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  • ECLS Reefer

    Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to community member @ECLS Reefer and her 13.5 gallon nano reef aquarium for being selected for our June 2021 Reef Profile! This small mixed-reef nano tank is home to an incredible collection of unique coral and fish. In this article ECLS Reefer shares her experiences in the hobby and this aquarium's journey over the past two years. Please 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 reef tank.

    Sister Margaret’s Home For Wayward Girls 13.5g Evo


    Tank Specs

    Display: Fluval Evo XII 13.5 gallon All-In-One Aquarium 22" L x 11.5" W x 15" H

    Lighting: One AI Prime HD with 18in Flex Arm Mount

    Heater: Generic 20W Heater, with dialable internal thermostat

    Return Pump: Sicce Syncra 1.0 251gph, 16W, 0.25amp 

    Wavemaker: Hygger 1600gph Quiet DC 12V Wave Maker

    Filtration: Innovative Marine Media Basket, for Evo XII Chamber One

    Filter Media: Filter floss, Media bag (1/8 cup Seachem Phosguard, 1 oz Brightwell Carbonit-P)

    Top Off: XP Aqua Duetto Dual Sensor Complete Aquarium Auto Top Off, drawing from 5gal Ruby Trigger Systems ATO Reservoir

    Dosing: Jebao DP-3 pump dosing Brightwell Reefcode A&B, Brightwell Magnesion

    Suppliments: Brightwell MicroBacter 7, Brightwell Vitamarin C, Brightwell Replenish, Brightwell Strontion, Red Sea NoPox

    Established June 2019


    Overhead View

    Maintenance Routine

    Daily Dosing

    • Reef Code A – 1ml every 12 hours every other day
    • Reef Code B – 1ml every 12 hours every other day
    • Magnesion – 3ml once every 2 days


    Daily Routine

    • Scrape the glass.
    • Check livestock health.
    • Talk to Billy and Dilly, Mr Goby Doby and search for Interceptor (who remains incredibly shy of faces).


    Weekly Maintenance

    • Change filter floss every 3-4 days depending on level of filthiness.
    • Change the media bag and contents for cleanliness.
    • Dose supplements as scheduled.



    I broadcast feed every other day, from a bottled mix. The food is a refrigerated mixture of frozen (mostly Hikari or San Francisco Bay), LRS Reef Frenzy and/or Herbivore Frenzy, Brightwell phytoplankton, Brightwell zooplankton, Brightwell jelly plankton, Red Sea Reef Energy Plus AB+, Nyos Goldpods Liquid Plankton, Nyos Chromys Liquid Plankton, Nyos Artemis Liquid Plankton, Polyp Lab Reef Roids, and BRS powdered Spirulina .


    Parameter Testing

    Water chemistry is tested weekly for all tanks, on either Friday or Saturday. Skipping gives me anxiety, as I’m on the more OCD end of the fish care spectrum. 


    Other Maintenance

    I turkey baste the rocks and sand bed every couple of weeks depending on how dirty things might look. About once a month I remove and clean both the wave pump and return pump, usually just power washing parts and scrubbing with a wire brush to remove the nasties.


    Water Changes

    Due to my own time constraints with work I have labored long and hard to get all three of my tanks used to fairly well spaced out water changes. Water changes for the Evo are usually every 1-2 months depending on physical appearance of the sand bed and water chemistry results. I always remove 4-5 gallons, as this is probably close to 50% when you factor in the mass of the rocks and corals.


    As this is a house raising young boys who are fairly animal crazy, every single fish I own has a name. This is a sometimes tedious affair, finding the perfect name for each creature, but it does help distinguish everyone.

    • Black Ice Clownfish Bonded Pair – Dillinger and Billy Frechette (Billy and Dilly)

    • Wheeler Shrimp Goby – Mr Goby Doby

    • Red Mandarin Dragonet male - Interceptor

    Soft Corals

    • Kenya Tree x 2, fragged from the 120g tank.

    • Neon Green Star Polyps

    • Light Green Star Polyps

    • St Thomas Mushroom

    • Purple Bullseye Mushroom

    • Yellow/Blue Ricordea Mushroom

    • Zoas and Palythoas

    LPS Corals

    • Duncan Polyps

    • Gold Torch

    • Green centered Frogspawn

    • Purple Tipped Hammer

    • Green Hammer

    • Dragon Soul Torch

    • Gold Cristata Torch

    • Red Goniopora

    • Rainbow Acan colony

    • Rainbow Echinata

    • Button Scoly

    • Warpaint Scoly

    • Blue Flame Favia

    • Baby’s Breath Favia

    SPS Corals

    • Green Poccillopora

    • Sunrise Montipora

    • Rainbow Montipora

    • Blue/Green Leptastrea

    • Green Leptastrea

    • Strawberry Lemonade Cyphastrea

    • Tubbs Stellata


    • 3-4 Bumble Bee Snails

    • 1 Money Cowrie

    • Tiger pistol shrimp (Snappy 1)

    • Assorted Astrea Turbo Snails

    • 3-4 Tongan Nassarius Snails

    • Emerald Crab

    • Porcelain Crab 

    • 2 Pincushion Urchins

    • 2 Scarlett Reef Hermits

    • Baby Blue Legged Hermits (multiple)

    • Teeny Weeny Cerith Snails

    • Double Tile Starfish (RIP)


    My venture into salt water aquarium keeping started when I was a kid and went to a large aquarium. I was fascinated by a world of fish you could only see on family trips. Then my brother, who is much older than me, got a 100 gallon tank. Watching his fish was mesmerizing, and I told myself someday I would have a reef of my own. The jealousy factor increased 200 fold when my brother got TWO 180 gallon tanks, in-wall builds with separate equipment rooms behind them. Talk about some reef keeping goals. At any rate, my older son decided when he was about 8 that he wanted a Nemo tank like his uncle, and thus the hobby (obsession) was born.


    June 2019 - Tank Start


    We actually started with this tank, and broke our teeth on this hobby using an all-in-one setup in February of 2019. We researched the hobby for about 6 months, mostly on Nano-Reef, before buying the tank, live rock, live sand and seasoned water. The tank actually started out well for me as a complete newbie, most likely because we purchased all seasoned rock, sand and water. There was relatively no cycle and therefore no tense waiting period. This was both good and bad for me, as it didn’t really teach me the discipline of cycling a new tank or the patience of not adding creatures until fully cycled. (Definitely struggled with that when I started this tank from dry the second time.) The Evo rocked along with fair success, but then after three months I decided to get a bigger tank. We did a tank size upgrade from the Evo to a 50gal, which went rather badly, as some tank transfers can.


    December 2019


    I ended up getting the Evo wet again June 3rd, 2019, with different livestock. This time I decided to place the Evo in the center of my dresser, in my bedroom. It is in a primo position, hanging out below the TV. That way we can watch the fish and the TV at the same time, which has made it fairly easy to monitor the reef’s progress every morning. It’s been a fairly happy marriage ever since. There have been a few bumps in the road, but thankfully nothing like some tank and hobby ending events I’ve seen people mention. Now the Evo is two years old come June 3rd, 2021, and a testament to bumbling in the dark as a newbie, determination, hard work and a whole lot of luck.


    February 2020 - New Aquascape


    April 2020


    One notable bump in the road happened April 23rd, 2021, when the heater failed and tried to cook the tank. It was a three year old Cobalt Neotherm 150W heater, and the original heater I bought for this tank when I started out in 2019. It didn’t explode like the heater in my 5gal tank did, just started vastly overheating the tank. When I discovered the issue, I woke to find the water cloudy and the fish unhappy, all corals angry, and the water at almost 90 degrees F. So, not ideal at all! I threw some carbon in, because at the time I didn’t realize how hot the water was, but when pulling the media basket for the carbon, I discovered the tank was inching toward fish soup status and had an Ah Ha (!) moment that the heater was overdoing its job. I removed it completely and tried a no heater approach for a day, which didn’t help with the general unhappiness of the tank, and did a water change. The next day I ended up buying an emergency heater from an LFS, which is what I’m currently using - a generic brand dialable, simple heater. Once the temperature evened out, the carbon and the water change helped fix the cloudiness, but unfortunately cost me the skunk cleaner shrimp, the double tile star, my gorgeous amethyst pectinia and two frogspawn frags. I was able to replace the frogspawn, but as yet have been unable to secure the other items. So, after this one costly equipment failure - one single piece of equipment -  I have decided in the future to mitigate some of the risk by replacing the heaters every two years rather than just waiting for them to age out. Heaters are generally affordable and often so critical to stability, yet often the weak link in dependable tank equipment.


    December 2020

    Future Plans

    I have been completely happy with this tank, its development, its location, and its tank members. I have no real plans to ever break up this party. I am lucky in that I have a large reef to move livestock to if they ever outgrow the Evo, but I hope to keep this quartet together until the bitter end. The only thing I waffle on possibly upgrading is to get a slightly bigger light, or two AI Primes over it. I love the ease of use of the AI systems but I sometimes feel like the tank is a tiny bit dim. And hey, @Cannedfish has proven that you can have four of the things over a tank and not boil the water, so there’s that inspiration.

    Thoughts On...

    • Lighting 

      I started out with the Evo stock light and never liked the amount of condensation that formed within the lid. I graduated to an Amazon purchased MikMol LED that was really well sized but didn’t put out enough juice to create the growth I was hoping for. I moved from the little MikMol light to a RedSea LED 50 which was a fairly nice light, just very blue. I finally graduated to an AI Prime 16HD LED and really enjoy this light. I wish I’d splurged for it first, honestly, and recommend it for smaller tanks.

    • Heaters and Temperature Regulators

      Heaters are super important, yet often times a risk because of their occasional tendency to fail or explode. Unfortunately they are a necessary evil and hard to avoid on most tanks. Especially for my house - I keep it fairly cold with air conditioning year round and so never need a chiller, but at night absolutely must have a heater. I like the Cobalt Neotherm heaters for their slim profile, but there are a number of reports of them exploding and poisoning a tank. The heater currently in the Evo is a generic brand, very simple dialable heater and has been working just fine since I threw it in there emergently in April. I have a new 25W Neotherm on standby still in the box, and would trust using it in the future if needed. I have also used Hygger 400W glass heaters for just about everything else - my outdoor koi pond, my 120g tank, my salt water mixing Brute, and as my just in case, and I believe the Hyggers to be a good brand, no matter the wattage.

      Temperature Regulators such as Inkbirds or Finnex are useful as well for peace of mind with your heater. I have one on my big tank, but have left them off of the 5gal and the Evo because for some reason they have consistently overheated both of these smaller tanks. I’m not sure if it’s just the location of the tanks in my bedroom, which is slightly hotter than the rest of the house, or something to do with the physics of small spaces and heaters in AIO tanks. I have no issues with the Inkbird on the big tank, so they do work, just not in my bedroom. I’d say for most, the peace of mind you get with a regulator is a big plus.

    • Flow

      When I first bought the Evo tank as a complete newbie I used the stock pump for return flow, and it worked fine. I did some reading and ended up upgrading to a Sicce Syncra 1.0 based on internet chatter and recommendations. I’ve been happy with it since. It fits in the AIO chamber and has adjustable flow, though I’ve always run it at max. It’s easy to take apart and clean. In fact I’ve used this pump for so long, and even replaced a burned out one with the same, that I don’t remember anything to say about the stock pump other than it worked. I’ve had no problems with the Sicce and would recommend it to those looking for an upgraded pump in an Evo XII system.

    • Skimmers

      I actually have the little Fluval Skimmer made for the Evo XII in a box in my garage. I never could reach a happy relationship with it. Yes, it skimmed. I found it messy and a cleaning pain, especially when I was hoping to keep the tank area pretty clean and neat. So I can say it did work, but I ended up finding it was extraneous and unnecessary and took it out. Truth be told once this system reached maturity, nutrients weren’t an issue and with correct outflow nozzle placement and a wave pump, there was plenty of water aeration.

    • Nutrients

      I know, as a reefer that’s still fairly new, that patience is a difficult skill to achieve. I wasn’t patient. I was someone that wanted to push the envelope, dance on the edge of disaster, then try to nurse the tank through whatever damage I did to it. As someone who is on the fussier side of aquarium care, I didn’t mind the extra work, but I can say that living on the edge of continuous tank failures does wear down the soul after a while. So, while I acknowledge the correctness of experienced reefers saying not to add too many fish or corals too soon, I am definitely a very bad example. If you do choose to follow my poor example, be ready to work twice as hard as the next person to keep your nutrients in check, and test frequently. Be ready to do frequent water changes and to lose, then replace livestock. 

      Since the tank has reached a happy level of maturity, the nutrients stay around 0.2-0.25 phosphates and 0-5 nitrates. I do dose NoPox to help keep things on a steady keel. Recently I’ve added back a small amount of Phosguard in the media basket mixed with a small amount of carbon, just because I found the NoPox added daily drove the nutrients low enough that I started having issues with diatoms on the sand. And I definitely wanted to avoid creating a situation that allowed the dreaded dinos to show up, so I have left the tank with slightly higher phosphates. The coral seems to appreciate the levels in this range, so I’ve been rather bolstered by the results.


    • Dosing

      I could get away with no dosing pumps on this tank, without issue. The schedule shows that the three items I have programmed, don’t even deliver every day. I purely added this dosing system because of automation and a good helping of wanting to fit in with the aquarium gadget crowd. So, yes, you can run this system with all the corals and fish in there as I have, without having to invest in a dosing pump. However, I would still give the tank supplements as needed for coral health and maintaining a happy water chemistry, whether by hand or with an automatic pump.

    • Clean-up Crews

      I find the clean-up crew to be one of the most important parts of a healthy tank. Whichever types of algae eating snails and crabs you end up with, they help maintain the balance of life within. I’ve found that astrea turbo snails are powerhouse algae cleaners. Blue legged hermits start out tiny but are hard workers. I love bumble bee snails because they can get into tiny areas and clean out rock crevices easily but are harmless additions. Nassarius snails are a mixed bag. I have had them overtake and obliterate sand sleeping fish such as small mandarins or scooters. So I would recommend not adding large nassarius snails to a tank with small surface sand sleepers that might not get out of the way quickly enough. Emerald crabs are also a mixed bag-some work really hard and some are lazy as sin and like to stare at you like “Whut?” Which is why there’s only one in this tank. The hardest worker in the tank, and I highly recommend them when they can be found, is the money cowrie. That is one algae eating MACHINE. They are difficult to find in stock though.


    I would like to say that literally everything I’ve learned about reefing has been from Nano-Reef.com and the people I have met here. I’ve looked at other sites and they just have never compared, in my opinion. So thank you, Christopher Marks, for creating this site where so much knowledge is now stored and shared, to help people start from nothing in this hobby. Also, thank you to @WV Reefer, @Cannedfish, @mitten_reef, @Tigahboy, @StinkyBunny and old man @spectra for helping teach me the ropes of reefing, how to not kill all my fish and corals, and how to take better photos of everything. This place has become something of an extension of my family now, and to a large extent kept me sane through The Dark Year last year. Now, back to watching my younger child shoot Nerf bullets out of his nose….

    Maximum Effort!

    @ECLS Reefer

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    14 minutes ago, Cannedfish said:

    Congratulations! Well deserved! Time to add more light!!

    I agree! I was standing there looking at it thinking it’s too dark!

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