So I starved out my reef tank.

Discussion in 'General Reef Discussion' started by DarkSky, Jan 16, 2020.

  1. DarkSky

    DarkSky Administrator
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    I left for the Bahamas in the middle of December for about 10 days. I had a house sitter, so I prepared a cup of food for each day - I usually feed 4 cubes of frozen, a scoop of reef roids and reef chili, and I have an auto feeder feeding pellets twice a day.

    Since I was going to be gone for that long, I decided to feed less to prevent any problems. I filled the cups with 3 cubes of food, and took my auto feeder offline.

    The entire time, my nitrates were undetectable. I'm sure there were enough nutrients in the tank that were being used before they could be detected. Colors were great, but PE was always non-existent - my palmer's blue millie looked like a blue smoothskin acro. I blamed it on the angel.

    I first noticed something was strange halfway into my trip. I didn't have wifi, so I really never carried my phone on me. We were on a cruise and happened to be sailing a few miles out from an island where I must have caught a cell tower briefly, and I got an Apex alert about high alk. I try to keep mine around 8.6dKh, it was now at 9.4dKh from dosing about 180ml of soda ash a day.

    I reduced my alk dosing by half, saved, and lost signal. A few beverages in coconuts with little umbrellas later, I had forgotten about it.

    00100lrPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20191218132425063_COVER.jpg
    The leading cause of dead acropora.

    MVIMG_20191218_123751.jpg
    Also helps forget trivial things like 100s of dollars down the drain in coral.

    Fast forward to the end of the week. I get home and ask how things went with the house, and head downstairs. The tank has no algae on the walls, so our house sitter must have scraped them for me - that's nice.

    I head over to the fridge and grab some fish food. Walk back, and that's when I see the damage; burnt tips.

    I test alkalinity manually, the Trident is reading high at 9.8 dKH. Hanna comes back with a reading of 10.2 dKh. I kill the doser, feed the tank, and unpack from the trip.

    The next day, STN shows up - and it comes hard. I don't change anything drastically - just try to wait it out and let alk lower on its own. Since I was overdue for an ICP test, I gather a sample and mail it out.

    Over the next few days I'd lose a few acros - TCK Pikachu, AV99 Orange Passion, WWC Yellow Tips, and an Orange Passion.

    My ICP test evaluation comes in and aside from a slightly low bromine levels, everything looked good.

    It hits me like a ton of bricks - nitrates bottomed out, calcification stopped, alk rose and boom - you have a recipe for disaster.

    I dosed up my nitrates with KNO3 over the course of a few days until it hit 10ppm. STN slowed and stopped, some of the burnt tips healed, and I'm starting to get polyp extension again.

    Frick.

    I've taken my skimmer offline, and have been having to dose nitrates daily to keep the levels detectable. Everything seems to be recovering nicely. I plan to start dosing nitrates daily so this won't happen again.
     
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  2. OP
    DarkSky

    DarkSky Administrator
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    We've gotten so good at removing nutrients that we have a whole nother set of issues when they're too low.
     
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  3. dougers31

    dougers31 Senior Member
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  4. infinityends

    infinityends Senior Member
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    I know this happens on low nutrient systems and I fully admit to being lazy about maintenance on mine and that has to be a factor. But I've never figured out how some people manage to remove to many nutrients that they bottom out to the point of it being detrimental. Even with an ATS and Skimmer running I just keep them in check so that I don't have GHA all over my rocks and coral, but if I test I know nutrients will be high. Even with the ATS and skimmer I scrape the glass weekly and have an ongoing fight with bubble algae. I had a plastic cereal bowl floating in the tank as I cleared my rock work of it a week or 2 ago and literally filled the bowl with just bubble algae.

    Not intended to come across as negative. I'm just always astounded when I hear about burnt tips or people having to dose nutrients to keep the system from crashing when so many people can never get nutrients under control.

    I feed frozen when I think of it, otherwise the fish are just fed by the autofeeder 4 or 5 times per day to keep up with the Anthias metabolism. This is probably double what I fed before I added Anthias 6-8 months ago, and luckily only lost the smallest of the 6 I purchased - (Thanks for the $50 liveaquaria gift card from a raffle TCMAS) I installed the ATS around the same time as the Anthias purchase. Overall I'm still pretty lazy about the tank, but seeing numbers and knowing I need to deal with things like ALK levels has kept me a bit more proactive since I picked up a trident at launch.
     
  5. jlanger

    jlanger "The North Remembers"
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    Can we blame Illinois for this one?

    Since I rebooted my ATS unit about a month ago, I started testing my nutrient levels weekly to make sure I don't bottom out. Once the algae started growing well, the nitrates have bottomed out at ~1ppm and phosphates at 0.01ppm. My feeding schedule is usually a few cubes worth of frozen blends between the two tanks and I dump remaining the seafood broth into the tank around lights out for the corals. Twice a week I'll feed the goniopora and lobophyllia corals some coral foods and small frozen foods.
    I've decided that I want to keep my nitrates a tad higher so I purchased some of ESV's Nitrate supplement. I have a generic bottle of the KNO3 to make a solution, but I've spoken with Bob numerous times and decided to try his supplement; which is a calcium nitrate solution. It's a fairly easy dosing recipe to raise your NO3 by 1ppm, so I'll be tracking my levels to see just how much I need to dose.

    I still haven't picked up a Trident yet, but it's sounding more worth the investment when it can alert you to Ca/dKH/Mg levels being out of range.
     
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  6. OP
    DarkSky

    DarkSky Administrator
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    No offense taken. I run a very simple system, a skimmer, refugium, and auto water changes as my main nutrient control methods - I do about 10% changes weekly, I run my dual pump deltec skimmer very wet, it probably takes a week to fill up a 5 gallon bucket with skimmate. Lastly, half of my 75 gallon sump is a dedicated chaeto refugium. I've harvested close to 3 gallons a week out of it, running a simple 100w led cannabis grow light over it 12 hours a day.
     
  7. KJoFan

    KJoFan I contributed!
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    Maybe I could start selling my nutrient rich water to you low nutrient folks. My nitrates consistently test at 50 ppm and phosphates at 0.1 ppm. I diched the refugium when I had hair algae issues but am thinking of bringing it back for nutrient control.

    In the meantime, who needs my special, one of a kind, secret recipe water?? :D

    Glad you're getting things back on track though.
     
  8. infinityends

    infinityends Senior Member
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    Gotcha. I definitely think having the space for more expansive filtration systems on a larger tank is a benefit (within a certain size range) the hop to 6’-8’ for length is a big advantage over the restrictive space under a 4’or smaller tank.

    The new generation of skimmers has to be a significant step up as well.

    I’m sure it varies a bit model to model, I’m still running an older skimmer with a single AC pump (vertex), so while I have no experience with the newer generation DC pump skimmers, the ability to fine tune the skimmer so easily has to make a difference. Even a dual pump AC skimmer has to have a much better fine tuning ability. I’ve never had great success getting consistent foam production without random overflows or just not getting much foam spilling over into the collection cup/container. I think part of this is likely due to the very narrow water height window vertex suggests for this skimmer.


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  9. csb123

    csb123 Senior Member
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    I did exactly the same thing last spring while on vacation. I also took the same steps to remediate the problem. I’m hoping that having an alkalinity monitor will be able to detect similar problems in the future.
     
  10. OP
    DarkSky

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    It probably saved me from a total crash. My alk would have been around 12 dKH had I not cut dosing while I was away. Paid for itself right there - and I now trust it enough that I turned my dosing over to it.
     
  11. csb123

    csb123 Senior Member
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    I’m starting to think of food additions as a type of dosing. I’ve been trying the “heavy in, heavy out” nutrient methodology, however that’s defined. It has resulted in excellent coral growth and color, but it involves the risk of an imbalance, if the input is lowered. Short term imbalance is unlikely for me since I test NO3 and PO4 weekly. But when I was away for a month last year, my house sitter fed the normal amount, but my demand for nutrients went up, and my nutrients bottomed out. I lost a couple of smooth skinned acros.

    I guess I need to train my house sitter in nitrate and phosphate testing.
     
  12. RSnodgrass

    RSnodgrass TCMAS President
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    A month... I'd be so nervous.
     

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