Nitrates are naturally occurring compounds that build up in aquatic environments. In your aquarium, this could be due to the natural breakdown of fish droppings, half-eaten food (fish are messy eaters), and other decaying biological matter in the tank.
A high nitrate concentration in the water is dangerous to fish and plant life. Algae thrive on nitrates and will begin taking over the interior of the tank. Regular water check should be performed to keep the tank in proper function. If the reading indicates a large number of nitrates in the water supply it will be essential to take action to protect your fish and aquatic system.
Proper Nitrate Levels
As a rule of thumb a fish only environment should have a nitrate level of 20 PPM (parts per million). 5 PPM is the proper level for supporting invertebrate life and in a reef setup nitrates should go no higher than 1.0 PPM. These are only general guidelines to exemplify the importance of nitrate management. An in-depth research of your specific type of animal life will indicate the optimal nitrate levels for your system.
Remove Nitrates Gradually
The ecosystem within your aquarium will rely on delicately balanced chemistry to maintain life. The levels of nitrates along with all other chemicals present must be consistent to avoid disrupting his balance. Should a sudden change be applied to the temperatures, ammonia, nitrate or carbon dioxide levels, the reaction can be severe and fatal to the inhabitants of the ecosystem.
The takeaway here is that all actions to reduce the levels of nitrates in the aquarium should be applied with a slow and steady hand. Apply only one tactic a day (depending on the size of your tank — larger tanks could take two days for the results to fully mature) and select the most appropriate technique for each. Always attempt to bring down the nitrate levels slowly and steadily. This will avoid shocking the fish and life within the tank.
The first and most effective way to adjust the nitrates levels in your tank is with a 10% to 15% water change. The fresh supply of water will have a much lower nitrate count than your present water supply or when you initially set up your fish tank and will naturally seek to balance the levels of nitrates. Then you can address the vital functions of your aquarium to make sure they are in proper working condition. Make sure the filter and protein skimmer are clean and functioning optimally. Take these apparatuses apart and clean out their trays and ducts and any other manufacturer recommended service you can.
When used properly these machines keep the levels of nitrates in the system at a decent level. Excessive fish food, fish feces or any other decaying plant or animal life can produce nitrates profusely. Take a look around the corners and edges of your fish tank for any decomposing matter. After this has been completed, observe the levels of you nitrates the following day. If they have not risen since your last reading your tank may be in the clear. Regular maintenance and cleaning will keep your tank healthy.
If you have an especially crowded tank or serious nitrate condition, you may need to consider an additive to aid in the reduction of nitrate levels. There are many such options available at the regular fish and pet supply stores but you would do well to get an expert opinion on your specific needs. As you apply the addictive, remember to work gradually and follow manufacturer’s recommendations. Test the water a day after each application for differences in nitrate levels.
If the nitrate levels have dropped but not enough, consider a different or more holistic application for the next try. Adding a cure live rock or sand to your tank can be one such method. These can contain tiny organisms that feed on the nitrates and begin balancing their levels once more. This option is also available in products called “BioPellets” which contain a quantity of dormant organisms that are activated in the water.