These three little words can be a death knell to many a new aquarist. An immature filtration system can mean that fluctuating levels of ammonia can become lethal, killing new fish stocks and destroying an aquarium. A mature system has the bacteria needed to breakdown ammonia easily and promote healthy conditions.
A way to avoid NTS is to ensure that your filtration system is ready to cope with the addition of fish. Many aquarists try a method called fishless cycling to ready their system, this means adding ammonia to boost the creation of helpful bacteria that break it down into nitrates.
Step by Step Guide:
Set up the tank, add de-chlorinated or RO water and leave the filter running. It’s advisable to then let the tank settle for at least 24 hours. Do not add any fish until the process is complete!
Work out how much ammonia you need to add. Use an Ammonia Test Kit from Swell UK to monitor the levels as you go. Adding the ammonia in this way encourages the ammonia consuming nitrosomonas bacteria to develop. This will turn in into nitrite.
After 24 hours the ammonia levels should start to drop. Don’t stop there however, as it can take while longer. Add a little more ammonia, to bring the levels back up to 2 ppm – 4 ppm. The nitrite levels will be very high now, keep an eye on them with a suitable test kit. Nitrite is even more lethal than ammonia so this is the key factor to stabilise.
When nitrite levels begin to fall, this means that the nitrospira bacteria is forming, transforming it into harmless nitrate.
It is a lengthy process and can take around 4 to 8 weeks before the nitrite and ammonia readings are at 0ppm. Fish can now be added to the water!
However it’s not just new aquariums that can fall prey to ammonia problems. Even an established tank can develop an abundance of this toxin, for many reasons:
- Too many fish
- Lack of maintenance
It’s important to ensure that your tank is not overstocked with fish. This can quickly lead to a waste problem that your aquarium filter cannot handle. Keeping the recommended number of fish for your tank and maintain an adequate filter should help alleviate the problem.
Do not overfeed your fish – too much food causes a huge waste problem and unhealthy fish. Remove excess food after a few minutes to avoid a build-up of nutrients from the leftovers. Consider a feeding station to contain the food, this also gives you a chance to watch the fish feed.
Good maintenance is crucial to avoid NTS. Regular water changes of around 15-25% can help keep the water in good condition.
Regular maintenance of the filter is key too. Remember to change the media routinely and also to only rinse out biological media in old aquarium water. Tap water will kill of the bacteria you have painstakingly encouraged.
Keeping on top of ammonia levels can take a little work, especially at first. But the rewards of a healthy, balanced aquarium and happy fish are more than worth it!