Fish, Tanks and Ponds

Fish, Tanks and Ponds
A comprehensive guide to fish

Marine diary chapter four

Tiger Cowry, Cypraea tigris
Tiger Cowry, Cypraea tigris

Slowly the tank began to mature and the ammonia levels kept rising in the tank. The brown algae, which I later found out was actually called brown diatoms, slowly started to disappear, same as it always had in new freshwater tanks. Everything in the tank was reacting basically the same way that it would for a freshwater tank, and I began to wonder why people considered marine tanks so very different then freshwater tanks. The basic principles seemed to be the same; the water chemistry wasn't fluctuating nearly as much as I was lead to believe it would. Besides my pH being a little on what I considered the high side, everything else was remaining constant. At this point the nitrites in the tank were on the rise and the ammonia levels had pretty much stabilized. It was only a matter of time before the ammonia would disappear and I would be in the second phase of the cycle.

After the brown diatoms disappeared from the tank I knew that I would begin to get some green algae starting to grow and I looked forward to seeing it since that meant more life was forming in the water and the cycle would be well on its way. Within the next couple of days, sure enough the glass and substrate had a satisfying layer of green algae starting to grow. Happily I ran to the LFS and got myself a nice little scrapper kit that had a flat scrub pad, a corner scrub pad, a sponge pad and a metal blade to scrape off those stubborn pockets of algae I anticipated in the near future. I guess I forgot how annoying it was to clean the glass in a tank, or how tedious the job can be, maybe it was the magic of having a new tank, who knows, but I genuinely enjoyed being able to clean the glass on the tank those first few days! Inevitably, that joy began to fade as the green algae made a swift recovery on me and returned with a vengeance. I sometimes wonder if I knew how persistent the ensuing battle was going to be, if I would have packed it in and took a loss on my investment then and there. Probably not, I am too proud and stubborn to just pack it in without an honest effort after all, I still have the tank!

The nice light dusting of green algae became a thick green layer of algae that needed cleaning on a daily basis. I was beginning to have a difficult time seeing the damsel without needing to scrape the glass. The Damsel didn't seem to mind and even picked at the algae a bit here and there. I didn't really believe that it was going to eat it since Damsels are more of a carnivore then a grazer. Frantically, I went back to the LFS to find Jake and ask what I can do to help with controlling the algae bloom in the tank. He suggested a whole pack of snails at a rate of 1 per gallon of water. SNAILS!! Alarm bells are flying in my head at this point! I had visions of replacing my algae problem with a tank cursed with snails! I had done everything and anything possible to keep snails out of my tanks in the past and here I'm calmly told to add at least 30 of them! What was this guy thinking? I left the store in complete disbelief and went back home to scrape the glass once again.

I found that my attempts to merely dislodge the algae from the glass and substrate weren't working very well and it seemed that the moment I cleaned it off, it jumped back on the glass as if saying "sucker!" I then conceived the brilliant notion of doing a partial water change immediately after I cleaned the glass to get as much of the free floating stuff out of the tank as I could. Thinking that I had found a wonderfully simplistic solution to the problem at hand I spent the next three days vigorously cleaning the glass, scooping up the now floating algae, siphoning out the bits and pieces that attached themselves to the rocks and then refilling the tank once again. This

would also have the added benefit of helping keep the ammonia and nitrites low in the tank for the Damsel.

Much to my horror, the algae started getting much worse, instead of better. Now not only was I getting algae on the glass, I was getting some fuzzy algae growing on the live rock! If I had thought that the stuff on the glass was a pain, this new stuff growing on the rock was a nightmare! It didn't come off with a gentle scrape like the stuff on the glass does. No, that would make life easy! This held on with a tenacity that I had never seen the likes of before! I spent a week pulling as much of the new fast growing hairy type algae from the tank before I remembered Jake saying that I should have snails in the tank.

Great, now I'm back to snails, this time I'm actually considering the possibility with the thought of having to worry about dealing with the snail population at a latter date. At least I wouldn't have to look at a green tank anymore! This time when I got to the LFS, Jake wasn't around and I didn't know any of the other sales clerks. I recognized a couple of the people there, however they only new about freshwater fish and there really wasn't anyone who could help all that much in the marine department. Since I was in a desperate situation I simply asked one of the people there to get me some Turbo snails for the tank. For some odd reason I thought these snails would be dirt cheap, after all, I had always considered them more of a nuisance then as anything useful! I got 15 of them that day and when I got to the cash register and was told that I now owed $40 (give or take a couple dollars!) I nearly choked! I was thinking, "Not only am I buying a potential problem to solve later, I'm paying a goodly sum of money for it as well!"

I have to admit now, that its a wonder any of these poor snails survived in my tank. I hadn't yet realized how different the acclimatization methods would be between marine fish and freshwater fish, let alone having to acclimatize snails. So, I did what I had always done to get fish ready for a new tank; I floated the bag for 10 to 15 minutes to balance out the temperature and added the snails to my tank minus the water in the bag.

Those poor snails had everything going against them right from the moment I decided to purchase them. Even though the ammonia levels had dropped to zero, there were still nitrites in the tank. The levels were definitely dropping, but some were still present so the tank was still cycling. The nitrate levels in the tank were, amazingly enough, very low! I had attributed that to the partial water changes I was constantly doing to combat the algae problems in the tank. The pH in the tank was still on what I considered the high side, but at least that was stable. The calcium in the tank was stable as well, however the alkalinity was beginning to drop. I had no idea what that really meant but it still seemed to be within the basic parameters that the books had mentioned, so I wasn't all that concerned, however I kept an eye on it anyway. Add a lack of acclimatization to the process and its a recipe for disaster!

Once the snails were put into the water, a few of them curled up into a small little ball. Not knowing anything about snails I chalked up their reaction to a defensive pose from the stress of transferring them to a new tank. I didn't think much about it that day, but the next morning when a full half of them were still in the same position I began to worry that something may be wrong. The other half of the snails had spread around the tank during the night, a few were on the glass and a couple were on the rocks. The ones on the glass had left this satisfying trail behind them where once algae had stood! With spirits up, I was gunning for those snails that had not yet moved to get up and explore the new world they were in! They definitely didn't have any food shortages here! The end of the day came and 7 snails had not changed position whatsoever. Here were the first marine animals who's lives were cut short do to my ignorance. Within the next couple of days I lost three more snails leaving me with 5 very hardy snails.

With the loss of life and newly acquired experience, I went back and reread the books I had purchased. I realized then that although these were good books, they didn't have all the answers. In fact a lot the small things seemed to be missing. Perhaps over time the authors forgot what it was like to start their first Marine tank. Some of the simplest things become so ingrained into you after a while, that you no longer think about them. I know I take a lot for granted now as well.

Michelle's Marine Diary
By Michelle Stuart

Chapter - one:
Making a start.

Chapter - two:
Finally set up,

Chapter - three:
Cycling the tank,

*Chapter - four:
Oh no, algae.

Chapter - five:
The importance of acclimatizing

Chapter - six:
Making some adjustments

Chapter - seven:
The rocks are alive

Chapter - eight:
They're just sleeping!!!

Chapter - nine:
Just one more fish

Chapter - ten:
Pure water

Chapter - eleven:
War is declared

Chapter - twelve:
The art of skimming