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      Christopher Marks
      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.
      Christopher Marks
      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.
      Christopher Marks
      When a new aquarium system is created, the beneficial bacterial colonies that process excess waste are not immediately present. They will be introduced into your system when your live rock is added and will grow within the porous rock. The process that triggers the cycle into starting is kind of like a reverse process. There will be denitrifying bacteria present on the live rock that you add, but there will be no waste available to feed them. As the bacteria and other life begins to die off on the rock, ammonia will be created. This new ammonia feeds the remaining bacteria, which will then start the cycle process. Other simple methods may be used to start the process sooner, such as adding a very small amount of fish food, which will decay into ammonia.

      The exact amount of time that the cycle is going to take in a new system is difficult to predict. On average, it can take anywhere from two weeks to a month. If the rock is 'uncured', it may take longer for the existing die off to decay. If the rock is 'pre-cured' or 'cured', then the cycle process should complete quicker, as this rock contains very little excess dead life. More information on these liverock choices can be found in our Live Rock Selection article.

      So what should you do during the cycle? Keep your lights running on their regular 10-12 hour schedule. Do not cycle your tank with the lights completely off, unless you want the life on the live rock to die off, excess algae on uncured rock, for example. Do not perform any partial water changes during the the process, as doing so will stall the cycle from completing. Some people have experimented with doing very small water changes during the cycle to keep the ammonia levels from getting extremely high. The thought behind this method is that it will help preserve the life that came on your live rock. The benefits, if any, are not well known at this time however.
      Christopher Marks
      A vital maintenance procedure in nano reef keeping is doing partial water changes on a regular basis. Roughly 10-15% should be changed each week. One must be very careful during this process because any error could potentially harm the reef. But don't let that scare you, it's a rather simple process. There are different water source options, and three main things to check your water for before you add it to the tank.
      The source of water for your nano reef and its water changes can sometimes be a mind boggling issue. The most common options are tap water, reverse osmosis, or distilled. In most areas, tap water will not be good enough for nano reef keeping. There are simply too many hazardous chemicals and pollutants to effectively keep a reef. The most common side effect of using tap water is large algae blooms, caused from nutrients already in it. Reverse osmosis water is the most economical choice for nearly 100% pure water. Reverse Osmosis units can be purchased from anywhere between $75-$250 for a wide range of filter stages and output ratings. If you cannot invest the money in a reverse osmosis unit, most grocery stores have dispensers where you fill your own jugs. Usually $.45 - $.50 USD will get you a one gallon jug already filled, and you can reuse the jugs after the initial purchase. Check for information on the grocery store's system for a number to call, so you can make sure it is a true RO system that is properly maintained. If reverse osmosis water isn't available, the next option is distilled water. The purity of this water is pretty close to RO water, often a little better, but it does cost more. The average price is $1.00 USD for a one gallon jug of water.
      After you have your water, the next thing to do is mix your salt in. Since typically more than one gallon of water is needed at a time, a good container should be used to mix the water in. A simple solution is to use a brand new plastic 5 gallon bucket, which can be purchased at a hardware store. In addition to the bucket, the only other equipment needed is a small powerhead & heater. Use the powerhead to keep the salt mixing and the water circulating. Set the heater to 80F degrees and let the water sit overnight.
      When your specific gravity (salt level) is at 1.023 at a temperature of 80F the water should be ready to add to your tank. One thing to remember when testing your specific gravity with a swing needle hydrometer (the most commonly used) is that they're only calibrated to give a good reading when the water temperature is around 80F. If it is colder, your specific gravity will seem low. Some more accurate choices for test specific gravity are refractometers or floating hydrometers. When those levels are good, the only other thing you should test for is the pH. It should be at 8.3 before you use the water. If it is too low you may need to add a pH buffer.
      If all levels in the water are correct, you can go ahead and make the partial water change. Turn off any pumps in the tank that will be above the water level after enough water is removed, and also all sump pumps if you have one. Since your newly mixed water will have the same specific gravity and temperature as the water already in the tank, it shouldn't cause much of a shock for the fish or corals. You will want to do the whole water change process as fast as possible, but take time to slowly add the water so the sand bed isn't disturbed. Once enough water is added to replace the amount you removed, you can turn all equipment back on.
      The basic things to remember are: Make sure the newly mixed water temperature & specific gravity match those of the tank, be sure your water is at a proper temperature before you test the specific gravity, and let the salt mix in for at least 12-24 hours. Stress on the nano reef inhabitants can be avoided by having proper levels, starting with quality pure water, and working quickly.
      On a side note; improper readings on a swing needle hydrometer can also be caused by salt deposits in the test sample container. Even if you always rinse out the hydrometer with freshwater after use, you will still need to periodically clean it. An easy way to clean it is to fill the hydrometer with vinegar and let it sit for a few hours. Make sure you thoroughly rinse it out after cleaning.
      Christopher Marks
      Maintaining your nano reef is a very important task, and it can be quite simple. Usually you can do all of your maintenance in 15 minutes or less. The most important part of maintaining your nano reef is doing partial water changes. Water changes must be done religiously! You can do your partial water changes every week to every other week, depending on the bio load in your tank. If you decide to do them weekly, change out 10% of the tanks volume with freshly mixed saltwater. If you do them bi-weekly, then you will need to do a 15-20% water change. To save time, you will want to keep saltwater already mixed in a 20 gallon container, so when the time comes to do a water change, you will always have mixed water on hand. Also, make sure that the water is the same temperature and salinity as the water already in the aquarium.
      Next to water changes, evaporation top off is also very important. You may have to do this daily depending on the size and shape of your aquarium. Evaporation top off is simply adding freshwater to your aquarium to make up for the water that evaporates throughout the day. Remember to never use saltwater to top off evaporation, because the salt is left behind during evaporation and your specific gravity will rise.
      You will also want to be wiping off your nano reef with freshwater to keep it clean of salt creep. Salt creep comes from the salt left over from the evaporated water. You will notice it collecting on the top of you tank and on the lights. Be sure to never use a chemical cleaner! If any of it were to get into the aquarium, it could kill everything.
      If you have algae growing on the sides of your nano reef, you will need to clean that off as well. If you have a glass aquarium, you can use a straight edge razor and scrape it clean, or if you have an acrylic aquarium, you can use an appropriate acrylic-safe scraper. If you use the razor, be sure to rinse it off after you use it, because the saltwater will corrode the metal.
      Christopher Marks
      You will be amazed by the great diversity of vertebrates and invertebrates that you can keep in your small piece of the ocean. What you can keep all depends upon your nano reef equipment. Some corals will require higher light than others, and some fish will need a larger aquarium than others. All of the critters listed here are nano reef safe.
      Nano Reef Fish
      Fish are a great addition to a nano reef, but you must take extra care of you nano. You will have to be sure to keep up with your water changes, because a small body of water can collect nitrates quickly. The following fish are nano reef safe: true and false percula, banggai cardinals, pajama cardinals, royal grammas, fire fish, clown gobies, pseudochromis, basslets, and most damsels. While you are not limited to just those fish, these are hardy and good for beginners. You may find some people keeping fish that grow larger, such as dwarf angels or tangs, in their nano reefs. Often times they either do not know any better, or they intend to move the fish into larger tanks. I strongly urge you not to try this. It causes more stress on the fish, and possible problems for the future.
      Cleanup Crews
      A good cleanup crew will keep your nano reef running smooth, and free from algae, detritus, and other unwanted wastes. Commonly kept cleanup crew critters are red leg hermits, left-handed hermits, emerald crabs, sally light foots, turbo snails, and astrea snails. Keep one snail per 1-2 gallons, and one crab per 3-5 gallons. Do not keep more than one of the larger crabs in a nano reef (sally light foots, emerald crabs, etc.)
      Nano Reef Shrimp
      Shrimp are a great addition to any nano reef. One of the best suited for the job is a cleaner shrimp. There are two different types of cleaner shrimp available to the hobby; the skunk cleaner shrimp, and a fire shrimp (aka blood shrimp). Not only will a shrimp provide extra help to the cleanup crew in keeping your sandbed and rocks clean, it will also rid your fish of parasites. If a fish in the tank gets ich, a sickness in which white parasites attach to the side of the fish, a cleaner shrimp will work to eat the parasites off of the fish. Other options for shrimp include peppermint shrimp, and camel shrimp.
      Nano Reef Corals
      The sky is the limit when it comes to what corals you can keep in a nanoreef. There are just a few guidelines to follow when you choose a new coral. You will need to remember that some corals need more light than others, so be sure to take your lighting into consideration. Another thing to consider is whether or not the coral has sweeper tentacles. In a small aquarium, if one coral puts out it's sweeper tentacles in the night, it will be able to sting almost every coral in the aquarium. An example of a coral that does this is the elegance coral. Be sure to research all of your corals before you purchase them to be sure they will make a good addition to your nano reef. Also, don't be tempted to fill your nano reef up with corals. You should provide enough room for the coral to healthily grow, before having to frag it back to a smaller size.
      Christopher Marks
      The methods used to maintain a nano reef can vary greatly throughout the hobby. The methods described below are what I have found to work best in maintaining a successful nano reef. Simplicity is the key in nano reef keeping; inexpensive and easy to follow. This is of course by no means the only way to keep a nano reef. I will try to best explain everything, but should you have any further questions with this, please search existing topics or start a new topic on the forums.
      The natural method of filtration consists of only liverock and livesand. No protein skimmers are used and no additives are dosed. The nutrient export is provided by frequent partial water changes of 10-15% about every week. Trace elements are replenished through water changes.

      As you go about purchasing all of the supplies for your new nano reef, you're going to have to make a decision on which salt mix you should use. Because no additional dosing is usually done with this method, you will want to be using a good reef salt mix. Not all reef salts are created equal however. Unfortunately there is no set data that clearly shows which salt is better over another, which makes the decision even more difficult. The best recommendation I can make is to search around the online forums and see which ones people like best from their experiences.
      When starting out your nano reef, your first livestock purchase will be liverock and livesand. You will want to purchase the highest quality live rock as you can possible afford. It will be the entire basis of your filtration so there should be no skimping. Only a small quantity of liverock is needed, so cost shouldn't be so much of an issue. For information on the different types of liverock, refer to the Liverock Selection article. Placement of your liverock can be nearly anything you like, just keep in mind that the more open it is the better.
      In this type of system livesand is also important. You can purchase livesand from a variety of places, or create your own livesand by seeding dead aragonite with some sand from an established system. The depth of sand can vary to anything you like. Sand beds from 1/4"; to 4"; won't produce much of a difference in this system, but there are benefits to both. If the bed is deeper is tends to be a more efficient filter. If you choose to have a deep sand bed, make sure you have plenty of detrivores to keep the sand stirred.
      With this natural method, no protein skimmers or dosing is used. Studies of skimmers have shown that they remove various trace elements, along with pods and plankton. When people run protein skimmers, they dose trace elements to replenish them after their corals and skimmers use them. Because the skimmer removes most of the elements, such as iodine, it is dosed back in causing almost an endless cycle. The main problem this holds in nano reefing is that many of the trace elements cannot be easily tested for, so no one ever knows where their level is. This can lead to overdosing which will crash a nano reef in a matter of hours. The skimmer also begins to starve your corals by removing their food source. It's simply too risky.

      Protein skimmers are beneficial however, because they remove excess nutrients from the water, but this advantage is out weighed by the disadvantages. To remove the excess nutrients from this system you do a partial water change. The water change also doubles to replenish your trace elements, which are in your synthetic sea salt. Nitrates are removed, dissolved organic compounds are removed, and your trace elements are replaced. Your nitrates will always be at or near zero, and the elements will stay at a consistant level.
      The whole maintenance procedure only requires about 15 minutes a week, so everyone can handle it. You can take short cuts to save time by pre-mixing water in a new, never before used, 5 gallon bucket and keeping it circulating at all times. Then when it's time to change your water, just scoop it from there. More details on the water changes can be found in the Maintenance article.

      The last key factor to this system is having good flow. Use a powerhead or two to give you a flow rate of about 7-10 times the tank's total water volume.
      I encourage everyone to try this method for their nano reef. It is uncommon to not use a protein skimmer, but nano reef keeping isn't the same as a traditional sized reef (though this method still works great on larger tanks). It's simple, it's cheap, and there is no extra equipment to worry about. As I always say, the less 'toys' you have on your reef, the less there is to go wrong.
      Christopher Marks
      Reef aquariums are not toys. However blunt that may sound, it is true. As hobbyists we have the responsibility to maintain healthy systems to the best of our ability and to meet the needs of the animals we keep. For the sake of the animals, and your wallet, one should take some things into consideration before starting. With this in mind, here are some things to consider that will help you make the most of your reef keeping experience.
      Most people start nano reefs for the following reasons:
      Space: Many cannot have aquariums larger than 10 gallons in the dorms or apartments.
      Fascination: Choosing a nano reef because they like the uniqueness a smaller system provides.
      Secondary: Setup a nano reef as a grow-out place to put coral frags from their larger system.
      Costs: Some start nano reefs because they feel that they will cost less than a larger tank.

      Common Myths about nano reef keeping:
      Nano Reefs Cost Less: This is sometimes true, however the cost per gallon is quite possibly more for a nano reef than a larger system, though the final investment is quite a bit less. Also, the more you get into coral collecting, etc. - the more you will find that nano reefs really aren't inexpensive at all.
      Nano Reefs Are Difficult: In most cases, they really are not. They do however require plenty of initial planning, research, research, and research. They also will require at least 10 minutes of your attention daily. As long as you follow your maintenance schedule, and do not make any sporadic additions, your tank will be quite easy to keep thriving.
      Nano Reefs Are Just Like Normal Sized Systems: Not even close, in a number of ways. One of the biggest differences is what livestock can be kept in smaller systems. Nano Reefs DO have limits, and they need to be respected.

      If you want a challenging and rewarding experience, and are willing to give the time and dedication it takes, then this hobby is for you. With any reef tank comes responsibilities and limits, but they are truly worth it. Nano Reefs have broken down a great deal of barriers that once existed, and have given many more people the opportunity to keep reef aquariums.
      Christopher Marks
      Setting up your own nano reef can be quite simple and is almost the same as a traditionally sized reef. This article will go over the basics of setting up a nano reef, as well as the equipment that is necessary.
      To start, you will need to pick out the aquarium you would like to use. Three good starter sizes are the standard 10 gallon, 15 gallon, or 20 gallon aquariums. Next, you will need to decide on the lighting system you want to use. Powercompact retrofit kits and canopies are highly recommended. These powercompact lamps will provide your nano reef with plenty of light for many types of corals. For the heater, I highly recommend using a 50w or 75w Ebo Jager brand heater, as users of these have consistently had success in such small aquariums. Lastly, you will need a small powerhead pump for circulation. I have found Aquarium System's Mini-Jet pumps to be quiet and reliable, but all other similarly sized pumps will work.
      For your filtration it's recommended to use an all natural method. Good quality live rock and live sand are the key to a successful system. You will want to use at least one pound of live rock per gallon, and about one-half pounds of live sand per gallon. More information on this can be found in the filtration article.
      When you look for a location to place your nano reef, you will want to keep a few things in mind. The tank should be placed on a level and sturdy surface that can support approximately 70-250 pounds depending on the size of the tank. You will also want to place it in a high traffic area where it will be seen often, so you do not forget to feed it or do maintenance work when necessary.
      When the time comes to fill the tank and get it running, you will need to have purchased a good synthetic reef salt and a specific gravity meter. Swing-arm or floating hydrometers can be purchased for under $10 and will provide a basic reading of the specific gravity. A more expensive refractometer is however recommended for highly accurate readings. Fill the tank with water and add salt until the specific gravity is 1.023. Place the powerhead in immediately so it will help mix the salt. Now is also the time to place in your heater and get the water temperature to 78 degrees. Once your s.g. has reached it's proper level, you can add the live rock and live sand. Place the live rock in first, using an open pattern so the fish have room to swim through and hide in the rock. Be as creative as you want during this process and don't be afraid to go back and change it later. Once the rock is where you like it, you can pour the live sand around the rocks, keeping it at a fairly even thickness throughout the tank.
      Next comes your livestock! Please see the Nano Reef Critters article. 
      Christopher Marks