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Old 01/11/2008, 04:03 PM   #1
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Question Ok, so my water is solid black, now what?

To make a long story short: I put ~30lb. of marcorocks (drilled and picked clean of large debris) in my new 50G bare bottom tank and added water. Didn't rinse the rocks like I should have because I had the aquascape the way I liked it and I didn't want to change it. I added water (including a couple of gallons from my established tank), the water was kind of cloudy with rock dust from the drilling. Annoying but no biggie. I put in a small piece of live rock. Then I added a tablespoon of sugar and a few drops of ammonia to kick off the cycle, added powerheads and cranked the heater to 84. Overnight the tank went white and cloudy with a distinct "dirty rock" smell, then the rocks started to turn grey, then black, and over the following night the water turned black. It got even darker over the last 24 hours, visibility is down to about an inch and reeks of rotten eggs. If it weren't so grim looking it might be funny (ok, it's still kind of funny).


One day after adding water:


The status is definitely somewhere between "dire" and "hilarious". The smell is solidly in the "dire" category.

I've added a phosphate reactor and I did one 5 gallon water change last night (all I had handy), no response. What I'm assuming happened is the initial white bloom was due to aerobic bacteria, which used up all the oxygen (the sump isn't running yet, so the water surface isn't broken) so the entire tank went anaerobic, causing a bloom of the black anaerobic bacteria.

The question now is, what do I do about it? I don't have a skimmer yet, so that's out. I'm going to do a 20G water change tonight, and another over the weekend. I think it's safe to assume the rocks are now thoroughly inoculated with anaerobic bacteria. Aerating might help kill off the anaerobes but might have the side effect of killing me with the stench. Any ideas?

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Old 01/11/2008, 04:13 PM   #2
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I'd say the tablespoon of sugar is way too much and this caused a bacterial bloom... If you can deal with the smell, the bacteria should die-off on it's own once the food source is used up. Getting rid of the water may help, but not always with bacteria, because they may repopulate quickly. I would definately skim the heck out of it to start and see what happens.

Edit: I think your correct about the O2, maybe airate it as much as possible.

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Old 01/11/2008, 04:15 PM   #3
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+1 on hilarious (only because I can't smell it).

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Old 01/11/2008, 04:17 PM   #4
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Looks like a bomb went off in there....I have never heard of using sugar to start the cycling process..

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Old 01/11/2008, 04:34 PM   #5
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OMG. The last picture looks like a painted backing to a tank!


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Current Tank Info: 55 gallon reef w/20 gallon sump/ER135/ 75 pounds of live rock, 4 in sandbed, 2 b&w ocellaris clowns, yellow watchman/pistol, rosy scaled wrasse, Mystery wrasse, Copperbanded Butterfly, Lighting 48" outer orbit 2 150 mh/ 4 t5 actinics
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Old 01/11/2008, 04:58 PM   #6
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That is amazingly nasty. I can honestly say this is a first for me. Water movement and skimming along with maybe an airstone to introduce for oxygen. Good Luck.

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Old 01/11/2008, 05:07 PM   #7
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Wow, that's a first for me, lol. I wonder if the black is caused by cyano bacteria, or sulfates? Either way, I would skim like mad until it's clear. You're probably getting the nutrients out of your rocks though, so that might be good.

Is your rock black now too? I bet it smells like sewage. Have fun, lol.

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Old 01/11/2008, 05:16 PM   #8
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It looks like you turned your tank into a curing vat Ive seen shipments of live rock turn vats black, so I wouldnt worry. You just have some more work to do before getting your tank up and running. Things could be worse. If you dont have a skimmer yet, my advice would be to keep changing water. Treat the tank like its a curing vat and change as much water out of there as you can until it pseudo clears up. Adding an airstone will help as well to get more O2 into the system. I would definitely be looking for a skimmer.

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Old 01/11/2008, 07:15 PM   #9
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Haha, yeah, the rocks are black. I saw them turn solid black briefly before the water darkened and cloaked them in a veil of secrecy. And no, it's not a biofilm on the glass, the glass is actually pretty clean, the water really is that dark. A skimmer just got bumped up to the top of the priority list, I'll try aerating as well. Oh well, in a few months when the tank is looking good I'll have pictures to post and look back on

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Old 01/11/2008, 07:20 PM   #10
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That is whacked!!! Good luck and keep us all posted.

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Old 01/11/2008, 07:27 PM   #11
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I think it is a creative twist to the water we use. Why have clear water when you can have black water ! I guess its black magic

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Old 01/11/2008, 07:37 PM   #12
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Ouch, good luck with that. I hope it clears up soon because your aquascaping was great!

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Old 01/11/2008, 07:49 PM   #13
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Never Heard of this! Start Over!

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Old 01/11/2008, 08:46 PM   #14
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'shaking head'... wow... I would guess you wish you could just go back to the cloudy water. Maybe some local reefer has a skimmer that they could loan you for a few weeks??? Good luck! Curing rock is a pain... Which seems like your going to have to go thru the whole process of getting it cleaned up.

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Old 01/11/2008, 09:01 PM   #15
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I would have kept trying up to the point that the stench began. To me that spells dead tank. Wouldnt it be easier to start over?

Here is a great tip for starting over.
Get some fresh live sand. Not sand in a bag from a store shelf. Order some real fresh live sand. Or you can use dry sand seeded with a few cups of live sand from a healthy tank. Set up the sump and add macro algae which is already covered with beneficial bacteria. I bet you wont have any cycle.

What you did reminds me of a time that I was having a bad algae bloom. At the same time a crazy GF poured her vodka into the tank to get me POed. Well that part worked. The next thing that happened was the tank went milk white for several days. My heavy skimming and water changes made no difference. After a week the tank went crystal clear and was algae free but all coral and fish were fine. I was amazed. It seems the sugar in the vodka caused a bacteria bloom that out competed the algae for nutrients and cleaned up my whole tank. I later heard that some people start a cycle with vodka on purpose. I cant guess at how much vodka she used so I never tried to repeat the process. If I were you I would start over with my live sand and macro algae idea so you can skip the whole cycle mess altogether.

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Old 01/11/2008, 09:16 PM   #16
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Well, I don't think it's a dead tank, exactly... it's a tank full of only what can survive in a high nutrient, low oxygen environment, which to me would mean it's full of anaerobic bacteria, the same kind that we want in our live rock for nitrate processing. Since I had dry, really dead rock, and now I have wet rock covered and (almost certainly) permeated by anaerobic bacteria, in a sense it's progress! Now if I can just get their population under control via water changes, aeration and skimming, it might work out pretty well. Here's hoping.

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Old 01/11/2008, 09:18 PM   #17
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If it was me, I'd mix up a batch of new salt water in a rubbermaid tub or old tank, take the Marcorocks out of your tank now (maybe rinse them off in some fresh water first) and put them in the tub. Put a powerhead and a heater in it set to 78 degrees and just let it sit. Dont add any sugar or vinegar or anything else. 86 all the black water in your regular tank and make believe the whole thing never happened.
2 months ago I 'cured' 150 lbs of marcorock by simply putting them in running salt water, with a heater and a new skimmer (really just to break in the skimmer). In ten days the rock had completely cycled, with little smell. I did two aprox 70% water changes in that time. All I can think of is maybe the rock I got was 'Cleaner" so it didn't have to cycle that much. But I'm never usually that lucky! I'm thinking maybe putting the sugar and ammonia in messed things up a bit. You may want to email marcorocks for a suggestion if that doesn't work, he's very helpful.
Good Luck, and I really don't mean this in a bad way, but thanks for the laugh, I needed it tonight!


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Old 01/11/2008, 09:23 PM   #18
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I'd get a cannister filter and load a 1-micron cartridge in there and suck anything larger than 1 micron out. That might at least restore it to gray.


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Old 01/11/2008, 09:27 PM   #19
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That is just weird..

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Old 01/11/2008, 09:34 PM   #20
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I know we make mistakes, even tho this is one of the weider ones Ive seen... Just suck out all the stuff, and wash off everything, drop the sugar, thats just a mith and will only cause problems. so cycle your tank by droping a peice of dead shimp im there every week and let your tank mature. I suggest you use r.o.d.i water and use live rock not dry base rock.

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Old 01/11/2008, 09:44 PM   #21
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Wow...This is a first for me too. I really don't know what to tell you for


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Old 01/11/2008, 09:47 PM   #22
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wow! I'e never seen such a thing ! that's amazing !

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Old 01/11/2008, 09:48 PM   #23
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For G@#s sake, don't start that siphon with mouth suction

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Old 01/11/2008, 09:59 PM   #24
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I just removed 25G of black funky water and I'm replacing it with just enough water to keep all the rocks immersed, about 12G. I'll do another big water change tomorrow. The good news is the black layer on the rocks is just a thin biofilm. After I ran some water over them from a pump it comes right off, they're nice and pretty underneath.

So, here's my thinking about what happened:

The dry rocks contained quite a bit of dead material, providing a source of nitrates, phosphates, carbon, etc. When I added the water, including some tank water from an established (and doing very well, lest you doubt my reefing abilities) tank, the added bacteria exploded. I first saw a "white" bloom, I'm assuming aerobic bacteria, which consumed all of the oxygen in a tank with no surface water movement. Then, the anaerobes exploded. I was expecting the white bloom, and was hoping that the biofilms covering everything would cause a lot of the rock dust blowing around to adhere to them. No luck there. The fact that the tank was over 83 degrees just made everything happen even faster.

My reasoning behind adding the sugar and ammonia: I wanted a mild bacterial bloom to begin breaking down all of the dead material, and I figured ready C and N sources would be an easy way of doing it. Well, it worked, just too well. I won't be adding any more
I didn't go with live rock mostly for cost reasons ($100 for dry versus ~$300 for live) but also to control pests.

My plan at the moment is finish this water change, do another one tomorrow, go to the LFS and look for a 1um filter of some sort, ask around the local club for a skimmer to borrow while shopping for one of my own, and really aerate the tank. After that we'll see what happens... I can't say I'm really that upset about this, it's an interesting problem.

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Old 01/11/2008, 10:22 PM   #25
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My hair algae doesn't seem like such a big problem anymore.
Sorry about your luck dude.

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