallon capacity
Sump tank with a recently acquired ball of Chateo Algae about the size of 2 softballs. I provide light rated at 5500K to the algae for a period of 12 hours.

15 gallon water change every two weeks, plus makeup water for evaporation
Stir up live sand 1 time per week
Scrape off the brown algae that seems to build up on the glass every 2 days or so, a very light film of brown algae

Weekly water tests:
Nitrates- >160 ppm (according to an API test kit)
Calcium - 450 ppm (according to a Red Sea test kit)
Alk - 10.2 Dkh (according to a Salifert test kit
Nitrite - 0 ppm (according to an API test kit)
Phosphate - 0 ppm (according to a Salifert test kit)
Specific Gravity/Salinity - 0.024
Temperature - 80 degrees with NO VARIATION

Lighting: 48" T5 HO
2 ATI True blue
1 10,000K daylight
1 420/460 Actinic

So why is my nitrate so high? Why did it recently change? My skimmer produces a full cup of brown/yellow fluid in a week (I do my best to meet dry and wet skimming in the middle-micro bubbles are set to the bottom of the collection cup).
I just purchased a phosphate reactor in hopes to eliminate the brown algae and perhaps help the nitrates. I plan on installing it Friday. Will this help? Has my Nitrate testing kit expired or perhaps failed?

Everything in my tank is thriving and I have no idea if or why my Nitrates are so darn high. ANY HELP WOULD BE APPRECIATED!

10/03/2012, 07:18 PM
I would try another test kit first. Also start using RO vice tap water.

Sent from my iPhone5 using Tapatalk

Slim Jim
10/03/2012, 07:27 PM
I should have just asked this to start with, "Can test kits expire or stop producing accurate results?".

I wish I could use RO water as well...unfortunately that is not possible at this time.

10/03/2012, 07:28 PM
Maybe your source water got extra dirty. It is known to happen, which is the only reason I use RODI since my TDS out of the tap is 10 or under 360 days a year. Sometimes there is a containment, they don't mention. Twice last year our water was not safe to drink for a day.

160 is pretty high for an all of the sudden kinda thing. I'd check the test kit again, recount those drops.

10/03/2012, 07:57 PM
I should have just asked this to start with, "Can test kits expire or stop producing accurate results?".

I wish I could use RO water as well...unfortunately that is not possible at this time.

Yes, they can and do. There should be an expiration date on the bottle.

API test kits, in my experience, tend to do just what you are seeing when they expire. 160 should be an algae factory. If your tank looks healthy then I'd get a second opinion on that reading.

Slim Jim
10/03/2012, 08:14 PM
Very good to hear, I will spend some money on a new kit. Is API any good or should I go with a different brand?

10/03/2012, 08:34 PM
the test kit should have a date on it and you really need to shake them well before using them

10/03/2012, 08:36 PM
Could be the test kit. But the tap water is not helping. FWIW, you could get an RO/DI filter with TDS meter for less than $160.

Slim Jim
10/03/2012, 09:56 PM
$160.....please fill me in.

10/03/2012, 09:59 PM
I would look at the tap water and the amount of stock. Maybe feeding amount and type , and didnt see any power heads listed.

Slim Jim
10/03/2012, 10:17 PM
Tap water is what I'm stuck with at the moment.

Power heads:
4 Hydor Koralia Evolutions

Once daily - San Francisco Bay Brand Brine Shrimp - One chunk about the size of a Quarter (U.S. Currency)
Kent Marine phytoplanktin - 0.5 oz per day (spot feeding corals)
I feed the anemone 1 silver side, or grocery grade shrimp, or krill (whatever I feel like) every two weeks.

10/03/2012, 10:55 PM
In the past I've battled high nitrates. I solved the problem with a ro/di, a huge skimmer and then biopellets.
I no longer run biopellets but I have fewer fish. Without buying a lot of new equipment, i would first test new salt water to get a base line with the tap water, and see what the real number is from the tank.
Next I would syphon out as much crud from the substrate and rock as you can. Start a series of weekly water changes, say 20-25%. Also cut back on food, never feed more than the fish will eat up quick at one time. The phyto coral food may be adding a lot. You may try something differant, I like cyclopeze powder and reef chili from BRS. I feed that about once a week.
The brown algea you described may be diatoms. I was told they are fed by silicates in the tap water. RO/DI solves that.

10/03/2012, 11:10 PM
I noticed you have a phosphate reactor, that is what I used the biopellets in with a big enough powerhead to roll them. I used a maxi1200. Read them threads on these. My whole system is 250g I had about 700 grams in three phosban reactors. Nitrates went from 80 to 0 in 2 months, in a heavy stock 180g reef.
Your fish are small, it dosent seem right, I would try differant fish food too, or at least rinse it before feeding.

10/03/2012, 11:11 PM
Take a water sample to your local fish store and ask them to test it for nitrates. It will at least let you know if your test kit is out of whack.

Don't use tap water. I'm betting one of your local fish stores sells RO/DI water, or even pre-made saltwater.. Heck, many grocery stores will sell "purified" water for about a dollar a gallon, and that would be better than the tap you're using.


10/04/2012, 12:23 AM
How deep is the sand? Not sure I'd advise stirring it up weekly like you said. Different tiny critters & bacteria live at different depths in the sand. A light surface stirring or vacuuming is ok but I never go down more than about a half inch.

- D

Slim Jim
10/04/2012, 11:27 AM
How deep is the sand? Not sure I'd advise stirring it up weekly like you said. Different tiny critters & bacteria live at different depths in the sand. A light surface stirring or vacuuming is ok but I never go down more than about a half inch.

- D

Thanks for all of the help folks!

I just stir up the surface a bit. I only stir sections that have a bit of brown. I don't have the phosphate reactor running right now because it is on order. It should arrive at my doorstep tomorrow. I bought a little pump for it and it is rated at 100 GPH. The reactor I bought is a Two Little Fishes Phosban 150 and the directions say that I only need 30-50 GPH. I also bought AQUAMAXX PHOSPHATE OUT GRANULAR FERRIC OXIDE FILTER MEDIA GFO.

10/04/2012, 12:46 PM
I'm thinking tap water is the cuplrit.

10/04/2012, 01:32 PM
It would be better to do no water changes IMO than use tap water.
4 stage RODI unit here for $161: http://www.bulkreefsupply.com/bulk-reverse-osmosis-filters-systems.html
Feed only once every other day (which I do long-term) until you confirm that your nitrates are in a safe range.

10/04/2012, 06:09 PM
You need an RO/DI filter to protect the considerable investment you've already made in your tank. My advice would be not to spend another penny on your tank until you have an efficient RO/DI unit. Good luck.

10/04/2012, 06:18 PM
$160.....please fill me in.

Check out BRS, Buckeye Field Supply, there are others I can't think of, check the sponsor forums.

Whoever is having a sale when you shop, buy it. You can get a good 4 stage for that easy. Definitely no more than $200 on a bad day.

Slim Jim
10/04/2012, 07:27 PM
I will order a RO/DI filter ASAP. Thank you and I will keep you updated on my progress.

10/04/2012, 08:08 PM
I don't know about your water source, but locally our water company buys water from different sources. Sometimes my water has 250 tds and sometimes its up to 400 tds. I have not bothered to check nitrates because I use RO/DI water. Seriously, the RO/DI filter is the way to go. You will save a lot of money in the longrun. Just go to the equipment section of our forum and people will help you to set it up.

Slim Jim
10/07/2012, 04:03 PM
I installed the reactor. I hope it helps out. I used a Rio 90 Aqua Pump/Powerhead with the Two Little Fishes 150 reactor. I am using Aquamaxx Phosphate Out GFO. In addition, I am researching RO/DI filtration units and I plan on ordering one soon (probably the one that Steve175 recommends).


Slim Jim
10/08/2012, 03:58 PM

I am now using RO/DI water. I just purchased a Salifert Nitrate testing kit and two EcoTech Marine MP10 Vortech Propeller Pump w/ Wireless EcoSMART Driver which should arrive this Friday. I hope that the additional water flow, Phosban reactor, and RO/DI water will fix things up a bit.

10/08/2012, 04:16 PM
When I moved, I had a 40 gal tank and decided for the short run to use tap since my RO had not been set up yet. tested the water out of the tap and the Nitrates were crazy high. Headed off to the LFS and bought water for that tank.

10/08/2012, 04:37 PM
Before our business moved our tap water was at 10ppm of Nitrates. My Tank was less than 5ppm. I showed my co workers that the water from my tank was cleaner than the water coming from the water fountain with a simple test kit.

Slim Jim
10/10/2012, 05:53 PM

I discovered that the "Algae breakout" was actually Cyanobacteria. The new Phosban reactor appears to be starving this crap. Almost all of it is gone now. I also changed out one Actinc 460/420 bulb that was about a year old. All of my bulbs are now replaced with new units. It may be possible that the Cyanobacteria was enjoying the poor light produced from that one bulb (the bulb was closest to the back of the tank which is where the Cyano was growing). I still am not sure where my Nitrate levels are. As soon as the Salifert test kit is delivered, I will run some tests and find out where the tank stands.

I can't wait to get the new Ecotech Vortech pumps...I have a feeling they are going to be the cat's ***!!! I'm tempted to buy two of the Ecotech Radion lights for my tank. Anyone have any experience with those particular units?

10/10/2012, 08:41 PM
I have a Radion over my 30g....Coral seems to love it. Being able to program an artificial light cycle is sweet. I have a red/dark blue lighting for about an hour at night which really makes the colors pop. Plus, their upgrades are not expensive at all. The new TIR lense upgrade is only 30$ and is a HUGE difference.

AI Sols are apparently pretty sweet too and are half the price, but I really like the Radion. Looking to buy an MP10 now, but 240$ for a powerhead seems nuts!

Slim Jim
10/10/2012, 09:07 PM
Looking to buy an MP10 now, but 240$ for a powerhead seems nuts!

Boy, do I know how you feel! I just spent $570 on TWO MP10's! Wow does that hurt the wallet. And they are replacing 4 powerheads that have done the job for 4 years. I hope it's worth it. Still, the Radion lights look REALLY awesome! I'm glad to hear that you like them! The fact of the matter is....it is really REALLY fun and rewarding to attempt to simulate an Ocean environment (and expensive too). Just like any hobby, you're going to pay for it : )

I have put a lot of work into my tank in the past couple of months because I remembered how fun this hobby can be. I also remembered that my hobby is based on Oceanic creatures that I should be taking care of.

10/11/2012, 01:42 PM
well my 2cents are that you need to use RO/DI (i am currently facing and issue and my unit is not working properly) ... in addition to that and if you have the finances buy another skimmer, coralife skimmers are not that reliable ...

Slim Jim
10/11/2012, 04:21 PM
I am now using RO/DI water. IMO, my Coralife skimmer is more than reliable. The biggest improvement I made to it was simply adding a chamber in my sump to ensure that the water level is always at 9". It always skims perfectly and the micro bubbles are very consistent. I do a complete tear down on it about once a year just to clean it it up a bit, but that's about it.

I'm pretty much certain that my test kit was giving me false readings. I will find out tomorrow when my new Salifert test kit arrives.

Slim Jim
10/12/2012, 05:31 PM

My MP10's were delivered. Wow can those things push some water around. They are almost too much for my 75 gallon tank IMO.

Unfortunately the new test kit shows Nitrate levels at 50 ppm. UGH. This sucks.

11/12/2012, 12:24 PM
Any updates???

Slim Jim
11/12/2012, 04:23 PM

Unfortunately my nitrate problem is not solved although it is much lower. I feel that my tank may be over stocked which doesn't seem possible but it seems to be the only answer. I only have 5 small fish and a variety of crabs and corals. My protein skimmer produces 1 full cup of skim stuff per week. Algae/diatom growth continues and I am constantly battling it. The good news is that everything is very very healthy including the bubble tip anemone. Coral growth is excellent. Why all of this is happening? I have no idea? Nothing I do seems to help so at this point I am letting nature run it's course. I am now a spectator. I dumped nearly $1000 into new equipment and have seen no results.

Slim Jim
07/01/2013, 05:59 PM
It's been about 6 months now and my algae/nitrate problems are little to none! Everything is very healthy but unfortunately I did lose my bubble tipped anemone : (
I just let nature run its course and the tank solved the problems itself. Weird how that works? I limited my water changes to a 10% change once per month and I only feed the tank brine shrimp once every 2 days. Everything cleared right up!

I would like to replace my Aquaticlife T5 HO lights with led's but I'm having trouble finding a fixture that is reasonably priced. I'm looking for a fixture that sits on top of the tank, is programmable, and is LED obviously. I would like something that is comparable to what I already have which is this:

AquaticLife T5 Ho 4-Lamp 48" (http://www.marinedepot.com/AquaticLife_T5_HO_4_Lamp_Light_Fixtures_w_Lunar_LEDs_24_Inch_T5_Fluorescent_Light_Fixtures-AquaticLife-AK01035-FILTFIT54U-vi.html)

I'm sure this is a very common question but I would greatly appreciate any advice or recommendations. Thanks in advance!