It was a regular Friday night. A night like any other Friday night. Home from work, shoes kicked off at the door, purse and keys dropped on the counter. It was the kind of night where the main attraction was a Netflix marathon. I was moseying back from the kitchen toward the living room and passed a casual glance at my JBJ 28 gallon nano cube tank.
The maroon clownfish we call Archie darted out from behind some live rock and rushed the glass. I’ve come to recognize that as fish language for “feed me.”
I toss in a little food and watch them eat. That’s when I noticed a white spot on Archie’s dorsal fin. It was a perfect white spot. It wasn’t even really white as much as it was an absence of his otherwise very deep maroon color.
I had flashbacks to when we had a parasitic worm infestation in our other tank. All of the fish were affected. We had one casualty.
Seeing the spot on Archie’s fin was a red flag. I have a sentimental attachment to Archie. He is the last of the OG fish we started with when we bought our first saltwater tank. If something happened to him I would be devastated.
For some reason I decided adding iodine to the tank, thinking that would heal him. I found a small bottle of Fugol’s in the back of the cabinet. I held it up to the tank and said to Archie, “You will live, my friend. We have medicine!”
I casually asked my boyfriend, who was watching Netflix in the living room if I could add a little iodine to the tank because it looked like Archie might have a little smidge of something-something on his fin, I’m sure it’s nothing, it’s probably nothing but you know just some iodine might help, whattayathink?
He casually looked up at me and said, “One or two drops in the back of the tank might be okay.”
Aha! Greenlight. It’s Doctor-Fish Time. I got out the dropper, skimmed the directions, and put about 8-10 drops in the back of the tank.
I was actually going for a full dropper but the rubber bulb wasn’t working so great so I got about half a dropper. I was going back into the bottle to get another dropperful when my mind started ringing bells. Warning bells were dinging all over the place. I stopped like a deer in the headlights, staring at the dropper and thought to myself, “Did he say 1-2 drops or 1-2 dropperfuls?” Ever so casually, dropper bottle hiding behind my back, I said, “Umm babe, did you say 1-2 drops or dropperfuls?”
Like forest animals smell the storm from miles away my boyfriend, sharp as a tack, says, “Why?! How many drops did you put in?”
I knew instinctively by his tone that somebody was in troubbbble! I did what many of us would do. I lied. I lied a little. Just a little. I hedged the number and said, “Um, oh about this much” and made a small pinched finger motion. He was’t buying it. He said, “How many drops?” I decided to take the very confident lie approach. If I could make him believe I knew what I was doing then for sure it would be okay, right? So, I said, “Oh you know about 5-6 drops, at most. Maybe.”
He lit up like a Christmas tree. Said something about killing everything in the tank, total decimation, murder. It was a confusing time. So much was happening.
I immediately stared in the tank at the fish, the giant squamosa clam and felt my bladder get full. I had instant nausea, shaky hands, acid reflux. “I was just trying to help guys.”
And in this moment of panic, my mind resorted to its natural defense mechanism, which is denial. I thought, “There’s no way that can be right. They won’t all die. That can’t be true.” So, I did what any inexperienced reefer would do and googled: iodide overdose saltwater and then scrolled for anything that appeared to be legitimate regarding the overuse of iodide in a saltwater tank, muttering the whole time under my breath, “please saltwater forum know-it –alls, tell me it’s going to be okay.”
Guess what? It wasn’t okay. It was far from okay according to the forum boards. The words “Everything will die” are still emblazoned on my eyelids. In a voice mixed with defeat and shame I said to my boyfriend, “You’re right. I think I might have killed the tank.”
It must have been the sound of utter defeat in my voice because my boyfriend softened on me. I stared at the tank, every so often muttering solutions:
“Do you think the fish store is closed? We need water.” It was 10pm
“Do you think if I turn off the pumps the water won’t mix with the iodide?”
“What if I take the fish out and acclimate them with your water from your tank? ”
“Will the clam close and seal out the poison water?”
“How long will it take to poison the water?”
“What if I add a buffer?”
My boyfriend finally said, “Leave it alone. There is nothing you can do tonight.” I went to bed dejected and sad, believing Archie would be dead in the morning. I didn’t sleep well. I woke up three times in the night, stumbling to the tank, eyes fuzzy, looking for life in the tank. I even turned on the light once to see if Archie and The Little One would come out. They did. The clam seemed okay. The coral was okay. Everything seemed to be okay but I still couldn’t sleep. I woke up early, laid in bed staring at the ceiling for a few minutes before getting up to look in the tank.
Everything was still alive. Nothing looked happy though. Everything looked strained. I did some tank housekeeping, scraped the algae off the glass, took out a couple of pieces of small live rock that had aiptasia covering it and did a 50% water change. I bought a Koralia circulation and wave pump with a 240GPH flow rate, ordered some new media for the filter and added a few drops of calcium to the tank for the clam.
During the cleaning process, the clam got really angry and blew a hard air stream at me when my hand got too close to the mantle. Archie started sweeping the sand, clearly agitated. He darted at me a few times, mouth open, trying to eat me, I guess. The Little One stayed safely hidden in the xenia.
Death and destruction was averted. But I learned a really powerful lesson. Dosing any kind of chemical in the tank should be done with extreme caution and guidance if you are inexperienced, and only after researching as much as possible about the potential outcome.