***Please note: this blog post has been revised and updated to use Dr. Tim’s Ammonium Chloride as the ammonia source (instead of shrimp) and Dr. Tim’s One & Only Live Nitrifying Bacteria as the bacteria source (as an alternative to Bio-Spira).***
Thanks for your interest in our Fish-less Cycling Program! This program was set up back in 2016 for two reasons: 1) to help new jellyfish owners have a successful start with their new aquariums, and 2) clear up misinformation floating around the internet about the cycling process and how long it takes to successfully cycle a new aquarium. Cycling a new aquarium takes time, patience, and attention to detail but it ensures your new aquarium is biologically stable and habitable for any saltwater animal; this is not jellyfish-specific issue! This blog post provides the essential information you need to know about what cycling is and how to cycle your new aquarium. At the bottom of this post (after you’ve read every bit of information and become a cycling expert, of course!), you’ll find the sign up form to participate in our Fish-less Cycling Program.
A “fish-less cycle” is the best and safest way to cycle an aquarium, as it doesn’t harm any fish or jellyfish. The goal of cycling a new tank is to establish a healthy and strong colony of beneficial bacteria in the filters to take care of waste that is created by feeding the animals (in this case, jellyfish!). The process of cycling a new aquarium is often overlooked and can create problem right from the get-go. New jellyfish owners who do not allow their tank to completely cycle before adding their first jellyfish sadly end up with unhealthy & deformed jellyfish and become confused about why they are not well. Since jellyfish are 96% water, they rely heavily on water chemistry (a.k.a. water quality) and therefore, need a biologically stable and “chemically clean” environment in order to thrive.
Cycling takes no less than 4 weeks. There is misinformation going around the Internet about how long cycling takes. Some websites claim “it only takes 10-14 days” or “two weeks.” This is wrong. The nitrogen cycle is straight forward biology and you can’t speed up biology. Even with the use of “bio-starters,” you must still cycle the aquarium and it will still take 4 weeks minimum.
Now, let’s get to what it actually means to cycle your new aquarium!
Cycling is turning a static, non-living environment (i.e. brand new tank/filters) into a biologically stable environment that’s safe for live animals.
What do we mean when we keep saying, “biologically stable environment”? Well, the filters (i.e. bioballs, rock media, etc.) of an aquarium need to have strong, healthy colonies of beneficial bacteria established within them. Beneficial bacteria = good bacteria! They take care of the waste created from daily feedings. Cycling allows these bacteria to establish themselves by multiplying and creating large colonies able to handle the waste created within your aquarium by the fish and the food being fed daily.
The Nitrogen Cycle: This is a three-step process converting ammonia (NH₃) into nitrite (NO₂) and finally into nitrate (NO₃)—all done through the bacteria. The “cycling process” is essentially the Nitrogen Cycle! All three of these compounds will be present at some point during cycling and since ammonia and nitrite are toxic to all saltwater animals (not just jellyfish), this is why cycling should be done “fish-less” and before introducing the first animals. Nitrate is a by-product of the nitrogen cycle that will always be present in your aquarium and is not toxic to moon jellyfish under 100 ppm; so, no need to worry about nitrate while cycling! It is always maintained through weekly water changes once cycling is done.
Fish-less cycling involves adding an ammonia source and starter bacteria culture to begin the colonization in the filters. Ammonia and bacteria must be added at the same time to start the cycle. The bacteria will consume the ammonia, converting it to nitrite. As nitrite spikes, the ammonia will begin to decrease down to zero. This is followed by a final decrease in nitrite to zero. Once the ammonia and nitrite levels both return to zero, the aquarium is cycled!
Let’s move onto the
Fish-less Cycling Program!
Here’s what you’ll need to start:
- Freshly mixed or store bought saltwater
- Instructions on how to properly mix your own saltwater [Tips On Mixing Your Own Saltwater]
- Ammonia source – we highly recommend Dr. Tim’s Ammonium Chloride solution
- Instead of waiting for a piece of shrimp to break down and produce ammonia, adding ammonium chloride directly to your system will save time (and is harmless)!
- Bacteria source – we recommend Dr. Tim’s One & Only Live Nitrifying Bacteria in conjunction with their ammonium chloride solution
- As an alternative, you can use BioSpira bacteria[Purchase from Amazon here]
- API Saltwater Master Test Kit – includes pH, NH3, NO2, NO3 [Purchase from Amazon here]
- Thermometer and hydrometer or refractometer – to test for temperature and salinity
- Fish-less Cycling Program Guidelines – this is your weekly guide to see what the *expected* week-by-week changes in water quality (also a.k.a. the nitrogen cycle) for your tank [download the PDF below]
Let’s start cycling!
- Fill out the form below to let us know you are starting the Fish-less Cycling Program
- Download our Fish-less Cycling Program Guidelines PDF to follow along throughout the cycle
- Once your new aquarium is set up and running with new saltwater, add the ammonia and bacteria sources (following directions on the bottles) on the same day
- If using Dr. Tim’s One & Only Live Nitrifying Bacteria, we recommend adding the entire bottle to your system to ensure a plentiful stock of bacteria
- Take your first set of water quality readings – this includes temperature, salinity, pH, ammonia, and nitrite
- Take a picture of the pH, ammonia, and nitrite vials in front of the color chart included with the test kit [example pictures provided below] – record and date these baseline readings on the PDF every week
- Keep these pictures and records of your weekly test readings to send to us via email at the end of the cycle*** – we will use these as confirmation that your tank is successfully cycled and that you can now receive your 3 Free Moon Jellyfish with your first order of jellyfish at Sunset Marine Labs!
*** You must have a full picture record of all 4+ weeks of water quality readings to show you have completely cycled your new jellyfish tank in order to qualify for the 3 free moon jellyfish with first jellyfish order.***
NOTE: The 3 free moon jellyfish will only be rewarded if your tank is 5 gallons or larger. Any tanks smaller than 5 gallons are not capable of handling 6 moon jellyfish of any size.
DO’s & DON’T’s of Cycling
- DO read this entire blog post and the Fish-less Cycling Program Guidelines to fully understand the cycling process and how to cycle your new jellyfish aquarium
- DON’T skip any part of this blog as it contains all of the essential information you need to know about cycling!
- DO use new saltwater with the following baseline water quality parameters:
- Temperature = 65-78°F
- Salinity = 31-33 ppt or 1.023-24 SG
- pH = 8.0-8.1
- DON’T add any buffers, conditioners, or additives to your aquarium water before or during the cycle – these can throw off the water quality and disrupt or inhibit the cycle from starting
- DO use Instant Ocean Sea Salt mix for your saltwater as it has no buffers, conditioners, or additives [Purchase from Amazon here]
- DON’T use any salt mix labeled as “reef salt,” “pH balanced,” “probiotic,” or “enriched” as these tends to have extra minerals, vitamins, and higher levels of pH specific for corals, anemones, etc. in reef tanks
- DO make sure your pump is plugged in, turned on, and working properly
- DON’T keep your tank near windows and/or in direct sunlight to keep algal growth at a minimum
- DO use freshwater labeled only as “Distilled Water”
- DON’T use freshwater jugs labeled “Spring Water,” “Purified Water,” or anything else to mix your saltwater or for topping off
- DO add distilled/RO water to compensate for evaporation (evaporation causes salinity to rise; adding freshwater helps to bring it back down)
- Evaporation is noticeable when the water level is lower than where it started
- DON’T add distilled/RO water near the filters – this can completely wipe out your growing bacteria colonies
- Only add freshwater to the main viewing area
- DO record your weekly test vial readings via pictures with the color chart
- DON’T use test strips as they often give unreliable readings
- DO start the cycling process with a newly setup aquarium.
- If your aquarium has been running with saltwater & the bio starter bacteria for longer than a week, you will need to dump the water and start over with all new saltwater & new bacteria.
- DON’T perform any water or filter changes during cycling – this can disturb the growing bacteria and disrupt the cycle
- DON’T freak out if your cycle isn’t exactly on track – every cycle is different and sometimes an aquarium needs an extra week to catch up
- DON’T add a bubbler if you own a Cubic Orbit 20 jellyfish aquarium before or during the cycle – aeration can inhibit the cycle from starting
Things that can delay or disrupt the cycling process
- Starting with a pH higher than 8.2 can inhibit the cycling process from starting by disturbing the bacteria. The pH of an aquarium will naturally drop during the cycle – which is normal! – and needs to be left alone to do its thing until the cycle is done.
- Starting with salinity too high or too low can also inhibit the cycling process from starting by disturbing the bacteria. The optimal salinity range for moon jellyfish is 31-33 ppt or 1.023-24 SG, which is perfect for cycling.