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  • Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to community member Sancho and his 20 gallon nano reef for being selected for our August 2019 Reef Profile! This soft and LPS dominant nano reef showcases stunning collection of coral, anemones, and gorgonians, all kept with simple all natural filtration. In this article Sancho shares his experiences in the hobby and this aquarium's journey over the past year. Share your comments and questions in the comments section below, and follow his aquarium journal for additional photos, history, and information about this beautiful reef tank.

    Sancho's 20 Gallon Long Nano Reef


    Tank Specs

    Display: Aqueon 20 gallon long 30” x 12” x 12,” stand is an Ikea Kallax shelf unit.

    Rock: Live rock from my previous tanks.

    Sand: CaribSea live sand (Bimini Pink)
    Lighting: 2 Aqua Illumination Primes, one of them is HD the other is not.
    Heater: Colbalt Neotherm (100 watt)
    Circulation: 2 Jebao OW4’s controlled by Aqualink S1 WiFi controllers.
    Skimmer: None
    Filtration: SeaChem Tidal 55 hang on back filter.
    Filter Media: inTank filter floss is on auto order from Amazon and changed every few days. As for other media it really depends on the water condition. Was using Chemipure Blue but switched to ROX 0.8 carbon and will run Purigen when needed. 
    Top Off: Tunze Osmolator 3155 with a super fancy 2.5 gallon old salt bucket as my water reservoir.
    Dosing: None. I dosed in the past using both ESV 2 part and Brightwell Reefcode A-B, but honestly I wasn’t testing and was seeing swings in my water parameters so I discontinued dosing and now depend on regular water changes.
    Controller: Apex Jr. I don’t really utilize it for its full potential, I just like to turn my pumps on and off from my phone when doing maintenance, it’s also set up to shut off the heater if there is a malfunction.



    Established May 2018

    Maintenance Routine

    I keep it pretty basic. Sancho Jr. helps with scrubbing the glass daily and he does a pretty good job of returning any run away snails back to the tank. I survey the tank every morning to make sure all is still alive and there is nothing out of the ordinary that requires immediate attention. When feeding I dose live phytoplankton daily, I’ve found it reduces the occurrence of dinoflagellates and provides food for my corals. I feed my corals nightly and am currently using Benepets Bene-Reef, I will occasionally add Oyster Feast to the mix as well. Every few days I’ll toss a cube of various frozen foods in for the fish, crabs, shrimps, anemones and any other critters in there that may be hungry.




    Sundays are water change days, I do a 90% water change, stir the sand bed a bit and refill my ATO with fresh RODI water. Every few days I replace the filter floss and clean out the filter. Testing… well I should probably test more than I do, but I’ve grown complacent and at this point and I only break out the test kits when something seems off. As for deep cleaning, I run the power heads and filter pump in vinegar every few months and break them down to clean the impellers.


    • Picasso Clownfish

    • Orchid Dottyback

    • Yellow Watchman Goby

    • Yellow Clown Goby

    • Warpaint Goby

    • Rainford Goby 

    Soft Coral

    • Various Zoanthids (full disclosure: I can’t keep up with the fancy names, so I could be wrong)

      • Utter Chaos

      • Rastas

      • Bam Bams

      • Blue Angels 

      • A few others that I can’t identify.

    • Mushrooms

      • Iron Man

      • Sunkist Bounce 

      • Ricordia Florida

      • Superman mushroom

      • Green mushroom 

    • Gorgonians

      • Red Finger

      • Purple Sea Rod 

      • Corky Sea Finger

    • Spider Sponge

    • Green Sinularia

    • Kenya Tree

    • Toadstool Leather 

    • Green Star Polyps

    • Clove Polyps

    LPS Corals

    • Various Micromussa AKA Acans

    • Plate Coral

    • Lobo Coral 

    • Candy Cane Coral

    • Flower Pot Coral 

    • Hammer Corals

    • Sun Corals

    SPS Coral

    • None - Me and SPS don’t get along well.


    • 2 Emerald Crabs

    • Peppermint Shrimp

    • Cleaner Shrimp

    • Limpets

    • Bristleworms

    • Standard 20 gallon cleanup crew from Reef Cleaners with various snails and hermit crabs.


    • Rock Flower Anemones

    • Green Bubble Tip Anemone 

    • Maxi Mini Anemone

    • Aiptasia 😄


    Day one.jpg
    Day One


    I’ve had a glass box with water and some form of fish or coral in it since the early 90’s. I’ve had everything from planted fresh water tanks to an octopus tank. Some were amazing while others were absolute failures. My first attempt at a reef tank involved a carnation coral, live rock, and advice from the LFS that the coral needed a ton of light. So off I went with the new $25 carnation coral and $1000 worth of metal halide fixtures. Needless to say, that didn’t end well. Back then there were no online forums, and by the time I was able to find a book on corals it was too late. So after that I kept a large FOWLR and dabbled with keeping anemones and clownfish; after several failures I gave up. I took a bit of a hiatus from the hobby, but then I found a Biocube at a LFS and figured I’d give it another go. That’s when I caught the nano reef bug. That was 15 years ago. Since then I have had a few different tanks. The Biocube was upgraded to a 34 gallon Solana and my 8 gallon tank was upgraded to a Pico Tanks 20 gallon long.


    Starting to add coral


    In 2018 My Solana had a seam leak. I was able to transfer the anemones and a few of the corals to my Pico Tanks 20 gallon, but everything else was donated to the local fish store. A couple months later I get a phone call from my wife while at work and she says “your fish tank is leaking water from the front and back.” She was able to get everything into Home Depot buckets; however, by the time I got home what was in the buckets was not looking good. I was not expecting to buy a new tank nor was it in the budget so I went to the local Petco and picked up a cheap 20 gallon long to try to salvage what was still alive. Unfortunately most of my livestock did not survive the transfer. The tank went through a cycle and I lost almost all the corals and all the fish with the exception of the orchid dottyback and my cleaner shrimp. I was pretty devastated and almost called it quits.


    January 2019


    This current tank 20 gallon tank was not intended to be permanent, and came about out of need to try to rescue what was in my leaking tank. My intention was to order a nice new rimless tank, but I started adding to this tank and realized I didn’t need a fancy AIO tank and I could spend the money on adding corals to this tank instead. I’ve made a few changes to the tank since I started it. I haven’t had a lid on any of my tanks for years but had a few fish jump, so I finally made a lid for the tank a couple weeks ago. Personally I don’t like the look of a screen or lid on a tank, but I am now very happy I made the lid. In the beginning I was using a protein skimmer, but I didn’t like the look of it in the display and it was constantly making micro bubbles, so I removed it and have really not seen any negative impact of running the tank without a skimmer. The one small and very inexpensive upgrade that had the biggest impact to the look of the tank was the application of a black vinyl background; I should have done it on day one.


    March 2019


    There are so many beautiful tanks out there and I find inspiration from many people on this site and Instagram. I hope to continue to add to this tank for years to come and at this point I do not have any plans to upgrade or buy another tank. The only regret I have is purchasing that orchid dottyback; it’s a huge bully and picks on all the fish in the tank. I’m a bit attached to that fish since it the sole survivor of the old tank, but I think I am finally going to re-home it this weekend and replace it with something that is not as aggressive.


    May 2019

    Words of Wisdom

    Keep it simple. This is a hobby not a full time job. Research new additions and don’t let failures and issues discourage you. Learn from your mistakes as you would with anything life brings you.

    Advice For New Hobbyists

    Buy an RO/DI system! It’s one of the most overlooked but yet one of the most important pieces of equipment to maintain stable water parameters. Also join a local club, FB group or forum and lean on them for advice, assistance, and livestock purchases. Most importantly use this forum; this is an awesome community that has some amazing people who are always willing to help. 

    Thoughts On...

    • Lighting Technology
      Lighting has really come a long way since I started this hobby. We had two choices back then: metal halides or fluorescent fixtures. Both were extremely inefficient, and metal halides generated a great deal of heat, in most cases requiring the addition of a chiller to maintain water temperature. I have embraced the onset of the LEDs because of the controllability, low power consumption, and low heat transfer to the tank. Like all aquarium gear, lighting can be done on a budget and also super ridiculously expensive. I’ve successfully grown and kept corals on both the budget end of the spectrum and the super expensive. At the end of the day light photons are light photons, as long as the spectrum and the PAR output is sufficient for what you are trying to keep, it’s really a personal preference at this point. I look at it like this: some folks like to drive a new Ferrari every year, while others prefer a 10 year old Prius. I’m kind of in the lower middle end and am happy with my 3 year old VW. With that said, is it necessary to buy the latest and greatest full feature light? Absolutely not. There are so many options out there right now and most will do the job. Yeah the lower priced models may not make clouds, thunderstorms, or recreate the sunrise and sunset in Fiji, but for the most part they will grow coral.
    • Skimmers
      They are not needed in a nano reef, but are a great addition to any tank’s filtration system; the additional aeration and ability to remove fish poo is a good thing.
    • Sand Beds
      Not needed but in a nano tank I think the additional ability to retain beneficial bacteria is a good thing for long term success of a small tank. That and I personally think a tank doesn’t look natural without one.
    • Dosing and Feeding
      For my tank I don’t believe dosing is necessary. I do weekly water changes and my water test are usually very consistent. As for feeding, a few times a week for the fish and daily for some NPS corals.
    • Aquaculture
      There have been great strides in this field and I believe it’s the future of this hobby. People like Walt Smith have done great things in the world of aquaculture and rebuilding some of what’s been destroyed in our natural reefs. Technology has improved 100 fold since I started in this hobby many years ago. I think it’s important for us as hobbyists to also be protectors, lobbyists, and conservators of what is left out there in the ocean. So many fish, corals, and even live rock are now available from aquaculture facilities. Most of what we have in our tanks reproduces and I think it’s important to share, trade, and sell these corals and other livestock with others in the community. Our coral reefs are depleting at an alarming rate right now due to many factors and I want to do my part to help conserve them for generations to come. Spending a little extra for an aqua-cultured fish or coral is a small step in discouraging some of the terrible practices that are used to collect some specimens.
    • Foods
      Definitely needed; everything needs to eat. I like to provide my fish family a variety but will provide what is needed based on the diet of my livestock.
    • Coral Fads
      Meh, they just lead to overpriced corals. Buy what you like and what looks good and works in your tank.
    • Cleanup Crews
      Add them once you get diatoms and replenish as needed; they are a necessary part of your little eco system. Reef Cleaners is probably the best resource out there for getting the right cleanup crew for your tank.


    I want to give thanks to Christopher Marks for creating this amazing community. Most forums are way too moderated for me and tend to look down on people that have smaller tanks. It was refreshing to find this place and not be bashed for keeping a tank under 30 gallons. I also have no filter and was banned from other sites so to be completely honest the lawnmans lounge, now named the “Bad News Bar & Spirit Lounge,” was really what brought me in here. I’ve been a long time member of this site and some of the friendships I’ve made will last a lifetime. Over the years I have learned so much from this site and many of the members, but I want to give a special thanks to @jack1978 @Lawnman @shaneandjohn @ParticipationTrophyWife @spectra and @banasophia as they all contributed something to make my tank what it is today. Most importantly I want to thank Mrs. Sancho for putting up with my crazy hobby and tending to my tank while I'm away on business.



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    Well done! I've admired this tank since I first joined this forum, and I'm happy to see it honored as TOTM. 😊

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    The tank looks fantastic.

    Really enjoyed reading your totm. 


    You have been through quite a lot but you stuck in there and the results are great😁

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