I have seen many posts on different forums and Facebook groups concerning new keepers and fish dying. It almost seems to be that new keepers are over anxious to stock their shiny new tanks with fish, which is understandable. This is where the problems begin, as many local fish stores (lfs) do not take the time to explain the cycle to purchasers, instead concentrating on taking in the money. A lot of lfs will sell tanks and fish on the same day, a recipe for disaster. So what is the cycle and what is new tank syndrome?

In its basic form, new tank syndrome is causing your fish to suffer ammonia poisoning and die. Why does this happen and what can you do to prevent it? I make no apologies for the “Noddy” explanation that follows.

You nice shiny tank, equipment and sand are all basically sterile. Although bacteria exist on every surface we touch, they are of the wrong sort and not enough in quantity to process the waste that your livestock will produce. As humans we are lucky to have a sewerage system which allows out bodily waste to be flushed away and dealt with by someone else. Fish in an enclosed environment on the other hand, do not have this facility and have to live in their own waste. So what can we do to overcome this problem?

In a freshwater system you will probably have a filter of some sort, either internal or an external canister. In a saltwater environment, you may also have a filter, but possibly live rock too, which is a filter in its own right. Lets deal with the basics first.

If you have a new filter, you will need to mature it before adding fish to the system. How is this done? You can purchase expensive bio filter “starters”, you can use a cup of sand from an existing system or you can do it from scratch. Whichever you choose, you will then fill your system, set the filters running and bring up to temperature and have your test kits, you are now ready to start the “cycle”. This is the conversion of toxic waste products into less harmful products.

To begin the cycle (I will deal with live rock later) you will need to add a food source to the system. Some people put a prawn in, some people use pure ammonia and some just use fish food, this is known as the fishless cycle. Please don’t use cheap fish to do this, it isn’t really ethical these days. Once your food source begins to rot, it will produce ammonia. Ammonia is extremely toxic to all life in an enclosed system. The good news is that there are bacteria which will feed on ammonia. These bacteria will multiply quickly to a point where ammonia is reduced to nitrite. Nitrite is also poisonous to aquarium life in high levels (above 0.1ppm in a saltwater aquarium and ideally should be 0). Once nitrite is visible on your test kit you know the cycle is underway, different bacteria will now grow to process this product into the less toxic nitrate. Nitrate should ideally be below 10ppm for a system with corals in, up to 50ppm is acceptable for fish only systems or freshwater. With sponge/ canister filtration, this is where the cycle ends. Your nitrates will continue increasing unless you dilute it with a water change and water with a lower nitrate content to that in the system. Keep adding small amounts of food or whatever you used to start the process and make sure it is immediately processed by the filter, only at this time can you consider adding fish.

If you have live rock that has been out of the water for a while, you will experience “die off” on the extremities. Once the rock is in your system the die off will be your ammonia source. Bacteria is already living within live rock, so you have have an almost ready made filter. There will still be an ammonia spike, there will also still be nitirite before you then see nitrate readings. The tank should be “fed” again a few times to ensure the bacteria is sufficiently colonised.

Once you are seeing no ammonia and (preferably) 0 nitrite on your test kits, it is safe to start adding livestock. However, do not go mad at this stage and fill to capacity. Each time you add a fish to the system, the bacteria have to catch up. If you buy 3 or 4 fish, don’t feed them for a day or two so they are not producing excessive amounts of waste. After a couple of days, start feeding sparingly and your bacteria will soon be up to correct levels, you can then add more, feeding sparingly each time. The big problem here is that once new owners see correct levels, they go out and buy multiple fish and (over)feed them. What happens now is that the fish will excrete ammonia which there is not enough bacteria to process. Ammonia levels will rise quickly and the fish will suffer and potentially die. This is new tank syndrome. This is what frustrates new owners the most and puts of untold numbers of potential fishkeepers off the hobby.

Hopefully this is a basic guide of what new tank syndrome is and how to avoid it. Happy fishkeeping.

As many of us go down the path of natural filtration methods for our aquariums, live rock seems to be the biggest investment made for dentrification. Whilst good quality live rock is unarguably excellent at it's job, it doesn't hurt to have a little extra help, and if it too is natural? Well read on........


Whilst reading a post in the forum I often frequent, it was mentioned about using live tropical oysters to filter the aquarium. The eBay link provided showed the seller asking for £4.50 plus postage for these creatures. A reply was made concerning oysters that are sold in the supermarket. Apparently, although farmed and raised in Scotland, the oysters used for human consumption in the UK are Pacific oysters, with origins in much warmer climes. These oysters are available in Morrisons, Sainsburys and Tescos (I am sure there are others too) for about 50p each!! Below I will detail my acclimatising them to my aquarium.


I don't know about you, but when I buy food from the shop, I expect it to be dead, not so with oysters!! You need to choose an oyster with a closed shell, if it is in any way open, it will be bad and of no use to you. When the oysters are farmed, they are packed in ice for the journey to the shop, where they sit in a refrigerated cabinet, possibly on top of ice. The first job is to remove the oysters from the packaging and place them in a container suitable for holding water. DO NOT add any water at this stage, just merely place them somewhere they can reach room temperature.


Oster Oyster


It is very weird watching shells. As the oyster warms up, it begins moving around. This can cause the shell the "seesaw" around the container which is a little off putting. Gradually start adding water from the aquarium they will be living in until the shells are covered. This should ideally take about an hour, although you can take longer ifyou wish, but don't rush it. By the time the shell is covered, you should find that the two halves are opening a little, this shows that the creature is well and truly alive. At this time, you can remove them from the container and place them in your aquarium.





After a few hours, you will find that the shells will "gape" allowing you to see inside the oyster. They are not a very pretty sight, but I am lucky enough to be able to sump mine. They will still be able to filter feed and will also release gametes into the water column providing a plankton supply for thecorals and other filter feeding organisms.


Oyster Oyster


I will be keeping an eye on the progress of the oysters and will follow up when there is some progress.

Aquarium filtration and nuisance algae removal using a scrubber has been discussed at length on the Marine Fish UK forum. I didn't take too much convincing to read more about the process on Algae Scrubbers.net which made me feel confident enough to try one out on my 3'x 2'x 2' reef aquarium.

I have used 25mm pipe, super glue, cable ties and some 7 count plastic canvas (used in cross stitch) for my project. A slot was cut in the horizontal pipework, long enough for me to place the canvas in. The canvas was then secured by plastic cable ties. A basic "L" type design, it was fitted to my aquarium on the 9th January 2011.


Algae scrubber 1 Algae scrubber 2
Algae scrubber 3  


As you can see, water was fed from a Maxijet 1200 powerhead, via a flexi pipe to the scrubber head. Lighting was initially provided on one side of the screen by a 11w cfl (energy effieicent) bulb, equivalent to 60w standard incandescent bulb. This was clipped to the side of the sump by some cheap clamps bought off eBay.

So, after 1 week, the screen was looking like this:


Algae scrubber 6 Algae scrubber 7


Having read more on the algae scrubber forum, I decided to increase the lighting to both sides of the screen, and increase the bulb size. I also used some tin foil on the uprights of the cabinet to reflect lost light back towards the screen. The bulb size became a 20w cfl (80w equivalent) on both sides. Results from week 2 below:


Algae scrubber 4 Algae scrubber 5
Algae scrubber 8 Algae scrubber 9
Algae scrubber 10  


Over the subsequent weeks, the algae on my scrubber began to grow quicker and greener as nutrients were being used up (see below). I upgraded the Maxijet 1200 to a 3000lph pump, the greater the flow of water the better the filtration properties apparently. I had already turned off my skimmer to prevent items that could be utilised as food for my corals being removed from the system, but I was now about to remove the JBL BioNitratex from the sump. Until now, nitrates had been held at a steady 5ppm by 2 sachets in the sump.


Algae scrubber 11 Algae scrubber 12
Algae scrubber 13 Algae scrubber 14
Algae scrubber 17 Algae scrubber 16
Algae scrubber 15  


It was mentioned to me that my algae scrubber wasn't receiving the greatest amount of light due to my lack of light reflection. I was pointed to a great article on how to make some cheap reflectors out of beer cans, so I begrudgingly sacrificed 2 cans in my attempt:


Algae scrubber 18 Algae scrubber 19
Algae scrubber 20 Algae scrubber 21
Algae scrubber 21 Algae scrubber 22


With the increased light and flow, my algae scrubber was able to remove more "muck" from the tank. The problem is that the screen was now becoming slimey and dark green, almost black. This meant regular cleanings (every 2 to 3 days) to remove the slime algae. It was explained to me that nutrients are stored in the live rock. As the nutrients become less in the water column, they leach from the rocks causing this type of algae. I am removing about 60 grammes of this algae from my screen on a bi- weekly basis, so hopefully the nutrient levels will drop soon enough to allow the "real green" algae to show through and filter correctly.


Algae scrubber 23 Algae scrubber 24


Luckily (for me), a fellow reefer on one of the forums I frequent was breaking his tank down. I was able to have "first dibs" on his algae scrubber, which again was a DIY effort, but much better than mine. My parameters before swapping to the new algae scrubbing unit were:  Nitrite 0ppm, Nitrate 5ppm and Phosphate at 0.

24th December 2018

So, after 6 years and promising myself to get a scrubber again, I have finally done something about it. I have seen one other review of this unit from a couple of years ago, the seller has added extra lights each side now. For about £120 GBP, I don't think it is too bad and much better than I could make:

Algae Scrubber Algae Scrubber 
Algae Scrubber  Algae Scrubber 


27th December 2018

So, I managed to get the unit into my sump yesterday. It wasn't quite long enough to sit on the brace bars, so had to make a basic support for it. Headroom for easy maintenance could be an issue, but I expect it to improve once nutrients lower and I can remove the skimmer. It is also difficult to remove the light covers as they fit in a groove and slide in from the top, so difficult to assess the flow across the screen.

 Algae Scrubber Algae Scrubber 

There is only one drain on this unit, no emergency overflow, but the hole is quite large and fitted with a tank connector. Once running, as I thought, it was quite noisy draining out of the unit with the water splashing. A quick trip to the LFS and a purchase of some 38mm flexi tube and it now drains under the surface, now silent running

 Algae Scrubber

My thoughts of using the original screen went out of the window as it is about 2" short of the slot. I have had to fit it as a temporary measure as the supplied new screen hadn't been roughed up. I am hoping that the green which grows this week on the old screen, I can harvest and rub into the new screen to help seed that a bit quicker. Nutrient levels have been allowed to get out of hand, so am looking forward to seeing how this goes. Once new screen is fitted and running, I shall take some parameters and post, then follow the experience. 

5th January 2019

So, it has been going for 7 days and the screen is filling with an oily algae on both sides which is good, shows some of the excessive nutrients are being reduced. I am also dosing vodka at 5ml per day whilst bringing the levels down. I am still vodka dosing alongside in an attempt to get levels lower, before removing the skimmer. When first tested No3 was a shocking 50ppm, today it has come down to 25ppm, still excessive, but better. Po4 is showing as 0.5, both tests are Salifert. 10g of algae came off the screens today, so I have used it to seed the new screen.

Algae Scrubber   Algae Scrubber  
Side 1 Side 2

New screen, seeded with older algae and filling the complete slot.

  Algae Scrubber


10th January 2019

I have been somewhat disappointed with the performance of the scrubber this week, although it has only been 5 days growth. The screen is streaky, indicating there is either not enough flow, or the slot is clogging. Growth on this screen today didn't even register above 0g today! Vodka dosing is still continuing at 5ml per day, nitrates have remained at 25ppm and Phosphate at 0.5. 

Algae Scrubber   Algae Scrubber  
Side 1 Side 2

I am not 100% sure what the flow rate of the fitted pump was, but I know it was less than the Maxijet 1200 I am having to use to mix my salt now. I have taken the opportunity of swapping pumps over today, hopefully that will help to increase the amount of flow across all of the screen.

18th January 2019

The spraybar seemed to be splashing outwards and upon removal seemed a bit blocked. Cleaning off the screen, I am not sure if the slot is wide enough, something to check on. So I got a whole 6g of oily algae off today. No3 has dropped to 10ppm, Po4 is still 0.5.

Algae Scrubber   Algae Scrubber  
Side 1 Side 2

24th February 2019

More than a little disappointed with the scrubber at the moment, it doesn't seem to be producing any better results. I have increased the lighting period by 2 hours this week, result? Algae removal decreased by 2g!! I have taken the whole unit out today for a clean (something I never had to do with my DIY unit) and algae had built up inside quite a bit. I didn't believe the leds were particularly good at the outset, and seeing how they have(n't) lasted over only a couple of months proves I was possibly correct.

Algae Scrubber   Algae Scrubber  
Algae Scrubber  Algae Scrubber 

7th April 2019

I have all the bits together now to upgrade my scrubber. 2x 12v 10w 660nm lights, 2x12v female connectors and waterproof joints. Leaving the scrubber running in its current configuration is yielding less than 20g per fortnight of oily algae, so totally inefficient. I would not recommend the purchase of this scrubber to readers, unless you can purchase it for sub £100 without the incapable lighting. While it is out of action, I will also widen the slot as it seems to clog very quickly. My aim is to fit it all over the Easter weekend, touch wood.


Algae Scrubber 

19th April 2019

Ok, so I have finally found the time to add the new lights. These are 10w, 660nm 12 volt lights, for safety. The removed led strips were almost falling off and not very efficient. Because the slot was so small, it blocked easily. as you can see, almost as much algae growth on the window as there is on the screen!

Algae Scrubber   Algae Scrubber  
Algae Scrubber   

I bought myself some waterproof connectors and connected my new lights up and tested them. Mounting the lights on the scrubber was not an option as the light would be too low. Some bargain window board was cut to the width of the scrubber, fitted in the slots and lights attached Just for safety's sake, I taped the board on the outside as well, "just in case". A tip I saw on another forum was to cut some filter tubing an cover the 12v connector fittings and (hopefully), prevent corrosion.

Algae Scrubber   Algae Scrubber  
Algae Scrubber  Algae Scrubber  
Algae Scrubber    

And there it is, running with the new lights. Hopefully it will be better than what was there previously and I will now get some good growth. I am thinking I may need 2 more, s there are 2 on each side and giving full screen cover.

 Algae Scrubber Algae Scrubber

22nd April 2019

So, unfortunately as expected, the 10w led is far too powerful and focussed.The result of this is a big white patch in the centre of the screen where it has burned away the growth. I have reduced the time the light is on from 18 hours to 15 hours and I have also tried to diffuse the light while I work out how I am going to solve this new problem. I have ended up with this now.

 Algae Scrubber Algae Scrubber

27th April 2019

Some more modifications made today. I have found a way to hang the lights away from the screen. As you can see from the following pictures, the led really did burn the algae!! That said, 18g harvested today in a week, wasn't getting that before with the old lighting set up, so onwards and upwards to increased growth. 

Algae Scrubber   Algae Scrubber  
Side 1 Side 2

Both lights are now about 10cm from the screen allowing for the spread of the light, hopefully it will spread enough. On a previous home made version, 3w leds were enough to produce great growth without burning, so 3 times the power could prove to be a bit troublesome.

 Algae Scrubber Algae Scrubber

6th May 2019

Here we go, now the results are starting to be achieved. With the light timings lowered from 18 hours per day to 13, in a week the screens have produced 30g, that's a just over 50% increase on last week. The big white burn is filling in nicely, so hopefully that will produce some good growth now. Once the screens are filling with a decent amount, I shall increase the lighting again gradually until up to 18 hours. Still got a way to go to top my 200+g per week, but now moving in the right direction!  

Algae Scrubber   Algae Scrubber  
Side 1 Side 2

14th July 2019

I have become a little disillusioned with the process of the screen, still only around 20g per week after 7 months. I recall my previous scrubber also struggled to begin good, strong growth and had to put 2x 45w cfl bulbs on both sides for a while. Luckily I have kept the bulbs and the clip on holders, so today they have been fitted along with some home made reflectors. I am hoping now that the next few weeks of intensive light will bring the nutrients out, get rid of the slime algae and allow the good stuff to grow.

Algae Scrubber 

23rd July 2019

One week of cfl has brought double the amount of growth seen previously. However, I believe the water flow is still not quite right which is causing the brown growth. To help reflect the light which would be otherwise lost, I have also covered some cardboard with white paper to fit behind. 

Algae Scrubber   Algae Scrubber  
Side 1 Side 2


Algae Scrubber 

I wrote this article in 2004. At the time I couldn't afford to buy or run a reverse osmosis unit, so was looking for ways to soften water to keep discus. A simple, yet effective way to lower your pH and hardness.

Aquarium water chemistry can be one of the most frustrating aspects of fishkeeping. If you decide to adjust the water chemistry to suit the particular fish you keep, there is a cheap and highly successful method of producing large amounts of soft and acid water. Filter it over peat!!! Remember all water chemistry adjustment should be carried out away from the aquarium, hence the method detailed below. This is a simple and cheap method which should cost you less than a tenner and will produce thousands of gallons of peat filtered aquarium water. You will need:-

Peat Filtering Peat Filtering Peat Filtering
Filter Floss Clean, new bucket Peat moss


Peat Filtering

What a waste of a good bucket, still it is all for the good of your aquarium fish. The bucket must be new and thoroughly rinsed. A hole needs to be drilled in the bottom, about 8- 10mm should be sufficient. 


Filter floss should now be placed on the bottom of your bucket. Make sure it is a good layer, about 2- 3" thick. Remember, this will compact under the weight of the peat and the water. Make sure you give it a good rinse, preferably in hot water prior to use, this should help to rinse off any nasties.

Peat Filtering



Peat Filtering You should now fill your bucket with peat until it is about 3/4 full. Try to compact it down a bit and then add a little more. At this time you should fill a watering can or similar with hot water. Pour this over the peat and allow it to drain (onto the garden, down the drain). Once this has been done you are able to start filtering water for your aquarium.


Find yourself a suitable receptacle to suspend your peat filter over, I choose a water butt as it will hold 40 gallons. You are now ready to pour water over the peat and allow it to drain into your water butt. Depending on the size of the hole, you can reckon on about 12 gallons per hour. If you can adjust your hose to run slow enough, this is preferable to walking back and forth with a watering can. A bucket of peat this size should filter about 200 gallons of tap water, depending on your individual water supply.

Peat Filtering

Water comes out of the tap at a pH of 8.3 and with a carbonate hardness of 13, enough to stand a spoon in!! After filtering, the results are pH 5 and KH 3, quite a difference huh? As with reverse osmosis and other purification devices, it is necessary to rebuild your water to the required consistency using plain tap water. You will find that the filtered water is a "teas stained" colour. This is the tanins from the peat and is quite natural. Some people like me like the look (it is an acquired taste I grant you) as it makes the fish enhance their colouration. For those that don't like the look, a little bit of carbon run in the filter will soon clear it up.


There are a few people who have tried the peat filtering method, comments are shown below from some who have contacted me regarding their experiences:

Hi Mark,

I just tried peat filtering as per your instructions - planning to re-purpose my 70l tank for tetras and rasboras :)

Tap water readings were pH 8.6, KH 14
Peat filtered water was pH <5, KH <1

That's pretty incredible! Thanks for the info online :) Really glad I have tried it!

Flash Wilson

Below is the result of your feedback form.  It was submitted by
 () on Tuesday, April 15, 2003 at 03:54:14:BST

name: Dave

Hi,  I've been doing the peat filtering thing for years now and think it is a remarkable and cheap way to lower the KH of the tap water.  What test kit do you use to measure the KH and PH after the peat filtering.  I'm wondering if my AP color match system not as accurate as it could be because of the tea colored water.  Thoughts? 
Thanks  and you have a wonderful site. 


Below is the result of your feedback form.  It was submitted by
 () on Monday, May 05, 2003 at 23:51:21:BST

name: Colin

Hi Mark, 
I saw your peat filter and tried it.... I have to say that I was impressed with the results. I was chatting via e-mail to Dan and he mentioned your contraption and as my water is, like yours, as hard as nails I thought i would have nothing to lose!  Any way, I was wondering if you would mind if I plagerised your articles on this subject for the club I belong to, it's an online club. I will rewrite it and edit it, but it is such a simple and effective way of water management that I would like to publicise it. 
Thanks in advance. 


Mark, thanks for the DIY section.... my German Blue Rams thank you too...
Buddy Gardner
Knoxville, TN', USA - Thursday, 05 June, 2003 at 21:16:14 (BST)

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