Low Nitrates but high Phosphates

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Uzair Aiman

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Hi. Ive been tackling this problem for maybe a month now. I run a 27gallon AIO tank with 2 osce clownfish, a 6 line wrasse and a hermit crab. I have a frag of GSP, a Yuma Mushroom, a Hammer coral and a frag of Zoanthids. For the time being, my hammer coral and my zoanthid seemingly to be quite unhappy. My hammer has retracted (not fully, there are still the heads inflated but the "tentacles" are retracted) and my zoanthids seem to retract since today.
I feed my fish pellet food, zooplanktos-s and mysis shrimp (I change their diet per day). I feed once a day and keep the volume of food on the low.

I run a mechanical filter (filter floss), Phosguard, ROWAPHOS GFO, some bio balls, a bag of carbon and a bubble magus QQ protein skimmer.
I use Cove salt.
From the last water change I did, I tested all the parameters below.

Salinity : 1.024
Ammonia : 0
Nitrite : 0
Nitrate : 0 - undetectable
Phosphate : 0.5-1 (have been hovering in these values since last month I checked, even after a 10-20% waterchange)
Alkalinity : 6.7-8 (it reaches 6.7 right before the water change and is at 8 right after the water change).

I also use an Aqua Knight spectra light for my corals. I do water change weekly on saturdays.

How can I lower my Phosphate levels? cause it seems weird to have 0 nitrates but sky high phosphates.
I added the GFO last 2 weeks and it seems to have little to no effect on the chemistry.

Also, I only turn on my skimmer at night because I aim to increase the Nitrates in my tank to detectable levels.

Ive heard of Lanthanum Chloride but I have no luck in finding the product here in my area (Sarawak, Malaysia).

Ive heard also of carbon dosing (using sugar, vodka or vinegar or No Pox).

Which technique do you guys think is okay?
 
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Saltyreef

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How are you implementing the gfo?
I would recommend running it in a reactor.

Also,

For now, if your ph is unaffected, stop skimming.

You can start dosing small amounts of nitrate and it will help lower your phosphate.
After you find a balance and your phosphate is too high still you can lower it further with the GFO.
 

Cantusaurus

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I had high phosphates in the past so I have a couple tips. Mine was as high as 2.7 at one point for a couple reasons.... But if the tank is relatively new, and you started with dry rock then dry rock over time will leach small amounts of phosphates in the water.
Also it could be water you are using. Is it RODI water? Make sure the RODI water you get from a store or if you make it yourself is running correctly.
But sometimes they just tend to rise for other reasons, such as excess food (dry food in particular). Also make sure to shake the test kit bottles really well, and follow directions carefully.

In terms of getting it down. GFO works a bit slower and works to keep in the low ranges when for example it gets to 0.06 - 0.1. It will help it sort of stay lower than that over time. So if you have higher phosphates you may need to try different media, and or chemical solutions.
Phoszorb works really well. (Sold in really large bags though)
Phosguard works well (which you are using)

Chemicals:
Carbon dosing can help. There are products such as Brightwell's Reef Biofuel that can help. Also use a bacteria product as well to better see results. Basically it gives fuel to bacteria in your tank so they can better break down and attack phosphates, and the skimmer will take it out easier. There is also a Red Sea product.

Lanthunum Chloride works too.
Brightwell Aquatics Phosphate E is what I have used. Hopefully that is something you can obtain. HOWEVER. BE CAREFUL with it. Dose it slowly, and carefully. Dose it in drops, and go on the safer side. You do not want to bring it to zero on the first day of you using it.

I would keep the skimmer on as much as possible, especially if you are using Carbon dosing since the skimmer will take it out for you.
There is not much you can do to raise nitrates without increasing the amount of phosphates in the tank sadly :(

The phosphates will affect coral color and growth. So hopefully you can help solve the issue. Best of luck to you :)
Let me know if you have more questions
 
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Uzair Aiman

Uzair Aiman

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How are you implementing the gfo?
I would recommend running it in a reactor.

Also,

For now, if your ph is unaffected, stop skimming.

You can start dosing small amounts of nitrate and it will help lower your phosphate.
After you find a balance and your phosphate is too high still you can lower it further with the GFO.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the space and budget for a reactor now so I just use it in a bag and put it at my overflow.

i can stop skimming for now. But may I ask what you mean by dosing nitrate to help lower the phosphates? Doesn’t it just help increase nitrates? Also, what products do you recommend or what should I do to increase nitrates?
 
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Uzair Aiman

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I had high phosphates in the past so I have a couple tips. Mine was as high as 2.7 at one point for a couple reasons.... But if the tank is relatively new, and you started with dry rock then dry rock over time will leach small amounts of phosphates in the water.
Also it could be water you are using. Is it RODI water? Make sure the RODI water you get from a store or if you make it yourself is running correctly.
But sometimes they just tend to rise for other reasons, such as excess food (dry food in particular). Also make sure to shake the test kit bottles really well, and follow directions carefully.

In terms of getting it down. GFO works a bit slower and works to keep in the low ranges when for example it gets to 0.06 - 0.1. It will help it sort of stay lower than that over time. So if you have higher phosphates you may need to try different media, and or chemical solutions.
Phoszorb works really well. (Sold in really large bags though)
Phosguard works well (which you are using)

Chemicals:
Carbon dosing can help. There are products such as Brightwell's Reef Biofuel that can help. Also use a bacteria product as well to better see results. Basically it gives fuel to bacteria in your tank so they can better break down and attack phosphates, and the skimmer will take it out easier. There is also a Red Sea product.

Lanthunum Chloride works too.
Brightwell Aquatics Phosphate E is what I have used. Hopefully that is something you can obtain. HOWEVER. BE CAREFUL with it. Dose it slowly, and carefully. Dose it in drops, and go on the safer side. You do not want to bring it to zero on the first day of you using it.

I would keep the skimmer on as much as possible, especially if you are using Carbon dosing since the skimmer will take it out for you.
There is not much you can do to raise nitrates without increasing the amount of phosphates in the tank sadly :(

The phosphates will affect coral color and growth. So hopefully you can help solve the issue. Best of luck to you :)
Let me know if you have more questions
Yes, it is a new tank. Around 3 months old after the cycle. It was a fishless cycle. I did use dry rock and I do make my own RODI water. I make sure the water is 0tds everytime I mix saltwater and top off my water with it.
I’d like to ask if what you mean by bacteria products? I do have microbacter 7 and microbacter startxlm in hand right now. Is that what you mean? By carbon dosing, I’m trying to look into dosing sugar as i heard it’s an expensive and efficient way.

I’ve heard of Phosphate E and I’ve been trying to find it but I ended up finding GFO. So I bought that instead. And I know that we should dose it slowly so if I do get my hands on it I’ll make sure I dose it real slow and check on the phosphates daily/ every 2 days.

I’m not sure on the affects of coral growth in my tank, but does high phosphate cause corals to retract? Cause my hammer and zoas seem unhappy right now
 
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Saltyreef

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Unfortunately, I don’t have the space and budget for a reactor now so I just use it in a bag and put it at my overflow.

i can stop skimming for now. But may I ask what you mean by dosing nitrate to help lower the phosphates? Doesn’t it just help increase nitrates? Also, what products do you recommend or what should I do to increase nitrates?
The GFO is besides the point right now so its quite alright. You can keep floating the bag.

You need to get your nitrates up. You can so this simply by reducing skimming further and removing mechanical filtration.

Nitrate is required to reduce phosphate and with your phosphate at .5 to 1, and nitrate at 0, you really need to get some nitrate into the water with a liquid product.
 
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Uzair Aiman

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The GFO is besides the point right now so its quite alright. You can keep floating the bag.

You need to get your nitrates up. You can so this simply by reducing skimming further and removing mechanical filtration.

Nitrate is required to reduce phosphate and with your phosphate at .5 to 1, and nitrate at 0, you really need to get some nitrate into the water with a liquid product.
So dosing nitrate is the only option to increase nitrate? Cant I just adjust my feeding regime and turn off skimming for now?
 

Saltyreef

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So dosing nitrate is the only option to increase nitrate? Cant I just adjust my feeding regime and turn off skimming for now?

Yes you can feed less and turn off skimmer to see where your numbers go. I would keep the gfo running if you run it 24/7 and are still stuck at .5 -1.

Likely wont increase nitrate too much.

3 small fish in a 27 gal will take some time to produce that much waste.
 

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How can I lower my Phosphate levels? cause it seems weird to have 0 nitrates but sky high phosphates.
I added the GFO last 2 weeks and it seems to have little to no effect on the chemistry.
You have to pump water through it, usually in a reactor. This exact situation is what GFO is good for.

As you've seen, water changes don't work for this situation. There is PO4 in the rocks/sand, and it just keeps equalizing with the water.
 

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I would likely just dose some nitrate and keep the skimmer running, as someone said above, you have a really low bioload. After using all the available phos removing techniques I decided lanthium chloride is the best. Simply because there is no guessing and no other equipment that you have to install and maintain and no GFO that you have to throw away.

drip drip drip... poof phosphate gone. As mentioned above BE CAREFUL it is VERY concentrated.
 
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Unfortunately, I don’t have the space and budget for a reactor now so I just use it in a bag and put it at my overflow.

i can stop skimming for now. But may I ask what you mean by dosing nitrate to help lower the phosphates? Doesn’t it just help increase nitrates? Also, what products do you recommend or what should I do to increase nitrates?
You can use the brs mini reactor and set it up in front of your tank. Doesnt have to be pretty as long as it works its not permanent. I use one and swap it out between my main display and my rock curing bin in garage.

 
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Uzair Aiman

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Yes you can feed less and turn off skimmer to see where your numbers go. I would keep the gfo running if you run it 24/7 and are still stuck at .5 -1.

Likely wont increase nitrate too much.

3 small fish in a 27 gal will take some time to produce that much waste.
Ill try this first before trying any other dosing technique. I was always scared that I would get crazy nitrates due to fish but have come to realize that 3 fish in a 27 gal is considered a small bioload. Ill try to see where my numbers go next water change
 
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Uzair Aiman

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You can use the brs mini reactor and set it up in front of your tank. Doesnt have to be pretty as long as it works its not permanent. I use one and swap it out between my main display and my rock curing bin in garage.

Ive seen this before but the problem is where I stay. I live in Malaysia which i think they dont ship to in the first place. Finding good and trusted equipment here is quite hard.
 
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Uzair Aiman

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I would likely just dose some nitrate and keep the skimmer running, as someone said above, you have a really low bioload. After using all the available phos removing techniques I decided lanthium chloride is the best. Simply because there is no guessing and no other equipment that you have to install and maintain and no GFO that you have to throw away.

drip drip drip... poof phosphate gone. As mentioned above BE CAREFUL it is VERY concentrated.
Ill try and find some Phosphate E near my LFS in the near future. Ive seen really good reviews on lanthanum chloride so Ill opt for that after I change their feeding schedule and see if it still needs some tweakings. Is it a temporary fix or is it a permanent fix? (Lanthanum chloride)
 
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Uzair Aiman

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You have to pump water through it, usually in a reactor. This exact situation is what GFO is good for.

As you've seen, water changes don't work for this situation. There is PO4 in the rocks/sand, and it just keeps equalizing with the water.
yea I know it works best in a reactor. But from what I said i didnt have the budget and space for it for now.

I do have a question regarding the sand/rocks. How long does it take for the rock or sand to "finish" releasing phosphates? As I said above I started with dry rock. Tank was set in May and my first pair of clowns were added in June.
 
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Yes, it is a new tank. Around 3 months old after the cycle. It was a fishless cycle. I did use dry rock and I do make my own RODI water. I make sure the water is 0tds everytime I mix saltwater and top off my water with it.
I’d like to ask if what you mean by bacteria products? I do have microbacter 7 and microbacter startxlm in hand right now. Is that what you mean? By carbon dosing, I’m trying to look into dosing sugar as i heard it’s an expensive and efficient way.

I’ve heard of Phosphate E and I’ve been trying to find it but I ended up finding GFO. So I bought that instead. And I know that we should dose it slowly so if I do get my hands on it I’ll make sure I dose it real slow and check on the phosphates daily/ every 2 days.

I’m not sure on the affects of coral growth in my tank, but does high phosphate cause corals to retract? Cause my hammer and zoas seem unhappy right now
Ok. So it could be that the phosphates were leaching out from dry rock, as well as fish waste and detritus all sort of combining in making phosphates higher. I'm not sure on how long they leach it for, and how much exactly, but it should not be a big deal once you start to address it.

Yes! Those products are good! Any sort of bacteria product is good, and it will help if you carbon dose. Since the bacteria feed off of the carbon, and adding new bacteria to latch onto the Carbon source will help in extracting phosphates.

But yeah. Most people will recommend GFO. But I think something like Phoszorb, and Phosguard will help take it out sooner (but you need to remove it sooner).

It does not always affect coral appearance, and all corals are different and some take a long time to react. But yes. Most likely the coral will not be as extended and happy if phosphates are high. I've noticed my Frogspawns and Hammer have looked much better after lowering my phosphate, and the color will improve too. Sometimes you won't notice color loss for a little while in corals since it takes time. But it will return with a bit of patience.
I've heard Zoas getting ticked off with high phosphate. But they usually just look duller, and sometimes not as extended.

If you want to I would recommend Carbon dosing since it is usually a safe method. And use a bit of those bacteria products with it.
I would also recommend vacuuming out your back chambers of your all in one the next time you do a water change.
Give a nice deep cleaning of it, and also clean your return pump, and the return tubing. You can scrub it a bit and or shake them around in a small container of RO water.
There might be some undesirable slime, detritus, and or silt from the tank being new, and cleaning the back of the tank can really be a game changer.

Also Seachem Pristine works well with binding particles and detritus so it can be more easily picked up by filter floss. I would also recommend lessening feeding. The fish will be fine with being fed every other day if they are already healthy. Also DO NOT feed the corals. It is unnecessary right now especially in a new tank. I would hold off on Zooplankton.
Pellets have a ton of nutrients, and a little go a long way for the fish. Also do not overdo mysis since it can be uneaten and just head into the filtration. Straining frozen food can also help. I personally use a really fine mesh net (made for fish larva) and I soak the mysis in Selcon or a vitamin soak to give it extra benefits, and then I strain it and feed the tank. But that is not necessary.

I would also hold off on getting new corals for a bit. At least until the phosphate is lower. 0.25 is what you should aim for. Then aim for 0.1 . But I would get corals despite the phosphate, and they would look great, and then be ticked off and or would coloration, and then it took a while for them to get back to their true form.
 

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Chemipure blue tackles phosphate if I'm not wrong.
The only issue with chemipure is that it is mostly carbon, and the carbon gets used up quick, and the phosphate media is still working and takes more time to take it out. And carbon being the tank too long can lead to leaching nitrates and phosphates into the tank.
I would recommend using Carbon, Purigen, and Phosphate media in separate media bags (Chemipure is basically those 3 in 1, LOL).
When the phosphate is in more managaeable levels (like 0.1) then I'd say chemipure is a good choice, but in this situation I think it is not the best option
 

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I do have a question regarding the sand/rocks. How long does it take for the rock or sand to "finish" releasing phosphates? As I said above I started with dry rock. Tank was set in May and my first pair of clowns were added in June.
It's not a length of time, but an equilibrium thing. When you change water, the phosphate value in the water goes down -> rock and sand leach more out. Your rock and sand are full of it if your water tests that high.

Dripping lanthanum very slowly into a filter sock or something is a good alternative. If you don't force water through the GFO, it just becomes a brick and doesn't work.

Carbon dosing does bring down both N & P, but P is miniscule. It will take forever to make a dent in PO4 at 1 ppm.
 

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Can you find Sodium Nitrate? It is a very common, safe, consumable additive used to cure/preserve/dry meat or sausage. I appreciate that is kind of a western thing, but this is a very basic commodity. Does Alibaba ship to Malaysia?

The bacteria that consume phosphates also require nitrates to work. The reverse is also true. A deficit of one nutrient leads to an excess of the other.

What are you using to test phosphate? And nitrate?

Lastly, if your phosphates are really that high, you are going to need to change out the GFO very often. It gets saturated VERY quickly if your levels are that high.
 
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