Setting up a new reef aquarium can be a tricky business, and just when you think it is all ship shape…you lose some of your fish. This is known as New Tank Syndrome (NTS) and can happen to even the most experienced aquarist.

The key reason for New Tank Syndrome is high ammonia levels which in turn raises the amount of nitrites. Both of which can poison fish and lead to high losses. High levels of ammonia deplete oxygen levels from the water which can suffocate fish.

Usual causes of NTS:

  • Inadequate filtration system in a new (or old tank)
  • Too many fish
  • Overfeeding
  • Lack of proper care or an inexperienced fish keeper

New Tank Problems

Cycling a new aquarium can cause problems with a new fish stock.  Cycling your aquarium basically means establishing the bacteria in the biological filter to ensure the best filtration. The filter needs to grow the correct bacteria to eradicate the toxins caused by fish waste (ammonia). Basically speaking the ammonia is digested by the bacteria which turns it into nitrite, which is then turned into nitrate which is relatively safe.

Whilst this process is happening, the fluctuating levels of ammonia can poison the fish. Fishless cycling is a good way to avoid the problem. By introducing small amounts of ammonia, the helpful bacteria can develop in preparation for the introduction of fish.

 A Guide to Fishless Cycling

Set up the tank, add de-chlorinated or RO water and leave the filter running. It’s advisable to then let the tank settle for around 24 hours.

Work out how much ammonia you need to add. Use an Ammonia Test Kit from Swell UK to monitor the levels as you go. Adding the ammonia in this way encourages the ammonia consuming Nitrosomonas Bacteria to develop. This will turn in into Nitrite.

After 24 hours the ammonia levels should start to drop. But, keep testing – it still has a way to go. Add a little more ammonia, to bring the levels back up to 2 ppm - 4 ppm. The Nitrite levels will be very high now, keep an eye on them with a suitable test kit. Nitrite is even more lethal than ammonia so this is the key factor to stabilise.

When nitrite levels begin to fall, this means that the Nitrospira Bacteria is forming, transforming it into harmless Nitrate.

It can take around 4 to 8 weeks before the nitrite and ammonia readings are at 0ppm. Then you know the tank is ready for fish. It’s a lengthy process but well worth it to avoid the dreaded New Tank Syndrome.

Other Causes…

In an established tank, New Tank Syndrome can still be a problem. This can be caused by the addition of too many fish, too quickly. Of course the waste they produce more waste which raises ammonia levels. Careful and slow introduction of additional fish is advised, as is making sure your tank is big enough to begin with.

A good, efficient filtration system is key to any reef aquarium. Make sure it is adequate for you’re the size of your tank, and is stocked with the correct media. Swell UK have a wide range of internal and external filters suitable for every type of aquarium. Most filters come complete with the media required and can be added to for extra filtration. Regular filter maintenance is essential to ensure that the media is cleaned or replaced.

However when cleaning biological media, make sure it is only rinsed in old aquarium water, this retains the healthy bacteria cultures. If you are adding new biological media, add it to established media. This means the cultures will spread and develop for the best results.

Make sure that you don’t over feed the fish. When they eat, of course they produce waste which can raise toxic levels. Feed little amounts and ensure it is eaten within a couple of minutes. Remove any excess clumps of food, as this too will degrade and add to the filters load.

Establishing and maintaining a healthy reef aquarium can seem an arduous task. However, putting in some hard work and dedication at the beginning can lead to spectacular results. Spending time researching and planning the type of aquarium you want before you start is the best idea. Get as much advice and information as possible, and you will really benefit from your efforts!

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