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  • Nano sapiens

    Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to Nano sapiens for being selected for our August Reef Profile! His 12 gallon nano reef aquarium is built on a foundation of simplicity, utilizing only natural filtration and simple maintenance techniques. A true testament to its stability, this nano reef aquarium turns 5 years old this month! Below is the aquarium profile Nano sapiens has written for us sharing his experiences in the hobby and his aquarium's progress over the past five years. See what he's been up to and share your comments and questions in Nano sapiens' featured reef profile thread or in the comments section below. Be sure to also check out his aquarium journal in the members aquariums forum for more information about his aquarium.


    Tank Specs

    Display: 15"L x 15"W x 13"H - CAD Lights 12 gallon bow-front 'All-in-One'
    Biological Filtration: Live Rock and Live Sand only
    Mechanical Filtration: None
    Chemical Filtration: None
    Lighting: (6) Ecoxotic LED Stunner Strips (w/polished reflectors) plus a DIY LED strip
    Circuit #1: (8 hrs): DIY LED strip plus all Stunner Strips (except Royal Blue)
    Circuit #2:  (12 hrs): Royal Blue Stunner strip
    Water Movement: CAD Lights pump (~250 gph) plus modified Hydor FLO Rotating Water Deflector
    Heating: (2) 50W submersible heaters (one set at lower temperature as a backup)
    Auto Top Off: (2) large DIY 'Pet Bottle' Auto Top Off units (Reverse Osmosis + 'Kalkwasser')

    Established August 2008

    Maintenance Routine

    Water Changes: 5% - 2x/week (10% total/week). 50/50 Micro-Lube Lift & Instant Ocean + RO water.

    Detritus Removal: Live Rock 'basting' and gravel vacuuming weekly. Rear chambers vacuumed monthly. Vacuuming under Live Rock every few months.

    • Fish: (3-4x/day) rotating combination of frozen and dried foods: Rod's Food, Ocean Nutrition Prime Reef Flakes, OSI Spirulina Flakes, Aqueon Marine Granules.
    • Corals: Once a week frozen Mysis/Rod's Food/Baby Brine Shrimp combo.

    Testing (2x/Wk)
    • Alkalinity (7.8 - 8.0 dKH)

    Testing (Weekly)
    • Calcium (420-440 ppm)
    • Specific Gravity (1.026)
    • Magnesium (1350-1450)

    Testing (Occasionally)
    • Nitrate (0 – Salifert)
    • Phosphate (0 – Salifert)
    • pH (8.2 – 8.4)

    • 'Kalk' (calcium hydroxide)
    • Iodine (3-4/week)

    Other Maintenance
    • ATO filled up weekly.
    • Hydor FLO disassembled/cleaned monthly.
    • Return pump disassembled/cleaned every three months.
    • Heaters cleaned every six months.


    • Black Misbar Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
    • Standard Orange Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)


    • Collonista snails (Collonista amakusaens)
    • Bristle Worms (Eurythoe complanata)
    • Serpent Starfish (unknown species)
    • Blue Legged Hermit Crab (Clibanarius tricolor)
    • Red-Legged Hermit Crab (Clibanarius diguetti)



    • 'Red Planet' (A. anthocercis?)
    • 'Northern Lights Granulosa' (A. granulosa)
    • Green Millepora (A. millepora)
    Acropora sp. (possibly A. pulchra)


    • Reefkoi LE 'Superhero' Montipora (unknown species)
    • Sunset Montipora (likely M. danae)
    • Tyree LE True Undata (M. undata)
    • Tyree LE Setosa (M. setosa)
    • Ultra Blue Digitata (M. digitata)


    Acanthastrea lordhowensis
    Acanthastrea bowerbanki
    Lobophyllia hemprichii
    Blastomussa wellsi


    • Metallic Orange Pavona (Pavona maldivensis)
    • Green Corrugated Pavona (Pavona varians)
    • Leptastrea sp. (Leptastrea pruinosa?) - Standard neon-green center
    • Assorted Ricordia Mushrooms (Ricordia yuma, Ricordia florida)
    • Forked Tentacle Mushroom (Discosoma calgreni)
    • Various Zoanthids (Speckled Fire & Ice, Sunny D's, Oxides, Armagedons, Nuke Green Palys, etc.)


    After operating a 50g show rectangular reef tank continuously for nearly 10 years, I felt it was time for a change. In 2008 a co-worker's challenges with his new 10g nano reef tank inspired me to give one of these small nano tanks a try, so I started to peruse the various reef aquarium related sites looking for an appropriate sized all-in-one tank. I finally decided on the CAD Lights 12g AIO due to it being just the right size, made of glass, topless, pleasing proportions, and decent equipment at a reasonable price. My goal was to develop a tank that could do well with minimal equipment and low operating costs, while still providing an environment where reef organisms could thrive.


    Once the tank arrived and I got it set up, I proceeded to add smaller pieces of live rock and some live sand from my still running 50 gallon aquarium. Using this matured material resulted in no cycling to speak of, but I still waited a few weeks before adding some mushrooms and zoanthids. I then added a typical cleanup crew of a few hermit crabs and Astrea/turbo snails. Things went well for a few months as I slowly added all different kinds of corals, since I was shooting for a typical 'mixed reef' look. I tried adding a Fire Shrimp but it was too much of a pest, always stealing the corals' food, so I gave it away to a local reefer. The snails never lasted long so eventually I ended up with just the hermits.

    I had some real trouble with large amphipods eating most of the zoanthids, which I finally solved by adding a Black Barred Convict Goby (Priolepis nocturna). As I acquired more livestock I met the dreaded 'Red Bugs'! I lost a few of the Acropora frags, but a Green Slimer seemed unaffected. Then I made the mistake of buying an injured Blastomussa that I thought I could revitalize. Very soon thereafter I had a 'Brown Jelly' infestation that took out the last Acro, the Bali Green Slimer, and nearly all the LPS (Acans). I'd say this was the low point, but I saved what I could and carried on.


    Dinos, algae and Cyano were next on the 'Hit Parade,' and at this point I stopped to really think about what was happening in the tank and what was needed to improve the situation. Since it was clear that nitrates and phosphates were fueling algae growth, I started to regularly vacuum detritus in small sections from the shallow 1" sand bed with each water change, as well as using a turkey baster a few times a week to blow out the buildup from inside the live rock. It took a few months to eventually get things cleaned up to where nearly all the pest algae had finally disappeared.


    I had no fish and I wasn't feeding the tank during this time which, unfortunately, didn't sit well with the existing pasty-looking corals! But, once I had the maintenance schedule dialed in, I started to feed the corals more and added a few fish, and things picked up. Then the stock T5 ballasts died so I fitted a bunch of the Ecoxotic LED Stunner Strips since they fit perfectly in the stock canopy. From then on it has been a series of subtle tweaks to the system to determine the optimal feeding and lighting to get the tank to where it is today, five years on.

    Major Changes

    The only major change to the system was one born out of necessity when the stock T5 ballasts malfunctioned. Ecoxotic LED Stunner Strips were added since they were a perfect fit for the existing canopy and produced very little heat. Recently I added a DIY LED strip to add some additional wavelengths and provide a modest increase in the lighting intensity.

    Inspiration & Goals

    Inspiration has come from many sources, but I'd say especially from seeing what has been accomplished by some very talented and dedicated nano reefers in this community. As for goals with this tank, I'd simply like to keep this system running optimally for a few more years and observe how things progress over time.

    Disasters & Regrets

    My biggest disaster was an outbreak of 'brown-jelly' disease which destroyed most of my LPS corals after the first year. I attribute the outbreak to a combination of poor water quality (high nitrate and phosphate, primarily due to not removing detritus regularly) and the addition of an unhealthy LPS specimen. When I think back, I really can't find any regrets since it has been a very educational and rewarding experience.

    Advice For New Hobbyists

    If I were to look for a few key words for success in this hobby, the most important ones that come to mind are 'patience' and 'stability'. Patience refers to allowing the natural cycles to become established and adding organisms slowly. Stability refers to keeping parameters within acceptable ranges and stable over the long-term. Keeping these concepts in mind throughout the reef keeping experience will be most helpful. Research is critical to success. Question everybody who has experience and carefully review the most successful tanks to determine their best practices. But above all, enjoy and learn from the journey.

    Thoughts On...

    Running A 'Natural' Nano Reef System
    Over many years of aquarium keeping I've exclusively used a 'minimalistic' approach. Using this concept on a small nano tank has worked out well and has ultimately resulted in a very stable system. My best results to date are largely due to consistent maintenance practices, attention to parameters and sufficient coral nutrition.


    Nano-reef.com has been a great 'home base' for anything nano related and a big 'thank you' to all the many members for making the nano reef keeping experience a much richer one. I'd like to especially thank Christopher Marks for hosting this site and the very unexpected, yet pleasant surprise of selecting this tank for this month.


    Nano sapiens

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    As someone cycling a tank with natural filtration only in mind, this is very inspiring. Gorgeous!

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    Beautiful tank ,I really like the lights I'd like to upgrade to something like them in the future.

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    Deleted User 4


    Wait, haven't this guy won totm with the same tank before?


    Or am I wrong? Lol


    Anyways, congrats!



    Edit: Nevermind, I checked again, wth, I really thought Nano Sapiens' tank was totm before...

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