Healthy corals .. dead fish .. What gives .. advice ? Burned out

Dustinc1983

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First off, maybe keeping fish in a pico 5 gallon tank is just too small?
Here’s a quick run down. Fluval sea 5 . Up since October 5th 2019 but all live rock came from another 2 year established (no issues) tank of mine. I have some easy corals that are healthy, happy and grow. Duncan, Acan, large frogspawn, some Kenya tree weeds... parameters seem normal but I’ll admit I use junk tests so don’t flame me ... haha. Salinity normal on refrac 1.025

My eyeball test is crude but good. Algae is always under control, rarely have any uglies, great flow, good water changes, good RODI water top off, I buy my salt water at a very reputable Denver, CO LFS. I don’t over feed

First I lost a pair of snowflake clowns about a month in. Then I went fishless for 2 months and then added another single clown; dead. Fast forward I lost a single frostbite clown; dead. Then added a royal gramma .. was good and eating and playing for 2 months, I decided to add a single cardinal at this point to have a total of 2 fish. Cardinal lasted 8 days and found his remains in my CUC and now 3 days ago after a water change my gramma died and CUC had a feast again. Thoughts ? I usually do 2 gallon water change every 10-14 days .Too much or little? I don’t think I have a big Bio load. One thing I have noticed is a temp swing I can’t seem to control in this pico .. like 72.8 - 75.5 is this an issue? I never check ALK could I have an issue there with healthy corals and dying fish ?
Final thought maybe this just needs to be a single damsel tank or simply an invert and softies / lps display ... Any tips ? Or something I should check on . I have the stock return and also a power head. Ask any questions and I’ll answer honestly. No I don’t quarantine btw since this is essentially a QT with display. Thanks guys
 
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Flippers4pups

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Yes it's a very small tank and it's possible that it can't handle the bio load. Have you tested for ammonia?

On the other hand, what's your acclimation process for your fish?
 

footgal

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Super tiny tank +1 on the acclimation technique and ammonia levels. I’d test that ammonia immediately cause it’s a fish killer. Maybe try a pistol shrimp/ goby pair, low bioload and pretty neat to watch. Or some sexy shrimp, pretty much no bioload with them and they’re awesome to watch! Did the dead fish have any unusual markings or anything like that? Weird behavior/ stopped eating?
 
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Dustinc1983

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I’ll test ammonia right now and post, I did take the tiny bit of remains out 2 days ago. . So the results might be different as of now.

Zero observed odd behavior or markings. gramma was eating, swimming and doing the cool rock hiding as normal. The cardinal appeared fine but I can’t say I saw him eat for a few days since I try to feed little in such a low volume tank and was busy this week. And the CUC goes to work so fast it’s hard to discern anything

As far as acclimation.. the death is usually weeks later. But I usually temp float, do a quick drip with tank water into a quart container of 50% bag water then pour it all in . Maybe I’m botching that..
 

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I know stress isn’t something that we as hobbyists can measure in fish, but the fish you’ve put in your 5 gallon tank are fish that are recommended for 20 (clowns) or 30 (gramma and cardinal) at minimum. I would have to wonder how much stress and the very very small space is affecting the fish. I don’t think recommended tank sizes are just about physical size of the fish.

I have seen multiple reports of people successfully keeping one or two green banded gobies, clown gobies and masked gobies in a 5 gal.
 

Flippers4pups

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Thanks for the replies.
Just left the LFS all good on salinity, po4, Na3, NH.
They mentioned maybe trying a grounding probe. I actually have an electrical background (I build vacuum tube amplifiers) anyone experience this ??

So they think it's stray voltage causing this? Could be, but I doubt it.

Measure your water for stray voltage with a multimeter.

Too large fish, too many as others have stated. Stress, ammonia....etc.
Not ruling out disease or parasites.

I wouldn't take the LFS's advice going forward, respectfully. They are more than willing to sell you fish, even if they keep dieing. To them it's a sale regardless.
 
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Dustinc1983

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Yeah I’ve measured with a voltmeter; I personally don’t buy that at this point... not saying it can’t happen but I don’t think that’s my issue.

I tend to agree that maybe the pico 5 gallon fish life just isn’t that sustainable and/or easy and I was overzealous. Maybe it’s time for more coral and critters..
 
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Dustinc1983

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***Also I need to say this: my LFS wasn’t aware of my pico tank and ambitions... I should have been more forward and telling them this and I think they would have steered me towards softies, RFA, shrimp, gobies etc . So that’s on me for not being open enough...
 

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+1 to the above. Think "bio-load" with everything you place into the tank. The first thing we do in saltwater tanks is to manage water quality. And stability, pristine water quality, and sustainability of the bio chemistry of the tank is always first.
Sorry for your losses. This hobby has a rather steep and brutal learning curve.
Be of good cheer. We are all here to help each other.
 
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Dustinc1983

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Thanks ! It’s a pretty unique hobby. 4 years in and you would think you’d be a wizard in terms of hobbies ...

But it’s pretty absurd to expect to turn 71% of the earth (sea water) into a tiny column of water the size of a case of soda and demand perfection, or even success really. .
Still wish I could keep a single Clown alive for longer than 6 months
 
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Dustinc1983

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You mentioned water quality .. is there 1 or 2 parameters that’s most important in pico? I just keep wondering if my temp swings are too much or just too cold in general.. salinity and nutrient export seems fairly simple to manage..

Do large water changes mess up Alkalinity enough to stress fish?
 

reefwiser

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You would be best to keep shrimp in such a small tank. I keep freshwater shrimp in a 2 gallon bowl on my kitchen counter :)
 
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Pbh-reef

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To me disease is more likely than water parameters when it comes to fish deaths. If fish die about a month in it’s probably a parasite whether ich or flukes or internal parasites. The cardinal dying in 8 days followed by the gramma 3 days later sounds like velvet or maybe Brook. Although the gramma could easily have hastened that death through aggression. Disease in 5 gallon tank will be hard to manage the best option is to qt your fish and anything wet you add to your tank. You can also purchase fish that have been quarantined for you. You would still need to run all corals and inverts through fishless qt to be sure you don’t introduce disease through them. With such a small tank you could try to keep rolling the dice and get lucky And get a fish that doesn’t have a fatal disease (sounds like you maybe you did with your gramma). I don’t recommend this strategy though.

If ammonia was the issue I think deaths would Likely happen much sooner after you added the fish and there is probably enough ammonia processing power in the algae and bacteria in the live rock to deal with any of the fish you had in there unless you’re feeding a lot. I am imagining your clowns and gramma were pretty small, though I guess if they were bigger and you were feeding a decent amount ammonia could be the issue. Did you notice redness around the gills at any times? That could be ammonia burn.do you feed while the tank has no fish in it? You should to keep the bacteria and inverts (including coral) healthy

as for what parameters matter it’s really ammonia.
I totally agree with everyone that bigger tanks are more stable, but I think the rock and sand in a 5 gallon should be hosting enough bacteria to deal with the bioload you likely had in the tank.

Temp, salinity, pH also matter but I can’t imagine they are swinging so wildly that it’s causing deaths. I think LFS tend to go with a parameters cause for fish deaths because those are under your control whereas you could blame them for selling you a sick fish.

That said many of the fish you listed are not appropriate for a 5 gallon tank- I would suggest sticking with the smaller gobies that get 2” or less.
 
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Pbh-reef

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You mentioned water quality .. is there 1 or 2 parameters that’s most important in pico? I just keep wondering if my temp swings are too much or just too cold in general.. salinity and nutrient export seems fairly simple to manage..

Do large water changes mess up Alkalinity enough to stress fish?
Imho large water changes are a useful tool in nanos, if you aren’t dosing alk and cal and your corals are using up lots to grow then you may be harming them with rapid changes in those parameters, but fish would likely be fine. Fish shouldn’t be harmed by water changes where temp, salinity and pH are closely matched unless you’re introducing ammonia or a toxin through the new water - which could be happening but seems unlikely if you’re using rodi water. If you’re using tap and your water is treated with chloramine that could be an issue
 
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Dustinc1983

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Thanks guys. I only use RODI. I don’t see any tank parameter swings, no real algae to mention or cyano. I have a dime size piece of bubble algae that I need to remove.. Only thing I keep seeing is temp change and it’s tricky to get my temp up to even 77...I thought a 50 watt would be enough but I’m thinking of going to a 100 watt . (Seems silly for 5 gallons) but this pico is in the basement where the ambient temp is like 60 ...
I didn’t notice any redness in the gills of any of my fish loses and ammonia levels are always in check. I add stability at every water change and a little prime at every other or if I add and livestock.
I’m just thinking more that the fish just don’t want to be in 5 gallons like many have mentioned, and yes the clowns and gramma were very small . I put a couple pics up. Corals always happy through this .. granted they are easy keepers. Algae barn is near my house I don’t think they have a retail store though.. I’ll check them out for maybe a little goby. Is it possible too much flow stresses out or exhausts fish? The power head in there is like 425gph I think ...

The pic of the cardinal was taken the afternoon before he died . I don’t notice any issues but honestly don’t know what I’m looking for ...
FF7300D9-5C58-4378-B90B-1A26978CF436.jpeg
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49183032-FBC1-48B9-A466-9AB8A50C4C12.jpeg FA7B43BF-5CC0-4F44-95FF-7681DA4CC23D.jpeg FC1583F5-5B19-480E-8DD6-F27FFE37F58D.jpeg
 
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