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Old 11-14-2012, 11:27 PM   #1
Fishgazer
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Default Why does my pH keep dropping?!

75 gallon long:
1 marble angelfish, 3"
1 African spotted leaf fish, 2" (Ctenopoma acutirostre)
1 krib
4 electric green tetras
2 dwarf gouramis
2 cories

1 black angel moved to hospital tank

I'm going to try to make this long story short. I am an on and off again aquarium hobbyist. I just got back into it several months ago and started with a 37-gallon livebearer tank. Everyone is happy in there, and the water is fine.

Over three months ago we got a 75-gallon. Opting for the "natural" look, we used a sand substrate (for freshwater tanks) and filled with plants. We also found a large 4'-long piece of driftwood near our local river, which we soaked in boiling water, then soaked overnight, then scrubbed, then soaked in more boiling water. We added it to the tank roughly 4 weeks after startup. Everyone had been doing great, ammonia was consistently 0; the tank appeared to be cycled. Then--my krib started gasping for air. Ammonia was .5 ppm. We conducted water changes, and it went back to 0. But he kept gasping, even though the ammonia was consistently 0. Eventually most all my fish started gasping, some got bacterial infections, others fungus. Shortly thereafter I noticed fungus was growing on the driftwood (but had read online that it was harmless). Finally (belatedly) I decided to test for pH. It was 6.0! I removed the gorgeous albeit stinky and rotting driftwood promptly.

The very next morning I noticed the tank had white stuff growing on its interior walls. When wiped it would look pink, which I read is due to the color of my fish flakes. We did a couple of massive water changes over the course of a week, and the stuff disappeared and the ammonia and pH stabilized. Obviously the driftwood was a very, VERY bad idea. Eventually I had 6 casualties, including my krib and pleco.

Weeks later, my new krib started showing signs similar to those of my deceased one approx. 1 week after purchasing him. Also my black angel appeared to have tail rot. Ammonia was 0.25, nitrites 0, nitrates 15, ph 6.0! Why?! We conducted several water changes and by the next day it was 6.6. A few days later (today), ph is again 6.0. Ammonia is 0. Nitrates 15. Nitrites 0. What is going on? We did small water changes this morning and tonight, and now it's 6.4. My tap is 7.0. My livebearer tank is 7.8, so I doubt it's the softness of my tap water. Filters look good, cartridges were changed 2 weeks ago. (Penguin biowheel for 90 gal) With each water change we vacuum the bottom thoroughly. There is no visible sign of anything rotting, although my plants could look a little better. The water is crystal clear. It's even hard to find fish poo in there!

Could it be that my sand substrate has absorbed the acid from the driftwood and is gradually or not so gradually seeping it out? Tomorrow we plan to change out all or most of the substrate, but I hate to remove any nitrifying bacteria. Help! We don't know what else to do.


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Old 11-14-2012, 11:53 PM   #2
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Driftwood that rots (makes ammonia and is soft) disintegrates into very small pieces that sort of resemble peat both in appearance (little brown threads) and action. It will be all through the substrate, stuck in the plants, embedded in the filter media, etc. I have 1 55 where I went through this and pH was still falling months after taking it out. Also look for dead fish, dead snails, and dead plants. Any rotting material with make ammonia.

Rinse everything under the tap (tank temp is best, not too hot). Run brushes though the filter tubes, etc. Don't worry about bacteria in substrate, its minimal unless water passes through it (nitrifying bacteria need oxygen).

Buffer a little with baking soda (add like 1 tsp dissolved in water at a time) once or twice daily until you get back to at least 6.5 and not falling. The low pH won't hurt those fish but it may be messing with your "cycle" as the bacteria multiply much more slowly at low pH. Seachem's 'neutral regulator" would be the next thing to try after (or instead of) the baking soda. Most of the time "don't mess with pH' is good advice, but a pH in free fall is the exception.

cartridges were changed 2 weeks ago
I never want to see this. You should say 1 cartridge was changed 2 weeks ago and 1 was changed 4 weeks. Even though the bio-wheels are supposed to be where your bacteria live, stagger cartridge changes. If they are really bad, rinse in the sink, but don't discard both at the same time.

If you want to keep your substrate, still take it out and rinse and rinse and rinse it, so it may be easier just to replace it.

Don't ever add any more fish to a tank that is not stable or has had a recent death. Wait at least 3 weeks and then put the new fish in QT for 3 more. Fish these day come from stores carrying dozens of opportunistic pathogens that will quickly attack fish already stressed by water quality or prior illness.

Last edited by emc7; 11-15-2012 at 12:09 AM.
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Old 11-15-2012, 12:09 AM   #3
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Don't worry--I didn't actually change both at the exact same time. I know better. Just condensing info for the thread. I know both filters were changed, the last one roughly 2 weeks ago.

I will do precisely as you say first thing tomorrow morning. Thank you so much! I can now sleep somewhat easy.


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Old 11-15-2012, 12:29 AM   #4
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If that doesn't work, then if all your fish are gasping for air at the top of the tank, then you have oxygen deprivation. More aeration would help with that. Also feed your fish some peas, they might have swim bladder disorder.

Driftwood is known to drop the pH, but I am not sure how drastically it drops the pH though.
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Old 11-15-2012, 02:49 AM   #5
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Normally driftwood drops pH at a kind of random rate depending on surface area and age. If it has been in a body of water a long time, less may come off it. in general bigger has a bigger effect. A 4' long piece is obviously going to have an effect even if all goes well.

A "good" piece of driftwood is hard and difficult to scratch. A pleco may be able to chew it, but it stays together. A 'not-so-good" piece has one or more spots that get soft when wet. Maybe the piece was partly rotted, maybe it was chewed by bugs or fungus. The water gets deep into the wood and, not only does the wood release more tannin, it can decay both aerobically and anaerobically making HS and/or ammonia, and it can disintegrate, making lots and lots of teeny pieces of wood go all over the tank.

A "good" piece can suddenly change (maybe the pleco chewed through to a soft spot), but it is also very easy to choose a "not so good" piece and have trouble from the moment it goes in the tank.

One bad piece and I'm now pretty down on driftwood. I'll use a few little pieces of mopani or whatever for the plecoes. But no more huge artistic statement pieces. Ceramic and epoxy clear coats are starting to look good. I have seen some gorgeous tanks scaped with wood, but most of them belong to people who redecorate their tanks every couple months.

How long can a "good" piece of wood stay in an aquarium before it starts to get "not so good"? Is there a time in months or years when you should replace it?

Last edited by emc7; 11-15-2012 at 02:52 AM.
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Old 11-15-2012, 08:22 AM   #6
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I'm wondering if it's caused by the driftwood he found from the river.
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Old 11-15-2012, 08:28 AM   #7
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two words for ya "Fish Poop"
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Old 11-15-2012, 11:25 AM   #8
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another factor could be the type of wood...some species of trees should never be put in tanks...a PH of 6.0 is not so bad....but the kind of tree could contaminate in other ways...
and the polution levels in the river could also soak into the wood ....
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Old 12-03-2012, 09:18 PM   #9
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I meant to come back sooner and write about how I corrected the problem, so here it is: I removed 80% of the old sand, which I discovered had turned black in many places in the deeper, hidden layers. Afterwards the ph was consistently 6.2 or so. At the LFS I spotted some sand substrate specifically for cichlids (raises ph), so I purchased some and gradually added it to the tank. The ph rose gradually and topped off at 7.0, where it remains to this day. But now my krib is a little too comfortable and has turned into a big fat jerk, nipping at everyone and dominating the tank. Guess I'll have to trade him in for a female like I had before. [sigh] If it's not one thing it's another...


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Old 12-03-2012, 11:18 PM   #10
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lol. female krihs are worse. Red-bellied terrors. Glad things are stable.

Last edited by emc7; 12-04-2012 at 01:46 AM.
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Old 12-04-2012, 01:36 AM   #11
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go buy a new scrubbing brush and tooth brush , soak them in hot (not boiling water) and scrub the hell out of every inch of the driftwood to remove the loose
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Old 12-07-2012, 09:28 AM   #12
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The process of nitrification reduces the water's alkalinity and lowers the pH. The pH of any tank will drop over time due to this, driftwood or not, but driftwood will make it drop a lot faster.
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