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Cultivated Reef
  • Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to Karlo for being selected for our March Reef Profile! His 4 gallon pico reef is a beautiful custom built coral garden. 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 Karlo's featured reef profile thread.


    Tank Specs

    Tank: Custom 11" cube; 4 gallons display - 2 gallons refugium
    Lighting: 70w HQI MH – DIY Pendant
    Filtration: Cheato, Mangroves and LR Rubble
    Circulation: Mini-Jet 606
    Heater: Hydor 50w
    Cooling: 2 x mini PC 12v Fans - DIY
    Dosing & Top-off: Electronic Float switch with Minijet 404 – DIY
    Protection: APC UPS 1000 backup power supply


    Established June 2008


    Clean tank everyday
    Spray down mangroves every other day
    50% water change once a week
    Trim cheato every month


    Feed the harlequin shrimp one astrea starfish each everyday
    Mysis and brine every other day
    Rotifers and Cyclops twice a week


    • One Percula Clownfish


    • Many Turbo DIB Snails
    • Pair Harlequin Shrimp
    • Astrea Starfish


    • Pink Birdsnest
    • Green Branching Monti
    • Blue Mushrooms


    • Fire & Ice
    • Lunar Eclipse
    • Eagle Eye
    • Hypnotic
    • Solar Cap
    • Dragon Eye
    • Mystical Palys
    • Green Eggs
    • Eye of Rah
    • Green Crossettes
    • Orange Nipples
    • Sunburst
    • Pyro's Envy

    From Start To Present

    I started this tank with a black sand bed, but only ran it for about two months until I decided to go bare bottom. This gave the tank a cleaner look and added 2 inches of extra vertical space. I had a very poor looking aquascape at the beginning, so I drew a sketch of what I wanted it to look like. I used to collect and grow Bonsai trees, and always liked the windswept style tree on a rock look. That is what I was going for with the Pink Birdnest. It creates a nice yin yang effect with the zoanthids giving that soft look and the birdsnest with its hard spikes sticking out.

    Building The Pendant, Tank, & Stand

    I always liked the Solana aquarium setup but didn't have room in my house for it, and it was too much money at the time, so I decided to make something similar but smaller. The tank was built by a friend that owns a LFS, Minh at Bay Area Aquarium. I had worked with acrylic before, but I am not an expert, so I wanted someone with experience to make it for me. I spent $10 on the acrylic at a local acrylic warehouse that sells scrap for cheap, and was lucky to find some really good pieces with the protective still paper on it. We came up with a good deal, he made my tank and I built him some magnetic frag racks. This was his first nano build, so there were a few things that we could have done differently, but it all worked out.

    The pendant that I came up with was based on the same idea as the Solana pendant, only much cheaper. In this hobby saving a buck is a big deal, what you save on your build you can waste on a frag or two. I was shopping with my wife at Bed Bath and Beyond (don't ask) and saw a mixing bowl leaning over shining across the wall, and that's where the idea came from. I bought it for $8, took it home, and started trying to figure out how to make it work. I went to Home Depot and bought a 500w lamp for $15 and stripped out everything inside. I bought some Metal Epoxy Putty there as well, it's in the same place where the super glue gel for your frags are. While I was still there I ran into some electrical pipe and thought I can bend it and use it for the pendant, again just like the Solana. I decided to use copper pipe from the plumbing department instead, so I could either paint it or just let it tarnish. Before I took the pipe home, I bent it there with a borrowed pipe bending tool. The pictures show where I used almost everything from the lamp, and what I used the metal epoxy putty for. The fitting on top of the bowl came from an old home light fixture I had laying in my garage and gave it a nice look. If you're considering building your own pendant, just use your imagination!

    The stand that I'm using was found during a trip back to Home Depot to buy some wire and a bathroom fixture for my remodeling project. I saw the stand in the bathroom department with a big yellow tag, "YES!" on sale for $90, and what luck it looks just like the Solana! A couple was looking at the last box available, they turned around to talk about it going back and forth yes, no... I went ahead and threw it in my cart and sped off, "See Ya."


    I have three red mangroves in the same chamber as my cheato that have grown really well with some nice roots. I wasn't worried about Nitrates, since I do water changes fairly often, so I got them more for looks. They have really helped though, and are a great filter for the water because they absorb organic material, phosphates, nitrates and a lot more. I don't test for Nitrates often, but when I do they are always at zero. Here is a really good site with all the information you need to know about them, including tests that have been done in aquariums and how they help with filtration: Mangroves In Aquariums.


    I have only one regret that I should have known better not to do. I added a frag that came with a blue mushroom and now I have about 10 that I keep on cutting back, but they sprout right back up. They give the tank a nice contrast in color but take up some zoanthid turf.


    Patience, patience, and patience. Many people rush into this hobby too fast, especially with nano reefs, and think that just because it's smaller it will be easier to maintain, but it's quite the opposite. Water changes are done more often, parameters can change drastically overnight, and changing things around can quickly stress out livestock.

    Awards & Recognitions

    MARSH December 2008 TOTM
    TnT Fish and Reptile Nano 2009 1st place
    Reef Central February 2009 Nano TOTM
    Nano-Reef.com March 2009 Featured Reef Profile


    First of all I have to thank my wife for putting up with me and my tank in the house, and for noticing new additions a few days later as I try to explain to her where it came from. Also, thanks to all the advice from fellow nano owners and their experience here on Nano-Reef.com, and to my local group from Houston, MARSHREEF.com, which also helped me stock most of the aquarium.



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    Amazing tank! Love the colors! I have been considering adding a mangrove to my system and I think you have convinced me!

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