How to Avoid 'New Tank' Syndrome

Three Parts:Preparing the tankAdding beneficial bacteria to the tankAdding fish to the tank

New tank syndrome, also known as the Nitrogen Cycle, happens when a new tank is started. First, poisonous ammonia, produced by the fish, reaches a high level. An ammonia-eating bacteria will then grow to clear it up and the level falls. This produces equally-poisonous nitrite, which reaches a high level. Next, a new nitrite-eating bacteria develops to clear it up and the level falls, producing relatively safe nitrate. Nitrate is removed by routine water changes. This process takes several weeks, sometimes months and can kill the first few fish! You can start a tank in two days that is then safe for the first fish.

Part 1
Preparing the tank

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    Give your tank a good wash, without soap or other harmful chemicals, before filling it with water. Rinse your decorations and gravel as well.
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    Set up your new tank with gravel/sand, ornaments, lights, (heater for tropical) and a filter.
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    Add water and dechlorinator.
    • Fill the tank with cold water. Make sure you don't add any soap or other harmful chemicals to the water. Add nothing except water conditioner, which will make the water safe for fish.
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    Switch on the heater and filter and leave to run.

Part 2
Adding beneficial bacteria to the tank

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    Find a fish-keeping buddy with a mature tank (over 6 months without problems) or a trusted local fish shop.
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    Get some of their filter media. This is where all of the beneficial bacteria lives. This bacteria is not free-floating, so just getting some of their water won't do much good. Warn them at least two weeks in advance so they can put extra media in their filter. Otherwise, they might hurt their own colony of bacteria by giving you some of theirs.
    • Bring the media home in a bucket with water from their tank in it. Get it home as soon as you can or the bacteria will start to die off without a source of ammonia.
    • It needs to be kept out of sunlight - UV will kill the precious bacteria.
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    Add the media to your filter.
    • Add a source of ammonia besides fish, such as fish food or household ammonia. This will keep the bacteria alive until you can get your fish.
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    Test the water before you get fish. If the bacteria can process the ammonia you give them in 24 hours (i.e., you have 0 ammonia, 0 nitrite, and some nitrate) your tank is now fully cycled and you are ready for your fish.
    • Get a pH test for the tank if you don't have one. This way, you can test for ammonia, nitrites and nitrates in your tank water. Make sure ammonia and nitrites are always 0, and that the nitrates are below 40ppm. If ammonia or nitrite levels go too high, the fish will be get ammonia burns and most likely die.
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Part 3
Adding fish to the tank

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    Feed the fish sparingly twice a day.
    • Feed the fish as much as they can eat in 2 to 4 minutes.[citation needed] For tanks with a smaller amount of fish or smaller fish, feed them once a day, as much as they can eat in 1 to 2 minutes.[citation needed] Healthy fish always act hungry, so overfeeding is hard to avoid.
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    Test regularly and monitor nitrate levels. If nitrate goes over 40ppm, perform a large water change.
    • If you see an ammonia or nitrite spike in any quantity do 50% water changes until it clears up.
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    Don't leave the hood lights for more than 8 to 12 hours, or algae will be encouraged to grow (and might take over your tank). Too much algae isn't healthy for your fish.
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    Get rid of algae that is growing on your fake plants and ornaments. Take them out and rinse them under cold water without soap or other stuff. Then place them back in your tank. If it's on the glass, scrub it off using a cloth that hasn't been used.

Tips

  • Always use dechlorinator at the recommended dose.
  • Never add more fish if your water quality is not perfect.
  • Control nitrate levels by changing 20% of the water once a week.
  • Siphon out the fish muck, dead leaves, debris etc., at this time. Using sand instead of gravel makes this easier because muck stays on the top.
  • The term "ppm" = part per million. Just follow the test kit instructions.
  • If your tank is heavily stocked, you may struggle to keep the nitrate levels down below 40 ppm. Reduce levels by doing a 20% water change every three days, four times in a row. Reduce fish numbers permanently or get a bigger tank if you want lots of fish.
  • Add more fish, two at a time, but at least a week apart. Add the smallest fish first, or else big fish will (and might eat) dominate new small fish.

Warnings

  • All tanks and systems have bacteria, good and bad, pests and disease organisms present all the time. Just like germs in the environment for us. You are risking introducing these into your new tank with the beneficial bacteria you want. This is also a risk every time you bring in new fish or plants.
  • Many fish treatments and medications will upset your new tank's balance, consider removing them to a separate quarantine tank for treatment.
  • Your newly cycled tank is still quite fragile, follow the tips to avoid problems.

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