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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi all, I'm still pretty new to the fish world. We set up our 20 gallon freshwater tank in early August. It has a thick layer of black gravel, a small cave ornament, and three plastic plants. The filter came with the tank and is an Aqueon PowerFilter. We have a sponge filter/bubbler thing that we got from my father-in-law as well that was used in one of his old tanks (he said it has good bacteria in it). We got the sponge after losing a few fish already because we didn't realize we had to cycle the tank. In our first week of tank setup, we lost two common plecos, a glowfish, and a bala shark. The only fish to make it through cycling were a black molly and a dalmatian molly, both male. We purchased a white molly, a creamsicle molly, and a red platy from a local pet shop once the tank had cycled. The red platy and lyretail both had ich when we got them, which we treated. The lyretail was also pregnant, and gave birth to stillborn fry soon after. We euthanized the red platy about a month after getting him because he had clamped fins and never moved (tried treating the clamped fins with melafix first, didn't work). The lyretail molly died about a week after due to popeye in both eyes that I didn't catch soon enough. We got an albino bristlenose pleco just before the lyretail molly passed, and he seemed to be doing okay, lasted longer than our other plecos. The black molly died last weekend, not sure how. We came home Friday night and found him with his tail sucked into the filter, but he was still alive. We turned off the filter to free him, but he was stiffly curled and died overnight. He showed no signs of illness prior to this. Two days ago, our pleco started acting strangely (staying in one spot for looooong periods of time) and got even paler than he was supposed to be. He passed this morning. We're down to the white molly (who is pregnant) and the dalmatian molly, and we're about ready to give up. I don't know if there is something wrong with our water or what, but I feel like we've been doing everything we're supposed to and nothing is working out.

I vacuum the gravel once a week and do a 25% water change at the same time. I add Aqueon Water Conditioner, Top Fin Water Clarifier, and Tetra EasyBalance with Nitraban to the water I add to the tank during each change. I feed the fish TetraColor Tropical Crisps, and I had been feeding the pleco TetraMin Tropical Tablets, though he never actively ate them. I have not yet changed the carbon in the filter, but plan to do so soon. My last water test on 9/11/10 showed:
-Nitrate - 20
-Nitrite - 0
-Hardness - 300
-Alkalinity - 300
-pH - 8.5
I tested with Mardel 5 in 1 Test Strips that I bought last month. We have an ammonia tester thing that stays suctioned to the inside of the tank (and is supposed to last a year) that shows the ammonia at 0.05 ppm. I need to do a water change, I know, because I tried to be different this week and just top off the tank water instead to see if it helped any.

Any help is very appreciated. We are both so tired of having fish die and are ready to quit altogether once the two mollies we have left go (seems like only a matter of time at this point). I am currently unemployed, so we don't really have the money to keep going out and getting new fish and/or medication for the fish all the time like we have been.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Also, not sure if it makes much of a difference, but I did just last week change the bulbs in the tank from clear to blue. The clear felt too hot all the time, but both the blue and clear are 25 watt bulbs. The pleco seemed more active with the blue lights too, it's such a shame that we lost him.
 

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I'm sorry this has been so frustrating! My husband and I lost many fish to ich when we first got going because the store we were getting them from had unhealthy stock. What did you use to treat the ich? Sometimes fish can be sensitive to medications. How long did you treat them? You mentioned melafix as well - any other medications that have been going in the tank? Is it possible that the fish have velvet? Are they showing any symptoms? Sometimes you need to review the symptoms of various diseases before you can tell your fish have them or not. It's odd that your ammonia level isn't zero after cycling, but I guess the lack of a water change last week may account for that. That water topping off strategy isn't ideal - you still end up with all the concentrated toxins, just a little less concentrated. Where are you getting the fish? I know there is a lot to learn and it can feel really frustrating while that is happening. Maybe if the mollies can hang on for a while you might feel more enthusiastic again and consider adding more fish. But be careful, because you may be adding sick fish. A small qt tank is ideal but maybe changing the fish source may help too.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks for all the responses, guys. The water temperature varies between 80 and 84 throughout the day (no heater on the tank, just good old Central Texas heat). We have a small fan directed at the tank to keep it from overheating during the day when the a/c is off.

The pH has been 8.5 both times I have tested the water thus far. What can I add to the tank to lower it? Both times testing have yielded the same results, and have been right after a partial water change.

Here's a list of medications I have used. I haven't added any medication to the tank since the lyretail molly died.
-Jungle Labs Ick Clear Tank Buddies
-Jungle Labs Fungus Clear Tank Buddies (to help treat the platy's clamped fins as well, no other signs of fungal infections in any of the fish)
-Melafix (to treat clamped fins on the platy, fin rot and popeye on the lyretail)
-Jungle Labs Ick Guard (used one does only to finish up treatment of the albino bristlenose pleco's ich)

We have purchased fish from Petsmart (all of our starter fish were from Petsmart, as well as our dalmatian molly), from a locally-owned pet shop (Partner's Pets, hate that place almost as much as Petsmart now after having been to a real fish store), and a fish store in Austin called AquaTek (where we got the albino pleco). AquaTek was highly recommended to us by my father-in-law, who raises and breeds angels and bettas and has several large tanks in his home. He's who we got the old sponge filter from that helped cycle our tank faster.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Also (goodness I'm typing up a storm today!), our two mollies that have made it this long don't appear to be showing any signs of any illness. They both eat regularly and are fairly active. The dalmatian is more active than the white one, but I assume that is because she is pregnant and tired of him constantly trying to mate. She hangs out by one of the plastic plants or the filter most of the time. They have both been hanging out near the top of the tank lately, but I'm pretty sure that's just due to the ammonia levels being high (the ammonia has been low the entire time the tank has been fully cycled).
 

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The first problem is, your tank is not cycled if you have ammonia. A tank is not cycled unless you have the following water parameters:

ammonia = 0ppm
nitrite = 0ppm
nitrate = >0ppm

Maybe it had been cycled, but had a blip of some kind. As Old Salt said, when you have a really high pH, even the slightest ammonia is toxic. I have pH 8.4 water and went through the same problem.

My suggestion is to do a fishless cycle using pure ammonia if you lose the last of your fish.

If you still have fish alive, I'd do some bigger, more frequent water changes. I had to do daily 50% water changes daily to keep my fish alive during my tank's cycling when I did a fish-in tank cycle. It is much easier to do it without fish when you have such a high pH.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I'll do a partial water change today, but the ammonia level has only been at that number for a few days (I usually do my water changes on weekends). Otherwise, there has been no ammonia in the tank since it was cycled. I believe the only reason there is any now is from the leftover food in there that the pleco wouldn't eat.
 

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I haven't used those particular meds, but I had a mini cycle after I used an ich med - it killed the ich but also killed the good bacteria. I switched to a copper-based ich med after that.

Think long and hard about buying something to lower the ph before you do it (and products are out there). If you do that, you are risking some possibly dramatic ph ranges when you do water changes. This could be bad because the up and down on the ph scale could really stress out your fish. It would be better to have fish that can tolerate your ph. Sometimes fish that are raised in your area with your ph are acclimated to your ph, but it can restrict what fish you can keep healthy.

That said, ammonia is more or less toxic to your fish depending on your ph level. No ammonia is good.
 
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