Help! My fish are dying :(

cwatt79

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Hi fellow reefers. I hate that I'm introducing myself like this.. Been lurking for several months and joined the hobby with my first saltwater tank 8 weeks ago. I've been pretty much exclusively relying on my LFS owner for guidance through this process, but I'm starting to lose confidence in him.

I've got a 36 gallon bowfront reef tank with an Aquaclear 70 HOB filter and two Kessil A80s. It's been running for 8 weeks and I believe it was fully cycled. I watched my Ammonia and Nitrites come down to zero and my Nitrates drop to around 20. Sg is 1.25. I've got around 30 lbs of live rock, most of which came from my LFS, 4 turbo snails (started with 6) and 12 dwarf hermit crabs. After about 4 weeks when the tank was cycled, I started slowly adding fish and coral. First was a clown and a lawnmower blenny, then some zoanthids, then an anemone and tiger watchman goby, then an urchin and purple dottyback and sailfin tang (I now know my tank is not suitable for this guy), then a shrimp.

A couple weeks ago I had a green algae bloom that has not really subsided yet. The urchin is doing his best to eat it, and it's not growing back where he is eating it, but he's only made it to two out of five rocks.

The first problem I had was losing two turbo snails. I had the heater set to 80 degrees, so we think it was too warm for the snails. Now at 78, the remaining snails seems happy.

I am feeding flake food, pellet food, and an occasional block of frozen shrimp.

When I added the dottyback and sailfin tang, I never saw the watchman goby out again. He stayed in his hole under a rock permanently. Previously, he stayed there a lot but you'd see him out and sand sifting regularly. After 10 days of him not emerging, he finally came out one day and looked awful. He was half his prior size and was behaving erratically. The next morning, he was dead. Later that day, the purple dottyback was dead. This was unexpected - I hadn't noticed anything off with him. Yesterday I noticed the tang acting weird. He was a lot less active. This morning he was stuck to the filter intake. I thought he was dead, but when I nudged him away from the intake he swam a little. I expect him to be dead when I get home from work. All the coral seem healthy.

I tested the water when the two fish died on Saturday. For the first time in 5 weeks, the test appeared to reveal an ammonia level; I'm guessing around 0.25. Zero nitrites and Nitrates were up to around 40 ppm. I have the API test kit so these are all I am testing (plus salinity with a refractometer). My LFS owner recommended that I add a protein skimmer at 3 months and do the first water change at 6 months. He's only open Tues-Fri, so I haven't gotten a chance to talk to him about my fish dying. My gut is telling me to do a big water change, but I wanted to check with you guys. I will stop by my LFS after work for advice from him too.

I thought I was doing things right and I thought my tank was fully cycled. Obviously now I'm second guessing that. I really hate that these guys are dying. I would greatly appreciate any help and advice - I desperately want to know what I am doing wrong! I am really enjoying this hobby so far but this is rather discouraging.

Rocks 1.jpg Rocks 2.jpg tank.jpg
 
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Jay Hemdal

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Generally, in an aquarium where the fish are dying, but the invertebrates are fine, the problem traces back to a fish disease. In looking at your tank, I don’t see many delicate corals, so I can’t rule out water issues 100%, but my guess it is a fish disease (the two dying snails isn’t all that unusual).
As far as what disease it could be, I can’t say without knowing symptoms. We’re any of The fish breathing rapidly or did they go off food before dying?
Quarantine of new fish is the best way to go. Let’s say there is a 10% chance of bringing a disease in with a fish. If you add 5 fish at different times, you could be at a 50% risk of having a disease outbreak!
Jay
 
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cwatt79

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Generally, in an aquarium where the fish are dying, but the invertebrates are fine, the problem traces back to a fish disease. In looking at your tank, I don’t see many delicate corals, so I can’t rule out water issues 100%, but my guess it is a fish disease (the two dying snails isn’t all that unusual).
As far as what disease it could be, I can’t say without knowing symptoms. We’re any of The fish breathing rapidly or did they go off food before dying?
Quarantine of new fish is the best way to go. Let’s say there is a 10% chance of bringing a disease in with a fish. If you add 5 fish at different times, you could be at a 50% risk of having a disease outbreak!
Jay
Thanks for the response. I can't say whether they were breathing rapidly - that's not something I knew to look for at the time. I can say that the goby was not eating because it did not emerge from under the rock for about 10 days. The tang was also not eating. The dottyback is the only one that died without any obvious signs - it was eating, swimming around normally, etc.
 

davidcalgary29

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I'm so sorry to hear about your troubles. If your Tang doesn't make it, I'd let your tank remain fishless for at least 45 days. That will allow you to stop most transmissible forms of fish disease that you might have brought into your tank. Some sources suggest that 72 days is better, but many people have had success with the 45 day fallow period.

And don't think that your tank will just "be empty" during any fallow period. There's lots that you can do during this down time:

-set up a quarantine for new fish;
-plan aquascape;
-put in macroalgae (after putting it in its own quarantine)
-set up a security camera so you can watch your tank remotely (and make sure that the deaths aren't being caused by another source)
-find another LFS
 
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cwatt79

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What lfs told you to change water every 6 months? change that every week specially in new tanks
He didn't say every 6 months indefinitely, he said to wait 6 months for the first water change and then 2-4 weeks after that.
I'm so sorry to hear about your troubles. If your Tang doesn't make it, I'd let your tank remain fishless for at least 45 days. That will allow you to stop most transmissible forms of fish disease that you might have brought into your tank. Some sources suggest that 72 days is better, but many people have had success with the 45 day fallow period.

And don't think that your tank will just "be empty" during any fallow period. There's lots that you can do during this down time:

-set up a quarantine for new fish;
-plan aquascape;
-put in macroalgae (after putting it in its own quarantine)
-set up a security camera so you can watch your tank remotely (and make sure that the deaths aren't being caused by another source)
-find another LFS
Thank you. When the tang dies I'll still have a clown and a blenny. I sure hope they survive. But I probably should wait 45 days before adding any more fish. I guess I was naïve in thinking I don't need a quarantine tank. It sucks to learn the lesson this way. I appreciate your tips in how to pass the 45 days. I clearly have tons of room for improvement in the aquascape. Unfortunately, being in a small city, I only have one LFS. I could drive 1.5 hours to a few other small town LFSs, or I could drive 2.5 hours to Dallas for some huge options. But for swinging by the LFS after work a couple times a week, this one is my only option.
 

Jekyl

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What lfs told you to change water every 6 months? change that every week specially in new tanks
Same LFS that let him get a sailfin for a 36g. I wouldn't ask them for any more help with your tank.
 

davidcalgary29

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Thank you. When the tang dies I'll still have a clown and a blenny. I sure hope they survive.
You'll have to put any surviving fish into quarantine if you want to break the chain of disease transmission. The 45 day fallow period for your display tank (which is a minimum, by the way, and not the maximal suggested length of 72 days) is completed to ensure that any surviving parasitic organisms can't reproduce. If you leave any fish in, they will.
 
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cwatt79

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You'll have to put any surviving fish into quarantine if you want to break the chain of disease transmission. The 45 day fallow period for your display tank (which is a minimum, by the way, and not the maximal suggested length of 72 days) is completed to ensure that any surviving parasitic organisms can't reproduce. If you leave any fish in, they will.
Thank you for that clarification. I'll be doing some reading on the quarantine/fallow process now. Luckily I've got a 16 gallon Fluval Spec tank sitting empty in the back room. Just need to find a place to set it up and I can have a quarantine tank going pretty quickly. Just to clarify, my corals and CuC can stay in the display tank during the fallow period?
 
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Thank you for that clarification. I'll be doing some reading on the quarantine/fallow process now. Luckily I've got a 16 gallon Fluval Spec tank sitting empty in the back room. Just need to find a place to set it up and I can have a quarantine tank going pretty quickly. Just to clarify, my corals and CuC can stay in the display tank during the fallow period?
Yes. Corals should be fine you can do a coral dip if you suspect anything but let’s take it one step at a time. Cuc can stay. They for the most part can’t get fish disease. I’m not expert just what I’ve read
 

BostonReefer300

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Thank you for that clarification. I'll be doing some reading on the quarantine/fallow process now. Luckily I've got a 16 gallon Fluval Spec tank sitting empty in the back room. Just need to find a place to set it up and I can have a quarantine tank going pretty quickly. Just to clarify, my corals and CuC can stay in the display tank during the fallow period?
Sorry for your troubles. Yes, CUC and corals will be fine in your DT during the fallow period. Just remember to throw in some suitable food for the CUC and maybe some phytoplankton, reef roids or something for filter feeders occasionally. If you have any non-photosynthetic corals, they'll need special care obviously. Keep attending to your DT like normal. Watch your key parameters and nutrient levels. Even without fish, you definitely need to do regular water changes especially if you don't have a skimmer. You don't necessarily need a skimmer for that small of a tank, but someone new to the hobby like yourself should be doing something like a 5-10% water change once a week. This will both keep your water reasonably clean and it will replenish important components like Alk, Ca, Mg, etc.
I agree with the others that your local fish store has given you REALLY bad advice. You'd be much better served just using good internet vendors if you don't have any other local options available.
Have you read some of the sticky threads in the newbie forum? They are very helpful.
 
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cwatt79

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Is 16 gallons big enough for QT?
I don't have enough saltwater mixed currently to fill it up, so I need to mix it and get it circulating for 24 hours before I transfer the fish, correct?
I'm reading about seeding the filter with media from the DT, but it seems like since disease is likely in my DT I need to avoid any type of seeding or transferring water from DT to QT.
And I should get some Seachem Prime to try to get it cycling?
Looks like I need to do a 10-15% water change daily.
 

Dj A-Ron

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Yes, 16 gallons is big enough. I run 3 different 10 gallon tanks and QT one or two fish per tank at a time. I usually always keep one QT tank up an running just for emergencies or if I have to pull a fish from the DT or one of the QT's because of aggression. Get about 4 or 5 different shape pieces of PVC to put in the tank for the fish to use to hide.

You are going to want to pick up some bottled bacteria for sure to help get the cycle started. Fritz Turbo start of Dr. Tim's One and Only is good but expensive. Seachem Stability has worked well for me too. I recommend picking up a sponge filter and air pump to use as your filtration. The bubbling of the sponge filter will help oxygenate the water while using medications if needed. Also pick up a Seachem Ammonia badge. Put a lid on the tank with no gaps for any fish to jump out. The worst is when you are almost done with a month long QT and a fish decides to jump out....

If you decide to use medications I would recommend Copper Power, API General Cure, and Seachem Focus to mix with food. Also a Hanna high range Copper tester. DO NOT use Seachem Prime with Copper. It turns toxic for the fish. Do water changes if ammonia appears and re-medicate the new water. Follow the Humble Fish protocol and you will be well on your way. I followed his system with every fish that I've bought and had 100% success.

Watch this Reef Dudes video where Devin interviews Humble Fish. I learned a ton from this video. There are other videos with Humble fish as well. He also has a ton of info here on R2R for fish quarantine.

 
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BostonReefer300

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All of the above is good advice. In addition to a good sized sponge filter with air pump, do you have a small hang-on back filter unit you can use as well? Something like that will help with lots of stuff including establishing a biofilter quickly (the biowheels on those things populate quickly with bacteria). You can put all your remaining fish in that 16G QT. If you have a sponge filter and an HOB filter, you probably will only need to change water every week---like 25%. Or split that roughly in two and do 10% twice a week.
 
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Regarding cycling, if you use a suitable bottled bacteria and have a good size sponge filter in there (and hopefully are using a little HOB filter too), you will be instantly cycled. Most pet stores that have fish will carry biospira which is the cheapest bacteria product but will work fine. Buy a small bottle of that and dump it in.
 
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cwatt79

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@BostonReefer300 @Dj A-Ron @Not an IT guy @davidcalgary29

I can't think you guys enough for taking the time to give me some good advice. I didn't respond yesterday because I was busy setting up my quarantine tank - I had to buy & assemble a new stand, make the RO/DI water and salt water, etc.

My quarantine tank is a Fluval Spec 16 gallon peninsula-style tank with a built-in filtration chamber with a foam block, carbon insert and biomax insert. Will this be sufficient in place of a HOB filter?

I will order a sponge filter to add. I got my salinity and temperature matched to the DT and added bacteria last night and plan to move the two surviving fish over to QT tonight. My poor clown has tiny white spots all over him. I sure hope I can save him.

I started watching Reefdude's video and based on that I ordered Copper Power and Prazipro. I will order a copper tester and a Seachem ammonia alert badge this morning as well.
 

melonheadorion

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another thing to add, with what seems to be poor advice by the LFS, it would probably be in your best interest to quarantine any new fish that you decide to get from them. with the less than adequate advice that they seem to give you already, i iquestion the quality of their fish. not to say that they arent good, but i personally wouldnt trust it being top notch. especially with the spots now showing on the clown. they could just be from stress, but with things going on, who knows.
 
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cwatt79

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@melonheadorion I will definitely be quarantining all new fish from now on, especially since I will have a QT tank set up. Honestly, I probably won't be doing much more business with my LFS. His inventory is tiny anyway, so I'm always at the mercy of what he has in stock. By switching to ordering my livestock online I will be spending more, but at least I can pick exactly what I want when I want it. I'm also going to take things a lot slower than what I have been.

Once I'm settled in with my QT, I'll have lots of questions about my DT. I'm frustrated with the turn of events but excited to do things right!
 
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