NH4 levels through the roof!

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NH4 levels through the roof!

Postby Sturgcl1 » Tue Feb 09, 2016 11:58 pm

Hi all,
I'm really struggling to control my NH4 levels. They are through the roof and I've no idea why.
I have a 360l tropical tank, well stocked with a large 2000lph ips filter. The tanks 4 yrs old. I recently had to move the tank, so took the opertunity to clean sand etc & plant some new plants. I reused the water I drained from the tank & rinsed the filter media in tank water.

I have just set up my seneye again as since doing the move my aquarium water is really cloudy & the fish are flashing.

2 wks ago The seneye was showing an NH3 of 0.04 & NH4 of 150! PH is stable at 7.2
I freaked out & did a 20% water change every day for a week. Waters still cloudy & the more water changes I do the higher the NH4 is!

I even bought some Prime & double dosed the tank today & did another 40% WC but now my NH3 is 0.029 & NH4 is 200ppm!

Does anyone know why this is happening. I was told 10 was high for NH4, so 200 is ridiculous! The waters really cloudy & the fish are unhappy & I really don't know what else to do! I can't believe my filter can't handle the tank, it says it's suitable for tanks upto 1000l+. Mine is a 360, but I'm guessing holds 250l of actual water!

I did add a few more fish before all this started, the tank was getting quite empty so I'm worried I've overloaded it & it can't cope. But then I would have expected the NH3 to go up too?

Any advice would be very much appreciated.

Kind regards

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Re: NH4 levels through the roof!

Postby Rockfish » Thu Feb 11, 2016 12:07 am

Hi Claire,

Welcome to the forum and sorry to hear you are having this issue.

It's a good thing the pH levels aren't any higher otherwise the switch in the ratio of ammonia:ammonium would almost certainly be rapidly fatal. Even so, that is an extremely high level as I'm sure you already know, so my first thought is have you checked the level with a conventional ammonia kit to confirm the Seneye reading? (Not all standard aquarium kits allow you to distinguish between ammonia/ammonium without pH charts but it would still give an idea if the total amount is really that high).

Moving and cleaning the tank will clearly have caused the spike, saving a good proportion of the water isn't a bad idea, but won't make any real difference to the population of filtration bacteria. Even though the filters were washed in tank water, the combination of that with cleaning the tank and substrate etc has obviously knocked the bacteria down to a level that it can't handle the bioload yet - especially if extra fish were added around the same time.

With mature filter media, you would expect the recovery to be fairly quick, because it's not like starting from scratch with a new tank, but another problem you may have is that when the ammonia/ammonium level is really high, it can actually inhibit the ammonia-converting bacteria themselves, so it can stall the recovery process. The only way to combat this apart from physical removal with zeolite etc (as opposed to things like Prime that bind/convert but still leave as measurable, albeit safer, levels in the tank) would be to continue large water changes to remove as much as possible. However, you need to make sure the change water is as similar to the tank as possible, and don't remove too much at once as you don't want to risk affecting the filter bacteria any more than necessary. For that reason, I wouldn't clean the filter at all unless the flow slows significantly.

In addition, I would stop feeding to minimise wastes. Several days without food won't do the fish any harm, and they may not have much appetite in any case.

The NH3 might not be changing in a totally predictable manner with the NH4 due to either variations in the accuracy of detection with the sort of numbers you're dealing with, or due to the ratio changing with minor pH changes that might be hardly detectable, but would still change the numbers a little due to the amounts involved.

So I would say continued large water changes, don't touch the filter unless necessary, minimise feeding and it might help to add extra bacteria if possible if you have access to any mature media, substrate etc from a different mature tank, or some bottled bacteria products might help, but bear in mind that with either of these things, the bacteria added may still be inhibited by the very high ammonium levels.

Remember there's lots of info at The Tropical Tank main site!
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