Royal gramma, Gramma loreto
During the first week I had the live rock in my tank, I would test my water quality daily, and sometimes twice a day hoping that if I tested it more often I would see more changes occurring faster. I know it doesn't work that way, however patience isn't really my strong suit!
The ammonia levels began to rise and the pH had stabilized at 8.5. This has me a little concerned since I was following my book, which only stated that the pH should be at 8.2 and anything else wasn't unsuitable for Marine fish. My knowledge of pH at this point was very limited to what I had learned in science classes and a few experiments that I had done for science fair projects. I had never measured the pH constantly with my coldwater tank and it wasn't a big concern because the fish were being kept in the same water they were born in. My knowledge of pH can be summed up with alkaline (base) substances had a high pH, acidic substances had a low pH and water had a neutral pH of 7. When acids and bases were combined they tended towards neutrality. So with this dangerously little knowledge, I set about attempting to alter the pH of my tank to make it suitable for my future inhabitants!
Off to the LFS I go once again looking to see what's available to alter the pH in the tank. I came across a whole array of chemicals for manipulating water chemistry in both freshwater and saltwater varieties! I was in my glory! I had always wanted a chemistry lab and this was the next best thing! So I bought some pH up and pH down for marine aquariums and off I went! I carefully read the instructions and carefully measured out enough of the pH down to what was recommended to lower the pH in a tank by .2. After about 24 hours, give or take 5 or 6 hours, well I intended to wait the full 24 hours, honestly I did, I once again measured the results and my to my horror I saw that the pH had dropped to 7.5!
My concern was growing a more little at this point and I commenced adding the pH up feeling that I couldn't wait to see what it was going to settle at since I didn't want to kill off the 15lbs of live rock in the tank and I was going to be lucky as it was if I didn't already do irreparable harm already! Again after careful reading and measuring, I put in a little less then what it called for remembering how much of a change occurred when I used the pH down! I didn't want a repeat performance of that, but I didn't know what else to do! This time I vowed I would wait for the recommended 24 hours before testing it again and use the intervening hours to pray that things would settle down again and I swore that I would be happy with an 8.5 reading.
Sigh? I have to once again admit that impatience got the best of me and I measured the pH much earlier then the allotted time span and once again the pH wasn't to my liking. It wasn't rising nearly as fast as I would have liked. I remember all my science projects the reactions were sudden and very visible reactions, which I found very satisfactory! I was definitely not prepared for this slow waiting game that is the key to Marine fish keeping. Much to my chagrin, I added a little bit more pH up to the tank just to be sure!
When next I measured the pH of the water, I knew that I was in over my head and I needed some help. The only person I knew that had their own marine tank was Jake, so off to the LFS I went once again to explain to Jake what the problem was and what I was trying to do to rectify it. Thank goodness Jake had a lot of patience and didn't blurt out that I was a complete idiot, although he must have thought it at some point! I explained to him that I was having a problem getting the pH in my tank to remain stable, and the steps that I had already tried to get the pH to 8.2. At this point he started bombarding me with questions pertaining to the tank and the pH measurements. The first question he asked was "What time of day I took the measurements?" My response, "What does the time of day have to do with anything? I mean shouldn't the pH be the same no matter what time of day it was?"
Thus commenced my first lesson in water chemistry! First thing I was told to do was put away the pH adjustment products and WAIT to see how much damage I had done to the water chemistry. If after 2 days the pH was still way off, I would have to drain the tank and start with a fresh batch of water. That?s when I learned that as long as there is any form of life in the tank the pH in will naturally fluctuate throughout the day. The fact that I was getting any fluctuation whatsoever was a sign that there was life in the rock that I had purchased. If I had a larger tank chances are I wouldn't have noticed any swing in the pH. This was also the first inkling I had that I may have erred getting a small 30Gal tank, but I was too proud to admit that last part and I couldn't afford the larger tank anymore at any rate.
Two long days passed and I checked the pH constantly despite being told not to. (Hey, patience is NOT my redeeming virtue!) I watched as the pH slow climbed up to 8.2 and then slowly climbed to 8.5 and slowly top off at 8.9. One thing I must say, it that if I did nothing else, I certainly sped up the process of decay on the live rock because the ammonia levels sky rocketed at that point! Unfortunately the sky-rocketing ammonia levels also reeked havoc on the water chemistry, and out of sheer frustration, I emptied the tank and put a whole new batch of water in!
I know now that I should have just left everything along and not touched the tank for a month, but hindsight is 20-20. During my second attempt at cycling the tank I took a more familiar path. After I dumped the tank and refilled it, I went to a different LFS and picked up a Yellow Tailed Damsel. I didn't want to tell Jake what I had done. I knew it was impatience that drove me to abandon my first attempt at fishless cycling of a tank. I knew that cycling a tank with a live fish was very hard on the fish but I was greedy and I wanted something more alive in the tank then just rock!
This time I didn't play with the water chemistry, and I kept a close eye on the ammonia levels never letting them get too high and doing partial water changes when the ammonia levels started to rise.
After a week into the second attempt at cycling the tank I started noticing a nice fine layer of brown dust settle in the tank. This was more like it. I was familiar with brown algae in a new set up so I started to feel confident once again. I was enjoying watching the Damsel swimming in amongst the rocks. He was a very curious creature and always came up to my hand when I feed him.! For a while I was content to leave the tank as it was, after all I still had ammonia readings in the water! It was bad enough that I was forcing one fish to suffer through the cycle, I wasn't prepared to add any more at that time. That week with the sole Damsel in the tank was one of the most relaxing weeks I can remember. I spent 5 or 6 hours each night just watching the fish swimming around the tank and studying the live rock. I began to notice odd things on the rock such as sponges and macro-algae mini feather dusters and a whole bunch of different things I didn't know the names of.
Yep that was a wonderful week. If only it had lasted a little longer?