ATM UK Tries Hard to Sell Their Instant Aquarium Cycle Snake Oil


We’ve gotten into a habit of being a thorn in the sides of the “Tanked” guys, and with the recently published video above, there’s a good chance we’ll stay that way. The UK branch of Acrylic Tank Manufacturing has what they claim to be irrefutable proof that their ATM Colony bacteria dosing product works, and works so well that they can barely keep it on the shelf. To prove the product’s worth, they set up a brand new tank, stocked it, and had it cycled within 5 whole days! Amazing, if only it were true. Let me explain.

To show the firepower of Colony, these Brits set up a 550 liter aquarium (roughly 150 gallons), filled it with newly mixed saltwater (using ATM’s salt), added a couple of bags of dry sand, a bunch of dry rocks, and two huge bottles of ATM Colony. The tank’s two Fluval FX6 canister filters were put into place, and a Seneye monitor was installed to track the vital parameters (ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, etc). They let the tank settle overnight, then added a moderate amount of fish, and tracked the data over a brief period of time.

After five whole days, the tank had apparently cycled fully, despite there being several fish added the very next day. So, that makes ATM’s product a wonder drug right? Well, no, not at all…and here’s why.

First off, the tank is brand new. All tanks are at some point, but moving on. They added dry, dead rock. So, no die off from natural organisms to foul up the water. Again, not a huge deal here as this is common practice these days. The same goes for the sand, which was also dry and devoid of any decaying organic matter. Add in the freshly mixed water, toss on two giant canister filters loaded with carbon, and you’re still not doing anything out of the norm, but you still have zero source of ammonia.

The fish were added on day two, but the gentleman in the video explains that they weren’t fed, or were fed such a limited quanitity per the bottle’s printed instructions. Then, after five days of being set up, the tank is done cycling, as indicated by the presence of nitrate. This would be totally a perfectly acceptable conclusion except for the fact that the Seneye shows an ammonia concentration of 0.25ppm and nitrate of 20ppm. Now, if I’m not mistaken, and it’s been a little while since I’ve had to deal with a cycling aquarium, but wouldn’t the presence of ammonia at that concentration be indicative of a cycle that hasn’t yet finished? The Seneye monitor can read ammonia down to 0.01ppm, and I use the same monitor in my established reef tank and it shows ammonia around zero, constantly.

Instead of the video showing that two huge bottles of live bacteria can tackle a cycle in 5 days, it just shows that the product isn’t as great as it’s hyped up to be. Furthermore, since there was no ammonia introduced to the tank via live rock and sand, it’s easy to assume that all of it came from the fish and what little food they received…which further shows how worthless this product truly is.

To sum up our opinions, live nitrifying bacteria…regardless of their source…are not a way to create an instantly cycled aquarium. They can help, but we still recommend going a full month or more before adding your first fish. And even then, just add fish slowly, and not all at once.


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  • Ed Fishman

    I worked in the industry for over 20 years. I tried everything that came out for rapid tank starts. Every year something new came out that was said it could eliminate the cycle process. Not a single manufacturer could come up with adequate lab reports supporting their claims. Not to mention that the sales reps were absolutely useless. Now let’s think a little bit. All of the supposed bacteria were put into stasis or some form of it to facilitate shelf life. As a biology major I can tell you that there is no way to ensure 100% survival/revival of said bacteria using current or most common money saving packaging processes. Therefore you almost always have an ammonia and nitrite cycle. Mind you, if you only used said products. Closest I ever came to near perfection was Marineland’s refrigerated Bio line of quick starts. Even then I chose to use cured live rock along with it. I never tried to sell something that I never tried myself. Hence, finding a trustworthy LFS is a must these days.

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  • Christopher Fraser

    Sorry to pop your balloon here but the stuff does work, and exactly like described.

    I’ve seen the proof.

    Also Dr Tims one and only does the same job, drop me an email I’ll send you the data of my test of it.

    • Christopher Fraser

      Also to add, I think you will be less a thorn in ATM’s side and more an annoying knat that when noticed gets swatted to the side and forgotten 😉

  • Brian Barnett

    I personally Couldn’t care less wether it works or not!

    what bothers me is the constant onslaught of people being sent into forums and groups on facebook, even on sites like these to deliberately appear as ATM Evangelists, even though some sites and groups actively prevent the discussion of such topics owing to the arguments and out of control threads that are created from simply mentioning the topic!

    one thing that is always constant in these “Discussions” is that the people preaching the word of the shark normally offer nothing in the way of scientific findings, and normally end up resorting to personal insults after the first ten minutes of debate, people who choose not to “Trust the Shark” are referred to openly as dinosaurs amongst other things, and their methods of fish keeping are ridiculed to achieve a response in kind, all in a deliberate attempt to fuel the fire

    I run such a facebook group, and decided to request that the topic was dropped, (after a 1000 plus post thread, and far too many “colonygate” affairs for my liking…) for the above reasons, and instantly found double the normal references to it than i would normally have…

    shortly after the discussion limitations were put in place, our group began a charitable project which was close to our hearts, the group was buzzing with ideas for the project, and donations etc were abundant, there was a really good atmosphere and everyone was focussed on a single goal…

    i left my computer, went to bed, and returned the following day to no less than 5 pictures of bottles of ATM’s colony and usage reports from a member, who participated in the thread discussing the ban… Go figure! there was also a video posted of how the sealife sanctuary in huntingdon UK had used the product and were so happy with it… my bet is that they wouldn’t be so happy if they knew how their name was being used, and the tone of the discussion it caused! I don’t know of a company that would be happy to condone such tactics.

    these people cannot accept that opinions differ, and insight chaos just to keep their products fresh in newer fish keepers minds… in my opinion this is nothing short of guerrilla marketing, and promotes the fish keeping hobby as “Simplistic” leading only to the deaths of some of the planets most beautiful and complex life forms when they are left in the hands of those who are impatient, and ill informed.

    Rant Over 🙂

    • Ben Fuller

      6 months late but hear goes. I’m not gonna get into debate about the products as to each his own but there is something about your rant I want to mention.

      “my bet is that they wouldn’t be so happy if they knew how their name was being used, and the tone of the discussion it caused! I don’t know of a company that would be happy to condone such tactics.”

      No company would give a crap really for 2 reasons they can’t control who how or when someone uses there product to prove an there opinion or just like you say to start a debate and ultimately an insult marathon over said product or products. That is something the company making said product us accountable or responsible for. Of course they wouldn’t Condone it but nor can they do anything about it

      Secondly why do you jump to the conclusion people who defend or use or trying to prove atm colony stuff works and end up insulting people over there opinion are atm evangelists? Isn’t it more likely the product worked the way they needed it to and there just giving there opinion albeit in a forceful insulting manner. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you anti atm colony proud people or similar products will do and do the exact same thing. Take this sight for example there trying to go so far out there way to disprove a product it comes across like it’s a personal attack on the company and the video.

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  • steve purton

    I’m relatively new to aquarium keeping(2 months in), although I have a good knowledge of fish due to 20 odd years of diving.
    I just wondered why you are so anti ‘live bacteria’.
    all the research I did before deciding, pointed in the direction of this method.
    I have used it and had zero problems.
    all the parameters from start till now were spot on (almost as if the tank was already cycled).
    Just like any staunch political party fans, or the religious, you lose all respect by being so against something, that you have gone completely blind to any opinion other than your own.
    I have no offiliation with any product.
    I’m just, as always, interested in how you come to your decision.

    • This article was written by the previous owner of AquaNerd about 2 1/2 years ago. I purchased the business from the previous owner in July of last year.