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  • joshthebox

    Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to community member @joshthebox and his 20 gallon nano reef aquarium for being selected for our October 2021 Reef Profile! This SPS dominated nano reef has seen remarkable coral growth and coloration through dedicated, yet simple, care and maintenance. In this article joshthebox shares his 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 his aquarium journal for additional photos, history, and information about this beautiful nano reef tank.

    Josh's 20gal SPS Nano Reef


    Tank Specs

    Display: Innovative Marine NUVO Fusion Nano 20 (20 gallons), 24” x 15” x 13”.
    Rock: CaribSea Moani dry rock.
    Sand: CaribSea Fiji pink aragonite sand.
    Lighting: ATI Dimmable Sunpower T5 high-output fixture 24” 4x24W.

    Bulb combo: ATI Blue + (x2) and ATI Coral + (x2).
    Heater: 150W Fluval titanium heater.
    Return Pump: Sicce Syncra Silent 1.5.
    Wavemaker: EcoTech Marine Vortech MP10 QD Quiet Drive (x2). Skimmer: Eshopps Nano Skimmer.

    Filter Media: Marine Pure 1.5” spheres along with InTank media baskets. Top Off: XP Aqua Duetto ATO.
    Dosing: RedSea ReefDose 2 supplying ESV B-ionic 2 part.
    Salt Mix: RedSea Coral Pro.

    Established November 2019





    Maintenance Routine

    Daily Routine

    • Feed New Life Spectrum marine pellets 5x a day.
    • Clean the glass daily using a small magnetic glass cleaner.
    • Manually dose 2 tbsp of live phytoplankton.


    Parameter Testing


    I test Alkalinity, Calcium and salinity daily using Salifert test kits and a Hanna salinity pen. It takes me less than 10 minutes to complete the tests and ensures me that all is well. I’ll then make dosing adjustments if necessary. Every 3 weeks I test Magnesium, Phosphate, and Nitrate.


    The only thing I dose is ESV-Bionic and occasionally Fuel or Acropower (about 10 ml a week when I feel like trying it out). In terms of dosage volume, I'm currently up to 34ml of each part of B-Ionic daily. Water changes take care of my Magnesium, I rarely see it drop. 


    On average my water parameters are as follows:

    • Salinity: 1.026SG
    • Temperature: 79 F
    • Alkalinity: 8.5 dKH
    • Calcium: 420 ppm
    • Magnesium: 1400 ppm
    • Phosphate and Nitrate: undetectable with Salifert test kits. pH: 8.0-8.5


    General Maintenance


    • I am a firm believer in water changes, as it acts as a method of nutrient transport and replenishes various trace elements. Every 2 weeks I complete a 3 to 4 gallon water change.
    • Prior to the water change, I mix 0 TDS RO/DI water with salt in a 5 gallon bucket using a small water pump alongside a heater. Once my desired salinity of 1.026 SG is reached and the water in the mixing bucket is clear, I start water changing. I siphon the sand and the back chambers to prevent detritus accumulation.
    • I frag the corals as needed to prevent shading issues.
    • Each week I take apart the skimmer and clean the various components.
    • Every month I clean the powerheads and the return pump.


    • Hawaiian Flame Hawkfish (Neocirrhites armatus)

    • Tiger Goby (Tigrigobius macrodon)

    Soft Corals

    • WWC AOI (Zoanthid sp.)

    • Tubb’s Blue (Zoanthid sp.)

    • Reef Raft Canada Blue Stereo Nepthya

    SPS Corals

    • Reef Raft Canada Goldenrod Anacropora (Anacropora sp.)

    • WWC Grafted Cap (Montipora sp.)

    • Leng Sy Cap (Montipora tuberculosa)

    • Mystic Sunset (Montipora sp.)

    • Jason Fox Aquaman (Montipora sp.)

    • Reef Raft Canada Pink Cadillac (Acropora divaricata)

    • Wild Millepora (Acropora millepora)

    • Miyagi Tortuosa (Acropora tortuosa)

    • Strawberry Shortcake (Acropora microclados)

    • Green Staghorn (Acropora sp.)

    • Tricolour Valida (Acropora valida)

    • Jason Fox Jack-o-lantern Leptoseris (Leptoseris sp.)

    • Purple Scroll (Turbinaria reniformis)


    • Tridacna Crocea Clam

    • Various Feather Dusters, Sponges and Barnacles Micro Brittle Starfish

    • Ninja Star Snails

    • Trochus Snails

    • Nassarius Snails

    • Blue Leg Hermit Crabs

    • Chitons


    I have been around aquariums for as long as I can remember. My father kept a large freshwater aquarium when I was young, which I believe sparked my interest in this wonderful hobby. There has never been a time in my life when a freshwater aquarium was not present in my home. Throughout high school, and now into university, I have been working at my local fish store. I started keeping reef tanks about three years ago.


    My First Nano Reef - Fluval Evo 13.5gal


    Prior to my current tank, I had an LPS dominant Fluval Evo 13.5g. It quickly became stocked, and I was looking to try something new. I stumbled upon a used Nuvo 20 with media baskets for a good price on my local classifieds and decided to pick it up. I knew I wanted to keep SPS in this system, so when designing the rockwork, I left some space in between the rock and the back wall for good water flow. I started the system with dry rock and live sand. It took the tank at least 6 months to establish and develop a good population of coralline algae. I ran into dinoflagellate issues during the early months of the tanks journey, but with time and patience the issue disappeared.


    November 2019 - Cycling


    Initially I was lighting the tank with an AI Hydra 26HD along with an AI Prime HD. As the SPS frags began to grow, shadowing issues became apparent to me. I decided to switch from LED to T5, which was an absolute game changer in terms of SPS growth. The spread and spectrum a T5 fixture provides is superb. I chose a 50/50 mix of ATI Blue + and Coral + bulbs to light the reef. The spectrum produced is a crisp white with a tint of blue. I run a 12-hour photoperiod – 8 hours of full spectrum lighting, and the 2 hours at the beginning and end of the photoperiod are lit by ATI Blue + bulbs.

    I keep the filtration setup very simple, the only filter media I use is biological. There is no mechanical filtration aside from protein skimming, and no chemical filtration is used.


    At the year mark, the SPS began to grow at a better rate. I attribute this to the fact that the ‘dry rock’ was finally becoming ‘live rock’. The lighting upgrade also played a major role in the growth change.


    December 2020


    As far as fish livestock goes, I initially had my large breeding pair of Ocellaris clownfish in this tank. I have since moved them to a larger system. I also had a small fairy wrasse, a six-line wrasse, and a tiger goby in the tank for a long time. As soon as I added the flame hawk fish to the system, he quickly killed all of the resident fish, with the exception of the small tiger goby. The hawk fish now spends most of his days sitting on my SPS.


    In February 2021, I ran into Acropora and Montipora ‘black bugs’, a pest similar to Tegastes ‘redbugs’. Even though I thoroughly dip my corals, they managed to slip by. Fortunately, I was able to obtain Interceptor, a medication containing Milbemycin Oxime that is used as a treatment for parasitic copepods. The treatment eradicated the black bugs, but also destroyed my copepod population. I seeded the tank with live copepods to re-establish the population.



    June 2021

    Disasters or Regrets

    Overall, I have not experienced many setbacks aside from the minor black bug issue that was treated easily. My past tanks had some pest issues, such as a Vermetid snails and Aiptasia. I made sure to avoid introducing any nuisance pests into this system, and now almost 2 years later, I have yet to encounter any pests.


    I do regret adding encrusting Montipora to the system, as they are quite invasive. I also would have designed the aquascape with less rock, so that there would be more vertical space for coral growth.


    The only struggle I face is maintaining detectable levels of Nitrate and Phosphate. To combat this, I feed multiple times a day. Perhaps my coral colours would be better if my nutrient levels were elevated.

    Future Plans

    I plan to keep the tank running for the foreseeable future. I will continue to hack away at the corals when they get too big to prevent shadowing problems and flow dead spots. I also have a new, larger tank running that I am slowly stocking with SPS frags from my current setup.

    Words of Wisdom

    Keeping a reef tank does not need to be complex. I firmly believe that strong randomized flow, a lighting fixture that provides good spread and spectrum, protein skimming, and stable water quality is the fundamental basis to a successful reef tank. If the basics are mastered, success will follow. All the other fancy additives are not required to have a thriving reef tank.


    I agree with the saying “If their tank ain’t nice, don’t take their advice”. Plenty of people like to give advice with good intention, but don’t have the experience to back up their claims. Findsomeone who has achieved what you aim to produce and listen to what they have to say. Theyhave already made all the mistakes, so you shouldn’t have to.


    Test your water parameters, it does not take very long to test! Your corals will reward you with good health if you make the effort to maintain stable parameters.

    Advice to New Hobbyists

    Take things slowly, Rome was not built in a day! The life of the animals we are keeping are in our hands, they are not collectable objects. We must respect them and strive to make them thrive.


    In the current day of social media popularity, it is easy to compare your tank to others. Just remember, this hobby is not a competition! Take pride in what you have created and enjoy it.

    Thoughts On...

    • Lighting Technology
      Success is possible with any of the common ways to light a tank (metal halide, T5, LED). I favour T5 and halide lighting simply because they provide evenly distributed light, and a proven spectrum for growth. LEDs offer a lot of programming options, which I believe is a blessing, but also a curse. Just because the light looks visually appealing to the eye does not mean that it is in the best interest for the coral. When using LED, I would highly recommend utilizing the pre-setprogram options (eg. EcoTech Coral Lab’s AB+). In doing so, you can be confident that yourcorals are receiving adequate spectrum.
    • Flow
      Adequate randomized flow is extremely important in a reef tank. Even when you think you have enough flow, add a bit more.
    • Aquaculture
      I believe aquaculture is the way of the future. Aquacultured frags are far more resilient compared to mariculture or wild pieces. More importantly, they are usually farmed in pest free environments. Aquacultured corals also hold their color well in a variety of tank conditions.

    Final Words

    I would like to sincerely thank Christopher Marks for selecting my tank as October 2021’s featured reef profile. I would also like to thank the members of Nano-Reef.com for making this forum such a valuable resource to obtain knowledge and discuss reef.



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    Recommended Comments

    34 minutes ago, justinkdenny said:

    Congratulations!  Beautiful reef.


    7 minutes ago, WV Reefer said:

    Yay!! Congrats! 😊

    Thank you both! 

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    24 minutes ago, banasophia said:

    Congratulations on the TOTM - and gorgeous tank! I especially love your turbinaria and your tiger goby. 😍

    Thank you! The Turbinaria is definitely one of my favourites, they seem to be often overlooked in the hobby! The tiger goby is quite a character, especially given how small it is! 

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    2 hours ago, Groot said:

    Congrats! well done


    20 minutes ago, M. Tournesol said:

    Congratulation! super tank.

    Thank you both, I appreciate it! 

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    1 hour ago, A.m.P said:

    Man that goldenrod is bright, incredible tank.

    Thank you very much! The goldenrod is definitely an awesome coral, it grows fairly quick as well! 

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