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Hidden reasons for 'failure to thrive.'

Posted 08/09/2016 at 10:01 AM by Sk8r

Often it's the things you CAN'T see that cause the fail...
The ones that sneakily do in your corals or make your fish susceptible to problems.
This is where you need a) a decent skimmer (2x your tank system volume is a good measure) to handle nitrate b) strong water flow---limp flow doesn't oxygenate enough: your fish should work a little holding place at some points. c) do your water changes to replace the micro-traces your fish/corals may use up....
In other words, its the invisible chemistry of the water...
Here's how it works. The alkalinity (7.9 to 8.3 is good) keeps the water able to dissolve things it needs to dissolve, like calcium, etc; and your fish find that ph/alkalinity comfortable too...their natural slime coat loves it. Same when you put your hands into some nasty chemical and realize they're dried out and your skin isn't comfy. Your fish live in a liquid medium that needs to be a certain alkalinity (ph is related to it) to let their skin do its thing: their slime coat protects them against bacteria and parasites. When it goes, they're undefended. And uncomfortable. Fish and your corals will, given this ideal basis of 1.024 [up to 1.026] salinity and 8.3 alkalinity, find all the other minerals they need through the water that constantly passes through their gills and kidneys---it's like they drink every minute of every day, forever; and what they drink needs to be good.
I just go ears-up when a person clearly new to the hobby, who's having trouble, begins with 'my water is perfect.' It almost always isn't, once we get down to 'what's your alkalinity?'
Nitrates: NOTHING loves them high, except maybe aiptasia: there's some discussion on that. How do you get rid of the high readings? SKimming and water changes. And if you have a weak skimmer and can't get more out of it, try something like NoPoX, easy to use---but measure accurately!!!!!---or you'll be having bacterial sheets. Your ammonia readings should always be zero. Your nitrate readings should be under 20, and if you want corals, in the fractions of 1. Your fish will thank you. They may be able to survive in nitrate up to 100, but not as happily as in clean water. Nitrate is, well, waste. And they shouldn't have to live in it.

Next and essential point: there is no FDA for fish products unless you mean to eat the fish. This means ANYBODY can make all sorts of claims of effectiveness for meds, foods, and additives. The three additives you need are: alkalinity buffer, calcium, and magnesium. With tests for each. !!!!!!NEVER add some chemical you have no test for!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! When you are way experienced and into more exotic setups, you may find some situations where you need something else, but right now, and for your setup, those three are what you need and all you need. Plus a salt mix appropriate for a reef, or for fish-only: if it's significantly cheaper, it's for fish-only.

These are the 'invisible' things in your water. A good array of tests for these specific things, attention to testing once a week if not more often (as a beginner, or when things aren't right) and a program of water changes---with ro/di-based saltwater----[let's not even talk about the things that may be in your tapwater that water conditioner does NOT deal with, or we'll be here much, much longer: just say---use ro/di. If you didn't set up with it, you'll have a bit of an upward climb, but get going with it and oh, after a few months of regular water changes, you'll be a lot better off. Do those tests, keep a little cheap logbook in the box with the tests, and date the results.

Find the invisible problems with good testing, and fix them, and your tank should run more smoothly and become what you envision with far fewer hitches along the way.
Here is a checklist of things that you should check, with the best parameter for each. In general, pick the lowest good reading to shoot for, because evaporation concentrates chemicals, so if you're high to start with, evaporation will take you out of the good zone.
1. temperature: 78-80. ----------Surviveable temperature range: 62.8 to 85. But some classes of critter will die, and corals can bleach.
2. salinity: 1.024--------------half a cup of salt mix per gallon of ro/di gets you this. Cup or teaspoon means 'leveled with razor precision.'
3. alkalinity: 8.3---------------7.9 to 9. Try not to go higher. Or lower.
4. calcium : 420---------------if you have stony corals (with skeleton) you MUST supplement.
5. magnesium: 1350-----------if it falls below 1200 your calcium and alk reading will start falling. This is not good.
6. ammonia: 0---------------- toxic: causes kidney damage, death within usually 3 days.
7. nitrate: for fish less than 20, for corals less than 1.......They can survive it higher, but think of it as sewage. Not nice.
8. flow: 17x tank volume per hour is my preference: pumps are rated in GPH (gallons an hour) which is progressively reduced by HEAD, the distance upward it has to push. I figure it's good when my fishes reach points in the tank where they have to do some work to stand still. TO figure this, take your tank volume, say, 50 gallons, and multiply that by 17. The result, 850, is the proper number of your required pump GPH. My fifty actually ran with a 950 GPH pump with a 4 foot 'head' from the sump (which knocks off some of that power) and worked really well. For my 100 gallon, with a basement sump, I use a 2300 gph pump wide open to reach the tank upstairs, and augment the flow with a Gyre at about 60%.
9. skimming................you should be getting greenish-black stuff out, at leanest skim: ONCE YOUR TANK IS MATURE: this is where you get rid of amino acids and other waste. You will not get the heavy skimmate on a brand new tank. This rate can be increased by carbon dosing. Safest for novices is NoPoX, but you MUST read the instructions and measure precisely.
10. feeding:--------------if it's still hanging around after half a minute, you may be overfeeding: most fish need to fill their (rather large) mouth once daily to be satisfied, is my rule. Some species (notably anthias) rely on more times daily; and dragonets (mature large tank only) require feeding every second of every day, feeding on copepods grown in a fuge.
Spot-feeding: not necessary with most critters and corals. If you buy one that needs it, you're buying a job and needing a skilled tanksitter. I have run several reefs and have NEVER acquired anything requiring spot-feeding.
Hope that helps.
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