Sick Coral Help and Nitrate Management

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ariellemermaid

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Could really use some advice on a struggling coral and general nutrient management from the #reefsquad.

Background:
D65A9C0F-8B02-46A7-885B-5D9B400E6DEC.jpeg
Picked up a nice seriatopora screaming green that has been our favorite coral so far. It thrived in QT for 76 days and grew quite a bit. Parameters were never a problem, but it took weekly 25-50% water changes to keep nitrates below 10. This is in a 20G QT with only crabs/snails and a shrimp so we’re not talking about over-feeding, just a little piece of nori each day which gets completely devoured. Maybe a small pellet or mysis piece target fed directly to a crab, that kind of thing.


51B3198B-ABD9-4E3A-ABCF-5B5F32EC1243.jpeg

We then moved the coral to our 37G bowfront starter DT in which I do 33% water changes weekly (accounting for LR/sand displacement) to keep nitrates <10. This tank does have fish that get fed 1-2x daily, and we’re pretty conscious about not feeding too much. 2 small clowns, large cleaner shrimp, and quite small YWG/clown goby/transparent cave goby. Not overstocked at all.

F28015D0-C21C-46FE-B8DB-8B9A7F6FDA18.jpeg


Nine days ago I did a 16% WC rather than 33% and now the seriatopora is struggling badly. 10<Nitrates<25 now. Also an Alveopora is only half coming out which happened before in QT once when nitrates got too high.

Question 1: am I being reasonable in assuming nitrates are the problem? I haven’t measured alk/ca/mg recently because they’ve always been stable between the large frequent water changes and the extremely small coral burden with this being the only SPS. Par is roughly 170 at this spot (via seneye) and it’s been looking great for 2 weeks now. Salinity 35ppt, ammonia/nitrites 0, pH>8, quality RO/DI water and salt, etc. I really want to save this coral and hope I’m not overlooking anything else. It’s grown well with nitrates up to 10 by the end of each week for 3 months but the spike above that now is my only explanation.

Question 2: what nitrate export method do you recommend for this tank? I don’t have an overflow or sump so I’m limited to a canister filter and HOB gear for this tank. The amount of water and salt I’m using on a weekly basis for 2 QT’s and the DT seems excessive; I’d like to get to the point where I could go out of town for 2 weeks without everything dying. I could add a comline HOB skimmer but I doubt it would be the magical solution. Seachem De-Nitrate appears to need low flow so that wouldn’t work in a canister. I use a ton of Matrix plus carbon in the canister now. I’ve never tried Red Sea NO3 PO4 but is it more of a stop gap than a good long-term solution? I’m open to suggestions but don’t want to spend a ton of money as long-term I’ll eventually do a big tank upgrade just not for maybe 2 years. It just seems like I should be able to get to the “standard” of 10% a week or a larger amount less often yet I feel like I’m barely keeping the tank(s) going.
 
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ScottR

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First of all, I typically look at phosphates (PO4) before I look at NO3 for SPS. Sometimes you can have high NO3 and low or zero PO4 with a low bioload. I aim for 0.03-0.06 PO4 but many keep it at 0.1-0.15 and have healthy SPS with good coloration.

I highly recommend keeping tabs on alkalinity and calcium at the very least. Water changes aren’t really a good way to replenish alkalinity and calcium for that matter. Larger water changes will make your water parameters fluctuate quite a lot and that’s not really good for keeping SPS long term. I’d get a test kit for alkalinity (I like the Hanna checker), calcium (I like salifert), PO4 (again I like Hanna - the ULR checker), and magnesium (salifert). Just some suggestions and things for you to look in to. For dosing a smaller tank with not much SPS, you can look into tropic marin’s all-for-reef. It’s a simple manual dose that takes care of alk, Ca, Mg and trace elements. Hope this helps!
 
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ariellemermaid

ariellemermaid

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First of all, I typically look at phosphates (PO4) before I look at NO3 for SPS. Sometimes you can have high NO3 and low or zero PO4 with a low bioload. I aim for 0.03-0.06 PO4 but many keep it at 0.1-0.15 and have healthy SPS with good coloration.

I highly recommend keeping tabs on alkalinity and calcium at the very least. Water changes aren’t really a good way to replenish alkalinity and calcium for that matter. Larger water changes will make your water parameters fluctuate quite a lot and that’s not really good for keeping SPS long term. I’d get a test kit for alkalinity (I like the Hanna checker), calcium (I like salifert), PO4 (again I like Hanna - the ULR checker), and magnesium (salifert). Just some suggestions and things for you to look in to. For dosing a smaller tank with not much SPS, you can look into tropic marin’s all-for-reef. It’s a simple manual dose that takes care of alk, Ca, Mg and trace elements. Hope this helps!
Point taken, I’ll start checking those again and report back. PO4 was always fine and I stopped checking alk/ca/mg because they were always stable. I do have the Hanna copper for my QT but 50 cents a test is highway robbery (not to mention the cost of the devices)! Aside from cost, I do like the precision though.

Still, back to nitrates, that seems to be the thing that’s not very stable without huge weekly water changes. Are you saying nitrates up to 25 isn’t likely a problem?
 

ScottR

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Point taken, I’ll start checking those again and report back. PO4 was always fine and I stopped checking alk/ca/mg because they were always stable. I do have the Hanna copper for my QT but 50 cents a test is highway robbery (not to mention the cost of the devices)! Aside from cost, I do like the precision though.

Still, back to nitrates, that seems to be the thing that’s not very stable without huge weekly water changes. Are you saying nitrates up to 25 isn’t likely a problem?
25 isn’t low but I don’t think it’s the cause of your problems. It’s easy to look at one point that you think is the problem but without knowing the whole picture, it’s hard to point fingers. Flow wasn’t mentioned and flow is something that’s very important for nutrient and oxygen exchange.

Do you have a sump? What kind of filtration do you have? Hopefully we can narrow down some things and help you get them back to better health.
 
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ariellemermaid

ariellemermaid

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25 isn’t low but I don’t think it’s the cause of your problems. It’s easy to look at one point that you think is the problem but without knowing the whole picture, it’s hard to point fingers. Flow wasn’t mentioned and flow is something that’s very important for nutrient and oxygen exchange.

Do you have a sump? What kind of filtration do you have? Hopefully we can narrow down some things and help you get them back to better health.
Good to know, definitely don’t want to get fixated on the wrong thing. No reef plumbing on this tank just HOB gear. I’m using the Fluval 307 canister (up to 206 gal/hr) along with an icecap gyre 4K powerhead. Media buckets are filled to the brim with Matrix and carbon in the top buckets. I also got the surface skimmer attachment to eliminate oil slicks on the surface.

I have the powerhead set to random and dialed to a point that it doesn’t make craters in my sandbed (about 25% max). I do have it horizontal on the back upper-middle rather than vertical on the back far edge because it was blowing too much sand and I think looks better. Corals move gently, some more than others. Definitely oversized for the tank which is why it’s dialed down; 50% rearranges the sand in a day.
 

ScottR

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Good to know, definitely don’t want to get fixated on the wrong thing. No reef plumbing on this tank just HOB gear. I’m using the Fluval 307 canister (up to 206 gal/hr) along with an icecap gyre 4K powerhead. Media buckets are filled to the brim with Matrix and carbon in the top buckets. I also got the surface skimmer attachment to eliminate oil slicks on the surface.

I have the powerhead set to random and dialed to a point that it doesn’t make craters in my sandbed (about 25% max). I do have it horizontal on the back upper-middle rather than vertical on the back far edge because it was blowing too much sand and I think looks better. Corals move gently, some more than others. Definitely oversized for the tank which is why it’s dialed down; 50% rearranges the sand in a day.
I’ve never used a canister filter on saltwater before but I’m sure they can get clogged with detritus which may be the reason for your high NO3. Just a suspicion. I believe they should be cleaned quite often. Media like matrix - although good for harboring bacteria - can also become detritus traps, especially when packed in as detritus can’t easily get swept away. Do you have a skimmer? A skimmer will remove a lot from your system that filters can’t.
 

Rmckoy

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It is possible but maintaining low nutrients in a tank with a canister filter can be tricky .

they need to be cleaned throughly as often as possible .
take apart , clean , rinse , scrub etc .
running them with as little media and filter
Cloth
 

Deep

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Point taken, I’ll start checking those again and report back. PO4 was always fine and I stopped checking alk/ca/mg because they were always stable. I do have the Hanna copper for my QT but 50 cents a test is highway robbery (not to mention the cost of the devices)! Aside from cost, I do like the precision though.

Still, back to nitrates, that seems to be the thing that’s not very stable without huge weekly water changes. Are you saying nitrates up to 25 isn’t likely a problem?

When you say PO4 is fine, what has been the actual numbers ? Like another poster said earlier, it really doesnt matter what Nitrate levels are usually its the phosphates thats an issue for corals.
Also if your phosphates are low , you are not going to be able to reduce nitrate levels.
 
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ariellemermaid

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I’ve never used a canister filter on saltwater before but I’m sure they can get clogged with detritus which may be the reason for your high NO3. Just a suspicion. I believe they should be cleaned quite often. Media like matrix - although good for harboring bacteria - can also become detritus traps, especially when packed in as detritus can’t easily get swept away. Do you have a skimmer? A skimmer will remove a lot from your system that filters can’t.
Once a month or so I’ve been cleaning all the sponges using water change water so as not to completely disrupt the bio filter. They get dirty but nothing crazy (unlike my old HOB fresh water cartridges back in the day). The media actually looked squeaky clean last time and I replaced half of it to re-cycle my fish QT. No skimmer yet, my only option would be a relatively small HOB Comline skimmer and it’s an option. Just not sure how effective it would be.

Bio pellets and a reactor. Could be the transition of your lights from one tank to the other.
With no sump system I don’t think adding a reactor is an option, however the canister filter is essentially a “reactor” from what I can tell. Could they just be added to the canister?

I’m pretty sure I’ve killed corals with too much light and without good acclimation before. So I’ve been extra careful this time to match the PAR from the QT plus an acclimation period. Both tanks have the exact same AI Prime with the same spectrum settings.
 
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Rmckoy

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Once a month or so I’ve been cleaning all the sponges using water change water so as not to completely disrupt the bio filter. They get dirty but nothing crazy (unlike my old HOB fresh water cartridges back in the day). The media actually looked squeaky clean last time and I replaced half of it to re-cycle my fish QT. No skimmer yet, my only option would be a relatively small HOB Comline skimmer and it’s an option. Just not sure how effective it would be.


With no sump system I don’t think adding a reactor is an option, however the canister filter is essentially a “reactor” from what I can tell. Could they just be added to the canister?

I’m pretty sure I’ve killed corals with too much light and without good acclimation before. So I’ve been extra careful this time to match the PAR from the QT plus an acclimation period. Both tanks have the exact same AI Prime with the same spectrum settings.
With canister filters .
I used to clean mine on a old 75gal every week
Only thing inside was sponge and filter cloth .

with live rock you wouldn’t upset any bacterial balance
Instead of washing with tank water , I used to use rodi water or tap water but rinse after
 

Ron Reefman

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Here is another thought. Looking at the photo of your coral's current condition, it appears to have more polyps along the edges and undersides of the skeleton branches. Is that, in fact, the situation?

If so, maybe your light? What fixture do you have and what settings are you running?
 
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ariellemermaid

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When you say PO4 is fine, what has been the actual numbers ? Like another poster said earlier, it really doesnt matter what Nitrate levels are usually its the phosphates thats an issue for corals.
Also if your phosphates are low , you are not going to be able to reduce nitrate levels.

Just did a full set of tests:
PH this morning is now 7.8
PO4 0-0.25
KH 8.4
Ca 470
Mg 1450

Not sure how the Ca and Mg got so high. Also expected the KH to be higher as my salt is 10-12. Did a 33% WC yesterday FYI.

Also can you tell me more about the need for PO4 to reduce nitrates?

With canister filters .
I used to clean mine on a old 75gal every week
Only thing inside was sponge and filter cloth .

with live rock you wouldn’t upset any bacterial balance
Instead of washing with tank water , I used to use rodi water or tap water but rinse after

Interesting. I suppose that makes sense but Matrix is supposedly marketed to have aerobic and anaerobic surface area which is why I went with that. I run carbon just in case toxins find their way into the tank from corals or anything else around the house.

Here is another thought. Looking at the photo of your coral's current condition, it appears to have more polyps along the edges and undersides of the skeleton branches. Is that, in fact, the situation?

If so, maybe your light? What fixture do you have and what settings are you running?
Yes and no. Flat areas on top are definitely bleached but there are a few branches higher up with no bleaching. The most consistent bleaching with no polyps at all is actually the “trunk” and the undersides of branches. It was previously completely filled with very bushy polyps. What remains now is very pathetic.

I’m using the AI Prime 16HD. Settings are per the BRS testing video at 70%. Highest PAR in the entire tank is 341 dead center on the highest rock. Again, as measured by seneye so take absolute values with a grain of salt.

Also light wouldn’t explain why 2 days ago the Alveopora was super stretched out and now it’s hardly coming out at all. However I’ll try anything, I suppose reducing the light can’t do harm at this point, at least not as fast as thing is dying.
 

Rmckoy

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The need for p04 and n03 .....

I just went through this in my 230
Extremely high phosphates and 0.00 ppm nitrates.
In order to bring the phosphates down I had to dose nitrates .
the red field ratio

in your case the phosphates are limited ...
they will not go up without the nitrates to support them in balance

there are many articles on here about it .

canister filters are not helping the nutrient levels .....

here is how I understood it years ago . Imagine a filter sock in a sump . Or rocks without circulation

same goes for a skimmer collection cup .
those exported nutrients are sitting with no where to go .

other than to decompose and release back into the water .
 

Dennis Cartier

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In my experience, nitrates will brown out SPS long before they will impact their health. Because of the sudden change, I would think that it is related to the WC and a sudden shift in parameters. SPS are known for being sensitive to change and need stability to thrive. As you have not been dosing, and your dKH is not low, I am thinking the WC caused a noticeable increase in dKH and upset your SPS.

SPS that are healthy and growing will suck down alkalinity surprisingly fast, so if your frags/colonies were growing, then not dosing would allow the dKH to drift down more each day, and the the WC pulled it back up all at once.

For simple maintenance of dKH and all parameters in fact, I would suggest you look at All-For-Reef. It is quite a good solution for lightly stocked tanks. Once your dosing needs grow it can get quite expensive, but for stabilizing a small tank, it works well.

Dennis
 
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Deep

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Just did a full set of tests:
PH this morning is now 7.8
PO4 0-0.25
KH 8.4
Ca 470
Mg 1450

Not sure how the Ca and Mg got so high. Also expected the KH to be higher as my salt is 10-12. Did a 33% WC yesterday FYI.

Also can you tell me more about the need for PO4 to reduce nitrates?

Your Ca and Mg are just fine. But your phosphates are between 0 and 0.25 ? Thats a big range, how are you testing it ?

Bacteria and algae etc consume of Carbon, nitrogen, Phosphorus and other trace elements in a certain ratio. But if one or some of them are limited, that entire consumption stops until the limiting nutrient is made available. So if your phosphates are nearing zero then they become limiting so nitrates will also stop being consumed until the limiting phophorus made available.
 

Tiki Reef Joshua

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First of all, I typically look at phosphates (PO4) before I look at NO3 for SPS. Sometimes you can have high NO3 and low or zero PO4 with a low bioload. I aim for 0.03-0.06 PO4 but many keep it at 0.1-0.15 and have healthy SPS with good coloration.

I highly recommend keeping tabs on alkalinity and calcium at the very least. Water changes aren’t really a good way to replenish alkalinity and calcium for that matter. Larger water changes will make your water parameters fluctuate quite a lot and that’s not really good for keeping SPS long term. I’d get a test kit for alkalinity (I like the Hanna checker), calcium (I like salifert), PO4 (again I like Hanna - the ULR checker), and magnesium (salifert). Just some suggestions and things for you to look in to. For dosing a smaller tank with not much SPS, you can look into tropic marin’s all-for-reef. It’s a simple manual dose that takes care of alk, Ca, Mg and trace elements. Hope this helps!
This.
 
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ariellemermaid

ariellemermaid

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Your Ca and Mg are just fine. But your phosphates are between 0 and 0.25 ? Thats a big range, how are you testing it ?

Bacteria and algae etc consume of Carbon, nitrogen, Phosphorus and other trace elements in a certain ratio. But if one or some of them are limited, that entire consumption stops until the limiting nutrient is made available. So if your phosphates are nearing zero then they become limiting so nitrates will also stop being consumed until the limiting phophorus made available.
Good to know! I have the API kit and the first two gradations are zero and 0.25. It’s definitely in between but yeah, as much as I hate the cost of each Hanna test there’s something to be said for specificity. Given that I’m running a canister filter I doubt I could get my phosphates to zero even if I tried. I feel more confident in my nitrate readings now that I’ve switched to salifert; the API kit was just a guessing game.
Are you running charcoal
Yes. It might be due for a change by now but it’s in there.

I bumped my lights down to 25% of what they were and I have to say by the end of the day it was looking a bit better and the Alveopora was fully out again. Could just be that dimmer light made it harder to see the pain though.

As mentioned earlier the most prominent absence of all polyps is on the trunk and under branches, however, there is definitely a pattern where the whitest spots on top are the flat sections. The higher branches that still look ok aren’t flat but sticking straight up. Still, I can’t explain why it looked great for 2 weeks then all of a sudden bleached with the Alveopora also retracted suddenly as nothing changed about the lighting. When I previously did poor light acclimation with no par readings I had 4 corals bleach in 24-48 hours. But for now I have it set to 25% with 30 day acclimation back up....

Overall I feel like this tank is cursed for corals. I’ve had zero problems in the QT and the conditions as measured by tests are identical. Not just SPS but LPS and softies too. This round it’s just the SPS as a leather, zoa, sympodium, and taro tree still look good.
 
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