View Full Version : Should I remove my shallow sand bed - issues in tank

09-22-2015, 01:00 PM
I'm having some issues with both nitrates and phsophates. Nitrates are 20ppm+ and phosphates are .2ppm RO/DI was tested at 0.00 so it's not a water issue.

System is a 180 and a 40 gallon plumbed together + sump. There are currently no fish in the system as I am treating for ich. I have not fed the tank in weeks but cyano is growing like crazy in the 180 only. The 180 has 1" or less of sugar sized sand. Sandbed is about 14 months old. I had to tear the tank completely down to get all the fish out. Stirred everything up, rocks out of the water ect. I hadn't tested phosphates in a while but assumed wrongfully they were okay as I frequently change gfo and my feeding habits have not changed in many years. Nitrates have always been somewhat of an issue despite the fact I only have about 15 fish (2 tangs rest small).

The 40 gallon has never had any cyano issues but it has a haddoni anemone so there is a 6" dsb. The 40 gallon is actually low flow so it's not a flow issue in the 180, lights are all led's so no old bulbs.

I have done a 75 and 85 gallon water change after removing the fish. Neither had much effect other then rising the alkalinity. I can really only make 110 gallons of water max at a time but I am thinking I might just have to get some more barrels and do a 100% water change and just deal with an alk shock.

I have tried nopox and it did not work, but I don't believe this phosphate issue is long term which is perhaps why the nopox did not work. I am perplexed how it's gotten so bad. I grow 2 different kinds of macro in addition to the gfo. I also had a 15 gallon barrel of sand plumbed in which I thought was not helping nitrates but may have actually been keeping the nitrates at about 10ppm as after the barrel developed a small leak and I took it offline they rose.

My fish are going back in november 6th and I'd like to solve this by then. I do have NPS corals I am eventually going to have to feed again too. So I am thinking the SSB might be the issue. I could remove it despite my dislike for bare bottom tanks. Next year I plan on moving and I could deal with the bare bottom until then and just place some sand containers for my wrasses to sleep in.

Otherwise I can try nopox again, maybe give biopellets a try, buy a ton of gfo and start changing it out every 3 days, or more barrels and 100% water change. I welcome any suggestions, I figured the tank would be on cruise control as I worry about controlling ammonia in the tanks my fish are currently in but no such luck.

09-22-2015, 02:54 PM
Fwiw, you can bring alkalinity down with Muriatic acid in your saltwater mixing tub if you want to. It doesn't affect any other parameters. Reducing nutrients via water changes is a slow and expensive process though.

What do you have for a skimmer? What do you use for filtration besides the skimmer? What are you using for powerheads? When yu do a water change, how does the procedure go? Do you simply remove old water and replace with new, or do you vacuum the sand (yes it's possible even with sugar sand, but it sucks) and blow off rocks? To me, it looks like a husbandry issue from the information you provided. Removing the sand bed won't solve husbandry problems, but it would quite likely give you a leap ahead of the problem, and would give you the option of using a coarser sand in the future that is easier to keep clean imo. Enough GFO would solve the PO4 issue, albeit GFO is expensive, and it won't touch the nitrate problem. Biopellets might be a good option for you to help you catch back up to "0", but imo, no tank should need to use biopellets forever.

09-22-2015, 03:12 PM
Skimmer is an ATI BM 250 yes it's old but still doing a great job. Flow is Jeabo powerheads WP 40's plus the 10 in the anemone tank plus eheim return. I also have a Korillia powerhead covering some dead spots the jeabos dont touch although I suppose I could upgrade that to get a little more flow going. Still I don't think flow is an issue since the low flow tank has no cyano. I don't know how many gph off hand but I do have a nice wave in the tank and LPS / anemones do sway.

I only recently started vacuuming in the sand since I stirred up so much detritus. Otherwise I just blast the rocks and change the water then the filter socks. Filter socks are changed every 3 days or so. Obviously I'm not touching the DSB.

I run carbon and gfo in the dual chamber brs reactor. I have somewhere between 150-250 lbs of live rock. Since it came from different systems I never really weighed it, I feel like if anything I have too much live rock as far as an aquascape standpoint. Most of it's tonga some is fiji. Otherwise I grow Caulerpa in the anemone tank and cheato in the fuge in the sump. I have been vacuuming the sump to stop any detritus build up as well as hair algae which grows likley due to the PC bulb growing the cheato. The cheato itself does still grow pretty clean, just the wires and sides of the fuge get hair algae. Algae other then Cyano is not a problem in the 180.

Prior to taking the fish out and having these problems I typically changed 50 gallons a month. Alk / Cal / Mg is controlled via dosing pumps.

10-06-2015, 01:55 PM
updates : daily water changes of 5-20g removed the cyano but as soon as I stopped it returned. Doing a larger 60g water change did not remove it yesterday. 30ml of nopox is dosed every morning.

Water parameters are now 0.05 for phosphates and 10-25 nitrates from the top or 10 from the side (salifert). Phosphates did reach a low of 0.03 but I've since stirred the sand. It has now been over 2 months since I have fed this tank or a fish has pooped in it. I lost a few sps frags and some lps are not happy about no feedings but everything is more or less okay. While I could run chemiclean to get rid of the cyano I do not want to discontinue skimming for 2 days.

I've added more flow to the fuge in an effort to keep the cheato clean and to encourage it to grow. Caulerpa is growing well in the anemone tank and I've had to prune it several times. My haddoni did move which was a bit of a concern but it seems to have resettled in.

I've got 30 more days to get this under control. Unfortunately some of the saltwater I am making has to go to the fish since they are basically in filterless tanks awaiting the end of the fallow period. Besides being super expensive it's very taxing having to change large amounts of water each and everyday and running my ro/do almost all day everyday. I have changed the filters once I got to 1tds and it's back to 0.

I am hopeful that another 100 gallon water change will reduce the nitrates further and some more small daily removal of the cyano will eliminate that. I am still very worried about a) not getting the nitrates down before I put the fish back. b) keeping them down once the tank starts being fed again.

In my 10 years of reefing I've had some really bad crashes but never anything like this, a relatively simple problem that just won't go away.

10-06-2015, 02:39 PM
Sorry I forgot to revisit this thread when the notifications were down. I'm also not able to see all the "New Posts" either. Annoying, but I digress...

Could you post a pic of your tank so I have an idea of your rock work? I'm thinking you could probably use removing some rock. The reason why you're struggling so bad is because the nitrate and phosphate get absorbed into the rock and sand beds, and as you change the water more leeches out. This is why I suggested biopellets.

One of my clients' tanks when I first start with the tank was around 750 ppm NO3 and 2.5 ppm PO4. The tank is now just under 100 ppm and 0.25 ppm respectively. This is from using biopellets. The system is about 250 gallons and is in a high rise office building, so there isn't much space. I can only do 20 gallon water changes. I started off by removing the rocks, scrubbing them down to remove detritus and massive amounts of hair algae, cyano, and even dinoflagellates. I did half the tank one week, and half the tank the other week. I vacuumed the sand too (~3"). I cleaned the skimmer up and the sump. Weekly maintenance included pulling out clumps of hair algae, sand vacuuming, filter pad change, and then it was just a waiting game. I didn't do anything special, and I didn't do ANY big water changes. My point is, biopellets work very well in these sorts of situations.

If you choose to use biopellets, there are a few things that I've found make a big difference. Choose a recirculating reactor so that you can control the effluent to just a trickle (too fast and the biopellets are too aggressive). Place the effluent hose so that it goes into the skimmer. Start off with 1/3 the amount of biopellets the instructions say to use, and don't add more until 4-5 weeks in as it takes about 3-4 weeks for new biopellets to start working.

10-06-2015, 03:23 PM
That's okay. The whole situation is frustrating. I've actually been thinking about the rock and maybe it's just time to be acid washed or replaced. The majority of the rock I've had almost 10 years. It's always been in use in a reef. Some of it I purchased about 5 or 6 years ago and removed it from my octopus / cuttlefish tank when I switched over to garden eels so while not in a reef it was always in a running functional tank.

The rock in the anemone tank was not always in use but I cured it, made sure no nitrates before adding it but we are talking about 10-15% total volume of rock perhaps less. I really don't have a total weight of the rock because it's gone through several tanks and been with me for up to 10 years.


Things are nowhere near as nice these days but the amount of rock has not change. Aquascape is different because I had to tear the tank down to catch the fish but other then a few lost corals the amount has not changed.

The tank on the left is NOT connected to the system. It's my garden eel tank which is like one big fuge. I moved some of my fish into there and the rest are in QT systems.

10-06-2015, 03:25 PM
Also as far as biopellet reactors, what about just using a small pump? Recirculating ones seem to be very pricey. I'm not saying I can't do it but if I am going to spend that much I could just get a nitrate reactor.

10-06-2015, 03:29 PM
Yeah, that is a lot of rock, and it looks like you have it leaning against the back glass. My own rockscape "rules" are, don't lean it against the glass, don't go higher than 2/3 the height of the tank, stack it loosely making lots of tunnels and caves so water can flow through it well, and place it so as little as possible is touching the sand. What I mean with the last part is that each stack I make a tripod-style (or quadpod lol) base and then stack the rocks on top so the majority of the rocks are above the sand rather than in it. Creating your rock structures using these guidelines will make keeping your tank clean much, much easier. The corals looks really great in your pic though!

10-06-2015, 03:33 PM
Also as far as biopellet reactors, what about just using a small pump? Recirculating ones seem to be very pricey. I'm not saying I can't do it but if I am going to spend that much I could just get a nitrate reactor.

Well, if you didn't do all those big water changes you'd be halfway to buying a recirculating reactor. :( The problem is that you need a fair bit of flow to keep the biopellets churning otherwise they clump up. Ime, you don't want that much flow going through the biopellets. See what you can find for a used reactor. The one I use is a Reef Dynamics biopellet reactor. I bought it used at a fraction of the cost - they are pricey.

Reef Pilot
10-06-2015, 03:35 PM
Also as far as biopellet reactors, what about just using a small pump? Recirculating ones seem to be very pricey. I'm not saying I can't do it but if I am going to spend that much I could just get a nitrate reactor.
I just use the regular bio pellet reactor (Vertex) and works great for me. Only have to add bio pellets about once a year or longer,... don't touch it otherwise. Don't even use a separate pump for it, just T'ed off my return line and keep the flow low enough to keep the pellets slowly tumbling.

I have a very old tank (that I inherited when we bought our current house) and it had very high phosphates and nitrates (100 ppm) to start off. Gradually got everything under control, with phosphate and nitrates now consistently at or near zero. Oh, and I never have cyano any more.

If you have time, browse through my journal to see what worked for me.

10-06-2015, 03:37 PM
One thing I'd like to experiment with is using a much smaller amount of biopellets with higher flow (like non-recirculating). You may be able to achieve the same thing. I haven't tried it.

The issues people run into is running too many biopellets, too much flow, too high alkalinity (an issue only when the nutrients become very low), and clumping from not enough flow.

10-06-2015, 06:22 PM
Have you ever considered dosing vinegar ? I struggled with keeping nitrates and phosphates low for years. I have used bio pellets in the past they work but I always ran into issues with clumping or a clogged pump slowing down flow to the reactor. If you don't already have dosser you can pick up a jebao dosing pump for under $100 they work great and Vinegar is cheap. I have been dosing vinegar for about six month now and my nitrates and phosphates are mostly undetectable. I don't even run gfo anymore .

http://i1343.photobucket.com/albums/o794/groundhogdog/E3286516-6219-4F90-8568-68FE5DF680E6_zpsudi1uqx5.png (http://s1343.photobucket.com/user/groundhogdog/media/E3286516-6219-4F90-8568-68FE5DF680E6_zpsudi1uqx5.png.html)

10-06-2015, 07:01 PM
Ram, what's your daily dosage now (at what total water volume)? Fairly aggressive or no? I am struggling with nitrates (super high) lately after I took vinegar offline and cyano has been returning also. I feed moderately with a near heavy fish load and have had trouble keeping nitrates down.

10-06-2015, 07:43 PM
I'am dossing 80mil per day my total water volume is about 180 gallon. I feed heavy and my fish load is medium. I also add Brightwell Microbacter once a month to supplement bacteria.

10-07-2015, 01:43 AM
You should see the piles of salt boxes I have in the basement :)

It doesn't hurt to try, I will remove 1/3rd of the the rock. Most is attached via acrylic rods but is still leaning on back glass to prevent falling. I have read the aquascaping thread on reef central many dozens of times but I can never achieve anything too great.. Of course over time corals get huge and almost anything looks good.

Maybe the rock is just spent, as mentioned old tanks have crashed, some of it is dense compared to a lot of the rock these days. Most of it is Tonga rock the rest is Fiji I believe.

Reef Pilot I will check out your journal. Ram3500 I am dosing 30ml of nopox which does contain vinegar I'm not sure if just vinegar would be better but I can always try it in a month. I might as well at least try the nopox until I run out again. I have a dosing pump so its very easy for me to dose. I have been dosing the nopox manually only because I want to check the tank every morning for cyano.

I will update the thread again after I make some changes. Thanks everyone.

10-07-2015, 01:51 AM
I use vinegar in kalkwasser and add it through a doser. I don't use it for nutrient lowering reasons, I use it to make the kalk more concentrated. It definitely affects the PO4 and NO3. That's an option too. I dose BioDigest as well. :) Biopellets I think are simpler and easier for long-term.

10-10-2015, 09:27 PM
More interesting developments : I haven't really touched the tank this week, been occupied with the blue jays however cyano seems to be getting worse. That being said tests indicate a phosphate level of 0.02 (lowest test yet) amd nitrates somewhere along the 5ppm also lowest. I did lose one blasto colony but blastos can be touch and go at the best of times and it's been months since they have been fed.

I was about to test newly mixed water with tank sand to see if its a nitrate source but first I figured I'd test the water and much to my surprise my newly mixed water is testing at 2ppm nitrate! I use 55g barrels to mix my water I'm guessing there is just a small amount of organic matter from reef crystals salt causing this. I used to use one barrel for freshly mixed water and one for the old water I'd recycle to my other tanks. These days I need so much water I use both for mixing new water. I tested the fresh RO/DI water in the other barrel and it came back at 0. I do wipe the barrels down but they do not always get a super crazy cleaning since it's just fresh water salt and a powerhead going in them. It's possible the crud on the powerhead is the organic matter causing the nitrates. This doesn't solve the tank issues but does help explain why large water changes are not eliminating the problems.

Finally despite not adding anything but nopox my skimmer is skimming out almost black skimmate which is why I have not taken it offline to run chemiclean. That being said I still consider it an option if nitrates and phosphates do not increase in the next 1-2 weeks. I will make water in the barrel testing at 0 nitrates with ro/di and then test that water as well.

I still plan on removing some of the rock and perhaps increasing the flow. It does look like there may be some light at the end of the tunnel but I don't want to jump to any conclusions. Biopellets will likely eventually be added too. Then I can probably feed the tank again.

10-30-2015, 11:05 AM
Only another week to go until the fish go back.

I removed some rock. Interestingly the rock itself has some cyano growing on it in a 10g tank with one tiny powerhead. I have continued to dose nopox as if nitrates are greater than 10 although more likely they are 5-10ppm these days. Phosphates tested at 0.03 yesterday which is great but still a tiny bit of cyano on the sandbed. The I have removed some of the sand cleaning the tank weekly or twice a week. Going to try just a few more big water changes then the fish go back.

Looking forward instead of or in additon to bio pellets I am reluctantly going to start replacing my live rock. I'll pick up say 50-75lbs of dry pukani and then cycle / cure it separate and then just start replacing the rock. I'll try and get rid of the clove polyp infested rocks as well as the rocks that grow algae on them however many have corals encrusted. I may have to just break them up and if I lose a few pieces so be it. I know they say nitrates cannot bind to rocks but I really have a hard time beliving that these days. I've changed so much water. removed so much from my skimmer and only fed the tank once in 70 days yet I still have both nitrates and phosphates. They are now at basically acceptable levels but thats without feeding.