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!