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  • Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to community member xM3THODx and his 20 gallon long nano reef for being selected for our November 2019 Reef Profile! This incredible SPS-forward mixed community reef tank is absolutely bursting with life! In this article xM3THODx shares his experiences in the hobby and this aquarium's journey over the past two years. Share your comments and questions in the comments section below, and follow his aquarium journal for additional photos, history, and information about this amazing nano reef tank.

    xM3THODx's 20 Gallon Long Mixed Nano Reef


    Tank Specs

    Display: Aqueon Standard 20 gallon long, Dimensions: 30" x 12" x 12". Purchased from Petco $1/gallon sale.

    Rock: 12lbs of Real Reef Rock, Cherry-picked from my LFS.
    Sand: 1/2inch layer of fine to medium coarse sand. Free from a reefer on my local forum.
    Lighting: 24” Euphotica Brand LED Fixture was used in the first 11 months of the system and was from my previous setup. An upgrade to the Illumagic Blaze X-60 LED fixture was made in Nov 2018. I also use ReefBrite XHO Blue as a supplement that has been used since the tank's initial set up.
    Heating: 150 watt Eheim, will be replaced with a titanium heater soon.
    Cooling: A small desk fan is used to keep the tank cool during heatwaves.
    Circulation: 2 IceCap 1k Gyre Pumps opposing each other. Both bought used from local reefers. Jecod DCT-4000 Sump return.
    Skimmer: Bubble Magus Curve 5. Set to run for 8 hours from 9pm-5am
    Filtration: 20 gallon glass sump with three chambers (bought from a Thrift store along with the skimmer for $50).

    • First chamber holds the skimmer, custom acrylic box for the overflow.
    • Second chamber has an 8x8x4 Marine Pure Ceramic Block, 2 lbs of Ecosystems Miracle Mud.
    • The third chamber is where the Jecod DCT-4000 return pump is along with frag plugs.

    Filter Media

    • For mechanical filtration I utilize a dual-layer filter floss a.k.a. Pinky filter floss in a couple of places in the sump. A piece where the water overflows to and another in between the baffles before the second chamber.
    • For chemical filtration, I sparingly use Marineland Activated carbon maybe 1 tablespoon at a time and changed every week or completely remove it from the system for months. 

    Chaeto Reactor: Made with a general media reactor filled with chaetomorpha algae. 12hr reverse photoperiod from 7pm-7am.
    Top Off: 

    • I have two top off systems set up. This is where my system gets a little elaborate… The first and main top off system consists of Kalkwasser at full strength, 2 tsp/gallon held in a 6 gallon container and dosed by Bulk Reef Supply’s 50ml/min doser then connected to a Reefkeeper Lite controller (no longer in business). The controller allows me to set the dosing frequency to within seconds of each other. The idea was to dose kalkwasser in a safe controlled manner without the worry of an alk spike a typical ato would cause.
    • How it works… Plain RO/DI water was used in the initial setup and testing. I observed the tank's daily evaporation rate during winter when it’s the highest and adjusted the dosing frequency to match. For example, the doser would run for 5 seconds every 1 minute. When I got it really close to matching the evaporation rate, I then started mixing kalkwasser in weaker strengths first, .5 tsp/ gallon working my way up to full strength. This total process took me months to perfect and has been running smoothly since. Presently it takes about 2 weeks to go through 6 gallons of kalk.
    • The second ATO is the typical ato and controlled with the Tunze Nano Osmolator 3152 connected to a 2 gallon reservoir filled with RO/DI.


    The tank began with BRS 3part... Alkalinity, Calcium, and Magnesium. As my corals grew bigger, the demand for Alk and Calc dosages naturally increased, so much that I needed an alternative. In Sept 2018, I switched to Tropic Marin’s Carbocalcium, which is described as Kalkwasser on steroids. It’s a product similar to kalkwasser in a way that the Alk and Calc are both in one solution.

    Controller: Digital Aquatics Reefkeeper Lite (discontinued). Mainly used as a timer for certain equipment such as ReefBrites, protein skimmer, kalkwasser ato and controls the heater through its temperature probe.





    Established December 2017

    Maintenance Routine

    Fish Feeding

    Fish are fed at least once a day but twice a day most days with Reef Nutrition TDO, Ocean Nutrition Flakes and occasionally with FrozenPE Mysis or Brine Shrimp.

    Coral Feeding

    Every night with a mix of Benepets Benereef and PolypLab Reefroids, just a pinch of each. With all the pumps for 10 minutes off, I use a turkey baster to lightly spot feed the LPS, zoas and SPS. Then I let the Gyre pumps turn on and keep the return pump off for another 10 min, so the food is broadcasted all over.  


    Every Wednesday and Saturday I feed the Lps heavier with Coral Frenzy .5mm pellet food along with the Benereef/Reefroids mix. 


    I’m also currently testing Brightwell’s Coral Amino at .5ml/day at night, and then Aquavitro Fuel at 4ml/day in the morning. I have been dosing with Two Little Fishies Acropower this past year with what appears to be good success until I ran out, giving me a chance to try another product that has great reviews.

    Tank Maintenance

    Immediately after the coral heavy feeding days, I set up Microbubble scrubbing, turkey baster the rockscape and around the sand, clean the glass of algae and let the bubble scrub run until the morning. Filter pad changes are made and a half-gallon water change is done the following morning. I simply mix new saltwater to 35ppt and slowly pour into the first chamber of the sump.


    The Chaeto macro algae growth in the DIY reactor is monitored and harvested, cleaned approximately every 3-4 weeks.


    Gyres are soaked in water and vinegar solution and cleaned every month or two depending on the amount of coralline and algae growth.


    Tropic Marin Carbocalcium for the main alkalinity and calcium source and Bulk Reef Supply Magnesium both dosed with the Bubble Magus BM-T01 doser. Kalkwasser as a supplement dosed through the ATO.


    Alk testing is done every 2-3 weeks with the Hanna Alk Checker. Magnesium once a month with the Salifert Mag test kit. Salinity is checked every week with a refractometer. I do not nor have I ever tested for Calcium.


    Tank Parameters

    • Alkalinity: last result 7.4dkh, aim for 8-8.5dkh
    • Magnesium: last result, 1500mg/L
    • Calcium: unknown
    • Salinity: 35ppt


    • Pair of False Percula Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)

    • Blue Damselfish (Chrysiptera cyanea)

    • Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto)

    • Six-LIne Wrasse (Pseudocheilinus hexataenia)

    Soft Coral

    • Photosynthetic Purple Gorgonian

    • Pulsing Xenia

    • Green Star Polyps

    • Yellow Fiji Leather

    • Palythoa & Zoanthids listed by common names:

      • Magicians

      • Incinerators

      • Red People Eaters

      • Nuclear Green

      • Utter Chaos

      • Alien Anti Venom

      • Pink Zippers

      • Tubbs Blue

      • Rainbow Infusion

      • Radioactive Green

      • Purple Deaths

      • BamBams

      • ASD Golden Avocado 

      • Whammin Watermelon

      • Blueberry Field

      • Captain America

    LPS Coral

    • Dragon Soul Favia

    • Blue Favia

    • John Deere Leptastrea

    • War Coral Favia

    • Red H.Bowerbanki

    • 5 Micro.Lordhowensis colonies

    • Dragon Ball Z Chalice

    • Red Cyphastrea

    • Red w/ yellow mouth goniopora

    • Blastomussa Wellsi

    • Platygyra

    SPS Coral

    • Main Colonies

      • 6 species A.Millepora no name

      • ORA Joe the Coral

      • ASD Rainbow Mille

      • Red Digitata

      • Green Digitata

      • ASD Electric Fence

      • ORA Scripps Acro

      • ASD Birthday Cake

      • ORA Purple Stylophora

      • Red Setosa

      • Tangerine Juice Leptoseris

      • JF Beach Bum Monti

      • ASD Phoenix Monti

    • Newly Acquired SPS Frags

      • JF Fox Flame

      • TGC Cherry Blossom

      • RR Bananarama

      • Walt Disney

      • SC Orange Passion


    • 3” Blue Tridacna Maxima Clam

    • Skunk Cleaner shrimp

    • 2 Blue legged hermits

    • 2 Mexican Turbo Snails

    • 6 Trochus Snails

    • 2 Astrea Snails

    • 1 Nassarius Snail

    • 4 Bumblebee Snails


    I’ve always been into aquaria since I was a young boy and have had various style freshwater tanks from community, aggressive, to cichlids through to my teenage years. I’ve always loved browsing the LFS and started to notice an increase in the stock of the marine section. So the interest of learning about marine aquaria started then, during the late 80’s. My first actual marine tank was a 40 gallon acrylic fish-only tank stocked with 3 yellow tangs, bi-color blenny and a few snails. There was sand, a few small pieces of live rock, and a barnacle shell cluster that the blenny took refuge in. I added Caulerpa taxifolia, which grew along the back. All set up on absolutely basic information given from the LFS. At the time the most important parameters I knew of were specific gravity and temperature.


    Now a little about the current system... I already had a 20 gallon long running at the time but it was used and had scratches. It was an experimental tank that ran for 3 years so I felt it was time to put together a full reef with sand and rock. A new tank was purchased during the $1/gallon sale at Petco. The sump, protein skimmer, and heater for $50 at a local thrift store, a real score. A new stand was bought from Dr. Fosters & Smith and the rest of the equipment like lighting, wave pumps, controller, and dosing pumps where I used from the breakdown of the experimental 20gal.


    During the accumulation of the new equipment, research was being done on different types of coralline colored rock, and I ultimately decided to go with Real Reef Rock, mainly because it was offered at an LFS and choice pieces could be hand selected. The rock was cured in RO/DI water for a couple of weeks in a bucket with a pump and heater set to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, with water being changed every couple of days. After the curing period new saltwater was made, and to start the fishless cycling process Dr. Tim's One and Only Bacteria was used to seed  the rock, then fed with ammonium chloride. In another bucket, I had the CerMedia MarinePure block also going through the same fishless cycle process.


    2017 December.jpg
    December 2017


    I wanted to go with a more natural style of reefing with this tank by utilizing products that could possibly aid in processing nitrates through denitrification and with deep sand beds going out of style due to trapping detritus over time so that was out of the question. After some research, I decided to try the Ecosystems Miracle Mud. It’s suggested method of use doesn’t utilize a protein skimmer, but I wasn’t too confident and went with the Modified Paletta method, which is running a protein skimmer 6-8 hrs/day.


    Other products used to go with the natural style reefing were adding the largest Marine Pure block to the system in hopes that it will also form an area for denitrification deep within and dosing beneficial bacteria by Dr. Tim’s Waste-away, Eco-balance, and Re-fresh.



    Fun fact: In my early twenties I worked at Aquaria INC, manufacturer of Marineland products, as a lab helper in the Aquatic Research Dept under Tim Hovanec, yes Dr. Tim, manufacturer of beneficial bacteria products. At the time he was working on his Doctorate degree at Marineland’s research laboratory isolating the true nitrifying bacteria from DNA testing. I helped set up test tanks, maintain and take water samples to be tested. My main job was to maintain large bio-wheels used in commercial fish systems such as Petco.


    2017 December Full System.jpg
    December 2017 Newly Stocked


    So then, when it came down to finally setting up the tank after successfully going through a few days of water testing. The plan of transferring out the livestock into a bin, breaking down the old tank, cleaning out the area, setting up the new tank and equipment all went down without a hitch. I saved and reused as much water as possible about 12-15 gallons from the broken down tank and mixed in with new water and let the tank run for a day. I then started a slow acclimation process over a day with the bin of my livestock and within a few days, it was all in.


    I can say that no livestock was lost from the transfer and gluing pieces down ensued over the next couple of weeks. At this point is was hands out of the tank. I’d use long rods and tweezers to grab or move corals. At most my fingertips would hit the water but before I ever do coral work I wash my hands with plain reverse osmosis water, dry with paper towel and repeat.


    July 2018


    Over the first 10 months or so, the initial frags from the breakdown were encrusting, some sprouting and more coral was being added to fill in spots. Once I felt it was enough sps to grow out I stopped and it was time to let it grow.


    September 2018


    About 10 months in there was this stag called ORA Scripps Acro, one of the sps from the previous tank, that was placed on the left area part of the rockscape that just took off in growth. It grew so fast it just through off the balance of the scape,  the color was a bit drab and it wasn’t how I envisioned by reef would look like so then I decided to remove it. Instantly the scape looked great. One other adjustment made to a red digitata on the right side that had an awkward growth pattern.


    October 2018


    Around this time I had already decided to upgrade my lights and take advantage of the holiday sale in November. I wanted to make this tank my best and of all the key pieces to grow and color up sps, lighting is up there so I picked up the Illumagic fixture. I mainly chose this fixture for its light spread capability from the amount of led puck used in its design. Plus, this brand is being used by a wholesaler to light up holding tanks for wild corals. So if it’s good for the wild it’s good for me.


    One thing I figured out around the time before the 1 year mark is phosphates and nitrates were very low. The plan of attack was to make minor tweaks so as not to shock the system. Broadcast feed every night starting with a small amount of food, remove an hour of skimming time and do half the amount of water changed so instead of 1 gallon I did half. After a week, test for phosphate and nitrates, still low,...tweak a little, feed a little more skip a water change. Corals started looking better after awhile. At some point where I felt the coral colors looked good and the growth rate was good. I stopped tweaking and have done the same maintenance schedule until the present. 


    May 2019


    The last couple of components I’m experimenting to improve colors are amino acids, trace elements, and higher PAR. So it’s been about a year and I’m still ramping up the light, so slow and steady reefers.  I’ve noticed some definite color improvements so hopefully, I’ll be able to dial it in soon and just continue with the regimen.


    September 2019


    What will the future hold for this system? Some dabbling and switching to higher end sps, some equipment upgrades but definitely no tank upgrade.  I love this set up!


    My main goal for this reef build was to have it look like an actual reef, with the idea of being SPS dominated, but my must-have coral choices such as the Fiji Yellow Leather and Blastomussa Wellsi made it a mixed reef.

    Major Upgrades

    The biggest upgrade and expense is the Illumagic Blaze Lighting fixture that was made after the tank has been running for 11 months. There are some plans for other upgrades as products are improved with new technology such as a safer titanium heater and dosers controlled through wi-fi.  Other upgrades that will be added is a calcium reactor and either the Vitamini or Reefbrite LED supplement light. 

    Future Plans

    Future plans for the reef will be improving the mix of colors of sps. I began with frag packs and sps that are considered lower end because of coloration. So I’ve been buying a bit of higher end sps frags to switch out with colonies.



    Words Of Wisdom

    Make changes to your tank one thing at a time. If multiple things are changed at once and corals go unhappy then it’ll be harder to pinpoint which change caused it. Observe the corals or livestock after a change has been made. Their reaction will be the ultimate decision whether you continue or stop.


    Another thing to observe daily is if all the equipment is functioning. Many tanks have crashed because of a malfunctioned piece of equipment that wasn’t caught.


    Clean up crew- when it’s time for a clean up crew,  don’t buy a package deal made for X amount of gallons.  Start with a few snails, let them clean up, observe their performance and if it looks like they can’t manage the algae growth,  add a few more, observe and repeat. At some point without going overboard, with cuc, you’ll achieve a good balance. 

    Advice For New Reefers

    Being a hobbyist a long time I’ve seen new reefers come and go. A lot of the times it’s because of the amount of maintenance they have from the system they’ve built. Let’s call it maintenance burn out, it becomes too much so the system gets neglected, livestock lost and eventually, the system is broken down.


    So my advice to new reefers is, design your tank around your lifestyle and don’t be a slave to it. Start slow, add equipment as you need it, build your coral collection slowly, and if you learn you don’t have time for certain maintenance such as weekly water changes, choose corals that don’t mind higher nutrient levels.


    Don’t go all in from the get go and buy every piece of available equipment and buy a mass amount of frags to fill in the tank, otherwise, you’ll just be another reefer who comes and goes.

    Quick Tip

    Avoid unnecessary hands in the tank by using long plastic rods such as hard airline tubing or acrylic rods. I even use the plastic rod from an old window blind that’s used for winding it open and close. Just cut to length.


    I’d like to say that I’m not only thankful, but very grateful for all the reef forums out there, especially Nano-Reef.com, and all the members who support the discussion of every facet of the hobby. I’d like to give a huge thank you to Christopher Marks for choosing my system as TOTM to share with you. As a long-time nano reefer and a member of the forum, it’s always been a dream and goal to have a tank worthy enough to be featured and for that I am grateful.


    If you have any questions for me about my system or general question about the hobby, please don’t hesitate to drop me a message, ask in my build journal or in the general thread area. I’ll be around to answer. Reefing and aquaria is a true passion of mine and I can go on and on about the subject so let’s get together and chat.


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    N-R has a lot of premier SPS-dominated reef tanks, but this one is really very high up the list of knockout setups. Extremely well done! 🙏

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    5 hours ago, WV Reefer said:

    Yay!!! Congrats! 😃


    The tank looks beautiful. 


    5 hours ago, Tigahboy said:

    Congrats!  Beautiful tank and shots (as usual)!


    1 hour ago, FISHnChix said:

    Well deserved.  Congrats. Tank is an inspiration 


    1 hour ago, Pjanssen said:

    Great write up. Beautiful tank


    49 minutes ago, Justind823 said:

    Obvious choice for TOTM! Congrats!



    Just now, billygoat said:

    N-R has a lot of premier SPS-dominated reef tanks, but this one is really very high up the list of knockout setups. Extremely well done! 🙏

    Thank you all so much!! This reef has been a real joy to care for.

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    11 hours ago, OldManSea said:

    What a spectacular tank!


    10 hours ago, Tamberav said:

    Awesome write up and tank!

    Thanks you!

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