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Florida Gorgonian Garden


This tank has been on the drawing board for quite some time as I came up with my ideal system, one that would still be small enough to throw in the back of the car and move if necessary. Imagine my surprise shortly after buying the tank to find that there was a new competition running, and I was already planning a tank that would fit right in!


The focus of this tank will be a habitat display consisting of shallow water soft corals that could be found together on a mixed hard and sandy bottom in southern Florida. Some of the feature organisms will include: photosynthetic gorgonians, Florida ricordea, Florida zoanthids, Florida corallimorphs, and macro algae. Things that I don’t plan to add to the tank, but still want to encourage the growth of include filter feeding organisms like sponges and tube worms that are very common there. To that end, this will be a heavily fed tank with heavy nutrient export capacity and high water motion. Bright light would also be typical for this environment. Most of the tank inhabitants will be coming from collectors in the Keys, and the bulk will be filled in with animals from other sites in the Caribbean whenever possible.


Entry Photo





10 gallon AGA



20” 70 watt Sunpod metal halide system


Circulation and Filtration

Nano Remora with MaxiJet 900

Aquaclear 50, filled with LR rubble and as a space for chemical filtration

Closed Loop System with SCWD, powered by another MaxiJet 900


Temperature Control

Jager 50 watt heater (if necessary)

Desk fan blowing across surface of aquarium (if necessary)

Chiller (if necessary!)



I’ve been planning the upgrade to a habitat-specific 10 gallon tank for quite some time, so I already have many of the life forms that will go into this tank. This is a rough outline of what I already have, and some planned additions.


10 lbs. aquacultured Florida live rock

Unknown amount of indo-pacific liverock (as needed)

Deep sand bed for macros and mantis shrimp

Orange sea rod, Muricea elongata

Purple sea plume, Pseudopterogorgia spp.

Yellow sea whip, Pterogorgia citrina

Florida ricordea, Ricordea florida

Atlantic zoanthids

White encrusting zoanthid, Palythoa caribeaorum

Bubble mushroom, Discosoma sanctithomae

Discosoma carlgreni

Harlequin serpent star, Ophioderma appressum

Porcelain crabs, Petrolisthes spp.

Rainbow mantis, Pseudosquilla ciliate

Astrea snails

Cerith snails

Nerite snails

Sabellid hitchhikers

Serpulid hitchhikers

Sponge hitchhikers

Bivalve hitchhikers (including two Atlantic thorny oysters smaller than a pencil eraser)

Halimeda algae

Other macroalgae


The mantis shrimp is a spearing species that should be uninterested in eating my invertebrates. I don’t plan on adding it until I am mostly done aquascaping the tank, and I’m not entirely sure I will be able to find one of the right species by the end of competition.


There are some other animals I’d like to eventually add that probably won’t be added within the span of the competition. This includes challenging filter feeders like flame scallops, Christmas tree worms, and sponges. Many of these are common to abundant in southern Florida waters, and are favorite organisms of mine, but I’m hesitant to add them without serious consideration first. I plan on watching the filter feeders that have hitchhiked in over a year or so and seeing how they do in my tank before intentionally adding any more, especially since husbandry of these animals is iffy. If similar animals already in the tank show growth and reproduction, I’ll consider adding some of these trickier animals. And it will give me time to decide if I want to try to find a collector who offers Florida Christmas tree worms, of if I’ll go in for the almost-identical indo-pacific Christmas tree worms, typically offered already embedded in Porites coral.


More to follow :)

Edited by Rene

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This contest seems like it has some of the most creative and interesting tanks yet. I can't wait for things to really get going!

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Sweet. I love gorgs and have thought about a gorg dominated tank.

I'm excited to see how this turns out.

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Heh. Looking into the 5.5, where most of the livestock has been since March, it's looking more like a ricordea-and-zoanthid-tank. Hopefully a new aquascape will give me a chance to place the gorgs for better effect. They're sort of stuffed wherever they will fit right now where the flow is high, which means behind the rockwork next to the filter outputs.


I really like them because they're different, but one thing I've found since I've had them is that even for photosynthetic ones, feeding seems to be a must. I had some tissue recession before I started feeding the tank heavily. Since then, I've seen them all encrust nicely around their bases and show some new branch growth.


All that feeding hasn't been so great for maintain "clean" looking rocks though :P Hopefully, a protein skimmer will make a difference there.

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Hopefully, a protein skimmer will make a difference there.


Perhaps. Adding a refugium w/ macro algae would absorb nutrients and provide the ideal habitat for zooplankton and phytoplankton populations that could naturally feed your gorgs. It is pretty easy to make a hang-on-back refugium using pretty much any hang on back power filter and a small lamp.

Edited by lgreen

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How much did that MH system cost you? Looks identical to my 80 watt PC fixture.

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^cheapest I've seen was like $220-230. Someone mentioned a 30% off coupon for thatfishplace, but I couldn't find it. If you could find the coupon, it would make it like $170!

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Lgreen is right on the pricing. I got mine from my LFS, so naturally it was more expensive than an online source, but ended up being about the same since I didn't have to pay shipping.


I am using a hob filter as a refugium, but the jury is still out on whether or not I'm going to throw some chaeto in there. I've done it before and liked it. Worked great for nutrient export, which will be valuable if I don't want fast-growing macro in the display. It does culture different sized micro-inverts than rubble.


It's a good idea. I just haven't decided yet what to do with all the rubble I've collected over the years. If I'm lucky, the light spill-over from the halide will be enough to grow chaeto pretty well. It's grown nicely for me in pretty dim light before.

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SCWD with a MJ 900? Seems like that would have a very long cycle time, almost to the point of being, well, pointless. I could be wrong though.


MJ900 = 230gph stock

Add to this flow restriction from plumbing, and you're looking at probably somewhere around 18-20+ second cycles. Also, you wouldn't get much flow out of the system due to the large losses from the scwd itself.


I'd go with a larger pump.

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I'd go with a larger pump.


Yeah, it's a long cycle time. It starts switching over at about 12 seconds, and finished at 15 seconds. And that was a test in a bucket before adding in the plumbing. I had the MJ 900 already, so I figured I'd use it.


If I were to switch pumps, any suggestions for a quiet pump brand that doesn't dump heat into the water? What about flow rates?

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:huh:CLS update


Most of the plumbing for the CLS is already done, I just hadn’t gotten around to posting pictures of it.




I’m still waiting on hose clamps to finish this. The aquaclear filter/fuge will sit in the big space next to the remora, and the whole system rests on a shelf I got from Lowes which is attached to the tank stand. To position inlet and outlet pipes where I wanted them, I used little spare bits of tubing propped against the aquarium.


This is the first time I’ve tried to DYI any plumbing, and I’m fairly happy with how it came out. But there are a few concerns:


*leaks/microbubbles. I figure hose clamps should take care of this.

*not easy to take apart for maintenance: I have no check valves, so I’ll have to disassemble the whole thing to clean anything. On the bright side, it’ll give me an opportunity to clean the thing out with pipe brushes.

*not easy to prime the pump: to do that, I plan on yanking out the inlet (far left) and using a funnel to pour water into the tubing. I’ll put the inlet back on, clamp, and be ready to go. Hopefully.

*not enough flow: there’s some concern that with restrictions due to elbows, the SCWD, and pipe diameter, this won’t provide the flow I’d hoped for. I’m a little stumped as to what to do about this just now without tearing the whole thing down and starting over. It would be great if I could find a more powerful pump of similar size with the same/similar inlet-outlet hose sizes.




On the other hand, it does look pretty sleek. The soft tubing should cut down on noise. And once the pump is primed, the whole thing should run without issues until I need to clean it. I think I can live with most of the limitations of this design, with the possible exception of not enough flow. The current pump is a MJ900, 230gph. Any suggestions for a pump upgrade, folks?


In other news, I’m definitely going to need a chiller. I don’t know what I was thinking…ambient temps in my apartment are unpredictably warm, often around 81 or 82 degrees. With the lights off in the 5.5, which has two aquaclear filters, tank temp can hit 84 if I’m not watching it. I have fans on the tank, but no easy way to control them since the tank temp is dependant on ambient temp, so I scramble to turn them on and off manually as temperature in the room changes.


Take into account the halide lights close to the water, and the maxijet powering the skimmer, and I think there’s little doubt I’m going to need a chiller on this tank to maintain stable temperatures.

Edited by Rene

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:huh:CLS update

Take into account the halide lights close to the water, and the maxijet powering the skimmer, and I think there’s little doubt I’m going to need a chiller on this tank to maintain stable temperatures.


buy a fan......i find that small systems absorb heat alot quicker...


as far as your set up, its breath taking......LOL :haha: good job so far!,

is that a uv sterilizer??


as far as a pump...bump it up to 500gph if its in your budget....what brand?? depends on what you wanna spend.....if you buy something cheap, chances are it was cheaply made

Edited by SaVeThEeELs

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Rene, Ehiem pumps are quiet, and don't produce too much heat. They are a bit pricey though.


If you get a chiller, and have the space, I'd go with a mag 5.

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I have a Mag5 running through the chiller on my 10g... holy moses, is that a lot of flow. I had to put a spray bar across the front and one side to even it out. :)


As long as you stick with smaller-polyped gorgonians, a Mag5 would be perfect for this tank.

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I have a Mag5 running through the chiller on my 10g... holy moses, is that a lot of flow. I had to put a spray bar across the front and one side to even it out. :)


As long as you stick with smaller-polyped gorgonians, a Mag5 would be perfect for this tank.


Thanks for the suggestions, guys. I'm seriously considering the Hydor Seltz L35 (450gph) as a replacement for the MaxiJet. Research today pulled up a bunch of great feedback on it...if you want to count overclocked computer case cooling, that is :lol: And it comes with attachments to fit it to 1/2" tubing. Bonus.


Eheim pumps have good reviews but the things are just too big and heavy for the shelf on the back of my tank. Bleh.


Jeremai, your Mag5 doesn't leak? I heard they're not supposed to be used externally, so I wasn't considering the Mags.


I used the head calculator on reef central to work out what my final output pressure would be with a Mag5 on the CLS, and it'd be around 350-400gph at least, switching about, oh, every six seconds. Almost too much flow? I imagine the gorgs would love it, but I'm not sure the ricordea and mushrooms would be thrilled.


I flip-flopped again and I'm going to at least give my big desk fan a try before hemmoraging money on a chiller. If I do get one, I'm looking into the current prime nano chiller.

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do you mind sharing some of your gorg sources... (not for my entry!!) i have 1 in my main tank, and i'm looking for some more. you can pm me if you'd like.


:) if not, no worries.


lookin great!

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Rene, Mag5's tend to leak when the case has been overtightened after servicing, as often it cracks the case so it won't seal properly. I'm not having any trouble with mine.


Also, the output of a Mag5 on a closed loop is 500gph - closed loops do not have head pressure. :)

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Well, not much to update. I decided to go with the Hydor L35 pump, and it should be here midweek. The hose clamps for the plumbing literally just got here, so budgeting time for another trip to Lowes to get some extra CPVC 45 degree elbows, plumbing may be done by the end of the week. I hope to start leak and heat testing it by the weekend. Fingers crossed!


Also, the output of a Mag5 on a closed loop is 500gph - closed loops do not have head pressure. :)


Good to know! I've seen a lot of folks use Mags externally. If I have to get a chiller, I may give a Mag a try as my water pump.


SaVeThEeELs: No, there is no UV sterilizer in this system. I think maybe what you're seeing is the SCWD. The black thing in the center of the photo with the three ports is a wave making device. The big black box on the right side of the photo is the skimmer.

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rene, i sent you a PM.


looking great. i'm trying to figure out how to get a back and forth going in my tank... yours is looking excellent!

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Hi Rene your setup is starting to take shape. The only thing I would change is the clear 3/4" ID hose line. Because algae grow's inside of it where ever light is present. And the algae will plug up that clear hose line enough to slow down your water flow. Since your shoping for a better pump anyway. You might as well get some 3/4" ID black hose line. Good Luck

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A Month of Plumbing


Since October, I’ve been struggling to get this tank plumbed. What’s so difficult, you ask? I’ve never done it before, and everything I came up with leaked.


I swapped out the maxi-jet pump for a hydor L35, which has about 450 gph of flow. I plumbed it into my soft plumbing…and almost every single CPVC elbow I was using leaked badly. Oops! I guess that’s what hosebarb fittings are for. I’d just slid the soft tubing over the elbows and figured it looked tight enough. Guess not. No amount of hose clamps would fix this either.


So I decided to try again with hosebarb fittings. While I was at it, I figured I’d go all out and make a hard PVC plumbing setup that should be more durable, allow me to prime the loop easily, and let me take the pump off for cleaning.


I spent most of a morning putting it all together and it wasn’t as hard as I expected.




On the left and right at the top you can see the flared diffusers which connect with soft tubing. The tall PVC on the left with the gray nozzle is the intake, and the bit of pipe above that is for priming the system. The black oval thing on the right is the SCWD. You can see one side of the PVC is a little heavy, so I simply propped it up with another piece of PVC.


This too leaked.


Oh, my pipe welds held beautifully. It was that @$%&! vinyl tubing again. The junctions around the SCWD just would not hold. I was at a loss. I had three hose clamps on each one, I used hose barbs, I propped them up so the vinyl wasn’t supporting weight. I could not get it to stop leaking.


Totally dejected now, I realized it’d been almost a month since the contest started, and I still hadn’t figured out the plumbing. Given my frustration levels, I decided to scrap the whole CLS with SCWD system for the time being. Maybe some day in the future I’ll have another stab at it, but it just got to be too frustrating.


After staring at the tank for a while, I decided I could hook my hydor pump up externally. Just put some tubing going from the intake to the pump, and some from the pump back to the tank. To get some more random currents and diffuse things a bit, I put a hydor flo on the end. Naturally, I forgot to take a picture of the finished product before I moved the tank back against the wall.




Here it is from the front. The intake strainer is on the left, the hydor flo is on the right.




And here it is from one side. You can see the pump sitting on a towel to bring it to the right height…after all the cutting I had done with my vinyl tubes, the pieces left over were a bit too short. The hydor pump is pretty nice. Run externally, it seems to add maybe 1 degree of heat to the water, and while not ultra-silent, it is fairly quiet. I imagine it would be even quieter if run submerged.


I let everything run for a week to test temperatures and make absolutely sure nothing else was going to leak on me. To my delight, as long as the apartment temperature doesn’t get over about 77 degrees, the tank stays at ambient temperature with lights off, and at worst two degrees above ambient with the light on. I ran a temperature test with the halide light on for 12 hours and the temperature went from 76.5 to 78.5 degrees. I can’t ask for better than that! I did add a 50 watt visi-therm heater to bring up the night-time temperatures though, as I noticed they were getting quite low. I’m not worried about these temps being too low because I checked the current water temperatures out in the upper Keys, and they’re between 68 and 70 degrees.


Let There Be Life!


Tank somewhat stable, it was time for the fun part. The live rock arrived in the mail this Wednesday. It’s aquacultured rock from the Florida Keys.




This is about the best shot I could get today to show the colors and life on the rock. I need to look at my camera manual and see what I can do about white balance. With the 14K light on, everything comes out very blue for me. A master photographer I ain’t.


The rock is all spread out to help it get good water flow during curing. I’m not going to aquascape until that’s all done. This is 10 lbs. of rock, and though the pictures don’t show it too well, it does have some very nice nooks and crannies. The rock on the right has a really gorgeous shape that will be great for placing corals, and the piece second from the left is actually a flat, ledge-shaped piece that is tipped forward in this shot.


Florida rock isn’t known for its great shapes like Indonesian rock is. So why bother with it? Well, this is a Florida tank. Rock from this area is known for having great encrusting life on the outside, and this is pretty much met my expectations. The only thing I haven’t seen that I was hoping for were lots of colorful fan worms, but to give the vendor credit, I didn’t make a special request for rock with worms on it either. I simply asked for 3 or 4 rocks small enough for a 10 gallon tank, and this is perfect. I plan to add a few pieces of cured rock to this to help aquascape later on.


I’m only two days into the cycle, but here’s what I’ve seen on the rock so far:

Several types of encrusting sponges in shades of orange, tan, red, black and yellow.

Large and small brittle stars. The largest one was ripped nearly in half and if I hadn’t seen him walking around the tank, I would have thought he had died. But the sucker shows up every night to take a walk. So I’m going to leave him in and give him a chance for now.

Halimeda algae. Lots of it.

Dictyota algae

Caleurpa algae

About five different colors of coralline algae

Two kinds of bivalves

Two tiny encrusting corals. One may be dead; the other appears to be alive. Possibly Porites?

Worms, worms, worms! Sphagetti worms, bristle worms, peanut worms, and more.

Tunicates. I have a single big brown one and some pin-head sized bright orange ones all over two of the rocks.


So far no snails or larger crustaceans. Also no bad hitchhikers, knock on wood.


And here’s a closing shot that shows the nooks and crannies in the rock a bit better.




NEXT TIME: Drama! Excitement! Fluctuating ammonia levels! What exciting things lurk within the live rock? Will our brave brittle star pull through? Will our heroine learn to take photos that don’t look like all-actinic shots? Tune in to find out!








I have very little clear tubing involved anymore, and it's not where light is hitting it. Hopefully I won't get too much algae buildup inside. But if I do, I do have a hose brush :) It'll be good incentive to remember to clean the pump, too.





Thanks, I did get your PM, though I guess I'm replying a bit late! Unfortunately, the SCWD just didn't work out. I wasn't able to make plumbing that didn't leak. I may try again some other time.

Edited by Rene

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Progress at Last


What a fun month this has been. While I waited for the rock to finish curing, I got a chance to study it better, and discovered a cerith snail hitchiker. And those brittle stars? I didn't see them for weeks, and then recenty, I've seen two of them. I had begun to give up hope and assume they were too badly injured to make it.


As soon as curing finished, I started to add the sandbed. It's going to be fairly deep to accomodate macroalgae and also the burrowing mantis shrimp I'm planning for this tank. This is what it looked like a few hours after I added the sand...and yes, I did rinse that sand!




I got my rockscape how I wanted it, two islands at either side, and a passageway through the middle. To deal with the deep sandbed, the rock is actually sitting securely on some eggcrate elevated off the bottom of the tank with PVC pipes. This was to keep it from getting buried in the deepish sand, or getting toppled due to burrowing creatures. It's very sturdy with lots of great viewing angles. Not too tall, not too short. That done, I transferred over some of the gorgonians from my 5.5 gallon tank where they've been waiting for quite some time. Adding corals clouded the water quite a bit, but was worth it. The first batch included:


Orange spiny sea rod X2 (Murecea elongata0

Yellow sea whip X2 (Pterogorgia citrina)

Purple frilly gorgonian X1 (Pseudopterogorgia spp.)

Teal blue zoanthids


Full tank shot as of 12-18 looked like this:




The tank top is covered right now with some eggcrate and plastic window screen to keep the corals from getting sunburned.




After that, I was able to add more zoanthids (bright green this time) and about eight colors of ricordea. It's all been waiting in my 5.5 for months. Lime green, teal, deep blue, orange-salmon, pale orange, golden, bright green, they're all in there. I also figured out where to put one of the gorgonians that had been stumping me.


Full tank shot as of 12-27:




I've taken a ton of pictures, and some of them are slowly getting better. My color balance still seems a little washed out and on the pink side, but I'm working it.


Further eye candy:






Last but not least, the favorite creature for my tank has arrived! Right now she's living in a 2.5 gallon tank so I don't drop a rock on her and squish her. Meet Chiquita, my Pseudosquilla ciliate mantis shrimp, all 1.5" of her!



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