The Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle

All new aquarium setups are on the list for New Tank Syndrome and its deadly affects. New tank syndrome usually takes place within the first 3 months of setting your new aquarium up. This happens because your tank does not have enough bacteria built up to break down the ammonia to nitrite and from nitrite to nitrate.

Live plants are great to have in your home aquarium because, not only do they add character and builds the natural look and feel for the fish but they also can help breaking down the built up ammonia and nitrites levels in the water. But you also need to remember that any dead or rotten plant matter is going to add extra stress to your aquarium and water and it will make the ammonia levels climb if not removed regulary.

Once you have place the first fish in your aquarium, you have started the cycling process ( The Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle ). The fish will start producing waste which is going to start your ammonia levels climbing. By feeding the fish, the more waste it is going to create and the higher the levels will climb before the benificial bacteria called Nitrosomonas has a chance to colonize in the tank and filter which breaks down the ammonia. It can take anywhere up to 5 weeks or more for this bacteria to fully establish in your tank and filter. If you have too much ammonia in your tank, it can damage your fish’s gills that can kill your fish very quickly and is more dangerous at a higher temperatures and ph levels of 7 and above.

You can do a water change to help drop your ammonia levels in your tank or there are products you can purchase that will neutralize the ammonia if the levels get too high but don’t forget if you neutralize the ammonia, you are preventing bacteria from colonizing and forming so you need to be very careful.

Now you have nitrites in your aquarium water and it is very important to keep the nitrites to minimal levels, or ever better none at all like the ammonia. Now your aquarium will start colonizing a bacteria called Nitrobacter in your filter and tank that will break down the nitrites to nitrates. Like the first bacteria mentioned above, this one as well takes quiet a few weeks to establish well. Nitrite will irritate your fish and it also affects the blood and they develop Brown Blood Disease. This stops the fish being able to absorb oxygen from the water which can result in death.

A water change will help drop the nitrite levels.

Now the nitrites is being broken down to nitrate. Nitrate is the last one of this process. Nitrate is no where near as dangerous as ammonia or nitrite. Even though this is not a deadly chemical, it is still best to keep it to a very minimum. Regular water changes will help keep nitrate to a minimum.

At any time when you are trying to treat your water for one deadly chemical, usually another will change in level, so make sure you keep a eye on them all. Huge fluctuations in the levels of these chemicals will most definately end up in death for the fish. Most fish that die in the first few months of a tank setup usually have fallen to New Tank Syndrome.
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