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  • Mini_GBR

    Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to Mini_GBR for being selected for our June Reef Profile! His 24 gallon nano reef has matured into a beautifully diverse ecosystem. Below he has written a profile of his aquarium's progress over the past three years, and shares his experiences in the hobby. Check it out and share your comments and questions in Mini_GBR's featured reef profile thread.


    I have to start by saying that whilst I have always tried to build a system as great as those featured in the past, I can honestly say I never actually thought my system would ever reach that pinnacle. I take great pride in presenting my tank as the June 2009 TOTM and have to thank Christopher Marks, the moderators, and all the fellow reefers who have helped me get to this point, and for all the future help I'm sure I'll need!

    Tank Specs

    • Display: 18" x 19.7" x 19.6" JBJ 24 gallon Nano Cube
    • Lighting: Current USA Sunpod HQI MH 150w with 14K Phoenix bulb
    • Filtration: 40 lbs. of Kaelini live rock. Live rock rubble, Chemipure Elite and filter floss in chamber 1. 3.5" deep sand bed (40 lbs.), and a recently added Reef Octopus BH1000.
    • Circulation: Maxijet 1200 as main pump, 2 mini-jet 606's with tubing and locline leading to the front of tank with pumps located in chamber 2, and 1 maxi-jet 1200 hidden within the rockwork.
    • Heater: 1 Jäger 100w heater and 1 50w stealth backup, both in 3rd chamber.
    • Cooling: Dual Azoo Cooling Fans
    • Equipment: Digital Aquatics Reef Keeper 1, JBJ Auto Top Off (ATO) attached to two separate 7 gallon buckets with one bucket for the alk dosed water and a bucket for the calcium dosed water. RO/DI unit for making my top off water and saltwater.


    Established April 2006


    The first aquarium I ever started was back in high school close to 12 years ago and was built with 'old school thinking;' get the biggest aquarium possibly afforded for the best results. I learned a lot from that 3 year experience, plus the 8 months in Australia studying and diving the Great Barrier Reef (GBR, hence the name of Mini_GBR). After finishing school and getting a real job I was able to start the current system with a greater knowledge and ambition than my initial startup 12 years ago. It's amazing to see how exponential the growth has been in both the awareness and the technology since setting up that first aquarium.


    This system started originally as an all-in-one system with hood that I modified to have the original 72 watts of power compact lighting with an additional built in DIY 70watt halide, plus a few fans to keep the water chilled and the hood cooled. I really loved the clean look of the all in one hood, but after 2 years, the hood failed. Not having enough time to take it apart and fix it, I was forced to change to the open top I currently have with the 150w Sunpod. I have come to like the open top design (mostly because the growth from the 150w MH is so amazing), but there's nothing quite like my original.


    • Make this system as automated as possible for consistency and ease of use.
    • Model my system after the The Great Barrier Reef by mimicking zonal regions with a variety of species.
    • Grow the system out enough to make it self-sustainable through the propagation of corals.


    Goal one was attainable mostly due to the great deal of research before building the system and knowing that to ultimately achieve goal 3, it was best that I build all of my hardware into my system up front. I think that while you can make you system modular and open to upgrades, my success came from doing it all from the beginning, and only upgrading if forced to, usually due to failed equipment.

    The Great Barrier Reef is a fascinating and beautiful organism, and I have tried my best to imitate it, if that is even possible. I have tried to build regions from top to bottom using more SPS at the top and working down to LPS and softies through the bottom. As I looked through the progression of the tank during the process of writing this, I realize I have had mixed results in this goal and have found myself buying and selling colonies throughout its life as things grew that aesthetically no longer worked, fit, or looked good. I think that with the current setup of corals and frags I have a better balanced tank with a diverse selection that will grow in nicely.


    As my system is reaching maturity I have only recently attained goal three. This is a great feeling because as much as I love this hobby, I realize that it is not one of the most ecologically friendly ones. The best thing that has happened in the hobby in the past 12 years since first starting is the amount of coral propagation that is going on. My hope is that one day this hobby will be primarily comprised of the buying and trading of propagated corals.

    Daily Routine

    • Wave maker pumps on at 8am, off at 11:45pm.
    • Skimmer on at 10am, off at 4pm
    • Sunpod on at 11am, off at 11pm.
    • Blue moonlights on at 11pm, off at 1:30am


    Weekly I use a turkey baster to blow any settled detritus from the live rock and change out 5 gallons of mixed water. Then I top off the ATO tubs with supplements and water, plus add the other trace supplements to the system, and replace the filter floss.


    I used to test the Alkalinity, Calcium, Nitrates, and pH at least every few days, mostly when I was dialing in the solution for my top off containers of Alk and calcium. Now I test everything every couple of weeks since things have leveled out. I replace or clean out the carbon as needed, usually every 3 months.


    Every few months the SPS grows to be out of control and before cutting all light off to the bottom of the tank, I need to frag the colonies. If I can't trade, sell, or give the frags away, I take them to the best LFS I can get to, Vivid Aquariums, who I have a good relationship with and who will take my stuff in for a reasonable trade of food, additional livestock, or hard goods.


    I feed the system only occasionally. The fish get the occasional sprinkle of freeze dried cyclop-eeze and a generic pellet food. I try to feed the Acro's some Reef Nutrition Oyster Feast once a week. The LPS get an occasional mixture of frozen chopped squid, mysis, rotifers, clam, and some other store bought 'coral food mix.' I spot feed the LPS just after the main light turns off. I will turn off all the pumps and spot feed the LPS to try to keep the waste to a minimum, which is also why I only feed them once or twice a month due to the amount of time it takes.


    • Specific gravity: 35 ppt (1.026sg)
    • pH: 8.0
    • Calcium: 460 - 500 ppm
    • Alkalinity: 9 dKH
    • Magnesium: 1200 ppm
    • Nitrate: < 5
    • Temperature: 79.0° F – 79.5° F



    • 2 Amphiprion ocellaris (Black Perculas)
    • 1 Amblyeleotris randalli (Randall's goby)


    • 8 Margarites pupillus
    • 6 Cerithium altratum
    • 6 Astrea Tecta
    • 6 Nassarius sp.
    • 6 Paguristes cadenati
    • 2 Mithrax sculptus
    • 1 Alpheus randalli

    LPS Coral

    • 14 Acanthastrea lordhowensis
    • 2 Acanthastrea echinata
    • 1 Micromussa amakusensis
    • 1 Duncanopsammia axifuga
    • 1 Euphyllia paradivisa
    • 1 Lobophyllia hemprichii

    SPS Coral

    • 3 Acropora sp.
    • 3 Montipora capricornus
    • 1 Montipora tuberculosa
    • 1 Cyphastrea
    • 1 Seriatopora sp.

    Soft Coral

    • 2 Palythoa sp.
    • 2 Ricordia florida
    • 2 Rhodactis inchoata
    • 1 Ricordia yuma

    Disasters & Regrets

    Everyone's had them and I'm no different. The biggest was early in the progression of my tank when I went away for a weekend, only to return to a soaking wet carpet, empty ATO tanks, and empty chambers with bubbles spewing from the return pump. I hadn't attached anti-siphon valves to my Alk and Calcium ATO water pipes, and when the water got too high in the chambers, the water would siphon back into the ATO buckets, which would lower the water level in my tank and would repeat the process until by the end the ATO's had siphoned enough water to overflow. It had emptied close to 14 gallons of saltwater out of the tank, and replaced it with 14 gallons of freshwater that was dosed with Calcium and Alk. When I tested the tank, both were off the charts, with a salinity close to 1.011. This was right around the same time I had started introducing SPS frags into the tank, and I lost them all except for my montiporas. I have now changed the positioning of my ATO outputs and attached one-way valves so this can't happen again. Frankly I was lucky not to lose everything.


    My biggest regret was when my clams got too big for my system and I needed to trade them in for smaller ones. Unfortunately they were too well attached and in trying to gently remove them over a few weeks, I still damaged the foot and killed them both. Besides that, I haven't lost much other livestock, but I wish I hadn't done that.

    Future Plans

    My system is reaching its maturity, and while I love changing things up, I don't foresee doing much more to this system except for the possibility of another fish and a few more SPS. When I eventually move from my current residence I will upgrade, but I'm happy with the way things are now.


    Living in California I plan on getting a backup generator to protect against all the natural disasters that come our way and knock out the power. For the amount of time and money we have all spent in this hobby, a few gallons of gas and a small generator is a small price to pay to be reassured the whole system doesn't crash in a prolonged outage.


    Eventually I plan to build an LED lighting system for this tank, mostly for the challenge, but also for the energy savings.


    A deep sand bed within the aquarium with a varied cleanup crew to stir the sand and eat various algae and detritus is important. I love the look of it and still think it aides in the filtration overall. This tank is an example of high flow (close to 1000gph) and a deep sand bed. All it takes is some trial and error and aiming outputs in the right spots.


    Skimmers are not necessary for systems our size, though they can allow for a more lax maintenance routine. I say this because I ran my system for 3 years without one, and haven't seen enough change for the better since adding it. In fact, it has created new problems that may lead to its removal.


    I believe that careful planning of hardware and selection of coral has made this system successful, but the reef keeper was the best money I spent to help me in my automation and consistency. With the built in wavemaker and the ability to keep the system within a .5 degree of variance all, it has helped a great deal in keeping my corals happy.


    Every system has its own unique problems as it matures. Mine was keeping zoanthids, which I originally wanted to keep a lot of. I have come to find that this system loves SPS and LPS, not the softies. So while I have emphasized throughout the importance of having a good plan for your tank, be able to alter that plan when things aren't working out for you.


    Add things slowly and choose wisely. Remember that the goal is to get your coral to grow into the aquarium, not grow out of your aquarium, which will give the system a more natural appearance. This also takes a lot of thinking ahead since LPS are especially difficult to frag once they get too large and grow onto the rockwork, so plan ahead ways to frag your LPS within your tank. I use small rubble placed around my colonies that I can break and cut off as the colony grows over it, which has worked really well.


    When setting up my aquascaping I found that I was able to create a stronger, more stable structure without glue or putty when the system was dry. While aquascaping is difficult after the introduction of livestock, the best time to make your structure is in the beginning when you are cycling the tank so you can test a bunch of different looks. Also, if you go with a sand bed, use several sections of pvc pipe sunk just beneath the sands surface where the main bulk of you rock work sits. This helps to not only create a stable structure for the rockwork to sit on, but if you have digging creatures, the rockwork won't be able to shift much.


    Find or build a community of fellow reefers. I am fortunate to live in southern California where the hobby is very strong, and to have fellow reefers and a local fish store that sells amazing frags that I can grow out in order to sell or trade back to. This community has helped make my tank what it is today and helps to further the ultimate goal of making the hobby self-sustainable.

    Final Thoughts

    As always, ask questions and do research, which I continue to do. There is so much information to reference now, and as much as I've learned, there's always someone who knows more. With that said, if there is anything specific I haven't answered about my tank or experiences you might want to know more about, I'm happy to answer what I can. Hope you all enjoyed.



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    Congratulations! What an amazing tank and quite an exciting journey. Your LPS and acan collection are to die for! :o

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    Congratulations! What an amazing tank and quite an exciting journey. Your LPS and acan collection are to die for! :o


    Thanks!!! LPS get some of the most amazing colors and fascinate me, especially at night when they change to feeding.


    That is amazing! Three years old too, thats a lotta time into one tank!


    Haha, yeah. I would have setup another one, or a larger one, but you know that whole saying about how if it ain't broke! One day I'll get a 40g or 60g cube when i have the space and learn how to be a better plumber.


    Congratulations! Simply Beautiful!


    Man, look at those colors... woooo



    Very nice. B)


    Thanks. Glad you liked. :happydance:

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    Very nice aquarium, I must say. Where abouts in So Cal are you? I am in Chino Hills. I just started a Solana reef literally a week ago. I'd love to see your tank in person one day and pick your brain a bit.


    Cheers. :)

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    Very nice aquarium, I must say. Where abouts in So Cal are you? I am in Chino Hills. I just started a Solana reef literally a week ago. I'd love to see your tank in person one day and pick your brain a bit.


    Cheers. :)


    Those Solana's are pretty sweet tanks, I've thought about getting their 60g cube for a long time. Someday...


    Live on the border of Venice and Santa Monica just south of where the 10 freeway ends. People are more than welcome to stop by and check out the system if they are in the area (usually nights or weekends). Again, its great to expand the reefing community so I'm always looking to meet more people. Just pm me if you ever make it out to this side of town.


    Very sweet tank.One day i hope my lps grows out like yours


    Checked out your thread, I think you are more than on your way. I'd love to see some close-ups of your acan's, maybe do some fragging and trading at some point!



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    Ill try and get some pics up on my thread.There pretty much all smaller frags right now but some have 15-20 babies on each right now.Its funny i was just thinking today that i cant wait for them to grow out and find people that will trade acan frags.Its a great way to get a nice mix.

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