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Ammonia Spike - Saltwater

Water Quality

Test kit
Test kit

An ammonia spike can develop for a number of reasons:

  • a new tank will not have developed the bacterial capacity to convert ammonia to nitrites and nitrates

  • medications can kill helpful bacteria and prevent conversion of ammonia

  • overfeeding can increase ammonia

  • adding more fish causes ammonia levels to increase temporarily as bacteria adjust to the new ammonia volumes

The ammonia level and the nitrite level should be zero in a saltwater tank.  Nitrate levels should be zero for a reef tank and under 30 ppm for a fish only tank.  Here are some things you can do to help correct problems in ammonia levels right away:

  • Remove waste with a protein skimmer.  If you don't have one, it's time to invest.

  • Do a 20% water change with premixed saltwater and continue to do this every day until the ammonia level drops. 

  • Test the water daily for ammonia levels.  If they remain high, you'll need to change more water.  You can also use Seachem Prime.

  • Keep good aeration in the tank to help develop bacteria.

  • Avoid using medications, as these kill bacteria.

  • Don't feed your fish at all if your ammonia readings are high, as this will cut down on the ammonia that the fish produce.

  • Don't clean the sand or remove live rock. You want to promote bacteria and these are excellent location for this.

  • Don't change your wet / dry trickle filter material.  Allow even more bacteria to develop there.