Fish-less Cycling Program: Everything You Need to Know About Cycling New Jellyfish Aquariums

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***At this time, we are suspending the “program” part of our Fish-less Cycling Program due to reduced staff availability. Signups will not be accepted until further notice. If you are setting up a new jellyfish aquarium, we still strongly recommend you still cycle it using the fish-less method before introducing your first jellyfish.***


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.

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Graph estimating how the nitrogen cycle progresses over time. Taken from “The Nitrogen Cycle” by Centreville Aquarium Centre.

Fish-less cycling involves placing a nickel-sized (approx. ¾” x ¾”) piece of raw shrimp (add one nickel-sized shrimp piece for every 10g of water volume your aquarium can hold) into the filter box or compartment of your aquarium. The raw shrimp will begin to decompose and create ammonia to start the cycling process. At the same time, a starter bacteria culture is added to begin the colonization in the filters. After about two weeks, the ammonia level will rise to a peak (also known as “spiking”) and then start to decrease to zero. Once the ammonia is finished spiking, the nitrite level will begin to rise. After another two weeks, the ammonia will return to zero and the nitrite won’t be far behind. 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
  • Bacteria source – we recommend using BioSpira [Purchase from Amazon here]
  • Ammonia source – a nickel-sized piece (¾” x ¾”) of a raw shrimp for every 10g saltwater
    • Single shrimp can be bought from the fresh seafood section of your local grocery store
  • 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]
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Screenshot taken from our EON Instructional Video Series video about cycling. Watch the video here.

Let’s start cycling!

  1. Once your new aquarium is set up and running with new saltwater (salinity should be 1.022-1.024 Specific Gravity or 31-33ppt), add the bacteria source and two nickel-sized pieces of shrimp at the same time.
  2. Take your baseline water quality readings – this includes temperature, salinity, pH, ammonia, and nitrite.
  3. Test for pH, ammonia, and nitrite every week to keep track of the fluctuations in levels that indicate where you are in the cycle. Record these on the PDF guideline water quality sheet (download below).
  4. Once both ammonia and nitrite have returned to zero after subsequent spikes, your aquarium is ready for jellyfish! (Keep the piece of shrimp in your aquarium until the jellyfish arrive. It will continue to feed the newly established beneficial bacteria until you begin a daily feeding routine with jellyfish).

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Click to download the Fish-less Cycling Program Guidelines PDF.


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
  • DO keep an eye on the piece of shrimp in your tank – sometimes it can completely disintegrate before the cycle is over and will need to be replaced to keep the ammonia production up
  • 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.

These Jellyfish are Just Clowning Around in their PJ’s!

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Do you love keeping fish and would also like to keep jellyfish?  What to do?!

You can keep them both in our Eon Jellyfish System because we have a fully-functional wet/dry filter on the back of the tank! Once your system is cycled, you can safely add fish. They also love feeding on the jellyfish food …

We have been testing our Eon 2ube Jellyfish System with 3 Pajama Cardinal fish and a pair of Clownfish. Also hanging out in the tank are 15 moon jellies about 2″-3″ diameter.

Please note, this system is fully cycled and has a heater in it to maintain a constant temperature of 72-75ºF for these tropical fish.

Everyone has been getting along and thriving for the past six weeks and only being fed our jellyfish food. Next, we will add a sea anemone specifically for the clownfish, and see how that goes!

More to be revealed soon!  But we are super excited to have a co-habitation situation happening between the fish and the jellyfish! The clownfish are extremely interactive with us and seem very happy.  The pajama cardinals are super relaxed and love the jellyfish food!

 

 

 

 

Keep Your Training Wheels on During Cycling of Your Jellyfish Aquarium!

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All hobbies start with overwhelming enthusiasm! We are so eager to learn all that we can about whatever it is, then buy all the necessary gear and equipment (most hobbies have the coolest gear and accessories to go along with them!) and dive right in with all the excitement of a 6 year old on Christmas morning!  These are the things that make hobbies so much fun!  They are generally new to us and open us up to all kinds of new ideas and people, places and things.  Your budding hobby has you jumping out of your shorts and you just don’t want to wait another minute to get it completely mastered.

Some hobbies, however, do require some patience – at least at the beginning stages.  Gardening is one of those hobbies.  You can’t plant your seeds or seedlings one day and then go out the next day or following week and dig them up to replant them because you think they are not growing fast enough.  This will surely inhibit their growth, if not kill them in the process.  Plants have roots that need to establish themselves in the soil before they can send nourishment to the plant for growth. The soil & roots need time to go through a nitrogen-fixing cycle, or nitrification cycle.  It is a natural activity in which nitrogen is processed by bacteria in the soil in order to make it available to the plant for nourishment. This cycling process is also necessary in marine environments in order to create a safe and non-toxic environment for your fish and /or invertebrates.  Without the nitrification process completed in your system, you will not be successful at keeping anything alive—it’s a fact.

Patience is needed to allow the beneficial bacteria to populate your biological filters.  Generally biological filters are a darkened area like a filter box where no light enters. Bacteria are inhibited by light so a filter box is best for housing the biological filter.  It is also an area that will not be disturbed during maintenance because we don’t want cause a bacterial bloom in the aquarium.  Once they are established, your biological filters are the foundation in which your hobby can begin.

So, remember these bacteria populations need a lot of food energy to grow so you don’t want to take away any of the ammonia producing elements in your system.  The dirty filters, the detritus on the bottom, the slightly cloudy water—these are food producing (ammonia producing) and are just what you want to get those bacteria populations growing!  Don’t do any water or filter changes (mechanical or chemical) during the cycling process. You will only be prolonging the cycle by diluting the food source for the bacteria.

This is not a jellyfish specific task.  This is what every aquarist—hobbyist or professional, has to deal with all the time.  But, once completed properly you can feel confident you have taken the necessary measures creating a safe and healthy home for your new pet jellyfish.