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  • Mr. Microscope

    Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to community member Mr. Microscope and his 25 gallon reef aquarium for being selected for our April Reef Profile! His beautifully sculpted nano reef aquarium has gone through an incredible transformation and rebirth. Below is the aquarium profile Mr. Microscope has written for us sharing his experiences in the hobby and his aquarium's progress over the past 4 years. See what he's been up to and share your comments and questions in Mr. Microscope'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.


    Tank Specs

    Display: Mr. Aqua 25 gallon Cube, 18" x 18" x 18"
    Guts: Homemade sump 15.5" x 16" x 13" (about 8 gallons while functioning, 13 gallon capacity)
    Sun: DIY LED's with Typhon Controller
    Heart: Sicce Syncra Pro 550GPH Return Pump
    Lungs: EcoTech Marine MP-10. I use the shortest Long Pulse Mode at 100%.
    Blanket: 150 Watt Heater
    Digestion: Live rock, water changes, and nope, no skimmer anymore.
    Liver: Two Little Fishies reactor with ROX 8.0 carbon.
    Kidneys: BRS 5 Stage RO/DI filter

    Established February 2012, rebooted 1.5 years ago.

    Maintenance Routine

    • I follow my own KISS method.
    • Weekly-ish 5-6 gallon water changes. I keep my tank bare-bottom and siphon out any detritus that accumulates on the bottom.
    • Feed fish and cleaner shrimp just a couple pinches of pellets every two or three days.
    • About twice a week, I feed the corals with a combination of Reef Chili and Nutri-Cell.
    • Daily manual top-offs for evaporation with fresh RO/DI water.
    • Daily-ish manual dosing of BRS Calcium and Alkalinity.
    • Change carbon once a month or so.


    I'm not rigid on any of these things, but I do pay careful attention to the tank and livestock. If I see algae starting to take off, I'll do some manual removal and a water change. Since I change nearly 20% of my water at once, I feed the tank with micro-food within a day or so of a water change, so my sensitive acros don't suffer from low nutrient shock. I try to keep my tank in balance between having nutrient levels low enough to slightly inhibit the growth of algae (or at least enough that my snails can keep up with most of it), and high enough that my corals are thriving.


    Learning how to balance nutrient levels has been the most challenging part of reefing for me. I used to always suffer from one of two conditions: having too much algae with healthy corals, or a desert of no algae and starving corals. Finally, after four years, I feel I've hit a balance with that, or at least I have consistently for the last eight months or so.


    Monitoring and Testing: I have a temperature probe, which keeps me aware of any swings. Since I top off evaporation manually, I use my refractometer to observe salinity before water changes. SG actually tends to drift occasionally. I don't really test for much anymore aside from Alkalinity, which I do once or twice a week. I keep a somewhat careful eye on Alk and dose Calcium according to Alk. I check Calcium and Magnesium about once every two months or so and generally find them within acceptable parameters. I don't pay any attention to nutrient levels from a test kit basis. Nutrient level evaluation is based on observation of the reef life.


    I recently (about four months ago) switched salt brands from Kent Reef Salt, which I've used for almost the entire life of my aquarium to Reef Crystals. I've seen many of the best reefs maintained with this cheaper salt, and though this was initially a convenience inspired switch, I have to admit I'm amazed by the results. I've been able to maintain Alk and Ca levels much easier and have noticed nice coralline appearing on my rocks as a result (finally... after years of reefing!).


    One additional note on water: Don't neglect to swap out the filters of your RO/DI system periodically. This is especially important with the DI resin that can deplete very quickly depending on your location. It has taken me many years to notice, but there's a solid correlation between the quality of the water coming out of your RO/DI and the amount of algae that can insidiously infect your tank. It's not the most fun thing to purchase in this hobby, but definitely worth the investment. I change DI resin once every six months, carbon and sediment filters once a year (I make it my New Year's project), and RO membrane every two years.


    • 2 Percula Clowns, nearly five years old.
    • 1 Royal Gramma

    SPS Coral

    • Various SPS (Mostly Acropora)

    LPS & Soft Coral

    • Torch Coral
    • Blastos
    • Lots and lots of Acans!
    • One small colony of Zoanthids


    • 5 Bubble Tip Anemones
    • 1 Cleaner Shrimp
    • 10ish Astrea Snails
    • 1 Nassarius Snail


    I started this cube four years ago in my previous apartment, it saw many failures and successes. During the life of my original reef, I experienced and learned from a lot of failures including but not limited to the following: Green Hair Algae, Turf Algae, Bryopsis, Dinoflagelates, Acro Eating Flat Worms, Bacterial Blooms, High Nutrients, Low Nutrients (too low, too fast), cheap equipment, failure to dip corals resulting in pests, poor sump design, lack of a clean-up crew, corals mounted too close to one another, and many more. Probably my biggest mistake was dosing my tank with Hydrogen Peroxide in an attempt to fight algae. Each time I did this it lead to horrible results for all of my acros and anemones that took months to recover from. I don't let that stuff anywhere near my reef anymore.


    In short, my first attempt at this cube was my first try at a reef beyond pico level and it suffered the bulk of my noob level stumbles that I'm slowly working my way out of.


    As for my successes, I tried my hand at many types of corals from soft, to LPS, to SPS. Most importantly, I learned a lot about the corals I like, how they grow, and the space they need. In short, I figured out the minutia of aquascaping in a "nano" environment where space is at a premium. This led me to the conclusion that my aquascape at the time, though attractive, was extremely inefficient.

    It was about this time that I was planning to move to a new apartment. Not having the finances to upgrade to a bigger tank, I decided I would make the most of the tank I had, save the livestock, and essentially start over again with fresh rock and a new aquascape. Hence began Mr. Microscope's Cube 2.0!


    I built another pillar, this time from some Pukani and a few pieces of branch rock with room for corals on all levels (not just the top). It does a slight corkscrew pattern from bottom to top and the whole structure is one solid piece that I can easily move around the tank when I do maintenance. It's kind of funny to see the whole reef, corals and all, move all at once from one side of the tank to the other while I siphon out detritus from the bottom, like moving a couch around to vacuum the dust-bunnies underneath.

    Regrets, Turnarounds, and the Future

    About nine months ago, I hit a wall in this hobby and nearly gave up. It all started with the death of a few prized acros due to a combination of pH swings and a case of the dreaded Acro Eating Flat Worms. On top of that I lost a fish and some of my equipment started failing me.


    Following this disappointment, I began neglecting my tank for a few months, which lead to a pretty severe algae outbreak. It got to the point where I either had to turn it around or jump ship and sell everything off. I realized I couldn't in good conscious sell or even give away livestock that was unhealthy or afflicted with pests. I decided to at least get things back to a point where I could feel confident that anything I got rid of would not be a nuisance to the next reefer.


    I started with a new bucket of salt (Reef Crystals this time), did some large water changes with algae removal, aggressively dipped my acros, and started keeping up with somewhat of a maintenance routine. Ever since then, I've been on cruise control with a considerably easier and simpler maintenance schedule. It took several months to see results, but the tank slowly turned around and corals have never been happier. As a result, I've found a new interest and satisfaction with this hobby as I'm now taking a much more relaxed approach. I don't see stopping any time soon. In a way, my tank now would more accurately be called Mr. Microscope's Cube 2.1 as I've experienced a rebirth of this reload since the new year.


    I'm planning and taking steps for an eventual upgrade or perhaps a fresh start with a 40B. Unlike my previous plans, I've actually made some investments in this future build and you won't see a thread dedicated to it until it's going. It will likely be an acro-focused reef.

    Thoughts On Cleaner Shrimp

    Fish are fun and can have a lot of personality. Corals are beautiful and exceedingly rewarding to grow. A while back however, I acquired a cleaner shrimp and I have to say this little invertebrate has taken on the star roll of my tank.


    Of course, as soon as I dip my hand in the tank, he jumps over to me and goes to work attempting to give me a manicure. He also takes food directly from my hand, which can be a lot of fun. Conversely, one of my clowns started taking to territorial behavior and nipping at my hand whenever I'm in there removing algae. When I used to feed my corals, my shrimp would drive me crazy stealing the food right out of their mouths. Now, however since he's so used to me and immediately jumps on my hand, I have no problem carefully leading him into a basket in my tank for a short time with a few pellets to keep him happy while I feed the rest of the tank.


    When it comes to stocking a tank, don't forget the inverts!

    Words Of Wisdom

    If you're getting into SPS for the first time, give them lots of room, at least three to five inches apart if you can manage it. Don't try to glue five frags on one small rock. Most SPS encrust for quite a while before shooting up any branches. If acros are too close to each other, it will drastically slow down growth.


    Research, research, research, and research some more! Every time and BEFORE you do, add, or change anything with your tank. This has saved me money and livestock many times. It just breaks my heart whenever I see thread to the tone of, "I brought this pretty thing home from the LFS, what is it how do I care for it?" when it's so easy to at least do an Internet search on the subject or check with your favorite reefing forum, *ahem*.


    If you suddenly find yourself loosing interest in your reef, don't fight it. If you try too hard to love something you don't, you'll just drift further away. Give yourself permission to take a break while at least maintaining the bare minimum of your maintenance routine for the good of your livestock. Relax, and it won't be long before something recaptures your passion for reefing.


    Let's face it, failures suck! However, whether it's the loss of livestock, algae growth, pests, or a full-blown crash there's always something to learn. If you can put your ego in check and figure out how you screwed up in the first place and actually take actions to prevent that from happening again, it becomes a solid foundation for improvement. In my profession in the science world, we learn from failures more than anything else. Successful experiments raise more eyebrows than any failed attempt. Embrace your failures. Learn from them. They'll teach you more than any easy bought success.


    Finally, the most challenging aspect of this hobby is the pace at which negative or positive results can happen. When bad things happen fast, the cause is usually obvious. But, when the bad or good things are happening gradually over the course of several months, it's often difficult to pin down the cause or culprit and this offers probably one of the biggest challenges to mastering a reef. Developing a subtle eye for change and learning to "listen" to your livestock is probably the most important skill to learn in reefing.


    I'd like to thank everyone who's inspired me throughout the years and also to everyone who nominated my reef. I'd also like to thank my wife for supporting my reefing efforts throughout the years, and my four-year-old son who often says good morning to the fish, shrimp, and anemones. Three years ago when the first version of this tank was featured, I stated that, "I've learned pretty much everything I know about the hobby from this site and I truly believe Nano-Reef is the best reefing forum." This statement still holds true to this day, and I'd like to give a special shout out to Christopher Marks for maintaining this friendly reefing playground for all of us.


    @Mr. Microscope

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    Congratulations! Beautiful set of photos! I'm glad you included the microscope :) Very thorough and informative writeup too!

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    Congratulations! Thank you for documenting your troubles as well as your successes, you will encourage many aquarists for years to come!

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    Congrats man. :)

    Thank you 4x5!


    One of the best tanks out there, CONGRATS!

    Love them 'cans!

    Thank you Jack! I'm honored you think so. :)


    Congrats! Well deserved and beautiful tank.



    Congrats! Nice to see this one selected.

    Thank you NS!


    Congratulation, Eric! Very well deserved! I was sooo excited to see this today!

    Thank you Felicia! This is what all my :ninja: 's have been about lately. :D


    Thank you Orangutran. Love your Octonauts avatar BTW ;)

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