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    Please help: Local Marine Biology Teacher; Fishkeeping Newbie

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    MissKate

    Posts : 1
    Join date : 2013-08-24

    Please help: Local Marine Biology Teacher; Fishkeeping Newbie

    Post by MissKate on Sat Aug 24, 2013 4:12 pm

    Hello, MASVC!

    Here's my situation: I am a local (Camarillo) marine biology teacher who wants to add live specimens to the classroom for the first time. So, I have vast knowledge about the ocean and its various inhabitants but virtually no knowledge about recreating a thriving artificial environment. My father worked at Scripps Institute for years, but that was in the 70's when, apparently (according to him), UGF's were the hot new thing in fishkeeping, so he's really not much help as far as a set up is concerned.

    My school got me a 55 gallon kit from Carolina Biological that included: a Marineland tank stand, glass tank, and covers with LED inserts; Instant Ocean salt mix; water conditioner; hydrometer/thermometer combo; CC (bag said it was "live," but the bag didn't look like it could keep life going); and (Unfortunately, from what I've learned from this and other forums) a Skilter 400 and a UGF set up.

    My ultimate goal is to have a FOWLR with two mated, tank-bred Ocellaris clownfish and a CUC. I think it would be a good year(s)-long project for the students to try to raise baby clownfish (before you say it, I know this is probably not going to be successful [as far as keeping the fry alive], but it will be an awesome opportunity for hands-on trial and error, as well as culturing phytoplankton and then zooplankton; besides, the fry would be food for other tank-mates without intervention anyway). Yes, I know this will mean the set up of a nursery tank and grow-out tank, but I'm getting way ahead of myself and am solely focused on a future home for the adults...

    As soon as it arrived I was like a kid on Christmas morning and couldn't wait to get it going. I followed the instructions in the manual that accompanied the kit and got everything going with a specific gravity of 1.024 (ish, I'm guessing to read from the bottom of the meniscus? It's a floating hydrometer I have in a clean 250 mL graduated cylinder). Then I started Googling up a storm (yeah, I know I probably should have done that first :bangs head into wall:) and discovered that I should probably get as much live rock as I can afford. So I went to the highest rated LFS in my area and got a little over 45 lbs of cured live rock. After explaining my situation the owner of the store said that I should have live sand too and told me to put it over the existing CC substrate. He said he wanted to help out a local teacher and then gave me a bag with about two cups of "live bacteria" and two YTB damselfish. I protested that I didn't want to keep damselfish, but he said I needed to establish my bioload and that if I decided I didn't want them after the "cycle" I could bring them back (I have of course since learned that this is an incredibly cruel "technique," and that the fish almost never survive; NEVER AGAIN). I went back to my classroom and followed his instructions: carefully, with small handfulls, cover CC with sand while acclimating fish; add bacteria and rocks; add fish; test water (API test kit) and watch parameters; perform 10% water change after a week using the gravel vac.

    Two days later one of the fish disappeared (could not find it or any remains; total Jimmy Hoffa). The other seemed to be doing well, eating heartily, swimming around, and occasionally going into the current off of the Skilter (like a dog sticking its head out of the window of a car). The water parameters seemed good, with a temporary ammonia spike up to 0.25 ppm for one day. Two days ago I came into my classroom to notice that the YTB was completely white on its back half (tail still yellow) and it was lying on the bottom of the tank. I thought it was dead and went to get it out with a net, but it scooted away when I got near. Upon closer inspection it was still alive and not gilling hard. I also noticed an anemone bloom on one of the live rocks (looked like aiptasia) in the direct current of the Skilter. I took pictures, tested the water, and headed off to the LFS with a water sample and the pictures.

    The guy at the LFS said I correctly identified the anemone and showed me how to use Aiptasia-X (I did this very carefully [turned off all flow], dosed it, used the syringe to suck up any bits of the solution that "dripped," and then sucked all of the aiptasia remains out of the rock [I got it all with one big suck!]; dosed the hole in the rock again, waited a few minutes, and then sucked up the excess before turning the equipment back on; no more signs of it... so far).

    He then said that he had no idea what was wrong with the fish. After testing the water, his results matched mine (0 ppm ammonia, nitrates, nitrites; 8.2 pH; specific gravity of 1.024). He said he felt bad that it was dying and offered to replace it. I said I wasn't sure about putting another fish in the system, but he said that I needed to keep up the bioload. Since I pretty much refused to add another fish, he said I could add a started CUC instead. He told me that these guys were heartier and would be good for handling the algae that has also begun to bloom on the live rock. I (hopefully not stupidly) agreed and got 10 little hermits and five turbo snails, as well as a bottle of copepods. I performed a 10% water change after dosing the aiptasia, while I acclimated the hermits and snails using the baster method). I then added the copepods, let them disperse, and then added the hermits and snails.

    The next day the copepods are still swimming about (way less were sucked into the filter than I thought would be Smile), and the hermits and snails were scurrying about (well, the snails didn't so much "scurry," as mosey). The YTB was dead, and I promptly removed the body after shooing away a hermit. There was a slight ammonia increase (not quite to 0.25 ppm, but the tested water was a bit more green than the 0 ppm color), but it was down to 0 by the time I left my classroom that evening.

    As much as I'm sure I deserve to be admonished for my mistakes (and/or just writing a really long post), and I certainly welcome constructive criticism and/or advice, I really, really need help with the following:

    1) Is my tank "cycled"? It doesn't seem like should be in such a short time (certainly I wouldn't dream of adding any fish for at least 3 weeks of steady readings anyway). Should I just keep on keeping on? Maybe add the tiniest, itty-bittiest bit of food every few days to keep the scavenging hermits happy? What should my next step be, vis-a-vis setting up a viable ecosystem and nitrogen cycle?

    2) I get that the UGF needs to go. What are some ways to do that without, hopefully, having to tear down the entire tank? Can I move the rock to one side, remove that sides UGF set up and then switch? Should I add more sand to the top of the substrate after pulling out the UGF? Has anyone ever done this? If so, I'd love so tips/advice to keep the mess/headache down!

    3) If the UGF is gone what's my best option for filtration and oxygenation? Is there an option that reuses the Tetra Whisper 100? Maybe I can reuse it with the nursery tank...?
    I guess I need to ditch the Skilter too, huh? Are there any decent HOB skimmer/filter combos on the market? I have very limited space and actually can't really even HOB (due to school earthquake code the tank must be flush with the wall), it's actually a HOFront; I'd really like to hang any new unit on the side (the tank is 48"L x 20"H x 13"D) to increase viewing area. I was looking at the Reef Octopus BH 1000. Is this a good choice? If I get a straight up skimmer what other equipment do I need for my tank (other than a heater)?

    4) Finally, other than the extremely outdated and cruel damselfish cycle advice, does the guy at my LFS seem straight up or should I find a new one? If you think I need a new one, are there any recommendations for a great LFS in Ventura County/ the greater Los Angeles area? Vivid?

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read my loquacious post!
    And thanks in advance for your input!!!

    bvysochin

    Posts : 86
    Join date : 2011-11-29

    Re: Please help: Local Marine Biology Teacher; Fishkeeping Newbie

    Post by bvysochin on Wed Aug 28, 2013 1:46 am

    I'll give it a stab..

    MissKate wrote:Hello, MASVC!

    Here's my situation: I am a local (Camarillo) marine biology teacher who wants to add live specimens to the classroom for the first time. So, I have vast knowledge about the ocean and its various inhabitants but virtually no knowledge about recreating a thriving artificial environment. My father worked at Scripps Institute for years, but that was in the 70's when, apparently (according to him), UGF's were the hot new thing in fishkeeping, so he's really not much help as far as a set up is concerned.

    My school got me a 55 gallon kit from Carolina Biological that included: a Marineland tank stand, glass tank, and covers with LED inserts; Instant Ocean salt mix; water conditioner; hydrometer/thermometer combo; CC (bag said it was "live," but the bag didn't look like it could keep life going); and (Unfortunately, from what I've learned from this and other forums) a Skilter 400 and a UGF set up.

    My ultimate goal is to have a FOWLR with two mated, tank-bred Ocellaris clownfish and a CUC. I think it would be a good year(s)-long project for the students to try to raise baby clownfish (before you say it, I know this is probably not going to be successful [as far as keeping the fry alive], but it will be an awesome opportunity for hands-on trial and error, as well as culturing phytoplankton and then zooplankton; besides, the fry would be food for other tank-mates without intervention anyway). Yes, I know this will mean the set up of a nursery tank and grow-out tank, but I'm getting way ahead of myself and am solely focused on a future home for the adults...

    Sounds like a fun project.  You can order the cultures online to get your phytoplankton and rotifers going, once the time comes.. You need basic equipment to get those going.. 2 liter bottles, air pump, a basic clamp light, etc.

    As soon as it arrived I was like a kid on Christmas morning and couldn't wait to get it going. I followed the instructions in the manual that accompanied the kit and got everything going with a specific gravity of 1.024 (ish, I'm guessing to read from the bottom of the meniscus? It's a floating hydrometer I have in a clean 250 mL graduated cylinder). Then I started Googling up a storm (yeah, I know I probably should have done that first :bangs head into wall:) and discovered that I should probably get as much live rock as I can afford. So I went to the highest rated LFS in my area and got a little over 45 lbs of cured live rock. After explaining my situation the owner of the store said that I should have live sand too and told me to put it over the existing CC substrate. He said he wanted to help out a local teacher and then gave me a bag with about two cups of "live bacteria" and two YTB damselfish. I protested that I didn't want to keep damselfish, but he said I needed to establish my bioload and that if I decided I didn't want them after the "cycle" I could bring them back (I have of course since learned that this is an incredibly cruel "technique," and that the fish almost never survive; NEVER AGAIN). I went back to my classroom and followed his instructions: carefully, with small handfulls, cover CC with sand while acclimating fish; add bacteria and rocks; add fish; test water (API test kit) and watch parameters; perform 10% water change after a week using the gravel vac.

    You may want to get rid of your floating hydrometer and replace it with a refractometer.  The accuracy of the swing-arm or floating hydrometers can sometimes be questionable..  I think if the rock you purchased was actually "live", that amount of rock should have no problem supporting a couple fish.

    Two days later one of the fish disappeared (could not find it or any remains; total Jimmy Hoffa). The other seemed to be doing well, eating heartily, swimming around, and occasionally going into the current off of the Skilter (like a dog sticking its head out of the window of a car). The water parameters seemed good, with a temporary ammonia spike up to 0.25 ppm for one day. Two days ago I came into my classroom to notice that the YTB was completely white on its back half (tail still yellow) and it was lying on the bottom of the tank. I thought it was dead and went to get it out with a net, but it scooted away when I got near. Upon closer inspection it was still alive and not gilling hard. I also noticed an anemone bloom on one of the live rocks (looked like aiptasia) in the direct current of the Skilter. I took pictures, tested the water, and headed off to the LFS with a water sample and the pictures.


    The guy at the LFS said I correctly identified the anemone and showed me how to use Aiptasia-X (I did this very carefully [turned off all flow], dosed it, used the syringe to suck up any bits of the solution that "dripped," and then sucked all of the aiptasia remains out of the rock ; dosed the hole in the rock again, waited a few minutes, and then sucked up the excess before turning the equipment back on; no more signs of it... so far).

    [i]Aiptasia is part of the hobby.. they'll multiply depending on your nutrient levels and husbandry..  I wouldn't worry about them at this point.. You have bigger fish to fry.


    He then said that he had no idea what was wrong with the fish. After testing the water, his results matched mine (0 ppm ammonia, nitrates, nitrites; 8.2 pH; specific gravity of 1.024). He said he felt bad that it was dying and offered to replace it. I said I wasn't sure about putting another fish in the system, but he said that I needed to keep up the bioload. Since I pretty much refused to add another fish, he said I could add a started CUC instead. He told me that these guys were heartier and would be good for handling the algae that has also begun to bloom on the live rock. I (hopefully not stupidly) agreed and got 10 little hermits and five turbo snails, as well as a bottle of copepods. I performed a 10% water change after dosing the aiptasia, while I acclimated the hermits and snails using the baster method). I then added the copepods, let them disperse, and then added the hermits and snails.

    At this point, I wouldn't change your water unless you have reason to.. ie: replenishing trace elements, lowering ammonia, etc..

    The next day the copepods are still swimming about (way less were sucked into the filter than I thought would be Smile), and the hermits and snails were scurrying about (well, the snails didn't so much "scurry," as mosey). The YTB was dead, and I promptly removed the body after shooing away a hermit. There was a slight ammonia increase (not quite to 0.25 ppm, but the tested water was a bit more green than the 0 ppm color), but it was down to 0 by the time I left my classroom that evening.

    I'd venture to say that for every copepod that you can see, there's dozens that are hiding somewhere.. Their population will increase/decrease as your tank progresses.. Once you start to grow a lot of algae, you'll see their population explode..  If it was me, I would have let the hermits do their job and eat the dead fish.. That way it wouldn't have died in vain as it would have helped cycle your tank.  

    As much as I'm sure I deserve to be admonished for my mistakes (and/or just writing a really long post), and I certainly welcome constructive criticism and/or advice, I really, really need help with the following:

    1) Is my tank "cycled"? It doesn't seem like should be in such a short time (certainly I wouldn't dream of adding any fish for at least 3 weeks of steady readings anyway). Should I just keep on keeping on? Maybe add the tiniest, itty-bittiest bit of food every few days to keep the scavenging hermits happy? What should my next step be, vis-a-vis setting up a viable ecosystem and nitrogen cycle?

    I've set up multiple tanks and I always keep it simple..  I don't claim to know everything, but I personally have never tested for nitrate or nitrite.. Just keep an eye on your ammonia.  Seachem makes an ammonia gauge sensor that you just stick to the inside of your tank.. that way you can keep track of your ammonia from a glance without having to constantly test the water.. It costs about $6 and would be a good investment for you.  I would add one small fish, and let your tank sit for a few weeks, then slowly add one fish at a time, letting your sand/rock/ecosystem establish itself so it's able to keep up with the increasing bioload.  

    2) I get that the UGF needs to go. What are some ways to do that without, hopefully, having to tear down the entire tank? Can I move the rock to one side, remove that sides UGF set up and then switch? Should I add more sand to the top of the substrate after pulling out the UGF? Has anyone ever done this? If so, I'd love so tips/advice to keep the mess/headache down!

    I'm not familiar with UGF's, but I would remove it..  You're going to want to do it sooner than later.  The reason being that once your sand becomes established, you want to avoid mixing/stirring it up unless you have good reason to.  The easiest way would be to grab a rubbermaid container, fill with water, take the rock out, take the UGF out, add sand if you'd like, and then place the rocks back, wedging them into the sand a bit so they don't move.. It'll be messy and you'll make a huge cloudstorm which should settle/clear up in a day or two.. marineland makes a very good bonded blue/white pad (~$4? for a huge piece) that you may be able to place somewhere in your system to help clear it up faster as it'll catch some of the fines in the water.

    3) If the UGF is gone what's my best option for filtration and oxygenation? Is there an option that reuses the Tetra Whisper 100? Maybe I can reuse it with the nursery tank...?
    I guess I need to ditch the Skilter too, huh? Are there any decent HOB skimmer/filter combos on the market? I have very limited space and actually can't really even HOB (due to school earthquake code the tank must be flush with the wall), it's actually a HOFront; I'd really like to hang any new unit on the side (the tank is 48"L x 20"H x 13"D) to increase viewing area. I was looking at the Reef Octopus BH 1000. Is this a good choice? If I get a straight up skimmer what other equipment do I need for my tank (other than a heater)?

    A protein skimmer will kill two birds with one stone.. It will help oxygenate your water, skim/filter your water, and help keep your ph up.  Not familiar with the tetra stuff, can't say, sorry.  I use a CPR bak-pak skimmer on a 55g with 8+ fish and it does a good job keeping up.  You can find them used for $50 or so.  I have heard good things about the reef octopus skimmers.  You will eventually need more flow inside the tank, and will want to add powerheads.  From the sounds of your tank, it sounds like you don't have an overflow/sump below.  Depending on what skimmer you go with, you'll see that there will be a film that builds on top of your water surface.. Ideally, your skimmer will have a surface-skim attachment available, or you could make one, to help get rid of the film.

    4) Finally, other than the extremely outdated and cruel damselfish cycle advice, does the guy at my LFS seem straight up or should I find a new one? If you think I need a new one, are there any recommendations for a great LFS in Ventura County/ the greater Los Angeles area? Vivid?

    I can't answer your question about your LFS, and I've only been to Vivid a handful of times, but the impression I got was that they may be geared towards a bit more advanced hobbyists.. not that you won't get there someday!  Smile  Cool store though.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read my loquacious post!
    And thanks in advance for your input!!!
    avatar
    MxReEfEr92
    Admin

    Posts : 1727
    Join date : 2012-02-21
    Age : 25
    Location : Simi Valley

    Re: Please help: Local Marine Biology Teacher; Fishkeeping Newbie

    Post by MxReEfEr92 on Wed Aug 28, 2013 1:49 am

    MissKate wrote:Hello, MASVC!


    1) Is my tank "cycled"? It doesn't seem like should be in such a short time (certainly I wouldn't dream of adding any fish for at least 3 weeks of steady readings anyway). Should I just keep on keeping on? Maybe add the tiniest, itty-bittiest bit of food every few days to keep the scavenging hermits happy? What should my next step be, vis-a-vis setting up a viable ecosystem and nitrogen cycle?
    In order to determine if your tank is cycled you need to test for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. Ammonia must be 0 ppm. Nitrite must be 0ppm. And nitrate should be less then 25ppm (just my recommendation I am not an expert). Once the tank is cycled you are good to go as far as adding fish in.
    2) I get that the UGF needs to go. What are some ways to do that without, hopefully, having to tear down the entire tank? Can I move the rock to one side, remove that sides UGF set up and then switch? Should I add more sand to the top of the substrate after pulling out the UGF? Has anyone ever done this? If so, I'd love so tips/advice to keep the mess/headache down!
    I would just pull this out ASAP. Depending on how much sand is left you may need to add more, I personally like around 1-1.5" of sand. If you need any I would be more then happy to help find you some as I know people just give it away.

    3) If the UGF is gone what's my best option for filtration and oxygenation? Is there an option that reuses the Tetra Whisper 100? Maybe I can reuse it with the nursery tank...?
    I guess I need to ditch the Skilter too, huh? Are there any decent HOB skimmer/filter combos on the market? I have very limited space and actually can't really even HOB (due to school earthquake code the tank must be flush with the wall), it's actually a HOFront; I'd really like to hang any new unit on the side (the tank is 48"L x 20"H x 13"D) to increase viewing area. I was looking at the Reef Octopus BH 1000. Is this a good choice? If I get a straight up skimmer what other equipment do I need for my tank (other than a heater)?

    Ok once you ditch the UGF a protein skimmer and circulation pumps should provide enough oxygenation for the tank. I would post a looking to buy thread for a HOB style protein skimmer odds are someone has one laying around that they would probably donate or sell pretty cheap. You defiantly need circulation pumps aka power heads or wave makers. You can find those cheap used as well.

    4) Finally, other than the extremely outdated and cruel damselfish cycle advice, does the guy at my LFS seem straight up or should I find a new one? If you think I need a new one, are there any recommendations for a great LFS in Ventura County/ the greater Los Angeles area? Vivid?

    I would recommend vivid in the valley for fish as they have a 7 day guarantee on most fish. They are semi pricy but worth having the insurance. If you need advice just ask away on here as we are not trying to sell you stuff we want to save you money, heck if you need more rock I will give you dry rock for free. Never hesitate to ask questions.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read my loquacious post!
    And thanks in advance for your input!!!


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    Re: Please help: Local Marine Biology Teacher; Fishkeeping Newbie

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