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new2fish

Hi! But also Help!!!!

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Hello,  Arianna at PetSmart told me about you folks. This forum is fantastic!!!

I'm a veterinarian, and the tank I'm desperately trying to get going is at the clinic (South Edmonton), so a very public place. And my failures are becoming quite embarrassing, to say the least. I've had (small / 20 gallon) tanks before, but have never had problems like I'm having now. I have read through a lot of posts on this site and haven't found anything about this exact problem. My problem is that I can't seem to keep the fish alive for longer than a couple of weeks......Sorry, this may get wordy.

I bought all equipment from Big Al's, last March. Can't remember the salespersons name, but it seemed that he was knowledgeable, so I'm sure everything was appropriate for the size, etc. The tank is a 72 gallon bow front. Hydor filter. Don't know the manufacturer of the light, but it's an LED. Submersible heater. Substrate is sand, with a bit of gravel. There are plants and a few rocks. Am using Prime according to label directions. Haven't used fertilizer since the beginning. Started with another product to help get the cycle going (can't remember the name).

I know now that I started the tank too quickly......too many fish, too soon (newbie mistake).  Started with 6 minnows and 4 Serpa tetras. Added more too quickly (just wanted the tank to look good). Many died. Then I had a bad algae bloom (apparently "normal" for spring in Edmonton?).  That finally resolved, but all the fish had died, except for a couple of the serpa tetras. I then had some issues with a mild positive Chlorine colour  on test strips on water I took to Big Al's while trying to add more fish to the tank.......Finally, after testing EVERY aspect of the water (direct from the tap; from the tank after 1 day, after 2 days, etc) I realized the error was likely the strip (I bought a water testing kit for Cl- & Br- from a hot tub place - there has never been positive colour on this test.) By this point probably 30 fish have died (in small batches, of course).

I got frustrated with Big Al's lack of empathy and help. Switched to PetSmart for fish. After trying tetras (Serpas were the hardiest, but those too died along the way), mollies, rasporas, and a few others, have settled on buying Danios as my testing fish. They are cheap, and I've read on this forum that they are hardy. So far, I think I've lost probably another 2 dozen. They look fine for a couple of days, but then start dying off, one by one by one....until I have one left, so I go back to PetSmart and buy more.

I started focussing on assessing whether the tank is cycling properly. Have done this every 1-3 days throughout December: Ammonia is always between 0-0.25 ppm; Nitrite always 0 ppm; Nitrates 5-10 ppm. Am testing with an API Freshwater Master Test kit. Added API salt on Dec 13; have not kept up with that. Plopped a dozen Danios in; also 3 "mystery snails" to chomp up the brown slimey algae also on Dec 13th.  Continued to test the water, and have consistently had the same values, so I know the tank is cycling.

By yesterday, there was 1 Danio and 2 snails left. Other things: I have slimey brown algae; I have black growth on some of the plant's leaves. Many of the plant's leaves become clear, and die. But other plants seem to do quite well.

Yesterday I bought the last 9 Danios that PetSmart had (I probably should only have bought 6, but I couldn't stand to leave the tank with just 3 fellers in it at the store); and 3 more mystery snails. My husband jokes about how much time and money I have spent with this tank. I don't find it funny. More than the time and money, I feel quite badly for all the little dead bodies.... This tank is almost a year old, and I still haven't figured out the problem.

Thank you, all and everyone, who may offer help and advice. I'm sorry for the long post; probably should have posted in "tank emergencies". HELLLLLPPPPPPP!

Cheers, Kate

 

 

 

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Hi Kate 

Welcome to AA!

Lots of questions to help us help you

How often are fish being fed? Gravel being vacuumed and or water changed? What type of plants? How often have you added salt? 

We all understand the frustrations. Your tests are good but wondering if there is something else going on. 

Jordanne 

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Prime will show ammonia for about 3 days because of the chemical conversion to the less harmful form of ammonia according to their website. I think your tank is cycled. 

The fish that are dying now, is the issue.

No fish store is free of parasites but unfortunately petsmart does not have a good reputation. Use your microscope to look at the poop to start with. Necropsy will also show gut nasties etc.Take a gill scraping and have a look.   Worms are common. Etc.

you have  the skill and knowledge to treat without guessing.

brown or any algae is a result of imbalance between nutrients and light....reduce one or both.

a lot of fish die from over feeding and improper maintenance. Most expert believe in 50 % per week all in one go. 

add only 2 to 3 fish every 2 weeks to let the bio buildup the levels of bacteria needed for the added load.

try to buy from local breeders, the chances of parasites is greatly reduced.

the tetras you like are not usually available by local breeders......also very aggressive in small numbers.

see if any of this rings a bell and go from there.

John

 

Btw Edmonton can use a good vet for fish.

 

 

Edited by geleen

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Thank you so much, Jordanne and John,

What I need is help "from the trenches", and you have kindly provided this.

Answers to your questions:

1) water changes:  I haven't been great with this. During the "algae bloom from hell", I sucked out about 50% and replaced with distilled. Since then: not 100% sure, but have likely done 10% every 2 weeks or so. Water replaced directly from the tap, with about 1/3 capful of Prime each time. 

1.5) Feeding the fish: used to do it daily. Now every second day. Just a little pinch. I am the only one with the qualifications to feed.  The food *used to be* on the counter, and my staff told me that sometimes clients (usually clients children) took it upon themselves to give a feeding. Now the food is kept in a drawer, and only I do the honours.

2) Salt - only added API salt once, on Dec 13. Did not even add as much as the label suggested. I kinda weenied out on that one. Here on the forum there was a lot of discussion. I thought that salt may help with our water hardness here in Edmonton. But is there a way to test or monitor this. I haven't added salt since that one time.

3) Plant species - OK, again a newbie answer. Kinda the plants that you can buy from Big Als or PetSmart (i.e., your run-of-the-mill varieties)

4) assessing poop: I have, in the past with the 20 gallon tanks, had fish with the 1-2 inches of feces hanging out from the back end. These fish: not so much.  So not sure how to get poop for assessing. Will try

5) Gill smears - yes, I can. Although being a vet, I fall back to the concept that I know Dogs and Cats *a lot*.  Fish, not so much. I had finches and canaries for years, and also didn't really do Vet medicine on those either. However, I have a new associate that is keen on exotics. so *MAYBE* with my specialty (I am a Clinical Pathologist) and his interest, we can team up and look at fish as another species of interest. I think that reading here, Fenbendazole is the answer to all fish parasite woes. I have Panacur. Can treat, if needed.

My feeling always has been that species with nucleated red blood cells (ya know, the reptiles, amphibians and fish.......oh and also those nasty insects - tarantulas come to mind) have medical issues mostly based on HUSBANDRY issues. So I have focussed on those. Looking to you folks in Edmonton that have overcome the hard water and algae bloom issues to give insight here. But maybe the insight is that I have relied on weak fish (from local retail outlets) to establish my tank. 

These suggestions and any others so greatly appreciated.  

Cheers, Kate

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56 minutes ago, new2fish said:

Thank you so much, Jordanne and John,

What I need is help "from the trenches", and you have kindly provided this.

Answers to your questions:

1) water changes:  I haven't been great with this. During the "algae bloom from hell", I sucked out about 50% and replaced with distilled. Since then: not 100% sure, but have likely done 10% every 2 weeks or so. Water replaced directly from the tap, with about 1/3 capful of Prime each time. 

........If you add distilled it will change ph.drastically, also desolved solids change drastically.....equals diseased fish due to the stress. 72 gallon is 1½ caps prime if you add water directly from the tap......fish where exposed to chloraminines......dead fish.......

........Water changes the most important.

 

1.5) Feeding the fish: used to do it daily. Now every second day. Just a little pinch. I am the only one with the qualifications to feed.  The food *used to be* on the counter, and my staff told me that sometimes clients (usually clients children) took it upon themselves to give a feeding. Now the food is kept in a drawer, and only I do the honours.

....great, I feed twice a day without problem....

2) Salt - only added API salt once, on Dec 13. Did not even add as much as the label suggested. I kinda weenied out on that one. Here on the forum there was a lot of discussion. I thought that salt may help with our water hardness here in Edmonton. But is there a way to test or monitor this. I haven't added salt since that one time.

......salt only for diseases as a prophylactic, it changes osmotic regulation. Helps with the parasite ich......usually not needed.....raises PH and increases dissolved solids.

3) Plant species - OK, again a newbie answer. Kinda the plants that you can buy from Big Als or PetSmart (i.e., your run-of-the-mill varieties)

.....salt depending on dose kills plants.....look for low light plants..crypts, stem plants, swords and Anubis.

4) assessing poop: I have, in the past with the 20 gallon tanks, had fish with the 1-2 inches of feces hanging out from the back end. These fish: not so much.  So not sure how to get poop for assessing. Will try

5) Gill smears - yes, I can. Although being a vet, I fall back to the concept that I know Dogs and Cats *a lot*.  Fish, not so much. I had finches and canaries for years, and also didn't really do Vet medicine on those either. However, I have a new associate that is keen on exotics. so *MAYBE* with my specialty (I am a Clinical Pathologist) and his interest, we can team up and look at fish as another species of interest. I think that reading here, Fenbendazole is the answer to all fish parasite woes. I have Panacur. Can treat, if needed

.panacur.......most worms,  but of course not external or gill parasites or bacterial infections.

My feeling always has been that species with nucleated red blood cells (ya know, the reptiles, amphibians and fish.......oh and also those nasty insects - tarantulas come to mind) have medical issues mostly based on HUSBANDRY issues. So I have focussed on those. Looking to you folks in Edmonton that have overcome the hard water and algae bloom issues to give insight here. But maybe the insight is that I have relied on weak fish (from local retail outlets) to establish my tank. 

.....yes yes for sure.

......Important..most fish in the stores are fine with our water once introduced slowly, they have been captive bred for cazillion generations.  Do not worry about the tap water at all.  Unless you purchase more specialized fish. You might try rainbowfish.

These suggestions and any others so greatly appreciated. 

Cheers, Kate

more questions please let me know.

John

 

Edited by geleen

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I agree with John that your readings indicate the tank is cycled and the low nitrate suggests you are not overfeeding. In my experience the highest risk of losing fish is in the first two weeks after purchase with a higher risk when buying from fish stores than from local breeders. But getting one weak batch of fish is one thing, I hate thinking that could go on for a year. That has certainly not been my experience with Big Al's, PetLand, or others but it helps to observe the fish and their behaviour prior to making the purchase.

There are other potential causes of ongoing problems like using a rock or other materials in the tank that leach toxic metals. Coral-based sand and carbonate rocks increase water hardness and pH beyond the already hard and basic Edmonton tap water. You have a submersible heater and I assume you measure temperature. I consider 24-25C typical, much higher/lower could give issues. There are probably other sporadic and hard to predict things that could cause your problem but in general you seem to be doing things right.

I am a strong proponent of using plants to assist (or instead of) a filter. Floating plants are particularly good at removing nutrients and allow you to perform fewer or smaller water changes, they can help reduce algae by competing for food and lowering light levels that reach the bottom of the tank. It is not a miracle cure but you could consider adding some. If you want I can give you different kinds for free as all my tanks are covered with them.

Bart

Edited by biodives

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Thank you John and Bart.

John, I "fished" a little body out yesterday, prepared to look at gills and poop. But I think it had been dead and hidden for quite some time - it really just fell apart during my necropsy attempt. And I also didn't realize how tiny those little Danios are. I felt very clumsy handling it, even with magnification. Will try again (hopefully won't have to) on a fresher corpse.

Bart, I love your suggestions of using plants to decrease water changes. Also, would love any freebies. Am wondering if you are around South Edmonton?.

I have a question about water temperature, since you brought it up. I have a small thermometer (typical of what you can buy at Big Al's), that is stuck to the glass as far away from the heater as possible. But I wonder about the accuracy. It was reading steady at 79F. I turned the heater down to 77 at the beginning of December, as I wondered if that was an issue. The water feels cooler to me, but the thermometer still reads 79. If I take it out of the tank, it does read lower, so it's not like it's "stuck". The thermometers that I use for the practice don't measure that low. It's such a simple thing......

Also you mentioned rocks leaching toxic materials. All the stones in the tank were bought either through Big Al's (a rainbow rock and a few quartz stones) and glass beads from PetSmart. Hopefully not an issue.   

Thank you both for your suggestions.

Cheers, Kate

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The temperature is likely fine a couple of degrees one way or the other.  The thermostat on the heater is not very accurate. The thermometer is not accurate. However on the whole it works just fine.  I use a digital household thermometer that can be used for cooking and I’m quite happy with that. 

The rocks are fine.

Bart  is an expert in the use of plants for filtration. However as a newbie I recommend constant monitoring and do your water changes anyway until you are comfortable. Stocking densities are especially important with this methodology.

 I also have a bunch of plants that you can try, however I am near West Edmonton mall.

John

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I'm a huge proponent on water changes - 50% per week is my standard.  Going by your tests, if we were just concerned with removing nitrates (which is normally why we change water), your current regime of tiny water changes is fine.  However, *if there is* something leaching into your tank, the larger WCs are going to keep things safer.

  Just because you bought something at the LFS doesn't mean they're safe for your fish - the list is long of things sold by the LFS that should never go into a home aquarium.  I'm not a huge fan of buying rocks from the LFS because it's often hard to know exactly what it is - the general rule is if you put a few drops of acid (muriatic or HCl seem to be the easiest to come by) and it bubbles, don't put it in your tank. If you're going for a specialized tank and know what your rock is, you can deviate from the rule, but pretty much stay away from "bubbly rocks"

  John is right, you aren't adding enough Prime if you're using a hose to fill for WCs.  Dose for the WHOLE VOLUME of the tank, not the amount you are adding.  I've been using a hose to fill directly from the tap for well over a decade, the only problem I've encountered (when dosing the correct amount of Prime) is when it's really cold out, and experiencing a lot of micro-bubbles - I believe it's rapid off-gassing of CO2, and it can kill your fish pretty quick. Just make sure to cause a lot of turbulence to allow the gas to escape to that atmosphere instead of coming out of solution in your tank.

  Plants are another thing that are often sold at the LFS that aren't even aquatic species.  Furthermore, so many of the plants that are sold at the LFS are grown immersed, and all of the current growth will die when submerged for any length of time.  Other hobbyists are probably your best source for healthy plants.  This site's Buy/Sell forum has slowed down quite a bit for Edmonton due to a very active group on Facebook; either place you're going to get some good plants for excellent prices and you won't loose all of the original leaves as the plant converts to producing submergent growth.  There are quite a few that will grow just fine without fancy light, substrate or fertilizer - the ones suggested by John as well as Anubias, Java Fern and sword plants are all good and pretty easy.

  Your brown algae is diatoms - very common in new set ups, and also seem to last a bit longer in tanks that have a silica substrate (playsand).  People say Nerite snails love it, and I've seen Otocinclus catfish mow it down.  Otos are common because they're small and cute; however, once they eat all the diatoms, they often starve.  As is the case with any "scavenger" type fish, they don't eat poop, and need to be provided a proper diet.  If you do provide it, they'll stay healthy and live longer.  Most of our small fish have an annual cycle in the wild, but if cared for, they'll live for 3-5 years or longer.  One of the best ways to make sure you don't leave the lights on too long (which John alluded to being a possible cause for algae) is to use a timer.  For the easy plants we've listed, I'd only have the lights on when your office is open - 8-10hrs is plenty.

 I'm not sure what style of Hydor filter you have - does it hang on the tank, or is it a canister?  If it's a canister, make sure the return causes some surface agitation - low O2 levels are easy to achieve in an aquarium, especially with dead fish and plants decomposing.  Remember that even though live plants create O2 when the lights are on, they consume it when lights are off. Without proper gas exchange - which only occurs at the surface - your tank O2 levels can easily crash at night.  Some people use a day/night timer that has lights on at daytime, then turns on a bubbler at night - I do this for some tanks that I run CO2 in when I can't shut off the CO2 supply at night.

 

Don't give up on the tank.  Once you get the knack, keeping a beautiful aquarium is pretty easy.  And we're all here to help! :)

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Hi Kate,

I'm in the UofA area, 78Ave 106St intersection, and am happy to give you some free plants, floating and submerged. I still do water changes, just a lot less than most others. For me, keeping aquariums is more intuition than science and focusing too much on hard&fixed rules or "what someone else does" may not be as effective as just keeping an eye on the tank and fish and make gradual adjustments if needed. As jvision said, once you get the knack of it it is pretty easy.

Bart

Send me a private message if you can to come by.

Edited by biodives

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Hi Kate.

I have read through this post and replies and I am curious about a few things. You are getting many great suggestions and troubleshooting replies but I think we need to start from the beginning. Your issue is you can't seem to keep any fish alive. There is no way this should be happening. You should be able to cycle an aquarium with a number of the species you have mentioned. Your readings are showing low ammonia/nitrite/nitrate levels but in all honesty you do not have heavy waste producing fish for a tank that size......to cycle a 72 gallon tank you can safely use 2 dozen danio's without major loss of fish. Algae is not a bad thing. It means your tank is alive and it actually eats toxins just like the "pretty" plants do. People just don't like the look of it but it is in fact healthy for your aquarium.

At the rate your fish are dying I suspect there is either poisoning from your substrate or possible heater issue. Which sand/substrate you used and if you washed it prior to putting it into your tank? Also heaters can and do fail and can slowly kill off fish. It can be difficult to detect as well if it's a small crack in the heater. It will only give a very small shock....This has happened to me before with my old salt water set up and I lost everything within a weeks time. It's hard to say really but your situation seems very out of place to me.

I have fast cycled aquariums before with no loss of fish. It can be done but you need to have the right sized filter/media per gallon and use bacteria in a bottle so to speak.

 

I do like what jvision said about oxygen deficiency. It can be quite true but unless your fish were gasping for air near the surface and acting lathargic, this is not the issue.

 

I hope I don't sound like a know it but I have learned everything I know from trial and error. There was no internet when I got into fish keeping and yes I too have mistakingly killed many fish over the years........ Don't get discouraged. It takes a while to learn.

I would be willing to personally inspect your aquarium and equipment. Something isn't right...........

 

Damien

 

 

 

 

 

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Thank you, thank you everybody. I love the support that you are giving me......

Am down to 4 Danios. On the upside, the snails are doing OK. These are "mystery" snails from PetSmart (I take it that "LFS" = Local Fish Store?). I have tried necropsying these little bodies - hard to do!  Gill wet mounts appear normal; no blunting and no parasites. Opening up their tiny bodies and finding colon is much harder - I essentially get all the "guts" and look. One fish had what looked to be "eggs", but that was 1 of 3. I think if that was real, all would have parasites, so it may not have been "real". As an aside, all of the Danios that I have bought came from the same tank at PS, so if something is wrong with the fish, it would be wrong with ALL the fish (they've been together for a long time).

Jvision: thank you so much for answering some questions that I had. I didn't understand *why* such a large water change, if nitrogen issues are under control. And I didn't realize that I should use the amount of Prime for the entire tank, as John had suggested. Am planning a 50% change today. 

The Hydor filter is a canister. I have the return bar set so there is a lot of agitation at the surface. I also hypothesized a lack of oxygen issue, but the fish have never been seen to be "gasping at the surface". They just......die. Usually overnight, so I just find the little corpses somewhere on the bottom.

Your description of my plant changes also makes sense. The outside leaves often turn clear, and fall away, but some of the plants are starting new, green growth at the center. I do have a Java Fern attached to a branch, which is the healthiest of them all. The other names I do not know.

The snails, when active, are mowing down the brown algae. There is a large one, Hank (is it wrong to name your aquarium friends?) leaves a lovely swirling pattern in the muck. I had turned the temperature down a bit, and they got sluggish. But turned it back up a notch, and they are sliding around the tank, munching.  The tank lights are on when the clinic is open, but this varies from day to day (some days we're open 12 hours). There is a lot of natural light, though. So I'm going to get a timer and decrease to about 10 hours. Question - If my algae growth diminishes, will I have to feed the snails something else? What else do they eat?

Bart: how do I contact you privately? would love more plants, as well as more expert advice.

Damien: I agree whole-heartedly that something is wrong with this tank. At first I thought it was just my inexperience, but sheesh, I've had tanks before, and have NEVER had this problem. The sand/substrate was bought at Big Al's. Sorry, I don't know the brand name  (may still have the original receipt, but it  would be at the clinic). I did not wash it prior to putting it in. Is there any specific "toxin" that you may be thinking of? Anything that could be tested for? I have also considered that it may be causing a problem, but made the assumption, that since it was sold in a LFS, and for aquarium use, that it was safe. I have never used sand before (just gravel), but thought this would "look nice". 

After the algae bloom settled, and the great fish die-off started, I was taking water samples to Big Al's. On the test strip, there was always a faint colour change of the Chlorine indicator. This persisted. We weren't sure if it was perhaps cross-over from fluoride, which was in the distilled water that I had used. After that I went back to water changes with tap water. BUT fluoride is in tap water as well, so this made no sense to me. I continued to test the water with strips that I had bought from PS, and this did persist. I tested the tap water: negative. I tested water in a bucket with just the rocks in it (after a week, to see if they were leaching Cl): negative. I did the same with the substrate: negative. But after I switched the testing method to a colourimetric indicator (a test kit for pools / spas) I NEVER got even a hint of a colour change (I know that these tests are meant to measure higher concentrations of Cl, but the water always tested perfectly clear, so "0"). However, I still wonder if that may be a hint of the problem. There has never been any cleaning with bleach, or anything that would add Cl to the tank. And doesn't Prime bind Chlorine? 

I also thought that a tank this big could support more starter fish. Had as many as 14 Danios just before Christmas (I thought maybe some of the "stress" for these schooling fish might be because they were in an ever-diminishing school). All but 1 died. Then I added the last 9 that PS had.  And we're down to 4.

I will take the heater out today during the water change, and look for issues. Am I looking just for a small crack in the glass, for example?

Would love to have you come and look at the tank, and aid with the troubleshooting. It would really suck if there is something really obvious, that I have overlooked. How would we arrange this? We are in south Edmonton (@Ellerslie Pet Hospital).

Cheers, Kate

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Hi Kate, I send you a private message including how to do it yourself in the future.

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I will call your clinic to arrange a time/day to meet. I too get very frustrated with big al's at times but it does largely depend on who you talk to. Damon is now the store manager and he is normally pretty good to deal with. It's just hard to get quality one on one time with him because he always busy.

I would like to steer you toward Aquarium Central. Tuan is the owner and he is what I like to call "over smart". He is the only person I have met in recent years that can make me feel like a newbie, with exception to african cichlids. I have most beat in that department.....lol  I used to breed a few sub species of Aulonocar

His general knowledge of all aspects of this hobby/addiction is by far the best I have encountered in a fish store. His staff are also pretty good.

They also stock fish and invertebrates that you usually won't find anywhere else. First we will get your tank able to support aquatic life though : )

 

I did call your clinic and the receptionist told me you aren't in until thursday.

I will leave you my number and feel free to call

780-245-4757

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Soooooo; an update (and thanks to EVERYONE for their help).  

I think we may be over the worst.

Last Tuesday I did a 50% water change. The fish survived, but I managed to kill 3 snails. Yup, Hank's gone. Very sad. I hear that you've got to have a talent to kill crustacea.

Wednesday I took all the information that I have and went back to Big Al's. Had a lonnnnnngggggggg discussion with Tim about my woes. His best hypothesis: possibly a toxin getting into the tank from the air vent. Suggested I place a fan by the tank to divert air away.

I bought 6 tetras (gaslight?)

On my way out the door Peter stopped me and made some suggestions. He echoed Damien's worry that there may be something in the tank causing the issue. He suggested I take all the rocks and the substrate out (this was Damien's suggestion as well). Just have the fish and the plants. Nothing else.

I wasn't quite ready to pull the whole tank apart. Of all the things in the tank, I worried about the substrate (but I had bought that at Big Al's and you'd think that if there was a "bad batch", there would be other folks with a similar issue, and that doesn't seem to be the case) and a "rainbow rock". I settled on removing the rainbow rock. I did not place a fan by my tank.

AND MY FISH ARE STILL ALIVE!!!!! This is 5 days later, but all the tetras are looking happy. I'm going to wait 2 more days, but I'm cautiously optimistic. Believe me, that rainbow rock is NOT going back into the tank.

A big Thank You also to Bart. The plants you so generously gave me are doing well. I'll pm you about the names (overwhelming!!!). I turned the last filter return rod downwards, to get a compromise between adequate water agitation and a quiet spot for the plants to be in. But they seem OK floating around in the eddies.

I know it's too early to call this a success, but I am so happy that Arianna told me about this site; and again thankful for your help.

Cheers, Kate

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