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    Christopher Marks

    By Christopher Marks, in Equipment Articles,

    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!
    Christopher Marks

    By Christopher Marks, in Equipment Articles,

    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.
    Christopher Marks

    By Christopher Marks, in Equipment Articles,

    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
    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.

    Lamp Wattage: Lamp Length (rounded up)
    9 W: 7.5" 13 W: 7.5" 27 W: 7.5" 28/32 W: 13" 36 W: 16.5" 55/65 W: 23" 96 W: 18"  
    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!

    Christopher Marks

    By Christopher Marks, in Livestock Articles,

    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 Rock

    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 Rock

    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

    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.
    Christopher Marks

    By Christopher Marks, in Livestock Articles,

    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

    By Christopher Marks, in Livestock Articles,

    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

    By Christopher Marks, in Beginners Articles,

    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

    By Christopher Marks, in Beginners Articles,

    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

    By Christopher Marks, in Beginners Articles,

    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

    By Christopher Marks, in Beginners Articles,

    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

    By Christopher Marks, in Beginners Articles,

    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.
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