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Cultivated Reef
  • Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to community member lizzyann and her 20 gallon nano reef for being selected for our May 2020 Reef Profile! This incredibly diverse peninsula nano reef is artistically curated to be stunning from every vantage point. In this article lizzyann shares her 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 be sure to follow her aquarium journal for additional photos, history, and information about this beautiful nano reef tank.

    Lizzyann's IM 20 Peninsula Nano Reef


    Tank Specs

    Display: Innovative Marine Nuvo Fusion 20 Peninsula (30” x 12” x 13”, 20 gallons)

    Rock: Random LFS live rock

    Sand: Caribsea “fiji pink” and “reef sand”

    Lighting: 2 AI Prime HD lights

    Heater: Cobalt Neo-therm 100 watt heater

    Circulation: Aqamai KPS, IM Spin Stream nozzle
    Return Pump: Sicce Syncra 1.0

    Skimmer: Eshopps Nano Skimmer

    Filtration: IM CustomCaddy

    Filter Media: filter floss, Chemi-pure Blue

    Top Off: AutoAqua Smart ATO Micro

    Dosing: Bubble Magus T11, dosing BRS soda ash and calcium chloride

    Controller: Apex 2016

    Established April 2018





    Maintenance Routine


    Once a day I broadcast feed Cobalt Aquatics Marine Omni flakes or Reef Nutrition TDO pellets for fish, then every other day (or at least this is the goal!) I spot feed the NPS, LPS, and fish frozen mysis or Rod’s frozen with a pipette.



    A couple times a week I blow off rockwork with a turkey baster, then weekly do a 10%-20% water change with RO/DI water and Tropic Marin Pro Reef salt mix (I recently started using this salt and was using Reef Crystals for most of the tank’s life). During the water change I replace the filter floss and stir up a small portion of the sandbed. Occasionally I manually remove nuisance algae or work on crushing vermetid snails with little tweezers. Every two or three months I clean all the removeable equipment with vinegar and scrub out the back chambers.



    I originally tested nitrate and phosphate weekly, and calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium around every other week, but as my tank has matured I try to test calcium and alkalinity weekly and the others much less often, and adjust the calcium and alkalinity doser accordingly. I try to keep alkalinity at 8.5, calcium at 440, and magnesium at 1350, but continue to struggle with getting the doser to keep up.



    With a small tank, fragging has ended up being a regular part of the maintenance routine. Every few months I end up needing to frag corals to prevent warfare or to keep space for scraping glass and such. Bone cutters, tweezers, J-B Waterweld putty and superglue gel are my best friends in this. I also use arm length gloves most of the time I have my hands in the tank for any maintenance to protect myself (partially from dangerous things like palytoxins but mostly just because I’m rough on my hands and often have cuts or dry skin that doesn’t take kindly to saltwater) and to protect the inhabitants.


    I wanted to choose easy, peaceful fish for this aquarium that were a little more unique. I was especially excited about the relationship of the shrimp gobies and pistol shrimp, but all my attempts to unite them have eventually failed. My best guess for this is that the rock work doesn’t suit both a fish and shrimp in the same areas.


    • Yellow Banded Possum Wrasse (Wetmorella nigropinnata)

    • Yasha Goby (Stonogobiops yasha)

    • Randall’s Assessor Basslet (Assessor randalli)

    • White Lined Combtooth Blenny (Ecsenius pictus)

    Soft Coral

    Zoas were probably my first love, and I wanted to devote a large area of rock to a zoa garden when I began. I’m especially fond of my pipe organs as I waited and searched for a long time before finding the exact color patterns I was interested in.


    • Assorted Zoanthids

    • Ricordea Florida

    • Discosoma Neglecta

    • Assorted “bounce” mushrooms

    • Pipe Organ (Tubipora musica)

    • Grube’s Gorgonian (Pinnigorgia flava)

    • Fiji Yellow Leather (Sarcophyton elegans)

    LPS & NPS Coral

    There are so many more species of LPS corals that I would love to have in this tank, and I really had to work to pick out my favorites and stick to what would fit. The sun corals continue to be some of my favorite corals. These and the denros aren’t the most difficult of NPS but take dedication as they need to be spot fed meaty foods fairly often. Their feeding response, temperament, and needs make them feel like “pets” in many ways that other corals perhaps do not.


    • Sun Corals, black and pink (Tubastraea sp.)

    • Dendros  (Dendrophyllia sp.)

    • Acan Lords (Micromussa lordhowensis)

    • Fungia Plate (Fungia fungites)

    • “John Deere” Leptastrea

    • “Meteor Shower” and “Bizarro” Cyphastrea

    • Flower Pot, short and long tentacle varieties (Goniopora sp.)

    • Duncan (Duncanopsammia axifuga)

    • Lobo (Lobophyllia hemprichii)

    • Pagoda Cup (Turbinaria peltata)

    • “Rainbow Crush” Chalice (Echinophyllia sp.)

    SPS Coral

    Luckily I really love a lot of the “beginner” SPS corals and enjoy their single, bright colors but eventually got pulled into the acro craze and knew I wanted a couple of the more difficult pieces. The sticks are some of the only coral I can see myself replacing down the road as I find more interesting things or end up with pieces that never seem to reach their color potential in my tank.


    • Mint Pavona (Pavona frondifera)

    • Assorted Montipora capricornis

    • Thin-branch Birdsnest (Seriatopora hystrix)

    • Forest Fire Digitata (Montipora digitata)

    • Oregon Tort (Acropora tortuosa)

    • “Mad Raver” Milli (Acropora millepora)

    • “Flaming Unicorn” acro (Acropora sp.)

    • Pink Spath Acro (Acropora spathulata)

    • Unknown Green acro


    I started with a snail only cleaning crew, but eventually fell in love with the antics of hermit crabs and wanted the algae eating power of emerald crabs. The peppermints are there purely for their aiptasia appetite, and are a bit annoying and greedy at feeding time. The Pom Pom crab is the oldest inhabitant that I’m aware of!


    • Rock Flower Anemones (Phymanthus sp.)

    • Pom Pom Crab (Lybia sp.)

    • Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata sp.)

    • Emerald Crab (Mithraculus sculptus)

    • Tiger/Strawberry Conch (Conomurex luhuanus)

    • Dwarf Feather Dusters (Bispira sp.)

    • Blue leg hermit crabs (Clibanarius tricolor)

    • Many known and unknown snails (Ceriths, Nerites, and Nassarius, Vermetid, Colonial), small worms (bristle, spaghetti, fan, spirorbid), and other hitchhikers

    My Tank's Story

    My love for aquariums arose from a more general passion for and awe of nature and the animal kingdom. Though I had many pets growing up, I never had an aquarium until my early 20’s when, after a serious injury and the knowledge that I would be stuck on the couch for an extended period, I convinced my boyfriend at the time to buy me one for my birthday. I’ve had a tank ever since, but only recently delved into the saltwater world. I’ve always enjoyed, perhaps to an obsessive extent, researching hobbies, skills, and projects through the internet, and finding Nano-Reef.com is 100% what put me on the path to success with my first saltwater aquarium. As a relative newbie, I’m extremely proud to have a tank that’s been this successful, and honored to be recognized by this community! With my limited experience, I have to thank @Justind823, @Clown79, @banasophia, @teenyreef, @Cannedfish, @brad908, @yoshii, @MasterMind9, and @Sushi (to name a few) as their tanks and/or entire journals were especially inspiring and influential in the beginning stages of my adventure.


    Initial Coral Plan Drawing.jpg

    Original Aquascape Plans


    I was especially inspired by the visual impact of the more minimalist aquascapes or scapes that made use of negative space, like the bommie style tanks. I also have been very inspired by more natural aquariums and biotopes, but just couldn’t bear to be restricted with my first saltwater tank. I started with an Innovative Marine 10 gallon tank and read the entirety of the 90+ page IM10 Club thread to figure out the best equipment, be aware of potential problems, and find inspiration. That thread provided the perfect blueprint.


    IM Nuvo 10 - February 2019


    I wanted a mixed reef (one of everything, please!), but knew that it would be a challenge to create a balance that all types of coral would be able to thrive in. I’m an artist and aesthetics were important to me in planning. I paid attention to composition, color, and space in my plans. I drew out coral layouts over photos of my tank to get a better idea of what I wanted and to help me stick to stocking lists and save room for corals I wouldn’t be able to get until the tank was more mature. As my first tank, every coral I saw I wanted, so that was definitely a challenge. I wanted to keep fish stocking low and choose unique, peaceful fish for the tank. I went in hoping to only buy aquacultured corals and captive bred fish, but when researching the myriad of captive bred fish I realized that many of them, though successfully bred and raised at some point, aren’t actually continually bred and available to hobbyists. I quickly threw morals to the wind. In that first year I dealt with a lot of nutrient issues like high nitrate and phosphate and excessive algae but kept things manageable and fairly healthy. I started 2 part dosing around 11 months in.


    Full Setup March 2019.jpg
    March 2019 - Post Upgrade


    Right around the time things were really starting to get settled, about a year exactly, I realized I just couldn’t fit everything I dreamed of in a 10 gallon tank, and upgraded to the IM 20 Peninsula. I consider it the same aquarium really, as I kept all the rock and livestock, in much the same scape, just with another extra area to work with. I added another AI Prime, which I feel has been incredibly useful to be able to have corals with very different lighting needs in the same tank. I love this tank, would recommend it to anyone, and can’t imagine not being able to have this double sided view.


    July 2019


    Unfortunately, the new tank did bring a lot of new problems. Instead of having too much nutrients, I now continually had almost none and started having issues with dreaded dinoflagellates. At their worst they killed a handful of snails and hermits and likely caused the death of my dear watchman goby, my first fish. Most of the corals pulled through, though quite unhappily. With a combination of UV, blackouts, heavier feeding, and adding macro algae, pods, and phyto I was able to beat them back, but they have been an ongoing nuisance that seem to rear their heads whenever routine care gets especially out of whack. I have a feeling a lot of the issues when upgrading came from a lack of micro biodiversity in the tank and creating that was my main angle of attack in trying to defeat the dinos. I have always been a fan of gradual, “natural,” or manual fixes to issues instead of intense bottled solutions, though that probably comes from a combination of a conscious stance, and just being hesitant and indecisive. Besides the dinos, I’ve had a slew of other issues pop up, like aiptasia, hydroids, and another big scare of an acro brown out. This was likely caused by some imbalance during a water change, but is still a mystery for the most part. I didn’t do anything drastic, but kept an eye on things, fragged the especially bad pieces, and eventually everything pulled through once again.


    January 2020


    At this point, just over two years old, the aquarium seems to have found a balance. I am seeing small nitrate and phosphate readings again, corals seem happy, and most pests have either been evicted or are playing nice. I have all the corals on my dream list, have just added a 4th (and likely final) fish, and the only thing I’m still searching and hoping for is a uniquely patterned crocea clam. I’m always praying a catastrophe isn’t on the distant horizon, but overall just incredibly excited to just continue watching things grow. Though large reef tanks are quite awe inspiring, I love the intimacy and focus of a nano tank and watching it every day brings me so much joy! There’s nothing better!

    Advice For New Hobbyists

    As a relative newcomer who just tried to copy what I saw other people doing and it happened to work for the most part, I don’t have many specific thoughts or tips on what works and what doesn’t, but I do have some advice to new reefers:


    • Research, then research some more, then a little more! Don’t go with the first answer you find to your question. Find 50 different answers, and put together your own answer based on the validity of the sources and what actually applies to your tank.


    • Make a plan! Figure out what you love, make sure it works for your system, and once again, research BEFORE buying it.


    • Get involved! Find out if your area has a local reef club. Mine has been a great resource for low priced corals and equipment from fellow reefers, valuable prizes from competitions and raffles, and an easy way to unload extra frags.


    • Put a dang lid on your tank! I love the look of a rimless tank as much as the next person but I’m not willing to sacrifice my fishes’ lives for it. Fish WILL jump. I’m continually shocked at how often people ignore this! You can find pretty simple instructions for DIY lids that don’t look bad at all.


    • Keep records! Having a journal thread here is extremely useful (especially if you are forgetful or tend to look back with rose-colored glasses like me), but also keep a written journal or use an app like Aquarimate to keep track of test results and maintenance schedules.


    • Stick to a routine, and be ready to make a large time (and sometimes financial - certainly was for me) commitment. I have a LOT of interests and hobbies, and having a reef tank has taken away from a lot of the others.


    • Finally, be patient. Everyone tells you this, and it’s true and worth being restated an infinite number of times. Your dreams really can come true! ...In a few years 😜



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    Congrats @lizzyann !  While I discovered your tank late and under a difficult acro issue, I’m so glad that it rebounded and to see this wonderful tank getting featured. 🥳 🎉 

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    Congratulations! Your tank has matured into a beautiful reef. You did a great job with your writeup and you have great advice for reefers of all experience levels. And thanks for the shout out :blush:

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    I've been waiting for this tank to be featured! I'm so excited! omgomgomg


    It's so wonderful to see this fantastic aquarium immortalized here in the TOTM archive. Wonderful write up and great pictures as always. I can't wait to see how the tank continues to mature from here. Congratulations! 👏👏👏

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    Congrats, such a beautiful and diverse tank.  Looks like you've put a lot of thought and effort into it and its certainly paid off.  Well done!

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