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Cultivated Reef
  • Aqua Splendor

    Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to community member @Aqua Splendor and his 9 gallon nano reef aquarium for being selected for our November 2021 Reef Profile! This custom all-in-one peninsula reef began as a competitor in our 365 Day AIO Reef Challenge, which quickly matured into a stunning showcase of coral, and won the community vote for the 'Best Aquascape' category. In this article Aqua Splendor shares his experiences in the hobby and this aquarium's journey over the past year and a half. 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 amazing nano reef tank.

    Aqua Splendor's 9 Gallon Nano Reef


    Tank Specs

    Display: Custom DIY All-In-One Peninsula 60x30x20cm 34L (24x12x8") 9G

    Rock: CaribSea Liferock Base (DIY aquascape)

    Sand: CaribSea Sand Fiji pink

    Lighting: Ecotech Marine Radion XR15 G5 PRO

    Return Pump: Sicce Syncra Silent Pump 1.0

    Heating: Eheim Thermocontrol E heater 50W

    Cooling: Boyu Cooling fan 4 head fs 604

    Controller: Inkbird Temperature Controller ITC-308S (During summer only)
    Wavemaker: None

    Skimmer: None

    Filtration: Custom DIY with Egg crate

    Filter Media: Floss+ custom Carbon/GFO or Chemi-Pure Elite

    Top Off: XP Aqua Duetto + Old reservoir bucket

    Aquarium Lid: Custom DIY

    Doser: Ecotech Marine Versa VX-1

    Dosing: Red Sea KH/Alkalinity









    Established June 2020


    Asking the age of my tank is like asking the age of a woman, it can be complicated. The first time I added water was on June 2nd, 2020, but this aquarium had a restart on June 25th. After submitting an ICP water test, I found out my black sand had many elements in its composition that would favor algae growth. This was a battle which I had no interest in dealing with at the time, since this tank was entered into the 365 Day All-In-One Nano Reef Challenge. I was already late to start by nearly 6 months, but I used different tricks to accelerate the cycling process, like keeping my aquascape in another aquarium while I replaced the black sand, and used new sand from my other reef aquarium. While the tank was re-cycling without fish or coral, I took the opportunity to make some physical changes to the tank.


    Newly set up, with original black sand, later removed.


    Bacteria were added first, then phytoplankton, copepods, and macroalgae two weeks later. My first fish was added after the first month, as a predator for the new bloom of copepods, and then a few days later the 'clean up crew' came in to avoid potential algae outbreak. At month two, September 1st 2020, I introduced some mussels, and then the very first corals.




    This left me just four months to work on my aquascape and coral growth before the end of the Nano-Reef.com 365 Day All-In-One Challenge. It was a time frame that gave me anxiety while documenting every step of this project, but a delightful challenge as a reef keeper! Meanwhile other great competitors were already well advanced with their 365 Day Challenge aquariums, while I was just starting mine, but everyone has their own reef journey 🙂.


    It’s also important to understand this period in time: All of this happened while COVID-19 was starting to spread and lock down the world.

    Maintenance Routine


    • Feeding NPS Coral (Tubastraea) fish eat what the corals can’t grab.
    • Using a vast variety of food, each day is different. (20 types)

    Twice a Week

    • Feeding Goniopora
    • Removing algae with a Scraper (No magnet)
    • Cleaning filter floss


    • Turkey blast around the rock
    • 40% water change (RODI water + Tropic Marin Pro-Reef salt)
    • Testing Alkalinity and Phosphate

    Every 2 Weeks

    • Scraping bottom glass from algae and bubble accumulation (For visual aesthetic reasons)
    • Phytoplankton (30-60ml)
    • Adding 2ml of Amino acid from Two Little Fishies

    Every 3 Weeks

    • Rinse filter bag of activated carbon and GFO from sediment accumulation
    • Fill RODI water reservoir

    Every 3 Months

    • Removing a portion of Chaetomorpha
    • Cleaning the back chamber from algae
    • Adding 1ml MicroBacter7 from Brightwell or other types of bacteria product
    • Dosing 0.5ml NO3:PO4-X from Red Sea
    • 80% water change
    • New filter floss
    • New activate carbon
    • New GFO
    • Clean return pump / heater / filtration rack
    • Refill Alkalinity dosing bottle

    On Demand

    • Additional hermit crab & Crab
    • Dosing 2ml of ChaetoGro from Brightwell
    • Adding Dr. Tims Waste-Away Gel
    • Dosing Dr. Tims Eco-Balance
    • Aiptasia-X Treatment
    • Testing water for Nitrate/pH/Magnesium/Calcium/Potassium


    I am a firm believer in diversity in general, and food is a good example.



    • Phytoplankton, home cultivated: Nannochloropsis (strain from Canada Aqua Marine)
    • Zooplankton, Rotifers, Copepods, Amphipods (Canada Aqua Marine)
    • Artemia, home cultivated (from O.S.I. Brine shrimp eggs)
    • Vinegar eels, Home cultivated

    In a Can

    • Elos Fresco Cyclops & Shrimps


    • Reef-Roids from Polyp Lab
    • Yellow Coral Frenzy from … Coral Frenzy (?)
    • Reef Enhance from Reef Brite
    • Elos svC - Zooplankton
    • ZoPlan from Two Little Fishies
    • Soft Coral food from Vitalis
    • Coral Sprint from Fauna marin

    Pellet & Flakes

    • PE Pellets 1mm from Piscine
    • Algae Wafers from Hikari
    • Krill Gold from NorthFin
    • Freshwater Flakes from Omega
    • Shrimp Cuisine from Hikari
    • Sea Veggies from Two Little Fishies
    • Micro pellets from Hikari (not ideal)
    • Bug Bites from Fluval (not ideal)


    • AcroPower from Two Little Fishies
    • MinS from Fauna Marin
    • OceanPlankton from Fauna Marin
    • MarineSnow from Two Little Fishies


    • Herbivore Frenzy from LRS
    • Jumbo Mysis Shrimp from Hikari
    • Baby Brine Shrimp from Hikari
    • Mysis shrimp from Hikari
    • Microbe/Bacteria
    • MicroBacter7 & Clean from Brightwell
    • Dr. Tims Waste-Away Gel & Eco-Balance



    Feeding Live Foods

    Water Change Process

    First I unplug the Auto-top-Off and Return pump power, and put the heater into the display section. Then I prepare two 20-year-old white salt buckets, one of them is empty, and the other one is filled with RODI water. I put a pump in the water bucket, add salt until I reach 34/35 ppt, and use a heater when it’s winter season. Once the new water is ready, I start to siphon water out of the tank and into the empty second bucket. I try to siphon sediment from the aquarium wherever possible, like the back chamber, in between cracks of the rock, or the shed of corals. I control the siphon flow by putting hand pressure on the plastic tube. Once I feel like I have I removed a good chunk of water, usually around 40%, I use a little plastic yogurt cup to refill the tank with the new saltwater mix, and I use my hand sometimes to avoid splashing coral directly. Once the tank is full, I turn on the return pump, Auto-Top-Off, and place the heater in the back chamber. The full process only takes around 5 minutes if saltwater was pre-mixed in advance, otherwise it’s about 30 minutes in total.


    Water Parameters

    • pH 7.6 to 8.0 
    • Alkalinity 155ppm
    • Phosphate 0.05 to 0.3ppm
    • Nitrate ≈10ppm
    • Calcium ≈420ppm
    • Magnesium ≈1260ppm


    Due to the size of the aquarium and the aquascape my list of fish is very limited, particularly when most LFS only import large fish. I tried to divide the fishies into 3 categories of space, Bottom/sand, Middle/on coral, and Free-floating. I picked fish that do not swim a lot, but stay mostly still and calm. I tried to go with smaller gobies, but they have been eaten by a bigger fish to the surprise of a lot of people, something never documented before. Nature can be surprising and raw, so I tried to be careful with the selection and make sure there’s no stress. Territories were made and I decided I wouldn’t add more to unbalance the peace.

    • 1x Gobiodon Okinawae - (Yellow Goby Clown) - Wild

    • 2x Coryphopterus Personatus (Masked Goby) - Captive bred

    • 1x Cryptocentrus Cinctus - (Yellow Watchman Goby) - Wild

    Soft Corals

    • Toadstool Leather green with grey base - Sarcophyton genus - Aquaculture

    • Neon Green Finger Leather - Sinularia sp. - Aquaculture

    • Orange and Orange/Green Clove Polyp - Clavularia genus - Aquaculture

    • Knopia Octocontacanalis - Clavularia genus - Wild

    • Gorgonian Purple Candelabra - Purple Bush - Candalabra Eunicea sp. - Wild

    • Gorgonian Pterogorgia citrina - Yellow sea whip - Pseudopterogorgia sp. - Wild

    • Gorgonian Muriceopsis flavida - Purple Bottle Brush - Pseudopterogorgia sp. - Wild

    • 1x Mushroom - Discosuma Blue - Discosuma sp. - Aquaculture

    • 1x Mushroom - Discosuma Purple with Blue dot - Discosuma sp. - Aquaculture

    • 1x Mushroom - Discosuma Purple with Yellow edge - Discosuma sp. - Aquaculture

    • 1x Mushroom - Discosuma Purple with Yellow dot and white Bubble - Discosuma sp.  - Aquaculture

    • 1x Mushroom - Rhodactis Orange with Green center and Yellow edge - Rhodactis sp. - Aquaculture

    • 1x Mushroom - Rhodactis Green - Rhodactis sp.  - Aquaculture

    • 1x Mushroom - Rhodactis Green with Gray & Orange bubble - Rhodactis sp.  - Aquaculture

    • 1x Mushroom - Discosuma Brown/Gray with Black spot - Discosuma sp. - Wild

    • 1x Mushroom - Discosuma Green/Brown with Green/Yellow dot - Discosuma sp. - Aquaculture

    • 1x Mushroom - Discosuma Red with Red dot and white Bubble - Discosuma sp.  - Wild

    • 1x Mushroom - Discosuma Red with intense fluorescence - Discosuma sp. - Wild

    • 1x Mushroom - Discosuma Pale green with white pattern - Discosuma sp. - Wild

    • 1x Mushroom - Discosuma Green with orange dot - Discosuma sp. - Wild

    • 1x Mushroom - Discosuma Orange Fluorescence - Discosuma sp. - Wild

    • 1x Mushroom - Ricordea Yuma Purple with Green dot  - Wild

    • Organ pipe - Tubipora chamissonis(?) - Tubipora sp. - Aquaculture

    • Toadstool green long tentacle with green base - Sarcophyton genus - Aquaculture 

    • Toadstool beige long tentacle with beige base - Sarcophyton genus - Aquaculture

    • 7x Zoa Purple Monster - Zoanthids sp. - Aquaculture

    • 1x Zoa Speckled krakatoa - Zoanthids sp. - Aquaculture

    • 6x Zoa Rasta - Zoanthids sp. - Aquaculture

    • Xeniidae Unknown name, Anthelia (?) - Unkown(Sterosoma) sp. - Aquaculture

    • 11x Zoa Pink Panther - Zoanthids sp. - Aquaculture

    • Green Star Polyps - Pachyclavularia violacea(?) sp. - Pachyclavularia genus - Aquaculture

    • 16x Zoa “Incredibles” Zoanthids sp. - Aquaculture

    • Heliopora (Blue Ridge Coral) - Heliopora coerulea sp. - Aquaculture

    • White Sinularia (Kenya Tree) Sinularia Genus - Aquaculture

    • Organ pipe - Tubipora - Unkown sp. - Wild

    LPS Corals

    • Pastel Brown/white Alveopora - Alveopora sp. - Wild

    • Goniopora Green - genus - Aquaculture

    • Goniopora Red Sparkle - genus - Aquaculture

    • Goniopora Red/Orange sparkle - genus - Wild

    • Goniopora Teal with pink center - genus - Wild

    • Green Polyp Duncan - Duncanopsammia Axifuga sp. - Aquaculture

    • Caulastrea - Brown with Green center Candy Cane - Caulastrea Tumida sp. - Aquaculture

    • Caulastrea - Green Neon Candy Cane - Caulastrea Curvata sp. - Aquaculture

    • Caulastrea - Full Teal Candy Cane - Caulastrea Curvata sp. - Wild

    • Caulastrea - Teal Pattern Candy Cane - Caulastrea Echinulata sp. - Wild

    • Green Blasto - Blastomussa Merletti sp. - Aquaculture

    SPS Corals

    • Green Pocillopora Damicornis - Pocillopora Genus - Aquaculture

    NPS Corals

    • 1x Sun coral - Tubastraea coccinea - Tubastraea genus. - Mariculture

    Hermit Crabs

    • 4x Clibanarius tricolor - (Blue Dwarf Hermit Crab) - Wild

    • 1x Ciliopagurus strigatus - (Halloween Hermit Crab) - Wild

    • 2x Clibanarius (?)  - Wild



    • 1x Alpheus Ochrostriatus - (Yellow-lined Pistol Shrimp) - Wild


    • 3x Margarites pupillus -  Wild

    Clams & Mussels

    • 1x Purple & Blue Clam - Tridacna Crocea sp. - Aquaculture
    • 7x Mussels - unknown type - Wild

    Feather Dusters

    • 1x Feather Duster - Sabellastarte Sanctijosephi(?) - Sabellastarte genus - Wild
    • 1x Feather Duster - Sabellastarte Magnifica (?) - Sabellastarte genus - Wild
    • 2x Feather Duster - Bispira brunnea (?) - Bispira genus - Wild
    • 1x Yellow Dwarf Feather Duster - Bispira genus (?) - Wild
    • 1x Red Mini Dwarf Feather Duster - Bispira genus (?) - Wild
    • 2x Feather Duster - Bispira genus (?) - Wild
    • 1x Feather Duster - Sabellastarte genus (?) - Wild


    • Brittle Star

    • Sponge

    • Chaetopterid worm

    • Spiroid worms

    • Aiptasia


    • Chaetomorpha Linum - Chaetomorpha sp. - Aquaculture

    • Gracilaria Hayi - Lectotype sp.  Aquaculture


    I’ve been in this hobby for many years, and like many others, my aquarium adventure started with freshwater which I still really enjoy to this day. Back around 1999 (I think?), I had a small saltwater aquarium with just live rock. The live rock alone was incredibly fascinating, the ecosystem from the ocean is so incredibly diverse, something new reefers nowadays are missing out on. But the moment I really started reefing was in 2006, after receiving a little inheritance, I decided to use that money for a big 340L (90gal) saltwater aquarium. I was already fascinated by ocean life after living in the south of France and the Caribbean for a little bit (St. Martin but it wasn’t vacation), so having a piece of ocean in my room in the South shore of Montréal was fantastic. I bought my first DSLR camera at the time and I was into visuals already (Photoshop). I always felt in awe of the variety of structures, shapes, translucence, motion and colors, true art created from years of evolution of nature. I dreamed of creating visuals from underwater, a dream that I still chase and is on my to-do list. When I look back on all my photography from back then, aquarium photos represent at least 50% of all pictures taken.


    90g early stage.jpg
    90 Gallon Reef Tank in 2006


    This big tank adventure taught me a lot about wasting money and being (un)reasonable. At a certain point I had to stop the journey, the cost of maintaining a reef tank was getting too high for my taste, and I had a lot of coral death because of the heat in my room caused by the Metal Halide lighting. It was too complicated to buy a chiller, and I felt guilty “killing” coral since I was responsible for them. 


    As life went on, and many years passed, I again felt the need to start a reef tank, so I started to read on the internet, browse forums, and asked questions at some local fish stores. I quickly noticed the biological information around saltwater aquariums had evolved a lot in 20 years, namely the comprehension on how animals work, but these animals’ needs still remained the same. From a technological hardware point of view, the only things that seemed to have changed was more efficient LED lighting, skimmers that perform better, pumps that are more durable with wider flow, etc.


    My 32 Gallon Nano Reef 2017 aka the "Lab"


    In 2017 I took a new dive into the hobby and started an All-In-One 120L (32gal) nano tank, which is the tank I called the “Lab” tank because it’s where I test different theories, products, and animal behavior. Up too that point, I had never built a reef aquarium to be visually beautiful, only experimental and practical. So the 365 Day Nano Reef Competition was my first attempt at a real “display” tank.

    The Making Of


    Aquascape Planning


    Before starting this aquarium project there’s a lot of things that I evaluated. I am often late to the party but there’s a good reason for this delay, I’m a turtle you see, slow but built to last. Each reefer has its own journey, appreciates different aspects of the reef, has different budgets, time allocated, space, etc… My journey is extremely uncommon, there’s a level complication that was added since I’m making reef videos on YouTube. If YouTube wasn’t part of this journey, I’m fairly certain that what took me a year would have taken me a month to achieve. When I started this project it was supposed to be at my office, where there's a beautiful background, space, and lightning. I had to negotiate a little bit with my boss at the time and let them know that I would take care of everything, and it would have been very nice to have this aquarium there because everyone could see and enjoy it.



    Workplace Setting

    I was a bit reluctant  at first to have an aquarium at my office, since I was scared that people could put their hand in the water, and I would be commuting with my camera and tripod all the time, but then COVID-19 changed everything. Just when I finished building the tank and getting it ready for water, I couldn't go to work! So a few weeks later I discreetly took the aquarium back home with me, walking with my bike, a backpack, and the tank stuffed into a big bag. I had to rethink the whole project all over again! Once I was back home, I started to clean up the aquarium and then… it slipped!



    Cleaning Accident


    I broke the glass tank, and at that point I could have cancelled the whole project, but once I have a clear idea, this turtle transforms into a bulldog, and I just couldn't let it go. I was determined to keep moving forward and stay in the competition, so I built an exact replica and stuck with the same format.

    Approaching Reef Aquariums Differently

    When starting a reef aquarium I usually go this way: What type of environment do I want to create? What fish do I want (if any)? From the fish, what fish is compatible with corals and invertebrates? From corals, what genus can live together in a nano? How long before the coral will get too big? What does my LFS have in stock? What is the budget? How much time can I dedicate to the tank? Where will the tank will be placed? Sump? AIO? What aquascape style?


    If only it was just that simple…

    Being A YouTuber With Aquariums

    And this is where YouTube starts to kick in and add to the list of things I need to evaluate.


    Do I have goals? What do I want to show? What influence do I want to portray? What part will I document? Where do I put the aquarium, so no one will notice I don’t live in a beautiful place? How to hide and minimize visual chaos? How long do I want to make this project on YouTube? What style of video editing? How long an episode? Who is it for? How much entertainment can you get from the aquarium? What does it take to be interesting for the audience? How long will it take me to create a video? Do I show my mistakes? What if something goes wrong? Do I advertise for aquarium companies? Should I find sponsors to help with the cost? How am I going to film this? How can I extract the most of visual diversity? What photography tricks should I use? What vibe of video do I want to create? Where is the best place to put the aquarium? (This was by far the hardest challenge I had before starting) Do I want to put music? What music? What type of video flow, calm? Fast pace? Vlog style? How much more will it cost me to document this? What material and software do I need? Should I make it in English and French at the same time? Voice over? Graphic text? Am I willing to be less creative and keep the same style the whole time? What if no one watches? What if people hate my aquarium project? Technicals question like 24/30/60fps? HD? 4K? Do I buy wild animals? Captive-bred? Aquaculture? Do I show the American name or their real name?


    And the list goes on and on, believe me when I say all those questions are simply the point of the iceberg of the number of things I considered with this project.

    My Goals

    This step defined the workload for my ambitious project and how it got born. It's the foundation of what direction I would take. Despite certain rules I set for myself, it was also important being able to adapt to the unknown, the unforeseen events, because after all, we deal with animals, not robots 🙂 Plan 80% of the project, and leave 30% for improvisation.

    For The Aquarium (Easy)

    • Biodiversity: If one thing I love about life is it’s all about diversity, I truly enjoy seeing something different, I wanted to reflect the different colors, shapes, Soft, LPS, SPS, NPS, etc… What fascinates me is an ecosystem composition in equilibrium, it can be very complex and diverse, many of what people consider pests, I find them fun, the smaller an organism is, the more intriguing I find it, and this is what I wanted to reflect.

    • Simplicity: One rule to rule them all. The whole philosophy of this aquarium, whether it’s only using 1 pump, 1 light, the DIY filtration system, using floss, avoiding a large variety of coral additives, no controller, the complexity of maintenance. The less equipment is being used, the better the aquarium will perform. But it’s also with the total number of fish, the aquascape, and the choice of corals. Keep it simple!

    • No Aggression: From a naked eye when we look in the ocean all the corals, all the fishies, invertebrates, nearly everything is fighting, either by stinging, chemicals, spreading, nipping, territorial. In a nanosystem, those aggressions are amplified, so I had to find corals that were not super aggressive. I wanted something peaceful for the long term, so calcium encrusting corals, torch corals, anemones, or corals known to release toxin at high concentration, etc. were a no-go.

    • Keep The Tank: Usually, when people participate in an aquarium contest, once the contest is done they shut down their competition tank. Either failed, sold, rehomed, thrown away, etc… I wanted to show a certain form of “respect and dedication” and prove to people this is more than a tank, it’s a responsibility the same as raising a cat or dog.

    For YouTube (Difficult)

    • Document Everything*: By an extremely large margin, this was the most difficult part of this entire project. Everything I do, each action, was shown to the public. This gives me a headache because you also need to plan in advance, buy coral in advance, quarantine coral, fish, prepare solution/setup before recording, you have a limited time because water temperature drops, move furniture, move tripods, move the light, record your hand taking a coral, leave it in the aquarium, move the camera setup and lightning for the next shot, take back the coral and pretend it was a continuous timeline in editing. Having one camera to do everything was annoying at times, but the lack of space is what annoyed me the most during all this documentation, since I live in a small apartment. I had some exceptions to this rule, I didn’t want to show things that I’ve already shown in the past, like water change, scraping glass, the maintenance in general, it would have been too repetitive.

    • A Full Reef Experience: I wanted to inspire potential new reefers into this hobby, convert green people to the blue side of this hobby. During my time on the internet, via YouTube or Instagram, I identify one key element: no one seems to share a true experience of what you can expect when reefing, a real raw experience. We often either glorify the full view of the aquarium without diving into detail, or we simply see dead fish or coral without knowing why and what preceded the event. And right just in this middle, there’s that grey zone, all the little details, the intricacy of synergy, the symbiosis, the myth spread when reading something without understanding the surrounding environment. All those little details are often ignored for various reasons.

    • Take Risks, Make Mistakes and Amplify Them: Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I learn. Show me and I remember. This is a little bit of the mantra that I had during this project. This might be controversial, but I intentionally took risks and made mistakes, but where no one had the guts is where I decided to make a difference in the reef community. By taking risks or mistakes, the goal was to show the following solution and the results. No more theory, no more myth, this was: here the subject, here the problem, here the solution, and here the results. The difficulty in this is often times, either being slow to demonstrate or the amount of work needed to provide all the information. My goal was to punch the viewer with the problems in high definition and macrography, watch the behavior, and hopefully when the time comes, that new reefer will remember what happen when X meets Y. “Oh yeah I remember watching this on Aqua Splendor YouTube channel” This is what I was hoping to build. Don’t hide the problems, show them in all their glory and bring the solution. At first, most viewers didn’t understand and were providing potential solutions in the comments, stuff that they’ve read somewhere like on Facebook, often the exact myth that I’ve seen people spreading. Little by little, week after week, month after month, people started to realize what I was doing and some of the comments transformed from “This is terrible” to “Thank you for doing this”. Perseverance pays off. But like any human, I made real mistakes and learned new things along the way.

    • No Sponsors, No Free Advertising, No External Influence: When you are an “influencer” on whatever the platform, when you show something beautiful, this attracts companies that want to be associated with you. I’ve seen so many of them receiving free products, being paid but not telling to their audience, making videos about how great X product is, and being nice instead of being honest. I do not like this dynamic, so I decided that I would fight this in a different way and simply show the animals, because in the end, it’s not the product you love, it’s the animals. It’s a needle of influence I wanted to push back, bring what we love. It took me a while to known where to rotate that needle, but I think I found the right angle. I also wanted to demonstrate how little hardware you need to have to run a saltwater tank. Many reefing community videos and posts are made to make you consume way more than what you really need. So I stick with a simple setup that can even support the most difficult coral type, thanks to the water changes, and small aquarium 😉. At the same time, I couldn’t completely hide certain products, a lot of them are actually useful, but it’s important to know when you need them, and how to use them for YOUR aquarium. I diminished the amount of visual product placement and oriented towards biology. I believe I made two exceptions of free products during the entire series because the “product” was different and useful for my nano. I frustrated many companies by not playing their games, and refused many products, but it was the right sacrifice to do for the reef community and this project. I might have paid the ultimate price in the end, but I think it needed to be done by someone. Be different. Be bold.


    • I'm Blue, Da ba dee da ba di: Go against the current, show them the right balance with all the details like nature intended. I see a lot of reefers using light with just the blue spectrum, but often they don’t know why they do it, sometimes it’s because they’ve seen others doing it and copy. There’s advantage and disadvantage by doing so. When we take an animal, coral, plant, often the goal is to recreate a portion of nature. In the reef water, you simply don’t see that blue spectrum in the depth. What the LED light produces in this current era doesn’t mimic correctly the real sun's spectrum at depth. And at the moment the blue is often oriented to only make the fluorescent colors pop for our human eyes. What humans perceive and like, and what the corals actually need are two different things. An advantage of blue light is that algae is not very absorbingly efficient, which results in a little bit less natural algae, and compensates with higher organic matter that is often removed via filter media. A disadvantage of using only blue light is that coral won’t correctly develop all their potential coloration and health, but this can vary depending on the type of corals. Another disadvantage: You can’t see what’s inside your aquarium! Blue is one of the worst human visual spectrums, details are harder to see, it glares more (halo effect), it can give you a headache, eye fatigue, even affect your sleep, but at night when the room is dark, the blue overwhelms your eyes and can create a spectacular scene. When you watch your aquarium in blue, everything else is blue, you can’t distinguish any other color if there’s no fluorescence. If you’ve used only blue, you are missing “80%” of the beautiful details of your marine ecosystem. It’s also a great trick to hide Aiptasia and Hair algae... Our eyes are more developed to see Green and Red, so when you use the full spectrum not only you can see “everything,” but you give more photosynthetic energy to a majority of corals, giving them more tools to develop full health and coloration. That being said, blue light is the main source of energy, but I want people to enjoy their aquarium as you see in nature, how it is optimized, and not treat this as a toy.

    • An Expensive Fly Trap: There’s a trend in the past decade with the price of corals in LFS and online going artificially up for the wrong reason. A lot of vendors use blue light to pop the fluorescent details, it’s very eye-catching, but this attention has a price, as it’s common to see the exact species in one place being $100 and another being $20, simply because of the presentation and lighting. A lot of coral that used to be affordable has become artificially expensive over time, some vendors started to match the high selling price of others, and created weird inflation via demand and supply. (It’s more complex, but in a nutshell...). Humans are lured towards color like flies are with light. Those high-profile corals with big price tags slowly become the norm to the expanse of “natural coral”. More and more reefers started to buy fluorescent coral because it’s what they saw somewhere. Slowly some reef aquariums started to become just Vitrine of wealth with an artificial look instead of mimicking nature. To counter this influence, I decided to buy corals that were on average less than $40, with few exceptions. An expensive coral doesn’t mean it’s beautiful, it means you are willing to pay, and can pay the price. Some LFS fluorescent coral selection can also look like crap under full-spectrum light, when you see what it really looks like. I wanted to demonstrate that even a $5 coral can be as good-looking as a $500.

    • Don’t Shoot For Views: When you are a YouTuber an important metric is the number of views on your video. The more you have the better. Even if it’s something I want to do permanently, I decided that views wouldn’t direct my decision-making like money doesn’t, and shouldn’t dictate or affect the direction and choices of the channel. There’s a ton of little tricks learned over the years, a lot of human psychology involved, and ways to play with the algorithm. That being said, I did get slightly influenced by YouTube with the making of my videos to make them more enjoyable to watch. I created my style and adjusted the workflow with the time I had. Being different and original takes 10x more time, you see the results that look simple, but it took hours to find my style. Copying someone else is too easy. Keeping that same style over years was hard, I love to make something different on every video. Giving new experiences, at some point I decided to slightly pump up the quality of some recurrent visuals.


    Growth Time-lapse


    Most of my inspiration comes from watching completely unrelated subjects. There’s that feeling after seeing hundred of thousand of reef aquariums that they all look the same. But once in a while, there’s one that catches my attention. And this is what motivates me, I see a lot of visual potential in the future. One of the top 10 reef tanks of all time is actually featured here from ziareefer in 2014.


    I love some Asian freshwater aquascapes, especially those that create a portion of nature instead of a miniaturization of a landscape. Very few seem to master this art, I would love to try this route in the future, it seems very challenging and even more with a reef aquarium. I mostly watch different videos of animals in their natural habitat, photos look great but videos reveal much more information. I love to watch underwater videos whatever the region of the world. I have a little crush on the abyss, the unknowns, the weird-looking scary-looking creature are sublime to my eyes.

    Mistakes and Missteps

    Like anyone, I do have regrets and have made mistakes during this journey. Losing animals is by far are my biggest regret. I lost my Paragobius goby, shortly after being introduced into the aquarium, I never expected the Wheeleri to eat them, and I saw some early signals when I introduced them. They were my #1 on the list of fish I wanted initially. A few months later that Wheeleri committed a Seppuku via jumping. Since then my DIY aquarium lid has been on all the time.


    A Lost Paragobius Goby


    Another loss that affected me was losing my Thor shrimps. During the tank blackout to demonstrate dinoflagellates effects, I forgot to turn back on my return pump, and with the heat of summer combined with low air exchange, they all died within 18 hours. My curiosity lifting the box that morning helped to save all the other animals that probably had just a few hours left, thankfully.


    The Phymanthus crucifer (rock flower) anemones were a mistake. I wanted to create a symbiosis with the Thor shrimp, which worked, but I knew they were a risk with them not having the right space to get light, I was hoping they would stick to one place and build from there, but they started to move and I decided to remove them before they all died or burned some corals.


    Rock Flower Anemones Since Removed (Phymanthus crucifer)


    Butter? That Okinawae fish gave me a lot of white hair. In the past, I had one that was totally fine with SPS. I took a risk since my initial plan was to make a more SPS dominant tank, rather than LPS. He started to nip slowly at the beginning, so I had the “brilliant” idea to play reverse psychology with him and got full-on with tons of new SPS frags. I was hoping to dissipate the behavior. It turned into a nightmare, and with work and video editing, I had a window to take out the SPS frags while they were still ok, but I failed to do since I was stubborn to document everything and time ran out. I did save many frags, but a few months later in my “Lab” tank, it suffered two waves of RTN/STN that wiped them all out, along with 80% of all my other SPS after testing new products.


    Butter Eating Its Broccoli


    Buying wild animals instead of captive-bred and aquacultured, I suffered numerous coral losses due to pathogens that spread to their neighbors.

    Alveopora, Goniopora, and half of my collection didn’t make it, I took them out for dipping solutions, but despite my effort, it didn’t work. The same thing happened to one of my Sarcophyton and Gorgonians, turns out the ones who started this or didn’t survive were the ones from the wild. The same thing with fish, I bought some wild ones that couldn’t handle the transition and never made it past quarantine.



    Ostreopsis - Dinoflagellate Pest


    I have bought corals that were in a bad shape, hoping they would get better, but in the nano aquarium, it was a little bit harder than I expected. Some did pretty well and others didn’t adapt well to the aquarium.



    Salvaging Coral


    I love to push the limits in different aspects of life, corals in this nano were no different. I try to go as far as I can. I filled this nano with a tons of corals, but this is not ideal for them, as they love to be alone, to have space and full access to sunlight. There are a couple of corals that haven’t “performed” well because of this. It’s also a constant battle of who is outgrowing the other. All corals were added in a strategic way, but you win some battles, and lose others.

    What I've Learned

    • Behavior of the same species of fishes can vary considerably.
    • Sclerite can fusion to form a branch on Octocorallia corals.
    • Anthelia/Stereosoma growth is ludicrous.
    • The aggression level difference between hermit crabs species.
    • Certain corals have a “Princess attitude” and want one specific food.
    • How much “Chemical warfare” could affect my Tubastraea.
    • The amount of coloration difference light can do to certain corals.
    • The resilience of aquatic life in general.
    • New type of “pests” never seen before.
    • Newborns in aquariums are much, much better adapted than their parents from the wild.
    • How much critical flow is important for NPS corals.
    • My willingness and the amount of sacrifices and determination to make things right in this video series on YouTube.

    Behind The Scenes



    Making videos is not glamorous like many people think it is. It’s a lot of work involved, a lot of dedication, and can be very expensive. I sacrificed a part of my professional career to finish this project, no restaurant, no trip around the world, no outside activities, no parties, just the aquariums, my computer, me, and my cat in a small apartment, and countless hours of work and research.


    • Camera: Sony A7SIII camera / Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphone
    • Lens: Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro / Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM / Sony FE 50mm f/1.8
    • Tripod: Manfrotto 3021BPRO / SIRUI HA-77 Retractable Arm
    • Software: Adobe Premiere / Photoshop / After Effects
    • Microscope: AMScope T490 (only recommend if tight budget)
    • Computer: CPU AMD Ryzen 5900X AMD, Video card Nvidia 1080Ti, Memory G.SKILL DDR4 3600MHz 64GB(16GBx4), Hard drive Seagate IronWolf 8TB NAS x4 + Sabrent 2TB Rocket Nvme, Monitor Dell Alienware AW3418DW 34"
    • Organic: Human brain for creativity fueled by chocolate cookies.


    If you are interested in watching the entire documentation from the start to finish of this nano reef aquarium, here’s the full playlist with every episode.



    And if at any point, you are desperate with your reef aquarium, I highly recommend this video:


    Words of Wisdom

    • Water change is what Jesus is to water and wine: it performs “miracles”.

    • Watch underwater videos, see what the divers experience.

    • When asking questions, be sure to understand the environment surrounding the answer.

    • Make your own wave: Don’t mimic my tank, it was designed for the competition, YouTube, and some personnel challenges.

    • The best way to improve the health of a reef is by voting for a responsible government.

    • Like, Subscribe, Comment, and hit that notification bell. (#Sorry Christopher Marks 😜)

    Future Plans

    • I would love to keep creating reef video content on YouTube, but the way I do it is too expensive, the only factor that stops me from continuing: money.

    • I would love to make something easier, like a bigger aquarium with a sump (gosh I miss a sump), an SPS dominant tank because of its low maintenance (all you need is water to be stable), and with all the animal’s mariculture/aquaculture/captive-bred.

    • No matter how much wall is in front of me, I will keep pushing the limit for the reef community, making waves for people to surf on.


    @Aqua Splendor

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    Congratulations! I followed this tank from the contest and watched all the videos posted on NR. Always enjoyed and appreciated you documenting every thing. Working through some common problems and helping reefers along the way. You sir fight the good fight. Thanks

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    Well deserved! I really enjoyed those videos, especially the time and effort required to make them. 

    Thank you for that and for the honesty along the way. 


    I took the liberty and modified one of your photos. 


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