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  • c est ma

    Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to c est ma for being selected for our February Reef Profile! Her beautiful 5.5 gallon nano reef aquarium is a brilliant example of simplified reef keeping. Below she has written a profile of her nano reef's growth through the years and her experiences in the hobby. Check it out and share your comments or questions in c est ma's featured reef profile thread.


    My Humble 5.5

    I was dumbfounded to be tapped for the Nano-Reef February Featured Reef Profile! I can only think that, after such an auspicious start (this means you, Junkitu!), the admins decided to find a tank that says, "if she can do it, anyone can" ...a tank that's about as simple as it gets ...a tank that's more a triumph of perseverance than brilliance ...a tank like, well, my humble 5.5.

    Tank Specs

    Main Display: Standard 5.5g AGA, 16" x 8 ¼" x 10", with custom-made glass lid
    Lighting System: Satellite 20" fixture with 40W "Smartpaq" bulb (10,000k/460nm actinic) and lunar light (which I almost never use)
    Equipment: Penguin Mini HOB filter, BIO-wheel removed
    Heating: Finnex 25W, 4.5" Ultra Compact submersible heater
    Refugium: External 2g hexagonal fuge with u-tube inlet & Micro-Jet return pump


    Approximately a 1 gallon water change weekly with premixed saltwater from the local fish store. Nowadays the only thing I test regularly is the specific gravity. I do general housekeeping at the same time, siphoning detritus, vacuuming substrate, pruning back anything that needs it, and a filter cartridge change. I still use the standard Penguin cartridges, changed weekly, and I figure the fresh carbon they add can't hurt. Daily, or every other day, I top-off with distilled water. With a tight fitting glass lid I don't have much evaporation, maybe ¼ - ½ cup.


    A tiny pinch of slow-sinking morsels daily; frozen Cyclopeeze approximately once a week; DT's every 2 or 3 days.


    Corallimorphs & Corals

    • Florida Ricordea predominate, including 2 orange morphs, 2 green morphs, and one yellow, one blue, and one pink morph.
    • Assorted Discosoma shrooms: Orange/red, Blue-striped, turquoise-pimpled, & "camo"
    • Two very different green Rhodactis shrooms
    • Three types of zoanthids; a green, a "Fire-and-Ice" type, and a mixed red & green colony
    • Green star polyps
    • Pulsing Xenia
    • Blastomussa merleti – neon green centers
    • Porites (hitchhiker)
    • Fungiid (hitchhiker)
    • Unknown softy (hitchhiker; tiny clove-like polyps)
    • Montipora sp. ("verrucosa-like")

    Other Invertebrates

    • Mexican Red-legged Hermit Crab, Clibanarius digueti
    • Scarlet Reef Hermit, Paguristes cadenati
    • Pom pom crab, Lybia tesselata
    • Emerald crab, Mithraculus sculptus
    • Trochus, Turbo, Astraea, Cerith, Nassarius, Collinista snails
    • Numerous banded brittle stars (hitchhikers)
    • Asterina star (hitchhiker)
    • The usual cohort of indispensible hitchhiker worms, sponges, chitons, 'pods, etc.


    • Breeding pair of Green banded gobies, Elacatinus multifasciatus

    A Bit of History

    Early On

    This little tank has existed since late winter of 2004, which means it is now almost exactly 4 years old. It was established by my son when he was a college freshman, and resided primarily in his dorm rooms through his sophomore year, coming home over vacations. Following the best advice at the time from a high-end local fish store, he ended up with a crushed coral substrate and a couple of pieces of exquisite live rock.


    Up till then I had been a typical freshwater hobbyist who thought saltwater couldn't be done without a tank half the size of my minivan and advanced degrees in chemistry and engineering. I was completely blown away the first summer the tank was home, totally captivated searching for hitchhikers in the still live rock only tank.


    Back at campus my son found it harder than expected to mix saltwater in the dorm, while at the same time his interests were shifting to dart frogs. It was thus no surprise when, after the summer of 2005, the tank did not make the return trip to campus.

    So there I was, knowing next to nothing about reefing, suddenly in charge of a little box of saltwater holding only one snail, one hermit, and maybe 5 bleached green star polyps gasping their last. Totally by accident I had ended up with a tank with the ideal slow start. I attribute most of whatever subsequent success I've had to this serendipitous happenstance.


    Me being me, my first purchase was books, but I didn't really begin to learn till I stopped lurking on and finally joined Nano-Reef.com and started posting...and most important, listening to advice. In short order I upgraded the lighting from a Coralife mini 18W fixture, changed out the HOB heater for a submersible, slowly brought the tank back to some reasonable parameters (which inexplicably killed the surviving green star polyps but not the lone Astraea and Mexican red-legged hermit), and summoned the courage to buy my very first frags — some zoas and shrooms of course.

    Inspiration & Goals

    I wish I could say I started out with either! While I normally carry the research phase of new projects to ridiculous extremes, in this case the project just fell into my lap. I was too busy with the trees, learning what was what, be it equipment or livestock, to think much about the forest at first.


    I soon ended up with a slew of test kits, the resultant values of which were carefully recorded in my notebook for the first year or so, and a stock of solutions and buffers I thought I needed desperately. At this point my only "goal" was to match the values set forth in books and online. Fortunately I was also a bit terrified of purchasing new inhabitants, so I didn't cause any great damage with all my meddling.


    Eventually, an oft-repeated mantra on Nano-Reef began to sink in: "in a small tank you can maintain all the water quality you need simply through frequent water changes." Thank you to all who keep posting that — you know who you are! Since I'm not attempting a pristine SPS display or anything close, this advice fit me to a T. I'm so much more interested in observing and photographing than testing and tweaking.

    My next "goal" was probably to not kill anything (why does my progress sound like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?). My softies cooperated by being more or less bulletproof, and when I splurged and spent $50 on a beautiful orange ricordea, a theme was born. I'd always loved Florida ricordea, and it turned out they returned the favor, which is to say they kept their looks and multiplied, all I could ask of a coral-like creature (the biologist in me has a problem lumping mushrooms & zoanthids under "corals").


    It's only been within the last year at the most that I've started to take a "holistic" view of my tank and tried to tap my latent aesthetic sensibility (if in fact I have one). I realized that at times the only message my tank conveyed was "hodgepodge." I learned to cut my losses and return things to the local fish store if they didn't "blend" (e.g., a Kenya tree), or prosper, or if they got too big. But I can't say I'm really in this for perfect looks. I have inhabitants with a certain "sentimental value" that far outweighs their relative beauty. Once a Mom, always a Mom, I guess.


    And while I definitely feel my simple softy tank can't hold a candle to scads of gorgeous reefs on this site, I guess I'm still a bit proud of what I've accomplished with my first and only reefing experience.

    Problems, Regrets, and Disasters

    Knock on wood, but I'd have to say I've not yet experienced my idea of a "disaster." No spectacular breakages, no floods or electrocutions, no tank crash ...knock, knock, knock...


    But of course I've had my share of problems, one of the first being the problem of coral attachment. I am to epoxy as Dubya is to diction. It did not help matters that I was mostly trying to position headstrong softies, which frequently defied not only epoxy but also super glue, rubber bands, and my best monofilament sewing skills. Thus it is that many of my tank's inhabitants, especially the Discosoma, are "self-located." That ricordea actually prefer the substrate is just one more of their wonderful qualities, in my opinion.


    I'd say my most frustrating setback to date was a teeming population of brown flatworms, which came out of nowhere and proceeded to blight every photo I took for over a year. I siphoned religiously, vacuumed and basted, monitored nutrients, but it was like playing Whack-a-Mole. I was (and remain) resistant to using Flatworm Exit, so I made a choice which quickly became one of my biggest regrets (especially as I let it play out publicly right here on this site). I fell for the hype concerning Chelidonura varians, a sea slug reputed to devour flatworms. I received my order (3/7/06) with great hopes; but alas, I instead spent a few agonizing hours watching a beautiful animal in its death throes. I'm not sure if it was the shipping or my acclimatization that did it in, but done in it was. Big mistake.

    Now all along I'd been the grateful beneficiary of wonderful advice about flatworms via PM from one of my N-R mentors, Steelhealr. One thing he mentioned that stuck in my mind was approximately "if all else fails, don't worry, they'll eventually crash no matter what you do." Lo and behold, they seem to have done just that. It's been so many months since they've been a problem that I don't even remember when it happened. They just essentially disappeared.


    The final, and ongoing problem I've had is excess nutrients. It doesn't take rocket science to attribute this to my high bio load, crushed coral, and penchant to feed frequently. For the most part I've relied on regular maintenance to keep the associated problems (diatoms, Bryopsis) at a level I can live with, occasionally dabbling with PhosPure, etc., in the hang-on-back filter. In May of last year I added an in-tank "soap dish refugium," with chaeto, that appeared to help a bit. Most recently (1/9/08) I removed the soap dish and added an external 2 gallon hexagonal refugium that Weetie had created and used on her 5.5g, and was kind enough to send my way. It's still early going, but it appears to be making quite a difference! Thanks Weetie!


    This was not a category in Chris's guidelines, but it seems to be the term that best captures the sort of thing that's made me a reef addict. By this I mean the "unexpected biology" that I never dreamed I'd ever witness, let alone in a simple 5.5 gallon aquarium. As it turns out, my 3 biggest thrills involve one each of the 3 main "inhabitant groups" of our tanks: corals, (other) inverts, and fish.


    The first wonder was a hitchhiker on my first frag, which was a small red mushroom rock from Indonesia. Careful inspection led to the discovery of something very tiny with a ring of pudgy tentacles. I first concluded that this must be the dread majano, and despaired to think I ought to kill it, so I didn't. As I learned more about cnidarians, I realized it was a stony coral of some sort. When it eventually detached and fell to the substrate, I realized, with a lot of online input, that it was a baby fungiid! Unfortunately it was subsequently killed by my emerald crab, but the generation site is once again producing a baby plate and I couldn't be more thrilled.


    The next bit of ineffable excitement occurred when a swarm of goby larvae appeared one day. I had dithered for ages over the advisability of adding a second greenbanded goby to my tank, but the panoply of natural behaviors I've witnessed since then have more than justified my final decision. While it was definitely depressing at first when I realized I did not have the facilities to raise the babies, it is still an indescribable thrill to see them, and they have been appearing regularly nearly every week for over a year now. [Timeline: 1st greenbanded goby added 10/15/05 (became male); 2nd greenbanded gobie added 10/8/06 (remained female); first batch of larvae 11/11/06.]


    The last score of my hat trick involves my hitchhiker banded brittle stars, which arrived on a ricordea rock as two individuals and quickly fissioned themselves into a thundering herd, or at least a plethora of arms writhing throughout the tank. One day I noticed rather more synchronicity of arm extension than usual (think of people doing "the Wave") and spent the next nearly 3 hours watching the most amazing spawning event imaginable. Dozens of stars took turns emerging from the LR to arch above it and spew gametes into the water, over and over again. The biological mechanisms and behaviors behind this mass event boggle the mind. I have since observed such spawning twice more.


    OK, I realize this profile is supposed to be more of a beauty contest than anything else, but I just can't talk about my tank without at least mentioning the big three phenomena that knocked my socks off. Now back to the suggested guidelines...

    Words of Wisdom

    Well, it turns out I have nothing unique to offer here. All the wisdom one needs is offered several times a day in one N-R thread or another. So instead, I think I'll just encourage all the "newbies" out there to cultivate an appreciation for what Icy has perfectly termed "the nano mystique." To me this means taking advantage of the small scale of our tanks to observe phenomena "up close and personal" in a way that might be completely missed in a huge system. Learning something about the biology of the huge diversity of animals we keep not only helps us care for them better, but leads to an endless fascination with the myriads of exquisite anatomical and behavioral adaptations that characterize the marine biota. Get out those magnifying lenses and watch the really tiny stuff on the glass or below the substrate; borrow a microscope and look at some chaeto from your fuge, with its associated protists and other minute organisms. Get a red light and spend time watching what your reef turns into at night. Observe, observe, observe! Take pictures and/or notes and review them from time to time to catch growth patterns, trends, missteps, and successes. And, of course, come here to N-R to share all your wonderful observations and "oh, wow" moments with a crazy crowd that knows exactly how you feel!

    Things I Couldn't Live Without

    • Refractometer
    • Rigid/Soft airline tubing siphon
    • 12" Forceps
    • 9.5" Plastic scientific spatulas — these serve as nudgers, scrapers, brittle star transporters
    • Disposable pipettes
    • Magnifying lenses & loupes — not just for cheap-trick photography, but for everyday general tank scrutiny
    • Loose-leaf notebook for notes, receipts, print-outs, etc.
    • Stereo microscope
    • My library of reef books
    • The inimitable "Nimble Nano" magnet scrapers from C. Jerome
    • Nano-Reef.com! And all its wonderful members!


    First thanks go to my son, without whom I'd never have gotten into this hobby. In at least this way, he's shown that the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree, though the innumerable critter capers we shared when he was young — freshwater tanks, ant colonies, pond life, tarantulas, et al — can't begin to approach reefing for eternal fascination.


    Secondly, thanks to all the wise, patient, helpful, encouraging, and just plain friendly voices on this forum. I began to list my specific mentors but finally chose not to add it here for fear of omitting someone important. There are so many of you!


    Above all, thanks to Chris Marks for not only founding and running one of the most amazing forum sites on the net, but for being so invariably patient, responsive, and gracious a host. And, of course, all my gratitude to Chris and the moderators for conferring this astonishing honor upon me.


    Diane @c est ma

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    Congrats Diane! This has always been one of my favorite tanks and it supprised me how many corals you could fit in such a small tank. :D

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    Congratulations Diane.

    Your system is awesome and you completely deserve this.

    I can't think of a better tank to be profiled.

    And I helped! :D

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    Great stuff and wonderful recognition. You are a blessing to this forum as you are always positive in your responses to everyone.

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    Perfect pick for the TOTM. I think this should be TOTY for sure. So much stuff in a 5.5 and the most helpful person. The livestock in there is all flourishing and your successes have been very impressive.


    Congratulations. It's well deserved.



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