Also referred to as "spiking" or "recycling", new tank syndrome (NTS) is something we can all experience at one time or another. Whether you have a saltwater aquarium that has just finished going through the nitrogen cycling process or one that is well established and been running for years, it can happen. New tank syndrome is the term used when ammonia produced from the bio-load placed on a system begins to accumulate in an amount that is too great for the nitrifying bacteria population established in the tank to consume, and if the build-up of ammonia is substantial enough, nitrite will most likely begin to show up as well.
Causes & Solutions for Avoiding Them
To prevent NTS from occurring, here is a list of things that contribute to the cause of this problem and what you can do to avoid them.
Adding Livestock Too Quickly
- When too many new fish, invertebrates, crustaceans, pieces of live rock (especially uncured) and corals, or a combination of any number of these types of livestock are added into an aquarium at one time, it causes a bio-overload on the system.
- Only add 1 or 2 new pieces of any livestock at any given time, only when there is zero ammonia and nitrite present, and wait at least 1 to 2 weeks before adding the next new additions.
Overfeeding Your Tank Inhabitants
It is easy to feed your tank too much food. We all love to watch our fish eat, but overfeeding can lead to excessive waste, which lays on the bottom of the tank as it decomposes.
- Cut back on the amount of food provided during each feeding, or the number/frequency of feedings.
Leaving large chunks of uneaten food, or excess amounts of flake, pellet or other forms of smaller foods that settle on or into the substrate.
- Practice good maintenance procedures by promptly removing large chunks of food, and "lightly" siphon the surface of the substrate weekly, or when needed.
Leaving dead and decomposing organic animal and plant matter in the tank. Once again, practice good maintenance procedures and remove these things promptly, or when needed.
Performing a deep siphon cleaning of the substrate too soon after a new tank has cycled, or too often in an established tank. This pertains to UGFs as well. This procedure strips away and weakens the nitrifying bacteria population that keeps the ammonia/nitrite in check.
Maintenance is important, but there is such a thing as overdoing it. Maintenance on newly cycled tanks should be minimal and light to begin with. For established tank maintenance, regular weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or longer in between tasks should be performed, but not all at once!
Rinsing or cleaning too much of the biological filter mediums (i.e. bio-balls, bio-bale, carbon) contained in a wet/dry trickle, canister, or other types of filter used as the sole source for biological filtration at one time. This procedure strips away and weakens the nitrifying bacteria population that keeps the ammonia/nitrite in check.
A cleaning of the bio-media should be done periodically because if DOCs are allowed to build-up on the material it contributes to nitrate problems in an aquarium. However, it has to be done properly!
Completely removing the bio-media in a wet/dry trickle, canister, or other types of filter used as the sole source for biological filtration at one time. By doing this you may be taking away the main and sometimes one and only bio-base that your aquarium relies on to function properly.
If you have the desire to eliminate the bio-media presently in use, do it slowly. Example: To remove the bio-balls in a wet/dry trickle filter, only take out about a 1/4 portion of them at any one time. After doing so, test for the appearance of ammonia and nitrite for several weeks. If all reads zero after this time, it is ok to repeat the process. If ammonia and nitrite do appear, wait until readings drop back to zero, then wait another week or two after that before repeating the process.
See More Solutions for New Tank Syndrome
Changing over to a new and different type of biological filter set up too quickly. By completely removing an old bio-filter and replacing it with a new one, by doing so you may be taking away the main and sometimes one and only bio-base that your aquarium relies on to function properly.
If you have the desire to change over the present biological filtration set up your tank is running on, make the transition slowly. Example: You want to get rid of the bio-canister being used and go to a wet/dry filter. Add the new filter onto the tank and run it along with the bio-canister for 2-3 weeks to allow the new filter to become "seeded" and establish a nitrifying bacteria population that will take over when the old filter is removed.
Adding medications to the aquarium. Antibiotic or antibacterial medications are designed to kill either gram-negative or gram-positive bacteria, and very often both types at one time, and since the biological nitrifying bacteria of an aquarium are also gram-negative, they are destroyed as well!
When treating fish for bacterial diseases or other illnesses where antibiotic medications are required, do so only in a QT! Matter of fact, because we do not always know "exactly" what is contained in medications or what they will kill, it is wise to treat sick livestock in a QT whenever possible to avoid putting medications into the main tank.