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Innovative Marine Aquariums
  • Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to razarmi for being selected for our March Reef Profile! His 40 gallon nano reef is stunning example of a soft coral and LPS dominant reef aquarium. Below is the profile he's written for us sharing his experience in the hobby and his aquarium's progress over the past three years. Check it out and share your comments and questions in razarmi's featured reef profile thread.


    SPS seems to be all the craze today, but I really enjoy the beautiful shapes and movement of soft corals. Aidan (my 10 year old son) and I set up this tank to learn about these beautiful corals. Why soft corals and LPS? I've found that the feeding requirements, flow rates, and water conditions for soft corals, clams and LPS corals compliment each other nicely. The corals are relatively inexpensive, grow quickly and are stunningly beautiful to watch.

    Tank Specs

    Display: 40 gallon Aqueon 36"x18"x16" glass aquarium
    Lighting: Current 4x36" T5 fixture with (2) ATI Blue Plus and (2) GE 6500 bulbs
    LED Lighting: 25 watt custom made Cree XP-G, XT-E and Osram Red LED array mounted onto the Current T5 fixture.
    Overflow: Life Reef Nano overflow box
    Sump: 15 gallon Aqueon glass aquarium
    Heater: 200 watt Ehiem
    Top-off: 5 gallon RODI with drip
    Filter media: no sock or mechanical, Phosban 150 with GAC only
    Return Pump: Tunze Silence 1070.20
    Circulation: (2) Koralia Nano 400 pumps
    Sump Light: Sunpark PAR38 15 watt 5000k LED light for growing Chaetomorpha


    Established November 11th, 2009



    My current system is simple and has very low maintenance requirements. The water flows from the tank through a Life Reef Nano overflow box. The Life Reef overflow has been 100% reliable with no siphon restart issues. The overflow empties into a 15 gallon glass sump. No filter sock is used. Most of the sump is taken up with a large clump of Chaetomorpha. Any particulates that go into the overflow or sump are quickly eaten by a large population of small brittle stars (see photo) and amphipods. If I consistently over-feed, my detritivore population grows. I used a Sunpark PAR38 15w LED fixture to light the Chaeto. A Phosban 150 reactor is partially filled with activated carbon (GAC). GAC is surprisingly effective at removing dissolved organics and helps keeps the water clear and reduce odors. Sometimes soft corals can get a little stinky.

    I've experimented with both GFO (granular ferric oxide) and protein skimming. GFO is a little too good at removing phosphate. In a small aquarium it's very easy to bottom out your phosphate levels and starve your corals- be careful. I think protein skimmers are a great option for aquariums heavily stocked with fish. I've used a Bubble Magus NAC6 protein skimmer in past. I didn't see any changes in the aquarium except my Chaeto grew more slowly. I'd much rather trim Chaeto once a month, than clean a skimmer every week.


    Chemistry is a hobby of mine and I've really enjoyed the science behind keeping a captive reef environment. It's important to understand the role of organic and inorganic compounds. Nitrate and phosphates are not the bad guys. They are two main food sources for autotrophs and without them corals would die. In a small volume of water, packed with fish, it is easy for phosphate and nitrate concentrations to get out of control. Strive for balance and equilibrium. Love your dissolved inorganic compounds (including CO2), they are the core building blocks of life on the reef.


    My son and I enjoy electrical engineering projects, so when it came to picking a light, we pulled out the soldering iron and got to work. I bought a partially working Current 36" x 4 T5 aquarium fixture on eBay. We replaced a few wires and added a new set of cooling fans. We swapped out the stock Current T5 bulbs for ATI Blue Plus and GE 6500 bulbs. The new light worked great. The ATI bulbs were 30% brighter than the stock bulbs. We were pleased. Recently we added (10) Cree XP-G, XT-E and Osram LEDs to our T5 light. We mounted them on a 1"x.1"x36" aluminum bar and attached the whole strip to the underside of our Current light. We are driving them at 700mA for a total power consumption of 23 watts (3.2V x .7A=2.2w each). The LEDs add great color and shimmer to the aquarium. Aidan and I are very happy with our $95 DIY upgrade.

    Maintenance Routine

    It's great to have someone help you with daily tasks. Aidan feeds the fish and tests the water and I do the heavy lifting and scrubbing. Our routine is fairly simple: feeding, dosing, cleaning and water changes. We inspect the aquarium equipment, sump water level, temperature, corals and fish once per day. I clean the glass every few days as needed.


    I believe in feeding my corals and fish frequently. The fish are fed a combination of Formula One flake food and frozen PE Mysis and Cyclop-Eeze two to three times a day. The corals are target fed two to three times a week with a blend of PE Mysis, Cyclop-Eeze, and zoo-plankton mix frozen foods. I turn the main sump pump off for 1 hour when feeding corals to allow time for the food to circulate through the tank. This helps feed the large population of small brittle starfish, fan worms and other and filter feeders. The Xenia are the only corals in the tank that show no feeding behavior. I suspect their dependance on dissolved nutrients makes them sensitive to heavy filtration.


    I dose Brightwell Aquatics two-part, 200 ml per week. The alkalinity portion is added to my top-off water and slowly dripped over the week. I manually dose the Calcium component on Wednesday and Sunday. I prefer the Brightwell products as they clearly state all the ingredients and % concentrations of their chemicals. The Calcium mixture contains Magnesium and Strontium. This is a great time saver as I don't have to dose these elements separately. Once per week I add a small quantity of Iron and Iodine supplements. The Goniopora seem to benefit from the iron dosing (see Julian Sprung's research http://www.advancedaquarist.com/2002/12/inverts).

    I've tried the popular B-ionic two-part but immediately after dosing I lost (2) emerald crabs and several snails. Some of the B-ionic ingredients like copper, in my opinion, are undesirable.

    Weekly & Monthly Maintenance

    I perform 10% water changes with Tropic Marin Pro salt mix once per week. The Tropic Marin salt mixes very quickly and measures consistently. I inspect all my pumps and equipment, trim Chaeto (if needed), and wipe down my light and aquarium glass. GAC is changed every month. Alkalinity and Calcium test are also done monthly.


    The tank is a blend of soft and LPS corals. Both categories of corals prefer more gentle water movement and most like to eat a lot. Contrary to popular belief, many soft corals like Cladiella sp., Sarcophyton Elegans and Xenia thrive under intense light. The general rule in my tanks is "the more they feed, the less light they need". I have just one hard coral on the back side of my center rock work, a beautiful orange Montipora Capricornis.

    Acanthastrea sp. (Acan)
    Briareum sp. (Green Star Polyps)
    Capnella sp. (Kenya Tree Coral)
    Cladiella sp. (Colt Coral)
    Euphyllia glabrescens (Green Torch)
    Euphyllia Paradivisa (Frog Spawn)
    Goniopora sp.
    Montipora Capricornis
    Nephthea sp. (Green Nephthea)
    Palythoa sp. (Palys assorted)
    Sarcophyton Elegans (Yellow Fiji Leather)
    Wellsophyllia Radiata
    Zoanthus sp. (Zoas assorted)
    Xenia sp.


    The tank is not heavily stocked. I have a pair of Ocellaris Clownfish, small group of Green Chromis and one Pygmy Waspfish. I find fish in groups or pairs show much more interesting behavior. I spend hours watching my Ocellaris pair wiggle and shimmy together. The clownfish are hosting the frog spawn coral.

    • (2) Ocellaris Clownfish
    • (5) Green Chromis (Chromis Viridis)
    • (1) Pygmy Waspfish (Hypodytes rubripinnis)


    We setup the tank on November 11, 2009 in my son's bedroom. I wanted an open aquascape with no live rock touching the sides or back of the tank. This would allow me to keep a four sides of the tank clean and coralline algae free. This had the added benefit of decreasing water dead spots and preventing fast growing soft corals like Xenia from spreading to adjacent rocks. Before we started the tank, I spent many days reading reef profiles on Nano-Reef.com, Reef Central and Advanced Aquarist. Learning what works and what doesn't from experienced reefers was a huge jump start into the hobby. Thank you to the people who contribute their expertise and time posting pictures, tank details, and sharing their knowledge. And thank you to the web moderators who spend countless hours making the websites we all enjoy.


    I've made a few mistakes over the years. A early change in my alkalinity dosing schedule caused a dip in PH and a few fish fatalities. Careless use of a siphon caused tissue damage and the death of a gorgeous Elegance Coral (Catalaphyllia Jardinei). Large amount of GFO in my reactor caused RPN (rapid tissue necrosis) in my Montipora Digitata and Capricornis. Fortunately, a little creative fragging saved both colonies.

    Future Plans

    The tank is full and there are several coral species I'd still like to add. We will definitely need to upgrade to a larger aquarium soon. I'd like to order a 42"x42"x22" eurobraced glass aquarium. Other items on my upgrade list, an auto-top-off system (http://autotopoff.com/), dosing pumps and controller (http://www.reefangel.com/) and some Tunze controllable pumps.



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    First! now thats a huge congrats to a wonderporium of LPS and Softies, that's how it done!!!! Superb Reef, well deserved!!!

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    very beautiful tank. Congrats!! I am pretty sure that in person with all the movement of softies it might be so soothing to watch.

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    Sorry if this is a noob question but don't hammer stings other corals especially when they so close to each other?

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    Sorry if this is a noob question but don't hammer stings other corals especially when they so close to each other?

    Euphyllia (frog spawn, hammer and torch corals) have a weak sting. Just enough to grab onto and pull in meaty foods. Currently none of my LPS corals are touching other corals. If they do bump occasionally, it doesn't seem to cause any problems. Just make sure other corals are not in constant contact with them.

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