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Tank crash...HELP!!!

Nov 27, 2002
An emergency plea...

As some of you might know, I've been very happy with how my first ever saltwater tank, and octopus, have come out. I have also, I know, been very lucky...careful research is no substitute for experience. As I now have brutally learned.

In an effort to increase my own safety, I installed both a grounding probe and a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interruption) outlet for my tank. With some trepidation, I took a vacation this week to visit my parents in Florida (I've been gone for nearly this amount of time before, and the tank requires barely any maintenance.) GFCIs, I have now learned, are susceptible to tripping during power outages, and while I was away, we experienced one. I don't know how long the tank's systems were shut down (lights, canister filter, skimmer...the works) but long enough. Everything is gone. Gollum, my corals, my urchins, my brittle stars...all of it.

One or two of the corals don't look completely dead...I have some vague hope they will recover. I also desperately want to preserve my live rock, which at least looks mostly the same.

I am removing dead animals and doing a near-total water change. The skimmer is working overtime...I am inserting a carbon pad in my canister filter and adding more than one PolyDisc. What else can or should I do? I have to think that I must now, effectively, re-cycle my tank, and depending on the degree of the carnage, may effectively have to re-cure my live rock. This has me near tears, frankly, especially when I see the incredible animals which lived in my live rock, until this week, which I never knew were there...until they crawled out in their death throes.

It's my intention to, at least for now, no longer use a GFCI. I know there's a safety issue, but I need a short-term solution. Long-term, I'm curious if anyone knows of a good "safety net." I have heard of some backup systems meant for this kind of incident, but know little about them.

As you may have guessed, I'm utterly furious at myself for this. But, I guess every serious aquarist must destroy at least one tank...I just was so happy with this one.

with one very long, large :cry: ...

Hi Rusty,

Very sorry to hear about what happened to your tank. From the way you described it to us, it was obvious that you cared a lot about it and all the creatures that lived there. Hope you will be able to salvage some corals and live rock.

I checked my reef aquarium books, and they all recommend the Ground Fault Circuit Interruption Outlet. These outlets are very sensitive - we have one for outdoor connections that trips every time it thunders! They have to be manually reset, once they go off. This presents a problem with an aquarium, especially if you're not there to check it. It's strange that none of the books I have call attention to this problem with the GFCI

Glad you're going to hang in there and not give up on your salt-water tank.

All the best,
I have also had my tank crash, it is not fun. Once you have remoed all decaying matter and have completed your water changes watch your LR for any film that may form, this would be dying or dead critters on the LR. Just take the LR out and use a tooth brush to remove the white film and place back in the tank. You are going to hae to go thru the cyclng process again. hope your corals make it. I on the other hand had 100% loss due to the exact same thing. Now when i go out of town I take the tank off the GFCI, at least when the power comes back on so will the tank. Good luck and dont give up, it is worth all the head ache and heart ache.
Hey Rusty!

So sorry to hear about Gollum and your tank.... :frown:

You sure were lucky to have him as long as you did!

Glad to hear you will continue!

Actually, that makes me think about the next time I go on vacation. I too have my tank on a strip that wouldnot turn on without my resetting.

Thanks guys...the simplest solution DOES seem to be just taking it off the GFCI when I'm going to be gone. After all, if I'm not here, I can't be electrocuted, now can I? :P I still might explore some backup possibilities...I have an idea about that...

On a slightly bright note, it appears my two nicest corals are trying really hard to survive. So I might have at least managed to save them. I wonder how long this was out...long enough to kill all my echinoderms and many of the polychates, yet some of the bristleworms survived and a couple corals.

Are there any other suggestions about what else I should do? I will watch for that white film and scrub it off if needed, thanks. Should I do frequent water changes (like, every few days or something?)


Sorry to hear about the crash. Unfortunately, I know how it feels. However, there is certainly hope for your system. You may not need to re-cycle the tank. The benificial bacteria may still be present (and thriving on all the waste caused by the crash).

I would do the partial water change and make sure you keep the skimmer and carbon filtration going full time. Make sure you remove any organic matter from the tank. As long as you clean any dead items off of the LR it should be fine.

After a week or so you can introduce some shrimp or crabs while frequently testing the water parameters. Pay particular attention to the nitrate level as it may spike in the next several weeks. The system should be fine from that point.

Good luck, hope this helps

Hi rusty

also sorry to hear about your problems :frown: i hate it when things like that happen but you have to remember that it was out of your control and you have learned from it (still sucks though!)

I think that George gave soem good advice and I'd be tempted to do a 50% water change and give your filter media a good rinse in tank water to stir it up a bit as there will certainly have been anaerobic spots. As george says, keep the skimmer on full time.

Hope the corals pull through

Thanks... That night, I removed all I could and did the major water changes. Added carbon filtration and PolyDisc filters direct to the tank. Skimmer is working. Have rinsed the canister filter's media. There are a couple dead critters that I'm a bit hesitant to get...can't really access them without moving the live rock. I guess there's no major reason not to move it...

My two nicest corals might survive...they're both still alive and one looks almost normal...the other looks like it could heal. I'm fascinated by this, really...why would some corals, legendarily sensitive to adverse conditions, survive this? It appears that the storm system moved through on Friday, so the tank appears to have suffered 3-4 days of downtime. They were sitting high on the live rock, where oxygen levels would've been a bit higher. They're fleshy stony corals...I'm thinking perhaps they were able to retract their fleshy parts deeply into their skeletons (they were in that state when I got home.)

Some worms lived...also interesting, since many did not. Especially interesting is snail survival...most of the snails made it, too. They're molluscs, like Gollum...but his oxygen needs are VERY high, I understand, whereas the snails probably have very low needs.

The tank was exceptionally "funky," but I presume that was due to decay from die-off, so perhaps the "funk" did not cause much of the death. I'm thinking that oxygen deprivation was the core cause here, and not waste buildup? If so, besides switching away from a GFCI when out, I might also be able to use a simple aeration backup system...have a couple ideas there.

An unusual observation...the conditions caused at least one of the urchins to spawn. Not sure why, but it's not unreasonable that they'd have a mechanism which would cause spawning when near death, I know other animals have that.

Anyway...all things considered, this could've been worse...I've saved my two most precious inhabitants (excluding Gollum) and the live rock, while "degraded" will still be fully functional in time. I know the tank won't need recycling...bad choice of words there, I guess...it's more like re-curing, I suppose. Hopefully there won't even need to be TOO much of that, but give what died off, I'll be giving it a LOT of time. After a good amount of time, I'll be ready for another octo, but for now, that's the last thing on my mind.

Ug, what a mess. Weird stuff like this happens to all of us sooner or later, usually more than once unfortunately. I've had some bad experiences with siphons which I swear are evil beings capable of malevolent destruction. In the early reef tank days power outages caused siphons to break motors were burnt out and floors flooded when power was restored. I did that one too, more than once. You are not alone if that helps.

I've never heard of this particular problem but I suppose if you wanted to keep the safety, would a backup power supply, like what this computer is plugged into, keep it from tripping?
I'm not sure if a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply, the battery-backup computer system you describe) would prevent a GFCI from tripping or not. I suppose they're designed to insulate PCs from any sort of power disturbance... A GFCI is apparently very touchy.

Indeed, a UPS is one idea I've been considering as a backup for extended power outages. I'd hook up one or two critical components to one of these--with a very low wattage, the backup should operate much longer than the typical rated time. Even if I don't plug the GFCI directly into it, a UPS still might be a good item for me to add.

I also understand that there ARE some sophisticated, self-powered backup systems out there, but of course money's an object. Even a robust UPS costs roughly $100.

I'll keep you posted on what I ultimately work out, though for now, monitoring my tank is my main task. Will run some chemistry tonight to see what's going on now that the tank's settled down.

Well, tank chemistry is interesting. Finally got around to that...my initial approach has been of the "shoot first and ask questions later" sort, plus last night was the first night I'd had time for anything more than tank resuscitation or sleep ("vacation lag," late work schedule...)

Ammonia is off the scale at the moment, coming in over 0.8. Nitrite and Nitrate are nil, and pH is roughly 8.0.

I presume I can expect high ammonia for a while...should I be actively trying to lower that? As mentioned, I DO have a carbon pad in the canister filter, a couple PolyDiscs in the tank, I did a bit more water change last night, and the skimmer is pulling stuff out at a pretty good clip. Possibly some more PolyDiscs or more carbon? I don't have a readily convenient way to add granular carbon...are there some sort of "filter bags" I could add it to, and then place those in the tank? And, do I even need to bother with this, or is the tank capable of handling this on its own?

It's now looking like all three of my "not dead yet" corals are going to pull through, despite the high ammonia...I guess they're more tolerant than I thought.

Hey Rusty:

The ammonia spike (and resulting nitrite and nitrate spikes) is to be expected. I would do another partial water change immediately. That way you might be able to short circuit some of the nitrification cycle. (I wouldn't advise this when initially cycling a tank, but in these circumstances it shouldn't be a problem) Either way, it shouldn't be too long before the tank parameters are back to normal.

I don't know that you need more carbon filtration, although it couldn't hurt, as long as you keep the skimming going full time. If you have a spare skimmer it wouldn't be a bad idea to run it on the tank for a week or so or until skimate production has leveled out. I have had excellent results with additional skimmers in the aftermath of a crash. (In fact, I keep a couple of my old "Sea-clown" skimmers around just for that purpose).

As with most aspects of marine husbandry, patience is as important as anything else. As long as you make sure that your parameters are stable before re-stocking you should be in great shape. (I know, easy to say, but I do remember the dismay of finding a Red Sea Purple tang that I had kept for 3 years floating because of a system crash) GOOD LUCK!

Hi everyone...just to close out this thread:

Wow, I can hardly believe it's been only a month since the crash, which with a bit of research I've finally pegged at about 96 hours of equipment shutdown. Tank recovered very rapidly. I can hardly believe my luck. The final damage was:

-Gollum (my octo)
-All amphipods and similar teeny crustaceans
-All echinoderms (3 brittle stars, 2 M. globulus urchins and 1 pencil urchin, 1 Fromia sp. star, 1 sand-sifting star)
-Much of the live rock inverts--sponges, terebellids, featherdusters, some bristleworms, some unidentified polychaetes.
-3 of 7 corals. One (an indeterminate open brain coral) was nearly deal already thanks to fumbling mishandling on my part... :oops: ...the other two were purely tank crash, a pink Fungia and a nice pumping Xenia.
-A few snails and a chiton.

Amazing (at least to me!) is the survivors, frankly the majority of my inhabitants. I've dones some self-education about corals now, so I know most of the species, though I found no specific discussions of how they tolerate such occurrences! The Catalaphyllia jardinei (elegance coral), Trachyphyllia geoffroyi (open brain coral), Turbinaria peltata (turban or pagoda coral), and the Pachyclavularia sp. (green star polyps) all recovered fully. I felt sure the polyps were gone, but in a week they extended again, and now they're healthier than ever. No bleaching or such has occurred.

The live rock is alreadly (rapidly!) recolonizing with featherdusters and terebellid worms. Most of the bristleworms are quite happy, including the footlong monster. Some of the "unidentified" sandbed-dwelling polychaetes are also back. Some sponges are appearing again.

The elusive chitons, which I'd love more of and thought I'd lost, are back...one was plowing around against the glass under the sandbed just the other day. All surviving snails are also happy and healthy again.

I've reintroduced some brittle stars and a sand-sifting star. With consistently stable chemistry and healthy animals, I'm willing to declare it fully "recovered and recycled." I've inquired with Chris about a potential bimac...he has many requests and I'm at the bottom of his list, but hopefully there will be one left at the end for me! :heee: In the meantime, I've converted my feeder tank to saltwater and am cycling it now, in anticipation of some Tonmo.com feeder shrimp. I'm also revamping the tank to include a sump and a more escape-resistant top, plus some enhanced "shaded dens" to provide an octo more dark places in my overbright (for octos) tank.

Thanks everyone for your excellent advice and support. This entire experience has been educational, awe-inspiring, humbling, and encouraging. I had no idea how resilient this "fragile" little ecosystem could be, nor did I have much faith in my ability to handle the rough spots. I've learned a lot in a very short time, and in the process have come to understand just how much more I have yet to learn...and am looking forward to doing so.

Het Rusty:

Awesome! I'm glad to hear that you are back up and running and that your losses were not as big as you thought they were.

If you are unable to get a bimac from Chris you should consider calling Jack at www.fishsupply.com Several of us purchased baby bimacs from him in the last couple of months and I believe that all arrived healthy. (not to mention that they were actually O. bimaculoides)

Good Luck,

Thanks, George...I really am humbled by it all. The tank deserves far more credit for its recovery than I. This is why I love biology so much...it's just amazing what living things can do. They demand respect and care, but can offer you so much in return.

Jack at Fishsupply is definitely my other option...Chris' bimacs are ideal given the known age and captive breeding, but naturally I know how high demand is. I got Gollum from Jack and he was just fine health- and lifespan-wise, so I had a good experience there. Gollum's behavior was not ideal, but that was apparently a species thing (likely cf Bockii, according to Colin) and isn't anything under Jack's control anyway. Besides, we knew he wasn't a bimac when I ordered him. So I would definitely order from Jack again.


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