I've always been fascinated by those close-up shots of natural reefs and all the variety of life found on a very small scale. For a long time now I've been mulling over how to achieve that level of diversity in the tank. I know that in all tanks there's a certain degree of competition and after some time dominant organisms outcompete others and one usually ends up with a dominant coraline, a dominant algae, etc, etc. Regardless, I've been wanting to attempt my own "diversity project" for a while and thanks to an offer I couldn't refuse for some mint second hand equipment from PotysGSXR I got my chance.
The tank is a 6 gallon Tru-Vu with integrated sump and skimmer. The equipment list is as follows:
6 gallon Tru-Vu
Red Sea Berlin Airlift 60 skimmer
Coralife Luft air pump
Visi-Therm Stealth 50W heater
Current Satellite 2x18W
Current Sunpaq 18W dual daylight 6700/10K
Current Sunpaq 18W dual actinic 420nm/460nm
Time for a leak test:
shot of rear of tank:
Fairly satisfied with the hardware end of things I ordered some drygoods from DrsFosterSmith.com:
Tropic-Marin Pro Reef salt
Carib-Sea Aragamax sand
Coralife digital thermometer
various test kits
At this point it was time for some live stuff. Many considerations came into play here considering the nature of my goals. Obviously I needed some very fresh live rock, and for this I turned to Premium Aquatics. They have a somewhat unique setup (but not the only vendor like this) in that they get their rock directly and VERY quickly from the collectors. I called to see what they had that was very fresh and their Kaelini was apparently very recently collected. As such, the rock was about as "fresh off the reef" as I could find. Obviously I ordered uncured, 15 lbs, knowing that not all would make it into the display or the tank itself. (I used some of the leftover to start a 2.5 pico, but that's for another thread).
Another consideration was that I had meant to order Arag-Alive sand in order to help with the cure/cycle, but instead I ordered plain dry Aragamax. To help this along I ordered a portion of their "Rock Pool Sludge" live sand to mix with the dry Aragamax.
Additionally, although they recommended 2 day shipping and assured me that it would ship fine, I requested overnight shipping; since LR typically ships wrapped in wet towels I wanted to minimize its out-of-water time to as little as possible, and also avoid having the box sit in some 100 degree truck or warehouse during shipping.
That done and expecting the rock and sand the next day, I mixed up 3 gallons of the Tropic Marin Pro Reef to a SG of 1.025 to heat and circulate overnight. As a baseline value for future dosing considerations I checked out the salient parameters of the salt:
carbonate hardness: 7.4 dKH
Calcium: 420 ppm
very close to natural seawater conditions - NICE!
The next day the rock showed up at 9AM and I immediately unwrapped it (smelled like the beach at low tide, not nasty at all) and got it into the water while I set up the rest of the tank. At first glance the rock looked incredible - almost completely covered in coraline of literally a dozen or more colors, a couple sprigs of Halimeda sp., two decent sized (~3" around) colonies of encrusting Montipora sp., and a 1" colony of Sinularia. I didn't think any of the corals would make it, but I'll get to that.
The live sand was indeed what one would expect of something called "rock pool sludge", very fine sand mixed with many small coral skeleton fragments. When ordering on the phone they aid this was the LS with the most life, and already I could see a few things moving about. Another score. I mixed about half of the sludge with the dry sand to make a sandbed of about 1" - 1.5". I then got the rock into the tank after making more water.
At every step after I got the rock into the water I took various steps to insure minimal stress and die-off. This means all water that came into contact with anything alive was premixed to exactly 1.025 SG, aerated and heated to 80 degF, and I kept things in the water as much as possible, minimizing contact with air from this point out. Even though it was shipped out of water, organisms will still get stressed each time it goes out AND back in in many respects like temperature, O2 levels, dessication and rehydration, pH, the list is endless. So once it made it into the water, it stayed in the water.
a shot soon after filling the tank:
Great, now comes the scary part. Since this was uncured rock I was worried about what I might see regarding ammonia, nitrite and nitrates during curing/cycling; I was particularly worried about the corals. What to do? Normally, many reefers do not change their water during curing and keep and it dark. Considering my goals of keeping as much life as possible (yes, even the hitch-hikers) this wasn't really a viable route in my opinion. So I did my first test at 24 hrs to see what I was dealing with. During this time I ran the skimmer pretty aggressively. The results were:
NH4: 0.08 mg/L
NO2: 5 mg/L
NO3: <0.2 mg/L
At this point I just DID NOT want to see ammonia so I did a 75% water change, kept running the skimmer, ran the lights about 4-6 hrs per day, and checked again the next day:
NH4: 0.02 mg/L
NO2: 5 mg/L
NO3: 1 mg/L
Another 75% water change.
NH4: <0.02 mg/L
NO2: 2.5 mg/L
NO3: 0.2 mg/L
Since these levels seemed to be below what I would consider alarming, I didn't change any water, and ran the skimmer a bit more conservatively. Here's a shot of 24hrs of skimmate on Day 3:
About the corals: I was using the Sinularia as a readout for overall water quality, watching the polyps each day to see how they fared. I figured that if they looked happy the water quality was probably OK, a backup to my testing. The Sinularia had arrived a bit banged up and polyps didn't open in the middle of the colony. Over the span of the last week, the coral has healed nicely and all polyps are out and very well extended. However, the Montis never opened up and didn't make it, nor would I expect SPS shipped dry to do so.
The Sinularia towards the bottom of the photo on day 3 (sorry for the poor pics, it's my phone, LG Chocolate):
you can see how not all the polyps open...
NH4: 0.0 mg/L
NO2: 0.5 mg/L
NO3: 0.0 mg/L
This result was surprising. Since the rock was uncured and I hadn't changed the water for 48 hrs, I expected everything to go up, or at least SOME values to go up, not drop like this. NOT COMPLAINING THOUGH. Again, I didn't see a reason to change the water.
NH4: 0.0 mg/L
NO2: 0.1 mg/L
NO3: 0.0 mg/L
Again, surprised but not complaining. Again, no water change.
a pic of the tank at this time:
Because of all the detritus and the water quality being ok, I added 2 Astrea sp. and Nassarius sp. snails to help clean off the rock. Will this muck things up? I thought maybe it would. Luckily it didn't.
Days 6, 7, 8:
NH4: 0.0 mg/L
NO2: 0.0 mg/L
NO3: 0.0 mg/L
So is it over? Cured and cycled already? Only time will tell... However, I can say with some certainty that up until right now there has been very little die-ff, as evidenced by the nitrogen cycle parameters and I'd venture to say that every little bit probably helped.
Today is day 8, a pic of the tank ten minutes ago:
The rock is still a bit dirty, the snails are moving like... well, snails. Once it's fully cleaned off and if I can get a decent camera maybe people can see how nice the rock really is. You can see the Sinularia in the bottom right quarter of the tank - it's so much happier looking!! Also, the Halimeda has strted growing new buds. The coraline started bleaching overall on day 3 or 4, but the last day or two it has colored back up noticeably. Yes, the lighting arrangement of the pics is a bit different, but it really has changed.
I'll try to post frequent updates, I plan on using this thread as a logbook of sorts to back up my real logbook.
THANK YOU FOR LOOKING!!!