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    billygoat
    A Quick Guide to Keeping Photosynthetic Gorgonians in Home Aquaria
     
    Hello fellow reefers! My name is Billy and I am a big fan of the beautiful, tree-like soft corals known as gorgonians. Despite their reputation as delicate animals that are difficult to keep in captivity, most photosynthetic gorgonians are extremely hardy, and some even make excellent starter corals for those just getting into the hobby. With this in mind I decided to create this quick and dirty guide to encourage more home aquarists to experiment with keeping these wonderful animals, as I consider them to be some of the most captivating and attractive corals in the sea.
     

    Eunicea flexuosa, a beautiful photosynthetic gorgonian.
     
    1. What is a Gorgonian?
     
    Gorgonians are colonial soft corals that belong to the order Alcyonacea. They are closely related to other softies such as leather corals (Sarcophyton, Sinularia, Capnella, etc.). They generally exhibit upright, branching growth patterns that make them look a lot like underwater bushes or trees, and attach themselves to hard surfaces with a matlike holdfast. Though some gorgonians incorporate calcified spicules into their tissues, most do not lay down a hard skeleton of calcium carbonate like reef-building corals do. Instead, their skeleton is made from a strong, flexible protein called gorgonin, around which the fleshy structure of the animal grows. Gorgonin is similar to the material found in human tendons, but has about twice as much tensile strength. This supple skeleton allows gorgonians to bend and sway in the current, evenly exposing the polyps on both sides of the colony to light and nutrients. Gorgonians and other Alcyonaceans are sometimes referred to as octocorals because their polyps have eight-fold symmetry (e.g. the number of tentacles on each polyp is always a multiple of eight). All gorgonians catch and eat plankton, and some also have symbiotic dinoflagellates called zooxanthellae that live inside of their tissues and make energy for them using sunlight. This article will focus on these photosynthetic species, as they are generally hardier and easier to keep in captivity than their azooxanthellate relatives.
     
    Photosynthetic gorgonians inhabit shallow tropical seas around the world, but a large majority of them come from the tropical Western Atlantic - namely the waters around Florida, the Bahamas, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. In the Indo-Pacific the same shallow, brightly-lit, wave-washed environments that Atlantic gorgonians call home are instead inhabited by various leather corals, which are not found in the Caribbean at all. The opposite is also true, with gorgonians being quite uncommon (though not entirely absent) in the Indo-Pacific regions where leather corals rule. The vast majority of the various species of photosynthetic gorognians available to hobbyists come from the waters around Florida and the Caribbean Sea.
     
    2. Care Requirements
     
    I. Flow
    Most photosynthetic gorgonians are hardy and fairly easy to keep, but they do have a few specific care requirements to keep in mind. First and foremost is flow. Almost all gorgonians like fairly robust water movement, but too much flow can interfere with their feeding. Flow should be strong enough to stir the colony's branches but not so strong that the animal is blowing over or knocking into its neighbors. If you notice that your gorgonian's polyps are struggling to open or are periodically shutting and then opening again as the colony is buffeted by the current, then you may want to dial down your flow a bit. Indirect, semi-randomized flow is generally best; most of the time it is better to bounce flow off the glass or rockwork rather than pointing a powerhead directly at your gorgonians.
     
    Also, most gorgonians prefer to be oriented perpendicular to the current, with the flow passing over and through the mass of their branches. In nature these animals often inhabit shallow hardbottom areas that are swept by strong, uni-directional laminar currents which reverse periodically with the changing of the tides. A setup involving two wavemakers at opposite ends of a long tank that provide alternating flow throughout the day would be ideal for most gorgonians, but in smaller systems where this is not an option a single powerhead is generally more than sufficient as long as it is positioned properly. Many of the more fan-shaped species also enjoy wavelike flow patterns that cause their branches to flap back and forth from side to side. This motion ensures that the polyps on both sides of the animal are alternately shaded and exposed to light, maximizing the colony's potential for photosynthesis.
     
     
    II. Light
    Photosynthetic gorgonians of course require sufficient light to grow, and most of them can handle quite a bit of it. Many genera commonly found in the aquarium trade (e.g. Pterogorgia, Eunicea, Muriceopsis) come from very shallow water and are regularly exposed to intense sunlight. Some can tolerate a bit less light though, and pretty much all gorgonians are considered less picky about light than SPS or even LPS corals. Generally speaking any light strong enough to keep LPS corals like Blastomussa etc. is probably good enough for gorgonians as well. I keep mine under a 15 watt Kessil A80 LED, and even this fairly weak light has given me good results so far.
     
    Like most zooxanthellate corals, gorgonians will take some time to adjust to your aquarium's lighting regimen after being added to your tank. Under bright lights newly introduced colonies will sometimes expand the polyps near their base first, with extension working up the colony's stalk as it becomes accustomed to the light. Some species are a bit more picky than others of course, so monitor your new arrivals carefully to ensure that they are not getting blasted with too much light. Gorgonians that are receiving excessive light will often not expand fully despite adequate flow, or will become overgrown with algae. Positioning your gorgonians in such a way that light and flow are "just right" can be a bit challenging, but once a balance is struck they tend to do well for a long time provided conditions do not change.
     
    III. Feeding
    Despite what much of the traditional wisdom involving these animals suggests, all gorgonians, photosynthetic or otherwise, are active planktivores and should be fed with some sort of dissolved micro-food on a regular basis. I feed mine Reef Roids and pulverized PE pellets, but any similar coral food will likely work just as well. Generally speaking the larger a gorgonian's polyps, the more it benefits from feeding; in fact some very large-polyped varieties (e.g. Eunicea) will even eat normal fish foods like whole pellets, flakes, or mysis shrimp. One or two feedings a week should be fine for most photosynthetic species, though more frequent feeding will stimulate rapid growth.
     
    During feeding, I recommend turning off your aquarium's circulation pumps and target-feeding each gorgonian individually using a pipette or turkey baster. All polyps in the colony share resources with each other, so don't worry if you don't get food to every single one. Leave your pumps off for ten minutes or so after feeding to allow the animals to eat, then turn on your powerhead or wavemaker for another ten minutes to circulate floating food particles throughout your display. It is best to keep your return pump off for the entire duration of the feeding to prevent food from being carried away into your filtration media. Just don't forget to turn the pump on again when the feeding is done!
     

    The large polyps of this Eunicea sp. are well adapted for catching plankton.
     
    As with any animal a varied diet is best, so combining microalgae/phytoplankton-based foods with zooplankton-based foods is always a good idea. The absolute best option would be to feed your gorgonians a combination of home-cultured live microalgae plus small planktonic animals like rotifers, copepods, or Artemia. We have a number of good growing guides here on N-R for culturing live foods in case you're interested in taking this extra step. 😉 @seabass's guide to culturing phytoplankton is a great place to start!
     
     
    IV. Water Quality
    Photosynthetic gorgonians are hardy by coral standards, but they still require a well-established aquarium with stable parameters. I do not recommend adding gorgonians to tank that is still cycling / might not be cycled all the way yet / has just finished cycling. Let things settle down and get into a normal, predictable rhythm before adding gorgonians to your system. "Dirty" water with lots of organic nutrients is often not that big of a deal for these animals (in fact having "zero" nitrates and phosphates is almost certainly bad for them), but it's important that parameters remain stable. The calcium, alkalinity, and nutrient levels in the average mixed reef aquarium are more than adequate for most photosynthetic gorgonians, so just aim for whatever levels work for the rest of your livestock and you should be okay.
     
    One element that bears special attention is iodine. The protein that gorgonians use to build their skeleton contains a considerable amount of iodine, and maintaining adequate levels of it (usually by supplementing it in the form of iodide) likely has a positive impact on their growth. Many smaller reefs have their iodine levels depleted rapidly, especially if they contain a variety of iodine-hungry soft corals and mushrooms, so supplemental dosing may be necessary to keep up with consumption. Just remember that excess iodine in the water is toxic to many animals, and too much can even kill the bacteria that make up your biological filter. It is therefore a good idea to keep careful track of iodine consumption and only dose as much as is necessary to keep your levels around 0.06 ppm (which is the concentration of natural seawater). Blind-dosing of iodine can be dangerous and is not recommended.
     
    That being said, most photosynthetic gorgonians can certainly be kept in low-maintenance setups that dose nothing at all, so long as a simple regimen of regular water changes is observed. Dosing iodine is simply an option to accelerate their growth.
     
    V. A Note on Sloughing
    Many species of gorgonians periodically shed a waxy film off their surface to prevent algae and other sessile organisms from colonizing their bodies. At the start of the shedding process a colony may close its polyps for a number of days or sometimes even weeks before sloughing off its outer layers. Don't be alarmed if this occurs in your aquarium from time to time, as it is a natural process that is essential for the proper health of your gorgs. If you notice ribbons of waxy gunk hanging off your gorgonians, try gently squirting them with a turkey baster to speed the process along. 
     
     
    3. Reproduction and Propagation
     
    Gorgonians in the wild can reproduce sexually by spawning, but the most common method of reproduction both in the ocean and in aquaria is asexual reproduction by fragmentation. In nature gorgonians are periodically pounded by storms and strong waves that scatter their branches about, and some even encourage this process by intentionally weakening their own branches or dropping little bits off of themselves. Each piece that lands in a favorable location has the potential to grow into a clone of its mother colony. 
     
    Many gorgonians sold in the aquarium trade are specimens that were propagated by fragmentation. For most photosynthetic gorgonians this process is quite easy: simply snip off a branch from the main colony with scissors, glue it down to a rock or reef plug with gel superglue or underwater epoxy, and place it in a suitable location in your aquarium. As long as conditions are right the fragment should establish a holdfast and begin growing fairly rapidly. The main colony should also regenerate quickly; in fact some species from the genus Antillogorgia have even demonstrated increased growth after injury compared to intact colonies.
     
     
    4. Aquascaping With Gorgonians
     
    Positioning gorgonians in your aquarium can be somewhat challenging, but when successfully incorporated into an aquascape they are breathtakingly beautiful. Photosynthetic gorgonians can be kept in practically any size aquarium, but tanks of at least 10 gallons are recommended as most gorgonians need to reach a reasonable size in order to demonstrate the full effect of their lovely branching growth patterns.
     

    Combining multiple species of photosynthetic gorgonians can make for a lovely display.
     
    There are a number of ways to incorporate gorgonians into your aquascape, and how you go about doing so will largely depend on your other livestock and the layout of your rockwork. With their beautiful swaying motions and soft, fuzzy polyps, gorgonians are an excellent way to provide movement and fill vertical space in your tank. They must however be given adequate room to sway in the current, and care must be taken to ensure that your gorgonians are not touching or rubbing against anything else in the tank, especially not other corals. Gorgonians of different species will usually sting each other if they touch, and even members of the same species will retract their polyps in places where they rub together. The sting of most gorgonians is quite weak, so they tend to lose coral wars with pretty much everything. Keep this in mind when positioning them in your tank.
     
    You'll also want to make sure that your gorgonians are oriented perpendicular to the current, and that they have adequate access to light. Many gorgonians grow quite quickly, so be mindful of their potential to eventually shade out other corals below them. Most gorgonians can be trimmed back without ill effects if excessive shading becomes a problem, but it's best to avoid this issue altogether by positioning them carefully from the get-go. All gorgonians must be attached to a hard substrate like a rock or a reef plug, so don't attempt to bury their bases in the sand. In addition each individual species of gorgonian has slightly different positioning needs based on the habitat in which it is commonly found in nature. Many Antillogorgia spp. for example like to grow horizontally out of vertical rock walls with their plumes reaching sideways into the current. Doing some research on the specific species you'd like to keep and orienting them accordingly can help increase their chances of success in your aquarium.
     
    5. Hardy Starter Species
     
    If you're interested in keeping photosynthetic gorgonians in your tank, several good entry-level options are detailed below. I have kept most of these species myself and have had good results with them so far.
     
    Antillogorgia spp. (formerly Pseudopterogorgia)
    Common names: feather gorgonian, sea plume, purple frilly gorgonian
     
       
     
    These beautiful featherlike gorgonians grow very rapidly under good conditions. They are usually some shade of purple, but yellow varieties are also available. Polyps are generally cream-colored or brown. Many species of Antillogorgia like to be oriented diagonally or horizontally, with the main axis sticking out sideways into the current. They do best under fairly bright light and can tolerate strong water movement. Algal growth can sometimes be a concern with this species, so keep an eye on them and make sure they don't become overgrown with cyanobacteria or diatoms. Use a soft brush or turkey baster to blow diatoms off their branches. Some species (e.g. A. bipinnata) can grow to a considerable size.
     
    Muriceopsis flavida
    Common names: purple plume, purple bush
     
      
     
    M. flavida is the first gorgonian I kept, and is one that continues to do well in my tank to this day. It has a beautiful purple color with very fuzzy brown polyps. This species can tolerate rather less water motion than others (though it does just fine with plenty of flow as well), so it may be a good choice for those with smaller aquariums or setups that require less flow.
     
    M. flavida seems to have an interesting habit of dropping the tips of its branches from time to time. I believe this is an example of propagation by intentional self-fragmentation. This freaked me out at first because I could not understand why pieces were falling off my otherwise-healthy gorgonian, but after months of observing this specimen I have decided that it's simply a normal behavior and is probably nothing to worry about.
     
    Pterogorgia anceps
    Common names: sea whip, ribbon gorgonian, cactus gorgonian
     
      
     
    This cactus-shaped, straplike purple gorgonian is one of the hardiest species around. It sheds an especially thick waxy film from time to time, which helps it resist algal growth in the shallow, brightly-lit waters it calls home. I have read reports of this species gradually declining over time in aquaria because it requires very strong light and needs robust water movement to assist with its heavy shedding regimen, but so far I have not had any problems with it myself. It is also notable for being a very sturdy shipper. This species seems to benefit greatly from supplemental feeding with fine planktonic foods, so don't forget to feed it once or twice a week.
     
    Another species from this genus, P. citrina, is also occasionally available in the hobby. It is yellow rather than purple, has thinner blades, and generally exhibits a more bushy, less elongated growth pattern. It is slightly more delicate than P. anceps but its care requirements are generally similar.
     
    Muricea elongata
    Common names: spiny bush gorgonian, rusty gorgonian
     
      
     
    M. elongata is an attractive orange or rust-colored gorgonian with projecting calyces (the small cuplike projections that house its polyps) that give it a spiny appearance. This species seems to like fairly strong indirect flow and moderate to bright light. It does not seem to shed very often at all (in fact I can't recall ever seeing it do so), but nonetheless appears to have no problems keeping itself free of algal growth. With its polyps extended it looks very attractive indeed. Muricea have a bit of a reputation for being poor shippers, but if they survive the first week or so in your system they are likely to do well for a long time.
     
    Another species in this genus, Muricea laxa, is also available in the aquarium trade. It has a beautiful silvery-white coloration with tan or brown polyps. M. laxa comes from deeper water and is much more rigid than the fairly flexible M. elongata. It is known to be a more robust shipper than other Muricea.
     
    Eunicea spp.
    Common names: sea rod, candelabra gorgonian
     
      
    Eunicea calyculata
     
    The genus Eunicea contains a number of very large gorgonians that can reach heights of more than a meter out in the wild. Most species have thick, cylindrical branches with large fuzzy polyps. They generally start out as single rods that begin to branch (usually in a single-planed candelabra pattern) as they get older. These gorgonians can handle a lot of water movement, but care must be taken to ensure that their long branches do not rub against their surroundings as they blow around in your tank. Growth can be quite quick once established, and colonies that get too large are easily pruned by simply cutting their branches with a pair of scissors. The resulting fragments can be glued down to a piece of rock or a reef plug to propagate the colony. Eunicea seem to ship fairly well, with the exception of one species: E. flexuosa (formerly Plexaura flexuosa). E. flexuosa is a gorgeous gorgonian, but has a tendency to get quite brutalized in shipping. Mine lost multiple branches and took a month to settle down after being added to my tank, which is an extremely long time by photosynthetic gorgonian standards.
     
    Pinnigorgia flava
    Common names: Grube's gorgonian
     

    A beautiful Grube's gorgonian from N-R member @lizzyann's mixed reef aquarium. Photo from her aquarium journal.
     
    Grube's gorgonian is one of the few photosynthetic species from the Indo-Pacific that is commonly available in the hobby. It has a bushy growth pattern and seems to grow very rapidly under favorable conditions. I have not kept this species myself, but several gorgeous reef tanks here on Nano-Reef feature this species so I think that it bears mentioning here. It seems to be quite hardy and has fairly standard care requirements for a photosynthetic gorg. Grube's gorgonian has been popular in Europe for some time, but has only reached American markets relatively recently.
     
     
    6. TOTM Gorgonian Gallery
     
    Looking for some great examples of beautiful reef tanks that highlight photosynthetic gorgonians? I've included a few of my favorites from Nano-Reef's Tank of the Month (TOTM) archive below! Many of these systems have given me a lot of inspiration, so I hope they will do the same for you.
     
    (Sorry for not tagging everyone; some folks from older TOTMs have since changed their name and no longer show up on a tag search 😅)
     
    @yardboy's 10 gallon Florida biotope (September 2008)
    trueisb2's 20 gallon nano reef (September 2012)
    Ziareefer's 50 gallon seahorse and gorgonian tank (February 2014)
    trueisb2's 3.5 gallon pico (March 2014)
    @Felicia's 40 gallon predator tank (December 2015)
    @kimberbee's 10 gallon gorgonian & RFA tank (May 2017)
    @Sharbuckle's 40 breeder (October 2018)
     
     
    References and related reading:
    Sprung, Julian and Delbeek, J. Charles. The Reef Aquarium, Volume II. Ricordea Publishing, 1997.
     
    Sprung, Julian. "Aquarium Invertebrates: Caribbean Gorgonians: Beauty in Motion." Advanced Aquarist, 2004. 
    https://www.advancedaquarist.com/2004/3/inverts
     
    Moore, Morgan. "Photosynthetic Gorgonians for the Home Aquaria." Reefbuilders, 2013. 
    https://reefbuilders.com/2013/01/26/photosynthetic-gorgonians-home-aquaria/#
     
    Messing, Charles G. et al. "South Florida Ocotocorals: A Guide to Identification."
    https://cnso.nova.edu/ncri/sofla_octocoral_guide/index.html
    Marine Depot
    Let’s talk about the difference between fresh and saltwater algae scrubbers.
     
    They are different designs because the algal growth you get in each are different—so the layout of the scrubbers needs to be able to handle this. Freshwater growth tends to be mostly Spirogyra or Cladophora species, which are very long (one meter) and very thin, like a string or thread.
     

     
    This super-long growth means two things: First, it’s going to try to flow with the water flow, which can be a very long pathway. And second, if the growth lets go, there is going to be long strings of growth finding their way into aquarium plumbing, pumps, etc. Since many freshwater people put the scrubber in their display (because they don’t have a sump) this long growth can get all over.
     
    A plus for freshwater is that many of the fish that people keep (guppies, goldfish, plecos, etc.) love to eat this algae, so it can be an endless source of fresh free food. As a matter of fact, it’s relatively easy to have a freshwater tank that needs no outside food or water changes at all, and yet still has low nitrate. And the fish get to eat what they love the most.
     
    Long freshwater growth is fine if your scrubber and installation are set up for it. Generally, you don’t want a waterfall style for freshwater because the long growth flows right down the drain with the water flow—and can extend for a meter past that!
     

    If it’s a waterfall in a sump, this growth will get caught up (or will clog) the return pump. And you can’t really put a waterfall over a display, so it must go in the sump. Thus waterfall designs are not recommended for freshwater.
    READ  Algae Scrubbers Explained: Natural Filtration For Your Aquarium – Marine Depot Chats with Experts #7   Upflow designs however are particularly suited to freshwater:
    Upflows are easy to DIY by using a common air pump which many people already use for freshwater. Freshwater people usually want bubbles. Many freshwater tanks have no sumps, which is no problem for upflows because upflows can go into the display. Since filter units in freshwater usually go in the display, the fish can pull the algae out and eat it. The long growth is circulated around (and held) inside the upflow container, keeping most of the growth from clogging other filters or pumps.  

     
    Now let’s look at saltwater.
     
    The big difference with growth in saltwater is that it grows much coarser and thicker strands (Ulva species, etc.) which tend to be curly but also much shorter than freshwater. So you no longer have to deal with long growth that grows out of the filter. This means that any version of a scrubber will work: upflow, waterfall, or horizontal river. But with saltwater you do have to deal with thick growth that blocks light.
     
    The concept of blocked light is important because algae will die when light blockage occurs. Dead algae cannot hold on, so it washes away, and there goes your filter. It’s ironic: Thicker growth seems great, but it blocks light, which kills the growth. Dead growth is brown like hay and can give water a yellowish look.
     
    So what should you do?
     

    Fortunately the growth does not die right away. It takes a few days once the light has been blocked. So if you clean/harvest before the “roots” die and let go, you are good (algae do not really have roots but do have holdfasts which grab solid surfaces).
     
    There are some tricks to getting more growth before die-off occurs. You might think you can simply reduce the hours of light so it does not grow thick so quickly, but this reduces filtering and thus defeats the purpose, not to mention it give more hours of darkness which does not help the roots. So the idea is to grow fast but not shade the roots too soon.
    Here are some things to look for or try:
    2-SIDED
    A waterfall or upflow screen should be illuminated on both sides so the roots that are grabbing the screen get light from both sides. This will let the growth go several more days before the roots get zero light.
     
    STRINGS
    Adding strings to a screen or a solid surface lets the growth grow away from the screen or surface, thus getting the roots out of the darkness. Strings by nature are already 2-sided.
     

     
    GROWTH RINGS
    Usually the middle of a screen is where growth is the thickest and die-off occurs first. By using very strong light in the middle of the screen, this area can be kept un-grown until an outer ring grows first, thus keeping the middle alive longer. The term for this is “photoinhibition.”
     

     
    EATING
    By letting your animals eat some of the growth, the time for the growth to get too thick will be lengthened. It’s possible the growth will never get too thick with this approach.
     

    ALTERNATE CLEANINGS
    Instead of letting the growth go a full 7 to 14 days before cleaning, you can clean half of it every 3 to 7 days. Since you are cleaning / brushing / scraping right down the middle of the growth surface, this opens the middle to more light.
     
    SPLIT SCREENS
    A more elegant way of doing alternate cleanings is to divide the growth surface in half, and clean each at alternate times. A waterfall screen is easily cut vertically for this.
     
    MULTIPLE UNITS
    The “most” elegant way of achieving alternate cleanings is to have multiple scrubber units. This achieves the same growth time for each growth area as above, but you do not have to deal with taking/leaving part of the growth behind, and you also do not tear growth in half which can put little bits of growth into the water. It also is the most expensive way.
     

    Santa Monica Filtration HOG2x Freshwater Hang-On-Glass Upflow Algae Scrubber
     
    Remember, the above information is for after a scrubber has been growing, or after you get through a slime stage. No scrubber will look or perform like this when brand new. For an example of a modern freshwater scrubber, here is a high power HOG2x with extra light for high nitrate water.
     
    Happy Scrubbing!
     
    CONTINUE READING:
    The Complete Guide to Algae Turf Scrubbers: Part 1 The Complete Guide to Algae Turf Scrubbers: Part 2 The Complete Guide to Algae Turf Scrubbers: Part 3
    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.
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