The Nitrogen Cycle is the backbone of all filtrations, whether for fish or turtles. Many people find this complicated when entering this realm of the aquarium-related hobby, but fret not, I will attempt to dumb it down for you to make it all a cool breeze.

Why is this important? Having a basic understanding of the nitrogen cycle helps you understand why your water is not as clean as it should be, such as cloudy or stinky water. It will also help you understand your filtration system. Which also means you can make better decisions when getting a filter without getting swayed by branding.

The nitrogen cycle is basically how nitrogen from the air, converts to other forms and back to nitrogen. Just like how water from the lakes evaporates to the air, comes down as rain, and back to the lake.

So how does it apply to your turtle husbandry?

In the tank, the nitrogen cycle starts from ammonia (NH3). Leftover pellets and excrement produce ammonia in the water. Ammonia is NH3, the N is nitrogen. Ammonia (NH3) converts to nitrite (NO2), then to nitrates (NO3), then back to nitrogen (N2).

Ammonia – Nitrite – Nitrate – Nitrogen

Ammonia and nitrite in the water are bad. It is the main reason fish die in an aquarium. Although it does not kill turtles, it contaminates the water and gives them less than ideal water condition, making them smell. Nitrates are not good, but not that bad either. It is much less toxic as compared to ammonia and nitrite.

How do you remove nitrogen and nitrite then?

You don’t. You don’t remove them, you convert them. It’s like you don’t throw away your empty jar of peanut butter, you convert it to a stationery holder. Who helps you convert ammonia to nitrite and then to nitrate? Nitrifying bacteria. Nitrifying bacteria are also known as beneficial bacteria or good bacteria, because they help you clean your water. Follow me so far?

How do you get good bacteria?

You don’t get good bacteria, they just appear, from the surrounding air or something and settles in the water to munch on some good ammonia. More often than not, there’s not enough good bacteria in the water to convert all the ammonia produced by your turtles, so they need to find a house to settle down and multiply, that’s where your filtration comes in. Your filtration is really a house for good bacteria live in. The good bacteria attaches itself to surfaces and multiply. Nothing provides better surface area than bio medias. So when you filter your water in your aquarium, it just means you are converting ammonia to nitrite to nitrate.

What about nitrates? Who converts them?

By right, DEnitrifying bacteria, BUT denitrifying bacteria doesn’t thrive in filters as they need environment without oxygen. That’s why you have to do water changes. It is mainly to get rid of nitrates which otherwise would just stay around in the water and build up.

There you go, now you are an expert. Sort of.

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