Left my 6 year old tank to fend for itself for 2 years. Help please.

RoadKill

First off, I want to say I am ashamed. I know better. I have no good reason and my bad excuse is I've been battling depression and fatigue for years now.
Hoping to get my tank (and life for that matter) cleaned up.

I have:
55 gallon tank
Gravel substrate
2 large Plecos, 4 Cory Catfish, 50++ guppies
I have no idea the water temp but room temp is around 72F

I've had this tank for 6 years. Heavily planted with low needs plants in the beginning with the original rendition of the Finnex Planted Plus 24/7 48" lighting bar.
I had various filters hooked up to it the last few years but currently have a new SunSun 304b 525gph canister filter.

Several days ago I decided to get my tank back in order. The severely underpowered (rated for 30 gallon) mechanical-only canister filter was clogged and hadn't had real water movement for months.

The last 2 years or so:
Might've fed the fish <1 time a week.
Did 1 40% water change
Never owned any sort of test for water parameters
My gravel substrate was more sludge than anything. I couldn't even see the gravel even though I have 2"+ of it.

About a week ago I decided to try and do something about my tank:

I ordered my new canister filter.
I tried to vacuum the thick sludge but chunks kept clogging it up.
My test kit came in so I performed my 1st ever water parameters test and here were the results-
01/17/2021
Ph: 7.8
Ammonia: 8++ppm
Nitrites: 0ppm
Nitrates: 10ppm-20ppm

1) I plugged in my new filter that has no bio media in it, only floss and sponges at the moment.
2) Stirred up the gravel to get the gunk free floating in the tank so the filter could sick it up.
3) Used a colander to sleuth out more sludge from the gravel back into the tank. I pulled out half of the gravel and have it sitting in a bucket to make it easier to get to the sludge in the tank better.
4) After I had the sludge worked up and floating through the water I siphoned out ~65% of the water replacing it with tap water.
5) Left the canister to run for 24 hours. 24 hours hit at about 6pm tonight.

The water looks much clearer now without the sludge kicked up and moving around. There is still quite a lot resting on the bottom of the tank (easier to see now with less gravel)

IMG_20210119_005422432.jpg

IMG_20210119_005529663.jpg
I tested the water and now it reads:
01/18/2021
Ph: ?ppm
Ammonia: 8+ppm
Nitrites: 0ppm
Nitrates: 5ppm

As you can see, my ammonia is still crazy high after a 65+% water change! I tested my city water and it has no detectable amount of ammonia or nitrates. As an additional test I mixed a container with 50% tank water and 50% tap water and tested this solution. It reads about 4.0ppm ammonia so I believe I'll be in a better spot when I change the water next.

All things considered my concerns are:
1) How have my fish been able to survive all of my neglect? My parameters are bonkers.
2) Why do I have no Nitrites but lots of Ammonia and some Nitrates?
3) The water in my tank only has untreated tap water in it. I have ordered Seachem Prime but might take a week to get here. I currently have- API Stress Coat fish and tap water conditioner, Jungle Start Right water conditioner, and Tetra AquaSafe. Which one should I use right away while I wait for the Seachem Prime to arrive? Which is best? I read some of them can throw off ammonia readings. (Attached photos of what I have in case it helps)
4) What do I do with the sludge still at the bottom of the tank? Should I continue to siphon it out? I'm worried I'll completely removed any kind of good bacteria I may have. That would be the only place it would be as my sorry filter was completely clogged and had been for months.
3) What do I do from here? Shall I treat this tank as if if I'm just starting it up, doing a fish-cycle? Should I continue to do water changes until my ammonia is at a certain level? What level? How much water? Daily?

I attached 2 more photos of my tank. 1 overall view and 1 upclose shot of all the poop at the bottom of my tank.

I'm sorry to dump this all out there but I am hoping to correct what I've let happen. I'm sure many guppies have died and rotted through all the last 2 years but surprisingly I still have my original 4 Cory cats and my 2 large Plecos. I want to do what I need to fix my tank. Thank you to anyone who can help. If be happy to answer the questions you need and clarify whatever I may have not been clear enough about.

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Aprilbeingbasic

wow how interesting. good to here you are trying to organise your life! but also it really is a testament that we do interfer with our tanks more than they need. Also I bet the ammonia is from you mixing up the sludge. can you put the plecos in a bucket or something so you can actually rinse your gravel, dont clean too hard it will be covered in bacteria, just to get some of the waste off. also you said you had plants? Are they gone?
 
Upvote 0

Marlene327

I commend you for picking yourself up and taking care of this. No one can change what has happened, but hopefully some can give you good advice going forward.
 
Upvote 0

Lilthuglet

On your water conditioners it looks like any of them will dechlorinate which needs to be the first priority, the only comment I'd have between them in terms of getting new ones it that the Tetra AquaSafe comes in a tiny bottle and doesn't last long.

Tetra AquaSafe seems to have Vitamin B and the other two Aloe Vera which all say they are healing/soothing but I wouldn't worry too much about that.

In relation to your ammonia readings all I can find is that old style dechlorinators that contain sodium thiosulphate can create ammonia if mixed with chloramines. If you check your ingredients list and they don't include that you should be fine.

I'd worry a little less about the sludge at the bottom than the overall parameters, just keep siphoning out what you can with every water change. You probably want to be doing up to 40% water changes daily or every other day or so for now.

Do you have any of the sponges from the old filter? if they have been kept damp/wet they may still have some beneficial bacteria in them and could be put into the new filter alongside your new media. If you can get some biomedia that will probably be a good thing.

I'm a big fan of plants in a tank for interest, shelter and water stability. If you can get something easy like moss balls or java ferns and drop them in that'd probably be a good idea.

Best of luck.
 
Upvote 0

Aprilbeingbasic

sorry ill try actually answer some questions

1) How have my fish been able to survive all of my neglect? My parameters are bonkers.
Dunno haha fish can get used to alot and plecos can live in quite bad water.

2) Why do I have no Nitrites but lots of Ammonia and some Nitrates?
I would say your parametres are weird because you have disturbed years worth of mulm and sludge.

3) The water in my tank only has untreated tap water in it. I have ordered Seachem Prime but might take a week to get here. I currently have- API Stress Coat fish and tap water conditioner, Jungle Start Right water conditioner, and Tetra AquaSafe. Which one should I use right away while I wait for the Seachem Prime to arrive? Which is best? I read some of them can throw off ammonia readings.
just use your water conditioner for your water change, stress coat is just a water conditioner really, with some added aloe. Your start right is old yes? Any bacteria will be dead, plus your gravel will have plenty of seeded bacteria you shouldnt need it.

4) What do I do with the sludge still at the bottom of the tank? Should I continue to siphon it out? I'm worried I'll completely removed any kind of good bacteria I may have. That would be the only place it would be as my sorry filter was completely clogged and had been for months.
your bacteria will have formed biofilms on your gravel, they will not disappear that easily. I would say put your plecos in a bucket and actually rinse your gravel (with conditioned water) then re-fill the tank (after water conditioner) then drip acclimate your plecos back into the tank, it will be quite a change so dont rush. Then move onto sorting out your filter, Im sure your tank will be ok with just the gravel for now.

3) What do I do from here? Shall I treat this tank as if if I'm just starting it up, doing a fish-cycle? Should I continue to do water changes until my ammonia is at a certain level? What level? How much water? Daily?
I highly doubt this tank will take more than a few days to cycle, it will be full of bacteria. I would say remove the plecos, actually rinse the gravel properly with conditioned water so your tap water chlorine isnt killing anything then set back up the tank and drip acclimate the plecos back in. then get some test strips just to keep check. if you cant get the test strips then just do a 30% water change every day for the next week. And redecorate the tank with plants again
 
Upvote 0

RoadKill

wow how interesting. good to here you are trying to organise your life! but also it really is a testament that we do interfer with our tanks more than they need. Also I bet the ammonia is from you mixing up the sludge. can you put the plecos in a bucket or something so you can actually rinse your gravel, dont clean too hard it will be covered in bacteria, just to get some of the waste off. also you said you had plants? Are they gone?
I appreciate your comment! Yes I have a bucket I can put my plecos in. I'm a little worried trying to fish them out and placing them in a new place (even temporary) might do them in, but in all reality the major disturbance I've done to the tank in the last few days is much worse than putting them in a temporary home. As far as my plants go, yes they are gone. The only thing left was a few scraggly strands of hornwort. They had been free floating and clogging up my new filter so I tossed them. I want to get back into my plants but now might not be the right time for me

I commend you for picking yourself up and taking care of this. No one can change what has happened, but hopefully some can give you good advice going forward.
Thank you for your comment! I am eagerly waiting for replies so I can take advice. ☺️
On your water conditioners it looks like any of them will dechlorinate which needs to be the first priority, the only comment I'd have between them in terms of getting new ones it that the Tetra AquaSafe comes in a tiny bottle and doesn't last long.

Tetra AquaSafe seems to have Vitamin B and the other two Aloe Vera which all say they are healing/soothing but I wouldn't worry too much about that.

In relation to your ammonia readings all I can find is that old style dechlorinators that contain sodium thiosulphate can create ammonia if mixed with chloramines. If you check your ingredients list and they don't include that you should be fine.

I'd worry a little less about the sludge at the bottom than the overall parameters, just keep siphoning out what you can with every water change. You probably want to be doing up to 40% water changes daily or every other day or so for now.

Do you have any of the sponges from the old filter? if they have been kept damp/wet they may still have some beneficial bacteria in them and could be put into the new filter alongside your new media. If you can get some biomedia that will probably be a good thing.

I'm a big fan of plants in a tank for interest, shelter and water stability. If you can get something easy like moss balls or java ferns and drop them in that'd probably be a good idea.

Best of luck.
Thank you for the suggestion on which dechlorinator to use. None I have on hand have sodium thiosulphate. I added some right away.
Yes, I am more worried about the parameters for sure! But I wanted to include it anyhow in case it was important.
I do still have my sponges from my old filter and they are still damp. I will stick them in my new canister filter tomorrow evening. I'll also add the ceramic pieces and bio balls it came with. I thought I'd wait until I could get the canister to physically filter out the organic matter before adding them in fear they would get gummed up. I'll rinse out the funk from my filter and add biochemical media to it along with my old sponges.
I am looking forward to getting new plants in my tank! The only local store I have is Petco and will stop in there while running errands in town on a couple days and look for some.

Thank you for everything!
sorry ill try actually answer some questions

1) How have my fish been able to survive all of my neglect? My parameters are bonkers.
Dunno haha fish can get used to alot and plecos can live in quite bad water.

2) Why do I have no Nitrites but lots of Ammonia and some Nitrates?
I would say your parametres are weird because you have disturbed years worth of mulm and sludge.

3) The water in my tank only has untreated tap water in it. I have ordered Seachem Prime but might take a week to get here. I currently have- API Stress Coat fish and tap water conditioner, Jungle Start Right water conditioner, and Tetra AquaSafe. Which one should I use right away while I wait for the Seachem Prime to arrive? Which is best? I read some of them can throw off ammonia readings.
just use your water conditioner for your water change, stress coat is just a water conditioner really, with some added aloe. Your start right is old yes? Any bacteria will be dead, plus your gravel will have plenty of seeded bacteria you shouldnt need it.

4) What do I do with the sludge still at the bottom of the tank? Should I continue to siphon it out? I'm worried I'll completely removed any kind of good bacteria I may have. That would be the only place it would be as my sorry filter was completely clogged and had been for months.
your bacteria will have formed biofilms on your gravel, they will not disappear that easily. I would say put your plecos in a bucket and actually rinse your gravel (with conditioned water) then re-fill the tank (after water conditioner) then drip acclimate your plecos back into the tank, it will be quite a change so dont rush. Then move onto sorting out your filter, Im sure your tank will be ok with just the gravel for now.

3) What do I do from here? Shall I treat this tank as if if I'm just starting it up, doing a fish-cycle? Should I continue to do water changes until my ammonia is at a certain level? What level? How much water? Daily?
I highly doubt this tank will take more than a few days to cycle, it will be full of bacteria. I would say remove the plecos, actually rinse the gravel properly with conditioned water so your tap water chlorine isnt killing anything then set back up the tank and drip acclimate the plecos back in. then get some test strips just to keep check. if you cant get the test strips then just do a 30% water change every day for the next week. And redecorate the tank with plants again
Thank you so much for all the answers and thoughts! The StartRight bottle says it expires June of 2022. But it's also just a dechlorinator. Doesn't have anything fancy except the aloe. I ended up using the API Stress Coat because it's the oldest and I want to use it up. I mixed it a bucket of tank water and added it back to the tank.

I will take your advice and move my Plecos for a bit to rinse my gravel (with conditioned water as you said), also siphon the sludge off the bottom while I have the gravel out, while doing a 30% water change.

I think the best thing to do after that is to place all my gravel back in and use my gravel siphon to suck the water from the tank bottom as I remove water for my water change.

Thank you so much. I feel much better about my plan going forward. ❤️
 
Upvote 0

Rick bose

Are all the guppies gone or few of them survived?
And you said you had 4 corydoras but I can see 2 cories in the pic. Are 2 of the cories gone or all 4 survived but can't be seen in the pic?
The plecos surviving is not a surprise for me as they are quite hardy and survive in poor water conditions but I am surprised to see the cories still surviving as I personally have not found them to be a hardy fish.

I won't have anything to add seeing all other comments. I could not have answered as good as some did.
A big salute that you are fighting back and comimg back to life and also deciding to take care of your tank from now on. Wishing you a good life and a good fish-keeping experience ahead.
 
Upvote 0

RoadKill

Are all the guppies gone or few of them survived?
And you said you had 4 corydoras but I can see 2 cories in the pic. Are 2 of the cories gone or all 4 survived but can't be seen in the pic?
The plecos surviving is not a surprise for me as they are quite hardy and survive in poor water conditions but I am surprised to see the cories still surviving as I personally have not found them to be a hardy fish.

I won't have anything to add seeing all other comments. I could not have answered as good as some did.
A big salute that you are fighting back and comimg back to life and also deciding to take care of your tank from now on. Wishing you a good life and a good fish-keeping experience ahead.

Truth be told I probably severely underestimated the amount of guppies. I looked in my tank this morning and there's a ton of fry at the bottom
And yes I do have the 4 Corys! The 2 that you are seeing are the albino ones I have. I also have 2 of the camo ones too. They're down in there ☺

IMG_20210119_101446729.jpg
 
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