Why did my SPS corals died?

Discussion in 'Fish and Invertebrates' started by juanfdezdc, Jun 29, 2018.

  1. juanfdezdc

    juanfdezdc Supporting Member

    So I came back from my summer holidays (18 days out) and my main worry was that my fish where going to die because they were used to frozen food, out of 12 fish, 4 of them died (the pickiest ones with food). I put 2 automatic feeders and one malfunctioned so it could have been even worse.

    But my surprise comes when all my SPS have died, they are now totally white. I had about 8 beautiful pieces and all have died out. It surprises me because I have 4 T5 lights that are programmed automatically so the lights turned on and off, exactly the same number or hours as before.
    The only difference I can think off is "natural light", because I closed all the curtains so people waling by outside the house couldn't see if there was people or not inside, could this be the reason for the SPS dying?

    It is a pity because even they were not big (no mother colonies), they were very beauty like green and pink bird nest and they were thriving. Most of them were taken in the swap event and also given by a pair of other supporting members, I was hoping to grew them to start them fragging for other members.

    On the other hand, the soft corals, they did mostly well, didn't grow but also didn't die.
    Only thing that kept growing were the RBA anemones.
  2. RandyC

    RandyC Supporting Member

    Could be any number of reasons.

    What were your water params before you left and after?
    How big is your tank and how big were those four fish that died?
    Do you know what the temperature range of your tank was during that time?
    Coral reefer likes this.
  3. Coral reefer

    Coral reefer President

    Temp and alk. Was any dosing happening?
  4. juanfdezdc

    juanfdezdc Supporting Member

    Parameters before I left (I still need to take new parameters, so busy since I came back):
    Salinity: 1.027
    PH: 8
    Alkalinity: 7
    Calcium: 480
    Phospate: 0.5
    Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate: 0

    The tank is a 100 Gallon tank with a 20 Gallon sump

    The 4 fish that died where 1 big one (yellow tang) and 3 medium/small (coral beauty and 2 anthias)

    I have the tank at 78F but if is the house was too hot, it might gone up.

    Is natural light needed for SPS?
  5. juanfdezdc

    juanfdezdc Supporting Member

    Temp 78F (but who knows in summer), Alk 7 and not dosing anything during holidays
  6. RandyC

    RandyC Supporting Member

    Natural light isn't needed and would not be your problem. There were a couple of hot days during the 18days you were gone, do you have fans or a chiller to cool tank water during hot days? Or does your A/C kick in at all while you're gone? Have a tank controller that logs temperature? If so, look back and see how hot your tank got.
    Coral reefer likes this.
  7. juanfdezdc

    juanfdezdc Supporting Member

    I don't have a chiller and also don't have AC in house so during those 2 hot days, temperature in the house might have gone up considerably
    Coral reefer likes this.
  8. Pics of the tank and corals? How often do you usually do water changes? Do you dose?

    It's hard to guess as there are a lot of unknowns with this one, but I'd guess your Nitrates spiked. Normally short term temp increases won't cause a rapid RTN if all else is okay, but with four dead fish, no water changes, a presumably full skimmer cup, two week old fiilter socks, etc yur Nitrates probably shot up. That will cause RTNing.
  9. grizfyrfyter

    grizfyrfyter Reef Geek 3D Printed

    Get an stc-1000 from Amazon. Wire your heater and a fan to it and you will have fail safes in place to maintain yiur temperature.

    The ammonia spike from the dead fish would have been enough to kill sps.
    Bruce Spiegelman likes this.
  10. xcaret

    xcaret Supporting Member

    I feel sorry for what you’ve experienced. I think this is a re-starting point and a disaster-proofing of our tanks learning situation as well.
    Not sure on where you live but I’m positive that knowing who’s nearby that is in the club, could’ve lend a hand. Some of us lend a hand when a little emergency arises.
    I know trusting a complete stranger into your home is a no-no but within this club there are good people and time creates a geat thing among reefers; friendship.
    A chiller is a wee picey piece of equipment, sometimes one or two pop up for a very good price here and there and some other times one of us might have one sitting on a shelf and would not mind letting you borrow it but there’s the human factor.
    Couple people here do servicing and are great at it; a matter of asking. A week is a long time to let a tank run unsupervised.
    Recently I went to check on a friends tank; I noticed the water line was a bit high at the tank’s plastic trim so I checked the overflow box; even that it has an emergency drain, there was something causing the high water level; cleared the drain pipes of any possible blockage and then noticed the overflow weir had some algae and buildup causing the high water line.
    Some things need a human to troubleshoot; a controller that can send you an alert is a great great piece of equipment but what good would it be if you have no one to rely on while away; being few hundred miles or couple weeks?
    This club is very generous and I’m possitive fellowship will kick in and help you jump start your beautiful little ocean.
    Coral reefer likes this.
  11. tankguy

    tankguy BOD

    I dont think its the heat as it is short term and my tanks are in the garage with temp swings and no looses
  12. JVU

    JVU Supporting Member

    That’s a bummer.

    I agree that you really can’t leave your tank that long without either a basic amount of automation/control hardware or a trusted friend to come by. Especially if you want to try to keep anything but the most hardy coral, inverts, and fish.

    Your friend doesn’t have to be a reefer (though it helps) to feed, dose, and look at the tank to make sure there’s no catastrophe. I’ve had luck with teenage family friends.

    I didn’t see mention of an auto-topoff system, but I’m assuming you had something or else you probably would have had a complete crash from evaporation and dry sump without it.

    I also didn’t see any mention of 2-part dosing or equivalent. SPS are sensitive to swings in alkalinity especially and could nosedive without any dosing.

    I think you live in the more temperate South Bay, but I can tell you that if I didn’t control house/tank temps in Walnut Creek over the summer, nothing would survive. Probably including my cat.

    Having the fish die is horrible in it’s own right, but I’m somewhat doubtful that their death and decomposition killed the SPS, since it sounds like they starved to death (so less nutrients coming in the whole time by food).

    I would recommend having someone come by and check out your system to see if there are a couple easy/inexpensive things you can do to help in this regard. Either a club member informally or one of the members who have a professional service as mentioned before.

    Again, I’m sorry to hear about this. We’ve all had plenty of “learning experiences”. Once your system is tuned up again I’m sure you’ll be able to replace some of your losses from our generous club members.
    Coral reefer likes this.
  13. juanfdezdc

    juanfdezdc Supporting Member

    First of all, thanks to everybody for your comments, it helps a lot!

    I'm more and more convinced that it had to be an ammonia spike due to fish decomposition because the only I could still take out of the tank was the yellow tang. The coral beauty and the anthias were almost totally decomposed.

    Bruce: I'll try to post a pic later with the phone. Every week I put 5 gallon of new water into the sump (to replace evaporation) and every 2 weeks is 10 gallons because I also clean the external filter. I dose a couple of things (2 bottles for corals with mainly calcium and other stuff).

    Griz..: for sure I'll check the stc-1000 in Amazon.

    Xcaret: I did mentioned to my wife to have someone come home from time to time to take care of the tank and she freaked out to have someone home while we were away. But next time for sure, I'll either check with the club or I was thinking to give some basic training to our teenager babysitter who lives close by and is responsible. Next long trip will be in Xmas so I have time to teach him the basics.

    JVU: you are right that someone with 3 or 4 basic instruction could be enough.

    I'll think about buying a chiller depending on how the temperature goes at home this summer. I'll be all the summer at home so I'll monitor the tank temperature.

    Finally I want to say that after I cleaned the tank, did a water change and gave some frozen food to the remaining fish and corals, it looks much better now, so it has not been a total disaster or need a big re-start. Is painful to lose some fish and corals specially after being for months without a single fish or coral lost but it could have been worse, I now need to take all parameters to normal and keep going.
    Also the coral farmer market is in 1 month so I'm sure I'll get some SPS there to restart my SPS again and also in a few months in the next frag swap I'll score some SPS so everything will be back to normal and I have learn from this experience so during my next long trip I'll avoid this from happening again.

    On a side note, I also have a 55 gallon tank with African cichlids and those fish are so hard... they were all perfect when I came back. I got the salt water tank this year and I have had fresh water for many years and I'm realizing that they care for both type of tanks is very different.
  14. Did you test Ammonia and Nitrates when you got back?
  15. juanfdezdc

    juanfdezdc Supporting Member

    Funny enough, I wrote the previous and this post from SFO. Flying back to Europe for business, this time only 5 days. So I only had time (and the energy) to clean the tank and put 10 gallons of new water into the tank.
  16. JVU

    JVU Supporting Member

    The way you answered the question about the new water, lumping evaporation replacement and water change in the same sentence, just wanted to make sure you are using fresh water for evaporation replacement and salt water to replace water you take out?

    Also unless your tank is sealed up pretty tight, I would think evaporation without replacement for 18 days would increase the salinity to the point of being dangerous, not to mention run the risk of having the sump dry out and pumps fail.
    grizfyrfyter likes this.
  17. sfsuphysics

    sfsuphysics Supporting Member

    Well here's the hard hitting truth. You can't go on vacation for 18 days and have an auto-feeder as what is watching your tank. If you think about it, over a period of 18 days what else other than feeding the fish did you do to the tank? First thing you should do is test your parameters when you have the chance, what's your calcium, alkalinity, magnesium (is less important) specific gravity, nitrates, ammonia, whatever you need, and then learn from this problem and make sure it never happens again. However having done a water change you skew the results a bit.

    Do you dose 2 part or anything for calcium & alkalinity? If yes and you didn't, how big are those stony corals, if they're only tiny frags then I wouldn't put that as a culprit, but if they're larger colonies who suck up calcium and alkalinity then you may have something there. How do you tell if this may have contributed to the problem? Test for calcium and alkalinity now, see what it is now since you know what it was before.

    Do you have an auto-top off of freshwater to make up for evaporation? If it got really hot, evaporation could have caused the water level to drop to a significant level to affect the specific gravity. How do you know? Test specific gravity, look at how low the water is in your return pump chamber on the sump.

    Did ammonia spikes do it? You mentioned only getting one fish out, you need to get all the fish out, or hope you have enough critters (bristle worms) to completely consume the dead fish very quickly (if you see body parts pull them out, don't wait). If you still have decaying fish in the tank your ammonia should still be elevated enough to test for it. Personally the dead fish are the most telling problem of the whole situation, fish are MUCH more hardier than corals and don't just die because 1 of 2 autofeeders malfunctioned (what was the malfunction? stopped working? or did it dump all the food in?). There may have been disease semi-dormant in the fish, and if the temperature spiked could have caused it to spread out of control, or some other issue.

    The temperature however is something you need a controller/monitor to keep track of and for it to have some sort of logging function. And not to beat a dead horse but you can not go away for 18 days with a reef tank without something taking care of your tank other than an autofeeder. I'm not saying you need to go out and buy an expensive controller with remote monitoring but you need to get your wife to get over the idea of allowing someone to come over and check on the tank, it's better if that someone is someone competent with reef keeping too but that's not absolutely necessary if they can follow simple direction (write them out) and find a way to get in contact if something is wrong. Overall it may not have been just one thing, but a multitude of problems that all ended up with dead stuff in your tank.
  18. OnTheReef

    OnTheReef OnTheReef (Eric) Supporting Member

    So sorry to hear this, it’s always disheartening to experience a disaster, whether you’re home for it or not.
    When dealing with SPS, stability is key: temperature, salinity and especially alkalinity. As other have mentioned, you probably need auto top off, a doser for calcium and alkalinity and a chiller as part of your mitigation for preventing future problems. I currently have two chillers for sale in the B/S/T forum if you’re looking for one.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  19. juanfdezdc

    juanfdezdc Supporting Member

    Apologies for not being able to reply before to all your useful comments. Between business travel, work and the kids all my time (and energy is gone).

    So to sum up, a week ago I took measurements of everything and the problem was AMMONIA. It was up to 0,5. Everything else except salinity that was at 1.03 was normal. The salinity was high but not so high to kill things.
    I have been doing constant water changes (with fresh water) and both the ammonia and salinity are down and close to normal parameters.
    I even had red algae which is cyanobacteria due to a spike of ammonia. I never had it before.

    All in all, my problem is that I was treating the saltwater tank during holidays the same way I treat the cichlids tank and I have realized the hard way that they are very different in terms of maintenance when away.

    For sure during my next long holiday (Xmas), I'm going to train somebody to add freshwater to the tank, feed the fish, remove any dead fish... I think that with 5 basic commands, the tank will survive much better.

    See below a pic of my dead acros and also my tank which is full of BTAs that I don't know how to remove because they are all into rocks holes.

    Attached Files:

  20. juanfdezdc

    juanfdezdc Supporting Member

    Now with bigger images

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jul 12, 2018 at 11:36 PM

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