• Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to Dapellegrini for being selected for our October Reef Profile! His 5.5 gallon nano reef is a true piece of living art. Below he has written a profile of his aquarium's progress over the past year, and shares his experiences in the hobby. Check it out and share your comments and questions in Dapellegrini's featured reef profile thread.

    Tank Specs

    Tank: ADA Mini-M Rimless (About 5.5 Gallons)
    Dimensions: 36cm X 22cm X 26cm (14.17in X 8.66in X 10.24in)
    Type: 4mm, Tempered Glass
    Stand: Modified Side Table from Target
    Lighting: Aqua Medic 70 watt Metal Halide Pendant + 2 IceCap 455nm LED's
    Filtration: NONE - unless you count the 8lbs of Premium Live Rock + 10lbs of Live Sand
    Circulation: Koralia NANO @ 240gph
    Heater: 50 watt Azoo Titanium

    Established October 7, 2007

    Concept: Simple, Zen, Bonsai

    From the outset, the idea behind this little aquarium was to create a simple, modern piece of living art as my foray into the saltwater hobby. Careful consideration was given to the fit and function of each piece of equipment, so as to limit anything that would be distracting and/or frivolous, while providing a small environment that would support the widest possible diversity of livestock.

    Key adjectives were: simple, silent, small and attractive.

    Hindsight: If I were to start over, I would probably go with a similarly dimensioned drilled tank with starphire glass and some sort of a sump or modified canister filter.

    The Build

    I don't own many tools and I do not consider myself particularly talented with DIY projects. I am, however, most certainly a perfectionist with a mild case of OCD that comes in quite handy with projects like this.

    My first challenge was to find a stand that would both accommodate the new aquarium, and fit my aesthetic requirements. I was quite happy to stumble on a little side table at Target that fit the bill. A bent piece of electrical metallic tubing, spray paint, and a few screws later the basic setup was ready.

    Materials used to build out the stand:

    • 4ft of 3/4" EMT Pipe
    • Pipe Bender
    • Can of black lacquer spray paint
    • Steel wool for wet sanding between coats for nice shiny finish
    • Small piece of PVC and 1/2" EMT scrap – used to stand up the bar for painting in the backyard
    • Drill with various bits
    • Eye bolts with nuts and picture hanging wire to hang the light
    • 1/16" Ferrules to pinch the wire off
    • 3/4" rubber end piece to finish off the pipe
    • 3/4" EMT straps and screws to secure the bar to the stand
    • 2 1/4" Desk grommet to fish wires down cleanly
    • Velcro straps
    • Side table from Target
    • Small piece of cupboard liner for cushion under tank

    Once I had all of the supplies, the stand was up in a matter of hours, much of which was waiting for paint to dry.

    You can see the stand build out here:
    http://www.nano-reef.com/forums/index.php?s=&showtopic=132143&view=findpost&p=1299226

    I later modified my pendant with two 455nm LED's:
    http://www.nano-reef.com/forums/index.php?s=&showtopic=132143&view=findpost&p=1791968

    Hindsight: I was always really intimidated by these kinds of custom build-out projects, but after having done a handful of them now, I can say, at least for me, the juice is worth the squeeze. It is very satisfying to put something like this together, but you definitely should plan on some frustrations along the way. See "Lessons Learned" for some tips.

    Starting Right

    In this hobby, as in life, you get what you pay for. With such a small tank I could afford some hand-picked premium live rock and live sand to get things going on the right foot. I had a rough idea of the layout I was going for, so individually selecting the pieces of LR was very important. I also wanted some bio-diversity, so I mixed 10% Fiji Premium LR with 90% "premium tank cured" rock.

    This being my first saltwater tank, I found the various creatures that came in on the live rock fascinating - and I wasn't the only one. We bought a big magnifying glass, Sherlock Holmes style, and my then 5 year old son loved to inspect the rocks for clues of life. My wife and daughter were also drawn to the new tank, spending a lot of time sitting on the floor in front of the tiny aquarium, watching little pods, starfish, bi-valves and other creatures settle in.

    While I think I irritated my fair share of folks in the beginning with continual references to my freshwater tanks, it did end up serving me well. Understanding how to correctly cycle a tank and grasping the importance of frequent water changes, especially in the beginning, made the setup process relatively smooth and easy.

    Hindsight: If I were to start over, I would probably go with more wild or uncured live rock with a greater bio-diversity in exchange for a longer cycle period.

    Stocking

    As this is my first saltwater tank, I still consider myself on a fairly steep learning curve when it comes to livestock. The tank has been through a few iterations and changes in stocking.

    I started out with a few free zoanthids and a little sliver of orange montipora, which I still have today. I quickly took interest in colorful macro algae and went through a number of them. Some melted, some I got sick of, and some got eaten by my later addition of a couple orange turbo snails.

    After adding a bunch of zoanthid colonies I ended up with zoapox, and my sexy shrimp and amphipods made a feast out of most of them. Luckily a few survived and are now starting to turn around.

    Here is a brief stocking history with some comments. Lines with an asterisk (*) are no longer in the tank.

    Hitchhikers

    At least 4 different species of sponge
    Orange Ball Anemone
    A couple of bi-valves
    Tons of Pods
    Hydroids
    Vermitids
    Mini Brittle Stars and Asterinas
    At least 3 different species of feather duster
    Miscellaneous bristleworms and similar worm-like creatures
    Miscellaneous snails including a couple of Whelks (removed)

    SPS Coral

    Montipora capricornis – Orange with Orange Polyps
    Pocillopora – a couple Green-tip types
    ORA Acropora Tenius – Blue/Purple
    Montipora confuse - Green

    Soft Corals

    Orange and Green/Blue Ricordia
    Green Star Polyps
    Miscellaneous Zoo Colonies
    Purple Plume Gorgonia
    Orange Spiny Sea Rod Gorgonia
    Encrusted Zoanthids (Parazoanthus swift) on Sponge (Pseudoaxinella lunchearta)
    Xenia
    Clavularia sp.* – slowly died under too much light I think – favorite snack of sexy shrimp

    Inverts / Critters / Fish

    Flower Anemone* – Too big for my tank – was removed
    Mini Carpet Anemones* – Crawled into the shadows never to be seen again, but they may still be in there
    2x Porcelain Crabs – they actually hated each other and would fight – one turned up dead shortly after putting the 2 together. The other thrives.
    2x Pom Pom Crabs – an awesome crab, happier when I had the Flower Anemone as they like to have plenty of leftover food to scavenge through – not the best suited for my setup.
    4x Sexy Shrimp – 1 Jumped out and I gave 1 away. The 2 I have now seem to be well behaved
    Red Tree Sponge (Ptilocaulis sp) – Not doing so well, perhaps not a good match for my setup
    Green Banded Gobies* – Awesome fish, but the ultimately end up slipping out of the rimless top and drying up on the floor
    Snails: Nerite (1 stayed in the tank), Cerith (Hermit crab food/housing), Chestnut Turban (eats my macros and knocks stuff over), Bumble Bee (hides a lot), Nassarius* (not enough junk in my tank to keep them alive), Aestria (1 happy and healthy)
    Red Hermit Crab – great scavenger and snail terrorist

    Macro Algae

    Halimeda
    Red Grape Caulerpa* – Went sexual and almost completely died back
    Sargassum* – Removed as I didn't like it so much
    Shaving Brush Plants* – Create an extensive root system and pop-up where you don't want them
    Caulerpa lentillifera* – removed after I got sick of it
    Caulerpa peltata* – died
    Codium* – died
    Halymenia Sp.
    Scinaia complanata – Slow growing – I think it doesn't like my bright light
    Red Gracilaria
    Miscellaneous other unidentified macros

    Maintenance

    I think that most hobbyists would consider this tank "high maintenance." The lack of filtration and skimming makes partial water changes extremely important. Depending on the week I will do 1-2 water changes, removing and replacing about 1 gallon at a time so nothing ends up out of the water, using up to 7 gallons per water change.

    I also do daily (sometimes twice a day) top-offs to maintain a fairly stable Salinity (target 1.026).

    I typically do not test things unless something looks wrong, but I did run daily tests for a couple of weeks recently to get a gauge for just how much nutrients my tank was using, and adjusted my dosing plan accordingly. For the first several months I added no nutrient supplements, but as my SPS settled in I noticed that my Alk and Ca were being rapidly depleted, so I started dosing 2-part B-Ionic Alk/Ca + Mg.

    I feed 1-3 times a week with Cyclop-eeze, typically just before a water change or when my sexy shrimp seem a little too hungry. I also feed them some meaty sinking pellets (very little) which they devour happily.

    More on the methods and equipment I use for water changes can be found here:
    http://www.nano-reef.com/forums/index.php?s=&showtopic=132143&view=findpost&p=1756004

    Some may also be interested in the tools I use:

    • Cheap substrate leveler – great for cleaning up the sand and putting it where I want it
    • Cheap aquarium scissors – make quick work on macro algae
    • Cheap aquarium tweezers – can't stick your hand in a setup like this without putting a gallon of water in the floor (except during water changes) – these are a must have
    • Turkey Baster – great for stirring up the sand (yes I do that quite often) and sucking unwanted buggies out of the tank
    • Refractometer – I find these kind of hard to read – my line always seems blurry
    • Salinity meter – I use this thing religiously to the Sa of my water change water
    • Beer brewers bucket – cheap, easy bucket with gallon and liter measurement marks
    • Wooden plant base on wheels – easy to wheel around a 7g bucket of saltwater
    • 1/2" hose and PVC elbow – easy siphoning from anywhere in the tank, including the surface (removes surface scum effectively)
    • Razor blades – must have for glass cleaning, just be careful in the corners – don't want to cut into the silicon
    • Nimble Nano Glass Scraper – good at getting in hard to reach spots

    Lessons Learned – or some of them anyways

    • Drill holes from the finished side, down to avoid splitting cheap wood veneer.
    • Grommets make incredible finishing touches.
    • Those things that you use to pinch off hanging wire are called Ferrules.
    • Powerheads:
      • Tunze Universal pump Mini 5024.04 – not enough flow even with 2
      • Maxi/Micro Jet – bulky and not enough flow
      • Rio 50 / 90 – Not enough flow
      • Rio 180 – Good flow but too concentrated
      • Koralia Nano – great flow, evenly dispersed, best so far
    • Flower Anemones are much easier to put in than to take out.
    • The term "Invasive" in Reef-speak translates to "slow growing and easy to manage" in Planted FW
    • Macro algae is really underrated.
    • Orange Turbo snails like macro algae.
    • Frequent, large water changes will NOT crash your tank – quite the opposite.
    • A SW Reef Pico can be done WITHOUT a filter or skimming.
    • You can't drill an ADA tank (something about tempered glass)
    • Spray painting is not as easy as it seems it should be, well not if you want it to look good in the end.
    • A rimless tank is kinda like a bridge with no railing – people are inevitably going to fall off (or fish jump out in my case).
    • Nerites are more interested in what is outside the aquarium

    Some Final thoughts

    This tank will surely go through a few more small transformations in its lifetime. I anticipate keeping it going as is for at least another year or two if all goes well. This is one of four tanks I maintain; the other three are high-tech freshwater setups. I may convert one of them over to saltwater in the future, but for now I am happy with this little glass corner of the ocean.

    I have yet to discover a more interesting, layered, and nuanced form of living art than the aquarium hobby at its best.





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