This syndrome isn’t ‘new’ as the name might suggest. It has been around for many years. However, its incident rate has much reduced over recent years but the danger is still present.
‘[tag-tec]New Tank Syndrome[/tag-tec]’ (NTS) is a catastrophic failure of a newly set up marine aquarium system. This failure is caused by the aquarist, assuming that the system set up is adequate and correct. If the system is inadequate in some way then it is possible that it will fail, but this is not NTS. It is simply poor research and implementation.
The aquarist has researched the requirements of the system he/she desires, and it has been set up correctly. The seawater mix has been correctly done, and it is at the correct temperature. All equipment has been checked and it is functioning correctly. The aquarium cannot be stocked, and the aquarist knows this. The system is raw, unready for livestock. It needs to be biologically prepared.
So the aquarist ‘matures’ the aquarium. This stretches patience as time is required. What is happening is that the biological function is being created, in other words the bacterial populations that will deal with ammonia and nitrite are being developed. The aquarist needs to test the seawater regularly to see if there is any nitrite reading. The presence of nitrite indicates that conversion of ammonia is taking place. Some aquarists, as time progresses with the exercise, also test for any presence of nitrate, as this indicates that the nitrite is being processed. However, the system is not ‘mature’ until the nitrite reading disappears and remains clear.
Once the nitrite reading had completely gone, many books used to advise that the system was mature and livestock could be introduced. To be fair, most suggested a slow rate of introduction. However, it is at this point that many aquarists fell foul of NTS.
It seems to me that the term ’mature’ could be at least partially to blame. Yes, the basic bacterial colonies for dealing with toxics were there, but the aquarium system was still new and unstable. The aquarist, pleased that at last the aquarium could be stocked, often stocked too quickly. Or, on the other hand, stocking was completed reasonably slowly but NTS still struck.
The reason was that, with stocking taking place too quickly, the biological support [tag-ice]filtration[/tag-ice] could not deal with the increasing bio-load. This meant that not all ammonia and nitrite was adequately dealt with, and the livestock succumbed to these toxic substances. In the case of the aquarist who stocked reasonably slowly, there was another problem that needed to be addressed. Feeding. It is not only the livestock that produce toxic substances, but food also. Feeding was and still is one of the most pleasurable actions for an aquarist. Coupled with a new aquarist’s inexperience, it could prove to be deadly.
An aquarium system is ready for stocking when testing for toxic substances shows that it is clear. The stocking must be done slowly, allowing plenty of time for the biological support to build. If time is given, there will not be a problem with NTS.
The modern system rarely suffers from NTS. This is probably for two reasons. Information and advice is available to the marine aquarist in many books, magazines, on the internet, and local fish shops have far more knowledge than they used to. So knowledge is easy to obtain which reduces the danger. The second reason is the type of filtration that is used nowadays. In reef systems, and also in many fish only systems, ’live’ rock is used in quantity. This rock carries a ready made bacterial population, ready to deal with toxics, giving nearly instant ‘maturity’ to the system. The filtration is often extended by deep sand beds etc, but initially it is the live rock that makes the difference.
There isn’t any room for complacency, however. A new system is still a new system, and without live rock NTS is still waiting for the unwary. With [tag-self]live rock[/tag-self] the danger is reduced as the aquarist’s patience is not stretched so much. The danger is still there though. The bacteria will need to build up to deal with the bio-load (bacterial populations will have been reduced by transportation, and also possibly by curing, but often with the latter it actually builds as it deals with the dead life).
Live rock or not, it is best to give time for the system to truly settle, building the aquarium population slowly, and feeding with care. The biological filtration will adjust to the population and feeding regime and, months after the old ’mature’ point, the system will be truly mature.