Congratulations to community member East1 and his 17 gallon reef aquarium for being selected for our March Reef Profile! Hailing from the UK, East1's nano reef aquarium is a sculptural wonder, showcasing a diverse aquascape rooted with mangroves. Below is the aquarium profile East1 has written for us sharing his experiences in the hobby and his aquarium's progress over the past year and a half. See what he's been up to and share your comments and questions in East1'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 reef tank.
It sounds incredibly cliché, but I'd always assumed the owners of tanks that would be selected to be a featured TOTM would have known on some level of the quality of their work. In that light, it's not surprising that, while refilling my ATO directly from the tap and receiving an email informing me of my nomination, I was quite shocked!
I've had aquariums in some form or another sporadically since I was 13, my father's job resulted in a lot of traveling and this made it difficult to maintain a system for any length of time, and until I was 16, I had never considered keeping a marine aquarium. This changed when I moved to Dubai and set up my first 10 gallon nano reef.
Fast forward to September 2015, after graduating as a civil engineer and having decided to pursue a job in London , I upgraded my 30cm cube that had grown from my original 1 gallon pico reef that some of you may be familiar with. This doesn't mark the end of the upgrade chain by any means, I'd be kidding myself if I thought otherwise!
Display: 17 Gallon ADA 60-P – 60 x 30 x 36 cm (approximately 24" x 12" x 14")
Lighting: 2 x Ecotech Radion running at 100% for 16 hours (11 hours at 100% blues and 3 hours at 100% all channels, 2 hours fade in-out)
Protein Skimmer: Vertex Omega 150
Filtration: Reef Dynamics external recirculating biopellet reactor running AIO biopellets
Water Motion: Ecotech Vortech MP10w
Water Control: Marine Colour 3 channel dosing pump, ATO controlled by the Aquatronica
Controller: Aquatronica Touch Controller with 2 plug bars, pH temp and level monitoring
Established September 2014, upgraded to the ADA 60-P in September 2015
This tank has gone through many revisions, I don't consider them upgrades because every iteration involved the replacement of the part of either the display or sump and never a full upgrade. Initially, the tank started as a ~1 gallon acrylic rectangle that was purchased as a DVD storage box, attached to a small plastic tub to serve as a sump. This was later upgraded to a glass sump which housed a refurbished Bubble Magus skimmer, and set the tone for the inclusion of a dosing and controller system which allowed for successful housing of SPS corals, one of which I have to this day!
The small size of this tank, coupled with the fast growth due to low nutrients as a result of the large skimmer and poor fish load, led to the upgrade of the display, which became a 30cm 7 gallon cube from March 2015 up until September of the same year. This saw a shift in my maintenance routine as the larger water volume allowed me move away from twice daily water testing for Ca/Alk to a more regular weekly routine, as well as the inclusion of many, many fish. The biopellets and large skimmer did still allow for healthy and colourful SPS while keeping the tank on the edge of overstocked and a sardine tin.
30cm 7 Gallon Cube September 2015
One Week After 60P Upgrade October 2015
Pre-crash SPS Focused November 2015
The final big revision of the tank came in two stages, the first being the display which was upgraded in September 2015 to an ADA 60P, and the second being a full overhaul of the sump and filtration system. After getting a job and some stability, I had decided to upgrade my old DIY BM skimmer to a new and shiny BM G5, which was sadly underpowered in comparison. This downgrade saw the rapid decline in all of my SPS, many of which perished and only a few recovered in my LFS' tanks. It was during this time that I contemplated ending the reef and taking a break, but when taking back my last surviving SPS colonies I saw a beautiful Menella sp. gorgonian that I absolutely fell in love with, and marked a change in the way I stocked and scaped my tank.
In the following weeks, I upgraded my sump and equipment, keeping the dosing and controller system but overhauling the internals of the cabinet. I purchased a second hand Vertex Omega 150, as well as a recirculating biopellet reactor to do away with my DIY system. I had gone for a more neat and tidy approach while setting this out, and I feel that the tidiness makes maintenance far easier due to ease of access. Similarly, the aquascape and stocking saw numerous changes, from an SPS focused reef to more of a diverse soft-coral dominated reef with a few small Acropora colonies. I had set out to experiment with soft coral specifically, because I feel that while they are very easy to keep alive – and this leads to the perception that they are a beginner coral – they are actually very slow to adapt to changes, and require high levels of stability to fully thrive, this is in comparison to SPS corals, which will quickly lose colour and perish, but similarly will regain colour within a matter of days if given optimum conditions.
My weekly maintenance schedule involves filling up my ATO, checking on the dosing containers and cleaning my skimmer cup, as well as refilling the nitrate and carbon dosing systems. I'm a firm believer that the success in this comes from keeping a stable and undisturbed environment, and my equipment list allows as much of this to be achieved using automated systems. My maintenance routine has evolved over the last year and a half from twice daily testing to testing once a month at best now and using the animals as a living barometer of the water quality.
I attribute a lot of the stability and water quality in my tank to the three large mangroves I keep, as their root systems filter an enormous amount of water. This filtration system is augmented by my recirculating reactor running AIO biopellets and passively- run carbon in a sock in the sump. I dose potassium nitrate and Aquaforest liquid carbon through a syringe doser additionally to deal with any excess phosphate as a result of topping off the tank with tap water, and to ensure that the mangroves don't starve.
I have recently started topping off the tank with tap water, while this water has an amount of phosphates, it also contains elevated Ca and Alk levels as a result of the limestone underneath London, helping me to keep my water levels at 6.5-7.5 dKH, while dosing nitrates allows for the bacterial system to quickly process the extra phosphates without any side effects.
I feed the tank quite heavily and use a mix of the following products: Aquaforest Coral A, V, E, New Life Spectrum pellets, Polyplab Reef Roids, Nyos phytoplankton, pure Creatine Monohydrate and Zeovit amino acids. I dose all but the Coral E manually daily to ensure that a fine dusting of diatoms builds up on the glass of the tank every two days.
When it comes to water testing now, I'm able to identify a number of parameters purely by looking at my corals regularly, and I shall list a few:
• Kh as a result of powdery or burnt acropora tips
• Phosphate as a result of cyano on the sand, or poor SPS polyp extension
• Excess nitrate as a result of the leather corals sliming over due to increased diatom growth
• Inadequate nitrate as a result of extremely pale SPS, poor diatom growth on the glass
There are a number of other identifiers for poor water quality but it's hard to quantify these, and it comes down to the tank 'not looking quite right'. I have noticed that while SPS corals will show poor water quality the fastest by losing colour, poor polyp extension or loss of tissue, leather corals will just stop looking 'good', this involves extended sliming over periods and no polyp extension, as well as drooping. Unlike SPS corals, however, soft corals appear to take a longer time to return to their former glory, and as such I think that keeping a healthy soft coral reef requires not only pristine water conditions, but a very hands-off approach to the livestock. Some of my tank photos include a sulking leather coral purely because I changed the pulse interval of a pump nearby, and something like this can take two weeks before it shows signs of life again.
I really enjoy damselfish, particularly of the Chrysiptera family. I have kept a number of dwarf angels but due to the sensitivity of the family, and my poor quarantine routines, these have often succumbed to parasites (mainly Flukes, something I find incredibly difficult to treat considering their prevalence in LFS I have access to.)
• 1 Starckii damsel (C. starcki)
• 2 Yellowbelly damsels (C. hemicyanea)
• 2 Fourstripe damsels (D. melanurus)
• 1 Sleeper banded goby (A. phalanea)
I don't think I've ever tried to list my corals, and I'd find it difficult to do now. The majority of the tank is home to 4 large leather corals, 2 Sinularia polydactyla, 1 Sinularia brassica and one Cladiella sp.
I have a large Menella sp. Gorgonian which I regularly think is my main reason for keeping the tank, as well as a number of smaller sinularia species throughout the tank, including a Sarcophyton that grew from the size of a penny in my pico reef, affectionately named 'Wavy coral' by my other half.
The tank also plays home to a number of SPS corals, almost all Acropora sp., including one that has survived from the original 1 gallon pico and lived through the tank crash, which has finally started showing off old promise and great colouration.
The tank is home to a pair of Skunk cleaner shrimp, as well as a small Debelius reef lobster that I see once a week or so. I have a Deresa clam that is hidden nicely in the rock work and I often forget about unless it jets water around causing a sandstorm as well as a huge colony of brittle starfish.
Curiously, I have a colony of tiny shrimp that live in the sandbed, I've never been able to photograph them properly but they look very much like mantis shrimp, however don't grow to more than 4mm in length, and haven't been wiped out by my sand-sifter. I really like them, but would love to be able to identify them.
I hope to upgrade in the near future to a tank with a purpose built cabinet in which I can house everything, hopefully with a large enough footprint that I'm able to have 4'' of clear sand fully surrounding a central reef. I feel this will be a shallow cube! I hope to be able to use the lessons I've learned through not only experience but by being a (mostly silent) member of the community to continue keeping a healthy and well-presented ecosystem.
Words Of Wisdom
I place a lot of value in my equipment, however I have a lot of disdain for the focus on having the newest and shiniest piece of reefing hardware. The entirety of my tank except the glass is second hand and rather dated by innovation standards, but I firmly believe that the equipment of last year can do just as good a job as the latest wireless tech unveiled today, as is evidenced by the numerous tanks featured on this site through the years.
I also place a lot of value on stability of the reef, but I think a lot of this comes down to regularity and habit – I don't feel the need to test my water more than monthly at this point because I keep everything going at the same pace, any changes would come about from a change of routine and I'm very aware that the only need to monitor comes when adding a new piece of tech, changing the programming of the controller or adding a new animal.
Advice For New Hobbyists
- Don't feel the need to chase water parameters and test kit levels, and learn how your animals look when they're healthy. There is huge value in knowing what your corals should look like at various levels of elements and parameters, and using this to understand when the tank is unhealthy. This is a hobby of observation and unfortunately not a hobby of chasing numbers – if you do identify a parameter out of line, remember that your corals have survived this far with the parameter as such (like the time I found my Cal was at 320 despite having very fast growing, colourful coral) and that changing it to where it 'should' be may be more damaging than leaving it as-is.
- Keep a journal or a spreadsheet where you're able to log your test results alongside any comments of things you've noticed about the tank, having this information to refer to is priceless when noticing a decline or change in the tank.
Thoughts On Lighting Technology
LED's are definitely the way forward, however the most striking debate is LED vs T5 and I think it comes down purely to t5 providing a greater spread of light. As you can see, I've 'overkilled' my lighting setup but I believe with current LED fixtures, it's extremely necessary to provide adequate lighting spread.