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Total defeat


SuncrestReef
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I started my mixed reef tank in early 2018.   My tank showed amazing coral growth and colors through mid 2020.  But around July 2020 I started seeing some STN problems on a couple SPS corals.  My water tests showed I had higher Nitrate and Phosphate levels than I wanted, around 16 ppm NO3 and 0.15 PO4.  I tried tuning my skimmer to remove more nutrients.  Over the next couple of months the problem started spreading to additional colonies, and by October the situation really deteriorated.  PO4 had increased to 0.25 ppm.  Whole colonies were dying in a matter of days.   I sent in water samples for ICP analysis and there was no sign of metals or other contaminants.  There has been no fluctuation in temperature, salinity, pH, alkalinity, calcium, or other major parameters.  I’m pretty sure it’s just the high NO3 and PO4.  In addition to large water changes, I increased my GFO usage and started dosing Lanthium Chloride to reduce the PO4.  I have it down to about 0.10 ppm PO4 now and am continuing to slowly reduce it, but I continue to lose more corals.  I’ve lost large birdsnest colonies, monti’s, lobo’s, goni’s, scoli’s, plate corals, and nearly every acropoa in my tank.  Only my mushrooms and zoas continue to thrive.  I haven’t posted any photos from my tank for many months because things are looking so bad.

At this point, I’m feeling defeated after 5 months of significant losses.  I pride myself on providing Apex automation advice to other reefers, and for a long time I was having great success with my tank, but I’m now at a point where I don’t really know what went wrong.  Could the slightly high PO4 and NO3 really have that this bad of an impact on so many types of corals?  I’ve read of other tanks having much higher PO4 & NO3 levels than mine and still surviving. 

I’m not giving up, but just not sure what else to do at this point other than starting over.  I’m not asking for sympathy, but seeking advice.  I probably should have reached out for help sooner.

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That's brutal, man. Real sorry to hear it. I think I can say with some confidence that every reefer has gone through something similar. Have you been using one salt box during this time? Could it be a bad batch?

I'm not convinced nutrient levels being high is to blame. Although stripping them too fast could be. Not saying that you did in fact remove them too fast, but in my reading and collection of hearing anecdotal evidence, stripping nutrients with stuff like gfo too rapidly is always way more damaging than just having elevated levels. 

Is there a fish addition that's eating coral? 

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 From what I have read from the modt respected reefers is that rapidly changing parameters can weaken coral and allow bad bacteria to start to take hold (like vibrio). If ICP tests don't show pollutants i would think bacteria. 

Brad lost thousands and THOUSANDS of dollars of sps. Never did figure out why. 

One thing I do is if something is starting to stn i get it the hell out of my tank!!  I pull it out, frag off the healthy and put it in a qt. 

Sorry man.  It sucks for sure. If it is any consulation my tank is currently fallow... super fun looking at an empty 600 gallon tank :)

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Sps is the most humbling of corals. I have watched many reefmasters with potm tanks have similar issues. Like Brian said similar things happened to Brad but It also happened to three other people around tjr same time. Whole beautiful coral colonies slowly dying off. I don’t think any of them knew what happened but it definitely sounded like some sort of infectious process.  Have you looked at getting your water checked out by aquabiomics?

If you are in this hobby long enough you will have something like this happen and you may not ever know the answer. 
 

 

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5 hours ago, pdxmonkeyboy said:

 From what I have read from the modt respected reefers is that rapidly changing parameters can weaken coral and allow bad bacteria to start to take hold (like vibrio). If ICP tests don't show pollutants i would think bacteria. 

Brad lost thousands and THOUSANDS of dollars of sps. Never did figure out why. 

One thing I do is if something is starting to stn i get it the hell out of my tank!!  I pull it out, frag off the healthy and put it in a qt. 

Sorry man.  It sucks for sure. If it is any consulation my tank is currently fallow... super fun looking at an empty 600 gallon tank :)

I've seen this happen to exhibits under the care of professionals. Bacterial infections spread like wildfire unless you start pulling affected colonies and fragging the diseased portions and sometimes, that's only a temporary reprieve. Also inclined to agree with Higher Thinking about the nutrient levels. Start looking at other potential stressors: new fish or inverts, lighting adjustments, stray voltage (usually a heater or powerhead,) etc.

Do you have a sterilizer on this system?

Really sorry to hear about this, Sun. It's heartbreaking. And the heartbreak is compounded when you can't put your finger on why it's happening.

 

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John,

I feel you.   Has happened to me a number of time, with the same feeling each time.   I have solved it, so I'm not going to offer direct advice.  Except, next time it starts for me - I'm going to medicate.   I'm currently sitting on a supply of Prevent RTN and Stop RTN.   I had a good conversation with the creator and feel I'm not nieve, but experience has shown if I do Nothing - I know where it's going.    But before that, I'll likely get a consult from from @EMeyer.  I like his research results.

Thank you for openness and sharing during this humbling time.   We're there for you.

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Ugh, so sorry!

Sadly, we all have those buckets of dead coral aka 'calcium reactor media' due to unexplained losses.  Even the absolute masters.

You are very thorough and careful, so it is extra frustrating no doubt.

My advice FWIW is about the same, let it run its course, then slowly rebuild again. 

Here is a different angle to consider as well.  Definitely watch for fish that might be picking on coral, that can wreak havoc and they can be oh so sneaky about it.  Had a flame angel that did serious damage before I noticed despite what felt like good chemistry.  Thought I had that one reef safe guy, but they can turn at any time.  Had him a long time before it happened.

Another random thought... If you have an attached frag system, it is a great control for experiments as the water chemistry should be darn near identical in both tanks.  That eliminates a ton of variables if one tank is thriving, one suffering.

 

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Looking back into your microbiome results, you'll recall we didnt find any smoking gun pathogens in your sample from Aug 2020. 

I do notice that your microbial community, while remaining diverse, has become very atypical over time. In May 2019 it was nearly a model for a typical community, with a high balance score (0.7). All of the top 5 most abundant families in the typical microbiome were present at similar levels in your tank at that time. 

By Nov 2019 that had changed - your balance score had fallen to 0.3. Since that time, it's continued to fall, from 0.19 in Jan 2020 to 0.1 in Aug 2020. Several of the major families that are typically abundant have become very rare in your tank (Pelagibacteraceae and Flavobacteriaceae). Vibrionaceae have increased substantially over this time. 

I always say, an atypical community (low balance score) should not on its own be interpreted as necessarily evidence of a problem. But in your case, if we're asking about possible reasons for the issues youre having with corals, we can say for sure that the microbial community has gone from very typical to very atypical over the past year or so.

I see some parallels between your sample and the sample I took from my Euphyllia tank while it was suffering from BJD. I'm not suggesting the same pathogen is involved, just that both are show some of the same disruptions. 

The most effective ways I've found to rapidly improve my aquarium's microbiome are live sand/mud, and more recently, in-tank treatments with low doses of antibiotics. I don't think we're at an antibiotic stage with your tank yet, but have you tried any additions of live sand or mud? 

Also, considering the pretty dramatic change in your tank's microbiome over the past year, can you think of any changes you've made that may explain it? Id be especially interested to hear about any sterilizing effects e.g. UV or ozone, since those seem to be associated with reductions in Pelagibacteraceae. 

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I'll add that I looked into your Vibrio in more detail. The Vibrionaceae in your sample consist of several types not classified beyond the family level, a few Vibrio sp. (i.e. classified to the genus level), and Vibrio fortis. 

This composition hasnt changed over the time we've sampled your tank; these types have always been there. They've just increased in abundance. 

So I see no evidence any new, problematic Vibrio were introduced. 

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I looked into your parasite test results (18s rDNA) from the Aug 2020 sample, I don't recall if we discussed those before? 

None of the usual suspects for fish or coral parasites (including AEFW) are present in that sample, but I do see a candidate that may be worth following up on. The sample had Brooklynella sinensis at high levels (>300 identical DNA sequences from this species). This isnt Brooklynella hostilis (the cause of the fish disease), but a close relative. I can't find any useful info on this parasite so far. 

Since my 18S database isnt as well developed as my 16s (microbiome) db, I can't immediately do a full search, but I can say that none of the other samples run in that batch showed any evidence of Brooklynella sinensis. So this gives you some sense of how rarely it shows up in samples, which is why it caught my eye on manual review of the output. 

Hope some of this was helpful!

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Oh my gosh, John.  I am so sorry.  Yes, this hobby can break your heart at times.  I think we all have stories of tank-related melt-downs, for one reason or another.  They are humbling and frustrating, not to mention expensive.  I agree with all of the comments above (except @EMeyer because I have no idea what he is talking about 😉).  But, I'd like to offer one more piece of advice--enjoy your mushrooms and zoas!  I'm sure some people are rolling their eyes at that advice, and I realize it is sort of PollyAnna-ish, but I'm serious.  If your tank is not feeling acros, then don't grow acros.  If softies are booming, grow softies.  When that gets old, reboot.  Just don't leave us...we need you!  Thanks for sharing.  You are not alone.

Holly

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Thank you all for your kind words and advice.  And a big Thank You to @EMeyer for your extra analysis of my history of microbiome test results.  Perhaps I should send in another sample to see how things have progressed since the August sample.  Are you running another test batch soon?

To answer some of the questions posed above:

1. I've been using Red Sea Coral Pro salt, and I've gone through several buckets in the time I've been losing corals, so I don't think it's a bad batch of salt.

2. None of my fish nip at the corals.  Here's my fish collection: 2 clowns, kole tang, diamond goby, tailspot blenny, blue chromis, yellow watchman goby, mandarin goby.

3. I have not added any new fish or corals during this time.

4. I have not done anything that would cause a rapid swing of parameters.  I've been reducing PO4 slowly.

5. Both SPS and LPS have been impacted.  Some acro's died from the base up, others died from the tips down.  Lobo's and plate corals receded from the edges.

6. I run a UV sterilizer 24/7.

7. I do not run ozone.

I know a few of you took some frags from my tank early this year right before or perhaps shortly after the problem started.  I'm curious how those frags have held up, and hopefully nothing bad got transferred to your tanks.

Just to be clear...I AM NOT GIVING UP!  I'm not going anywhere.  I still love this hobby and all of the wonderful people I have met through the reefing community.  I'm just frustrated and saddened by the losses.  My tank right now pretty much sums up 2020.

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Sounds like the perfect opportunity for a fresh restart. New rocks, no sand, minimize equipment and additives. My tanks were having all kinds of issues before and simplifying everything was the answer. If a coral struggles, it goes in the trash. If it thrives it stays. Nothing bums me out more than looking at a struggling coral everytime I look at the tank. These tanks are meant to be for enjoyment. Eventually you forget that you even had these struggling corals cause everything else looks good. 
 

Take out everything that isn’t necessary. You technically can have a thriving reef with just a skimmer, refugium, return pump, power head, heater and weekly 10-20% water changes. 

 

 

 

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John, so sorry for your corals loss.  Sometimes, I feel that when things start to go down hill, it's hard to stop it.  I'm starting to think for whatever reason one colony start to rtn/stn, it promote bacteria level high enough to stress and cause healthy corals to stn.  If you're about to reset, maybe run an experiment for us by treating with antibiotics then add good bacteria like Dr Tim's.

When everything are doing well, it's hard to tell if the changes we made have any impact.  I know there can be many root causes for healthy tank to go downhill for what seems like no reason.  I have also suffered many coral losses.  I have many 5gal buckets full of coral mass graveyard.

Another thing to try is to completely vacuum clean the sandbed with 90+% water change.  That worked for me once.  This is easier to do with smaller tanks.

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That sucks John, and believe me it's something I think we've all gone through. Something I've done different in my current build is allowing room all around for water flow to avoid detritus build up like my old system had. I think that can have an impact, even if numbers don't show it. And by the way, the tricolor frag I picked up from you is doing fantastic so I'll be able to return the favor when you're ready for it.

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25 minutes ago, pdxmonkeyboy said:

Based on everything you posted, I have decided its the reefi lights. 

Definitely. 

 

What's funny is that the Frammer I got from you is still growing like crazy.  I think corals from your tank have been conditioned to live through nearly everything.   🤣

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18 minutes ago, Bicyclebill said:

That sucks John, and believe me it's something I think we've all gone through. Something I've done different in my current build is allowing room all around for water flow to avoid detritus build up like my old system had. I think that can have an impact, even if numbers don't show it. And by the way, the tricolor frag I picked up from you is doing fantastic so I'll be able to return the favor when you're ready for it.

Thanks Bill.  Glad to hear the Tricolor is doing well.  Sounds like my lifeboat strategy could pay off later.

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That sucks John. Thanks for sharing. The advice I was going to give but sounds like you got it down was slow addition or subtraction of things is crucial to our eco systems.. It hard to do when you see your corals dying. Sometime when we get impatient to add or subtract we can cause problems for corals that weren't affected by our original rtn problem we were having. 

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