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    Overcoming New Tank Syndrome  A very common experience among beginner aquarists is the issue of something called New Tank Syndrome . The cause of the syndrome is a lack of suitable bacteria to break down the waste the fish are producing. An enclosed aquarium relies on bacteria to break down the waste and new aquariums and filters don’t contain any. However conditioning a tank for the first time doesn’t have to be complicated for first time aquarists but does require careful monitoring . You will need to have a few tools at your disposal such as a Nitrite test kit, a pH test kit , an ammonia test kit  and a chlorine test kit . For those who don’t want to risk it there is a way to  “cycle” a tank with much less risk and its called “fishless cycling”.  ( see the videos below) The fastest way to encourage the growth of the nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria is to just feed your discus a couple of times throughout the day while monitoring the levels over the next 3 weeks , looking for the good bacteria levels to stabilize. They will likely spike so careful monitoring and adjustments will be needed.   Small feedings are sufficient because discus fish are active foragers in the wild. The bacteria needed to begin a full nitrogen cycle in the tank is contained in the bodies of the fish that you just purchased. All fish have small quantities of bacteria in their belly, and this ammonia-loving bacteria is released into the water when fish excrete solid waste.  Causes for sudden increases in pH : Overfeeding of fish Overstocking of fish Improper dechlorination of water containing chloramines A cleaning that is too thorough Change of old gravel to new gravel Sudden changes in water temperature For a week, expect your tank to have high levels of ammonia. A partial water change may be performed to counter excessive readings.  Eventually, after a about 4-5 weeks, the ammonia levels in your new tank will stabilize because the beneficial bacteria have been able to colonize the water and substrate sufficiently. The addition of appropriate biological filters will definitely speed up this process.      Filling the tank for the first time : Measure the existing pH of your tap water by taking a bucket and agitating the water which reduces the C02 and cause the pH to rise… wait 24 hours and test again… this will be your base pH. Also consider the chlorine which will have to be removed from the tap water . Its recommended that you prepare a holding tank of equal size to the size of your main tank to dechlorinate and add essential minerals if necessary . A reverse osmosis unit will remove most of the hardness and almost all of the minerals . Remember to raise the temperature to the target . The ideal pH level for discus fish is slightly acidic. For a non-breeding tank, the 6 to 7 pH range is ideal. Fortunately , tap water is usually about 5.5 to 6 and the only thing to test is the pH and chlorine levels and pre-treating it with a liquid water conditioner, obtainable from the aquarium store or pet store. When the pH level and average water temperature of a tank go up, the ratio between ionized and non-ionized ammonia changes. Keep in mind that you want to keep the temperature in your discus’ tank between 28 – 31 degrees Celsius. You can raise the pH levels by adding substrates such as : Rocks or driftwood - Add some rock or driftwood in your aquarium for raising the pH. Crushed coral is used as the substrate in many African cichlid tanks (African cichlids prefer a high pH of 7.0). Limestone and petrified coral will also do the trick. If you do not want to add these rocks, you can add a bag of crushed coral to your filter or hide some of these rocks behind the rocks you do want to showcase. For a discus aquarium, you cannot keep rocks whereas you can keep driftwood.  Aeration - Increasing the oxygen concentration in your water will serve to drive down the carbon dioxide concentration. Less carbon dioxide translates to a higher pH. Therefore, you can increase the aeration in the tank to raise the pH. In a properly cycled tank, ammonia and nitrites should always be 0. Nitrates should be present, but under 40 ppm. Keeping them under 20 ppm is even better. Nitrates While ammonia and nitrite are highly toxic to fish, nitrate is much less so. However, as nitrate accumulates, fish will eventually be affected but regular partial water replacement usually keeps this in check. The ideal is a maximum of 5 to 10 ppm to keep algae formation to a minimum . Can I establish the proper levels before I add the fish ? You can take steps to condition your tank before adding the fish and the process is not complicated.  Its called “ Fishless Tank Cycling”  and uses bacteria to combat the New Tank Syndrome by getting the cycle going before you add fish to your tank. If your stocking expensive fish , this method is recommended.
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Aquarium setup>> New tank syndrome
Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle by Eliasch via Wikimedia Commons
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