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  • teenyreef

    Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to community member teenyreef and his 4 gallon pico reef aquarium for being selected for our March Reef Profile! Below is the aquarium profile teenyreef 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 teenyreef'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 this nano reef tank.


    Tank Specs

    Display: 4 Gallon CAD Lights Aquarium (with modified overflow and return)
    Lighting: Nanobox Mini Tide
    Filtration: Modified InTank IM10 media caddy with filter floss, carbon, and GFO
    Skimmer: PicO SkiM 2.0 Micro Skimmer powered by Whisper 20 air pump
    Heater: Finnex 50w
    Circulation: Mini-Jet 606 with Hydor Flo Water Deflector
    ATO: Tunze Nano ATO
    Controller: Apex Jr.
    Dosing: Jebao doser

    Established January 2014

    Maintenance Routine

    One of the great things about a pico tank is that it's really easy to maintain. A 30% water change takes about 30 seconds with a couple big cups of water, and algae scraping takes about a minute. I keep a very shallow sand bed, and I stir it up when I blow off the rocks. If necessary, I can remove every single rock and the sand to get things really clean, do a 75% water change, and put it all back together in a couple hours. I test salinity, temperature, and alkalinity daily; calcium and magnesium weekly.


    • Parameters
      • Salinity – 1.025
      • Temperature – 79F
      • Alkalinity – 8.5dkH (more of a target than a reality right now)
      • Calcium – 420ppm
      • Magnesium – 1300ppm
    • Nutrient Export
      • Daily – Blow off rocks and stir up the sand with a turkey baster.
      • Weekly – 30% water change, clean glass, replace filter floss.
      • Monthly – Replace carbon and GFO, clean skimmer and replace air stone.
      • 2-3 months – Clean back chambers and anything that is getting salt creep.
    • Dosing
      • Twice a day (Jebao doser): Seachem Fusion Part I & II
      • Weekly: Aqua Vitro Ions (Magnesium), Two Little Fishies AcroPower
    • Feeding
      • Every day, I target feed Ocean Nutrition Formula One Pellets (about 10 pellets)
      • Every other day, I feed some combination of:
          • ReefRoids
          • LRS Reef Frenzy
          • PE Mysis Shrimp
          • Spirulina Enriched Brine Shrimp
          • Goniopower
          • Frozen rotifers/Cyclops
      • I also have a lot of pods in this tank, some are really big.


    • Rusty Goby "Flash"
    • Black Clown Goby "Midnight"

    SPS Corals

    • Green Birdsnest (or maybe it's Stylophora, the jury's still out)
    • Red Acropora Millepora
    • Yellow Scroll Coral (Turbinaria)
    • "Poppy Pickin" Cyphastrea
    • Rainbow/green encrusting Monti Cap
    • Idaho Grape plating Monti Cap

    LPS Corals

    • Duncanops
    • Dendrophyllia
    • Metallic Green Eyes Favia
    • Various Acan Lords

    Soft Corals

    • Various Zoanthids and Palythoa
    • Various Ricordea Florida
    • Green Star Polyps
    • Pipe Organ Coral (Tubipora Musica)
    • Red and purple mushrooms


    • Sexy Shrimp (2)
    • Harlequin Serpent Star
    • Pom Pom Crabs (2)
    • Snails: Ceriths, Dwarf Ceriths, Nassarius, Nerites, Stomatella
    • Various hitchhikers including isopods, copepods, tiny feather dusters, pineapple sponges, and little bristle worms.


    I've kept fish since I was a kid starting with a 5 gallon freshwater tank when I was 12. I flirted briefly with saltwater back in the 80's, with a 55 gallon tank and a canister filter. Needless to say, I had a LOT of cyano, and it didn't last long. I switched back to freshwater and still have a 90 gallon freshwater tank today. I had bought an Evolve 4 gallon AIO to raise some live fry from the 90 gallon tank, and after the fry grew up, I was wondering what to do with the tank. I was really excited to discover what folks like el fabuloso, pj86, and andrewkw had been doing with pico reefs on Nano-Reef, and I really liked the idea of starting on a budget and upgrading over time. I did a lot of reading, and in January 2014 I took the plunge and started this little tank. My goal was to learn basic reefkeeping without spending too much money, and eventually move up to a larger tank. I think I've been largely successful, but while I have gotten a larger tank, I don't think I will ever get rid of this tank.

    I started with cured live rock from the LFS so that I could be sure to get the cycle started quickly, and in hopes of getting a few hitchhikers. I made the common beginner's mistake of putting in too much rock at first, and ended up rescaping a couple times in the first couple months, removing a little more rock every time.


    My first corals were zoas, ricordea, and acans. My acans thrived immediately, but the zoas and rics were hit and miss at first. My first ric didn't grow at all for the first six months, and I had zoa pox in some of my zoas. Once I learned to feed the rics and cure zoa pox though, they finally started growing! After a while I added some SPS and larger softies like duncans. I still haven't worked my way up much beyond "beginner" SPS, but I'm looking forward to trying some of the more advanced varieties now that my tank has matured a bit.

    I'm always tinkering with my setup. I quickly learned that acrylic scratches easily, so I replaced the 4gal Evolve with a 4gal CAD Lights AIO. I was able to keep the same rockscape and corals, and everything looked exactly the same after making the transfer! Since starting with a bare bones set up, I've experimented with an AC-70 HOB filter/refugium, added an ATO, incorporated an Apex controller, upgraded the lighting several times, added a skimmer, and added a Jebao doser. While it's not a cheap, simple setup any more, it's very easy to keep running smoothly.


    I've been inspired by many of the amazing tanks here, especially the pico TOTMs posted over the years, particularly parishilton's 5 gallon tank. His tank showed that almost any kind of coral can be grown in a pico as long as it fits! In more recent tanks, Gena inspired me to get a Nanobox after she got one for her Flowerbox, and to try encrusting montis, and generally inspired me with everything to do with her amazing tanks. Ninjamyst inspired me in my quest to match his impossibly perfect white balance in my pictures, Sk8n Reefer inspired me to feed my corals more, natalia_la_loca encouraged me to get more zoas, and 4x5 inspired me to improve my photography. I've also learned so much from the detailed posts of victories and defeats from cindyp, kimberbee, metrokat, markalot, jedimasterben, and many, many others.

    Disasters & Regrets

    I've had plenty of disasters since starting this tank, but it's helped me to realize that as long as you stick with it and have patience, you can bounce back from almost anything. My first major disaster was when I tried using a brass elbow for my return plumbing upgrade. Three days later, it finally occurred to me that the reason my corals were all receding was because brass contains copper! A few months after acquiring some new corals and recovering from that disaster, I lost a few more corals when used too much Phosguard. Along the way, I've learned that stocking too much and too fast always leads to poor growth at best, and dead livestock at worst. On the other hand, I've learned how to handle many common problems like zoa pox, algae outbreaks, a plague of Vermetid snails, jumping fish, and corals outgrowing the very limited space available in a pico.


    My only real regret is not buying the best possible lighting up front. While I was able to start with a beginner light for beginner corals, I had no idea how quickly I would want to upgrade. It wasn't until my third lighting upgrade that I finally settled on the Nanobox Mini and I've never looked back. All of my other upgrades were nice, but lighting was the only upgrade that was absolutely essential.

    Future Plans

    Aside from the limited space, the biggest challenge in keeping SPS in a pico tank is the swings in alkalinity over a 24 hour period. I've learned that I have to dose and can't rely on frequent water changes to maintain stability. I plan to continue to improve my dosing system so that my parameters are more stable. I'd like to start keeping a few of the more advanced SPS corals, and use this tank as a mini frag grow-out tank. Beyond that, I'd like to get everything grown out and covering all the rocks – this tank has a lot of growing still to do.


    I don't think I will ever "upgrade" this tank. There's a unique appeal to keeping such a small tank. It's like a jewelry box - every single thing in it is unique and is visible up close. There's no room for corals that I don't love, so I expect to regularly move corals in and out of this tank to get just the right look. I'd love to keep this tank going for a long time!

    Words Of Wisdom

    Don't ever buy a coral or a fish unless it's one you are going to love! Do your research first and take your time making a selection. In three months you won't care that you had to wait another two weeks for that really cool zoa frag to heal. But if you get impatient and settle for something else, that less-than-wonderful coral will be impossible to kill and will multiply all over the tank. I still have an ugly purple mushroom hiding in the dark back corner of my tank that will be with me forever!

    Advice For New Hobbyists

    My strongest advice is to use the search box on Nano-Reef.com! I learned almost everything I needed to know on NR without even having to ask a question when I was getting started. After that, start posting! Find some tanks you like and let people know that you appreciate what they have done, and ask questions. Start a build thread. There's no better feeling than the community feedback you get here on NR, whether it's because you've posted your first cloudy water picture of your first tank, taken a beautiful picture, or reported a new disaster. Whether its praise, hugs, or criticism, this is a great community to be involved in.


    Take your time and let your tank mature at its own pace. It's tempting to buy fish and corals the day your tank finishes cycling, but remember that your tank will do a mini cycle every time you add anything, and it takes months of slowly adding a few things at a time for your tank to fully mature. And while that's happening, you will improve your reefkeeping skills and get to know your tank much better.


    Finally, take LOTS of pictures, and log your parameters, equipment changes, and new inhabitants. Whether you post here on NR is up to you, but you will definitely be glad you took pictures and kept records as your tank matures and grows. I didn't do this nearly enough when I got started. Take pictures of everything: equipment, sand, rocks (before and after they go in the tank), new livestock, and your whole tank and everything in it, at least once a month, to record growth and color changes. It's amazing how much you forget about how big things were or what color they were until you look at the pictures you took six months ago. You don't need expensive equipment to get good pictures, but you do need to practice. Just be careful – your photography may turn into a second hobby!

    Thoughts On Feeding

    Don't be afraid to feed your corals. While it's true that corals can survive on light alone, if you want your corals to thrive and grow quickly, feed them. Zoas, acans, rics, softies, and even my SPS all will eat something and usually show immediate results the next day. Plus it's easy to target feed in a pico so you can control the excess nutrients much more easily than in a bigger tank, and, as your tank matures, you can feed more heavily without overloading the system and getting algae. You just have to start gradually and learn to pay attention to what your tank is telling you it can handle.


    Thank you to Christopher Marks for all the unseen and unheralded work he puts into this site. But thanks especially to all of the awesome friends here on this site! You have inspired me and motivated me time after time in both success and failure. It's a lot easier to admit I've had three green banded gobies all jump out of the tank after hearing about some of the setbacks others have had, for example. But you guys have encouraged me as always: as soon as the weather warms up, I WILL TRY AGAIN!



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