New Tank Syndrome (NTS): The Nitrogen Cycle

January 5th, 2011 by Paddock Farm Leave a reply »

What is NTS?

New tank syndrome (NTS) is an issue that affects most new tanks.  It normally presents itself with an brown algae on the tank front and although isn’t likely to cause your fish any problems in itself, it may damage your plants, certainly isn’t very nice to look at; and the underlying cause is something needing attention.

NTS will normally appear within days of initial set-up and can last for 8-12 weeks and even once clear could reoccur for up to 3 months.

What do I do?

The algae should be removed from plant life (so it doesn’t inhibit light), and you can use a floaty to remove the algae from the glass; this will likely have to be repeated every couple of days (a range of cleaning supplies are available) .  NTS is natural and is a result of a build up of ammonia.  Ammonia is secreted by fish in liquid form and their solid waste breaks down to produce ammonia too.  Ammonia is deadly to fish and to combat it, it needs to be broken down by bacteria.

Bacteria can be categorised into helpful and harmful.  Helpful bacteria aids in the breakdown and removal of ammonia, you’ll find it in your gravel, in your filter and naturally, in your water.  This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to remove chlorine from tap water before adding to your tank as chlorine will kill the helpful bacteria and thus allow the ammonia to increase.

Did you know? Ammonia will reduce the amount of oxygen your fish can absorb and therefore suffocate them.

What causes it?

As ammonia is broken down, it is converted to nitrites; a substance that is less toxic to fish (but toxic nonetheless).  The bacteria that can break down ammonia develops relatively quickly (just a few days), but trading ammonia for high levels of nitrites isn’t necessarily much better.

A slower growing, but potentially much more useful bacteria is meanwhile springing up in your tank; this bacteria can break down nitrites into nitrates.  In high levels, nitrates can still be harmful but are comparatively easy to control and within normal levels won’t usually cause you any problem and nitrates are even used by plants to grow!

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