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  • Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to d9hp for being selected for our October Reef Profile! His 20 gallon long nano reef has seen tremendous growth within its cleverly designed system. Below is the profile he's written for us sharing his experience in the hobby and his aquarium's progress over the past year. Check it out and share your comments and questions in d9hp's featured reef profile thread.


    Tank Specs

    Dimensions: 36" L x 12.5" W x 10" H
    Lighting: 26 LEDs, 13 Cree XRE Royal Blues, 13 XRE Cool Whites powered by 2 Meanwell ELN-60-48-D drivers
    Heater: Ebo Jager 100W Heater
    Filtration: AC70 HOB Filter Running Kent's Reef Carbon and filter floss
    Protein Skimmer: AquaC Remora with surface skimming box
    Closed Loop: Eheim 1250 Powered closed loop for a TLF150 Phosban reactor
    Pumps: 2 Hydor 425gph Koralia Nanos
    Controller: DIY Ardiuno controller with 6 solid state relays
    ATO: Managed by controller driven by Tom's Aqualifter pump and two float switches
    Age: 13 months

    Maintenance Routine

    I have strictly maintained these levels for the lifetime of the aquarium:

    • Salinity Level: 1.025
    • Temp: 79.8-80.2
    • pH: 8.3
    • Calcium Level: 440
    • Alkalinity: 9 dKh
    • Magnesium: 1350
    • Nitrate Levels: <0.2
    • Phosphate: ~0.00


    I have gone through a few different dosing regimens that have all been dropped after a few months for a few different reasons. The first was a daily onslaught of Reef Nutrition products used to feed my various corals. Their PhytoFeast and OysterFeast products absolutely yield the most intense and immediate changes in polyp extension of any coral food I have used or seen dosed. Although it's a fantastic product, I did cease using it after adding a few more fish to the aquarium since the extra nutrients were not something I wanted to continually introduce.


    The second system I had been following was ESV two part dosing. I found that although it did help stabilize the reef's Alkalinity, Calcium, pH, and Magnesium levels, I had a much easier time maintaining those parameters through small water changes. For almost 3 months I employed a system of changing at least one gallon of water four to six times per week. Keeping 30+ gallons of heated and mixed saltwater on hand at a time enabled me to easily make these changes with a single pitcher.


    I have dropped back to doing roughly three gallons twice a week, changed one gallon at a time. I believe that continuous water change systems will become as common as protein skimmers and GFO reactors in the next few years as they truly make a difference.

    SPS Corals

    • ORA Bird of Paradise
    • Green Birdsnest
    • Pink Birdsnest
    • Green Digitata
    • Forest Fire Digitata
    • Peach Digitata
    • Orange Digitata
    • Green Millepora
    • Red Montipora Cap
    • Pink Montipora Cap
    • Purple Montipora Cap
    • Sunset Montipora
    • Red Millepora

    LPS Corals

    • Red Blastomussa
    • Torch
    • Frogspawn
    • Branching Hammer
    • Red and Green Acanthastrea
    • Welso Brain

    Soft Corals

    • Various Zoanthids
    • Assorted Mushrooms
    • Orange Ricordea
    • Xenia
    • Kenya Tree
    • Waving Hand Anthelia
    • Green Star Polyps
    • Tonga Mushroom
    • Blue Clove Polyps
    • Nuclear Orange Palys


    • Feather Duster Worm
    • Nassarius Snails
    • Astrea Snails
    • Cerith Snails
    • Blue Leg Hermits
    • Emerald Crab
    • Blue Porcelain Crab
    • Fire Shrimp
    • Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp


    • Two "mocha" Ocellaris Clownfish (Coheed and Cambria)
    • Yellow Watchman Goby (Winston)
    • Kaudern's Cardinal (Darth)
    • Sixline Wrasse (Ice)
    • Orange Lined Cardinal (Moose)


    I was living in California for the better part of 2010 when my girlfriend and I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I had kept nano-reefs in high school years ago but never had much success, primarily due to funding the proper equipment required. The large reef display at the aquarium was more than enough to ignite my desire to jump back into the hobby. I read Nano-Reef.com every night attempting to gather as much insight as I could from the other members that were successfully keeping their aquariums for more than the initial six months. I was given a custom rimless aquarium as surprise and the entire process just exploded!


    I had a few months remaining on the west coast to plan my equipment for the aquarium, so I built a custom DIY controller based on an Arduino microcontroller. This controls the tank's temperature, top off pump, lighting system with dimming controls, and the pumps and filters for feeding mode and water changes.

    After returning to North Carolina I built the entire system in a few weeks, which was documented and can be seen in my original build thread! The LED lighting system was considered to be too new to many people at the time I chose that route. I can say that after a year of constant growth and astounding coloration I will not use any other light source on any subsequent reef aquariums I keep. I have not made any changes to the system other than incorporating a phosban reactor closed loop in order to help combat cyanobacteria, which I had been fighting beforehand.

    Inspiration & Goals

    My inspiration has been drawn from a number of members on N-R as there are countless showcases of beautiful ecosystems available on this website. I apologize for not listing you all but there are simply too many. The previous TOTM winners all had a large say in my stocking strategies and coral placement. I realized early on that as the corals grew, many people were forced to re-evaluate their tank's aesthetic layout and help handle the warfare amongst neighboring colonies. I wanted to scape my aquarium in a way that would not require changes for the lifetime of the system, since the best advice I have ever been given in the hobby is: "keep your hands out of the tank". My goal for this system was to allow it to thrive for at least a year and educate others on the simplicity of DIY controllers. I have been fortunate enough to share my system and code with many members here in the past year.

    Disasters & Regrets

    A serious tornado struck Raleigh, NC on my birthday this year while I was celebrating in Savannah, GA. The power was out for a number of hours and my roommate was gracious enough to keep me informed, and was willing to do anything necessary to help sustain life on the reef.

    The pumps for the skimmer and the AC70 HOB filter jammed from not being cleaned for a few weeks when the power came back on and instead of having him deal with it I requested they be turned off. The die-off inside of those compartments was enough to cause problems when I returned home and got everything running again. Coloration on my SPS declined for a few weeks afterwards while the system stabilized again. I now own a 2kW generator that is more than capable of running all of my fish related equipment on all my tanks. This period also showed me the importance of constant maintenance of your aquarium's hardware in addition to keeping up with your water quality.

    Future Plans

    I had anticipated moving at the end of this year but I believe that will be postponed for a few more months, as my desire is to keep the aquarium in its current state without any substantial changes for as long as I possibly can. I find the most enjoyment in seeing the natural growth and interactions among the corals over time without my management and 'guidance'. When the unfortunate day comes to move the tank I will incorporate a sump and a different flow pattern that will most likely utilize at least one MP10.

    Words Of Wisdom

    As your aquarium matures it will become much more efficient at maintaining itself, and the longer you wait before adding delicate animals and species to the system, the better they will adapt to your little box of water. Setup the tank and be happy with it! Keep your hands out of the tank and you will see fantastic results.

    Advice To New Reefers

    There is no way to get around water changes so while you're setting up your system put aside the extra $100 that is necessary for the equipment to make that required chore easier on yourself. A large container, heater, pump, and accurate thermometer will make your life much easier in the long run.


    Act fast when something goes awry! This goes against the entire 'patience' mantra of reef keeping but remember only bad things happen fast in these tanks. If you're suspicious about something then go hit up the search bar looking for answers because they are there waiting.

    Tips & Tricks

    I read N-R for months before I joined and became an active member. I do not post as often as I once did here but I do visit daily and read a handful of articles each day. If you post half as much as you read you will most certainly be leaving the forum with handfuls of useful information each day. That will prove invaluable to someone at some point or another!

    Thoughts On Foods

    In the wild most species of reef fish feed constantly throughout the day. I believe that most of the LPS and SPS corals we keep are opportunistic feeders as well. By feeding your aquarium at least twice a day you will be able to create a more natural environment for everything you keep and your fish will remain much healthier as a result. It pains me to hear people that only feed every few days because I can almost guarantee that their fish are suffering as a result. Daily feedings are a minimum and will really help drive the cycle of life in the tank.


    I'd like to thank my girlfriend, Lauren, for putting up with all of my inopportune trips to various stores and meetings, as well as my constant ramblings about the reef and aquaria in general. Thanks to my buddies Tom and Murs for taking care of the tank on so many occasions for me. I'd also like to shout out to everyone that has frequented my build thread this past year as you've been instrumental in my success with your continued advice and ideas. Finally I owe a huge thanks to Christopher Marks for choosing me for this month's feature aquarium. I am humbled to have been even considered for this award especially considering the previous winners my tank will be joining.



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    Thanks everyone! It was quite a surprise to hear from Chris and I am really excited to be joining all the other awesome tanks here.

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    Tank looks awesome man, I would just like to chime in on the comment you said, "keep your hands out of the tank and you will see great results". Earlier this summer, due to school and other constraints I only had a very small fraction of time maybe once every week to take care of my tank. This included manually topping off water and feeding etc. Aside from all of these unstable parameters, the PE I saw was the best my tank has ever had. It really made me appreciate the effects a person's hand can have on a tank, particularly in a nano reef. The coral thrive.

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    congrats! looks like I should find some set of plastic tong-like holders instead of sticking my hand in the tank for misc. purposes. Any recommendations d9 or anyone else?

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