What to Avoid
While some hermit crab species, like the scarlet variety, tend to be less murderous than others, all will eventually need larger shells to use as homes, and snails are the best target for them. Those same snails are for more efficient at algae and detritus cleanup than the crabs will ever be, so why even bother? Other crabs are often included in crews as well — sally light foots and arrow crabs, in particular, are opportunistic and will often eat whatever they can get their claws on. Even the much beloved emerald crabs (Mithrax sp.) have been known to turn carnivorous for no apparent reason. I would recommend emerald crabs as a last resort in an algae battle, not as a preventative measure.
Ok, so you’ve been converted away from using hermit crabs. In your search for a clean-up crew you come across a crab-less package, which should be perfect, right? The problem is, many crab-less packages contain sand sifting organisms, namely starfish and sea cucumbers. These animals rely on microscopic fauna in the sandbed as their sole food source, and once that food is exhausted the animal most often dies. Unless you have a very large tank, on the order of a couple of square feet of sandbed for each cucumber or starfish, these are best left alone.
Coral banded shrimp and peppermint shrimp are sometimes included as part of the clean-up crew, but often they will turn opportunistic, eating coral polyps, other shrimp and sometimes even small fish. All shrimp need to be well-fed or they will make their own meals, often out of your corals.
While most snail species are harmless algae or detritus eaters, there are a few varieties unsuitable for reef tanks. Murex snails are predatory, feeding on other snails and bivalves. Margarita snails pop up from time to time in shops, but are harvested from temperate locales, making them unsuitable for tropical tanks. Flamingo tongue snails are beautiful and harmless to most motile inverts, but feed solely on gorgonians and so require specialized care. Most conch species are effective algae eaters and scavengers, but grow much too large for most reef systems.
Getting the Crew Together
So what’s the alternative? A snail-only crew is the best way to go. Other than the species mentioned above and a few others, most snail species are small and harmless, unless you happen to be a bit of algae or a scrap of food. Let’s take a look at the specific problems you’ll be trying to address with your clean-up crew, and which species are best suited to solving those problems.
Diatoms on Sand and Rocks:
Diatoms look like abrown dust coating the hard surfaces in your tank. While most diatom blooms run their coarse, they can still be unsightly. Cerith snails and limpets are great choices for eating diatoms.
Green Film Algae:
This is the de facto standard as far as algae goes in reef tanks. It exists in all systems to some degree, and can range from barely noticeable to embarrassing. Astrea snails are amazing film algae eaters (the larger ‘turbo’ varieties are best for larger tanks, as they will knock over small frags in their search for food), along with Ceriths and chitons.
There are a couple types of hair algae. The standard type is non-branching and grows in clumps. Many snails munch on this type of hair algae, including turbo snails and chitons. For larger tanks, non-snail animals like urchins and sea hairs can be the solution to a hair algae problem. The other type of hair algae is Bryopsis. The strands of this type of algae branch off and look like tiny feathers. Most algae-eating animals stay away from this stuff; your best bet here is to solve the issues that are causing the Bryopsis rather than trying to find something that will consume it. Some people have had luck with turbo snails, sea hares and a couple other creatures however. Your results may vary.
This slimy, stringy ‘algae’ can often reach plague proportions in tanks with high nutrient inputs. While the best remedy here is prevention, Ceriths and Nerites are both good choices to help with the cleanup.
If you have a heavy hand when feeding your tank, you’ll want to take advantage of various creatures that will mop up the excess food your fish may miss. Nassarius snails are experts in sifting through the sandbed waiting for a meal, and will pop to the surface at the first whiff of feeding time. For getting into the nooks and crannies of your live rock, it is best to rely on the organisms that hitched in, namely pods and bristleworms. An occasional blast with a turkey baster will also help to keep thinks clean.
Stocking Your Tank
Now that you know which types of organisms to avoid and which to use, let’s go over how you should stock your tank with regards to a clean-up crew. You’ll often see so-called rules saying one snail per gallon; these sorts of rules are far too generic to be of any use, and often result in tanks that are overstocked with snails and crabs. Not all reef systems are created equal, and while one 20g may need fifteen snails, another may not need any.
A much better approach would be more organic. If your tank develops an algae bloom, find out which snails or other organisms have the best track record of handling it, then pick up a few of those. Then, wait a couple weeks to give them a chance to do some work. If the problem does not resolve or gets worse, get a few more and wait another couple weeks.
Most new tanks start off with heavy algae growth that dwindles over time. If you end up with a large clean-up crew toward the beginning, be prepared to whittle it down as time goes on and algae supplies decrease. Mature tanks with effective nutrient export and a low bioload often require very few if any snails to control nuisance algae.
To conclude, hermit crabs do have a place in reef tanks, as interesting additions whose antics never cease to amuse. But for a dedicated clean-up crew, the downsides that hermits bring with them far outweigh their benefits. Look instead for a snail-only crew, and stock your tank according to its needs and not according to an arbitrary estimation based on gallonage.
Step 1: Equipment
Since I literally lived on the coast, I had additional equipment that most hobbyists would probably consider unnecessary, but could find helpful should they ever experience an outage. Common items that you should have, or may already have:
Battery Operated Air Pumps
Available from most hardware stores, sporting goods stores, or online from various pet vendors. I purchased a waterproof version that ran for 36 hours on 2 D cell batteries. Don't forget extra batteries, or even better and more environmentally friendly, rechargeable batteries and a charger. A battery operated air pump shouldn't set you back more than about $15, although there are some that will automatically turn on in the event of a power failure that cost more. A battery operated air pump is invaluable, both for oxygenation and water movement, and they're very efficient.
Uninterruptible Power Supplies
Often used to prevent computer data loss during a power outage, a UPS will provide AC power via a battery for a limited amount of time. Very handy for periodically running pumps, filters, heaters, or running low wattage air pumps for days or weeks. They usually run $50 to $200 depending on the size of the battery in the unit. A UPS will be useful every day for protecting your computer or other sensitive electronics.
Less common items that will help in the event of a long term power outage:
Gasoline or butane powered, a generator (depending upon the size and wattage) will run anything from a small aquarium system to your entire house. Their downfall is they are expensive to run (especially with gas prices these days), require fuel (something that was in such short supply I usually couldn't run one), are usually quite expensive ($400+), and have to be run outside to prevent dangerous carbon monoxide buildup. For me, it turned out that it simply wasn't practical or possible to keep my nanos powered by a generator due to fuel shortages and other necessities. Generators can be purchased at hardware stores or through online vendors.
Portable Power Supply
These nifty items are usually sold for cars, and often have a built in jump-start capability, tire inflator, emergency radio, or some combination thereof. However, many also have AC plugs and function identically to a UPS. I discovered their usefulness to aquatic hobbyists during the hurricane outage by using one to power two small water pumps in our nano reef aquariums, and it could be recharged via our solar charger. I bought my portable power supply from Wal-Mart for $100 for auto emergencies, and have seen them for sale in other warehouse departments and at hardware stores.
Solar Trickle Charger
A small solar panel that trickle charges up to 12 volt batteries. I used this to charge the portable power supply, and an extra car battery I had. Best $20 purchase I've ever made, and they can be found from specialty battery and electronics vendors online.
Many of the above items, or combination thereof, can be used to charge D-Cell batteries for your air pumps, which is generally the most efficient use of your limited power.
Step 2: Prepare Forewarned is forearmed, so they say, and this is no exception. If you know a power outage could be immanent, it's time to prepare! Our goal is to minimize waste buildup, keep oxygen levels high, prevent temperature swings, and in the case of marine invertebrates, provide at least some water movement. Prepare your nano for a power outage if you know it's likely to occur (storm, blizzard, hurricane, etc.):
Clean! Clean all filters thoroughly and vacuum detritus if you can. Perform a large (50%+) water change with water of the same pH, temperature, and salinity. Set aside freshly mixed saltwater in case you need it.
Stop Feeding Most healthy aquatic animals can go a week or more without eating with no ill effects, and usually longer. Less food means less pollution, more oxygen for your animals, and less fish waste.
Temperature Control If possible, insulate your aquarium with household insulation available at hardware stores before the outage. Blankets work well too, especially during an unexpected outage. You may not be able to prevent temperature changes, but you should be able to prevent rapid temperature changes, which is essential if you want your animals to survive. Depending on how the temperature will shift, prepare with ice or frozen water bottles, battery or gas heaters, oil lamps, or fans if you have a generator.
Step 3: Outage During the outage there are a few things to watch for, and steps you can take (besides nail biting) to prevent loss of life. Consider the following:
Oxygen The amount of dissolved oxygen will depend on a number of factors, including surface area of the aquarium, stocking level, temperature, dissolved organics, and activity of the inhabitants. One battery operated air pump should be more than enough for all but larger or more heavily stocked systems. If your fish are 'gasping' at the surface, oxygen levels are critically low.
Water Movement Water movement is very important in a reef aquarium. The simplest way to accomplish this, and the least power hungry, is to use battery operated air pumps. In a nano, you should be able to provide enough water movement to keep the inhabitants alive with an air pump or two. A little elbow grease and a pitcher should work on corals that are overly 'sliming'. If you have any of the nifty power supplies listed above, turning on a circulation pump or powerhead for a few minutes every hour will help greatly. Small pumps could possibly be run for the entire outage, depending upon the duration.
Water Quality Ammonia neutralizers like Seachem's Prime or Kordon's Amquel will go a long way towards keeping your fish and inverts alive, especially if an evacuation is necessary. I managed to keep large marine and freshwater pufferfish alive in 5 gallon buckets by dosing Prime every day, and feeding very little. If your fish are still in the aquarium, refrain from feeding, and perform water changes frequently if necessary. Remember, these additives will drop oxygen levels, so be careful!
Lighting Not necessary for fish, but eventually necessary for photosynthetic animals. If your outage lasts less than a week, you have nothing to worry about. If you're without power longer than a week, try for opening a window (even indirect sunlight carries a lot of energy) or plugging in fluorescent lights into a battery backup for a few minutes to an hour a day. This is when a small solar charger and portable power pack can save your corals, as I found out.
Step 4: Recovery Let's hear it for power! I'm sure you're ready to bask in the newly restored air conditioning, or heat if you're up north, but take a few minutes for your aquariums first. You should clean out the filters again and perform another large water change. After that you should be good to go! Hopefully all your animals survived, maybe in part from the information you learned here.
Gather your materials. You will need:
Super glue gel, I prefer Loctite brand to any others, but it must be the gel kind and have Cyanoacrylate as the active ingredient.
AquaMend putty, or any other kind of underwater stick putty. Sold at Home Depot for around $3.00 a tube.
Your coral frag!
Find the correct location in your tank for this frag. Take into account the flow and lighting the area provides, match that with the requirements of the coral frag. The area I chose for this frag has a large divot, so I will be using more AquaMend putty than would be needed for a more smooth surface of rock. The putty is used to fill any holes between the live rock and coral frag. The glue is what actually does most of the bonding.
Trim your frag plug if necessary. For this plug I cut off most that I could without compromising the coral. Frags are also sold on live rock pieces or on their own. You will only need to trim to match the type of aquascape you are looking for.
Mix up a small ball of AquaMend putty. This can be done before you bring the frag out of the water, but it is a quick process, and most coral will be fine out of the water for a short time. Make just enough to fill in any holes or areas that are on the live rock you are attaching to. Using too much here can make your frag look ugly in the tank, since you will see the white putty.
Apply the super glue gel to the frag or plug. I generally dab dry the coral with a paper towel, or blow off water with my super strong lungs. Use the correct amount to make a secure bond for the next step, but try not to add to much that it will ooze onto the coral itself.
Apply the putty ball to the super glue on the frag. You don't need to push very hard, just secure it to the glue.
Apply another layer of super glue gel to the top of the putty. You can dab dry or blow again. Super glue gel will cure to a wet surface.
Stick it in! Dunk the frag and all the glue and putty in the water. Secure it to the placement point you picked out earlier. Give it a firm push, turning the frag plug slightly to get the putty and glue in all holes and divots. Be careful to position it to best hide the white putty.
Enjoy! You now have a coral that is secure on your live rock. The putty and glue will both cure and harden under the water. Some applications will require you to turn off the pumps, but for this demonstration I had all my pumps on. If gluing a polyp with glue only, it is recommended to turn off all flow and allow the gel to cure.
Bubble Algae (Valonia) Bubble algae are a fairly harmless reef tank pest in small quantities. It's not uncommon to see bubble algae in nano reefs with good water quality. It becomes a problem, however, when it spreads. It can grow over corals in the tank and snuff them out. Bubble algae are able to spread fast because each bubble releases algae spores when broken. It's seen either as one large bubble or a small cluster of little bubbles.
When removing bubble algae Be careful not to pop any bubbles. If the bubbles are large (about the size of a marble) you should be able to gently pull them from the rock. If possible, remove the rock the bubble is on and pull it off outside of the aquarium. If your bubble algae is a small cluster, concider adding an emerald crab [Minthrax] to the tank. They are nano reef safe and great for controlling bubble algae.
Mantis Shrimp (Stomatopods) Mantis shrimp can enter into a nano reef when it is first setup, or new liverock is added. They come as hitch hikers within the rock, from both the Atlantic and Pacific. Not all batches of liverock will contain a mantis shrimp though. Mantis shrimp are predators, feeding on crustaceans and fish by smashing or spearing them. Signs that one is in you nano reef are: loud clicking sounds, missing fish, killed snails/crabs, or broken shells. They hide in small crevices within rocks or corals.
Removing a mantis shrimp is not a simple task. It would be wise to wear heavy gloves before handling a mantis shrimp. Most mantis shrimp that make it into aquariums are small, but larger ones have been known to break fingers. Fortunately nano reefs are not very large, so it should be easy to find. With this in mind, the following are methods that have been know to work:
If you know which rock the mantis is hiding in, remove it from the aquarium and place it in a bucket with water from your tank. If there is no life on the rock that needs to be preserved, place the rock in a bucket of carbonated water. If the rock has other life on it, you can use a turkey baster to squirt carbonated water [club soda] into the hole the shrimp is in. Either way the shrimp should evacuate the rock in time.
Buy or make a trap specifically for mantis shrimp. There are quite a few traps available at fish stores or online catalogs. DIY plans can also be found online. You may also want to research a trap before you buy it, to make sure it has been effective for others.
If the rock cannot be removed from the aquarium, the shrimp can be taken out with a net. This is, however, not easy. At night time, with the tank's lights off, simply wait and watch for the shrimp to come out and feed. Try using live bait to lure it out as well. If you can move quickly, it's possible to net it while it is away from its burrow.
Not every method will bring success for everyone. Remember that it takes patience to win the battle. If one method doesn't work out, try another.
As you begin to plan out your nano reef, the first decision you will have to make is what aquarium to use. If you have been to any large aquarium shop lately, or just browsed through the member's nano reef area, you have probably noticed there's a vast amount of different aquariums in use. Between the standard cut and dry glass rectangle and the custom bow front with integrated filtration, you might get a little lost. So which aquarium will work best for you, and last in the long run? The following discusses a few factors which should be considered before making your decision. Factor 1: Size
The old rule used to be, "Buy the largest aquarium you can afford to maintain," but clearly this doesn't apply very well to nano reefs. Ideally before you pick an aquarium, you should have a place set aside where you intend to place the aquarium. Take careful measurements and decide your target aquarium size. If you've not chosen a place yet, most tanks larger than 5 gallons will typically need about 16 to 24 inches length by 10 to 14 inches width. If you're going to place your aquarium underneath something, cabinets for example, you need to make sure that the aquarium you choose will leave you with at least 12 inches of room above the tank for easy access. Also keep in mind that the larger the aquarium, the more livestock options you will have. If you're not looking for the challenge of a very small nano reef, then a good beginner size is 12-20 gallons. Factor 2: Material
Aquariums are made of one of two things; glass or acrylic. The point of this article is not to fight out the age old battle between aquarists of acrylic vs. glass; it's only to state the facts behind both. Depending on your location, your choice may or may not be very important. If you're located in an area prone to earthquakes, then it's probably going to be in your best interest to get an acrylic aquarium. Acrylic is more forgiving when it comes to stress from slight twisting or bending. The other details about acrylic are:
Acrylic is prone to scratching easily (external scratches can be buffed out with special kits)
Acrylic can be drilled with typical household wood drill bits (good for you avid DIY'ers)
Acrylic is 4% clearer than standard glass, and weighs less too.
Acrylic insulates better than glass (good for unusually cold rooms)
Acrylic is available in opaque colors (for colored backing)
Acrylic costs more than glass, in small aquarium applications
Acrylic can discolor if non acrylic safe chemical cleaners are used
Glass's details are:
Glass typically costs less than acrylic
Glass is difficult to scratch, thus easier to work in and clean
Glass scratches can never be removed
Glass aquariums are more widely available in most areas
Glass requires special drill bits to drill it
Glass must be painted if colored panels are desired
Factor 3: Aesthetics
Aquariums are available is more shapes and styles than ever before. Some styles that are available in small aquariums are bow fronts, curved 90 degree corners, cubes, internal filtration, internal overflows for sumps, and flat back hexagons. Some aquariums even come with options of color backings or different colored trim/rims. It's best to stay away from tanks that come with integrated lighting systems, as they are almost always inadequate for nano reefs. Most importantly, choose which one you will like best. Factor 4: Dimensions
An aquarium's dimensions are another thing that can save you from, or cause, a lot of problems. For the sake of aquascaping, a wide aquarium is ideal. Many people with narrow aquariums find it very difficult to fit liverock in the tank, let alone shape it into anything appealing. Having a wider aquarium will also allow for a larger sand bed, as well as be easier to work in. You should also stay away from excessively tall aquariums. If an aquarium is too tall, it will not have enough surface water to allow for proper oxygen exchange.
Over the past two years as more and more people have started nano reef keeping, there have been some aquariums that just didn't stand up to the test. There are others that just plain won't work for a nano reef unless modified. The one system that comes to mind is the Eclipse System. Please understand that I'm not saying that these aquariums cannot be used, or will cause failure; I only bring them up because there are some issues with them that are not always evident. Eclipse systems look quite nice and are seemingly the perfect nano reef aquariums. However, the eclipse system 3, 6, and 12 tanks do not come with stock lighting that will be sufficient for keeping more than low light corals. Their built in filtration systems were designed for freshwater aquariums, and are not very useful for anything more than water circulation. These tanks will require modifications to the hood to install new lighting, and you may even choose to ditch the over-tank filter just to make room for new lights. While people have done this, and it is possible to keep a nano reef in a modified system, it just ends up costing more than building your own customized setup.
If you come across any aquarium that you like, but just aren't certain that it will work out, search the message board for the aquarium's name or manufacturer name. Chances are someone is using one, or has used one in the past. Good luck and happy hunting!
Keeping your nano reef's tempterature under control can be challenging in warm climates. The most common reasons for needing to cool a nano are to offset heat from intense lighting or offset heat from the room itself. There are two methods used to chill a nano reef that are reliable. The best method is to use a micro chiller. This is a new product that uses heat exchange to cool the water, and can cool the water 5-10 degrees. It is mounted somewhere on your aquarium, either in a hang-on-back filter or directly mounted to a bulkhead in your tank or sump. They are a bit expensive, usually around $120, but much less expensive than a regular aquarium chiller. More information on these can be found at Marine Depot.
The other option is to use a small fan. A fan provides a cheap way, usually $15, to cool a nano reef. To do so, position it so cool air is blown across the surface of the tank. You will notice a temperature change of about 3-5 degrees. Remember that this method will cause a lot of evaporation, so you will need to be sure to compensate with top off water.
If the heat is coming from your lights, and you don't already have one, install a fan to blow air into to canopy, or reverse so it pulls the hot air out. Be sure to leave another hole opposite the fan for air to leave/enter. If you have a large enough fan, this may stop heat transfer to your nano altogether.
Lighting is one of the most important aspects of a nano reef. Like all reef aquariums, it is necessary to have relatively high intensity lighting for your corals. There are many different ways to achieve proper lighting on a nano reef.
Powercompact lamps are arguably the best light source when it comes to nano reefs. Although they are very small, they pack a lot of power. These are superior to other fluorescent lamps because they come in short lengths that can easily fit across small aquariums. The following chart shows the various lamps and their approximate lengths.
There are more powercompact lamps and sizes available, but those are the ones that are most commonly used. The 27 and 96 watt lamps are called a quad lamps. They have four parallel tubes instead of just two on each bulb. Those are very useful when a lot of light is needed in a small amount of space. Powercompact lamps come in many different color temperatures so you can have the proper spectrum lighting in all size lamps. If you are limited for space, there are new lamps out called "smart bulbs" that have one tube actinic blue and the other tube of the lamp daylight white. Most powercompact lamps are rated to burn for 14 months.
Very High Output Fluorescent
VHO lamps have always been a very good choice of lighting for reef aquariums. Although they don't come in many small sizes, they can still be used on the larger nano reefs. The lights provide as good of light as powercompacts and have a long burn life when run on good ballasts. The only bulb lengths that are practical for most nano reefs are the 24" lamps. These also come in various color temperatures for proper lighting spectrum.
Metal Halide Lighting
At one point, metal halide lighting was thought to be far too intense for our small and shallow nano reefs. Through some experimentation and an advance in technologies, a wide range of metal halide systems are available for use on nano reefs. The new smaller sizes, such as HQI double ended 70w lamps, are now available in the proper color spectrums needed for our corals. These are great over a nano reef as they are not extremely intense. When used in conjunction with actinic blue VHO or PC lamps, you can create a very effective lighting system for your reef. Many people even use the brighter lamps all the way up to 400 watts, but be aware that this is not something for a beginner to try, and recommended for use on tanks smaller than 20 gallons. If you do decide to use MH lamps with your system, keep in mind that they do require a separate ballast and they will generate a lot of heat. You must use high power fans in your canopy to keep the heat from transferring to your water.
Purchasing Your Lighting System
There is a seemingly infinite number options in purchasing your lighting system. Fully assembled units can be purchased ready to be placed on top of your aquarium. Some companies will even build custom ordered systems with your choice of lighting. Retro-fit kits can be purchased complete with all the bulbs, cables, wiring, and reflectors ready to be mounted inside a custom hood or canopy of your own. If you are a more adverturous do-it-yourselfer, bulbs, end caps, reflectors, and ballasts can be purchased separately to be wired into your own custom creation. Browse through our sponsors' online catalogs and see what options are available!
Choosing the right live rock for your nano reef is very important. It will be your main source of biological filtration, and will create the entire look for your nano reef. There are many different types of live rock to choose from, but all will do the same thing. When looking for sizes that suit a nano reef, many people will use just one large, nice piece, or lots of small 'rubble' pieces and build it up. There are three main types of live rock available to the hobby today; Pacific, Atlantic, and Aquacultured. The following will help you know what to look for as you select the right live rock for your needs.
Pacific is the most common live rock that hobbyists choose. It is very porous, light, and usually colorful with coralline algae. This live rock also has many different shapes. You will hear Pacific live rock called many different names; fiji, hapai island, samaoan, tonga, marshall island, vanuatu, etc. These names refer to the island region that it was collected from. The shapes and density may vary from region to region. When picking, choose nice pieces that you like, and try to get 'cured' rock, because it is less likely to have pests in it. A good rule of thumb is to have 1-1.5 pounds per gallon.
Atlantic live rock is becoming less popular. It is generally dense, and the shapes are not as interesting or intricate as Pacific rock. The advantage is that it is quite a bit cheaper. The pieces are just as life covered and coralline encrusted as Pacific rock too. This rock usually comes from the Gulf of Mexico. When selecting Atlantic live rock, look for smaller pieces and ones with more holes or features. Because of the density, at least 2 pounds of Atlantic live rock should be used per gallon.
Aquacultured rock is still new, but becoming very a very popular alternative to 'wild' live rock. Aquacultured live rock is created when regular dry rock is placed in the ocean and then harvested many years later. The shapes and sizes all depend upon what rock the creator used. Some rock can be rather plain and bulky, while some are quite porous and nicely shaped. Much of the aquacultured live rock available is good because it is pest free, so you won't have to worry about things like bristle worms and mantis shrimp. The best thing to do when choosing an aquacultured rock supplier is to get opinions from other hobbyists. See if their rock was pest free, if it looked nice, and if it had lots of life on it. Depending on the density of the particular rock, use 1-2 pounds per gallon.
Cured & Uncured Rock
When all liverock is collected, it's usually cleaned off with some brushes and rinsed to remove any mud that might be on it. It's fresh from the ocean and usually crawling with life. Crabs, shrimp, corals, and macro algae are present. Not all the animals that are in the rock are wanted however. Pest anemones and mantis shrimp are the two most common pests on live rock. Uncured rock basically comes to you in this state. Cured rock goes through a longer process to help 'clean' it up a bit. It's often times kept in vats which are cleaned out regularly to allow time for some of the dead things to be removed. Other methods of curing involve the rock being sprayed with a higher salinity saltwater to make some of the pest animals run out, and remove any die off. Cured rock usually costs more.
So which should you buy? It doesn't particularly matter which you chose, but there are some benefits to chosing one over the other. With uncured liverock, you're going to have a lot more life present on the rock, and maybe even some hitchhiker crabs or shrimp. But with the good comes the bad; uncured rock is more likely to contain pests, and usually will take longer for the tank it is placed in to cycle. Cured rock is less likely to have pests in it, and aquariums starting off with cured rock have a shorter cycle time.
Always choose the rock you like best. Your nano reef is your own creation, so make it look however suits you best. Since you don't need a lot of rock, be willing to spend a bit more money on cured, quality live rock. Also remember that live rock that has already been in an aquarium is better than rock that is fresh from the supplier, or shipping box, because it is likely to be free of pests and die off from transit.
As a nano reef hobbyist, you must realize that a nano reef does have certain limitations as to what can be healthily kept within it. There are certain corals, invertebrates, and fish that should not be kept in a nano reef, due to their instincts, size, habits, or quick growth. The following are some more common items that hobbyists should not keep in their nano reef. Please keep in mind that this does not include all things that should be avoided. Even though some of these animals might be able to live in a nano reef environments, it is our responsibility as hobbyists to give them the best environment possible for their well being.
Mandarin dragonet [aka mandarin goby] is a fish that requires a large tank for it's feeding habits. They will not commonly accept prepared or processed foods, so they eat the copepods and amphipods within an aquarium to survive. Nano reefs are simply not large enough to provide a replenishing supply of food for mandarins, and they should be avoided.
Other common fish that simply require a much larger tank than any nano reef can provide include; tangs, surgeon fish, butterfly fish, lionfish, puffer fish, angel fish, and dwarf angels. Please keep in mind that while some people may keep these fish in their nano reef, that doesn't make it right. Some people will also keep these fish in their nano reefs for a short period of time, and move them to one of their larger tanks. This should be avoided.
Carnivorous star fish should not be kept, as they can easily corner a fish or shrimp in such a small tank and eat it. Nudibranches and sea slugs are also something to avoid, as certain types can be toxic, and have special needs. Turbo snails are alright in larger nano reefs, but older turbo snails can sometimes become very large and knock over corals. If you already have turbo snails, I would not be very concerned about them, but if you are just starting your tank, go for astrea snails.
Gonipora, aka flowerpot coral, will not survive easily in captivity, especially not in a nano reef. Their exact needs are not entirely known at this time, but whatever it is that is missing within our tanks is enough to kill them in a matter of months.
Corals with stinging sweeper tentacles such as galaxia and frogspawn corals should be avoided in smaller tanks. If they are kept near other corals, their sweeping tentacles will come out and night and sting or kill the surrounding corals. These will do ok in larger nano reefs, as long as they are somewhat secluded to a certain area.
Plan ahead for weather during shipping too. Check local forecasts in your area and the destination area. If the temperature is going to be cold, tape a heat pack to the inside of the styrofoam container's lid. You can purchase these from camping supply stores or hardware stores, sold as hand or boot warmers. Be careful not to overdo it though, too much heat can destroy your coral frags before they ever leave your local shipping center.
Properly placing your frags in the bags is key. Placement depends on the type of frag also. For corals that are not attached to anything use a rubber band and attach them to a piece of styrofoam. It will float on the surface with the coral dangling upside-down, which will protect it from being smothered or crushed. If your frags are attached to a rock, rubber band the rock to a piece of styrofoam like before. If the rock is large, simply place it at the bottom of the bag. Mushrooms, unattached star polyps, and alike can be shipped loosely in the bag. Keep coral types isolated to their own bags so they do not sting each other. Make sure you give the coral 3-6" of water space too. When tying the bags, leave room for oxygen, or fill it directly with oxygen if it is available. Twist the bag closed, fold that part in half, and secure it with two rubber bands.
Always ship your corals overnight. Many people have been experimenting with different corals and their tolerances to shipping times, but do so at your own risk. Call your shipping provider and arrange a pick up time, or take the package to them. Always pack and drop off packages as close to the depot's closing time as possible, so the box sits for less time. Schedule A.M. delivery or pick up at the local depot for the receiver, so the corals don't spend all day in a truck. When the corals arrive just acclimate them like usual and monitor for signs of stress.
Pack well so the receiver can reuse the packaging that was sent to them to ship their coral frags to you.