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  • Justind823

    Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to community member Justind823 and his 17 gallon nano reef for being selected for our May 2019 Reef Profile! This stunning reef aquarium began as a rebirth of its predecessor that was lost during the devastating Sonoma County wildfires in October 2017, turning an unfortunate setback into an opportunity to improve. In this article Justind823 shares his experiences in the hobby and this aquarium's journey over the past year and a half. Share your comments and questions in the comments section below, and follow his aquarium journal for additional photos, history, and information about this ingenious reef tank.

    Justind823's 17 Gallon Nano Reef Cube Rebirth


    Tank Specs

    Display: AquaMaxx Cube Low-Iron Rimless Aquarium - 16.9 Gallons

    Sump: Mr. Aqua 7.5 Gallon 12" x 12" x 12" sectioned off with front display

    Rock: Real Reef Rock

    Sand: CaribSea Fiji Pink

    Lighting: NanoBox Mini Tide

    Heater: 2X Eheim Jager 150W

    Circulation: VorTech MP10QD, Reef Octopus VarioS-2

    Skimmer: None

    Filtration: None

    Filter Media: Brightwell XPort BIO-Plate

    Top Off: AutoAqua Smart Micro ATO

    Dosing: Kalkwasser in ATO

    Controller: Digital Aquatics RKL



    Established December, 2017

    Maintenance Routine

    As with all of my tanks, my goal is to keep everything as low maintenance and automated as possible.


    When it comes to testing, I make sure to test alkalinity at least once a week. I keep a tank journal and record measurement results as well as my water change schedule. That way, if something is looking off in the tank, I can refer back to my journal.


    Every week, I change two gallons of water, mixed to 35ppt. Lately, because my tank has matured, it has been closer to every two weeks. My Eheim auto feeder supplies the tank with Ocean Nutrition Formula One flakes once daily and I usually feed strained, frozen Marine Cuisine before a water change.


    • ORA Percula Clownfish Pair

    • ORA Sharknose Goby

    Soft Corals

    • Green Florida Ricordea

    • Yellow Fiji Leather

    • Assorted Zoanthids

    • Vargas Cespitularia

    LPS Corals

    • Acanthastrea

    • Blastomussa

    • Duncan Coral

    • Frogspawn

    SPS Corals

    • ORA Digitata


    • ORA Maxima Clam

    • Pom Pom Crab

    • Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp


    I must be lucky! For those of you who read my previous TOTM, I’ve already had a tank endure a natural disaster when it cracked during an earthquake about six years ago. I had to start completely from scratch and ended up building out an Eheim 9G that was ultimately featured as TOTM in 2014. Now I can talk about how a natural disaster wiped out my 9G – this time it was a wildfire!


    During the October 2017 Sonoma wildfires, my wife and I were evacuated from our home for two weeks. We were out of town when the fire started so we really never had an opportunity to grab the most important things.



    July 2017 – Old 9 gallon nano reef 3 months before the wildfire


    Unfortunately for my aquarium, the power was off the whole time. We were lucky to return home to a standing house but, sadly, everything in my tank had perished. I remember I didn’t want to look at my aquarium when we came home for the first time. My thoughts went to all of those days watching over my growing sea creatures and taking the time to keep everything under control. Many of those coral and fish I had for years and I didn’t want to face all of them dead in my living room. But... the smell alone would not let me ignore it! After struggling through cleaning out the 9G, I knew I couldn’t go very long without setting up a new tank.


    Since I had to start over, I wanted to take the opportunity to upgrade to a 17G cube. My vision was to use as much of the existing equipment as possible while also improving the ease of maintenance. This can be difficult when reusing such a small stand for a larger tank, so I started from the ground up. I reused my DIY cube sump because I really like the display front section. Since it is a small sump with small chambers, it can be hard to clean thoroughly. I thought, why not try to turn it in to a 'pull-out sump' to streamline the deep cleaning process? With this in mind, I made sure to add disconnects on all of the plumbing and built in heavy duty drawer slides underneath the sump shelf. Another thing I wanted to make happen was a DC return pump so I could fine-tune the flow and keep the tank as quiet as possible.



    Pull-out Display Sump Construction


    When I repurposed the IKEA locker as my stand many years ago, I never took the time to make the inside what I wanted it to be. My goals were to keep the wiring tidy by making a box to hide them and create a clean look with a fresh coat of white paint.


    I missed the ease of a normal overflow when I was using the glass MAME overflow on my old system. The cleaning of the glass became a chore. I was also never 100% confident in its restart process, even though it never gave me trouble. For this, the sleek look of the Eshopps overflow fit my needs perfectly.



    1 Month Old

    Inspirations & Goals

    My main goal with livestock was to keep it as sustainable as possible. I started with Real Reef Rock and tried my best to add only captive-bred coral, fish and invertebrates. My initial aquascape included a rock cave, but over time I ended up back at my usual two towers look. In my mind, I wonder if I should have stuck with the cave but I suppose everyone is their own biggest critic. I knew I had to include the coral I always missed that was lost in my move to Northern California – the yellow Fiji leather.


    I was also excited about all the fish possibilities with the extra swimming space in my 17G. I landed on two ORA clownfish. I was resisting the clownfish for years because of all the hype, but I realized there is a reason for that. They are very entertaining to watch and they add a lot of character to a tank. The ORA Sharknose Goby was a new fish for me too. Turns out that goby is more of a character than both clownfish combined with his incessant desire to keep the clownfish sparkling clean!



    6 Months Old


    I think properly planning out all of these things in advance, and having a vision for what I wanted has made this one of my most successful builds to date.

    Future Plans

    My goal is to keep this tank as simple as possible for as long as I can. However, that will inevitably change as the coral grows. In the next few weeks I will upgrade the tank lighting with a NanoBox Duo to improve light coverage. I noticed that some corals are beginning to shade others as a result of the growth in the tank, and to address this, I’m thinking it would be helpful to have two points of light instead of one.



    11 Months Old


    I’m also very interested in overhauling my Reef Keeper Lite aquarium controller in the future. I’ve had it for many years and it’s pretty outdated at this point. I would like to upgrade to either an Apex or a GHL controller so I can add an automated alkalinity monitor.

    Words of Wisdom

    • Keep it as simple or as complicated as you like, just never let it turn into a chore!
    • Always dip your corals for pests! I came across a large euphyllia-eating polyclad flatworm laying eggs all over my hammer coral. If I hadn’t caught it in time, an infestation like that could have done some serious damage to my mini reef.
    • Pay attention to your tank’s inhabitants. You can catch a disaster before it happens simply by knowing your livestock well and noticing when it is stressed.

    Tips & Tricks

    • I love using a tea ball infuser to strain my frozen foods. I put a cube in the basket and let it defrost in a cup of RODI. Then open it up and dump it in the tank.
    • Security cameras are pretty cheap nowadays and are great for checking in on your tank during those long trips away from home.

    Thoughts On Aquaculture

    With the state of our planet and our reefs, it is more important than ever to pay attention to what we are purchasing. Try your best to buy captive-bred animals to reduce our impact on the wild, there are more captive-bred species available than ever before.


    We also need to take responsibility for these animals that we keep in our homes. With the rate climate is changing, we may one day find that some of these animals will no longer have a place in the wild.


    Firstly, I’d like to thank my neighbor, Elaine, for rescuing our cat when the wildfires broke out – it was one less pet to worry about during that time. Thank you to my wife, Caroline, who encouraged me to start this build after losing it all and for changing my tank water when I’m away on long work trips. I also want to thank everyone on Nano-Reef for making this community a great place for all reefers and to Christopher Marks for creating this space for us.



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    Wow, beautiful aquarium! I really like the features you added to the stand as well! That's really strong of you to move through disasters like that. 

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    Beautiful aquarium.  O my, I can't believe having to start over due to a natural disaster but to do that twice is insane!

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    Congrats on tank of the month and a beautiful tank.  Recovering from a disaster is bittersweet.  I lost my tank in a hurricane and it is hard to recover.  I hope to have a tank that is half as nice as yours one day soon.

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    Love the focus on sustainability and preservation at the end-- thank you for calling that out!  Beautiful tank, clearly well-deserved. Congratulations!

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    Congratulations. You have a beautiful tank. I really appreciate that you support sustainability. You have certainly overcome some set backs but came out on the other side in victory.


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    Awesome tank!  It is amazing to hear about coming back/rebuilding from two different natural disasters too!  Congrats on TOTM again!

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