Update on "Death Tank" [Long Post]

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Fellow Reefers,

WARNING: If you hate long-winded posts, stop here!

I feel that itââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢s time to give an update to all of you who provided me with so many suggestions and words of encouragement earlier this month. I wonââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢t repeat all the specifics of my situation here ââ"šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ those facts may be reviewed in my December 13th post ( http://www.reefcentral.com/ubb/Forum1/HTML/000798.html ). Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢ll just start up from there:

I pretty much followed the plan that I set out upon earlier this month. I left my 80 gallon in a totally blacked-out state for nearly seven full days. I did turn a few lights on for an hour or so each evening to toss in some morsels for my clown and Sally Lightfoot. Without any light, the algae problem disintegrated into dust. On Friday the 18th, I began to clean out as much accumulated detris as I could. When I got down to the bed, I couldnââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢t help poking with my siphon hose a little. What I saw, and what I smelled, was disheartening. Under the surface, the bed looked like that black muck you find on exposed river bars. You know, that stuff that smells like *#*$).

Before I was done, I had thoroughly stirred, vacuumed and cleaned almost the entire bed. And, I had removed about 45 gallons in the process. On Saturday, I went back in and vacuumed some more with another 30 gallon water change. I figured I might as well finish the job I had started irrespective of whether or not it was the right thing to do in the first place.

On Sunday the 20th, I picked up a new Rio 1400 powerhead, nine pounds of live sand, a new softball-sized "plant rock" that had been curing for a couple of weeks, and some feather calerpa starts. I have a really decent LFS who went to the trouble of pulling sand out of 5 or 6 different established reef tanks to get as much critter diversity as possible. Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢ve since seen 20 to 30 different varieties of worms (one the size of a small earthworm), "micro" brittle stars, and what Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢m assuming are all sorts of different amphipods, copepods, and isopods [BTW, those critter ID links are pretty cool]. The population density and diversity probably isnââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢t as great as it should be, but itââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢s a heck of a lot better than anything Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢ve had before. Itââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢s been great fun to explore with a little 30x hand-held, lighted scope. I can typically find something Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢ve never seen before inside of a couple of minutes.

I took some of the suggestions from my previous post and lowered/aimed my two existing powerheads down toward the bed instead of up toward the surface. In addition, the new Rio 1400 was added to drive water across the back of the tank behind the rock. Finally, I got around to necking my sump inflow down from a 1 inch with a 3/8 inch barb to improve inbound velocity. The end effect has had a dramatic effect on circulation in the tank ââ"šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ I suspect that water movement may be 2 to 3 times what it was. The current has been strong enough to create a pleasing "dune" effect at the front corners of the bed. I still have a couple of pockets of hydrogen sulfide, but not nearly as much as what I had before.

Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢ve broadened the diversity of what Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢m feeding the bed to include frozen brine shrimp, frozen plankton, and some sinking shrimp pellets that actually sink. Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢m guessing that Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢m feeding between half and a full thimble-full of one of these menus, daily. I shut down all water flow for an hour or so to let the food settle right down on the bed. The sand critters and scavengers come alive at feeding time. Of course my clown doesnââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢t think much of these new delicacies ââ"šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ she continues to demand her flakes.

Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢m continuing to dose with kalk, but have stopped using any other buffers or additives. I performed a "full" water quality check on the 21st at about 5:00 in the evening: Salinity 1.024 @ 79 degrees. Ca = 360 ppm, pH = 8.05, alk = 3.0 meq/L, NH3 = 0, N02 = 0, N03 < 2.5 ppm. I took a sample down to a local pet store and they concurred with my Ammonia and Nitrite readings. Their Nitrate test wasnââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢t in as fine of increments as mine was ââ"šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ they said my nitrates were somewhere between 0 and 20 ppm. The kalk looks to be having a positive effect as I have recently noticed new corraline growth on my glass and plastic fixtures at a rate that I havenââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢t seen before.

Well, so much for the good news. There are a few continuing concerns. The live sand was literally full of orange/green/black spaghetti worms ââ"šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ I would guess that there were initially over 100! Within a couple of days of introduction, and as their predecessors did a couple of months ago, these worms were extracting themselves from the bed and rolling around with the water currents. Even if I tried to re-bury them, they would work themselves free in an hour or so and writhe around, seemingly in pain. They collected in piles in a low-flow area in a back corner and then simply disintegrated over the course of the next few days. I can still find a couple of these worms that are hanging on, but most have gone to worm heaven. I also acquired a good number of brilliant red/orange spaghetti worms that seem to live further down in the bed. This species has not yet exhibited the mass suicide syndrome.

Additionally, the last of my 10 trochus snails and the first of my 3 turbo snails expired a few days ago. Out of 20 herbivorous snails introduced 60 days ago, only a lowly margarita and two turbos remain. Interestingly, my Nassarius snails, blue-legged hermits, and SLF seem unaffected by whatever is whacking the larger snails.

Finally, my algae woes have returned. About a week ago I saw a good flush coming on, so I turned off my 110ââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢s. Fortunately, this seems to be a diatom bloom (Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢m no expert at identifying algae) and it has more or less remained in check. Instead of purple and pink, I've got a nice brown tank, now. I think it came from detris that was introduced with the new live sand. Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢ve decided that, since the algae canââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢t really hurt much of anything in my current setup, Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢m going to go ahead with a "normal" photoperiod and try to let the algae consume the excess nutrients that must be in my tank.

Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢d like to invest even more in sand bed critters to get a diverse and saturated population density. However, Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢m still not certain that my system does not contain some toxin that prohibits long term success. Until I can ascertain that my sand bed life is stable and expanding, I donââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢t think Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢m willing to take the financial risk of purchasing and killing more critters. I figure that another month, or so, should tell which way things are going.

If any of you have thoughts or suggestions, feel free. For all that Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢ve learned in the last year, Iââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢ll bet I still donââ"šÂ¬Ã¢"žÂ¢t know 1% of what I need to know to succeed at this.

Special thanks to rshimek -- wish I'd read "The Coral Reef Aquarium" before now.

Out of curiosity, what kind of salt are you using? When I first ventured into the hobby several years ago I did everything "by the book" and was extremely patient. Everything I put into my tank died within a couple of weeks however. Apparently there were a few other people in town that were having the same problems. It was eventually deducted that it must have been a bad batch of salt. Called the LFS, and apparently that lot number had been getting a lot of complaints...food for thought.

I refrain from using the name of the manufacturer to avoid any controversy. If you want to divulge your salt choice to me, I'd ask that you send me an email (it's in my bio).

I feel for ya man, I relly do!

Hope things get better from here on in!

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