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  • jservedio

    Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to community member jservedio and his 20 gallon nano reef for being selected for our July 2020 Reef Profile! This incredibly diverse mixed nano reef has a storied past after nearly 10 years running, enduring 5 moves, over 2000 miles of travel, a few hotel stays, and lots of lessons learned. In this article jservedio shares his experiences in the hobby and this aquarium's journey over the past nine and a half years. Please 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 beautiful nano reef tank.

    Jack's 9 Year Old 20g Nano Reef


    Tank Specs

    Display: Aqueon 20g High, 24"x12"x17" with CPR CS50 HOB Overflow
    Rock: Mix of rock added and removed over the years. Rock from Petco, the LFS, and BRS Dry Rock
    Sand: Mix of dry sand added throughout it's life from 0.5mm to 4mm
    Lighting: Original Radion XR30 Pro with added 120 degree wide-angle TIR lenses
    Heater: 100w Fluval on an Inkbird Controller
    Circulation: MP10 in Reef Crest at 100%, Taam Rio 1700 Return Pump
    Filtration: None
    Filter Media: None
    Top Off: Avast Marine
    Dosing: 1/3g of 42% Saturated Limewater in the ATO bucket
    Controller: None
    Sump: DIY two chamber sump using Aqueon 10g

    Established October 2010
    9 Years, 9 Months Old



    Maintenance Routine


    • A pinch of NLS Pellets twice per day
    • PE Mysis fed to fish, anemones, and coral every couple of weeks


    • Clean glass
    • Blow sand and detritus off rocks and coral
    • Test alkalinity


    • 5g water change (sometimes sooner, sometimes later)


    My cobbled-together science experiment of a tank 😄 


    • 2 Clown Fish (Amphiprion Percula), 10 years old
    • Hoeven's Wrasse (Halichoeres Melanurus), 9 years old

    Soft Coral

    • Long Polyp Toadstool (Sarcophyton Sp.)
    • Ricordea Florida
    • Assorted Palys and Zoas (Radioactive Dragon Eyes, Eagle Eyes, Fire & Ice, Red People Eaters, Mandarins, Hawaiian Ding Dangs, Pinks)

    LPS Coral

    My Orange Crush Echinata is one of my very first corals, it's over 8 years old now. The centerpiece of my tank, the Reverse Bleeding Apple Bowerbanki, I've had for more than 7 years, and my Purple Maze Brain and Hulk Micromussa have grown over 6 years.


    • Reverse Prism Favia (Favia Spp.)
    • Orange Crush and Red Ring Echinata (Acanthastrea Echinata)
    • Various Acan Lords (Micromussa Lordhowensis)
    • Reverse Bleeding Apple Bowerbanki (Homophyllia Bowerbanki)
    • Incredible Hulk Micro (Micromussa Amakusensis)
    • Various Blastos (Blastomussa Spp.)
    • Green Merulina (Merulina Spp.)
    • Hollywood Stunner Chalice (Echinopora Lamellosa)
    • Purple Maze Brain (Platygyra Spp.)

    SPS Coral

    • WWC Yellow Tips (Acropora Tortuosa)
    • Green Florida (Acropora Florida)
    • Tyree Pinky the Bear (Acropora Latistella)
    • ORA Hawkins Echinata (Acropora Echinata)
    • ORA Red Planet (Acropora Anthocercis)
    • BC Boomberry (Acropora Spp.)
    • FF Red Robin Stag (Acropora Spp.)
    • Mystery Green Acro (Acropora Spp.)
    • Teal and Purple Confusa (Montipora Confusa)
    • Bubblegum Digi (Montipora Digitata)
    • Orange Setosa (Montipora Setosa)
    • Tyree Idaho Grape (Montipora Capricornus)
    • Red Cap (Montipora Capricornus)
    • Neon Green Stylo (Stylophora Milka)
    • Purple Stylo (Stylophora Pistillata)


    • Maxi-Mini Anemones (Stichodactyla tapetum)
    • Twin RBTAs (Entacmaea quadricolor - Moved a couple weeks ago)
    • Turbo Snail (1x)
    • Margarita Snail (1x)
    • Blue Legged Hermit (1x)
    • Scarlet Leg Hermit (1x)
    • Nassarius Snail (1x)
    • Colonial Hydroids


    When my wife and I first moved in together more than 10 years ago, we purchased our first fish tank together - a 20 gallon freshwater tank from Petco. We stocked it with some simple plants, some neon tetras, and a featherfin catfish. The tank did fantastic for almost a year until we went out of state to visit family and there was a long power outage. We came home to a freezing cold tank full of dead fish. That's when I decided to jump head first into salt water for the first time. After not nearly enough research and a trip back to Petco, the tank was full of saltwater after purchasing some inexpensive live rock, a couple Koralia powerheads, and a T5 light, around mid October of 2010.


    October 2010


    Just a few weeks later the tank had a couple of small clownfish, some hermits and snails, and my first coral - a Christmas Favia (rest in peace)! Over the next couple of years I slowly started adding to my collection of LPS corals, picking up frags here and there, most of which I still have to this day. Some time in early 2013, I decided I was going to try my hand at SPS corals and fell into the popular (at the time) idea of needing an "Ultra-Low Nutrient Tank (ULN)" to keep SPS coral. So I got an HOB overflow, built a sump, modified my stand, got a big skimmer, a GFO reactor, and bought wildly overkill Radion XR30. At first, I didn't have much success with this and just had a bunch of pale brown sticks, but at least I wasn't killing them. Then began the moves...


    October 2013


    Over the next few years, the tank would be moved 5 different times, log more than 2,000 miles on the road, and visit 8 different states! Two of those moves were half way across the country and the tank spent more time in a U-Haul and hotel rooms than it did cycling. This took a toll on the tank and while it recovered from every move, just as it started getting back on track, we would move again. Somehow, nearly all of the LPS survived all of these moves and continued to grow over the years.


    On the road again...


    Every time we got somewhere new, I'd buy some SPS frags, watch them grow for a year or so, and then sell them off just in time to move again. Every time was more successful than the last and the more time went by, the more I learned and the more equipment I sold or packed away. As my nutrients slowly rose, so did my growth and color.


    August 2018


    Finally, in 2018 we moved into our house and the tank found a permanent home. Without being packed into a box every year or two, the tank started to thrive and become what it is today.


    June 2019

    Future Plans

    With the tank coming up on its 10th birthday in just a few months, and no longer being able to clean anything except the front glass, I'll be upgrading to a slightly larger tank! This time, I won't be making the mistake of retrofitting a bunch of equipment onto an old FW tank; I'll be doing things right with an internal overflow and a proper sump. Hopefully that tank will reach another 10 years as well.

    Words of Wisdom

    • Just as everyone else with a few years of experience in this hobby says: take it slow, nothing good happens fast. Do your research before getting in over your head. Far too often, key concepts in reefing get overlooked until a problem arises. Suddenly you find out you've been doing something wrong all along and now have a serious problem that will cause pain for an extended period of time (and probably cost you more money). A few hours more of reading could have prevented nearly all of the mistakes I made. Plean for years, not months or weeks.
    • Take a step back. Before purchasing a new piece of equipment or making a big change in your system, step back, do a big water change, and see what happens. Every time you make a change to your system, things will take a while to adjust. Give things a chance to settle in and keep your hands out of the tank as much as possible. Don't buy a new piece of equipment unless it's absolutely necessary.
    • Admit your mistakes and document how you worked through them and solved your issues. I've seen countless build threads on here of new reefers starting with top of the line equipment and every gadget, packed wall to wall with colonies of high-end coral, and wildly overstocked with fish from day one - an instant reef that looks like it took years to grow and a guaranteed future ToTM winner. For the next year or so, it's nothing but success! Then, all of the sudden, they are gone without a trace. This is simply not reality and top reefs don't happen overnight or without experience. While extremely experienced reefers can get away with some of this and take a few shortcuts here and there, they are leaning on decades of experience in the hobby. You will make mistakes as you learn, you will kill coral, you will have bad algae outbreaks, you will get frustrated - learn from them and document it. Documenting what went wrong will hopefully prevent others from making that same mistake.
    • Stability is absolutely key, and not just in your parameters. Stability in placement, flow, and lighting are just as important.
    • Set up your tank for longevity and ease of maintenance. While reefing may be your favorite hobby now, it likely won't be forever. Make it as easy and simple as possible to maintain so your tank can thrive with only 20 or 30 minutes a week of effort. This way when life or other interests get in the way, you always have a healthy tank to come back to.

    Thoughts On...

    Aquaculture is something that is extremely important to me and has been at the forefront when choosing the corals that are in my tank. Every single coral in my tank was purchased as an aquacultured frag or purchased from a fellow hobbyist. Coral reefs are in enough trouble as it is with climate change, unsustainable and destructive fishing practices, and pollution. We as reef keepers should not be part of the problem, especially nano reef keepers. While it is certainly tempting to purchase a large wild colony for the same price as a 1.5" frag that would take years to reach the same size, they simply aren't as acclimated to life in a tank, are far more prone to containing pests, and the ecological impact is infinitely larger. A wild colony of Acropora placed in your tank will, in all likelihood, eventually just die in your tank. That same wild collected acropora in a professional aquaculture facility will likely be propagated thousands or tens of thousands of times over for the same ecological footprint. The small cost in time is well worth the return.


    I am a huge fan of LED lighting. However, I am a firm believer in "less is more" when it comes to lighting. While conventional wisdom tells us that SPS like acroporas need to be blasted with tons of light, this simply isn't the case. With good flow and a healthy amount of nutrients, you will have better color and thicker skin with a moderate amount of light. With less light, you will also be able to keep a wider variety of corals that simply don't do well in strong lighting.


    Turn it up to 11! I've always found more flow is better - just don't point your powerheads directly at your corals. Wide, strong flow is key.


    Your corals and all of the sponges, tunicates, feather dusters, coraline, macro algaes, and countless other critters all need nutrients to survive so don't deprive them. If your nutrients are bottoming out, you open your tank up to outbreaks of things like Dinoflagellates and Chrysophytes which are far, far more unpleasant than dealing with a little bit of nuisance algae or cyanobacteria! As with all things, stability is key.


    RODI Machine and ATO
    I think these two pieces of equipment should be part of the "must haves" for anyone setting up a reef. Tap water and reefing simply do not mix. I would have left this hobby long ago if I had to keep buying distilled from Wal-Mart or buying it from the LFS and had to keep topping off manually every day. It's a huge, boring chore.

    Coral Wars

    We always strive to do our best when placing corals, but you can only plan so far ahead when placing a small frag. In a nano tank, corals are going to fight and when things fill in and your corals have been encrusting for years, they are going to fight a lot. It's simply a part of having a nano reef. Learning how your corals fight is very important to learn, so you know when you should let things play out and when you will have to intervene to prevent a slaughter.

    Disasters & Pests

    Having been in this hobby for as long as I have, I've seen all manner of pests and disasters happen. I've dealt with Acropora Eating Flatworms, Red Bugs, Zoa Spiders, Montipora Eating Nudibranchs, Aiptasia, multiple strains of Dinoflagellates, and Chrysophytes. The two biggest takeaways from all of this are:


    • Quarantine is absolutely critical. While dipping may get rid of most pests, something will eventually get through. A 5 or 10 gallon rimmed tank (or even a bucket), a cheap HOB filter, a spare light (a PAR38 works well), and the heater and powerhead you use for mixing water are all you need. You can prevent dipping healthy corals and properly treat and observe anything that is infested.
    • You need nutrients: All of my dino and chrysophyte issues stemmed from having either nitrates or phosphates bottom out.


    I've also learned that some things that are conventionally considered pests can make cool tank inhabitants, can serve a role in your little ecosystem, and don't deserve the reputation they are given. The ones that come to mind are colonial hydroids and vermetid snails. I really enjoy my colonial hydroids and have had a few colonies of them for more than half a decade. They are great filter feeders, don't grow too rapidly, and most importantly, they don't really harm other inhabitants, even the acros. I've also learned that vermetid snails aren't the plague I once thought they are - sure, they are a little unsightly and their nets can annoy corals, but they are fantastic at catching anything your corals miss, another free member of your clean up crew that healthy coral will grow right over.


    Huge thanks to Christopher Marks for featuring my tank and allowing this fantastic site to exist. Without Nano-Reef and it's great community and dedicated members, I would never have the tank I have today, and many of my problems would have gone unsolved. I also want to thank @Nano sapiens. His little tank was an inspiration when I first got into the hobby and it's extreme longevity has helped keep mine going through all of it's issues. @mitten_reef, thank you for all your feedback and helping organize my motley collection of coral into a scape that is TOTM worthy.


    However, the biggest thanks is for my wife Brianna! She has been putting up with my fish stuff strewn about the house and the tangled science experiment that is my tank; the headache of moving the tank year after year; and having to stare at the countless downs this tank has had over the last 10 years.



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    Awesome! Congratulations!!  And thank you for the mention, you have an amazing tank. The coral growth, selections, and longevity of the tank - those are the reasons for your TOTM. 🍻 

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    Congratulations!! Well deserved! Awesome tank, awesome photos, awesome write-up!! 

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    Congratulations!! Such beautiful tank!! Looking forward to reading your write-up. 

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    What a beautiful tank. Congratulations! Good luck with the new tank.

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    A true masterpiece!  I love this tank.


    Congratulations on gritting out all the moves and maintaining your corals.

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    Congrats! Really awesome tank and love how your fish/corals may be more traveled than me!

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    Congratulations, love reading up about older reefs. Beautiful

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    Nano sapiens


    Yay, congrats!  Fantastic to see another 'old timer' aquarium make NTOTM ☺️


    Great write-up that I hope others will benefit from 👍

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    Congrats! Your tank looks beautiful. 😊

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