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  • el fabuloso

    Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to El Fabuloso for being selected for our November Reef Profile! His 3 gallon pico reef is a gorgeous example of the potential of such small aquariums. 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 El Fabuloso's featured reef profile thread.


    I'm deeply honored and flattered that Nano-Reef.com would feature my pico reef for November! This site has taught and inspired me so much, and I can only hope to give back as much as I've gained from it. It's been an incredible journey and I want to be able to demonstrate that with careful planning and a lot of patience, anyone can successfully keep a healthy and thriving pico reef.

    Tank Specs

    Tank: 3 Gallon JBJ Picotope
    Dimensions: 11-3/4" L x 8-7/8" W x 8" H
    Lighting: Current Dual Satellite 12" fixture with 36W dual daylight and actinic
    Equipment: AquaClear 70
    Heater: 50W Hydor Theo (maintained at 78–80º F)
    Circulation: Rio 50 powerhead (60gph)


    Established November 4, 2007


    My lights are plugged into a Coralife Dual Power Center. When I first started I maintained a 12-hour photoperiod but have extended it to 14 hours with the addition of a SPS to make up for the 36W PC.


    My light schedule is as follows:

    • Actinic: 9:30 A.M to 11:30 P.M.
    • Daylight: 12:00 P.M. to 11 P.M.
    • Lunar LED: Always on


    I also have the Rio 50 powerhead plugged into the daylight outlet so the tank gets the highest amount of turbulence during the "day."


    I have a modified AquaClear 70 refugium with filter floss, Chemi-Pure Elite and chaeto for nutrient export. I have the stock 9W Picotope lamp set on a reverse photoperiod to light the refugium. While most people replace the impeller in the AC70 to reduce the flow, I have the original impeller running full blast along with the Rio 50 for a maximum combined flow of 360gph.


    My tank consists of mainly soft corals and invertebrates (crustaceans) with emphasis on sexy shrimps. I successfully kept a green clown goby but it jumped out of the tank before the big move, and I'm still deciding whether to replace him or not. As for hitchhikers, my tank is filled with the usual suspects - pods, snails, worms, brittle and asterina stars, sponges, and feather dusters.


    • Sexy shrimps, Thor amboinensis
    • Peppermint shrimp, Lysmata wurdemanni
    • Emerald crab, Mithrax sculptus
    • Blue-legged hermit crabs, Clibanarius tricolor

    Soft Corals

    • Green-striped mushrooms
    • Ricordea florida (three varieties) and yuma
    • Zoanthids (seven varieties)
    • Palythoas (three varieties)
    • Pulsing Xenia
    • Green star polyps
    • Blue clove polyps


    • Blastomussa merleti
    • Galaxy coral
    • Fungia (orange)


    • Montipora capricornus (orange)


    I strongly believe that keeping things simple and natural is the best way to go so I don't dose or supplement, just regular water changes. I used to change half a gallon once a week, but the addition of LPS and SPS corals has led me to do two water changes a week to keep up with nutrient export and to maintain optimal calcium levels. I use Oceanic Natural Sea Salt Mix and my calcium never drops below 440ppm.


    Daily maintenance consists of freshwater top-offs (in the morning and at night), checking temperature and cleaning the glass.


    Every week I blast the sand and rocks with a baster, change the filter floss, and rinse and tumble the chaeto in the fuge. I test for calcium and alkalinity every other week, and I test for nitrates and phosphates whenever I see more algae than usual.


    I feed the inverts every other day with Omega One Shrimp Pellets. This is important to keep the sexy shrimps from preying on the corals. The peppermint shrimp and emerald crab also get their fill to keep the peace during feeding time.


    I feed the whole tank once a week, a day before a water change and half an hour before lights out. I make a broth of tank water and Seachem Reef Plus with bits of silversides, baby brine or cyclop-eeze, and a dash of ZoPlan zooplankton diet. I spot feed the Blasto, Ricordeas, Fungia, and the galaxy coral along with the inverts. The rest of the broth is blasted in the tank with a baster making sure to target the feather dusters, palys, and the montipora.

    The Story

    Last summer I wanted to setup a tank that would be both relaxing and challenging enough to keep my interest. Having kept just about everything, I wanted to do something completely different and decided to start a planted tank (something I haven't had much luck with in the past). I was awestruck by some of the amazing Amano-style iwagumi tanks out there and had my heart set on creating my own miniature zen garden.

    I was on Drs. Foster & Smith about to buy a JBJ Picotope when I noticed that it was also recommended as a reef tank. This piqued my interest enough to do some research and led to my discovery of Nano-Reef.com and the wonderful world of pico tanks. The idea of keeping a small piece of the ocean in less than five gallons of water was far more intriguing to me than any planted tank. I was hooked.


    It had been over ten years since I kept a saltwater tank, so I soon found myself with a lot of learning and unlearning to do. I got ahold of some reef and coral books, and for months I lurked around this site gathering as much information as I could. But it wasn't until I started asking questions and participating in discussions that I got some real answers. Finally a year ago, once I felt I was informed enough, I started my tank which suffice it to say still keeps my interest to this day.

    Goals & Inspiration

    At first I was overwhelmed by all the different methods and techniques of reefkeeping so I was determined to keep things simple. My initial plan was to keep the Picotope with the stock light and filter and very minimal livestock. I had no plans of keeping any difficult corals and limited my list to mushrooms and zoanthids just to see if I could keep them alive.

    I was inspired by some of the ingenious things people were doing with their tanks, but still wanted to maintain my goal of keeping things simple. Finally I made the jump and upgraded my light and modified an AquaClear fuge, which freed up a lot of room in my tank. This combo allowed me to add more corals than I had previously imagined, and my goal changed to filling my small tank with as much diversity as I can squeeze into it. I definitely like the challenge that comes with stocking a pico. Given the space I'm limited to, every coral I want to add turns into a hunt for that perfect piece.


    I'm fascinated by all the different things people put in their tanks which has inspired me to experiment on my own and see what I can get away with. Ultimately my goal is to demonstrate that a pico can be much more than a tiny box, and given time, patience, and careful planning, any tank can look much bigger than it really is.

    Disasters and Regrets

    I'm fortunate enough to say that I haven't really had any big problems with my tank aside from losing one of my sexy shrimps and my green clown goby that jumped out of the tank. I moved into a new house on September, and moving this tank opened a lot of room for disasters, but the transition turned out to be a smooth one.


    As much as I like to think of the various waves of nuisance algae, killer pods, flatworms, and aiptasia invasion as disasters, I now look back at them as growing pains. Dealing with those experiences taught me far more than I could have hoped for.


    The only real regrets I have are not upgrading my light sooner and not spray painting the back of my tank. Aside from those things everything else just fell together and I couldn't be any more happy with the way things turned out.

    Future Plans

    My aquarium continues to be a work in progress and I will always be on the lookout for that perfect piece. I'm still undecided about replacing my goby and I have been thinking about going with an invert only tank. I will also continue to push the envelope and see what else I can cram into this tank or whatever aspects of it I can improve upon while keeping things simple.

    Advice For Beginners

    • I know it's a dead horse but patience is key.
    • Plan ahead and plan carefully. Know everything you can about a specimen before putting it in your tank, and how it will affect your setup in the long run.
    • Keep things simple. If something sounds too convoluted, it's probably unnecessary.
    • With live rock, go with lots of small pieces instead of a few large pieces. This makes it a lot easier to swap things out of your tank especially in a pico where space is limited.
    • Don't add too much too soon. Stock your tank one coral at a time with breaks in between. This gives your coral time to settle in and makes it easier to isolate a problem and determine its source should one arise.
    • Keep your tank clean. On times when you feel that your tank just isn't looking it's best, cleaning it can solve half the problem. It will also help you to appreciate what you already have.
    • Creative tools can be found everywhere. Pampered Chef products are great for cooking and baking. They're even better for reefing.
    • Corals are a lot more resilient than people give them credit for. With that, corals that have been proven difficult to keep probably are.
    • Take lots of pictures. It will help you keep track of progress as your tank evolves.
    • Two things you should never be without: a good refractometer and a Nimble Nano.


    First I'd like to thank my family for supporting my addiction, and all my friends for being enablers. Many thanks to Chris Marks for creating this wonderful platform for people to come together and inspire/support/motivate/humor/annoy one another. Last but not least I'd like to thank all the amazing people on this forum who are ever patient and ever helpful, especially Diane (c est ma) and Lisa (Weetabix7), without their encouragement and motivation I wouldn't have made it this far in the hobby. Lastly, thanks again for the recognition and for all the interest and support.


    @el fabuloso

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    Thanks guys! I think I'm still shocked that they would pick the noob with the pico for TOTM. It's a real honor and am flattered to be featured on this wonderful site.


    clownfish1124—yes, I noticed the typo. :happy:

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    Congrats Fab! I was thinking about setting up a second tank for a long time and your pico was what put me over the edge. Enjoy your well deserved time in the limelight my friend.

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