The 180 Build: Adding Fish and fighting Nitrites, and ich and velvet

John Carlin"s new 180 gallon reef aquarium

This is my first blog post on the 180 build since all of my energy to this point has been producing videos of the build.  As of today the tank is full, the rockscape, courtesy of Real Reef is in place and  generally I am thrilled with the aquarium.  But…

View part one
View Part two

As I said in part two of the aquarium build series,  there are best practices for bringing an aquarium along and then there is real life.  Sometimes real life trumps what I know is best.  Sometimes the urge to proceed over comes my better judgement.  That may be the case here.

Since we have a maintenance company, I can order fish wholesale.  Typically, we order fish for clients and in my case — for tanks to be featured on Fincasters — once a month.  Last week was the order week, and since the tank was doing so well after three weeks and because we are planning to have lots of people over as part of my son’s wedding in December, I wanted to get some more fish in the aquarium.  (As opposed to waiting another month to get in on the order.)  That’s the real life part.  The problem is, the aquarium doesn’t care about weddings.

Soooo, I added six  Carpenters flasher wrasses and a Temmincks’s fairy wrasse, an algae blenny, three skunk cleaner shrimp and a black cap basslet.  Oh yeah and three firefish.  I’m an idiot.

For good measure I added 25 small blue leg hermit crabs, and 25 scarlet leg hermits.  My hope was that they would go to town on the diatoms that were covering the sand and the live rock.  That worked!

Back to the fish.  Everything was going great.  I had added lots of nitrifying seed bacteria.  I also brought over some of the filtration media from my long established 120, as well as the corals from the old tank.  The corals are doing better than ever.  They seemed to be growing right before my eyes.  Polyp extension is amazing, color is great and all the indicators were that the tank was prospering.  They still are today.  See the photo of the Jack O Lantern chalice. (lepto)  That photo was taken just a few minutes ago.  But my poor wrasses…

All six of the Carpenter’s wrasses have ich. So does/did the Temminick’s wrasse.  Everything else seems ok.  This confused me.

My Jack O Lantern Chalice with full polyp extension. Clearly it doesn't care abut the small level of nitrite!

My Jack O Lantern Chalice with full polyp extension. Clearly it doesn’t care abut the small level of nitrite!

The fish were fine and healthy when I put them in the tank.  They were eating within an hour.  They were swimming in normal patterns and were not suffering any aggression from their tank mates.  Then I came home from work last night and all of them were covered with white spots.  I urged them to visit the cleaner shrimp, but no dice.

I tested the water and found a trace of Nitrite.  Crap.  I really thought the tank would not cycle because of all I had done with the seeding. I’ve done this many times and have not faced this issue in years.  It’s a big aquarium and I reasoned that even a large number of new, small fish would not overload the ability of the bacteria to stay ahead of the bioload.  I guess I was wrong.  I hate being wrong.

There was no trace of ammonia, so the nitrite must be the problem.

Test kits from Seachem

Test kits from Seachem

Seachem Prime

Seachem Prime

I added two capfuls of Seachem Prime which has always been a great product for me, hoped for the best and returned to work.  When I got home about midnight ( I work 2:30 to 11:30 pm)  the lights were in the sunset phase and the corals were glowing.  I sat down to watch the tank only to see one of the Carpenter’s wrasses in it’s death throws, flitting around the tank, then sinking to the bottom.  Sadly I retrieved the dead fish and sent it to the great ocean in the sky.

As of this morning, there is still a trace of nitrite in the system, so I added more Prime.  I was able to get a good look at the Temminicks Wrasse and it appears to have shed all the ich!  The lights won’t come on until later, but I spotted two of the Carpenter’s wrasses hiding in the rocks and they still have spots — but perhaps not as many?  Hard to say.  Maybe it’s wishful thinking.  Maybe it’s me wanting real life to win out over best practices.

A nitrate test showed .01 ppm

A nitrate test showed .01 ppm

A couple of notes: This great research article on Reefkeeping by Randy Holmes Farley, suggests that the nitrite levels I’m seeing should not be toxic to  marine fish.  It’s worth a read if you are worried about nitrites.  Perhaps I had a brief ammonia spike that caused the stress that caused the ich?  Anybody have any thoughts on that?

In the past, when faced with ich, I have found that as long as the fish are eating and behaving well, they will often beat it.  In this tank there is no way to catch these fish in the rocks, so I can’t really remove them to treat them in a separate tank or do a freshwater dip.

I haven’t seen the black cap basslet since I put it in the tank.  Not surprising since they are reclusive and there are lots of caves.  But if it died along with one of the firefish, which I also haven’t seen, their decay may have caused the spike.

I’ll keep you posted, but I’m interested in all constructive comments!

Sad Update  

It’s been about two weeks since the outbreak and I’ve lost most of the fish in the aquarium.  A couple of days after the post above, three of the carpenter’s wrasses had survived and were spot free.  However within a few more days they had all passed.  The worst part however is that my healthy, robust tangs and clownfish were showing severe signs of either ich or velvet.  I’m now leaning more toward velvet as opposed to ich.  Wet Web Media has great info on this subject. Here is a link to their article.  There are also many threads from people who have suffered similar situations.

At present I’m hopeful that my Sailfin Tang, which I have had for 11 years, may have beaten the disease.  It was the first to present with the symptoms, but appears to have recovered.  The same with my yellow tang, though it still has hazy eyes.  For some reason, two green chromis, a firefish goby, and a watchman goby have shown no symptoms.  Sadly, I’ve lost a hippo tang, niger trigger, both of my Frostbite Clowns and several other fish that I’ve kept for years.  To say that I’m kicking myself in the ass for being stupid is putting it mildly.

I’ve seldom used quarantine procedures for my aquariums.  I don’t have the room or the patience required.  Because I’m always producing videos, I often have to move things around quickly in order to have new content.  With the exception of one other outbreak of velvet however, I have never been stung.  Certainly not like this time.

Fresh Water Dip Temminicks Wrasse. Did not help. Dipped it for 5 minutes. It looks bad in the photo, but returned to the aquarium where it began swimming almost normally. 8 hours later it was dead.

I’ve added a 15 watt UV sterilizer to the aquarium.  I’m hoping it will kill off the parasites when they are in their free swimming stages and that the bugs will be eradicated from the system.  I’ve talked to some people who recommend 3X that amount of UV in the tank, but I only had the budget for what I bought.  I ran an 8 watt version on my 120 for several years, and it proved sufficient.  So I’m hopeful.

What amazed me is how quickly the disease spread and killed the fish.  I’d go to work and a fish would look fine, and return 8 hours later and the same fish would be dead.   This happened with both clown fish.  During this time the fish continued to eat and behave normally.  Only when they were close to death would they begin to hang near the surface and breath heavily.

There is lots of evidence that freshwater dips will kill the parasites on the fish.  I tried this with the Temminick’s Wrasse, which I netted as it was breathing near the top of the water.  The fish survived the dip and seemed a bit happier when I returned it to the tank, but it died overnight.

A couple of other thoughts.  Cleaner Shrimp seemed to have made a difference for the surviving fish.  The tangs in particular have been paying regular visits to the shrimp, which have been busy removing parasites.  So, however did many of the fish that didn’t make it.  Most of my reading on the subject suggests that cleaner shrimp “help” but don’t solve the problem.  I think my situation proves that.

What’s next?  Tearing down the tank isn’t feasible right now.  Work is too busy and my son is getting married in a few weeks.  Not the time to mess up the house.  Besides that, the corals in the aquarium are prospering.  Removing them and tearing down the tank for a do over seems pointless.  If the few remaining fish survive, great.  I’ll leave the uv running and hope the disease is eradicated.

In the meantime, I’ll need to convert my coveted Tannin tank, a  55 gallon Amazon biotope to a genuine quarantine tank for whatever fish eventually wind up in the 180.  The house just won’t hold any more aquariums.

Pocillopora in Fincaster's 180 gallon aquarium

Pocillopora Coral in Fincaster’s 180 gallon aquarium

Turning the corner?

It’s been a week since my last update.  The sailfin tang and yellow tang, two chromis and goby have all survived to date with no sign of disease.  I still walk into the room cautiously, fearing the worst, but so far they appear to have “beaten” it.  I’ve been reading countless threads and blogs about ich and the question of whether it can ever be eradicated, or if it is “always in the tank.”  I have been a believer that it is always there and the fish keep it at bay as long as they are healthy.  There are a lot of people who believe that running a fallow (fishless) tank for six weeks, will kill the parasite because, without a host, it has nothing to live on.   I think I’ll need to do a Fincast (video) on the topic and look at both arguments.

In the meantime I have the UV running, the tank water parameters are looking great and the fish, well — so far so good.

UPDATE: 5 Weeks later…

I am pleased to report that the aquarium is disease free.  The sailfin and yellow tangs survived along with the goby and the two chromis.   Two firefish, a pair of clowns and a tailspot blenny have been added and after 3 weeks they are also thriving.  For now, the UV filter is still running. It is attached to the return on an old canister filter.  Corals are growing and showing amazing polyp extension. The tank appears to be back on track.

I’ll be looking to add two more tangs.  I’ll need to have a hippo, just because kids love them, and maybe an orange shoulder, which I have never kept.  I’d love to have a rare tang such as a Gem or Zebra — but that may break the bank.  Otherwise I’ll be looking for niche fish — the ones that live in crevices, or rest in corals, hang out in caves — that kind of thing.  My original plan was to introduce a number of flasher wrasses, and I still think I will try.   Patience John.  Patience.



John Carlin is a fish geek who is also a local newscaster. Fish+Newscaster=Fincaster.

One Response to “The 180 Build: Adding Fish and fighting Nitrites, and ich and velvet”

  1. <path_to_url> AJS

    I had a similar issue in which an Atlantic Blue Tang was fine for weeks. Then he developed white spots I pulled him out of the tank treated with copper and freshwater dips. he lasted another 4 days then perished. While the remaining fish in the 150 started to follow. I added Aqua-Pro Cure to the 150. Within the next week every fish had perished as well. The Starry-Eyed Hermit Crab was the only survivor. I also added a I added an nie watt UV sterilizer as well That was August 2nd. November 1oth I added 3 Green Chromis to the tank and they have been doing fine. Yet I am still nervous in adding fish.


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