Fish Are Dying And I'm At My Wit's End. Help Please!

Jessiegrace

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Okay, I came into this as a complete beginner last year and I've struggled for the past month and a half.

Here's what I have:

55 gallon tank with sand substrate. The sand is playbox sand, but I rinsed it until it was clear when I put it in. No chemicals added. Just straight sand.

About 20 plastic plants in several different sizes.

A piece of wood for my plecos.

Several sea shells that have been used in my 10 gallon tank before that never caused problems, two little caves I made out of sculpy after doing research and finding that it should be safe, and a couple terracotta flower pots, one with fish gravel in it to hold some plants.

I have a bubbler recommended for up to 65 gallons, and a Tetra whisper ex 70 filter. Both had 50 on the low end of their recommendations, but the others only went up to 45. I got this tank from my father, and he didn't have a hood. So for light I've put a desk lamp over it with a leftover grow light from my overwintering succulents. The tank is in my basement, so the fish wouldn't be getting any light from the sun. I turn the light off at night before I go to bed (about 11 pm) and on when I get up (about 8 am). There is also a heater, and I try to keep the water temp. at the 78-80 mark. There were a few cold nights where it got down to 75, but I've learned to gauge where to set it so this doesn't happen any more.

Nitrate between 0 and 20 ppm

Nitrites are 0

Total hardness (gh) between 75 and 150 ppm

Alkalinity (kh) 80 ppm

ph 7.2

These were measured with a dip stick so I know they're meant to be taken with a grain of salt.

Ammonia has been measure with a liquid test kit (the kind where you add the two kinds of drops) and is between 0 and .25 ppm.

My current survivors are a regular pleco, an albino pleco, a glass catfish, a female betta, two upside down catfish, and an albino cory. Also, about 15 ghost shrimp.

My brother previously housed a hedgehog in this tank, but I don't believe that is a problem. After he found her a new home, it sat dry for about 8 months, and then I took it into the yard and pressure washed it with bleach and scrubbed it with barkeepers friend and dish soap before rinsing it really well about ten times (the latter part being the way I would clean my 10 gallon tank about once every three months and never had an issue before).

I got the tank set up and cycled (at least I thought so) late last year. I had two corries, a ghost shrimp, an albino pleco, a rainbow shark, and a pictus cat fish in a ten gallon tank. Little pictus catfish was outgrowing the 10 gallon tank quickly (like an idiot, I didn't research before I grabbed him up) and I wanted to give him a nice home. I picked the sand substrate specifically so my catfish wouldn't get their whiskers torn up.

10 gallon family was doing fabulous for about a week, so I decided to get more fish. I got three upside down cats, four glass cats, a regular pleco, three clown loaches, three more cories, two lace cats, another pictus, and about seven female bettas. It was cats on the bottom and a betta sorority up top. Please note that I got these and added them over the course of a month. Everyone was doing fabulous for two months. Didn't have a single death or issue.

Then it started going down hill.

The loaches all keeled off within two days of each other. My water was very alkaline, so I thought it had damaged their slime coat and they'd gotten sick. I added some stress coat for the remaining fish.

Then the rainbow shark got sick and started swimming vertically about two weeks after. Dead. Okay, he was about four years old (I had the ten gallon a LONG time and never had an issue). Maybe he just died of old age. These things happen. Maybe he had his slime coat degenerate too... I didn't know.

Another three weeks, everyone is fine, no deaths. So, I decided to get several guppies to add a little color in the tank. Got a couple deinos too. Added the five ghost shrimp because I love the little guys.

I spent the night at my boyfriend's house and I fall asleep early. I wake up about three AM, and my dad's sent me a text that he had just scooped out all the deinos and guppies, and five of the bettas because they were dead. I was hysterical. I drove home as soon as I got the text, tested my water and ammonia was high (that's when I learned you can't add 10 or so fish at once to your tank. Another idiot mistake). I spent that morning doing a massive 90% water change because I didn't know what else to do.

Next couple weeks, glass cats, all but one dead, all but three corries, dead, all bettas, dead. My filter at the time was a whisper one only recommended for up to 45 gallons. Changed it. Went through an insane amount of water conditioner from water changes. Removed any decorations that looked like they might be hurting the fish. I had a fake plant that wasn't meant for fish and noticed some of the wire was poking out and rusting. Trashed. Had made a couple caves with silicone as the glue. Trashed. Thought maybe I had poisonous bubbles in the sand. Started stirring it every few days with my hand.

I thought things had regulated, and no more deaths, so I got several more bettas, two friends for the lonely glass cat, and more ghost shrimp. They did great for about a week. Then they started dying off too. All but two bettas dead. Another cory, dead. Two glass cats, dead. Shrimp are loving it, by the way. They're having a feast while I'm crying.

So I start getting desperate. I add tetra cleaning bacteria to give the tank a boost. Dead cory. I get Tetra easy balance as a final straw to use with my water changes. It drastically changes the ph and kills off the pictus cats (the ones I started this whole damned thing for to begin with). I switched to prime as my water conditioner. I'm still doing 25% water changes twice a week. 50+% after a death.

It's finally looking up, and I haven't lost anyone. Get three more bettas. One dies. I also lost an upside down cat, but it looked like he had gotten stuck in the filter end. His spiny fin was wedged in there so hard I had to pry him out with my hand and actually ripped his fin off, so I think he swam by, got scared, attacked it with his fin, and got stuck. The other upside down cats are fine. Ghost shrimp is fine. Yesterday I did about a 50% water change, and took out all the decorations and rinsed them really well. Came home to a dead betta.

I turned my old ten gallon into three sections for male bettas. Male bettas have been moved to little betta boxes (those god awful .7 gallon things with no filters or heaters that I have for when I collect insects in the summer for pets) and everyone else except the ghost shrimp is cramped in the ten gallon. Ten gallon has used the same tap water with the same conditioners (no tetra easy balance) on the same water change schedule and has never lost a single fish. No one is happy right now, but it's better than them dying off. I've got an 8 gallon I'm about to set up for this emergency, but no filter or bubbler for it so I'm leery.

This 55 gallon tank feels like it's from **** and I have no idea what on earth to do. Please, any advice, no matter how harsh, is welcome. If I'm being stupid somewhere, call it out. I want to get this fixed. I've put in hours and hours of research, hundreds of dollars, and I feel like I just don't know what to do any more.
 

DutchAquarium

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Sounds like something is poisoning your aquarium. This could make sense since some species are more sensitive than others. Make sure you have carbon running. It could very much be the sculpey clay. While it might be okay in aquariums, perhaps you had to let it soak a while to remove the toxins.
 

SFGiantsGuy

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Yeah it could be your substrate, since most of your water test readings seem rather moot and not an issue, however the sand kinda raises a red flag for your frequent, multi-species deaths. The sand likely does not have an over abundance of calcium either. As a very LAST resort, you may have to change out ALL of your substrate and try that for about a 2 weeks to a month, do your regluar water changes and then see what happens. There's a lot of YouTube videos for instructions on how to change out your substrate.

And IF carbon does NOT work, then I'm about 99% sure that it's your substrate. Perhaps try river sand. It's good stuff. Doubt it's a bacterial issue either...oops, I actually meant try carbon as Dutch stated, and wait a bit, and if there are more deaths even with the added carbon, you probably can try changing out your substrate.
 

SFGiantsGuy

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Yes. Try that before the very LAST resort of changing out 100% of your substrate. Hope everything goes well--we're all here to help. : )
 

DutchAquarium

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yes, that's the one. carbon filters impurities in the water. that's also the reason you remove it when medicating
 

NavyChief20

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Out of curiosity, what brand "play sand" did you use? There are some play sands that have concrete particle as filler. Silica sand is what you want. "beach sand" IE lake beach sand is silica. You do not want actual beach sand due to trace minerals and it will pump up your hardness (good for cichlids).

General purpose sand has tons of fillers in it,mostly clay which can leech Cl like nobodys business.
 

PatientStars

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Maybe try re-scaping? As much of a pain as it would be, tearing the tank apart and redoing it top to bottom may be the key for you. Here is how my 50 gal is set up. It's houses around 40 nano fish of different species, some snails, and some shrimp.

Substrate: Eco-Complete gravel on the bottom, with a 1-2" layer of sand on top (the national geographic brand they sell at most pet stores would work, I stayed away from the play sand because I had heard some horror stories)

Plants: My tank is all live-planted. I have a variety of ferns that provide tall leaves of varying width, and assorted anubias attached to either driftwood or rock. There are also four marimo moss balls, and a good amount of Hornwort floating in the top third of the tank. Not only do the plants look nice and provide cover and hiding places, they also help filter the water. Hornwort in particular helps keep ammonia under control. My pea puffers have a blast swimming through it looking for pond snails to snack on.

Decorations: Two tall "Texas holey rock" decorations that have a ton of places to hide in. A small fake log, again for hiding. Two pieces of driftwood for the bn plecos. Two small stone cave things.

Filter: PennPlex Cascade Elite 1000 It has 3 levels in the canister that you can customize with any variations of filter media you prefer. I have a thick floss and then finer floss in first, more fine floss with activated carbon second, and then fine floss with a bag purigen and ceramic rings in the third section. The purigen has been doing a **** of a job keeping the tannins from the driftwood out of the water, it's crystal clear. My favorite thing about this filter is the spray bar. I have it aimed at the back of the tank to further cut the pressure from the output while still providing circulation. It's by far the most customizable flow I've found so far, especially since the actual volume of water flowing through the filter is adjustable. Super easy to clean, too!

Temp: Averages about 78 F

I use Prime with each water change and test at least the ammonia/nitrite/nitrate levels daily or every other day.

I know that my setup is not the BEST way by any means, but maybe it's something in your tank that's causing all the suspicious deaths. Maybe if you switch to live plants and more natural decorations it will help? Not positive, just a thought.

I have my fingers crossed for you to get this figured out. It's so frustrating when something goes wrong and you don't know why!

Here's a shot of my tank to give you an idea of what all natural plants can look like.

 
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Jessiegrace

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Okay, so I do have activated carbon in the filter and have had it in there the entire time. I broke out the half empty bag and it's sakrete brand natural play sand and says it contains silica crystals. It doesn't give a list of ingredients though. So you may very well be right about the concrete filler. They also process cement and other lovely things at their facility so it's very possible trace amounts that wouldn't hurt people are hurting my fishies. I never even thought about it, I just looked for untreated play sand. So sand is going away next.
 

SFGiantsGuy

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My 55 cichlid ank has river sand, which I really like. Ugh, dealing with a mild, weird algae issue here...may be hair algae, or maybe even staghorn....but it's dark blue-gray in color, almost black...I posted a pic...plants today are also pearling like crazy! I've seen less bubbles in 7-Up!!!
 

NavyChief20

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Jessiegrace said:
Okay, so I do have activated carbon in the filter and have had it in there the entire time. I broke out the half empty bag and it's sakrete brand natural play sand and says it contains silica crystals. It doesn't give a list of ingredients though. So you may very well be right about the concrete filler. They also process cement and other lovely things at their facility so it's very possible trace amounts that wouldn't hurt people are hurting my fishies. I never even thought about it, I just looked for untreated play sand. So sand is going away next.
so the sakrete brand has cause alot of problems for people. Oddly, qwikrete brand play sand works very well and it is the same price as the sakrete. One is at lowes one is at home depot. The sakrete is safe for playing in for the kids but it is not safe for aquarium use. The carbon in your filter will help chemically clean the discharge but to be completely honest all carbon does is scrub chlorine, phenols, tannins and some organic compounds. Carbon does NOTHING for ammonia or nitrate or nitrite or most other chemicals. It will however scrub alot of medications out.
 

Corrie Williamson

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I did a Google search and was unable to obtain a list of ingredients. However I did find the attached documents.

In both of them it states that the sand contains crystalline silica, quartz and may also contain other chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. They both say that one should not inhale the dust or have prolonged exposure to it.

I hope removing the sand solves the problem for you.
 

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NavyChief20

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Corrie Williamson said:
I did a Google search and was unable to obtain a list of ingredients. However I did find the attached documents.

In both of them it states that the sand contains crystalline silica, quartz and may also contain other chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. They both say that one should not inhale the dust or have prolonged exposure to it.

I hope removing the sand solves the problem for you.
Coffee is a carcinogen in the state of california though so.....
 

tellin

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Jessiegrace

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The reason sand has the potential to cause cancer is because powdered silica can get in your lungs and never really has a way to leave. It's believed that those crystals stuck in your lungs cause cancer, or so my understanding goes. I'm also super cautious about chemicals. No air fresheners or sprays get used in the same room as the tank (at least to my knowledge) and while I do wear perfume and occasionally lotion to work, first thing I do is scrub up past my elbows and rinse very well before the hand goes in the tank. And unless it's emergency maintenance, I try to do it on a day off where I'm not wearing anything. I don't think noise is an issue either. The TV in the room gets used maybe once every few weeks and I keep it turned down low. My computer monitor is on the other side of the wall, but it's also turned down low. The filter is usually louder than both if you stand by the tank. I do appreciate the article though!
 

NavyChief20

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The powdered silica exposure is actually a cause of rheumatoid arthritis, and can cause environmental pneumonia. The massive irritation caused by the pneumonia or RA and the associated medication is what leads to the cancer. Most of the time it is pancreatic or requires a splenectomy.
 

DuaneV

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Jessiegrace said:
10 gallon family was doing fabulous for about a week, so I decided to get more fish. I got three upside down cats, four glass cats, a regular pleco, three clown loaches, three more cories, two lace cats, another pictus, and about seven female bettas. It was cats on the bottom and a betta sorority up top. Please note that I got these and added them over the course of a month. Everyone was doing fabulous for two months. Didn't have a single death or issue.
Am I reading this correctly? AAAAALLLLLLLLL these fish were in a 10 gallon?????????? If so, THIS is the problem.
 
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Jessiegrace

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No no no no no! Oh my goodness no! I put the ones that were previously in the 10 gallon into the 55 gallon! Then I added the new ones to the 55 gallon!
 
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