The Nitrogen Cycle - Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate


The nitrogen cycle is the biological process that converts ammonia in to relatively harmless nitrogen compounds. Several species of bacteria are responsible for this  conversion. Some species convert ammonia (NH3) to nitrite (N02-), while others convert nitrite to nitrate (NO3-).

Fish release Ammonia: The Nitrosomonas bacteria consume the Ammonia and release a chemical called Nitrite.
The Nitrobacter bacteria consume the Nitrite and release a chemical called Nitrate.
Nitrates are not harmful to fish till very high levels.
Nitrates are consumed by Algae and plants.

In a Bait holding tank fish give off waste products. These nitrogenous waste products break down into ammonia (NH3), which is highly toxic to most fish.
In nature, the volume of water per fish is extremely high, and waste products become diluted to low concentrations.

To start a nitrification cycle in a bait holding tank the tank should be lightly populated with bait. Fish digestion, fish respiration, and the decomposition of uneaten food begin to produce ammonia.
Once ammonia becomes detectable, no other fish should be added. Do not do partial water changes unless you are experiencing multiple fish death. The tank may become cloudy and/or emit a slight gaseous odor during the initial stages of nitrification.

A species of nitrifying bacteria, nitrosomonas, will start to convert the toxic ammonia into less toxic nitrites.

As this conversion begins, the cycle is at its most toxic level. Another nitrifying bacteria, nitrobacter, then convert nitrites into even lesser toxic nitrates completing the cycle and allowing you to add fish and to start regular, periodic, partial water changes.

While short term exposure to nitrates may not be harmful, prolonged exposure to high nitrate levels can cause stress and greater susceptibility to disease.

The most common causes of ammonia are overfeeding, overcrowding, inadequate filtration and/or improper maintenance

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