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    Marine Depot
    Now let’s answer the first question most aquarium folks have about algae scrubbers: Should you buy or build?
     
    Before the year 2010, there were not really any commercially available algae scrubbers available for purchase.
    Fast-forward to today: Now you can buy tiny-to-medium size algae scrubbers in the upflow style as well as medium-to-large sizes in the waterfall styles.
     
    In terms of doing it yourself (DIY), there are discussions on aquarium message boards that detail just about every algae scrubber that anyone’s even attempted to build—complete with growth examples and nutrients measurements completed over time. There are some truly amazing DIY scrubber builds out there.
     
    We won’t go too deep into specific DIY plans in this article, but there are many available online. You may even find some on this very forum! If you’re super curious, you can check out builds going back 20 years on AlgaeScrubber.net.
     
    A DIY algae scrubber can be made fairly easy if you are skilled in building stuff. The typical materials of PVC pipe, acrylic sheet, glue, airline tubing, etc. are needed, just as if you are building a DIY reactor, overflow, or sump.
     
    One difference with algae scrubbers, however, which makes them a bit more difficult, is the lighting that’s needed for the growth. Not only are you now dealing with electricity, but unlike DIY display lights which are above the tank in a dry air environment that you rarely touch, the lighting for an algae scrubber is in a humid or wet environment (or even underwater) that you touch daily—with wet algae dropping on top of it—all while possibly standing on a wet floor (maybe even with bare feet).
     
    Long story short, you probably won’t want to make a complex algae scrubber your first-ever DIY project!
     
    Some advantages of buying a scrubber are that you obviously don’t need the time or space to build one. But other reasons are that it’s hard to DIY some types of scrubber designs, even if you are good with DIY. Things like underwater lights for upflow scrubbers, or gravel-epoxy surfaces for algal attachment, or the long slot in a waterfall pipe, takes a few tries to get it right (meaning your first try will probably not work).
     

     
    Buying a pre-built unit, however, is limited to what is for sale. Currently the only models available are waterfalls (which Santa Monica Filtration invented in 2008 and are now made by SMF and others) and upflows (only made by Santa Monica Filtration), and these are in certain sizes only.
     
    There are a very few number of horizontal river models. However, these come from China and are tiny without any lights. And there are no dumping bucket designs available at all, probably because of their complexity.
     
    The biggest advantage of DIY is, of course, saving money.
     
    Most $300 commercial models can be DIY’d in a week for $60 in parts, and most of the costs is in the lighting. But DIY also lets you choose the exact style, size, and layout you want to fit into your exact space. If you need a very large model, such as for small exhibits at public aquariums, you will have to DIY.
     
    DIY waterfall styles are generally going to need some acrylic or plastic gluing, unless you can find the proper size plastic box to start with. Cutting the slot in the waterfall pipe is the hardest part, and although it can be done with a Dremel moto-tool cutoff wheel, most people end up doing it over again with a table saw, router, or other shop equipment.
     
    The lights are easy. Usually low cost Chinese plant-grow lights can be used from eBay, as long as you follow safety steps properly. Most DIY folks can do the PVC pipes, so that’s not a problem. Waterfalls are not really suitable for freshwater because the growth gets long and clogs drains and pumps. Also, waterfalls work best when placed over a sump — not externally on their own — because they can overflow, leak, and also drip from the waterfall pipe.
     

     
    DIY bubbling upflow styles can be the easiest if they are similar to the Hang-On-Glass styles that Santa Monica Filtration makes.
    These styles need no acrylic gluing or PVC pipe. The LED lights just stick to a plastic cover on the outside of the sump or tank wall using magnets or suction cups. The airline tubing for the bubbles is as easy as a goldfish tank. Cheap LED lights and a power supply from Ebay will do because they stay dry and are low voltage (no 240/120 volts at the light).
     
    These designs might be suitable for first-time DIY projects if you can get help with the lights and are great for freshwater too because the long growth is kept mostly inside the growth compartment. Lastly, they can’t overflow, leak, or drip because they are already underwater.
     
    DIY horizontal rivers are relatively easy to build — at least the river water part is. But again, the lighting can be a challenge over the long narrow pathway. One workaround for this is to put it under your display lights, but that’s too cumbersome and unsightly for most people. And if you put it over a sump, these designs tend to cover the top of the sump like a lid, so you can’t get access to anything.
     

    If you have multiple tanks, a good piece of advice is to first try a scrubber on the smallest aquarium. Especially if it is freshwater, because that way you can get a feel for placement, lighting, cleaning, noise, etc. before working up to a bigger one.
    Meanwhile if you want to take a look at modern algae scrubbers, here is a Santa Monica SURF2 floating model — shown below floating in a saltwater reef pond.
     

     
    Happy Scrubbing!
    If you missed the first entry in this series, read The Complete Guide to Algae Turf Scrubbers: Part 1 to learn more about the history of algae scrubbers. 
    Marine Depot
    Filtering your tank by using “algae to fight algae” has been gaining in popularity in the last few years. We are biased about this, because we invented the waterfall and upflow designs that everyone uses now, but nevertheless we wanted to make this in-depth series about everything, including:
     
    History of algae scrubbers DIY topics Commercial models Comparison to other filters Usage with other filters Sizing Lighting Water flow Operation Fresh vs. Saltwater Effects on animals Troubleshooting Dosing Types of algae Results in tank Uses of algae Safety

     
    First, the origin of scrubbers should be mentioned. It was Dr. Walter Adey of the Smithsonian Institution in the USA who really got the scrubber concept going in the 1970’s, when he was investigating nutrients and corallines on reefs.
     

     
    His nutrient measurements confirmed what other researchers had found, which is that nutrients basically “stay on the reef” and do not flow out into the ocean, even though the water itself flows out into the ocean. It was already known back then that reefs are both generators and consumers of nutrients, consuming any nutrients as soon as they were available (thus making reef water “nutrient poor”), but he wanted to investigate further into who generated and consumed what, and how much. He started publishing many reef nutrient studies, and came out with the first edition (now in third edition) of his Dynamic Aquaria book which describes in great detail about nutrient flow in reefs, corals, algae and animals.
     

     
    Adey’s big contribution to the aquarium community was in the separation of the nutrient generators from the nutrient consumers. The generators are the animals, micro creatures, and bacteria that all generate ammonia, whereas the consumers are the algae which consume this ammonia. On reefs this is all intermixed and it keeps nutrients inside the reef, but he separated out the algae and created a device which mimics the environment where the most biomass of algae grew the fastest, where waves crash down on rocks. As soon as you scraped algae off of these rocks, it could be fully regrown in just 24 hours, and that’s even while teams of herbivores were eating it. This could be a 100x increase in biomass in 24 hours, which absorbs a tremendous amount of nutrients from of the water.
     

    Photo from algalturfscrubber.com
     
    His device in 1980 used a dumping bucket to pour water onto a very shallow screen, and thus made a bubbling turbulent air/water interface that grew a lot of biomass of algae fast, and he called this device a “turf scrubber” because it grew a turf algae and it scrubbed (removed) nutrients from the water. By separating the nutrient producers from the nutrient consumers, the conditions for operation of the consumers can be controlled and optimized without changing the conditions for the rest of the reef (aquarium) itself.
     

     
    Adey licensed the design to someone to have some small models made, but nobody ever really sold many of these dumping bucket designs because they were so big, complex, splashy and noisy, and also they were just 1-sided (top side) only which grows less. Also, Adey never had any interest in making or selling them himself, so they disappeared.
     

     
    Later in the 1990’s a few people made and sold the simple horizontal river design, like the Aquaricare scrubber which had little baffles to stir up the water and create a more turbulent air/water interface (the light on top is removed for the photo). But it too was large, splashy, hazardous (used high voltage T5 bulbs and wiring), and was also just 1-sided (top side) which meant it had to be larger to make up for less dense growth.
    And so, up until 2007 the basic algae scrubber designs were the dump bucket, horizontal river, and rotating wheel. And none were really being sold, so nobody know about them.
     
       
    Then came “Santa Monica” (us!) on the forums in 2007, with the first waterfall style scrubber. The thinking was that there must be an easier way to get a turbulent air/water interface on a screen than using a bucket, a wheel, or a river. Let gravity do the work straight down! And a waterfall on a screen could have lights and growth on both sides, so it would grow more and could be half the size. This first waterfall was put into a bucket on a sink in the office, complete with dangerous CFL bulbs that got shorted by salt spray. This was all posted on various forums as “Waterfall Turf Algae Filter: CHEAP and EASY to build” if you want to read it.
     
     
     
    It grew great, and brought nutrients down to zero with no water changes. But in order to get a waterfall in to our sump area it would have to be low-profile, so a custom acrylic box was made and the Santa Monica 100 was born (100 was for 100 gallons).
     

     
    This was the first model to sell any real amounts. But it had flaws which caused it to be left behind in favor of our modern versions. First, it could not reliably be mounted anywhere but over a sump, because a clogged drain would cause an overflow onto the floor, or a clogged slot would cause water shooting out the top, even with a lid. Second, the cleaning/harvesting process was very involved, requiring water shutoff and disassembly of some plumbing or even taking the whole scrubber out. Third, the acrylic was fragile and easily cracked, especially after many heating/cooling cycles. And lastly, the high voltage 240/120 volt metal-case lights were dangerous for non-DIY users who just wanted a safe product. The lights would slowly corrode in the salty environment, and eventually short out.
     
    And so there you have it: the evolution of the algae turf scrubber from the 1970s to today. We’ll get into many other topics, but for now we’ll just link to one of our smaller modern models, the HOG1x, which is a great “starter” scrubber.
     
      
    seabass
    Culturing Phytoplankton
    Live microalgae is a natural food source used for feeding clams, sponges, soft coral, and other filter feeders.  It's rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, lipids, and plant sterols.  As the foundation of the aquatic food chain, phyto provides food for zooplankton, which are then eaten by: stony coral, planktivores, and other invertebrates.  In addition, pods that feed on microalgae are more nutritious prey than pods which feed on detritus.
     
    When we talk about phytoplankton (phyto), we are usually referring to one or more of the thousands of species microalgae.  However, phytoplankton also includes other protists, including cyanobacteria and dinoflagellates.  For this article, phyto will mean microalgae (including diatoms, which are a type of brown microalgae that is often included in live phyto blends).
     
    Live phyto blends, containing various species of microalgae, are available from local and online retailers.  Some of these products are filtered and concentrated.  However, the nutritional value of these cultures may still decrease when refrigerated, and cost (especially considering next day shipping) can often become prohibitive.  In this article, I will discuss how to culture your own phytoplankton.
    Nannochloropsis oculata
    I am currently culturing the microalgae species, Nannochloropsis oculata.  It's often used to culture rotifers due to its high levels of vitamin B12 and Omega-3.  And while it's also beneficial to copepods, larvae, and filter feeders, its relatively thick cell wall can make it harder for certain animals to digest.[1]  Another species might be more suitable if you are specifically culturing copepods.
     
    I started my culture using AlgaGen PhycoPure Greenwater (Nannochloropsis) that I purchased from Live Aquaria.  AlgaGen claims that customers have reported good results feeding Nannochloropsis to rotifers, copepods, amphipods, corals, shrimp, feather dusters, clams and other filter feeders.[2]  Plus, it's pretty easy to culture.
     
    Florida Aqua Farms is another good source for a starter culture.  They also sell f/2 fertilizer, which as been used to culture microalgae for over 30 years.[3]  Live phyto blends purchased from your LFS can be used to start a culture.  However, this will likely result in a monoculture of a single species (often Nannochloropsis).  Finally, a starter culture can come from another reefer who is culturing phyto (check with your local reef club).
    Phyto Culture Containers
    Most commonly, hobbyists use one or more clear plastic 2 liter bottles to culture microalgae.  I'm currently using two 1 gallon Hawaiian Punch jugs.  Simply drill a hole in the cap for the airline tubing, with a little room for air to escape (to avoid a build up of air pressure which could affect air flow).  I used a 1/4” bit, which seems to work fine.  I have read where people have used floss to cover open gaps; but with a 1/4" hole, this really isn't necessary.
     
    I didn't actually drink the Hawaiian Punch, so I just rinsed out the bottles after pouring it down the drain.  I didn't bother to sterilize them, but have read where others have recommended it.  Actually, I haven't sterilized any of my containers or other equipment.  I do, however, keep everything clean, and prevent contamination from tank water.  Also, I make sure that any of the equipment that I use for rotifers is never also used to culture phyto.
    Specific Gravity
    Although most phyto species are pretty tolerant to various specific gravities, it's commonly recommended to culture it at 1.020 sg.  Likewise, rotifer cultures can tolerate a relatively wide range of salinities; however, they tend to be most productive between 1.014 and 1.017 sg.[1]  So if you are culturing rotifers, you might wish to culture your phyto using a lower specific gravity.  I'm currently culturing both my rotifers and phyto at 1.019 sg.
     
    Always use new saltwater for your phyto cultures (never use water from your tank).  Contamination from tank water, or from a rotifer culture can compromise your phyto culture.  A 3/8 cup scoop of salt mix should make a gallon of saltwater with a suitable specific gravity.  I'm using a scoop that was included with some protein powder.  Those scoops come in various sizes, so test it first (mine mixes to 1.019 sg).  But just like in a reef tank, a specific salinity isn't as critical as consistency.
    Dosing Nutrients and Trace Elements
    Nitrate and phosphate are needed to grow microalgae; but trace elements (like iron, copper, zinc and manganese) are needed too.  In addition, brown/tan microalgae (diatoms) would need silicate.  In order to supply our culture these elements and nutrients, we dose fertilizer with trace elements.
     
    When starting a new culture, or splitting an existing culture (for each 2 liter bottle), I'll add 1ml of Micro Algae Grow (Guillard f/2 formulation) from Florida Aqua Farms, and around 0.5ml of Kent Essential Elements.  I recommend using Micro Algae Grow, but if just culturing phyto to raise rotifers, Miracle-Gro Liquid All Purpose Plant Food can be substituted.  I confesss that I have occasionally dosed my tanks with phyto fed with Miracle-Gro before.
     
    Note: 20 drops is roughly 1 ml
    Aeration
    Aeration is necessary to supply carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and to help maintain pH.  However, excessive aeration can potentially fracture the cells and cause foaming.[1]  Air stones aren't necessary, but I have used them in the past without any problems.  Instead of air stones, most people recommend rigid air line tubing.  In addition, you'll need an air pump, flexible air line tubing, a gang valve, and a check valve.
     
    Aeration circulates the non-motile algae, which exposes the individual cells to the light and helps prevent them from settling to the bottom.  Remember to shake the culture(s) at least twice a week. I have an extra cap for my bottles, in order to shake them up without spilling; but you could just put your finger over the hole instead.
    Temperature
    Room temperature is typically fine.  Plus, you don't want to use incandescent light bulbs for lighting, as they may heat the culture too much.
    Lighting
    I originally used compact florescent work lights, but I had one melt down and nearly cause a fire; so I switched to a plastic clamp on light with a standard 75W equivalent LED light bulb (daylight spectrum).  I leave the light on 24/7, but 16 hours a day would be adequate.  Try to light the side of the bottle(s), versus the smaller top (which is also partially blocked by the cap).
    Harvesting Phyto

    You must regularly harvest your culture to keep it going. I harvest half of it weekly by doing the following:
     
    Gently shake the culture. Strain the entire culture using a 53 micron plankton sieve (available at Amazon), to remove the larger particles.  Nannochloropsis is only about 4 to 6 microns in diameter.[1]  This step is optional, but I feel it's helpful.  Also, in a pinch, a new brine shrimp net can be used instead. Remove half the culture (1 gallon in my case). Make replacement saltwater with added Micro Algae Grow and Essential Elements, then add this water to the remaining culture. Clean the empty culture bottle(s) with a bottle brush. Pour the diluted culture back into the cleaned bottles with the help of a funnel.  
    Foaming on top of the culture usually indicates that harvesting is overdue.  Most of my harvested phyto culture goes to keep my rotifer culture alive, but I also use it to dose both of my tanks when I harvest it.  If using more than one culture bottle, you could potentially harvest them on different days.
     
    When just starting a culture, it will be pretty pale in color.  Let it darken up before you start diluting it.  However, you should still continue to add f/2 and Essential Elements weekly.  You might be surprised just how small of a sample is required to start a culture.
    Storage
    Use (clean) empty water bottles to store harvested phyto in a refrigerator.  Label them with a date so that you know how old they are, and that nobody mistakes them for something else.  At least once a week, gently shake or invert the cultures several times to prevent settling.  You can keep phyto in the refrigerator for up to a month; although fresh phyto provides the best nutrition.
    Dosing Phytoplankton
    Gently shake or invert the culture before dosing.  You can broadcast feed your tank, or target feed specific specimens with the help of a clean syringe, pipette, or eye dropper.  I suggest target feeding any livestock that requires phytoplankton.  This can be done by releasing the phyto a couple of inches upstream from the target.  Avoid contaminating the culture with aquarium water (pour some phyto into another container if you are target feeding multiple specimens).
     
    To broadcast feed your tank, start slowly with 1 drop per gallon of tank water, once a week.  Dose it into a high flow area of your tank.  Eventually you can increase the dosage and/or frequency.  However, excessive dosing could negatively affect water quality.
    Water Quality
    I tested my phyto culture for phosphorus just prior to harvesting it by diluting a sample with 9 parts of clean saltwater. Through that, I determined that the undiluted phosphorus concentration was 310 ppb (or roughly 0.95 ppm of phosphate), which was actually lower than I had expected.
     
    There are about 3,785 ml in a gallon, so dosing 1 ml per gallon would cause an immediate increase in phosphorus of just about 0.08 ppb (or about a 0.00025 ppm increase in phosphate).  That's really not that much phosphate.
    Nutrient Consumption
    AlgaGen states that Nannochloropsis, “is also known to be a great water conditioner” consuming and binding nitrate, phosphate, and heavy metals.[4]  This is contrary to phyto's reputation for adding phosphate to your tank (which, as I indicated above, it initially does).  However, I assume that the live phyto continues to consume nutrients within our reef tanks after dosing, potentially lowering nutrient levels (versus raising them).
    Resources:
    Wilkerson, Joyce D.. Clownfishes. Microcosm Ltd.. Kindle Edition. https://www.liveaquaria.com/product/3249/phycopure-green-water http://floridaaquafarms.com/ https://www.algagen.com/phycopure1.html
    Livia
    Setting up your first nano reef is an exciting endeavor! Not only will you now have a piece of the reef in your home, but also an interesting new hobby and challenge. When setting up a nano reef or any saltwater aquarium in general, it is important to do your research ahead of time in order to create a tank that you and the tank inhabitants will enjoy. In this article I will cover basic information regarding what you will need and what you should do in order to create the tank of your dreams.
     
    General knowledge of the reef:
    Before you start to set up your aquarium it is important to know what you are getting into. Keeping a nano reef can be quite pricey and time consuming at times. Before setting up a tank be sure to make sure you have the time, money, and commitment to keeping an aquarium. Despite the previously stated, keeping nano reefs can and will be an amazing experience. 
     
    What you will need:
    Before you can dive into keeping a nano aquarium you must collect some supplies first. Remember that in reefing you get what you pay for so be sure to purchase quality products. Research your purchases in advance here on the forums to see how other hobbyists review them.
     
    Here is the bare minimum of what you will need:
    Aquarium
    Powerhead or wave maker
    Thermometer Refractometer 
    Quality reef lighting
    Sand (unless you are going bare bottom)
    RO/DI water or distilled water
    Reef aquarium salt mix (may not be needed if you have access to natural sea water) 
    Live rock
    Filter
    Heater
     
    Below are some things I recommend, but are not absolutely necessary:
    Aquarium lid or screen cover
    Purigen, carbon, or other filter media
    Automatic top-off system for evaporation
    Sump for external filtration
    Protein skimmer
    Backup heater
    Extra tank and supplies for quarantine
    Basic medications (if you plan to keep fish)
     
    Getting started:
    Finally you have everything you need and are dying to set up your aquarium! I highly recommend leak testing your tank before setting it up, just use tap water for the test. Once your tank is drained from the leak test you'll be ready start by adding live rock to your tank in a way that is visually appealing, but also that is sturdy. Some people recommend placing the rocks on plastic egg crate grids to make them more stable. Be sure to leave enough space between the rocks and the sides of the aquarium for easy cleaning. Next, add your live sand (if you are adding sand)  to about 1.5 to 2 inches of depth. After adding the sand, begin to add your heater, filter, etc. but do not plug them in yet. Now, begin to add saltwater pouring it in slowly in order to avoid extremely cloudy water from the sand. If you are not using pre-mixed saltwater you will first need to mix in the appropriate amount of reef salt with RO/DI or distilled water before adding it to the tank. Finally, plug in the appliances and wait for the sand to settle. You’ve successfully set up your first nano reef!
     
    Common errors:
    Some of the most common mistakes in keeping a reef aquarium are moving to fast, not doing enough research, and not setting their tank up correctly. Remember keeping an aquarium is not a race or a competition so take your time and move slowly. The most common advice given on starting a nano reef is to research, research, and research, then to research more. This advice should not be taken lightly and can help to ensure you piece of the reef stays happy and healthy all the time. The simpler mistakes in nano reefing are things within the tank setup. Remember to make sure your heater is working all the time and that the temperature is not fluctuating. Another good thing to do is to test your salinity and water parameters at least weekly if not more. When placing your powerhead or wave maker in the tank make sure it is facing slightly down without stirring the sand, but rippling the surface of the water. This allows for the proper oxygen exchange that is vital for all sea life.
     
    Cycling the tank:
    An important thing to remember after setting up your tank is to let the tank cycle before you anything to your tank. Yep, I mean everything: no snails, crabs, or fish until the tank is done cycling. A brief summary of cycling your tank is that the tank is going through the nitrogen cycle. The tank will produce the toxic ammonia, convert the ammonia into nitrites, and finally convert the nitrites into less toxic nitrates. When you have zero ammonia, zero nitrites, and under ten nitrates it is safe to assume your tank is done cycling.
     
    Finding a good aquarium store:
    Before you can start adding things to your tank you should find a quality aquarium store where you can go for advice as well as livestock. You should look for a store that is under a hour away from you with good reviews. The store should be clean with healthy looking livestock and friendly staff member that are willing to provide strong advice regarding your nano reef. If there are no stores like this in your area buying online is always an option. Please note that if you choose this option there will be an additional cost for shipping and you will need to home for delivery. Some of my favorite online stores are, Cultivated Reef, Vivid Aquariums, and Live Aquaria.
     
    Adding your first inhabitants:
    So your tank has cycled and you have found a quality source for livestock. You are ready to start adding livestock to your tank! I like to add things like snails and crabs first, then fish, and finally coral. Be sure to not overstock your tank and to only add at most two things per week. Furthermore, it is not recommended to add 6 fish into a 10 gallon tank all at one time. Not only is that way to many fish for such a small tank, but they were also added all at once. You should also stick to beginner fish/corals/inverts to start. Here's a list of easy inhabitants to start with:
    Clownfish
    Royal gramma
    Firefish
    Gobies
    Soft corals
    Snails
    Emerald crabs
    Hermit crabs 
     
    Maintaining the reef:
    Your tank has finally been set up and has been thriving for the past few week to months. It is important to continue to move slow and do your research. Make sure to complete partial water changes at least every 2 weeks if not more often, and to test your water regularly. Also be sure to monitor your tank for any signs of disease or weakness. And most importantly enjoy your magnificent piece of the reef.
     
    Happy reef keeping!!!!!! 
    - Livia and a special thanks to ffoott
    gena
    Introduction to Pico Jar Maintenance: Water Changes
    Pico jar reefs seem to be gaining popularity with reef hobbyists. Maybe it’s a fascination with small things, or perhaps it’s the idea of “less work” that is appealing to some. For me personally, it’s a combination of the two. I love miniature versions of things, and I love the challenge of creating a miniature reef system, which just so happens to translate into less time spent maintaining the system and more time spent looking at and enjoying the system.
     
     
    For a basic pico setup with only a light source, heater, and circulation pump, the weekly water change is of utmost importance. It is the way you will remove the organics from the water and replenish lost minerals and trace elements. It is recommended to do a 100% water change removal and replacement. It is easy and safe to do, as well as cost effective, on such a small system.
    Standard Water Change Rules Apply
     
     
    Whether you are working with a 250 gallon system or a 2 gallon system, the standard water change rules apply. You will want to use RO/DI water (or distilled water) to help avoid nuisance algae. You will need to match your clean water salinity and water temperature to the pico system you are maintaining. You can use any salt mix that you like, but it is best to stick with one brand of salt as not all are created equally and switching salt frequently can be stressful to your tank inhabitants.
    Tools Needed

     
    Items I have found useful during a water change include: Towels, tubing or hose lines, algae scraper, tongs, scissors, turkey baster, 2 buckets.
     
    Since you need to work fairly quickly when doing a 100% water change on a pico reef system, it’s best to have everything ready before you get started.
    Let’s Get Started
    You want to have your corals exposed to air for the least amount of time as possible. While most coral can survive extended periods of time exposed to air, I still like to work as quickly as I can, while also being careful and thorough, with the task at hand. I start with scraping the glass for algae. This gets the algae suspended in the water column before water removal. Now that your glass is clean (let’s hope it wasn’t THAT dirty), you can observe any problem areas. You can use your tongs to pull out any hair algae/nuisance algae. This is also the time to look for any coral warfare that you may need to intervene in. Coral scissors/clippers may be needed for trimming or removing coral over-growth. In such a tiny space, coral growth will be even more obvious. Typically coral cutting makes the corals slime up. You want to do any cutting prior to water removal so that you can remove the slime with the water change.
     

     
    Now is the time to put that turkey baster to work! Blast the rocks and in between the coral to get any detritus suspended in the water column. You’d be amazed at the amount of detritus produced by the coral alone. 
     

     
    It’s almost time to drain your pico, but first, don’t forget to shut down your heater and circulation pump. You do not want to damage these items during the 100% water change.
     

     
    I find it best to have two buckets. One for waste water, and one for clean saltwater. Use your clear tubing and siphon the water out of the pico tank and into the waste bucket. I find it useful to do another basting of the rocks just prior to siphoning. You want to get as much detritus suspended and out as possible. Pay attention to the sand as a lot of detritus will settle in that area.
     

     
    Once all of the water is removed, all that's left is to replace the old water with the new saltwater that is temperature and salinity matched. Don’t forget to turn your air circulation and heater back on at the end. You can use your towels to clean up any spills.
     

    Final Thoughts
    While no system comes without work, I have found that maintaining a pico reef is easy, fast, and enjoyable. My main goal is to work as quickly as I can so that my coral is not exposed to air for an extended period of time. I find that planning ahead is very helpful to accomplish this goal. Have all of your supplies ready before you begin. It may sound scary to remove all of the water from your aquarium, but it is completely safe and successfully done by many hobbyists, including myself. You may find that it is so easy, and that you enjoy it so much, that you end up doing more than one water change per week. Quite frankly, it’s been known to happen.
     
    Happy pico reef maintenance, to all!
     
    @gena
    pj86
    An Introduction To Reef Jars
    When I first became interested in saltwater aquariums, I was always attracted to the smaller systems. I have been fascinated with miniature ecosystems as long as I can remember, so much so that I started PJ Reefs, a company dedicated to reef jars and vases! At first many people said that it would be difficult to maintain a small "pico aquarium", especially if it was the size of a jar. Also there were concerns that the size would limit the amount of possible combinations, and could not possibly be entertaining to create. Four years ago I started my first reef jar right here at Nano-Reef.com. I shared my journey, a simple jar that would follow me for four years. The following is a write-up on how to create your own container reef (e.g. jar, bowl, vase).
     

     
    "Simplicity is Key"
    Many steps are similar to starting a nano or pico aquarium. One main difference to note, is the simplicity on which these systems are based.
    Choosing Your Container
    The most important component to build a container reef is the container itself! The shapes and sizes of containers are virtually endless: jars, bowls, vases, candle holders, terrariums, etc. You can find a huge selection of suitable containers at all sorts of local shops, craft and hobby stores like Michaels or Joann, the home goods area of your nearest Target or Walmart, or check your local thrift stores for some truly unique finds! If you can't find something around the house or around town, there's always Amazon.
     

     
    I prefer curved shapes, as this will create a magnifying distortion which attracts the eye to key focal points in the container reef. For less distortion one can choose a vase that has fewer curves. Something unique about jars are their lids; lids that don’t have rubber gaskets will allow for gas exchange, as gases easily diffuse across small gaps. It is highly suggested to have a lid, as this will help limit the amount of evaporated water from the container.
     
    Glass containers are best suited for keeping a reef because of their durability and overall scratch resistance. Always consider the long term durability of your selected container, anything too fragile could lead to difficult maintenance or disaster.
    Selecting Your Light
    The light source you choose is important as this is the main source of nutrients and energy for the corals. Small reef spectrum LED lights and compact fluorescent bulbs are ideal choices because they emit the least amount of heat. Options include PAR30 or PAR38 LED bulbs that can be purchased at Bulk Reef Supply and Coral Compulsion, or the JBJ Picotope 9W Powercompact fluorescent light that can be purchased at Marine Depot. I started my original reef jar with a JBJ Picotope light in fact!
     

     
    PAR LED bulbs utilize a common household E27 lamp socket, allowing for the use of common household fixtures like desk lamps to hold the light over your pico container. Similar screw type compact fluorescent bulbs can also be found in reef aquarium 50/50 spectrums from Coralife.
    Getting the Right Flow
    Traditional tanks use large return pumps and powerheads to create the water circulation that allows corals to receive the necessary nutrients. For larger pico containers, a mini powerhead pump can provide necessary water movement, as long as space is available. In the limited space of a pico reef jar however, one usually needs to minimize the footprint of a powerhead. To overcome the space limitations, an air pump with an air stone placed at the bottom of the jar or vase is recommended to create the necessary flow. Typically smaller air bubbles are preferred as this will create the smooth flow necessary for the corals to thrive. Large bubbles typically create a non-laminar flow that is not adequate for the corals to thrive.
    Put a Lid On It
    To minimize water evaporation, it is recommended to have a lid or cover for your container reef. If your container doesn't have a matching clear lid already, a basic cover can be crafted from clear acrylic. When covering your pico container, ensure that the seal is not air tight, it is vital to allow for some gas exchange with the surface of the water.
     
    If a lid or cover is not used, an auto-top off system should be used to replace evaporated freshwater and keep the salinity stable. Monitor your container closely as evaporation rates can change with the seasons.
    Preparing the Live Rock and Sand
    Due to the small size of the aquarium, aquascaping will typically depend on the shape and characteristics of just one or two pieces of live rock. You want to choose a live rock that is nice and porous as well. Also remember that corals and inhabitants will need space to grow, leave extra room for them to fill in the space over time, and don't be tempted to add too much rock.
     
    Sand sand can be added at the bottom of the jar to give it a more natural look if you would like, or your container can be left without sand to allow for easier cleaning. Don't make your sand bed too deep though or it may become too difficult to remove detritus.
    How About the Nitrogen Cycle?
    Reef jars go through the nitrogen cycle just like any other reef, but due to the small amount of water volume and complete 100% water changes, you might not detect any changes in nitrogen. This is known as a soft cycle. The best practice is to add live rock and let the rock cycle for a few days, up to two weeks, depending on the handling of the live rock. To make certain the cycle has completed the aquarium water can be tested using a test kit for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate.
    Choosing Appropriate Livestock
    Just as with a large reef aquarium, livestock should be carefully researched before being added to confined the ecosystem. All life should added one piece at a time, making sure that stability is maintained. Some livestock are better suited for small pico reef jars than others. Here is a short list of some suggested livestock:
     
    Zoanthus
    Zoanthids are extremely hardy corals that will tolerate a wide range of parameters. Also, some zoanthid species in nature tolerate low and hide tides which exposes them to air and wind for an extended period of time. They are also appealing due to the wide variety of colors available.
      Palythoas
    This genus typically is larger than their zoanthus counterpart, but they are similar in that they are extremely hardy and also come in a wide array of colors. Because of their larger nature and polyp expansion, you can add a few at a time and allow them to grow and establish a spot in the reef vase.
      Mushrooms
    Mushrooms are flat discs that range from tiny to very large. Because of their flat nature and ability to contort to fill the smallest places, you can place these corals easily on the live rock and they will typically move to find the correct place for them to thrive. They come in a variety of colors and shapes, and are very hardy soft corals.
      Green Star Polyps
    Green star polyps are hardy and typically have a fast growth rate. Because of their fluorescent green colored polyps and resemblance to grass, these corals add movement and color to a reef container. They are soft corals that are very hardy and are easy to maintain.
      Acanthastrea
    Acan corals are easily propagated and be fragged into single polyps that will grow into colonies over time.  They are a favorite in reef vases because they can easily be spot fed and no excess food will remain in the water column. Care must be taken with placement of these corals though, because they have sweeper tentacles that can sting nearby corals. It is best to leave a bit of space between acans and other nearby corals.
      Other Corals
    Almost any coral that is of an appropriate size can be maintained in the reef vase aquaria. The needs of each type of coral, including lighting and flow, must be taken into consideration. It is important to note that the same principles and concepts apply from larger tanks. Water parameters and maintenance are still important to allow your reef to thrive and flourish.
      Macroalgae
    Macroalgaes can also be added to reef jars. They come in a variety of colors and textures and have the added benefit of assisting with nutrient export. Typically, species of red pigmentation are desirable as they are hardy and add a nice pop of color to the reef. Gracillaria and red grape are common varieties of red macroalgae that do well in these aquariums. Suitable Fish and Invertebrates
    Depending on the size of the aquarium, fish species that are suitable for container reefs are few and hard to come by. For larger containers, certain small gobies can be kept if their feeding needs can be met. However, most container reefs do no contain any fish, and instead focus only on corals and small invertebrates. Mainly shrimp, snails, and small crabs can be maintained in container reefs. Some of the invertebrates commonly kept in container reefs are sexy shrimp, pom pom crabs, anemone shrimp, small hermit crabs, and small snails. Research is key, as some species have very specific needs that must be met to successfully keep them, never assume!
    Maintaining Your Reef Container
    Keep your newly created ecosystem under your light source (you can use a digital outlet timer to control your lighting cycle) and you are ready to enjoy your reef. With the proper maintenance you will be on your way to seeing your reef grow and thrive!
     
    There are five simple maintenance requirements to keep a successful reef jar:
    Complete a weekly 100% water change. This will replenish any lost ions and reset the water parameters. One of the benefits of owning a reef jar is that it is easy and affordable to do a complete water change. Maintain the temperature between 76° and 82° Fahrenheit. The most important part is to keep a stable temperature with no drastic fluctuations (e.g. 4-5 degrees within an hour). Add a low wattage aquarium heater to your container if needed. Top-off with of RO/DI freshwater as water evaporates from the reef container. Adding a lid to your container will help to minimize evaporation, just make sure it's not an air tight seal! Maintain sufficient water movement and circulation. Add an air pump and air stone to aid in water movement and gas exchange. Alternatively, small powerheads can also be used for water movement. Do not overstock corals and animals. Have patience as drastic additions can quickly have a negative outcome. Enjoy Your Pico Reef
    Now you know the fundamentals of how to build and maintain your own small container reef. It is simple and fun to do! When properly maintained your container reef can be enjoyed for years to come. I have successfully maintained a reef jar for four years, others have had theirs for over 10 years now!
     
    @pj86
    KuruptPixel
    Living in an apartment with a reef aquarium can present some unique challenges, it's often a difficult to find enough space to store RO/DI filters, water storage containers, and saltwater mixing buckets. I went about a year and a half mixing up a 5 gallon bucket of salt water in the kitchen every Tuesday night with a powerhead and heater in it until the next day when I’d do a water change. I kept it clean and as out of the way as I could so my wife didn't get annoyed with this whole reef tank thing. We have a small patio space that we really don’t use much aside from some storage and a BBQ, so I used that as an excuse to get my water change system out of the kitchen. My wife was more than happy to move the bucket for me!
     
    I know this may not be an option for everyone with a small space, but all the water change station guides I had found were written by guys with 120 gallon tubs in a garage with no worry of running out of space or it being in the way. Even though those systems were large, it occurred to me that I could fully scale the whole thing down to 2 x 5 gallon tubs, and build it the same otherwise, and it could work great for my needs. Maybe hide it in a closet? I didn’t know for sure, but I’d try it!
    RO/DI Unit
    SpectraPure 90 GPD Dual Probe Inline TDS Meter Float Valve Membrane Flush Kit  

    The Original Build: Version 1.0

     
    PARTS
    2 x 15 Gallon Rubbermaid Roughneck Hi-top tubs Mag Drive 500 water pump Aqueon Pro 150 watt submersible Heater Sicce Silent 3.5 water pump ½” PVC plumbing (Various T’s, elbows, 45 degrees) 3 x Ball Valves 3 x ½” Uniseals Lots of Unions Lifegard digital thermometer Mastercraft 4-outlet GFCI power bar  
    This setup was certainly overkill for what it was, but I really wanted to get some good flow in both storage tanks so that even the clean ATO water didn’t just sit stagnant. I built out some fittings for each of the pumps to direct the flow but also slow it down a bit since they were each hugely overrated for what I was using them for. This setup I also ran off an outdoor light timer so it would turn on and mix the salt water twice a day for about an hour just so it wasn’t sitting for too long.
     
    The RO/DI runs up into the top tub and is controlled by a float switch so I could let it run whenever and not worry about it overflowing. The pump inside kept the water churning and oxygenated.
     

     
    When I needed freshwater for my ATO top up, I would fill up a jug by keeping the center ball valve closed and opening the ball valve to the right with the spout. I put the ATO spout above the mixing pipe just to ensure there was no back splash or salt contamination in my clean water reserve.
     

     
    When I needed salt water, I would crank open the center valve and let gravity feed the lower tub with fresh water. Turn on the pump and add the salt. Let it mix and heat up to the current tank’s needs and it’s good to go! For this setup I just had a valve spout coming out from the lower end of the salt tub and I would fill a bucket for water changes and carry that to and from the tank.
     

     
    This system was very compact and helped streamline my water change process, but after spending about a year with the original design, I knew I could make some further improvements.
    The Current Build: Version 2.0

     

     
    PARTS
    2 x 20 Gallon Rubbermaid Brutes Sicce Silent 3.5 water pump Lots more unions ½” PVC plumbing (Various T’s, elbows, 45 degrees, barbs) A few ¾” plumbing because of the Sicce intake 4 x ½” Uniseals 15’ ½” hose 3 x Ball Valves ½” Two Little Fishies ball valve Silicon dish pad Aqueon Pro 150 watt submersible heater Lifegard digital thermometer Mastercraft 4-outlet GFCI power bar Air pump Airline and airstone  
    I had been planning out this upgrade over a few months after having used the original system for about a year, I knew how I used it and what I wanted it to do going forward. I knew I wanted it to feed out to an external pump so I could control the heat inside the Brute better. It still gets a bit hot as it passes through the pump, but the entire pump isn’t sitting inside the water heating it all up anymore. I didn’t include any pump or flow for the freshwater tank in this setup because of the heat and power, but I am using a run of the mill airstone just to give it a little aeration and oxygen when it’s on. I put the pump on a brick and slid a sliced up piece of silicon dish mat underneath it to absorb any other vibration. It’s pretty much dead silent as a whole. Even though it’s twice as big as the previous setup it’s 10 times quieter because there's no vibration anymore.
     

     

     

     
    When I need freshwater ATO top up, it’s the same basic principle on a slightly larger scale. The RO/DI feeds into the top Brute through the float valve. On the bottom right I have the ATO top off spout.
     

     
    When I need saltwater, below the ATO spout is another valve to fill the bottom Brute with fresh water. From there it cycles out the bottom of the Brute, through the pump and up to the top and back in. I squeezed a smaller tube onto the end of the pipe so it creates a faster flow as it exits for better mixing. I do have a small powerhead inside as well but I don’t usually have it on, I find there's enough flow without it. When I am ready to fill up the aquarium with new water I can take the hose, switch the two valves (one on, one off), and then take it directly over to the tank and control the flow from there with the Two Little Fishies ball valve.
     

     

     

     

     

     

    What I Learned
    Every build thread you will read will always talk about unions. Use as many unions as you can. Seriously. Unions. They are more pricey but it’ll be worth it when you have to take out a dead pump or pipe and replace/clean it. They will make it easy to unhook everything as well so you can take it down for cleaning or a move! Unions. Just do it.
     
    Eventually when I do a full, proper final build I will order parts and pipe from a reef supply shop just so it all looks cleaner. The Home Depot stock pipe has all the red writing on it that makes it look budget. I know that sounds silly... but it'll look cooler and really that's all that matters. 
     
    Having a hose that goes directly to the tank to refill and not having to carry buckets through the house is amazing! I know it’s not an option for most of us but if you can do it, do it! It’s truly amazing!
     
    @KuruptPixel
    seabass
    Meet Ich
    Cryptocaryon irritans (a.k.a. Marine or Saltwater Ich, Crypto, or just plain Ich) is one of the most common infestations which plague saltwater fish. It's easily identified by white spots which are about the size of a grain of salt (unlike Marine Velvet, which is notably smaller). In addition, the fish might be seen rubbing against objects, have a lack of appetite, or exhibit heavy breathing, possibly even progressing to frayed fins and cloudy eyes.[1]
     

    Watanabei Angelfish with Ich parasites, photo by seabass.
     
    Ich is a parasite that will feed on its host fish for several days before heading to the substrate. After several hours on the rock or sand, it will encyst and divide into hundreds of potential new parasites. This noninfectious stage can last anywhere between 3 and 28 days.[1] Afterward, they hatch and become free swimming parasites, looking for a fish to infect.
     
    In the wild, this mass reproduction helps ensure the survival of the parasite. But an occasional parasite is typically easily endured by fish in the wild. However, in the confines of our tanks, where the fish cannot escape from the eventual hundreds, or even thousands, of free swimming parasites, an outbreak can lead to the death of the host fish. In addition, the infected fish will likely infect any other fish being held in their shared system (like retail fish tanks).
    How To Treat Marine Ich
    The two most common and effective remedies for curing fish of Ich are Seachem Cupramine™ and hyposalinity treatments. Cupramine is widely considered the most effective method, while hyposalinity may be the easiest on the fish. There are other medications which might also be effective, like Seachem ParaGuard™; however Cupramine is considered to be the gold standard when it comes to Ich medications.
    Copper Treatment
    Seachem Cupramine is a copper treatment, and is ONLY to be used in a hospital tank without calcium rock or substrate. This is because copper is especially toxic to corals and inverts. It also binds to calcium, which reduces its effectiveness, and makes the rock or sand unusable in tanks that will eventually contain invertebrates. And while Cupramine is a relatively safe form of copper for fish, it is still important to ensure you are treating with proper levels via testing (you should not to exceed 0.6 mg/L of copper). In addition, you must remove any chemical filter media from the treatment tank, and carefully follow the instructions on the label.
    Hyposalinity Treatment
    Hyposalinity, a procedure to reduce the level of salt in the water (hypo), is also highly effective, and is my favorite option for treating Ich. In fact, hyposalinity helps the fish conserve energy during osmoregulation and can even reduce stress.[3] During hypo treatments, specific gravity is usually lowered to 1.009.[1] This is easily endured by most bony fish, with the exception of seahorses, and reportedly some clownfish (which should be treated at a specific gravity of 1.011).[2] It's safe to lower the specific gravity quite quickly, but it must be raised back to normal very slowly.
     
    You must use a refractometer calibrated with RO/DI water to a specific gravity of 1.000 (versus using typical calibration fluid). Swing arm hydrometers are not accurate enough to ensure proper levels. Also note that hyposalinity cannot be used in tanks with live rock or sand containing worms, pods, or other crustaceans, as this will kill them, resulting in die off and an ammonia spike. However, hypo treatments can still be used if the live rock and sand is otherwise devoid of non-bacterial life. It can also be used in conjunction with other meds, such as Seachem ParaGuard.
     
    Once all of the fish are visibly clear of Ich (which usually takes less than 7 days), you should maintain hyposalinity for an additional month, as the treatment is most effective during the parasite's free swimming stage. Afterward, the specific gravity should be slowly increased by no more than 0.002 per day.[1]
     
    There are numerous less effective remedies which range from UV sterilizers, to “reef-safe” anti-parasitic medications, all which may yield different degrees of effectiveness.[5] In addition, there are even some ineffective remedies, like garlic.[4] While I don't want to dispute the claims of these other marketed treatments, I tend to remain skeptical of their ability to completely wipe out Cryptocaryon, and personally recommend the use of either Cupramine or hyposalinity when treating your fish for Ich.
    Wait It Out
    While your fish are in their hospital tank, the display tank should remain fallow (without fish) for a period of six weeks. This is usually long enough for the parasite to encyst, hatch, and die without finding a host. If using hyposalinity in a hospital tank, it's possible to periodically introduce some water from your treatment tank into your fallow display tank; this might encourage the parasite to look for a host, not find one, and eventually die. However, you don't want to introduce any water containing copper into your display system.
     
    Now that your tank is free of Ich, you will want to keep it that way by quarantining all new livestock. To avoid ammonia spikes in your quarantine tank (QT), you should transfer an established bio-filter from your main tank into the QT.[6] In addition, adequate flow and lighting are required for your quarantine system. Live rock, coral, and other inverts can be quarantined for five weeks without a fish in the tank (which will provide ample time for the parasite's cysts to hatch and die). New fish can be observed in quarantine for five weeks as well, and treated with hyposalinity or Cupramine (and additional quarantine) if it becomes necessary.
    References
    Pro, Steven (2003) Marine Ich/Cryptocaryon irritans - A Discussion of this Parasite and the Treatment Options Available, Part I [Online] http://reefkeeping.com/issues/2003-08/sp/index.php [Accessed 03/08/2017]. Giwojna, Pete (2007) Hyposalinity or Osmotic Shock Therapy (OST) [Online] http://wetwebmedia.com/ca/volume_4/V4I4/hyposalinity/OST.htm [Accessed 03/09/2017]. Bartelme, Terry D. (2007) Aquarium Fish: Applications for Hyposalinity Therapy: The Benefits of Salinity Manipulation for Marine Fish [Online] http://www.advancedaquarist.com/2007/6/fish [Accessed 03/08/2017]. Pro, Steven (2005) Garlic: What has been Studied Versus What has been Claimed [Online] http://reefkeeping.com/issues/2005-10/sp/index.php [Accessed 03/08/2017]. Pro, Steven (2003) Marine Ich/Cryptocaryon irritans - A Discussion of this Parasite and the Treatment Options Available, Part II [Online] http://reefkeeping.com/issues/2003-10/sp/feature/index.php [Accessed 03/08/2017]. Pro, Steven (2004) An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure: A Quarantine Tank for Everything [Online] http://www.reefkeeping.com/issues/2004-10/sp/feature/ [Accessed 03/08/2017].
    jeremai

    By jeremai, in Biotopes,

    Probably the simplest way of stocking a biotope tank is to choose a specific reef location and stock only corals, fish and inverts collected from that location. This approach is the broadest and least limiting, making it easier to find suitable inhabitants for your tank.
     
    The waters around Florida and the Caribbean are home to forests of gorgonians, large patches of zoanthids, and swaying seagrass beds. Tanks showcasing Caribbean species often include gorgonians, zoanthids, macroalgae (especially Caulerpa sp.), and colorful Ricordia. Gobies, basslets, grammas, jawfish and pygmy angels are all at home in a Caribbean tank. Stony corals from the Caribbean are not usually available in the hobby, as their collection in and around Florida is restricted. Similar substitutes can be found in Pacific species, however. For example, if you were recreating a Caribbean lagoon and Diploria strigosa was not available, you could substitute the similar-looking Pacific species Platygyra labrinthiformis.
     

    An example of a patch reef.
     
    As the motherlode of biodiversity, reef tanks with a Pacific theme can take many forms, ranging from low-nutrient/high-flow tanks dominated by small-polyped stony corals to high-nutrient/medium-light tanks filled with Euphylliids, Acanthastrea and other large-polyped stony corals.
     
    If you view a typical reef from the air, you will see it segmented into a number of specific zones, and any of these would be a welcome starting point for a budding biotopic tank. Starting from the shore, they are:
     
    Lagoons and Seagrass Habitats: Lagoon areas are characterized by large patches of sand. The water here is calm and usually rich in nutrients. Plate corals are scattered across the sand, as well as brain corals and Euphylliids. Patches of seagrasses can be sparse or stretch for miles, and act as natural filters for the sediments that wash from the shore. Fringing and Patch Reefs: Surrounding and often jutting into  lagoons are rocky  flats. Many stony corals thrive here, including Acropora, Montipora, Faviids and Porites. The image to the right is an example of a stony coral patch reef surrounded by sand. Reef Crest and Upper Fore Reef: These areas are characterized by very aggressive water movement, high light, extremely low nutrients and abundant planktonic foods. SPS corals like Acropora dominate here, where their thick branching skeletons can withstand the pounding waves. Deep Fore Reefs: This area is generally dark, with strong water movement and plenty of planktonic food sources. It is home to non-photosynthetic gorgonians and colorful Dendronepthya and Scleronepthya. A tank dedicated to these corals requires very little lighting, but lots of feeding and strong filtration.  
    Any of these zones would be simple to recreate and effective as a beautiful reef system.
    jeremai

    By jeremai, in Biotopes,

    Symbiotic relationships, when two different species form close and long-lasting interactions, occur in all of the ocean’s ecosystems. From enormous sharks with their tag-along remoras, to the tiny microscopic zooxanthellae that live within the tissues of corals, many organisms have found that working together toward a common goal is the most efficient way to procure food and escape predation.
     

    A sea anemone hosting a clownfish.
     
    There are a number of common and not-so-common organisms that are perfectly suited for aquarium life. A tank dedicated to or featuring these pairs is not only a more realistic slice of the reef, but often provides a more appropriate living environment, leading to healthier livestock.
     
    One of the most common animals involved in symbiosis are anemones. In the wild, anemones of all shapes and sizes host hundreds of different fish and invertebrate species. Clownfish are probably the most well-known anemone symbionts, but other species of damselfish, namely Dascyllus trimaculatus, are also known to host with anemones in the wild. The anemone provides shelter for the fish within its stinging tentacles, and the fish return the favor by bringing bits of food back to the anemone.
     
    Anemones also host other types of life. Tiny, translucent shrimp, most commonly in the genus Periclimenes, are the most commonly found, and can be very entertaining to watch as they move in and out of the anemone’s tentacles harmlessly feeding on its mucus. Porcelain crabs, Neopetrolisthes ohshimai, are another popular invert for hosting with anemones. These crabs use the anemone for protection as they wave around their feeding appendages, waiting for food to float by.
     
    The important thing to remember here is that neither the anemone or the animal hosting it are dependent on the other for survival. Anemones will love long, happy lives without any animals living within their tentacles. Clownfish will often host other types of corals if an anemone is absent, and have even been known to host inanimate objects like powerheads. Periclimenes shrimp are also natural hosts of corallimorphs like Ricordea sp. in the wild, and will mirror that relationship in a biotope tank. In the same way, porcelain crabs will find a suitable coral substitute to provide them with cover. Don’t think that you must have an anemone in order to set up a biotope based on symbiosis – a 10g tank stocked to the brim with Ricordea and ten or fifteen Periclimenes shrimp would be a fascinating sight.
     
    If you do decide to keep an anemone, however, there are some special considerations to keep in mind regarding their care. Generally, anemones require high light and high flow to survive well in home aquaria. Their requirements are much the same as SPS corals, however anemones tend to wander around their tank stinging indiscriminately, and should only be housed with other corals with caution. A future installment of this series will go into more detail on anemone-only tanks.
     

    An Alpheid shrimp and its symbiotic goby.
     
    Another popular symbiotic pair are pistol shrimps of the genus Alpheus and their partner gobies. This combination is truly amazing to observe. The shrimp digs a burrow in which to live. In return for shelter, the goby keeps a keen eye out, and at the first sign of danger alerts the shrimp and both dart into the hole. Because the shrimp is nearly blind, it has at least one antenna in contact with the goby at all times as a means of communication. This would be the perfect pair for a small nano tank, where the interaction can be observed up close.
     
    When designing a biotope based on a symbiotic relationship, always be sure to take the needs of the both parties into consideration. In cases where one animal is more difficult to keep alive than the other, it is best to design the system with the needs of the more fragile species in mind. For example, Christmas tree worms (Spirobranchus sp.) are beautiful, but depend on their host Porites coral for survival. If you cannot keep the Porites alive, the worms are doomed. Since the worms don’t require any sort of special care, you would design your system around the coral, providing high light and random, chaotic flow.
    jeremai

    By jeremai, in Biotopes,

    Up till now we’ve discussed biotopes in their literal sense — systems built around a specific geographical or spatial location, and systems centered on a specific niche within that location. In this hobby though, there are no hard and fast rules, and the limits of what can be considered a ‘biotope’ are only capped by your imagination.
     
    If you’ve decided that you want to set up a biotope but aren’t sold on the traditional avenues, here is a sampling of systems that are becoming more and more popular.
    Single-Species Tanks
    Single-species systems are exactly what they sound like: the bioload is dominated by a single species, genus or perhaps family. Systems like these can take many forms; a systems designed around a Fu Manchu Lionfish, complete with a central cave for perching, is an example. Or perhaps a 40 Breeder with six inches of sand and a plethora of Upside-down Jellyfish.
     

    Rhinopias sp., perfect for a single-species tank.
     
    The goal with a single-species tank is to choose an organism and then build the system around it. That lionfish is going to need a strong skimmer to clean up after its messy eating, and those jellyfish would benefit from gentle flow and a sump packed full of live rock. People often create systems for a specific species due to their sensitive nature or difficult feeding habits, such as with dwarf seahorses or pipefish. Make sure you understand the needs of your chosen livestock, and meet those needs through your system.
    Marine Planted Tanks
    Macrolagaes occur on all the world’s reefs. In fact, in some reefs macros are the dominant calcifying organism. That means that instead of the reef being built by corals, it’s built by algae. No biotopic presentation can be called complete without the addition of some form of macro algae. The more popular macros in the hobby can be fairly drab, but there are plenty of species out there that would contribute to a spectacular algae-dominated planted tank.
     
    A system centered on macroalgaes does have a few specific considerations though, the first being pH. Just like terrestrial plants, macros take in carbon dioxide during the day and release it at night. This lights-out release of carbon dioxide can cause pH fluctuations; the more algae in the tank, the higher the probability of the pH changing dramatically, which can cause stress or even death for other inhabitants of the system.
     

    Halymenia sp. macroalgae, a popular and beautiful species.
     
    The simplest way to combat this is to have a refugium plumbed to the main tank, containing an algae such as chaetomorpha. Set up the light cycles so they oppose each other — when the main tank lights are on, the refugium lights are off, and when the main tank lights are off, the refugium is on. In this way the cycle of carbon dioxide release is offset and the system will remain more stable.
     
    Another problem that can be encountered is algae going sexual. When this happens, the algae turns translucent and releases spores in an attempt to repopulate a different location. This spore release is generally accompanied by a nutrient spike, but for a planted marine tank this is of little concern. Simple remove the dead portions of algae and the other macros in the tank will utilize the nutrients released. If you have other livestock in the system, such as fish or corals, and you notice them having an adverse reaction to the algae going sexual, do a waterchange and run some carbon.
     
    The algaes most likely to go sexual in home aquaria are Caulerpa sp, although all macros have the potential. Halimeda sp also go through the process fairly often, although it is usually just a few ‘pads’ that go and not the whole colony. Algaes go sexual for many reasons, though usually it is caused by being overgrown or not receiving enough nutrients. Basically, the algae does not think it has a good chance of survival where it is, and is trying to move somewhere more suitable. Some algaes will go sexual for no apparent reason however, and because of this there’s really no way of preventing the problem completely. I’ve never heard of a tank crashing specifically due to algae going sexual, so it’s one of those ‘deal with it as it comes’ scenarios. Don’t let it scare you off though, algae-dominated tanks are a beautiful sight!
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