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  • The Basics Of Setting Up a Nano Reef


    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!!!!!! :D

    - Livia and a special thanks to ffoott

    Edited by Livia

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    While I do not operate a nano tank, I think a protein skimmer is a detriment.  It cost money.  It uses up valuable space.  Aside from providing good gas exchange, I consider protein skimmers detrimental because they remove nutrients that would normally grow corals and fish.


    Also, combining hermit crabs with snails will demonstrate predator prey behavior in that the hermits will eat the snails and wear their shells.


    Your article is very good.  I merely have a differrent point of view on the two things that I mentioned.





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    Thank you for your effort in providing beginners with the most important asset in reefkeeping: information. 


    Would just like to note that, in your "bare minimum" section, you list reef aquarium sea salt. That may not be necessary if someone were to use natural sea water. 



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    Except for the bit about protein skimmers removing things that "grow fish."   Whut?


    While I agree that having a skimmer on a small tank is often a waste increasingly I'm finding aeration provided by skimmers more and more important. If I turn off my skimmer on my 10 gal softie grow out tank for more than 48 hours the corals start to compress. I'm not skimming anything. It's gas turnover causing the reaction. An airstone does the same thing, but the skimmer just looks better. It's especially important during the winter when houses are closed up.


    The only snails I've found worthwhile are turbos, and only if you have a lot of green stuff to graze. Most people get too many turbos, they starve, and a dead snail plays havoc on corals. I doubt a hermit could catch let alone kill a big turbo snail.



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    I am starting the second nano tank, the first thing I do is make an external sump and fill it with filter sock, live rock and refugium, then I cycle only on the sump for 2 weeks, then after that I scape the main tank and fill it up. water. I did this because there was a sudden rush and finally I connected my sump to the main tank. For 3 days I checked the water parameters, namely nitrate with a level of 5 ppm with a Salifert testkit. Is there a problem if I add coral or fish?

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