High Nitrate Question

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altox012

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Hello! Long time reader of reef2reef, first time poster. I know this has been asked a lot but I am running out of ideas and don’t know anyone else in my non-internet life that has a reef tank to ask about this.

I have a DIY drilled 40 breeder with a 20 gallon tall DIY sump/refugium that’s been up and running for 6 years. Admittedly, I neglected my maintenance last year and had a major cyano outbreak and lost all my corals. My only two fish I’ve ever had (two clowns) are still alive and doing well. I have been trying to get my tank back to great shape and have slowly been adding corals again; they are all doing very well. Still fighting the cyano a bit though, manually blow it off rocks before I do water change and suck as much out as I can. Have not done any chemiclean or other treatments for it, trying to do it naturally.

I have been struggling with high nitrates and can’t seem to lower them. My parameters are pretty steady at:

0ppm ammonia, 0ppm nitrites, 8.2 PH, ALK 7.2-8.0dkh, Calcium 500-550ppm, Mag 1400-1500, Phosphorous 0.02ppm, but my nitrates are ranging anywhere from 40-95 ppm. I have always used 0TDS RO/DI water and change all the filters as soon as it reads above 0TDS. I have been feeding pellets very lightly between once every two days and once every three days, only what the two fish eat. There might be two or three pellets they miss each feeding but I have some small bristle worms and nessarius snails to eat those I figure. I added a small bubble tip anenome a month ago and feed him once a week by mixing one cube of mysis with an appropriately sized dose of reef roids, broadcast feeding the rest of my corals whatever is left after he gets a good amount of food. The clowns eat all the remaining mysis. The anenome is very happy and has doubled in size since I’ve had him.

I run a cheap skimmer (that seems to be working) 24/7 and change my filter sock two or three times a week. I’ve been doing 20-25% water changes every week and sometimes twice a week for a few months trying to get the nitrates down. No luck. Not sure if relevant, but I also added miracle mud, a little chaeto and pods to my refugium two weeks ago.

Am I over thinking this trying to chase numbers too much? My corals seem happy, I just don’t want to ever lose any corals again because that was pretty depressing before lol. I had a few 15+ head frogspawn and hammers, which seem to be worth wayyy more money now than when I started six years ago. Do you guys have any advice for me?

Apologies for the long-winded post and thank you in advance for any responses and opinions you all may offer. Attached a pic of display tank and sump to give you all an idea of my set up. Don’t know what kind of filter you guys use to make it not look so blue so it is very blue looking in the pics lol.



CFA8B8A9-6CAC-4C1F-BA6A-EDAD723CF27B.jpeg 5316825B-40B9-4A05-9FD0-5E44171CA43E.jpeg
 
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ZombieEngineer

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Might be worth taking a sample of your water to a LFS, friends place, or getting another test kit and making sure your test is accurate. If you are feeding lightly and doing that much water changes and they aren't going down, something seems awry.

If you verify with a second source and they are in fact that high, by first suspicion would be that the rubble pile in your sump or your sand may just be loaded with detritus from previous neglect. Vacuuming those areas well during your water change may help if that is the case.

You also have the perfect little spot in your sump to grow cheato. Throw some in there and that will also help the battle.
 
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altox012

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Might be worth taking a sample of your water to a LFS, friends place, or getting another test kit and making sure your test is accurate. If you are feeding lightly and doing that much water changes and they aren't going down, something seems awry.

If you verify with a second source and they are in fact that high, by first suspicion would be that the rubble pile in your sump or your sand may just be loaded with detritus from previous neglect. Vacuuming those areas well during your water change may help if that is the case.

You also have the perfect little spot in your sump to grow cheato. Throw some in there and that will also help the battle.
Thank you for the response! Is that rubble pile a good idea or will it just cause problems because of my low flow in that section? It came from a second tank that I tore down a few years ago and just threw it all in there thinking more surface area for good bacteria wouldn’t be a bad thing, but would it be?

Unfortunately, I moved four years ago and my closest LFS is over three hours away now so I’ve been on my own lol. Kind of winging it. But trying to get it back in good shape. I use the nyos “high level reefing” nitrate and red sea nitrate test. Both show high levels but I’ve read nitrate is a test that can easily be messed up.
 
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ZombieEngineer

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Thank you for the response! Is that rubble pile a good idea or will it just cause problems because of my low flow in that section? It came from a second tank that I tore down a few years ago and just threw it all in there thinking more surface area for good bacteria wouldn’t be a bad thing, but would it be?

Unfortunately, I moved four years ago and my closest LFS is over three hours away now so I’ve been on my own lol. Kind of winging it. But trying to get it back in good shape. I use the nyos “high level reefing” nitrate and red sea nitrate test. Both show high levels but I’ve read nitrate is a test that can easily be messed up.
If you are good about filter socks, rubble piles are beneficial for pod production. I personally don't trust myself to stay on top of filter socks, so I keep just a few high porosity small-medium sized rocks in my sump to act as additional pod breeding ground that is less likely to collect detritus.

The next time you're gonna do a water change, turn off your return pump and mix up the rubble a bit. If you see clouds of detritus, I would shake all the rocks off into a seperate container, pump out all the water in the sump (python is super helpful for this if you have one) and put the larger pieces back but keep the smaller pieces out.

I used to keep a deep sand bed in my sump because I was told that the anoxic area would create a place for nitrate and phosphate reducing bacteria and my phosphates and nitrates have been near 0 after removing it and letting my cheato take over the area more fully.
 

damsels are not mean

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I'm not convinced nitrates really matter to corals. I had a similar situation to you except my nitrate was over 200 ppm after a few years of minimal maintenance. Now in the 20s and trending down a couple ppm each week but I added frags when it was at 200 and they don't look any more healthy than they did then. The frag that seems to be doing the best is actually an acropora and it grew a bit the first week I had it.
 
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altox012

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If you are good about filter socks, rubble piles are beneficial for pod production. I personally don't trust myself to stay on top of filter socks, so I keep just a few high porosity small-medium sized rocks in my sump to act as additional pod breeding ground that is less likely to collect detritus.

The next time you're gonna do a water change, turn off your return pump and mix up the rubble a bit. If you see clouds of detritus, I would shake all the rocks off into a seperate container, pump out all the water in the sump (python is super helpful for this if you have one) and put the larger pieces back but keep the smaller pieces out.

I used to keep a deep sand bed in my sump because I was told that the anoxic area would create a place for nitrate and phosphate reducing bacteria and my phosphates and nitrates have been near 0 after removing it and letting my cheato take over the area more fully.
I actually did take all the rubble out when I added the miracle mud and put all the bigger pieces in DT to put frags on. There was a large cloud of crud that was stirred up when I did that and it ended up getting passed into the DT. Sounds like that could be part of my problem? I have been good about the filter socks for the last few months but I won't lie, not changing them was a large part of my neglect last year. I will look into a python, haven't heard of that before. Again, thank you for the response. It is very helpful!
 
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altox012

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I'm not convinced nitrates really matter to corals. I had a similar situation to you except my nitrate was over 200 ppm after a few years of minimal maintenance. Now in the 20s and trending down a couple ppm each week but I added frags when it was at 200 and they don't look any more healthy than they did then. The frag that seems to be doing the best is actually an acropora and it grew a bit the first week I had it.
Very interesting to hear. That would make sense as to why everything is doing well despite the higher nitrates...I have read that anything above 25 is pretty much toxic but if you were growing acropora in 200 ppm then that has me questioning everything I thought I knew about nitrates lol. How did you get your nitrates to drop so much? Just large water changes or did you start dosing carbon? I have never dosed anything before and the thought of it is pretty intimidating to me honestly. Thank you for the response!
 
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