WELL ESTABLISHED tank suddenly has problems

Discussion in 'Cloudy Aquarium Water' started by docB, Dec 15, 2012.

  1. docB

    docBNew MemberMember

    I have a 55g planted tank. It has been established for over 3 years. I have not added anything new in plants, fish, decorations, or equipment for well over a year. I have 2 discus, rummy nose tetras, a pleco and several assorted algae eaters. About ten days ago all of my grass like plants (I could look up their names but it is all the tall skinny bladed plants) started to look bad and began to have a brownish slimy sediment on them. They quickly faded to oblivion. The broadleaf plants seem unaffected. After about three days of this the water started to turn brownish as if I had stirred up sediment. within a few more days the entire tank was totally brownish - maybe alittle white-ish murky, as if you had put a gallon of mud in a five gallon bucket and stirred it all up. Visibility is about one inch. The fish seem unaffected, although for a bit the rummey nose teteras did not have a rummey nose.
    Everything seems to be coated in a layer of sediment.
    For the entire three years I have done a weekly 80% water change (aged primed) so all water parameters have been 0% for years, nitarates 5% and I have never had any such problems.
    I have the lights on 6 hours per day.
    Assuming this was an algae bloom I did a three day blackout - no difference.
    I wash all filtration equipment in aquarium water not tap water.
    I have now changed 80% of the water about 8 times out of ten days. Still VERY murky.
    I have read about bacterial blooms but the conditions don't seem to apply.
    I am at my wit's end and don't want to pull the trigger on creating a "hospital tank" for the fish (screw the plants) and cycle another tank for months. This is an office tank so I cannot cordon off a disaster zone if you know what I mean.
    Any advice is very welcome!
  2. josh40996

    josh40996Valued MemberMember

    O.O I have never come across this before (Maybe it's just me being a noob)

    What substrate do you have? I could only imagine that maybe if you have a fertile substrate maybe it is begining to break down or maybe if you have a dirted tank maybe you fish has dug a hole causing the dirt to leak through.
  3. Matt B

    Matt BWell Known MemberMember

    Did you remove all the dead plant matter? Sorry, sounds obvious but you didn't state you did. If left in there all your dead grass like plants could've fouled things up. I would try to clean up the substrate as much as possible and then get some fine mechanical media in your filter along with pwcs and see if that helps.

    To be honest I'm really not positive what could've caused the die off starting with the grass, post grass die of it may have been an algae bloom from all the nutrients from the dead plant matter
  4. fishaddiction

    fishaddictionValued MemberMember

    Sounds awful, is it a dirt look or does it look like fish waste or both?
  5. OP

    docBNew MemberMember

    Yes I removed all distressed plants that I can see through the sediment, but I can only see an inch or two into the tank. I have been vacuuming the ground at every WC (almost every day)
    What is pwcs?
    BTW I am using purigen in the filter which has provided incredible results in the past. No help right now.
    I got most off the dead matter within a day or so

    yes it is a dirt look - looks like a bunch of light brown mud - won't clear up - has turned a little more white ish with each daily WC but resorts to the same muddy look.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 15, 2012
  6. Matt B

    Matt BWell Known MemberMember

    Pwcs=partial water changes

    I've no experience with dirted tanks but I would expect better results clearing this kind of thing with a combination of fine mechanical media and purigen or carbon. The fact that its gets better and worse again kind of leaves me at a loss, hopefully someone with dirted tank experience may have an idea.
  7. catsma_97504

    catsma_97504Fishlore LegendMember

    Welcome to the forum. Sorry to hear your tank is having issues.

    How do the current water parameters compare to that of a year ago, before the melt down in plants? If there is a change, knowing how the parameters have changed would help us to gain an understanding of the tank's ecosystem.

    What type of lights are over the tank? Standard fluorescent, such as T8 or T12; CFL; T5HO, etc.

    How old are the bulbs? When bulbs become too old they cannot sustain plants.

    What is the color temperature of the bulbs? If the color temp is in the wrong spectrum plants will be unable to utilize the light.

    Do you use plant ferts? If so, what is used, how much is dosed, and how often.

    Your tank is dirted, but you mentioned cleaning the substrate. Are you lifting up the dirt? What is it capped with? Could it be possible that your fish have dug down into the dirt layer and it is now churning in the water column?

    Is there a mechanical filter? Or, are the plants the filter? Such as what is used in a Dianna Walstad type tank?

    Lastly, does this sediment brush off when you swish your hand near an object? Or, is it easily removed by rubbing, which could indicate a diatom outbreak.

    Sorry for all the questions, but more info is needed on the tank to gain an understanding of what is happening. Also, if you could post a couple of pictures, that may be helpful as well.
  8. OP

    docBNew MemberMember

    Yes, no apologies for questions, the more the better.
    Water parameters have been consistent for years.
    Lights are CFL's on for 7 hours per day.
    All plants have been thriving for 3 years so color temp etc should not be a factor.
    I use the EI (Estimated Index) method of fertilization.
    The soil is not capped with anything and it hasn't been aproblem for years. When I do my weekly WC I use the vac to randomly cleanse the top inch or so all around.
    Yes the sediment is light and easily removed from the broadleaves by swirling the water. The slime is harder to get off of the rock and driftwood but comes off easily when rinsed.
    I have an OTB filter with a sack of purigen, A double length of filters on a powerhead and a uv sterilizer.
    My water chemistry is right on, I have not added any fish/plants or changed my methods for years.
    Since I have not outwardly changed anything - my only guess is some sort of eventual buildup of something even though ammonia levels are 0 and weekly cleaning occurs.
    The question is what and how to get rid of it.
    I don'yt want to resort to a hospital tank for the fish and start a new tank for a few months.
  9. catsma_97504

    catsma_97504Fishlore LegendMember

    Do you know how old the CFL bulbs are? They should be replaced every 6 - 9 months. Any older and they don't product the right spectrum of light. You will want to replace it, when needed, with a daylight bulb (color temp around 6500k). Standard household CFLs tend to run around 2500k which is too low to sustain plants long term.

    I am curious. You have dirt yet you clean the top inch with a gravel vac? What exactly are you using for substrate? Dirt would simply be picked up and removed from the tank. After 3 years, I imagine there'd be nothing left. So, I am wondering if you've been adding dirt or have something else in your tank.
  10. OP

    docBNew MemberMember

    Yes the bulbs are fine, plus if the bulbs were slowly waning this would show up gradually in th eplants. This happened rather suddenly. The muddy haze was created irregardless of the light spectrum as it remained even with absolutely no light for three days so I dont think light issues caused the haze.
    The"ground" is a soil I purchased here:


    The nodules are maybe 1/16" so only finer sediment gets sucked up, the "dirt" remains. I havn't added anything.
  11. catsma_97504

    catsma_97504Fishlore LegendMember

    AquaSoil products must be capped or once it breaks down it creates a mess. This is what you are dealing with.
  12. OP

    docBNew MemberMember

    I just talked with AquaForest.
    They say the soil does not need a cap but it is probably time to remove some of the soils and replenish with new.
    They suggested adding their bacter green or tetra safe or microbe lift to correct a bacterial imbalance.
    I will keep all posted on how successful this will be over the next few days.
  13. catsma_97504

    catsma_97504Fishlore LegendMember

    All soils will break down over time. You've had this one for 3 years. It is decomposing and the cause of your issues. You have the choice of replacing your substrate (not cheap at all!) or by purchasing some pea gravel or sand to cap it and hold the decomposing materials down.

    Of the listed bacterial products, TSS is the only one I would recommend.

    Good luck with the path you decide to follow. Would love to see pictures of your tank and of the discus once it is again clear.
  14. OP

    docBNew MemberMember

    The water clarity has improved about 75% overnight after adding tetra safe.
    I have ordered some additional soil to partially replace the existing and will keep slowly dosing until it is clear.
    I can actually see my fish now!
  15. OP

    docBNew MemberMember

    Hmm the tank has remained 25% cloudy - has not gotten any better after the initial results.
    Perhaps I have more than one type of problem.