New Tank Syndrome

New Tank Syndrome is the buildup of ammonia or nitrite in a newly established, fully cycled aquarium.   Since both ammonia and nitrite are highly toxic to fish, New Tank Syndrome usually results in the total wipeout of all livestock in an aquarium system — sometimes to referred to as a ‘tank crash’.

But it should be noted that New Tank Syndrome is not just limited to newly established tanks.  A mature, established tank that has been suddenly overstocked or carelessly cared for, is equally susceptible.

New Tank Syndrome And Ammonia

How can ammonia occur in a fully cycled established aquarium?

In a properly cycled aquarium, ammonia levels are always at zero.  But in instances of regular overfeeding, overstocking, or when a dead and decaying fish has not been removed, ammonia is produced.  If our saltwater aquarium’s biological filter is up to the task, this ammonia will be immediately converted to nitrite and then into far less harmful nitrate.  When the biological filter is working well, all three processes of breaking down ammonia, nitrite and nitrate occur simultaneously.

But if the biological filter is not able to handle the bioload, or when the biological filter has been compromised due perhaps to medications that decimate the population of beneficial bacteria, then ammonia will not be consumed quickly enough.  This results in measurable ammonia in the water.  This is also true when an aquarium is overstocked — too much fish waste breaks down into ammonia that the biological filter cannot process quickly enough.

For newer aquariums less than a year old, simple round-the-clock ammonia monitoring is possible by way of Seachem’s Ammonia Alert.  Ammonia Alert detects levels of ammonia as low as 0.02 ppm and is useful in both freshwater and saltwater aquariums.

New Tank Syndrome And Nitrite

How can nitrite occur in an established aquarium?

The presence of nitrite in an established aquarium is very similar to the circumstances of  how ammonia might occur — overfeeding, overstocking and a compromised biological filter.

“Why Is My Fish Tank Cloudy?”

This is the most common question overheard at most local fish stores.  If the cloudy water is the result of New Tank Syndrome and not, say, a calcium preciptation event, the aquarium owner will likely not have much livestock left to go home to.

When an aquarium becomes cloudy and gives off an unpleasant odor, and the fish are nervous and breathing rapidly, this is a sure-fire sign of a toxic event.  A smelling, cloudy fish tank is a definite indicator of New Tank Syndrome.

How To Reduce Ammonia And Nitrite In The Event Of New Tank Syndrome 

In the event of New Tank Syndrome, perform a water change of 30% or more and cease feeding entirely.

Note that a single large water changes of more than 30% is extremely stressful to fish and especially corals and invertebrates.  But compared to ammonia or nitrite poisoning, the stress from a series of large water changes is the lesser of two evils.

In the event of New Tank Syndrome, Seachem’s Prime is our best ally!

Prime immediately neutralize the ammonia and nitrite in the tank, and the great thing about it is that it is completely safe to use and is

seachem prime dechlorinator

Seachem’s Prime

a very trusted product that has been around for years. Prime will immediately break down ammonia and nitrite into less toxic compounds — just remember to follow the correct dosage on the bottle based on the size of your aquarium. This will provide immediate relief to your fish and other livestock and prevent them from dying from ammonia and nitrite poisoning.

Further Plan Of Action

If at all possible, remove fish and other livestock to another established aquarium.  If that is not possible, your local LFS may be able to help in this regard, providing a plastic vat for you to temporarily house your aquarium inhabitants.   We do not want to transfer our live rock to temporary housing however as we need our beneficial bacteria to re-establish themselves undisturbed in the aquarium.

Re-Introducing Livestock After A Tank Crash

Once ammonia and nitrite test at zero levels, we can re-introduce our aquarium inhabitants, starting with the corals and invertebrates.  Corals and invertebrates add little to the overall bioload and will give the biological filter time to re-establish.  Proper acclimatization procedures should be followed of course.

Fish should be re-introduced gradually, at not more than one or two a week.  Less aggressive fish should be re-introduced first to minimize territorial disputes with later newcomers.  At this point, it is important to treat your tank with the same care as if it were a newly cycled aquarium — which it is.

If overstocking was the root problem of your ammonia and nitrite problem, decide on which fish you want to keep.  Your local LFS will probably be glad to adopt the rest.

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