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#1 Cancersticker

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Posted 03 May 2007 - 07:53 PM

I've been getting a lot of questions about my tank lately and thought I'd spell out the basics of my method of keeping nano reefs.


I should really start by defining what a nano reef is. A nano reef is a small saltwater aquarium generally under 30 gallons used to grow corals and house small fish and invertebrates. That's the easy way of putting it, the more accurate way of defining the hobby is to say it is the practice designing an apparatus to emulate the worlds most complex ecosystem in a small volatile container. And that is the honest truth.

Many websites you go to will advocate fancy equipment, supplements, and other chemicals to make small reefs work, I don't subscribe to that school of thinking at all. I like to keep my reefs simple, if you could ever call a reef a simple thing... coverlaugh1.gif Because simple is a bad word to associate with my method we'll just call it low tech.

The reason I don't use gizmos, gadgetry, and chemicals to keep my reef alive is because all of those little machines are automating processes better served by hands on effort on the part of the aquarist. This means more work.

The big place I deviate from the generally accepted reefing formula is protein skimming. The idea behind a protein skimmer is that it is an overpriced airstone with a cup over it that collects particulate matter and polishes your water crystal clear, less nutrients means less nitrates and less waterchanging. I don't like protein skimmers because if your nano reef is producing enough waste to merit needing to remove it before you'd do a waterchange to replace used trace elements and improve general water quality, your tank is overstocked and it will crash under the bioload when your skimmer inevitably breaks.

Filtration in a reef tank is critical, especially without a protein skimmer, so I like to use a pound and a half to two pounds of good porous liverock per gallon of water in my reefs liverock is the backbone of any good saltwater tank nowadays, it is the most best way to maintain your nitrogen cycle available to the saltwater aquarist, way better than the types of filtration generally associated with freshwater aquaria.

In terms of mechanical filtration, I don't do it. I simply make sure that my tank inhabitants aren't producing waste that another of them will benefit from. for example, I don't worry about fish poo because corals eat it. I don't worry about coral waste because the hermit crabs and snails eat it, I don't worry too much about crab and snail waste because by the time the fish waste gets broken down into crab and snail waste there isn't much waste, and what waste there is gets broken down into nitrates by the liverock, and my Macroalgae take care of that.

Macroalgae is next in line behind liverock in terms of important stuff in the tank. Macroalgae are large algae organisms which are the saltwater equivalent of plants in a freshwater tank, they consume nitrates, and are home to countless microorganisms that eat even the tiniest particles of organic waste, and constantly breed providing biodiversity and food for other reef inhabitants. I like to put it in my backpack filters, and also I like to run refugiums.

Refugiums are often tanks plumbed into main displays full of beneficial macroalgae and filter media, such as live rock rubble or floss. As I've already stated, I like my reefs with less stuff that can break than complex plumbing arrays, so I get cheap acrylic shower caddies and stick them under the output of my power filters and fill them with macroalgae. I wind up getting the benefit of my main lights powering my refugium, and I never have to worry about the plumbing blowing out or maintaining water levels in a sump, which is an easy thing to forget to do, and crashes your tank quick if you forget to do it.

Now on to lights.. I like power compacts. They're relatively inexpensive and on smaller tanks they provide enough light to keep everything short of SPS that require cleaner water than i care to keep anyway. Other options include fluorescents, which are a waste of time, T5s which are nice if buy enough of them, but in the long run metal halides are cheaper, VHO fluorescents which are nice but a pain in the *** to retrofit into anything, nobody manufactures VHO fixtures for some stupid reason, and last are metal halides, which are awesome but have the price tag to go along with their quality.. if you want the most bang for your buck, go with power compacts, they do a good job.

I'm tired now and this is taking longer to write than I anticipated.. I'll continue this thread later starting with what constitutes good live rock to start a tank with, feel free to post any questions you may have about what I've already got up here smile1.gif

#2 bUcky

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Posted 03 May 2007 - 08:16 PM

Awsome, perfect thread i was just reading about this.

More on liverock and microalgae?

Good stocking ratio? exp how many snails, shrimp, fish per gallon/liverock? however that works

Edited by bUcky, 03 May 2007 - 08:23 PM.


#3 Cancersticker

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 11:28 AM

QUOTE (bUcky @ May 3 2007, 09:16 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Awsome, perfect thread i was just reading about this.

More on liverock and microalgae?

Good stocking ratio? exp how many snails, shrimp, fish per gallon/liverock? however that works


livestock per gallon is a stupid concept. It's an archaic rule that is based on the notion that living things work like clockwork and are always 100% consistent.

I like to start off my tanks with 1 nassarius snail per square foot of the tanks footprint. If the sand seems to stay dirty after a few weeks, slowly add more until it gets clean, and stays clean, and step up water changes to keep detritus on the sand from fouling your water.

for algae and detritus control I like bluelegged hermit crabs, they're small, don't generally disturb anything, and do a fine job of cleaning, one crab per 5 pounds of rock should do fine for you. if a lot of hair algae shows up, consider adding 1 turbo snail per 10 pounds of liverock in your tank, and step up waterchanges, note I'm suggesting stocking based on filtration, not gallonage.

once your tank gets it's first diatom bloom, it's time to add trochus snails, these I like to add based on gallonage, because they are there to clean the sides of your tank on a consistent basis, so i suggest one per 10 gallons unless you have a serious diatom problem, in which case temporarily add more, but plan on removing them and stepping up water changes should the problem persist... noticing a pattern in solutions yet?


I'm going to note that I don't keep large crabs (including emerald crabs) as cleaner animals, this is because I don't trust them, they are known to randomly kill and eat corals and fish at random, even if there is plenty of algae for them to scavenge on. For the same reason I like to avoid large shrimp outside of the cleaner shrimp or coral shrimp families.



Fish are a whole other can of worms.. the best way to keep a nano is without fish. Compared to corals and invertebrates fish are filthy animals that always produce waste and mandate more frequent water changes. The rule of fish per gallon has never been less true than it is in pertinence to nano reefs though.

a 3 inch mandarin will die in a 20 gallon tank because there will not be enough liverock and macroalgae present to produce enough copepods for them to eat. but a 6 inch angler would be quite happy to live in a 10 gallon tank so long as enough filtration and food was provided. follow where I'm going with this?


now you're curious what kinds of fish are good for nanos I'm sure, so I'll give you a little rundown.

Damsels are great. Most species are small, generally colorful, energetic, and have interesting feisty personalities, they're a lot like bettas in a lot of respects. Their closest living relatives are actually african cichlids. They are easily the hardiest fish available to the saltwater aquarist. The other nice thing about damsels is that they're cheap.

In larger nanos 15G+ clownfish make interesting subjects, everyone will be happy to know that percula and occelaris clowns (the ones that look like Nemo) are the ones best suited to life in a nano reef. I suggest one clown in a nano since they can be quite territorial, unless you find a bonded pair, which isn't uncommon. They do not need anenomes to be kept successfully, I have found plenty of corals from the euphilia and sarcypython genus that clowns will host in as readily as they do anenomes.

Gobies blennies are generally good choices, just make sure you pick a small, hardy species.. they are the most diverse group of fish in the trade and I'm not even going to try to list the appropriate ones, feel free to PM me if you have any questions about a particular species... or exercise some google fu and see what the folks on the plethora of SW messageboards have to say about the species you're interested in.. remember research everything before you buy it. general rule of thumb with them though, they like lots of hiding places, and are very territorial once they set up a little home in your tank, so one goby or blenny per tank, unless they are so different in size and shape that they won't see each other as competition.

angel fish are generally poor reef inhabitants, especially since most species grow well over a foot long. There are dwarf angel species, and many people have had success keeping them in reef environments, but many people have also had their 20 dollar angelfish eat the polyps off of their 500 dollar acropora overnight.

Predators in general are a bad idea for reef environments... That being said predator reefs are my favorite tanks of any sort. The trick to making a predator reef work is picking a small predator, of course all fish are predators upon something, but I think we all know the kinds of fish I'm talking about here, the ones that you get to watch kill things. Most predatory SW fish are either open water swimmers or are simply too big and violent for life in a nano reef. Small anglers, dwarf lions, and dwarf morays are the best choices assuming you can find specimens who are taking food... I am happy to field questions regarding SW predators since they are some of my favorite fish.

tangs are a big nono.. the smallest ones grow to at least 8" and need a lot of open swimming room, something you will never have in a nano, all you'll have is an ich encrusted dead tang before too long.

I think that answers your question Bucky.


Now on to what makes a reef a reef, corals.

Corals run the gamut of being cheap to expensive and easy to hard and plain to beautiful.. Assuming you went the usual route for nano reefs and stuck the biggest powercompact rig you could fit over your tank I'll give the following advice for coral selection.

PC lights are great, they don't grow SPS very well, but they'll do everything else in spades, and considering how dirty I like to keep my water anyway, no SPS isn't really so much a comprimise as it is a requirement.

I'm really very partial to soft corals that grow fast and propogate easily, so I'm big into Sarcopython (toadstool) leathers, mushrooms, Capnella (tree coral), and colonial polyps (zoanthids, palythoas, cloves, et al) the best thing about these types of corals is how relatively difficult they are to kill, and how much they like dirty water.

I also like a lot of large polyp stony corals, good easy ones include open brains, caulastrea (candy cane/trumpet corals), and euphillia (Hammer, Torch, or Frogspawn corals) What makes large polyp stonies trickier is that they do best if they're fed.. feeding an animal that can't really move is a strange process, you have to cut up appropriate food, generally mysis or krill, turn off your current, place the chopped food on the corals mouth, and wait for it to eat, while chasing your fish away from the food. without making enough current to disturb the feeding process. it's a pain in the ***, thankfully you don't have to do it more than once a week to keep most corals happy and healthy.

those are just my favorites, but there is enough variety in each of those groups to stock an entire tank if you're patient enough to wait for new stuff to come around... I'm sure there's more to this that I'm not remembering off the top of my head, but if anyone has any questions feel free to post in here or PM me and I'll update this thread with the best answer I can give you.

Edited by Cancersticker, 05 May 2007 - 04:48 PM.


#4 Cancersticker

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 04:40 PM

sorry, I hadn't answered your questions about live rock and macroalgae...

I"m not really sure what you want to know so I'll spell out some more details.. Live rock isn't actually rock, nor is it alive. It is made of dead coral skeletons encrusted with bacteria and algae. these bacteria and algae are what make a SW nitrogen cycle work, when LR is harvested from the seafloor it is teeming with all sorts of critters, unfortunately because it has to be shipped across the world before we can put it in our tanks most of those things start to die. Most retailers use the term uncured rock to describe rock that has just been flown in and still has organic matter decaying on it, which will start a cycle and foul your water. Cured rock on the other hand is rock that has been in captivity long enough to have worked through it's cycle. Because nano reefs are by their very nature unstable environments they are bad places to cure liverock, as you'll just be stuck in a perpetual cycle that's going to take a very very long time to work through itself, and will wind up killing most of the life on the rock. As such I suggest people interested in nano reefs either spring for cured rock, or cure their rock in a 50 gallon drum full of salt water with a powerhead for at least a month prior to putting it in a tank.

Macroalgae are really very simple, they are large forms of marine algae that resemble plants, but because they have no vascular systems they can't be called true plants, the most famous varieties in the americas are the kelps common off of the west coast and sargassum on the east coast. They all require full marine conditions to thrive, and if you have enough light to grow corals macroalgae shouldn't give you any trouble. There are a few different varieties but they're all essentially the same in terms of care, my favorites are razor caulerpa and cheatomorpha, they're easy to find on aquabid or other online outlets if your local shop doesn't routinely stock them.

hope that answers your questions

Edited by Cancersticker, 05 May 2007 - 04:41 PM.


#5 Laughing Cat

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 07:48 PM

Cancersticker, will you marry me? rose24.gif This is everything I wanted to know, but was afraid to ask!

#6 bUcky

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 08:16 PM

Perfect, i didnt know 90% of that.

I plan on just starting with a 10er and then adding a few lbs of live rock, BTW hoe much LR per gallon? I might of missed that.

Is there a good time to start adding corals?

Only fish i want is a nemo, but that can wait untill the tank is stable.

THanks man, keep sharing!


edit : what are "tangs"?

Edited by bUcky, 05 May 2007 - 08:18 PM.


#7 Laughing Cat

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Posted 05 May 2007 - 08:25 PM

Whereas Nemo is a clownfish, Dory is a regal tang fish. yes1.gif

#8 Cancersticker

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Posted 07 May 2007 - 09:12 PM

"Nemos" are percula or occelaris clowns, ironically the two most fragile species of clownfish, but because of the movie they are the most commonly imported. I generally advise against keeping wild caught clowns, if at all possible try to locate CBB (captive born and bred) clowns, they adjust better to life in aquariums, since they have never been in the open ocean.

tangs are large colorful herbivorous fish, again, blue tangs are being imported and killed en masse because of idiots who watched finding nemo and decided they wanted to have a nemo and a dory in their kids room... blue tangs are large growing fish that need at least 125 gallons to have a prayer at survival in aquarium life, but people buy them every day because of that movie... it's like 101 dalmations, but the fad pets aren't getting sent to shelters, they're being taken from the wild and killed, generally by ammonia poisoning, wild populations of clowns, tangs, and anenomes are being decimated and it's really giving SW aquarists a bad name in environmentalist and animal welfare circles... long and short of it is finding nemo was a kids movie intended to entertain our obnoxious offspring with pretty colors and bad voice acting, it was not intended as a guide on how to make a saltwater tank work, and should not be interpreted as one.

If you haven't already gotten it, people who come into my store and say they want a nemo and a dory make me want to chop them up into little bits and feed them to our porcupine puffers (who'll eat literally anything btw)


if you say "I want a Nemo" it's all the information I need to tell you with absolute certainty, that you have a lot more research to do before you even think about setting up a SW tank. I should really be clear here, that my goal is not to spell out exactly how to set up and maintain a reef aquarium, the purpose of this thread is to demystify saltwater for people interested in the hobby, but I still have to suggest you do all the research you can on all of the animals you plan on keeping before you go out and buy them, regardless of what I say in here. You owe it to the creatures you're taking into your custody to know how to keep them alive before you take them home. Again, let me make myself clear, my advice is no substitute for research, YOU HAVE TO RESEARCH EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO KEEP IN YOUR AQUARIUM.

I just wanted to get that out before I wound up giving someone the balls to blow their paycheck on a tank and then crash it the next day.

Edited by Cancersticker, 07 May 2007 - 10:28 PM.


#9 Saucy

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Posted 07 May 2007 - 09:33 PM

Yeah, this is totally pinned... and I will keep this for reference in my personal stash for future reference. LOTS of good information! Can't wait to hear more!!!

#10 Cancersticker

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Posted 07 May 2007 - 10:15 PM

I should probably answer all of the questions included in the post that set me off on my I hate that f*cking movie rant...

I like about 3/4 of a pound to a pound and a half per gallon, depends on how porous the rock is, obviously lighter porous rock is better than dense rock, light rock does more for your system, and leaves more room for cool stuff.


It is safe to add corals once a tank is stable, you know your tank is stable once your water parms have stayed the same for a consecutive week. People who bring corals home the same day as cured liverock are generally either experienced enough to quickly correct problems with water chemistry, or are misinformed/delusional individuals who are very likely to have a dead pile of snot that used to be a coral by the time a week is out.

I have to reiterate though bucky, there is no reason to start with a 10 unless it's the only tank you have room for. if the cost of the tank is a concern, don't start in this hobby, the tank is the cheapest part of it. Just today I had to tell someone that a 1200 dollar budget was enough to cover about a quarter of the cost of turning his 125G cichlid tank into a reef, granted that's a 125G, but even my 20 I've got close to 600 invested in, hell the first day it was set up I had to drop 400 bucks just on rock, sand, and lights and between the fish only/mantis only tanks I'm out another 200 and that's with employee discounts... it's not a cheap hobby, and theres really no way to do it well, and do it cheaply. The initial financial commitment is huge, no matter how you spin it.

This is probably a good place to talk about how reefing can get some of that investment back. I keep a lot of fast growing leathers and soft corals for the express purpose of fragging colonies out, raising frags into small colonies, and selling them through outlets on the internet and to local shops. a nice fast growing capnella can grow 3" in a month if it has enough food, generally capnella have multiple branches, and if those branches are all cut off, say you took 3 of them, and glued down to rubble rock, they will form healthy new colonies in the time it takes for the parent colony to recover and regrow the tissues cut off, now those 3 small colonies are going to be worth whatever the parent colony was worth when you bought it 2 months ago, what's even cooler, is every time a coral is fragged, it gets hardier as it is accustomed and adapted to growing in a home aquarium ecosystem. Lets be conservative and say you can sell your frags for 10 bucks a piece, in two months time one healthy capnella should be able to produce 10-15 good frags, since an expensive capnella is 60 bucks, you can see pretty clearly how quick an investment in a fast growing coral can turn itself over, the same can be said for a lot of leather species. Lots of these frags are sold and traded at meetings through local reef clubs, local clubs are great ways to learn more about the hobby and pick up cheap, or if you're a comely female, oftentimes free frags... winkz1.gif

#11 Cancersticker

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Posted 07 May 2007 - 10:19 PM

QUOTE (Laughing Cat @ May 5 2007, 08:48 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Cancersticker, will you marry me? rose24.gif This is everything I wanted to know, but was afraid to ask!



and no... I can't marry you, it's not you, it's me tongue1.gif

#12 Christopher

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Posted 07 May 2007 - 11:53 PM

Good work! Can't wait to see who decides to "use" it on their forum... coverlaugh1.gif




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