As anyone who owns a saltwater aquarium knows, it is important to keep all components of the tank balanced at all times. When any of the biological processes become imbalanced within the aquarium, there is a possibility of the fish being harmed. This is especially true when there are high nitrites. Understanding how nitrite levels in a saltwater aquarium can affect the habitat, and how to lower nitrites, can help keep your aquarium running efficiently.
What Causes High Nitrite Levels in the Tank?
At times though, nitrites can build up in the tank. However, some of the most common causes of high nitrite levels in a saltwater aquarium are easily corrected.
- Having too many fish, or fish that are too large can lead to increased ammonia and nitrite production without having sufficient bacteria to convert these compounds to nitrate.
- Overfeeding the fish can have the same result. Leftover, uneaten food will decompose along with the fish waste and add to the ammonia and subsequent nitrate levels.
- Not enough water changes and immature tanks (new tanks where the water is uncycled) can also lead to higher levels of nitrite, since the bacteria may be disturbed.
You can monitor nitrite levels with a home test kit. These test strips will give an approximate amount of nitrites in the water and let you know that the tank needs to be balanced. It is extremely important to monitor the nitrite levels with the test strips so that you can remove the toxins from the water before your fish become ill.
Understanding The Nitrogen Cycle
Nitrite is formed within the tank as part of the nitrogen cycle. Fish waste and leftover food both break down into ammonia. Special species of bacteria are able to convert the ammonia to nitrite; other species will then transform the nitrite into nitrate as the final steps in the nitrogen cycle.
The tank is considered cycled once it has gone through these three steps and the aquarium now has all of the bacteria that it needs to continue repeating the process efficiently.
How Can Nitrite Levels Affect Fish?
When the aquarium has a high nitrate count, you may notice the fish moving more slowly or behaving differently. High nitrites in the aquarium can be toxic to fish. They can cause damage to the lungs, gills, and liver of the fish. If your fish are gasping at the surface for air or hanging out near the water outlet, this could be a sign of nitrite toxicity. Fish also become listless, have rapid gill movement, and may show the gills turning tan or brown when nitrite levels are high.
Safe nitrite levels are between 0.000 and 0.050 mg/L or ppm. Some saltwater fish can handle levels up to 0.100 mg/L but if your levels are between 0.050 and 0.100 mg/L, it is important to immediately start working to correct the tank in order to keep your fish safe and healthy.
How Can Nitrite Levels be Lowered in the Aquarium?
Knowing how to remove nitrites from the aquarium is important. Once a tank has been cycled, the nitrite levels typically remain low as long as regular maintenance of the tank is performed.
“The best way to keep a tank functioning well is by removing excess food after feeding, carefully introducing new fish into the aquarium, and performing regular water changes about once a month.”
The primary way to lower nitrite levels in the tank prior to cycling, or when experiencing an increase after cycling, is to perform a series of water changes. Typically, about 20-25 percent of the water in the tank is siphoned out and replaced with new water. This can be repeated every few days until the levels regulate.
It’s also important to remember that new water introduced into the tank can alter the pH balance and that you may need to compensate for the shift in order to keep the fish healthy. Cleaning the tank too often, or changing the water too frequently, can also mess with the bacteria in the tank and actually make the nitrite problem worse.
Caring for the tank is a delicate balance, and it’s important to be thoughtful and observant with the choices that you make to correct nitrite levels. It is key to know how to keep nitrites low and how to remove them from an aquarium. Keeping a balanced aquarium is important for the health and safety of your fish. Ensuring that the ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates remain at safe levels in the tank will help provide a harmonious habitat in which all of the saltwater creatures can grow and thrive.