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  • ziareefer

    Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to ziareefer for being selected for our February Reef Profile! His unusual 50 gallon nano reef aquarium is home to a majestic seahorse, living in a forest of rare gorgonians alongside peaceful reef fish. Below is the aquarium profile ziareefer has written for us sharing his experiences in the hobby and his aquarium's progress over the past year. See what he's been up to and share your comments and questions in ziareefer's 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 nano reef tank.


    I have a vivid memory of snorkeling St. Martin in 2001, and after seeing the fascinating world beneath the surface of the ocean, I knew that one day I wanted to have a scoop of the ocean in my daily life. It was not until a few years later when my daughter was born that I found the opportunity. She was only a year old when the movie Finding Nemo had just come out, and I thought, "Wow, I would love to get my daughter a clown fish!" Thinking they were just like goldfish, I set out to get started. As they say, ignorance is bliss! So I bought my first AIO 14 gallon aquarium in 2004 and began my first entry into this amazing hobby. Having not researched enough before I dove in, and after Nemo 4.0, I realized I needed to figure out basic husbandry in order to stop killing fish. Like many others, it didn't take long before I was hooked and reef tanks became a big part of my daily life.

    Tank Specs

    Display: 24" x 24" x 20" 50 gallon SCA Rimless Aquarium
    Lighting: EcoTech Radion XR30w LED Fixture
    Sump: 30" x 16" x 15" Trigger Systems Ruby Elite 30
    Filtration: 2 x Filter Socks, Purigen, 2 x Two Little Fishies 150 Reactors w/ GFO & Carbon
    Skimmer: ASM G-2
    Heater: HMO-300 Finnex Digital
    Circulation: Jebao WP25 Wavemaker
    Biological Filtration: 2.5" Aragonite sand bed, 25 pounds of live rock
    Salt: Red Sea Coral Pro



    Established March 2013 (The original seahorse tank was transferred to this tank in September 2013)

    Water Parameters

    Salinity: 1.026
    Temperature: 75.5° F
    pH: 7.9-8.2
    Calcium: 400 - 450 ppm
    Alkalinity: 8.5 - 9.0 dKh
    Magnesium: 1350 - 1400
    Ammonia: 0
    Nitrite: 0
    Nitrate: 0-5.0 ppm
    PO4: 0.00 - 0.01 ppm

    Maintenance Routine

    What would this hobby be without maintenance?! I have got to say, it's my least favorite part of the hobby. It is essential in my world to keep it simple so I don't spend my whole day doing tank chores. The tank's glass is cleaned twice a week. I change out the filter socks weekly. A thorough vinegar dip every 3-4 months for the main return and skimmer pump. Bi-weekly cleaning of the wavemaker/powerhead pumps. I test key water parameters at least twice a month.

    Feeding & Filtration

    I love fat and happy tank inhabitants. Since the seahorses are mixed in with a few other peaceful community fish, my feeding regiment is slightly nontraditional. I first do a broadcast feeding of mixed frozen cubes, and let everyone except the seahorse get their fill. Then I shut off the internal wavemaker to reduce the flow to a trickle. Then the seahorses are hand fed frozen mysis, twice daily. Then come the soft corals. Since I have a large concentration of filter feeding corals in the tank, I feed PhytoPlex and Marine Snow mixed with a dash of my secret weapon "Zu-Feast" once a day. Now with such a heavy feeding program I have a nutrient rich environment. I combat that with the biological filtration performed by the live rock and deep sand bed, along with an overrated efficient skimmer to keep the water clean. I also enlist the help of my macro algae to consume excess nutrients. I keep them not only for their brilliant color and textures, the display macro algaes all help balance out the heavy feedings. In addition to the display macros, I have a second in-sump refugium jam packed with Cheato to further help the cause.


    Mechanical filtration is as follows:

    • Weekly water changes of at least 10% total volume.
    • Filter socks catch all the particulates from the water column.
    • Heavy protein skimming, with the cup and neck cleaned weekly.
    • Filter floss replaced every 4 to 5 days.
    • Carbon and GFO replaced every 2 weeks, and Purigen regenerated every 3 months.


    • Seahorse (Hippocampus erectus)
    • Black Clown Goby (Gobiodon strangulatus)
    • Yasha Shrimp Goby (Stonogobiops yasha)
    • Yellowhead Jawfish (Opistognathus aurifrons)
    • Picasso Clownfish
    • Snowflake Clownfish

    Soft Coral

    • 18 Assorted Gorgonians
    • Various Designer Zoanthids and Palythoas
    • Tyree Neon Green Leather
    • Kenya Tree
    • Pumping Xenia
    • Clove Polyps
    • Blue Star Polyps
    • St. Thomas Mushrooms
    • Various Other Mushrooms: Jawbreaker, Florida Rics, Rhodactis
    • Sponges
    • Green Nephthea
    • Green Star Polyps

    Macro Algae

    • Dragon's Breath
    • Red Branching
    • Blue Ochtodes
    • Red Grape
    • String of Pearls
    • Blue Scroll
    • Red Dragon
    • Caulerpa
    • Cheato
    • Red Gracilia
    • Maidens Brush


    • Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus)
    • 2 Ghost Shrimp (Paleomonetes sp.)
    • Sand Sifting Sea Star (Astropecten polycanthus)
    • Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata)


    With about 10 years of experience in the hobby and at least half a dozen reef tanks under my belt, I think i enjoy the initial stages of setting up a new display as much, if not more than, maintaining and growing out the reef itself. It's always a fresh and exciting time trying to figure what kind of display to build next. I love watching and following trends in the hobby so I know which way NOT to go. I always like going against the grain and trying to challenge myself by attempting something that's not popular, whenever possible. I already have a mixed LPS/SPS 30 gallon reef that filled the average reef tank void for me, so I really wanted to set out to create something softer, brighter, bigger and better. Something with more flow and movement. An environment that would be more peaceful and tranquil in feel.


    Setting up a softy and macro tank was nothing special, but setting up one with a seahorse in mind was the game changer for me. I wanted to do this magical mythological looking creature justice by creating a 'seahorse utopia' if you will. Every aspect of aesthetics was taken into consideration, from the coral selection to how the aquascape would be built. Drawing from my commercial and residential interior design background, I purchased coral and display macro algae based on their color and textures, and built the rock scape in a tiered down arch fashion to create many levels to place everything. I wanted to balance the right environment for the seahorses along with an overall product that would be easy on the eyes. So to say the least, it has been the challenge I was hoping for and an amazing adventure. I have to say, this is by far the most joy I've had with any tank that I've had the pleasure of keeping thus far.

    Learning Experiences

    My current softy seahorse display is not my original one, it's version 2.0. I initially attempted to recycle an older acrylic tank I had laying around, which turned out to be a big mistake, as many of you know from following my aquarium build thread. It lasted about 6 months before it developed a major bow in the front and back panels. The aquarium had just matured and gotten to a point where I was finally content with it, and then BAM it was threatening to blow out seams on me. It was 1/2" acrylic and only 16" tall with 26 gallons of total water volume, so never did I think I would have to worry about something like this. I also learned that acrylic easily scratches, even with basic cleaning. So I have indefinitely sworn off plastic tanks! But with change comes opportunity, and I'm certainly no stranger to change.


    So the new upgrade tank search began. I settled on my current 50 gallon cube which turned out to be a much taller and more appropriately sized tank for the seahorses anyways. The upgrade gave me yet another opportunity to improve on the mistakes and shortcomings of the previous display too. The new tank was set up in September and everything was successfully transferred over without trouble. With the new tank nearly double the size of the old, I got to start my second favorite part of the hobby and shop for new kandys aka corals! There's not many things in this world I enjoy more! With NO LFS and the closest chain pet store a hour and a half away, I had to quickly learn to trust and find good online suppliers for livestock. The interweb has been a great resource for that!

    Present Day

    The livestock in the current system are nearly a year old and have colonized on the aquascape very well. It's becoming harder and harder to spot bare open rock anymore. Everything is maturing and showing excellent growth overall. I contribute that to trying my best to keep a stable environment, with a heavy emphasis on the filtration. The ASM G-2 skimmer is rated for almost double my total water volume and is very efficient at keeping the water column looking its best. Also the newly upgraded return pump, a Reef Octopus DC5500 1450gph beast, assures a high turnover of display water and is whisper quiet in operation. I'm a huge fan and believer in filter socks and wouldn't run a tank with out them. More than just filtering out the larger organics, a few times they've also caught small fish and inverts that found their way through the overflow from the main display. They would have been sucked into the skimmer pump and killed if the socks weren't in place to catch them. The newly upgraded sump itself was chosen not only for its function but for its modern and sleek appearance. I also liked it because it gave me an additional area to grow cheato and other mixed sump macro algae for additional nutrient export. For sump lighting, I run a par 38 LED. Rounding out the in-sump filtration are the two Two Little Fishies 150 media reactors. One for carbon and the other for GFO. I only run GFO for a week at a time as needed and change out the carbon every few weeks, or sometimes sooner if I notice the water is not looking as crisp or clear as desired.

    Disasters & Regrets

    Buying cheap test kits and other entry level additives and supplements, reef salts etc., only to have to replace them with better more accurate or higher quality ones, was my first regret. The saying "you get what you pay for" comes to mind. Not buying the best equipment and aquariums I could have afforded at the beginning was by far my biggest regret and mistake. I went with a cheap 20L DIY sump to save money, only to find out that it wouldn't hold all the equipment I would later need. I also didn't take into consideration that it would need to hold all of the excess display tank water in the event of a power outage, and it couldn't do that either. So I had to rip it out and replace it after the first year, while the display tanks were still 'live'. I have also replaced the main return pump, all heaters, powerheads, and many other ineffective DIY projects along the way.


    My second biggest regret was not having the proper medications on hand for when fish get sick. I recently learned this the hard way, since I live in a rural area and rely on everything being shipped in. I sadly watched a basic infection of one my two seahorses turn deadly within a short period of time. If I would have had the proper medications (Focus, PraziPro & Bio bandage) on hand at the time, I could have treated it at the first sign. I now have all the medications and knowledge of using them in hand, but sadly it was all too late to save her.

    Advice For New Hobbyists

    So I can't stress this enough, don't cut corners and be cheap when it comes to the dry goods side of this hobby! Buy the best equipment you can afford to buy in the beginning. It's silly to spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on corals and livestock, only to be housed in a sub-par potentially hazardous aquarium.

    Acknowledgments & Inspiration

    When I received a notification of a message from Christopher Marks, my first thought was, "Uh oh. What did i do wrong?" LOL! To my surprise he had chosen my display refugium for TOTM, and it has absolutely made what was already a great start to this New Year, even that much better! So first, I would like to thank him for the kind acknowledgment! Thank you for creating such a wonderful community for like minded reefers, it's a place I enjoy logging on to regularly to visit with many members here that I consider my friends. I also want to say a big thank you to all those who nominated me for TOTM in the past few months! My biggest inspiration and my passion for this hobby, is the unconditional support and love i get from my daughter! When I've been at a crossroads, or things are getting stale with my aquariums or life in general, she always has very honest and encouraging bits of advise for me. She's soon to be 11 years old but wise beyond her years! Her birthday is also this month, so it's only suiting that I dedicate this article to her!



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