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The Nitrogen Cycle: What's really happening in your tank

You've taken all the necessary steps to make sure your fish are in a happy and healthy home, but they still seem stressed and you don't know what to do.

In our experience, one of the biggest impacts on the health of your fish is...

water quality.

To the naked eye all water looks the same, but your tank can easily be producing a high level of ammonia that are causing low quality water and in turn, making your fish susceptible to disease and even death.

But where does the ammonia & nitrates come from? Are they both bad for fish?

Like most processes in nature, it's a cycle. Nitrates are a by-product of organic waste that has decomposed over time. Let me explain.

You feed your fish, and like the wonderful guests they are, they poo and leave food waste throughout your entire tank. The waste starts to decompose and turns into ammonia.

If you have too much ammonia in your aquarium you may be noticing a slight odor in the water or changes in your fish's behavior like lethargy, gasping for air or redness around the gills. Although it's a natural part of the process, high concentrations of ammonia prevents your fish from eliminating any more from their bodies and can eventually lead to ammonia poisoning and organ failures.

BUT...nature has an answer for that as well.

There are microorganisms that feed on this ammonia and reduces the ammonia levels in your tank, ultimately turning it into nitrates. These bacteria colonies are ammonia fighting heroes that provide food for plants and other organisms. This is why it is important to fully cycle a new tank to establish a biological filter or even "ghost feed" your tank before adding new fish to kick start the nitrogen cycle.

While fish are much better able to handle nitrate in their water than ammonia, too much nitrate can still be toxic. When nitrate levels are elevated you may also notice your aquarium turning green due to an algae bloom. Algae LOVES nitrates and will eat it up when available. Do partial water changes to keep your nitrate levels from spiking too high and to keep your waters clear.

Good water quality = happy & healthy fish.

As you become more familiar with how your mini-ecosystem works, test your water parameters often. There are a variety of kits sold online and at pet stores that test your ammonia and nitrate levels to help you make adjustments in your fish care. Understanding what is happening biologically is essential to creating a healthy habitat and balanced environment for your fish.

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