Need Help Recovering After a Disaster

onlyshallow

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Hi all,

Brand new here so hello!

I'm hoping someone here can help me. We've never kept fish before but my father-in-law purchased us a 55l (14.5G) tank with two pieces of live rock and live sand substrate for Xmas as a surprise. He doesn't know anything about keeping fish either so purchased what was recommended in store. All in all, the store sold us two scooter blennies, two pipefish (one banded and one blue stripe), 5 snails and two seahorses.

The tank was set up in January and we started adding the fish (pipefish and blennies first, seahorses three weeks later). We completely trusted the store as they have a very good reputation and are more or less the only ones that sell saltwater aquariums and fish. Last weekend we lost 3/4 of the tank. The two seahorses, the banded pipefish and the male scooter blenny all died in the space of 48 hours. We brought a sample to the store who said it was due to over-feeding and recommended 30% water changes every other day to get he ammonia and nitrate levels under control. It was an extremely upsetting couple of days.

I've done some research since and posted on Reddit about the situation. From all that I've read and the advice that I've gotten, it's pretty clear we never should have been sold pipefish and seahorses as complete beginners let alone with such a small tank. The five snails and our blue stripe pipefish and female scooter blenny managed to survive the whole ordeal and we've managed to get the nitrate levels down from 50ppm to 10ppm through big water changes during the last week.

We did our last 30% water change last night and both fish seem a lot better the last couple of days, moving around, eating and looking for food. Do you think we're in the clear?

I know this is a very weird setup for a tank (one scooter blenny and a pipefish) but we want to do everything we can to make the tank the best possible environment for them. The whole experience has been extremely upsetting and the loss of the other fish hit us a lot harder than we could have imagined.

How do we proceed from here? My preference would be to take things as slow as possible and make sure what we have left is happy and healthy. Thanks for your help!
 
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Reefer40b

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It seems like that store was just trying to off load stock that wasn't selling.... you don't sell beginners sea horses!

Just keep up on maintenance and let the tank settle. Going slow is a good choice, there are a lot of forums on here that would be great for to read up on when you first starting out.
 
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onlyshallow

onlyshallow

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It seems like that store was just trying to off load stock that wasn't selling.... you don't sell beginners sea horses!

Just keep up on maintenance and let the tank settle. Going slow is a good choice, there are a lot of forums on here that would be great for to read up on when you first starting out.
Yeah that's the conclusion we've come to. It's so unnecessary to put the seahorses through that. Almost cruel :(
 

PPPPPP42

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Just to back up a bit, the tank and the fish were all purchased at the same time?
I am trying to understand at what point the tank was able to properly cycle which usually takes weeks.
Ammonia is perfectly normal in a tank that is still cycling, fish during cycling is a terrible idea that isn't really done anymore.

If you want my opinion keep the small tank you have now as a quarantine tank (useful to have) and after some research on accessories like lighting and filtration and whatnot get a carefully chosen tank setup of at least the 29 gallon (about 110 liter) size as the extra stability for water parameters with the larger volume makes things much easier on a beginner and its the minimum recommended size for many fish including both of the ones you already have.

Not to discourage you but I would not be at all surprised if the other 2 fish die, pipefish first due to their dietary needs though that blenny can also be difficult and will grow to possibly 5" eventually.
If that happens (or even if just the pipefish dies) I would recommend making sure the tank is properly cycled and then getting a pair of small clownfish. There are very good reasons that so many people start with a pair of clownfish.
It might not be a terrible idea to sell or give away the two you have now ahead of time and make the switch. If you want to keep them do some more homework and figure out why the tank is going crazy and what you will need to take care of those two fish. Its possible you might do just fine with them.

I just grabbed links from LiveAquaria for the fish you have and the fact that they are classified as difficult and expert only for various reasons is not particularly encouraging.

I would definitely never listen to anything that fish store says from now on though it may just be the person and not the whole staff that was stupid.
I have gotten screwed over by my store suggesting inappropriate stuff to me. In my case it was just one stupid employee and the owner actually cringed when I told him what I had gotten the last time I was there.
 
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onlyshallow

onlyshallow

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Just to back up a bit, the tank and the fish were all purchased at the same time?
I am trying to understand at what point the tank was able to properly cycle which usually takes weeks.
Ammonia is perfectly normal in a tank that is still cycling, fish during cycling is a terrible idea that isn't really done anymore.

If you want my opinion keep the small tank you have now as a quarantine tank (useful to have) and after some research on accessories like lighting and filtration and whatnot get a carefully chosen tank setup of at least the 29 gallon (about 110 liter) size as the extra stability for water parameters with the larger volume makes things much easier on a beginner and its the minimum recommended size for many fish including both of the ones you already have.

Not to discourage you but I would not be at all surprised if the other 2 fish die, pipefish first due to their dietary needs though that blenny can also be difficult and will grow to possibly 5" eventually.
If that happens (or even if just the pipefish dies) I would recommend making sure the tank is properly cycled and then getting a pair of small clownfish. There are very good reasons that so many people start with a pair of clownfish.
It might not be a terrible idea to sell or give away the two you have now ahead of time and make the switch. If you want to keep them do some more homework and figure out why the tank is going crazy and what you will need to take care of those two fish. Its possible you might do just fine with them.

I just grabbed links from LiveAquaria for the fish you have and the fact that they are classified as difficult and expert only for various reasons is not particularly encouraging.

I would definitely never listen to anything that fish store says from now on though it may just be the person and not the whole staff that was stupid.
I have gotten screwed over by my store suggesting inappropriate stuff to me. In my case it was just one stupid employee and the owner actually cringed when I told him what I had gotten the last time I was there.
Thanks for the reply. Yes, they were all purchased at the same time. The tank was cycled for about two weeks (again, the shop's recommended time) before we introduced the fish.

Unfortunately we don't have the option to get a bigger tank at the moment, we're still renting and space is tight as it is. I should point out that both the pipefish and the blenny eat frozen which I think is something positive.

That's not great overall, fingers crossed we can keep things going. Thanks for your help.
 
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Super Fly

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It seems like that store was just trying to off load stock that wasn't selling.... you don't sell beginners sea horses!

Just keep up on maintenance and let the tank settle. Going slow is a good choice, there are a lot of forums on here that would be great for to read up on when you first starting out.
+1 on this... I would stop going to that LFS.
Please research how to maintain marine tank and go slow. https://www.reef2reef.com/threads/the-supreme-guide-to-setting-up-a-saltwater-reef-aquarium.138750/
FYI - the smaller the tank, the less forgiving it is when it comes to maintenance and monitoring. So one must be diligent with small tank husbandry for success.
 

PPPPPP42

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If you have them both eating frozen food things might work out good after all.

Did you actually see the ammonia and nitrite (not nitrate) levels drop to zero to determine if the tank was cycled or just wait two weeks?
If it was actually live rock and live sand you should have enough bacteria to do the job but I just wanted to make sure the cycling hadn't gotten stalled or just didn't finish or something where you would still have ammonia with the fish from that rather than a feeding issue.
If you are definitely having an issue with extra food on the bottom there are several clean up crew options to look into.
The scooter blenny should theoretically be sand sifting for some of that stuff unless its getting full during the normal feeding.

You didn't really specify but if you are relying on taking water tests to the store as your only method of testing you really need all your own test stuff because in a tank that small changes can happen much faster.
I would get one of these and stick it in there as well:

Without any coral you don't really need to check everything yet but I would at least get a refractometer to check salinity (not the crappy plastic thing with a float inside) and maybe the red sea starter kit like this or equivalent:
You won't use the ammonia or nitrite tests much after cycling and the KH test totally sucks (easy to do it wrong) and I ended up replacing it with a $50 hanna checker. Eventually its nice to also get the hanna ulr phosphate tester.
 

Birdbrains?

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I am sorry for what you had to go through but you must not let it get you down. It is a really complex hobby starting up and what you have learned already is gonna help you move forward.

I keep a 60L, stocked with two fishes and one Anemone; to avoid difficulties with nitrates, I use a salt that is enhanced with bacteria and lots of water changes. Perhaps that will be useful for you as well.

The ocean caught fishes will not transfer well to a nano. And it is hard for a person who is new in the hobby to figure out, if water chemistry or psychological trauma is what killed their fish. Focus on tank-raised fishes that you can domesticate. Wild caught fishes will die from trauma way more easily than you would think, leaving you with the pain and feeling of guilt... and tank-raised fishes will not have the same difficulties at all.

Welcome on board, hurry slow and keep researching what you want to achieve with your hobby and you will eventually become an expert of your own tank just like the rest of us ;)
 
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onlyshallow

onlyshallow

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If you have them both eating frozen food things might work out good after all.

Did you actually see the ammonia and nitrite (not nitrate) levels drop to zero to determine if the tank was cycled or just wait two weeks?
If it was actually live rock and live sand you should have enough bacteria to do the job but I just wanted to make sure the cycling hadn't gotten stalled or just didn't finish or something where you would still have ammonia with the fish from that rather than a feeding issue.
If you are definitely having an issue with extra food on the bottom there are several clean up crew options to look into.
The scooter blenny should theoretically be sand sifting for some of that stuff unless its getting full during the normal feeding.

You didn't really specify but if you are relying on taking water tests to the store as your only method of testing you really need all your own test stuff because in a tank that small changes can happen much faster.
I would get one of these and stick it in there as well:

Without any coral you don't really need to check everything yet but I would at least get a refractometer to check salinity (not the crappy plastic thing with a float inside) and maybe the red sea starter kit like this or equivalent:
You won't use the ammonia or nitrite tests much after cycling and the KH test totally sucks (easy to do it wrong) and I ended up replacing it with a $50 hanna checker. Eventually its nice to also get the hanna ulr phosphate tester.
We brought a sample of the cycled water to the LFS for testing and they said everything was OK to start introducing fish.

The blenny is definitely sifting through the sand and doesn't seem too interested in frozen food at the moment so hopefully that means she's getting enough food. Right now we have a KH test, phosphate and nitrate testing kits that we use ourself (again, following advice from the store on what we'd need). Thanks a lot for those suggestions, I'll definitely look into it!
 
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onlyshallow

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I am sorry for what you had to go through but you must not let it get you down. It is a really complex hobby starting up and what you have learned already is gonna help you move forward.

I keep a 60L, stocked with two fishes and one Anemone; to avoid difficulties with nitrates, I use a salt that is enhanced with bacteria and lots of water changes. Perhaps that will be useful for you as well.

The ocean caught fishes will not transfer well to a nano. And it is hard for a person who is new in the hobby to figure out, if water chemistry or psychological trauma is what killed their fish. Focus on tank-raised fishes that you can domesticate. Wild caught fishes will die from trauma way more easily than you would think, leaving you with the pain and feeling of guilt... and tank-raised fishes will not have the same difficulties at all.

Welcome on board, hurry slow and keep researching what you want to achieve with your hobby and you will eventually become an expert of your own tank just like the rest of us ;)
Thank you for the kind words :)

It definitely is a lot to take it especially when it's a surprise gift! AFAIK, the blenny and the pipefish were captive bred and raised but I'm not sure if I'd believe anything the store tells us anymore.
 
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Birdbrains?

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The store people I know, are closing down, back in the days where they started, these people was the central point for everyone learning in the hobby. Today the store owner is getting treated like "scum" and I can actually easily see why they would be closing down as it is today." And "sellformation" advice can be hard for the new people in the hobby. Just constantly think about all information you encounter, really analysis what you read/is told.
If what people say online was true, then I could not possibly keep the anemone that I keep, in anything smaller than a 100L and I can see the tank from where I sit now ;)
 

PPPPPP42

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If you have KH phosphate and nitrate I would add a PH test kit and get a refractometer for salinity. The store was nice enough to show us how to calibrate the refractometer when we got it as well (not hard) so it was ready to go when we got home.
Definitely get one of those ammonia alert things I linked earlier as it can build up faster in small tanks and if you don't have a test kit for it that will keep track of it for you.
Another mistake I made was killing a fish due to a temp gauge that was about 5 degrees off causing too big a jump during acclimation.
Its good to have more than one gauge. I have two digital temp checkers and one old fashioned mercury type (though I don't think its actually mercury) hanging in the tank on a suction cup for quick checking.

Just constantly think about all information you encounter by yourself.
If what people say online is true, then I could not keep the anemone I keep, in anything smaller than a 100L and I can see the tank from where I sit now and...it seems it could be done even though many people told me no ;)
Its not so much that something can't be done, its that the odds are not in favor of it working, or it would provide less than ideal circumstances for the health of the fish or coral. Or maybe just be a lot more maintenance in a smaller size.
People tend to be conservative at least on paper.
The two Yellow Watchman Gobies that I was sold at the same time (from different tanks at the store) technically were a really bad idea as they often will fight unless its a huge tank. Instead they became friends and live in the same hole under a rock.
But I still wouldn't recommend someone else get two of them unless they are an experienced breeder or something.
 

Birdbrains?

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If you have KH phosphate and nitrate I would add a PH test kit and get a refractometer for salinity. The store was nice enough to show us how to calibrate the refractometer when we got it as well (not hard) so it was ready to go when we got home.
Definitely get one of those ammonia alert things I linked earlier as it can build up faster in small tanks and if you don't have a test kit for it that will keep track of it for you.
Another mistake I made was killing a fish due to a temp gauge that was about 5 degrees off causing too big a jump during acclimation.
Its good to have more than one gauge. I have two digital temp checkers and one old fashioned mercury type (though I don't think its actually mercury) hanging in the tank on a suction cup for quick checking.
Or get tests for everything as you progress, it is fun to do testing :) I recommend glass hydrometers over the refractometer, but it depends on what one prefers I guess.

Aw, how annoying to get 5degrees of target :( I got totally different readings on the first 3 thermometers and decided to keep buying more until I had found an average reading and then I kept those that was close to the average reading.

Its not so much that something can't be done, its that the odds are not in favor of it working, or it would provide less than ideal circumstances for the health of the fish or coral. Or maybe just be a lot more maintenance in a smaller size.
People tend to be conservative at least on paper.
The two Yellow Watchman Gobies that I was sold at the same time (from different tanks at the store) technically were a really bad idea as they often will fight unless its a huge tank. Instead they became friends and live in the same hole under a rock.
But I still wouldn't recommend someone else get two of them unless they are an experienced breeder or something.
I completely agree, which is why I never tell that I am experimenting with keeping a tank with heavily polluted water because I cannot have people copying my set up ;)
 
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BeejReef

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Sorry for your losses.

There's no reason to feel bad. You were given fish without seeking them out and sought advise from "experts" who steered you very wrong. You stopped listening to bad advise and have found a source of good advise! The unhappy demise of those fish isn't on you and there's a happy and interesting journey still to come :)

Chances are you're cycled now, but do keep testing for ammonia until you are sure. Ammonia and salinity is what you really want to watch. Nitrates are a ways down the list, but still worth watching.

Best of luck!
 

beaslbob

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I start my tanks with macro algae to balance out and stabilize the system.

But that was the last thing I heard when I started a 55g back in 2003 or so.

Once I did add macros in an in tank refugium everything started thriving,

But that's just me and my .02
 
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