Okay, sir, now we’re talking!
Thank you for clarifying the type of filter you are using. A Hagen Aqua Clear power filter is a good choice for a "seahorse -only-with-live-rock" tank. It’s a decent hang-on-the-back external filter that can provide good water movement as well as mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration. It provides very efficient nitrification, but has no denitrification ability. That’s all right, however, because the live rock you will be using does provide denitrification and will help keep your nitrate levels nice and low. If the maximum output of the filter is 200 gallons per hour, it should be all right to keep the flow rate turned up all the way. A turnover rate of 200 gallons per hour should be just about right for a 30 gallon aquarium and won’t create too much current or turbulence for large seahorses such as Mustangs. If need be, you could turn down the flow rate at feeding time; just remember to turn it back up again afterwards.
For best results, I would also recommend equipping your new aquarium with a hang-on-the-back protein skimmer as well, sir. There’s no need to rush out and obtain a protein skimmer right away, however, since you won’t be operating a protein skimmer until after the aquarium has cycled and the biological filtration is fully established.
Simple fluorescent lights are more than adequate for a seahorse-only aquarium such as yours, Mike. In your case, I would recommend the Aqualife T5 fluorescent aquarium light fixture by Coralife. The light fixtures are available in 20", 30" and 36" lengths to accommodate various aquariums. One 18 W 10K T5 fluorescent lamp should do the job nicely, or you could also get a T5 light fixture that accommodates two bulbs and add an actinic bulb as well. But a single T5 fluorescent lamp should certainly suffice for a fish-only tank. Any well-stocked fish store should carry the Coralife Aqualife T5 fluorescent aquarium light fixtures and provide one for you that suitable for your 30-gallon tank, or you can also order one of them online from a number of sites, including the following vendor:
As we discussed in your earlier post, it’s going to be take a while to cycle your new 30-gallon aquarium and build up a good population of nitrifying bacteria and the biological filtration media of the Hagen Aqua Clear external filter. But there are some things you can do that can greatly accelerate the cycling process.
A few things that are known to speed up the nitrogen cycle and establish the biofiltration more quickly are to increase the aeration/oxygenation in the new tank, raise the temperature of the water to allow the population of nitrifying bacteria to grow faster, add live rock and live sand to the aquarium, perhaps introduce a live culture of nitrifying bacteria (e.g., marine BioSpira) and/or natural seawater, and to feed the biofilter with ammonia you add to the water drop by drop.
The porous interior of pre-cured live rock houses a considerable population of both aerobic nitrifying bacteria and anaerobic denitrifying bacteria, and this can provide the aquarium with some limited instant biological filtration ability and therefore help accelerate the cycling process. Live sand likewise contains both Nitrobacter and Nitrosomonas nitrifying bacteria, which helps speed up the nitrogen cycle by providing the necessary "seed" bacteria to kickstart the whole cycling process. But the use of live rock and live sand, or pre-aged saltwater, normally does not eliminate the need to cycle your aquarium entirely. You will still need to provide a source of ammonia to feed the beneficial bacteria and build up a sufficient population of the "good guys" in order to handle all the wastes produced by your seahorses, and you will have to monitor the aquarium closely while it cycles in order to determine when the process is complete.
Likewise, providing the bacteria it contains are still viable, adding a live culture product such as BioSpira is also said to provide a new aquarium with some instant biological filtration ability. Bio-Spira is a product offered by Marineland which contains the live bacteria necessary to convert ammonia and nitrite into harmless nitrate. It is available for both freshwater and marine aquariums, so of course be sure to get the Bio-Spira for saltwater, and use it according to instructions:
BIO-Spira is a "live" bacteria culture that is sold refrigerated and must be kept refrigerated until used. It can not be overdosed. Repeated dosing of your aquarium with ammonia removing liquids (such as BIO-Safe, Amquel, Ammo-lock and Aqua-Safe) can inhibit the beneficial action of BIO-Spira. Ammonia removing liquids should only be used to initially treat tap water. It is normal to have a small (<2 ppm) amount of ammonia or nitrate during the first few days after set-up. These concentrations are not harmful and will quickly drop to zero with proper use of BIO-Spira.
DIRECTIONS FOR USE:
Shake well before each use. Use 1 ounce (29.6 ml) of BIO-Spira per 30 gallons of water. BIO-Spira cannot be overdosed. Keep refrigerated. Be sure to shut off any UV sterilizers and remove medication by means of a water change or activated carbon.
In addition, adding natural seawater such as Nature’s Ocean Nutri-Seawater to a new aquarium can also aid the cycling process in a similar fashion. The living heterotrophic bacteria it contains will not eliminate the need to cycle a new aquarium, in my opinion, but can assist the process and help speed things up. See the following site for additional details:
Besides using live rock and live sand, or adding live cultures of beneficial bacteria, you can further accelerate the cycling process by increasing the aeration and the temperature in the aquarium while it is cycling. The beneficial nitrifying bacteria (Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter sp.) that convert ammonia to nitrite and nitrite to nitrate are all aerobic or oxygen-loving microbes, so their population will increase faster if there is a high level of dissolved oxygen in the aquarium. Adding an airstone to provide better surface agitation and promote efficient aeration and oxygenation while your tank cycles should be helpful.
In addition, I would raise the temperature in your aquarium to around 80°F while it cycles. Bacteria multiply faster at warmer temperatures, so raising the water temperature should help stimulate faster growth of the beneficial nitrifying bacteria as well. (Don’t forget to reduce the aquarium temperature back to normal — 72°F-75°F — once it’s finished cycling so that it’s optimal for your seahorses.)
Once you have added the live rock and live sand, perhaps introduced a live culture of beneficial nitrifying bacteria such as BioSpira and/or used Nature’s Ocean Nutri-Seawater for the same purpose, and taken other measures to speed up the cycling process, you can perform a simple test to see if the aquarium is ready for stocking or if you need to allow more time for the biological filtration to become established. Just throw a couple of cocktail shrimp, or similar biomass (about 1/2" to 1-inch square) in the aquarium and allow it to decay. If there is not a sharp spike in the ammonia or the nitrate levels for several days as it decomposes, then you’ll know that there are already sufficient Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter present to break down all of the ammonia and subsequently all of the nitrite as fast as it’s being produced. If it can handle that much decaying cocktail shrimp or other biomass without a blip in the ammonia or nitrite levels, there is a very sizable population of beneficial nitrifying bacteria present, and you can begin stocking the aquarium as usual beginning with the macroalgae in cleanup crew.
If the decomposing shrimp does produce a spike in the ammonia or nitrite levels, then you can just leave it in the aquarium to continue to decay and provide a source of ammonia to feed the beneficial bacteria, or you can remove it to prevent any objectionable order and feed the beneficial bacteria directly by adding ammonia drop by drop yourself, as explained below.
Feeding the aquarium directly with ammonia drop by drop also helps accelerate the cycling process. This method of feeding the biofilter while the aquarium cycles has a couple of worthwhile advantages. First of all, the amount of ammonia you add daily is far greater than that the amount of ammonia hardy damsels or mollies or even a decaying shrimp can produce nature’s way as waste products. The excess ammonia means the bacterial colonies can grow faster and produce much larger populations of Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter bacteria by the time the cycling process is complete (Cow, Jan. 1999). The result is that your tank cycles faster, typically in 10-21 days as opposed to 4-6 weeks for more conventional cycling methods, and the tank can ordinarily be stocked at capacity once the cycle is completed (Cow, Jan. 1999).
To cycle your tank this way, simply add ammonia drop by drop, keeping track of how many drops you’ve added, until it produces a reading of ~5 ppm on your test kit (Cow, Jan. 1999). Then continue to add exactly that many drops of ammonia each day thereafter until you begin to see detectable levels of nitrite. Then once nitrite readings begin to appear on your test kits, cut back the amount of ammonia you add to 1/2 the original amount, and continue to add a half dose of ammonia each day until the cycle has finished and you stock the aquarium (Cow, Jan. 1999).
It is important to use your test kits every day or two when cycling your tank to monitor the progress of the process. One benefit of fishless cycling method is that it produces an immediate ammonia spike, which accelerates the cycling process accordingly (Cow, Jan. 1999). So at first you will see a rapid rise in ammonia levels with no detectable nitrite or nitrate. Then, as Nitrosomonas bacteria begin converting ammonia to nitrite, the ammonia levels will fall and nitrite readings will steadily rise. Nitrite levels will peak as the ammonia drops to zero. Next, Nitrobacter will begin converting the nitrite to nitrate, and your nitrite readings will fall as the level of nitrate rises. Finally, after the nitrites also read zero, you are ready to stock your tank. At this point, your ammonia and nitrite levels should both be zero, nitrates will be building up, and algae will usually begin to grow. This will tell you that your biofilter is active and functioning properly, and that you can now safely begin stocking the tank (Fenner, 2003b). It generally takes anywhere from 10 days to 3 weeks to cycle a tank this way from scratch using the fishless cycling technique (Cow, 1999).
When cycling your tank with this method, it is advisable to perform large water changes (70%-100%) before adding any specimens to the tank in order to lower the elevated nitrate levels it produces and correct the pH (Cow, 1999). Otherwise, it can be difficult to bring the nitrate down to manageable levels again after the tank is stocked. Ammonia is a powerful base, so adding ammonia changes the pH of the water substantially, making it more alkaline (Warland, 2003). A large water change will reduce nitrite levels and lower the pH back to normal after the tank has cycled.
When changing the water, avoid using dechlorinators that also sequester ammonia, the so-called ammonia quellers, since we are relying on high ammonia levels to feed the bacteria colonies. When performing water changes during a fishless cycle, stick with simple chlorine neutralizers that don’t affect ammonia levels (Cow, 1999).
Not just any ammonia will do when cycling the tank this way. The ammonia used for this purpose should be free of surfactants, perfumes, and colorants (Cow, 1999). ACS grade ammonium hydroxide is best but may be hard to find. Pure or clear ammonia will do nicely and the best places to get it usually hardware stores or discount grocery stores. Many times it’s the off-brands or little-known, no-frills generic brands that work best (Cow, Jan. 1999).
When you find a likely candidate, be sure to check the ingredients on the bottle of ammonia. The good stuff will simply say Clear Ammonia (or Pure Ammonia or 100% Ammonia, or Pure Ammonium Hydroxide), and list no additives (surfactants, coloring agents, perfumes, etc.; Cow, 1999). If the bottle does not list the ingredients or lists added ingredients like those specified above, pass it by and take your search elsewhere. When in doubt, administer the shake test. Shake the bottle vigorously — ammonia that contains surfactants will foam up, but the good stuff suitable for fishless cycling will not (Cow, Jan. 1999).
When cycling the tank this way, it’s important to remember that the high levels of ammonia involved are toxic to all fish and invertebrates, so you cannot use ammonia to establish the biofilter if there are any inhabitants present in the aquarium (Warland, 2003).
In short, Mike, if you increase the aeration/oxygenation in your new 30-gallon aquarium, raise the water temperature, add live sand and pre-cured live rock, use a live culture of nitrifying bacteria to kick-start the cycling process, and feed the Nitrosomonas bacteria with lots of ammoniathe cycling process should be accelerated considerably, and you’re new tank should be ready for stocking before you know it.
Best of luck getting your new seahorse tank up and running, sir!