Ammonia 4.0 Need help!

colbywebre47

Hello I am in some dire need of suggestions. I am an aquarist that has been taking care of aquariums for years and I have an avid understanding of the nitrogen cycle. However, in my 125 gallon cichlid tank (Filters are 2 aquaclear 110's and an FX4) , I noticed that my nitratres were getting much too high, so like any normal person I did a water change. The one thing I did different though is that instead of just rinsing out the sponges of my aquaclear 110's, I replaced them for the first time in about a year. And I didnt replace the biomedia or any of the sponges or media in my FX4 because I knew that would get rid of most of the benefical bacteria. But now a couple hours later my tank is milky meaning there is a bacteria bloom, and I panicked. Im guessing that by replacing the sponges in my aquaclears, I took too much beneficial bacteria out of the tank. I measured my ammonia levels and sure enough, they were at 4.0. I know this is highly toxic for my fish so I added ammo lock by API which is supposed to detoxify ammonia to not kill your fish until your tank can run its course. I am terrified my fish will die, what should I do? How fast will the ammonia kill my fish? Should I add something like seachem stability to add bacteria? If someone could help me it would be much appreciated.
 

JustAFishServant

Just to be ultra sure, your test kit isn't expired, is it? They can have false ammonia readings. Also, what's your pH (and if you can, GH)? That'll help determine if you actually need to worry, or if you naturally have ammonium showing up on the kit.

Ammo-lock turns ammonia into ammonium. It'll take 100× the amount of ammonia that's toxic to fish for ammonium to be toxic. Some people say ammonium is non-toxic but I mean, pure oxygen kills in an instant so...everything in moderation.

Also, you say you "rinse" your sponges. Is this in tap water? Because, if so, you've been killing the beneficial bacteria in the filter media every time.

Remember: bacteria grows on all surfaces. Your glass, plants, substrate. Everything but the water column (unless you have a bacteria bloom.)
 

colbywebre47

Just to be ultra sure, your test kit isn't expired, is it? They can have false ammonia readings. Also, what's your pH (and if you can, GH)? That'll help determine if you actually need to worry, or if you naturally have ammonium showing up on the kit.

Ammo-lock turns ammonia into ammonium. It'll take 100× the amount of ammonia that's toxic to fish for ammonium to be toxic. Some people say ammonium is non-toxic but I mean, pure oxygen kills in an instant so...everything in moderation.

Also, you say you "rinse" your sponges. Is this in tap water? Because, if so, you've been killing the beneficial bacteria in the filter media every time.

Remember: bacteria grows on all surfaces. Your glass, plants, substrate. Everything but the water column (unless you have a bacteria bloom.)
No my test kit isn't expired. No, I always use treated water to clean my sponges because i know that tap water kills beneficial bacteria. and my pH right now is 6.6, but i never measure it so I can't tell you what it usually is.

Thanks for your help.
 

Itiwhetu

Where are the old filters? just put them back in if you still have them.
 

JustAFishServant

No my test kit isn't expired. No, I always use treated water to clean my sponges because i know that tap water kills beneficial bacteria. and my pH right now is 6.6, but i never measure it so I can't tell you what it usually is.

Thanks for your help.
No problem :)

Typically, under a pH of 7, ammonia is almost entirely ammonium which, as explained, is minimally toxic. With a pH of 6.6, you have an extremely low amount of ammonia - not nearly enough to harm your fish, let alone do anything to your tank besides a few harmless blooms (ammonium is a "bad" food source for bottled bacteria and most normal beneficial bacteria but they need a pH of 7.5 or above for ammonia to form and for the bac to really thrive - in other words, you don't have "normal bacteria" - you have the same nitrifiers as I do most likely.) It sounds like you have nothing to worry about. Your fish are safe as long as the ammonium doesn't builf up too high (too much of anything is bad for you) but even if it does, ammonium has such low toxicity that it wouldn't cause too many issues anyway.

Just curious - what's the temperature of your water?
 

colbywebre47

Where are the old filters? just put them back in if you still have them.
I threw them away a while ago so theyre dried out by now, but I replaced them because they were so brown and full of to the point where cleaning them did nothing, so I just replaced them.
No problem :)

Typically, under a pH of 7, ammonia is almost entirely ammonium which, as explained, is minimally toxic. With a pH of 6.6, you have an extremely low amount of ammonia - not nearly enough to harm your fish, let alone do anything to your tank besides a few harmless blooms (ammonium is a "bad" food source for bottled bacteria and most normal beneficial bacteria but they need a pH of 7.5 or above for ammonia to form and for the bac to really thrive - in other words, you don't have "normal bacteria" - you have the same nitrifiers as I do most likely.) It sounds like you have nothing to worry about. Your fish are safe as long as the ammonium doesn't builf up too high (too much of anything is bad for you) but even if it does, ammonium has such low toxicity that it wouldn't cause too many issues anyway.

Just curious - what's the temperature of your water?
Since I live in South Florida it is hard to keep the temperatures low, so my tank is at about 78 like it always is, but I can try and turn down the ac in my house to lower the temp a little.
 

FishDin

As said, at that pH the ammonia is essentially non toxic. You still want to deal with it and figure out what's happening in your tank.

You didn't mention that you did a WC after finding the high ammonia. That would be the first thing to do. Probably a couple.

Unless a sponge is falling apart, there is no need to replace. My oldest are about 12 years olds

Your cycle will rebound, you just need to manage things until it does.

BTW, have you tested your tap water for ammonia, nitrate and pH?
 

colbywebre47

As said, at that pH the ammonia is essentially non toxic. You still want to deal with it and figure out what's happening in your tank.

You didn't mention that you did a WC after finding the high ammonia. That would be the first thing to do. Probably a couple.

Unless a sponge is falling apart, there is no need to replace. My oldest are about 12 years olds

Your cycle will rebound, you just need to manage things until it does.

BTW, have you tested your tap water for ammonia, nitrate and pH?
Should I do a water change, I did about a 25 gallon when I changed out my sponges. I was thinking that a water change would be bad and just slow down the process.
 

SparkyJones

Hi colbywebre47,

Can you post a picture of the tank please? I'd like a visual reference please.
I know the ammonia is at 4.0, but there's some variables here like:
What kind of cichlids?
What is the stocking level for the 125? Why 3 filters? is it overstocked?
Color of the milky cloud, and how milky?
Size of the water change?


the beneficial bacteria removal, depending on stocking could account for the ammonia, but it doesn't account for the "milky" water. that would not cause a bacterial bloom from changing out filter sponges., so there's likely a separate issue causing that, unless it's dying nitrifying bacteria, but then it wouldn't be the filter sponge change that caused the deaths, there would be a problem in the water change that introduced something to kill off the bacteria in the tank.

generally a bacterial bloom in a well established tank doesn't happen. However if it does, and accompanied by an ammonia spike, this usually indicates there was a big introduction of a decaying organic compound (possible fish death?) that has gone unnoticed.

And that brings me back to the stocking of these cichlids and the 3 filters. Do you overstock? I do.
I had an angel die and he was basically jelly by the time I noticed he was dead two days later and he floated. I do a head count and get a different number every time, I either have 32 or 28 or 26 fish or some number in between but not sure exactly how many are there with total certainty. My filter can handle all the ammonia from a dead fish or two, and all the extra bacteria that blooms will get caught in my fine micron filter pad. but if you don't have this kind of set up, a bloom will happen, and the ammonia will spike, especially if you cut out 2/3rds of your total colony.

An ammonia spike alone, yeah could be the filtration change. The ammonia spike and the bacterial bloom, it's something bigger than what you did to the filter.

Anyways I'm just saying, this sounds a lot like a fish died and you haven't noticed it's died yet. do you know for certainty a fish hasn't died?

Water changes is really all you can do, you should take the ammonia down and remove as much of the heterotropic bacteria as you can to avoid that bacteria getting at your fish over time. Water change to reduce the ammonia and really poke around in there for any place a fish might have died, I've had rocks fall over and trap and kill fish under them, or tucked in behind things. just be thorough to make sure you aren't missing something, Could also check the intake tubes and canister filter, if they are at all accessible to the fish. Once a dead fish is really breaking down, it can get sucked into some odd places you wouldn't think to look.. At this point it's probably not going to even look like a fish and just a gelatinous blob of organic matter if the Milky water is really as cloudy as milk.
 

Dunk2

Should I do a water change, I did about a 25 gallon when I changed out my sponges. I was thinking that a water change would be bad and just slow down the process.
Yes, do a water change.

Water changes will not affect the cycling process. . . The vast majority of beneficial bacteria live on the filter media and surfaces of your tank, not in the water column.
 

colbywebre47

Hi colbywebre47,

Can you post a picture of the tank please? I'd like a visual reference please.
I know the ammonia is at 4.0, but there's some variables here like:
What kind of cichlids?
What is the stocking level for the 125? Why 3 filters? is it overstocked?
Color of the milky cloud, and how milky?
Size of the water change?


the beneficial bacteria removal, depending on stocking could account for the ammonia, but it doesn't account for the "milky" water. that would not cause a bacterial bloom from changing out filter sponges., so there's likely a separate issue causing that, unless it's dying nitrifying bacteria, but then it wouldn't be the filter sponge change that caused the deaths, there would be a problem in the water change that introduced something to kill off the bacteria in the tank.

generally a bacterial bloom in a well established tank doesn't happen. However if it does, and accompanied by an ammonia spike, this usually indicates there was a big introduction of a decaying organic compound (possible fish death?) that has gone unnoticed.

And that brings me back to the stocking of these cichlids and the 3 filters. Do you overstock? I do.
I had an angel die and he was basically jelly by the time I noticed he was dead two days later and he floated. I do a head count and get a different number every time, I either have 32 or 28 or 26 fish or some number in between but not sure exactly how many are there with total certainty. My filter can handle all the ammonia from a dead fish or two, and all the extra bacteria that blooms will get caught in my fine micron filter pad. but if you don't have this kind of set up, a bloom will happen, and the ammonia will spike, especially if you cut out 2/3rds of your total colony.

An ammonia spike alone, yeah could be the filtration change. The ammonia spike and the bacterial bloom, it's something bigger than what you did to the filter.

Anyways I'm just saying, this sounds a lot like a fish died and you haven't noticed it's died yet. do you know for certainty a fish hasn't died?

Water changes is really all you can do, you should take the ammonia down and remove as much of the heterotropic bacteria as you can to avoid that bacteria getting at your fish over time. Water change to reduce the ammonia and really poke around in there for any place a fish might have died, I've had rocks fall over and trap and kill fish under them, or tucked in behind things. just be thorough to make sure you aren't missing something, Could also check the intake tubes and canister filter, if they are at all accessible to the fish. Once a dead fish is really breaking down, it can get sucked into some odd places you wouldn't think to look.. At this point it's probably not going to even look like a fish and just a gelatinous blob of organic matter if the Milky water is really as cloudy as milk.
The only fish I have in it is a 6 inch Ornate Bichir, a 5 inch green terror, a 7 inch Jack Dempsey and a 12 Inch Arowana (Which I am looking to get rid of because it is getting too big) All of my fish are easy to account for since I only have a couple. I have had all these fish for a while and never had cloudy water or any filtration problems. Im not so concerned about the milky water, Im concerned over the 4.0 Ammonia reading. Should I add something like Seachem stability to get my bacteria colony growing faster and remove the ammonia? And I only did a 25 gallon water change when I usually do a 50 gallon water change. Your idea about the water being contaminated could be right because since Hurricane Ian just hit my city, we lost clean water and I wanst able to do water changes for a while. Once the city siad the water was safe and clean again, thats when I did this cleaning/ Water change. So maybe the city put some sort of chemical in the water that my water conditioner cant remove and it killed all my bacteria. And another question should I feed my fish? I haven't since I noticed the ammonia level and Im scared to add any more nutrients to the tank.
 

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SparkyJones

The only fish I have in it is a 6 inch Ornate Bichir, a 5 inch green terror, a 7 inch Jack Dempsey and a 12 Inch Arowana (Which I am looking to get rid of because it is getting too big) All of my fish are easy to account for since I only have a couple. I have had all these fish for a while and never had cloudy water or any filtration problems. Im not so concerned about the milky water, Im concerned over the 4.0 Ammonia reading. Should I add something like Seachem stability to get my bacteria colony growing faster and remove the ammonia? And I only did a 25 gallon water change when I usually do a 50 gallon water change. Your idea about the water being contaminated could be right because since Hurricane Ian just hit my city, we lost clean water and I wanst able to do water changes for a while. Once the city siad the water was safe and clean again, thats when I did this cleaning/ Water change. So maybe the city put some sort of chemical in the water that my water conditioner cant remove and it killed all my bacteria. And another question should I feed my fish? I haven't since I noticed the ammonia level and Im scared to add any more nutrients to the tank.
very possible they sent out a warning, checked the system, then hyperdosed chlorine to be safe and gave the all clear, in which case, your normal dosing of water conditioner wouldn't take care of all the chlorine, you'd of needed to double or triple dose the conditioner depending on how much they used, if they used chloramine, some of the ammonia (it would be ammonium though) could be from the hyperdosing too.

This is possible. But you can't rule out there being decaying organic material as particles being in the city water system either, that could do what you are seeing also, effectively adding organic material with that first water change, causing a heterotroph bloom in the tank, and them working the organic particulates is cranking out the ammonia and building the cloud of the bloom.

And changing out the filters when you did, wouldn't help the cycle keep up with the ammonia. As they say, hindsight is 20/20

You'd want to water change to be safe and keep the ammonia low, all the dead bacteria will become ammonia also, and all will become nitrates in the end. So water changing to keep them manageable and safe at the end would be wise, there will be a huge pile of nitrates on the back end if you don't.
The bloom is the bloom, every 15 minutes they are reproducing, and will continue to until they exhaust the resource that caused it and then die off. it's got to run it's course, all you really can do is water change to mitigate the ammonia that builds and keep it safe for the fish, and hopefully it was a short issue with the water, and no longer there. so water changing will remove it now. You can water change like 50% every few hours really if you have time to, but try to do as much as you can to get the ammonia down, all of that becomes nitrates.


Here's the main questions then. Are you getting nitrites at all? Are you getting nitrates at all?
Damage assessment.

If you aren't getting nitrites, and you are getting nitrates on the back end, only part of you beneficial bacteria was damaged if any at all. it's more likely the ammonia is coming from heterotropic bacteria in the tank working on organics, and it will process, but your biological filter is overwhelmed currently and backlogging as ammonia, and it won't finish until the heterotrophs clean up the mess causing the bloom and then starve and die off again.

If you have the ammonia, no nitrites, and no nitrates, very possible the cycle was killed.
but reading back you said the nitrates were going up, so double check the water, see what it's doing and if it's processing to nitrates at some level, it's just got to catch up to what's been going on.

As far as feeding, feed small, try not to be messy or wasteful about it so most all of it goes inside the fish, and just some comes out as fish waste. they can go a really long time like that and they will be hungrier for the next small feeding and less likely to miss food or let it sit on the bottom.

I think most likely it's contaminated water, contaminated with organics, it caused the bloom, and the bloom rapidly got out of hand and is cranking out the ammonia, and your filter colony being cut to 1/3rd was just bad timing when it happened.
The heterotrophs or diatoms, these types of organisms reproduce every 15 minutes. Your nitrifying bacteria, they reproduce every 15 hours or so. to cut the colony down to 1/3 size by wiping out two of 3 filters, it will roughly double after 15 hours to 2/3rds of what it was again, and by hour 30 should be back up to 100% size and ready by 45-48 hours or so to double again if it needs to, to deal with the ammonia and keep doubling every 15 hours or so, until it's handled and then they will die back to what the tank can sustain also.
Biological boosters really aren't necessary, unless your colony is dead, in which case, they aren't producing nitrates at all and that might be a quicker recovery, but it's kind of a waste of money if you've got any part of your colony there making nitrates still.

by the way nice tank and nice fish!
 

colbywebre47

very possible they sent out a warning, checked the system, then hyperdosed chlorine to be safe and gave the all clear, in which case, your normal dosing of water conditioner wouldn't take care of all the chlorine, you'd of needed to double or triple dose the conditioner depending on how much they used, if they used chloramine, some of the ammonia (it would be ammonium though) could be from the hyperdosing too.

This is possible. But you can't rule out there being decaying organic material as particles being in the city water system either, that could do what you are seeing also, effectively adding organic material with that first water change, causing a heterotroph bloom in the tank, and them working the organic particulates is cranking out the ammonia and building the cloud of the bloom.

And changing out the filters when you did, wouldn't help the cycle keep up with the ammonia. As they say, hindsight is 20/20

You'd want to water change to be safe and keep the ammonia low, all the dead bacteria will become ammonia also, and all will become nitrates in the end. So water changing to keep them manageable and safe at the end would be wise, there will be a huge pile of nitrates on the back end if you don't.
The bloom is the bloom, every 15 minutes they are reproducing, and will continue to until they exhaust the resource that caused it and then die off. it's got to run it's course, all you really can do is water change to mitigate the ammonia that builds and keep it safe for the fish, and hopefully it was a short issue with the water, and no longer there. so water changing will remove it now. You can water change like 50% every few hours really if you have time to, but try to do as much as you can to get the ammonia down, all of that becomes nitrates.


Here's the main questions then. Are you getting nitrites at all? Are you getting nitrates at all?
Damage assessment.

If you aren't getting nitrites, and you are getting nitrates on the back end, only part of you beneficial bacteria was damaged if any at all. it's more likely the ammonia is coming from heterotropic bacteria in the tank working on organics, and it will process, but your biological filter is overwhelmed currently and backlogging as ammonia, and it won't finish until the heterotrophs clean up the mess causing the bloom and then starve and die off again.

If you have the ammonia, no nitrites, and no nitrates, very possible the cycle was killed.
but reading back you said the nitrates were going up, so double check the water, see what it's doing and if it's processing to nitrates at some level, it's just got to catch up to what's been going on.

As far as feeding, feed small, try not to be messy or wasteful about it so most all of it goes inside the fish, and just some comes out as fish waste. they can go a really long time like that and they will be hungrier for the next small feeding and less likely to miss food or let it sit on the bottom.

I think most likely it's contaminated water, contaminated with organics, it caused the bloom, and the bloom rapidly got out of hand and is cranking out the ammonia, and your filter colony being cut to 1/3rd was just bad timing when it happened.
The heterotrophs or diatoms, these types of organisms reproduce every 15 minutes. Your nitrifying bacteria, they reproduce every 15 hours or so. to cut the colony down to 1/3 size by wiping out two of 3 filters, it will roughly double after 15 hours to 2/3rds of what it was again, and by hour 30 should be back up to 100% size and ready by 45-48 hours or so to double again if it needs to, to deal with the ammonia and keep doubling every 15 hours or so, until it's handled and then they will die back to what the tank can sustain also.
Biological boosters really aren't necessary, unless your colony is dead, in which case, they aren't producing nitrates at all and that might be a quicker recovery, but it's kind of a waste of money if you've got any part of your colony there making nitrates still.

by the way nice tank and nice fish!
Thanks for your help man I appreciate it, I'm going to do some water changes and Ill keep you updated. I have 0 Nitrites currently so I don't think my bacteria colony is that badly damaged thankfully. Im just going to have to let it run its course while doing some water changes.
 

SparkyJones

Thanks for your help man I appreciate it, I'm going to do some water changes and Ill keep you updated. I have 0 Nitrites currently so I don't think my bacteria colony is that badly damaged thankfully. Im just going to have to let it run its course while doing some water changes.
0 nitrites is ok, IF it's paired with nitrates being built up. That just means your nitrite breaking bacteria is handling what your ammonia breakers are producing, but there needs to be nitrates showing up. if no nitrites or nitrates, it would be a signal of the colony dying off or stalled and no activity at all going on.
 

colbywebre47

0 nitrites is ok, IF it's paired with nitrates being built up. That just means your nitrite breaking bacteria is handling what your ammonia breakers are producing, but there needs to be nitrates showing up. if no nitrites or nitrates, it would be a signal of the colony dying off or stalled and no activity at all going on.
I'm pretty sure my nitrates are rising and I can tell that my water is clearing up as it was less cloudy when I woke up this morning.
 

colbywebre47

0 nitrites is ok, IF it's paired with nitrates being built up. That just means your nitrite breaking bacteria is handling what your ammonia breakers are producing, but there needs to be nitrates showing up. if no nitrites or nitrates, it would be a signal of the colony dying off or stalled and no activity at all going on.
Update: My tank water is almost completely clear, however my green terrors fins are looking like they are tearing a little bit but my other fish seem fine. The ammonia looks like it has decreased a little bit, maybe from 4 to 2, and I still have no nitrites.
 

86 ssinit

As stated most likely the water company added something to the water. Next your running 2 aquaclear 110s and an fx4. You didn’t clean the fx4 just the other 2. When was the fx4 cleaned last? This could be your problem. I’m thinking the fx4 is clogged. Because if it wasn’t it should be able to run that tank without the 110s. There should be enough bacteria in it to have eaten the ammonia. What is the ammonia reading from your tap and tap ph. 50% daily water changes should reduce your ammonia. Unless the fx4 is producing it by being clogged and it’s bacteria dying off.
 

colbywebre47

As stated most likely the water company added something to the water. Next your running 2 aquaclear 110s and an fx4. You didn’t clean the fx4 just the other 2. When was the fx4 cleaned last? This could be your problem. I’m thinking the fx4 is clogged. Because if it wasn’t it should be able to run that tank without the 110s. There should be enough bacteria in it to have eaten the ammonia. What is the ammonia reading from your tap and tap ph. 50% daily water changes should reduce your ammonia. Unless the fx4 is producing it by being clogged and it’s bacteria dying off.
I cleaned the fx4, I just didnt replace the sponges because I didnt want to kill to much of my bacteria. So I don't think its clogged, because I gave it a good cleaning at the same time I replaced the sponges in the 110's.
 

86 ssinit

Ok how often do you clean it? Do you always clean them all at the same time? I clean a different filter every week. This way there’s no chance of wiping out your cycle.
 

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