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New Tank Syndrome

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New Tank Syndrome, Part 2
by 2manyfish

Remember that tank we discussed in the beginning? The newly set up tank that now has cloudy white water, as if someone dumped a carton of milk in the aquarium? As we mentioned, that cloud of white stuff is actually ammonia precipitate, and it can't be filtered out. However, it WILL go away by itself, once the beneficial bacteria become fully established. This may take several weeks, but it will happen. You say you want it to go away faster? Well, here's the secret of how to do that: move an established filter from another tank over to the new tank. The established bacterial colony in the old filter will quickly consume the ammonia and clear up the white precipitate, often overnight. If you already have an established aquarium, you might want to consider swapping filters. That is, put the old, working filter on the new tank, and replace the old filter on the old tank with the new filter. The new filter can't handle any biological filtration on the old tank for about 3-4 weeks, but the rest of the tank already has a bacterial coating that only needs to increase in size a little bit to handle the established tank. In a few days, the old tank will be functioning just as good as it was before, and the new tank will be kept clear of ammonia by the old filter you installed.

Of course, the BEST method of avoiding consequences of New Tank Syndrome is to set up the new tank and use the "Fishless Cycle Method" of establishing a bacterial colony. An excellent article on the web about fishless cycling can be found here: Cycling with Ammonia. Suffice it to say that by not using live fish during the "cycle" of a new tank, we really don't have to worry about New Tank Syndrome because there are no fish to be harmed.

Now at least you know what New Tank Syndrome is, what causes it, and how to deal with it. Best of all, you know not to panic if it hits your new tank. It WILL resolve all by itself in a few weeks.

Oh, yes, I did mention that we would discuss nitrates, and how to remove them from the water. Well, that would require your intervention. Nitrates are not easily removed from water without elaborate filtration schemes. However, they can very easily be removed by water changes. If you remove 10% of the water from your aquarium and replace it with fresh water, you have just diluted any and all toxins in the tank by 10%. Similarly, if you remove and replace 20% of the water, you just diluted toxins by 20%. Exactly how much water should be removed and replaced every week, and how do you do it? Well, you must purchase a simple Nitrate Test Kit. There are many on the market, and unfortunately some work much better than others. I prefer the Jungle Nitrate Test Strips because they have proven themselves to be very accurate for me, so that is what I will recommend. Now, most fish don't seem to suffer any ill effects so long as the nitrate levels are kept below 20 ppm (parts per million), also expressed as 20 mg/L (milligrams per liter of water). If, with 10% weekly water changes, your nitrate levels consistently remain below 20 ppm, then 10% water changes per week are adequate. However, with some dirty fish, 10% water changes are not enough. If your nitrate levels are consistently testing at, say, 40 ppm just before you do your water changes, then you'll need to increase your water changes to 50% per week. With most fish, you can do this all at once. However, if you feel uncomfortable changing this much water at once, you can do two 25% water changes per week, say on Wednesday and Saturday, and that will probably keep your nitrate levels down. Your nitrate tests will tell you if you are changing enough water or not. At any rate, you should always change at least 10% of your tank's water every week, even if nitrate levels read zero. This is because there are other waste byproducts (such as unwanted colors) that will slowly build up, and which can only be removed by regular water changes.

There you have it. After setting up your new tank, be patient for the first month or so and wait for the beneficial bacteria to grow. After that first month, begin weekly water changes, every week, faithfully. Don't overfeed your fish (feed only as much as they will consume in a few minutes), and don't overcrowd your tank with more fish than it can handle. If you do these things, your tank should remain healthy indefinitely, and stay that way for years.

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