Congratulations to community member Jackal227 and his 16 gallon nano reef for being selected for our February 2020 Reef Profile! This reef aquarium has shown tremendous growth and progress after recovering from early tank challenges. In this article Jackal227 shares his experiences in the hobby and this aquarium's journey over the past two and a half years. Share your comments and questions in the comments section below, and be sure to follow his aquarium journal for additional photos, history, and information about this impressive nano reef tank.
Jackal227's 16 Gallon BioCube Nano Reef
Display: Coralife BioCube 16 Gallon with stock LED lighting
Rock: 15 pounds of Fiji Dry Rock
Sand: CaribSea Oolite 1.5” deep
Lighting: Stock Biocube LED lights
Heater: Eheim Jager 75 watts controlled with an ITC-308 temperature controller
Circulation: Aquamai KPS Powerhead and stock return pump
Filtration: Poly Filter (Mechanical), Matrix Carbon in a media bag & a Purigen bag (Chemical), and 1 litre of Seachem's Matrix in media bags (Biological)
Dosing: Jaebo DP-4 doser dosing Bionic 2-Part
Tank Modifications: Removed false bottom in the first chamber to allow space for the heater. Widened the opening between chamber 1 and chamber 2 to allow greater flow over the filter floss. Added a refugium into chamber 2.
Established September 2017
I've consistently been doing water changes every week since starting the tank. I believe that has helped me tremendously with keeping the parameters stable enough for the harder SPS corals. I change out 2.5 gallons because it's easy to measure out half a bucket and when I mix up the salt it gives me enough for two weeks at a time.
Every time that I do a water change I also vacuum the sand bed and change the filter floss. I also scrape the glass before every water change. Typically once a week is good for this tank however I will occasionally do it mid week if needed.
I feed the fish daily. I’ve always fed pellets due to the ease of it and the fish seem to like them. I'm currently alternating between PE Pellets and the Nyos Wild Goji pellets.
For the corals I will target feed them Reef Roids once a week 30 mins before a water change hoping that the water change will remove any leftovers preventing excess nutrients.
I'll admit that I'm not much of a tester. When I first started the tank I would test every week without fail. Eventually I went to monthly testing and then I eventually stopped testing pH, ammonia, nitrite, and Nitrate. I rely on the regular weekly water changes to prevent large spikes in nitrates. The rest I feel really aren't necessary in a cycled aquarium.
Once I started adding corals I knew that I would have to start testing the big 3 (alkalinity, calcium, and magnesium). So I decided to upgrade my test kit and bought the Red Sea tests. I tested these 3 exclusively for many months. Much like the previous tests I didn't see much variance in the results so I'll admit that I got tired of doing all the steps in the tests.
Eventually I upgraded to the Hanna Checker Alkalinity digital tester. This has really been a game changer for me. It's by far the easiest and most accurate test that I've used. It's simple enough that I perform it at least weekly and sometimes daily if I'm adjusting the dosing pump. I've checked calcium and magnesium with the Red Sea tests but as long as my alkalinity is in check then the other numbers seem consistent. Due to that I'll admit that I only test alkalinity regularly and rely on the appearance of the corals to tell me if something is off.
I use the Jaebo DP-4 dosing pump. I created a couple dosing containers out of the Voss water bottles as seen on YouTube. I only use two heads to dose Bionic 2-Part. It's currently dosing 9 ml of each solution spread out over 3 times per day. I also add 3 ml of Acropower weekly.
After adding the Mandarin Dragonet to the tank I also started adding live copepods weekly and live phytoplankton every 3 days. I’ve been cultivating both of these so that there is a constant supply.
- Pair of Ocellaris Clownfish
- Royal Gramma
- Green Mandarin Dragonet
- Various Zoanthids & Palythoa
- Violet Cespitularia
- Green Star Polyps
- Ricordea Florida Mushrooms
Jack O Lantern Leptoseris
Leng Sy Montipora Cap
Green Slimer Acropora
Blue Montipora Digitata
Scarlett Hermit Crabs
Rock Flower Anemone
Several years ago I got interested in saltwater tanks due to the beautiful colors and the way the corals would wave back and forth in the flow. I had never kept a saltwater tank before so I began researching them on the internet through various forums and watching YouTube videos. I probably read about them and watched videos for close to a year before buying my first tank.
After researching various tanks I settled on the BioCube 16. This tank stood out to me because it was small enough to fit my limited space, it was budget friendly, and it has a built in light with timer. All of these together made the BioCube a great tank to start with.
So with the tank ordered I continued my research and needed to start by aquascaping the tank. It's more of a cube tank which makes aquascaping challenging to fill the vertical space. I ended up using a hammer and chisel to shape the dry rock and then I epoxied it all together.
I added some bottled bacteria and waited patiently for the tank to cycle. After around 6 weeks I added some snails and the pair of Clownfish that are still with me. It was very exciting having some life in the tank! Within the next couple of weeks I added my first coral frags. I chose some Zoanthids and a Trumpet coral. I remember watching the tank night and day, it was very exciting having a miniature ecosystem in my living room. Even to this day I'm amazed at the diversity of microfauna that exists in my aquarium. I see new creatures all the time while staring at the tank.
I had some early successes with the first corals so I gradually added additional frags along with my third fish, the Royal Gramma. My first Royal Gramma was around for about two weeks before I found him laying in the sand. It was my first challenge because I didn't know why he had died. I again patiently waited before replacing him to make sure there weren't any other issues. he new Royal Gramma did well and is still with me today.
It’s been a few months into the tank and I'd managed to not kill my corals so I was feeling pretty confident at this point and I started ordering more corals online.
The tank was starting to fill in. Over the next few months I continued to add more corals to the tank. I was still actively reading new information daily about the hobby. I would incorporate some of these things into the tank like adding a DIY refugium into my middle chamber.
I would add various supplements to the tank like vibrant to battle algae, dosing chemicals to battle cyanobacteria, or using Phosguard without testing for phosphates. At around 6-7 months in I had lost some of the SPS corals that were in the tank. This was the first sign of issues for me. Around month 8 I started losing the LPS corals. This was heartbreaking to me. It was hard to watch the corals die off and not know enough to understand why it was happening. Looking back, I believe that many of the products that I was using on the tank is what led to my troubles. My tank had crashed and this was a low point for me. I considered quitting the hobby due to how horrible the tank looked. I left the tank alone for almost two months with very little maintenance and stopped adding stuff to the tank.
The best thing that I could've done was let the tank go like this because it allowed everything to stabilize. Somehow I decided to not to tear down the tank and give it another shot. I stopped adding all the unnecessary chemicals to the tank and got back onto regular weekly water changes. I was removing algae manually each week and progressively the tank was looking better but still bare without corals.
Over the next few months I slowly began adding corals to the tank. It didn't take long before I got the bug again. The new corals were all surviving and the tank just seemed much more stable without me making constant changes to it. So seeing the positive affect I continued just doing normal water changes and things started filling in again. The one year mark was a big milestone for me because I wasn’t sure that I would have a tank that lasted that long just 3 months prior. This is the start of the tank recovery.
Moving forward I continued to add corals to fill in the rocks. After a few months the older corals were starting to grow and new frags were filling in blank spots on the rocks and the tank was starting to look good again. Things were stable enough that I was able to keep SPS alive again.
Over the next few months I had small battles with common issues like Aiptasia, Bryopsis, and small Alkalinity swings. These were all managed with little impact to the system and the corals continued to grow out. Having felt like I was succeeding again I was ready for my next challenge.
Very early on in researching the salt water hobby I fell in love with the Mandarin Dragonet like many others. With the tank on autopilot I decided to setup an area to cultivate Copepods and Phytoplankton. I wanted to be able to provide the specialized food that this fish required to survive.
Having been successful with growing my own pods I celebrated the two year anniversary of this tank by adding what was my holy grail fish. At this point I felt the tank was complete and I truly enjoy just sitting and watching it every day.
The corals were getting large at this point and were starting to crowd each other. I originally chose this tank due to fitting in a small space and always dreamed of having a larger tank in the future. As I've said before I've never stopped reading and watching videos about the hobby. With the Biocube doing well my research skewed towards larger tanks wanting to replicate my successes on a bigger scale.
As Black Friday came around I noticed that many of the items that I was researching were greatly reduced in price. It pushed me over the edge and I purchased an Innovative Marine EXT 50 Gallon Lagoon tank. Once again space was a factor and this tank allows me to have a large water volume but it is only 30” wide. The excitement of starting a new tank is back again. Over the next couple months I pieced together all of the supplies to get the tank running. I learned that it's much more complicated setting up a system with plumbing and a sump. In the meantime the Biocube was moved into a bedroom to make room for the Lagoon tank. It took quite a bit of time for me to get the system up and running but it's now functioning and I've started moving the corals from the Biocube into the Lagoon so that they can continue to grow from small colonies into large ones.
The livestock lives on in it's new home but the Biocube is far from done. Currently it's being used an observation/quarantine tank for new fish before they get added to the Lagoon. I haven't decided on the long term future of this tank yet but I would like to use the extra rock from my tank setup to re-aquascape the Biocube and create something easier to catch fish in but also allow for some new options to bring corals back to this tank. I find much of the fun in this hobby is watching things evolve and see what they grow into over time. The Biocube will look different but it will return to its glory again.
Advice For New Hobbyists
- Research constantly. I learn new things every day and it helps me to understand how my actions will affect the tank both good or bad. If you're reading this forum then that's a great start. There's tons of valuable information here and plenty of great folks willing to help.
- Understand that there's many different ways to achieve success. There's no magical formula for a successful reef tank. My biggest successes started after I quit trying to follow fads that others were doing and went back to the basics. Make sure that your choices are educated and not just trying to emulate another tank because they all react differently. Find what works for your tank and stick to it.
- Patience is key in this hobby. Good things don't happen fast but they can certainly go downhill quickly which I experienced. I believe that my tank is proof that a tank crash doesn't have to be the end. Everything can be turned around with some time.
- Let your tank talk to you. The fish and corals will tell you if there's something off. If the corals are closed up or the colors are pale these can be indicators that something is wrong. If everything is open and happy then keep it going instead of constantly adjusting things trying for perfect numbers. Stability is much better than hitting any number. Sometimes less is more.
- Start a build thread. It not only provides a great place to get advice from others with a similar setup but it also gives you a log of the history of the tank. It's easy to look back and see how changes may have affected the tank both good and bad. It's also rewarding to compare the growth of your fish and corals over time.
BioCube Stock LED Lights
When researching tanks I read many times that people felt that the Biocube Stock lighting wasn't sufficient for growing stony corals. I have had success growing many SPS and LPS corals and I feel that the lighting is perfectly fine. The water quality was much more impactful in my experience. Avoiding swings in parameters yielded the most success for me. Upgrading the lights might prove to grow corals faster or with better color but it certainly isn't a requirement.
I would like to thank all of the followers in my build thread as all of your advice and contributions have made this tank possible and I truly appreciate it. @Cpl_Wiggles was the first to reach out and offer advice to me as a new hobbyist and it’s because of members like him that this community is such a great place. I would also like to thank @banasophia and @Ocean_dreamer89 for their nominations for TOTM. Finally, I would like to thank @Christopher Marks for giving me the opportunity to share my journey. I've learned so much from this community, and I only hope that someone can learn from my successes and avoid my mistakes so that the hobby is as enjoyable to them as it is to me.