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  • Illumin-8

    Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to community member Illumin-8 and her 8 gallon nano reef for being selected for our December 2019 Reef Profile! This little nano reef is simply packed with life, showing off a particularly impressive collection of zoanthids and palythoa mixed with numerous LPS and SPS corals. In this article Illumin-8 shares her experiences in the hobby and this aquarium's journey over the past two plus years. Share your comments and questions in the comments section below, and be sure to follow her aquarium journal for additional photos, history, and information about this beautiful nano reef tank.

    Illumin-8's 8 Gallon Zoanthid & Palythoa Dominant Nano Reef


    Tank Specs

    Display: Innovative Marine NUVO Nano-8 – 11.81” x 12.2” x 12.2” – 8 Gallons (30.2 liters)
    Rock: Zombie rock (old, dry live rock from a bin in the backyard)
    Sand: 2” of CaribSea Figi Pink Live Sand
    Lighting: Ecotech Radion XR15w G4 Pro - Coral Lab LPS/Soft sub-template @ 40% peak brightness/27% peak intensity – 9 hour light cycle
    Heater: Finnex 50W digital heater
    Chiller: No-name, clip-on double fan
    Circulation: Return: Innovative Marine AIO approx. 300GPH – Powerhead: Ecotech VorTech MP10 @ 2/12 Reef Crest Random
    Skimmer: Innovative Marine Aqua gadget SkimMate
    Filtration: None
    Filter Media: None
    Top Off: DIY

    Dosing: None
    Controller: Neptune Systems Apex Jr. for over-temp safety (77.0°F < cooling fan < 77.5°F, lights and heater off at 79°F)

    Misc.: Ecotech battery backup for the MP10, DJ Switch box: ATO, Return, and skimmer

    Established October 2017

    Maintenance Routine


    I feed the tank every other day.

    • Broadcast Feed: 1/16 teaspoon of Reef Roids, 1/8 tsp of Fauna Marine Ultra Ricordia/Zoanthus Food, ¼ tsp spirulina flake
    • Hand Feed: Thaw one cube of small Mysis shrimp, and use long tweezers to feed one Mysis at a time to fish and LPS until clown fish is full


    • End Of Day: clean glass, lightly turkey baste everything (on non-feeding days)
    • Weekly: 1 gallon water change with lab-grade DI H2O and Tropic Marine Pro Reef salt (2 gal if vacuuming sand)
    • Monthly: Vacuum sand, disassemble and clean skimmer and MP10 wet side
    • Bi-yearly: Clean return pump


    • Monthly: check salinity with calibrated refractometer (SG 1.024 - 1.025)
    • Very rarely (yearly?): Hana checkers for Phosphate, Alkalinity, and Calcium
    • Last test results (Oct-2019): Phosphate 0ppm*, Alk 75ppm (4.2 dKH), Calcium 495ppm
      * Phosphate is 0 because I have some stubborn hair algae growing in the low flow areas.


    Lightning Maroon Clownfish (Premnas biaculeatus) aka Pig fish, Tail Spot Blenny (Ecsenius stigmatura), Neon Blue Goby (Elacatinus oceanops) – originally thought the goby was a cleaner wrasse, but nope (mind blown).

    Soft Coral

    Green Murder Rhodactis (Rhodactis illkay allay the oralcay), Electric Bugaloo Rhodactis, Interstellar Discosoma, Blue dot Discosoma, Green Nepthea (Litophyton sp.), multiple Zoanthus and Palythoa.

    • Here’s the mostly exhaustive Z&P list by tank area:
      • Top rock: Bam Bams, Solar Flares, Rastas, Warrior Shields, Jokers, Eagle Eyes, no-name green/gold Paly (a complete loner...for two whole years…so weird)
      • Lower left: Electric Oompa Loompas, Space Chaos, Alien Anti-venoms, Blue Hornets, WWC Twizzlers. Red Hornets, GB Butt Kissers, LC Petroglyphs, Gobstoppers, Chong Bongs, OG Hallucinations, Boston Golds, LC Hornets, Smurf Blues, Blow Pops, Emeralds On Fire, CB White Zombies
      • Lower right: WOWs, Omegas, Rainbow Incinerators, Pink Zippers, UC Outkasts, Blue Hornets, Flame Skirts, Blue Lagoons, WWC Purple Monsters, OG Yodas
      • Misc.: Fruit Loops, OG Mary Janes

    LPS Coral

    Three Rainbow Acan Lords (Micromussa lordhowensis) and a Holy Grail UFO Micromussa that eats as much as Pig fish, Purple/gold Galaxea (Galaxea fascicularis), Favites (Favites pentagona), ASD Watermelon chalice (Echinophyllia aspera), Multiple Cyphastrea (Cyphastrea sp.): WWC Bizarro, PPE, JF Energizer, Skittles Bomb, ARC Monet Madness, LC Blizzard, and a Rainbow Torch (Euphyllia glabrescens) which was my first purchased frag (Nov-2017)

    SPS Coral

    Tri-color Poci (Pocillopora damicornis)**, Pink Stylo (Stylophora pistillata), Tri-color Birdsnest (Seriatopora sp.), Surf & Turf Acro (Acropora loisettae), ORA Pearlberry (Acorpora ooklay like oopay), Green Digi (Montipora digitata), Grafted Monti Cap (Montipora capricornis), Burning Banana and Looney Tunes Stylos (Stylocoeniella sp.)


    3 blue legged Hermits crabs (Clibanarius tricolor), 1 Nassarius snail (Nassarius sp.), 2 Cerith snails (Cerithium sp.), cool hitch hikers (unknown): bi-valve, filter worm, Red-Hell hair worms


    2017 was a weird year. It started with an unplanned job upgrade that resulted in me and my favorite colleague wreaking havoc on a well-established manufacturing line (less like Laverne & Shirley and more like Simone Giertz). The Oatmeal’s “1, 2, 3….Death!” became our battle cry so obviously we needed a Mantis shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus) as an office mascot. A Google search turned up Nano-Reef, Natalia La Loca’s Pico Bowl was at the top of the Posts List, and the idea for a small office tank was hatched. Luckily my husband talked me out of the mantis shrimp, offered to teach me reef stuff, and helped me set up his old office tank. This wonderful man has been in the reef hobby for 25+ years, and very generously shares/shared lessons from his ups and downs. He’s also had a very large reef tank for the 100 or so years we’ve been together. I however, have zero reef experience, am incredibly twitchy, and was/am generally forbidden from touching anything other than tech-y type stuff on his tank.

    Okay, back to the little tank: We snuck the tank, zombie rock, water, and gadgets into work on a Saturday; then filled up, plugged in, and started the cycle with a dime size chunk of frozen clam. It was pretty entertaining come Monday. To my organization’s credit, management was totally onboard and thought the whole thing was fascinating. After 14-ish days of boringness and nitrate testing, the cycle was complete and the Hubs again came to the rescue with the very first frags including the Green Murder Mushrooms that are still in the tank.


    Green Rhodactis aka Murder Mushroom


    The little tank has had some setbacks along the way: my heater thermostat quit on Christmas 2017 and cooked the tank to 82 degrees. Luckily I had to run in to work and noticed things were ugly. Luckier yet, there was a functioning ice maker and some plastic bags nearby to get the tank cooled down quickly.


    ** Time to drop some Poci learnings: when it’s cooked like a Christmas goose, it will likely evacuate polyps everywhere. Plan for the a-Poci-lypse: Poci in the overflow, Poci in the rear chambers, Poci on the rocks, Poci on the glass, Poci on the thermometer… you get the Poci-ture. Poci-plus: it recovers really well from stress and can grow in all light and flow conditions.


    Overflow Poci


    Other setbacks have mostly been due to the five desk moves around the office and the differences in light and heat from being near or far from windows, vents, etc. Hermit crabs are also troublemakers and have knocked plenty of corals into the patch of Murder Mushrooms. (To date, the Murder Mushrooms are 4 and 0 versus other corals.)


    There have been many, many more successes than failures: looking back through pictures, it is amazing how much everything has grown and how much life can co-exist in approximately one cubic foot of water.


    November 2018


    Jump to summer 2019, and more work changes are afoot. The tank is chugging along, producing Poci and Zoas at an impressive rate. Animal habitats, however, are officially barred from the HQ site. The tank’s move home went really well (8 gallons can travel: Glad Stick and Seal across the top and a nice stable floorboard to sit on), and the little tank is happily settled into home life.



    November 27, 2019


    The move home has been especially fun. The similarities between 8-gallons of mostly Zoas and 165+ gallons of gigantic SPS colonies (the Hubs’ tank) were very surprising. The water change proportion and frequency are pretty similar, the feeding schedule is pretty similar, and I swear his fish know when I have extra food from my tank for them to snack on. The Hubs’ Watchman Goby (Valenciennea puellaris) can be a real ham, distracting the other fish while all the small Mysis blow into his hidey hole.


    The best part of having the little tank at home though has been asking All. The. Questions, and blatantly mimicking my husband’s reef skills. The Hubs does not ever chase parameters, does water changes on the regular, and always uses high quality salt and DI H2O. I’ve tried to do the same, and he’s definitely right (just don’t tell him 😉 ), good housekeeping and quality ingredients are keys to success.




    Bonus points to the NanoReef member who spots the Poci from the 8 gallon.

    Thoughts On...

    • Lighting
      Upgrading the light from an ATI Tuna Blue to the Radion has been like a light switch (heh heh) for coral growth in this little tank. Ecotech’s Coral Lab downloads are fascinating and were very helpful when choosing from infinite channel settings. Since the Radion ended up being 5” from the water, the corals at the top of the tank benefitted from adding a diffuser (as did my eyes). Long term, I wonder what the effects of my exposure to intense UV light from the Radion will be – I spend a lot of time with my face in the light spill-over zone. Also, why do they never seem go on sale?


    • Skimmers
      Skimming has worked well for this tank. There’s a lot of critter poo that needs to be removed from the water, and the SkimMate does an awesome job of removing organics and aerating the water. Plus I like fiddling with stuff, so the super-fiddly SkimMate keeps me from messing with the tank inhabitants too much. Pro-tip from my husband: research your skimmers thoroughly (on NanoReef of course), and don’t be afraid to upgrade along the way.


    • Reef Tank Automation
      As an automation engineer, automation is fantastic! (wink) For the 8 gallon, automation has reduced the risk of errors: the salinity is consistent thanks to the ATO, the tank being located in a warm spot is no longer a problem thanks to the chilling fan and Apex Jr., no coral shall ever be cooked again thanks to the redundant over-temp protection on the heater, light, and Apex Jr., and power outages are no trouble thanks to the battery backup. Automation has helped this little tank stay stable over the last two years, and has been worth every penny for the peace of mind.


    • Sandbeds
      Going to a bare bottom setup is looking more and more attractive. Tanks like @teenyreef’s IM-10 and @caas1496’s Paly Peninsula are a constant source of real-estate jealousy with those carpets of Zoas. My question is where do all the sand critters live in bare bottom tanks? In the rocks? Underneath the Zoas? Seriously, where do the Red-Hell-Nightmare hair worms live?


    • Foods
      Mysis juice = algae outbreaks! Plus it’s smelly, floats, and is generally yucky – even Pig fish swims away from it. I try to minimize how much goes into my tank.


    @Christopher Marks, thank you so incredibly much for making this community a reliable, technical resource for reef keeping. The amount of easily accessible knowledge in this forum is unprecedented, and the quality of tanks described on this site is so inspiring. @natalia_la_loca, @Polarcollision, @Cannedfish, and @teenyreef, thank you for letting me creep on your tanks and threads. You gals/guys are geniuses.


    @AquaSD deserves a special shout out. Will, Ramon, and Ivan, thank you for helping this tank turn into a little gem. You guys always have the best advice and it is so much fun to stop by and drool into the display troughs. Also, @Legendary Corals and Cherry Corals, you guys are awesome to buy from!


    Finally, thank you to my husband. I love you and appreciate you being a good sport about me copying all your hobbies. ❤️ 




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    @Christopher Marks, thank you so incredibly much for this profile! It is humbling to be a part of the beautiful tanks in Nano-Reef's featured collection of incredible reef tanks. There are not enough thank you's to describe what you do for this community. Our successes are all helped by your hard work and dedication. Nano-Reef, and all of us, are so lucky that you are here. 💖


    In the wise words of Wayne Campbell (aka Mike Neyers), "We're not worthy....we're not worthy!"  :bowdown:

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    Congratulations!!!! I love this tank, and you did a fantastic job on the write up, too. :flower:

    Note: I have very few Hairworms from Hell in my 10g since going bare bottom. I don't miss them :rolleyes:

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    Aww thank you! ☺️


    I'm so glad we could feature you and your nano reef and share your journey! Keep up the good work, this is a real living masterpiece.

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    8 minutes ago, teenyreef said:

    Congratulations!!!! I love this tank, and you did a fantastic job on the write up, too. :flower:

    Note: I have very few Hairworms from Hell in my 10g since going bare bottom. I don't miss them :rolleyes:

    Thank you so much Teeny! Your tanks are so inspiring - and I absolutely adore your IM-10. That digi in the middle...:wub: If you ever change your mind about the hair worms, let me know. I've got plenty. 😉 

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    I remember happening across your journal a few months ago and remarking on how wonderful everything looked and how full and complete your system is. Very well done and well deserved! 😁🙏🍻

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    2 hours ago, Frag Factory said:

    Fantastic tank!


    1 hour ago, billygoat said:

    I remember happening across your journal a few months ago and remarking on how wonderful everything looked and how full and complete your system is. Very well done and well deserved! 😁🙏🍻


    Awww, thank you both for the kind words! 

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    2 hours ago, WV Reefer said:

    Congrats!! 😊


    1 hour ago, Dirté Sanchez said:

    The colors are amazing! Gorgeous tank!

    Thank you both so much! I'm cracking up reading about the Brute squad 13.5 right now. Dirte and WV Reefer, you two are funny, funny folks!

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