So I really screwed something up last night

Discussion in 'Fish and Invertebrates' started by Corallus, Nov 20, 2016.

  1. Corallus

    Corallus BAR Sponsorship Coordinator

    Like the title says, I really f'd something up last night when I was cleaning my tank.

    Background, I've been having algae issues since I setup my tank at the the beginning of the year. It was most likely because I started my tank with used, dry rock that I foolishly did not treat at all. Most recently hair algae has been growing on pretty much everything. Before that, it was bryopsis, but water changes and Kent's Tech M seemed to have brought that under control. But my corals have been looking pretty bad, and this last week, my last remaining sps (birdsnest and plating monti's) all bleached over the course of about a day. RBTA's look ok, and some LPS (euphyllia) are ok, but don't look great. Last night before my disastrous water change, my Ca was 400, Alk 9.2, NO3 25 (maybe a little less). My fish all looked great, ate everything and were nice and active.

    I was struggling to figure out a way to get a handle on the algae problem, so I bought a plastic scrub brush, rinsed it off as well as I could, and while changing the water, started scrubbing surfaces of the rockwork I could get to to break up the algae so I could siphon it out. Apparently, this is a horrible idea. After a few minutes of this, I noticed my kole tang lying on it's side. Still breathing, but looking bad. So I stopped and starting adding water, hoping he was just stressed about be messing with the tank. Nope, that was it. Then, my male lyretail anthias came shooting out of the rocks, thrashing like I've never seen, and died. My clowns were breathing a little heavily, but settled down. Pygmy angle, gramma and fire shrimp seem ok. Have not seen my blenny or the other 2 small anthias. I'm about to start pulling all of my rock out to find what I assume will be the bodies so they don't rot and make things even worse.

    Where I could use some advice - and this may be impossible to answer - what happened? It was like breaking up the algae poisoned the water. As for rocks, if I'm taking them out anyways, I don't really want to put them back, I'd rather replace them pieces that have been treated properly before going into the tank. Is there a good way introduce new rock into a system with fish and some inverts?

    I have loved this hobby, and I have loved keeping my tank, but right now, not so much...
  2. Flagg37

    Flagg37 Colorado member

    I feel so bad for you. The only thing that I think you can do to find out what went wrong is to do a full test. I know when I had a crash I kept about a half cup of the water so that I could test later.
  3. MolaMola

    MolaMola Supporting Member

    Oh no! That is horrible. Any changes?
    I wonder if it was some type of cyano or dinoflagellates. Or could there have been cleaner or antibacterial stuff in the material of the new scrub brush? So sorry this happened.
  4. At a guess -- and I'm sure someone with more experience can shed more light on this -- they died from oxygen depletion. You probably turned off all circulation while scrubbing so you could siphon and then you caused massive bacterial bloom by scrubbing the live rock and disturbing the sand. Those two things combined caused the oxygen levels to plummet and caused the symptoms you describe. I've already learned quickly that massive cleanings and changes are very harmful. Too many parameters changed at one time upsets all the stability we work so hard for. If you want to scrub a rocks do half a rock or so at a time -- then wait a week, etc.
  5. Corallus

    Corallus BAR Sponsorship Coordinator

    Was seriously considering doing that, maybe the Triton test, or something like that. Until I read Rich Ross' post about how the work is done. My RO-DI system is pretty new, purchased from BRS, and the TDS meter reads 0 while it's running.

    I wish I knew, the tank itself has been going downhill for a while with algae becoming more of a problem, coral growth slowing, then stopping, and then dying over the course of a few months. I've been doing 20% water changes basically weekly and it just hasn't helped. I have brought my NO3 from almost 50 at one point to 25, but it still seems high for how much water I change and how much I feed.

    Last night's fish count: 3 LT Anthias, 1 bicolor blenny, 1 royal gramma, 2 occi clowns, 1 pygmy angle, 1 kole tang
    Tonight's fish count: 1 royal gramma, 1 pygmy angle, 2 occi clowns.

    @Bruce Spiegelman - O2 depletion is possible if the scrubbing did something to enhance it. The pumps and such were not off for much longer than one of my normal water changes though.
  6. tankguy

    tankguy BOD

    Not sure what was released but I fought a very similar battle. I pulled most of my rock out and what what rock remained was scrubbed with a brand new wire brush outside of the tank. Also hooked up gfo and added 2 tangs to help out my Naso who was eating it but there was too much. It's been a month and no sign of bad algae.
  7. Calde0920

    Calde0920 Guest

    That's rough man
  8. robert4025

    robert4025 Sponsor

    Accidental release of Hydrogen Sulfide gas maybe? In a tank that has poor water circulation, gas pockets can build up under rocks quite easily. Scrubbing your rocks might have caused those pockets to be disturbed and killed your fish. Just guessing.
  9. rygh

    rygh Supporting Member

    From that description, sounds a lot like a toxin.
    A wild guess is that you shredded something on the rocks that was loaded with toxins.
    Perhaps small zoas, colonial hydroids, cyano, or one of many things.

    A new trick:
    Take the hard plastic 1/4 drip hose, and cut the end to have sharp points.
    Then use that as a scrubber/siphon.
    It cleans pretty well, you can get into smaller spaces, and does not fill buckets instantly like a big siphon hose.
  10. Flagg37

    Flagg37 Colorado member

    I'll have to try that.
  11. iCon

    iCon Supporting Member

    Wow, sorry to hear.

    What sticks out to me is the long standing elevated level of NO3, and a population count of at least 13. Also, your use of Tech M to fight bryopsis.

    High magnesium is detrimental to snails, iirc. Alk shifts are worse. Dead snails could have added to already high ammonia levels, and the latest scrub could have been the straw that broke the tank's back.

    Have you tested for NO2 and NH3? How many fish were in that tank? And how large is the tank? When was your last addition?

    Keep in mind that all test kits are prone to error, and said levels may be way higher than what showed through the test.

    I don't recall the order of operations, but if I had to guess, it'd be an ammonia spike. Drastic parameter changes can also result in the emergence of a formerly suppressed fish disease running rampant. Did the dead fish have any signs of white marks or odd coloration?

    RHF, my go-to for the past decade on all things reef chemistry: He can be found on RC.

    I'd reboot the tank. New dry rock, new everything. Go through a full cycle, and slowly add fish to the new tank. Moving too fast in this hobby often leads to failure. And additives are almost always a bandaid to a longer term problem.

    Best of luck!
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2016
    Newjack and Yippee like this.
  12. sjbro

    sjbro Supporting Member

    Sorry to hear about what happened to your fish. I also suspect that it was something toxic that caused the rapid reaction. Maybe something on the brush, maybe some toxins released from algae, corals or rocks because of scrubbing.

    Although the hair algae could be a tough beast to deal with, I say "Hang in there, you can beat it!".

    Most reefers had to deal with it at a point in their reefing adventures. I dealt with it for nearly 2 years in the past. It got to the point that all rocks were covered in hair algae, the refugium was also full of algae. I was ready to nuke the tank more than once. When things got better, I was so surprised, I could not believe it for a while that it won't come back.

    I recommend a lot pf patience, it will take time to get rid of hair algae. Or if you decide to restart the tank, you need to take it very slow to make sure that algae won't grow in the new system too. I also recommend a well researched action plan. Unfortunately the internet is full of "fast" cures, such as Algae Fix or herbivore fishes. They didn't work for me :). IMO, the key goal is to reduce the nutrients. If you care to know more details of what worked/didn't work for me, let me know.
    Newjack likes this.
  13. Corallus

    Corallus BAR Sponsorship Coordinator

    Thanks to everyone for the responses, I really appreciate hearing all of the feedback and ideas.

    After having a little time to digest:
    A) I have a major underlying problem (symptoms: too much algae growth coupled with poor coral growth) that triggered my,
    B) Over reaction that resulted in me killing most of my fish (toxin release and/or oxygen starvation).

    I had 9 fish, with the most recent addition being a pygmy angle added about 2 months ago (after 1 month in QT). My 2 largest fish were a male LT anthias (grew a lot in my tank) and a 4"kole tang, this in a 70 gallon. I fed 1 cube of PE mysis or emerald entree, and a small pinch of flakes daily. Fish were added pretty slowly since getting water in the tank in Jan. In peoples opinion, is this too high of a stocking level?

    I've read quite a few of RHF's articles on RC, many of them multiple times - and I'm a chemist (I'm supposed to understand this stuff. Supposed to...).My Mg did test at 1600 once, but is usually around 1500, even with tech M addition. Of my parameters, Alk has been the most stable, testing in the high 8's to low 9's since May. NO3 made it to 50 (per salifert) in July, but came down to 25 by Oct with lots of water changes. But I was not able to bring it down any lower, and by now I was doing weekly 20% water changes. As the algae crept in, something happened to the corals - like there was too much or too little of something I couldn't measure, they started looking awful and in many cases dying. My thinking was to remove as much algae as I could because it seemed to be having a detrimental effect on the coral. In hindsight, this was probably just trying to treat a symptom. Generally, I consider myself a pretty patient person, maybe I just need to be "reefer patient" ;).

    Still undecided about how I'm going to move forward. I really would like to keep my remaining nems, coral and fish. Perhaps I'll move them to a small temporary tank, replace all of the main tank rock and sand, and let it cycle before slowly moving things back over. But for the next little while, I don't plan to mess with things further, just feeding and regular water changes and see how things progress. I need to develop a plan - around stocking levels and appropriate nutrient export. I have some ideas that I'll try to describe in my tank journal, but would love to hear how others have approached this.
  14. sjbro

    sjbro Supporting Member

    IMO, 9 fish with only one tang is not that much for a reef tank. The amount of food you used sounds a bit more. How long did the fish take to consume that food? I stayed away from frozen food after reading that it is prone to pollute the water with nutrients. I don't know 100% if it is true and how bad. I used pellets to feed my fish, each feeding being as much as they could eat in max 30 seconds. I would do 2 feedings a day. My tank is also rich in mysis shrimp and pods.

    AFAK, NO3 levels over 20 ppm are bad for corals. 50 sounds really high. If I recall correctly, such levels are bad even for fish. In my early days, before converting to a system with a sump I used to see such levels in my tank. My understanding is that best consumer of NO3 is the anaerobic bacteria, then macroalgae such as chaeto. 8+ years ago I went on the path of adding a sump + refugium with a deep sand bed + chaeto. Since then my tank never had detectable NO3 levels. Nowadays, folks talk about various drawbacks for the deep sand bed. One hot alternative is the marinepure biomedia.

    I did a quick scan if your tank journal. Very nice, clean build!
    I noticed that you don't have a refugium. I don't know how easy it is for you to add one. In this case an easy improvement would be to add a marinepure biomedia plate in your sump.
    Some folks also point at the filter socks as a medium that traps nutrients thus leaking nitrates in the water. Do some more research on them, make sure they're regularly cleaned & exchanged. I personally do not use them because they require a high maintenance, so I can't comment on their side effects.

    I would stick with the current fish, maybe add a small herbivore tang or dwarf angel. In my experience, the kole tangs, as the one you had, were good to help with algae, but they didn't put a dent into it until the source of nutrients was taken care of and the algae growth stopped. I also had success with a tomini tang, in fact I still have one in my tank today as the main herbivore fish. The downside is that tangs are more sensitive to diseases such as ich - I rushed to add a tang in my algae infested tank, just to end up with an ich outbreak and a bigger issue in my hands. It's good that you QT your fish :).
    Then, keep a small CUC. I would especially be careful with the snails, if they die, they release a bunch of waste in the water. Maybe first add the CUC to your QT, feed and examine them for 1-2 weeks, then move them to the main tank.

    As for the rocks, if you have good, cured, nutrient free rocks, I would say to exchange them, gradually, to prevent a bacteria shock in your tank. If you don't have good quality rocks, it might be better to keep yours. The hair algae will feed on their nutrients thus "cure" them.

    Next, consider extra help for nutrients removal. In my case, I've dialed the skimmer to produce wet skimate - aka take out more nutrients before they decompose and spike the NO3. I also added a bio-pellets reactor. I liked bio-pellets since they are an artificial food & medium for bacteria to grow on, while requiring very little maintenance: from time to time I'm cleaning the intake & outtake tubes for the reactor and add more bio-pellets as they get consumed. Other folks prefer the GFO. My understanding is that GFO will mainly reduce phosphates - since hair algae thrives in your tank you probably have those as well, but IMO your nitrate levels are more of a concern. Bio-pellets will reduce both nitrates and phosphates, the bacteria feeds on both.

    In the end, I would just suggest to be careful and do small changes at a time. It sounds that for now you have the NO3 a bit under control with water changes. Stick with them while figuring out the rest of the changes, and implement those gradually.
  15. iCon

    iCon Supporting Member

    Your livestock list sounds fine. I misread your original post to be a death toll. If you need a holding tank, I'm sure someone on here could lend you one while you restart.

    FWIW- During my battle with bryopsis, I did not see die off until the levels hit 1750+.
  16. Coral reefer

    Coral reefer President

    Corals struggling and hair algae sound like phosphates to me. Did you ever test this? Good luck in recovering. Sorry to hear your setback.

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