The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

Browsing Posts tagged water test

Ruling things out.


Another quick followup – last night I set to ruling out one possible cause – a disrupted nitrogen cycle.  In looking at the tank, I honestly had no reason to suspect any actual problems, except of course this recurrent cloudy / infected eye issue occurring with both fish now.  One possible cause however, could certainly be the presence of elevated levels of ammonia or nitrite.  This could easily be explained by the 2 recent rounds of treatment with Maracyn & Maracyn II in the tank.  Part of me would’ve been very happy to find either, because it would give me a likely cause to latch onto and deal with.

Of course, ammonia and nitrite tests both came up with nothing; both tests showed 0 ppm, or basically undetectable levels.  I still decided to dose the aquarium with a full treatment utilizing Dr. Tim’s Nitrifying Bacteria; I had a lot leftover from the initial setup of tanks for Banggai Rescue.  The thought process is this; we may simply be looking at “negative” bacteria levels being elevated, and possibly we can “push out” or displace these bacteria with more “friendly” strains and types that are beneficial to the system.  There is no doubt that the tank HAD to have been compromised in some capacity during the anti-bacterial treatments; in every respect I see no downside to trying this.  I had been thinking about it for a while but honestly can’t remember if I did it or not prior, but I’m able to go on and definitely say I treated the tank with this product last night.  I should also mention that I used this product with perceived good results for Banggai Rescue’s tanks; I can honestly say that I did not confirm the existence of a single tank out of 12+ going through a cycle.  In other words, this product appears to fully make good on its claims to instantly cycle and establish a new tank.  While the price tag is far more than other competing products, there does seem to be a genuine difference (whether that difference justifies the increased price, and whether this works better than competing products like Seachem’s Stability  is certainly something I cannot say without actual scientific testing).  Overall, I’ve come to learn that Dr. Tim’s has an excellent reputation in talking with some other aquarists whose opinions I trust, and those unofficial endorsements and other experiences seem to bolster my own.

As of this morning, the eye is still cloudy…

I don’t test my water all that often these days – I’ve long since learned that you can assertain a lot of what is going on through observation, and the basics of pH and Temp are constantly monitored.  Still, I do check things once in a while to make sure we’re not too far off track.  Seeing a slight decrease in SPS coloration in the Lighting Maroon’s tank, it made me wonder where the Nitrates and Phosphates were sitting.  With Sanjay Joshi and Tal Sweet due to bet here next weekend, I’d like this tank looking its best.  So might as well use our low-key morning at home (our son has been sick with a 102-103F fever for 4 days now) to do an Easter-morning water test:

pH (Apex) – 8.15
pH (Seachem) – 8.0
Alkalinity (Seachem) – 2.0 meq/L

Looks like my pH probe is starting to drift again and in need of calibration (it could be old enough now that it technically should be replace).  After these  tests, I dosed with C-Balance 2 part, and then later, continued with water tests.

Nitrate (Instant Ocean) – < 10 ppm
Nitrate (Salifert) – 5 ppm
Phosphate (Instant Ocean) 0.4 ppm
Magnesium (Salifert) – 1275 ppm
Calcium (Salifert) – 400 ppm

Meanwhile, I did test the “restarted” display system.  This system to be exact:

Watching the 92 gallon Caribbean Reef

I was surprised to see Nitrates of possibly 25-40 PPM, and Phosphates greater than 1.0.  Glad I recently started running GFO (Granular Ferric Oxide) in both these systems.  I had cut back on the Vodka dosing to the Lightning Maroon’s system, down to 1 drop per day, but maybe 2 drops is my magic number.  Meanwhile, the 450 gallon display system has been getting roughly 10 drops per day of Vodka, and I’ve been waiting for a Two Little Fishies Bio Pellet reactor.  Now seems like the opportune time to add it on.  I may also do some Kalkwasser dosing on the big system.  It will be interesting to see how the different ongoing nutrient management protocols I’ve been employing (in addition to water changes) will play out in the months ahead.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday weekend and share the optimism that comes with this time of year.

Yes, made it a point today to check how things are going in my own “super [fish] bowl”…that is the Ecoxotic cube tank that holds the Lightning Maroon.  I’ve been Vodka dosing lately and it certainly seems to be helping the corals show their ideal colors, although the Green and Purple maricultured ORA Gonioporas really have not been doing well (meanwhile the ORA Red is growing like crazy, and my Aussie Pinks are putting on growth too…the Aussie Greens, I’m not sure).

At any rate, when I check water last week my nitrates were down to 5 PPM.  Lately I’ve switched my in-house salt use; since most of my tanks are not reef tanks, it made no sense to be putting in extra cash on reef-grade salt.  So, I’ve been mixing 50% Reef Crystals with 50% Instant Ocean.  I’m continuing with regular partial water changes as well as the vodka, iron, iodide, and Reef Plus.  The biggest thing I’m noticing is that I’m once again having pH swings that trend low – a quick pH test confirmed my probe is not out of adjustment.  This is all happening with daily doses of C-Balance 2 part (6 ML each).  So, where are things sitting today, on Super Bowl Sunday?

pH (Apex) – 8.06
pH (Seachem) – 8.0
Alkalinity (Seachem) – 2 meq/L
Nitrate (Salifert) – < 5 ppm
Calcium (Salifert) – 420 ppm
Magnesium (Salifert) – 1305 ppm
Phosphate – was going to test it as I’ve never bothered…test kit defunct.

Calicium and Magnesium look fine, so I’m thinking I just need to tweak the Alkalinity a little bit…so maybe a dose or two of either Seachem’s Reef Builder or Reef Buffer ought to do the trick and knock off the low end pH overnight.  Overall, I’m pleased with the results of my low-level routine Vodka dosing – colors on the Seriatopora have dramatically improved.

Nothing special to report on the Clowns…they just keep acting like a pair but no eager reproductive activity.


I did some digging and found that I DID have an Aquarium Systems Phosphate and Nitrate Test Kit sitting around – I bought this back when I lived in Chicago, so I know it’s old.  But there’s no expiration date on the kits, and as far as I can tell, they *seem* to work.  The results?

Phosphate (Aquarium Systems) – 0.4 ppm
Nitrate (Aquarium Systems) – < 10 ppm (gradations on this test are 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 – the resolution is pretty coarse)

It’s been a while since I sat down and checked my water chemistry.  The corals are growing for the most part, and growing well.  Color still seems to be trouble, and in the last month, algal growth on the glass has picked up the pace.  With the pH probe on my Apex routinely starting to warn me about the pH hitting 8.5 (and shutting down all my lights to stop the rising pH) I finally sat down tonight and did some testing.  This time, it was quite clear that things were out of whack, for while my Apex was reading 8.50, the Seachem liquid test came back around 8.2.

And this is why you should keep the pH probe calibration solutions on hand.  I actually had to clean the probe with some vinegar, but once that was done, I got down to recalibration.  It’s an easy process, well explained in the Apex manual.  When it was done, my pH came out at 8.13; much more in line with my liquid test.  Of course, I’d been holding back on my C-Balance 2 part dosing due to pH “riding high”, but I may have been relying too much on the probe.  The water quality checked out like this after calibration.

pH probe – 8.13
pH (Seachem) – 8.2
Alkalinity (Seachem) – 2 meq/L
Calcium (Salifert) – 420 ppm
Magnesium (Salifert) – 1270 ppm
Nitrate (Salifert) – 50 ppm

Wait, yes, seriously, the nitrates have shot up to 50 ppm.  Great.  That very well could explain why my Hot Pink Birdsnests are brown, my Sour Apple Birdsnests are lavendar, and my Red Pocilloporas are looking more yellow with purple polyps (I call them Red Pocilloporas, but they came to me as a Red Birdsnest, and it seems that they’re growing without problems right into the Sour Apple Birdsnest, so the jury is out on what genus this coral belongs to right now!).  I did add a frag from John Coppolino, a very special “Hulk Milli” Acropora milleopora.  I’ve just been curious to see how other SPS will do under the Ecoxotic LEDs as well as whether the Foureye Butterfly would take it out or not.  So far it’s sitting there, and has obviously darkened, no doubt a direct result of the high nitrates.

I’ve been doing very low level Vodka dosing for a while, but perhaps not to the volume and consistency I should be.  Of course, I’ve also been pumping the tank full of food in an effort to push the clowns to breed.  Looks like some water changes are unavoidably in their future.

And that’s all there is to say about the Lightning Project right now.  It is still very much a waiting game.

Well, there’s a lot of random things to update on, sadly the only thing I really would love to shout about (a spawn) hasn’t happened yet.

Meanwhile, a followup on the last pairing trial, the third attempt at a “Female Flip”, pairing a loner white stripe maroon with the massively larger “Labrador” white stripe maroon.  The short story is that we’ll never know if it was going to work, as the Labrador Maroon Clown died.  What I suspect happened was the bowl, which was tilted to allow tank water to circulate through, righted itself and in the process, closed off enough of the flow to cause the fish to asphyxiate.  Of course, that could also not be what happened – this fish was probably a decade or more old, and may have just hit the end of the line.  Hard to say based on the circumstances I found the dead fish in.  Before it passed away however, the smaller maroon showed up simply torn to shreds.  The best I could determine was that perhaps the small maroon had entered the larger fishbowl, received a beating, and then left.  If that’s the case, it would mean that the “female flip” had failed (or at least had not worked yet).

On the water quality front, things are again driving me nuts in the Lightning Maroon’s tank.  The pH hit a record high of 8.7 last night, and was 7.94 this morning.  This, despite having not treated the tank with anything to raise the alkalinity or calcium levels (i.e. no dosing of two part) for a week.   The corals are definite not looking happy; the Australian Blastomussa that had gone from 1 head to 5 heads appears to have died, and earlier last week I removed the Dragon Soul Favia that had also been previously growing well.  The Frags of Aussie Pink Goniopora and Green Goniopora are failing to extend their polyps as well.  I’m feeling terribly limited in options to deal with this problem given the small size of the tank, and that normally, it is simply a matter of depressed pH that occurs in smaller tanks.  Time to hit the reef chemistry books yet again and see if I can’t figure something out.  For now, I’ve reprogrammed the lights via the Apex to start turning off (thus slowing photosynthesis) if the pH hits 8.4, and then again more shut off at 8.5.  Still, I’ve not yet programmed things correctly, as the pH is 8.46 right now and the light that is supposed to be off, is not.  GRR.  This simply cannot be GOOD for the fish, and I’m leaning towards water changes + buffer to at least help eliminate or reduce the low end of the swing – i.e. perhaps 8.3 to 8.7 is better than what I’m currently experiencing.

The final update, our club’s Apogee Quantum (PAR) Meter is finally here in working condition.  I got to test PAR readings out of the modified Panorama fixture.  With the 4 12K Gen 1 Panorama Units, 2 blue Stunner Strips, and 1 Gen 1 Blue Panorama Unit all running, it’s a total drain of 77 watts.  For that 77 watts, with a semi-dirty cover glass, I am getting PAR readings of 150 to 250+ in the upper third of the tank where I have the majority of the Seriatpora corals growing.  At the bottom, the readings obviously vary, but are generally 60-100 (i.e. the ORA Red Gonipora is thriving at a 100 PAR reading).  As most of you know, these levels are capable of growing just about all photosynthetic organisms we may desire to keep, with the possible exception of Tridacna clams (which, per James Fatheree, really want PAR levels more like 500+).  Right above the glass – 700+.

Weekend Update

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We’re seeing ongoing progress in the Lightning Maroon pairing.  More digging, more general surface cleaning, but no eggs yet.  Rod Buehler of Rod’s Food sent along an extra-special care package from Mama Percula to Mrs. Lightning this weekend…some of her secret recipe new “Breeder’s Blend”, aka. “No Candelight Needed”.  Some is getting tested out here, some has gone to another local breeder and we’re going to do an informal trial counting nest sizes to see how feeding this changes them over a few batches.

Rod's Food Breeder's Blend

There’s been some coral issues…I have a couple areas of tissue loss on a few of the smaller Birdsnest frags, and the Aussie Pinks, and Green, Gonioporas, have stopped extending their polyps.  A water test didn’t reveal anything causative…

pH (Seachem) – 8.2
pH (Apex) – 8.38
Total Alkalinity (Seachem) – 2.5 meq/L
Nitrate (Salifert) – 2 ppm
Calcium (Salifert) – 350 ppm
Magnesium (Salifert) – 1155 ppm

Based on the pH descrepency, I recalibrated the pH probe on the Apex Lite…afterwards it came in around 8.25 so we were definitely riding a bit high.  I’d been holding back on the C-Balance 2 part dosing due to elevated pH again, but turns out that probably wasn’t necessary.

Still, a 5 gallon (25%-ish) water change was ordered up.  We’ll see if that doesn’t help just a wee bit.

It has been a LONG time since I tested the water on the Lightning Maroon’s tank.  The Birdsnest Corals are all growing, some quite rapidly.  I already hacked off a dozen+ frags on the “Sour Apple” Seriatopora as it was starting to shade out smaller corals.  The pH swings I was experiencing seemed to have lessened in severity.  While the pH probe seemed to be still getting valid measurements, it seems a calibration may have helped.  Part of the issue may have also been temperature related – installation of an Air Conditioner in the room helped temperature more in check, which may have slowed photosynthesis a little, and been one more thing to help reduce the pH extremes  that the Apex was reporting.  Finally, I reduced the frequency I was dosing C-Balance 2 part, but I may have to step it back up after getting these readings.

pH (Seachem) – 8.1
pH (Apex) – 8.22
Alkalinity (Seachem) – 2.5 meq/L
Calcium (Salifert) – 360 ppm
Magnesium (Salifert) – 1170 ppm
Nitrate (Salifert) – between 2 and 5 ppm

So, probably a water change and staying a little more on top of a daily C-Balance dosing regime ought to keep things in line.  Frankly, I was surprised the Nitrates weren’t higher, but perhaps the very low-level Vodka dosing is doing the trick?

Pre / Post Water Tests

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I’ve been watching the tank these past few weeks and looking at coral health. I probably should be keeping track of actual water changes, but I haven’t. The other night, I did one and reserved the water for a pre-water change and post-water change test comparision. Here’s how things shook out.

PRE water change:

Specific Gravity (refractometer) – 1.025
Alkalinty (Seachem) – 4.5 meq/L
Magnesium (Salifert) – 1470 ppm
Calcium (Salifert) – 460 ppm
Nitrate (Salifert) – approximately 7 ppm

POST water change:
Alkalinity (Seachem) – 4 meq/L
Magnesium (Salifert) – 1485 ppm
Calcium (Salifert) – 470 ppm
Nitrate (Salifert) – approximately 5 ppm

What I can’t quite figure out is why Calcium and Magnesium have jumped so much higher.  I’ve been dosing LESS with the C-Balance 2 part as pH has routinely been hitting 8.4 for brief periods, and have dosed maybe twice now with Seachem’s Reef Advantage Calcium instead.  That along can’t account for the drastically higher levels.  I’m wondering if either uptake has dropped off.  I say that, but some of the Birdsnests seem to be putting on a lot of growth and finally starting to color up.  Another working theory is that I opened a new box of Seachem’s Reef Crystals salt.  I wonder if maybe the formulation of the new batch is different than the prior batch.  If there’s inconsistencies there, a couple water changes could certainly be all it takes to dramatically alter the baseline chemistry of the tank.

I’ll have to keep an eye on things further.  Very, very curious.  I don’t yet have the coral coloration I want, especially out of the Birdsnests.  I’m also continuing to have a few bleaching issues with the various Favids in the tank, which I think stems from aggression between corals combined with an increased “bulldozer” mentality on the Lightning Maroon’s part – I consider that a good sign for the Lightning Maroon.  It was never a digger…none of my “male” Maroond dig.  The females however do.  Is this a sign that a sex change is underway?

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