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Kvasir

Kvasirs' Fresh Start

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Kvasir

Edit - 10/22/2017 - A new plan based on cost and fit, but first, a new theory.

 

The Previous Plan:

A 25g Cube with a custom refugium, using AI Prime HD's and various other malarkey.

 

Why a new plan:

Since coming back with a renewed interest and wallet for nano/reefing, I've been reading a lot. Mostly about the revolution of LED lights since they were a few thousand for a questionable product, PAR levels and requirements, and refugium-only nutrient/phosphate filtration. Over the past couple weeks, the wife and I have been reading, discussing, looking, reading, and discussing more. They say with age comes wisdom - I have started to think wisdom is patience as had I been younger I would of jumped for the 25g Cube tank and went wild with setup without planning. Needless to say, I'm being more reserved and patient this time around, constantly reviewing information.

 

So what's this all mean? A good part of this post is me putting the idea down somewhere, where I can come back read/review it and further contemplate (Over some quality tea in the AM and scotch or beer in the PM). I'm looking at this project as both a personal experiment in control and perseverance. As a younger reefer, I was too apt to tear down and restart or move to a bigger system to such a level it was unsustainable. A lesson learned and the method that will be applied here is the following: Consistency, Naturalism, and recycling what I can from my 10-years-ago youth.

 

So what is the new plan? It's three simple principles:

First and foremost, we're recycling what I may have left-over from my previous setups, should those pieces still exist. I'll have an itemized list below. I had three setups. A 3.5g Picotope, an 8g Biocube all-in-one, and a 20g long prop tank with a 2.5g rubble refugium/bubble-guard that I custom built from a 2.5g AGA tank. I think there's an old protein skimmer and maybe even an old Metal Halide light that had maybe a few months of use before it was broken down and taken to my parents basement after college, and various other odds and ends.

 

Second, we are limited on size and weight. A younger me threw caution to the wind and used a TV stand for his first cube, thinking it was a perfect solution. However, I now realize that 8lbs per gallon of water and a multiple of two or three of total water weight is a good number to make sure your stand can hold. So we're going to size down from the initial size of 25g and stay around 8-10g for the display tank. If I have a leftover Biocube, that would be perfect as I'll be doing some DIY to make it better than what an all-in-one can offer. More on that later.

 

Third, I want to go for a no-water-change tank to increase simplicity of maintenance from a physical requirement and time-requirement. Yes, this is including a larger-than-usual refugium. After a lot of research, doing many chemical formulas, and math I believe it should be possible. I had this epiphany when watching a "New to me" tank maintenance video. I'm going to elaborate, or at least try to, the best I can. I believe the core issue I'm seeing is that the idea that water changes are all a tank needs is mathematically incorrect. Most people say "20% water changes are very important! They replace trace elements and chemicals that are required for reefs and fish while removing nitrates and phosphates!" Now, stop and look at that statement - Speaking from a long-term standpoint, it's totally incorrect. I'm going to try to break this down next.

 

Why I'm starting to believe water changes are total bunk when considering the long-term health and growth of fish and corals:

Let's start with a simple concept of a hundred gallon tank. Most people suggest 20% water changes, which equates to 20 gallons of water. Simple, right? Well, let's complicate this. Let's say (for the sake of example) every gallon of water was a complete molecule of nitrate. If we do a 20% change of this water, we're still left with 80 gallons of nitrate! While we're reducing this to ppm in reality, you're still leaving room for a continual build of nitrates and phosphates. You're taking less than half on a regular basis. If the amount of nitrates accumulating over the course of a week is more than 80 in this example, then you're fighting a losing battle.

 

Now sticking with this same theory, people say that water changes replace essential trace elements such as iodine, calcium and so-on. Again, for the sake of simplicity let's say that in that imaginary hundred gallon tank has a bunch of corals in it. Every week, they use 10% of the total trace elements within the tank. Now, if we remove 20% of water and replace it, we've replace 20% of 10% from a total of 100 gallons.

 

What's this mean? What is the point of this? Well, to put it simply, a 20% water change is fighting a losing battle. You'll eventually reach a null point where you'll be fighting ZERO trace elements and a level of nitrates and phosphates that are all but lethal or encouraging for algae growth. This is why I believe I've seen over my history of reefing an eventual 'mini-crash' or a sudden bloom of basic algae and a loss of corals/fish. Even with weekly water changes, there is going to be that eventual "Event Horizon" where a tipping point is reached.

 

So how do we combat this:

I believe tanks that run refugiums have a natural 'ringer' in their corner. The nitrates and phosphates are kept in check by the macro-algae. It's possible to have a near zero or sub-whole tank with a good size refugium and the proper lighting to support the growth and process of photosynthesis. Secondly, dosing or reactors are a requirement! It's the only way to keep up with the loss of trace elements and other properties we need to keep in check so that we run as close as possible to seawater's parameters. If you're running a refugium to it's full potential, and regularly harvesting the algae from it to encourage growth and providing the proper lighting to ensure the process of photosynthesis can happen as efficiently as possible. Second, a close monitoring of all trace elements and dosing to make sure they stay well within parameters. I believe if this is done, then the only changing of water that needs to occur is the evaporation of the tanks water and the topping off of freshwater that should follow suit. After all, that's how it's done in nature.

 

Up Next, the new plan.

Edited by Kvasir
New plan. New ideas.

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Kvasir

Alright, now that I have my theory out of the way, let's move on to the new plan keeping in mind that I'm going for zero water changes and naturalism. First, let's go with the goals of the tank. I think it's important to outline what we want to do with the tank. The most typical goal I see is "I want an awesome reef tank with lots of coral and fish! Here's the gear and what I'm going to do!" While I always encourage people to do what they want, this is a goal that is too broad for myself and has no direct objective. What do I want from this? How am I going to achieve it? This attitude is a paradigm shift from my attitude in the past of "Idea - Cost - Action - Review" where as now it is "Idea - Review - Cost - Review - Action". I think of it as more of a scientific approach, and most importantly a more critical approach.

 

The Goals:

A zero water change setup that can support both LPS, SPS and a few fish. Not only would I like this setup to support both general groups of coral, but to experience enough growth and stability that it can be a lead back into propagation. This tank will be an experiment in automation as well. Dosing and monitoring has come a long way, and I'd like to explore those avenues over time.

 

The New Plan. Gearing Up.

 

  • The Tank
    • 10 Gallon AGA
      • Custom Drilled
        • 1" Bulkhead outlet
        • 3/4" Bulkhead return
      • Custom Overflow Box
  • Tank Hardware
    • Pump
      • CompactON 600 (Handles up to 3.2FT Head Height) - $30
      • Need a Check-Valve to prevent reverse flow in the event of a power outage - $15
    • Heater
      • Neo-Therm 150W - $70
  • Chemicals
    • Salt
      • Red Sea Coral Pro - $30 depending on where it's from
        • Based on reviews, this seems to currently be a very solid formula.
    • More TBD
  • The Stand
    • Custom DIY stand
      • Working on the design for this now. A walk around Home Depot (The haven for the tried-it-yourself-er) provided some good insight into finishes and materials. Our apartment is modern and a color scheme of contrasting gray walls with rustic accents. There's some great weathered wood material that may provide a good match to what we have now for furniture.
      • Debating the design as of now. I'd like to have a matching canopy as well. The big debate is how can I size up the base of the stand to increase the size of the sump/refugium area.
    • Premade Stand? - Debating options. Most seem to fit only the standard hobbyist.
  • The Sump
    • Custom Acrylic Sump including the following:
      • A large Chaetomorpha refugium area.
      • A small live rock rubble area.
      • A bubble shield
      • An area for a Micro Skimmer and Return Pump (I'd like to not need a skimmer, but should it be required to lower or eliminate nitrates and other organics in addition to the Chaetomorpha, then so be it)
    • Pre-made Acrylic Sump?
  • Lighting
    • Lighting for the tank
      • AI Prime HD Marine - $200 @MarineDepot
    • Lighting for the refugim

      • Kessil H80 Grow Light - $120 @Most Suppliers

  • Testing Tools

    • Digital Salinity Checker

      • Using my old Refractometer until I can justify the purchase :)

    • Manual testers to account for other parameters

    • Eventually I'd like to move to an Apex system to monitor all levels

    • Now also debating Triton testing and dosing - I need to learn more about this as they provide highly detailed reporting and corrective actions.

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Cannedfish

Although a big proponent of water changes (and my theories may be on the other end of the spectrum), I am interested to see how this goes, and I hoping for success. I will be following along!

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Kvasir

Thanks very much!

 

I can understand water changes during a cycle, but during the long life of a tank, I see them as a losing battle. The only way that water changes could effectively replace all trace elements and do what they are said to do, is to replace all the water in a tank. Otherwise over time you're going to eventually lose all trace elements.

 

I still think they function, although after thinking through everything I don't see them being a requirement nor as beneficial as people say. Sure, for people who are new, they are the easiest method of controlling nitrates and phosphates (again, to an extent) but the biology and ecology should be placed higher than just changing water to solve problems.

 

While coming up with this epiphany - if that's what you'd like to call it - a company called Triton seems to feel the same. A German based company that believes in a method of testing your saltwater and acting in reconciliation to correct the water within parameters that match natural saltwater. They offer testing services and dosing chemicals to aid with this. I'll be looking into them much more and perhaps using their products and services as well.

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Cannedfish

I agree with the Triton theory as well as chaeto/cryptic/refugium nutrient methods. In nano tanks, however, the biology and chemistry to successfully maintain a no water change system under a moderate-to-heavy bioload (especially an SPS system)  seem to become exponentially more difficult. Especially when considering the speed and severity of water parameter flucations and the resulting affects these changes can have in such small system. That's why I'm interested in seeing your build and how you do. I think your theories and method are sound, and are likely to be successful. Although, I have different views regarding the risk/reward of water changes in small systems, that's what makes this hobby fun, and why I will be following your progress. 

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CronicReefer

I think one thing your missing, which is why I do water changes, is how to deal with detritus that builds up on the sand, inside porous rocks, and sump chambers. Microfauna can only process so much and evetually you start to see a dusty buildup that can become a source of water pollution.

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Kvasir

Thank you for the kind words, Cannedfish! And I do agree. The old saying springs to mind "The solution to pollution is dilution" when it comes to contained (And especially nano) ecosystems. CronicReefer also points this out too and it's a very valid point. Fluctuations can occur quickly and sometimes the result happens before a corrective action can be taken, so I will clarify a bit more. The goal is indeed zero water changes - But should it prove to be a situation where I need to quickly change parameters over a "short" period of time (in the event of an approach to catastrophic failure) I would certainly sacrifice the goal in order to maintain the ecosystem and the life within it.

 

Now, that being said - I watched a great video that falls in line with this school of thought from BulkReefSupply where they tested a set of tanks. Four different lighting methods, Three with Chaetomorpha. The tanks were supplied with frozen Mysis Shrimp five days a week (Blended to a puree) and the only filtration was the Chaetomorpha and the resulting ecology that comes with it (for example, Copepods, and Rotifers).  The interesting results were that the tank with no Chaetomorpha became cloudy, filled with detritus, and the nitrates were around 20ppm. The tank with optimum lighting (I think it was a Kessil 360 Grow, or something) and Chaetomorpha was crystal clear, no detritus and had a near negligible nitrate and phosphate level. The test was performed over a month period. They did the test again adding livestock such as Clownfish and live rock, and the results were near identical, sans some hair algae showing up on the lower-quality-light refugiums due to the algae taking root in the superior lighting area versus the Chaetomorpha taking the nutrients before the simpler algae had the opportunity to utilize the nitrates and phosphates.

 

Further, the lack of detritus in these tanks is (I believe) due to the substantial microfauna that exists thanks to the large mass of Chaetomorpha and a generously sized safe-haven for it to breed and live in. Of course, managing a flow to keep the display tank clear of detritus is primary, and delivering to that area where the microfauna can take advantage of it. Jason Fox does something similar, where he has jets that not only clear the front of his displays, but also he adds flow behind the live rock in the back of the tank. He does this in order to prevent detritus taking root in his display, and delivering it to his refugium to supply a natural food source for the microfauna.

 

So, the short of it is - the refugium I build will have a net area well above 50% the size of the display tank if not nearer 75%-90% of the display tank. My theory here comes from "closed ecosystems" that you see. IE the man who has that jar which is teeming with life, even though he has not opened it in over 30 years. The idea is that matching the size of the display, or being well over the accepted norm, will balance the equation. And if it is more efficient (I'm dreaming, I know - but I hope not), then it should limit itself (both the Chaetomorpha and the microfauna itself, balancing to what it has available).

 

Anyway, I tend to get long winded when talking about theories I have. I hope it's entertaining at the least for some!  Although I had hoped to put some time into researching the new testing and dosing equipment, a late day at the office (and a cold and wet day at that) has left me too tired to bother tonight. I had an interview today, and if I get that job I should have much more energy for late nights geekin' over gear and theories.

 

Thank you both for the comments!

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Kvasir

Updated the primary list to reflect the changes and choices! So, we've decided on a 10 gallon AGA. Mostly because it was sitting in the basement and being a standard size, it's a good base. I'm going to drill it to fit a 1" bulkhead and an acrylic skimmer to generate the proper gas exchange on the surface.

 

The stand is also going to be a custom stand. There's some great rustic/weathered boards at the home depot for the exterior. The supports and frame will be 2x4's which I'm going to coat in a polyurethane or some other finish to prevent mold and rot. I'd like to come up with a design that allows for a larger sump but still looks good. I suppose one route would be to actually build the entire stand slightly larger than the tank - and countersink the portion that the tank will actually sit in to hide the base of the tank. I'll include a canopy in the design as well. Once I start sketching out designs, I'll be posting them for opinions.

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Kvasir

It's been a while. But we're still working on things! Right now, the tank is drilled with a 1" outlet and a 3/4" inlet. I think for my first two holes drilled in glass, being a 10 gallon AGA - I consider this a major hurdle in the design. The inlet is going to run a wave maker (Innovative Marine Spin Stream). While these seem to have mixed reviews on noise, I'll see how this goes. I like to run a quiet system so if it's too noisy I can simply remove and add a wave maker in the tank itself. I am trying to stay away from any hang on or magnetic attachments to keep the tank looking as clean as possible.

 

The first overflow box I installed (Siliconed, slim profile) for the main outlet ended up being a dud. I trimmed down the grating too much on my bandsaw in an attempt to adjust the level of water. Unfortunately my estimation was wrong. So I've got a new one. I've got to clean up the current silicon line and what I'll do is leave the overflow box as is and build a canopy to hide the waterline.

 

As for the stand, I've gone back again to the drawing board. While I'm perfectly capable of building one, my problem is time. Right now I'm working for the post office and unfortunetly they are an absolute time sink. I get about one day a week off, if that, and most nights I work from 8AM until 7PM. So by the time I get home power tools are out of the question and my one day off is spent recovering. The plus side? Lots of overtime and I've dropped almost 25lbs. But back to the subject matter - I'm looking at sumps and stands, the problem is it seems most stands are made for the basic hobbyist and most sumps will not fit in them. The option I'm weighing is a larger tank-sized stand for something like a cube or a lagoon. While not the exact look I'm going for, it offers expansion later. I'm not too sure what I'm going to do here. I'd prefer to make a very nice custom one, but time is such a darn issue.

 

It's killing me, the timeline of this tank is taking so long, but I think in the grand scheme the forced length of time will create better results, forcing me to slow down and think things through. I'll post a couple pictures of what's going on once I get some decent progress. Hopefully it won't be too long.

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Polarcollision

I like your water change theory. In the space between water changes, the tank is still using up trace elements and adding nutrients, so with luck the water changes are at the right quantity to maintain, rathe than actually reduce nutrients. The longest I went without water changes was 8 months. I'm dosing to replace Ca, Alk, Mg, and trace elements and I run a skimmer. That's pretty much it. When I finally do need a water change, it's usually because I let the dosing container run dry and need an emergency reset on Alk. In which case I do a near 100% water change. Which, also contrary to popular opinion, has never killed or browned out any of my acros. I don't even bother to match temp before water change so coral get an ice bath down to around 68 degrees for a few hours. The only thing I match is salinity, which means Alk also matches.

 

My skimmer died last week? last month? Just noticed it's been really quiet around the tank a day or two ago. So of course I have a cyano outbreak right now, which tells me that the skimmer is a vital component of the no water change methodology.

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Kvasir

Hi Polar!

 

Yeah, after sitting down and doing the math, unless you're doing a 100% water change - which we both seem to agree with doing in an emergency situation - there's no way you can ever replenish all the trace elements, minerals and other components unless you add additional dosing. In which event, if you have to dose to correct the lack of elements available, then the water change becomes a "useless" thing. And I put quote marks around that because there are conditions which justify a water change, such as you said to do error correction, and in that event you have to do a rapid set of water changes to account for a total swap. Even then, it will never be a 'total swap' but a diluted correction.

 

The best mathematical way to display it is as follows in this exaggerated example:

100 Gallons of water. 10 gallons of that water is pure (let's say) calcium. Over time your corals have depleted half of that calcium. So now you're down to 5 gallons of calcium. If you do a 50% water change, you've only replaced half of half of that calcium, so 2.5 gallons of calcium have been replenished, leaving you with 5 gallons of calcium. You've taken half of the total volume out, and replaced it with another half, and 2.5 + 2.5 = 5 gallons. Now, this is extremely simplified math. So yes, it's far from perfect, but the theory stands as solid.

 

Again though, I'm not saying people are wrong - It's tried and true and for most people it works great! But, I feel its a reason I have always had an eventual crash. Those elements are fairly consistent and nitrates exist everywhere in the ocean. It's about balance I believe. so you have to test and correct to keep that balance, something water changes can't do in my own humble hobbyist opinion.

 

I'm looking at skimmers, and I'll likely have one once I can decide on the final design. The sump is holding up my final choices on a lot of things, because I want a simplified refugium, a basic filter sock and I am leaning towards a yes on the skimmer. It's a matter of size and requirements.

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Polarcollision

I had to think that one through a little bit. So, you take out 50% of the water with 5 gallons of remaining Ca. That leaves 2.5 gallons Ca. We're on the same page here. Are we assuming the 50% replacement water is mixed to original conditions? If so, we're adding 5 gallons of Calcium because that's 50% of the original 10 gallons of calcium. So that gets you back to 7.5 gallons of calcium. To your point, it's still not the original 10 gallons of calcium. Next water change would be 6.875 gallons, and so on. Over enough time, that number would drop lower and lower when water changes happen infrequently enough to use up 50% of calcium in the water. For those having successes with 10% water changes, they happen frequently enough on tanks with low enough consumption to maintain the original levels. For myself, it's cheaper and easier to just dose. Corals have been very happy living under my theories, but I've always been curious about the actual ion levels in my tank, so I've finally ordered the triton water test kit. One sample of the mixed red sea salt and then 3-6 months down the road without a water change I'll test those levels to compare. :-)

 

Phosphates, I think are a primary issue with older tank crashes. There're only two primary ways to export: carbon dosing with a skimmer and harvesting algae. Plus there's so much crap that gets trapped in the sand bed just supplying nutrients. I've just finished the month-long process of this tank's first total sand bed replacement (after almost 4 years). It was so gross underneath that pristine surface that I nearly vomited. And then I found the sulfur bacteria crusts that had begun to build. Those buggers are blamed for most of the old tank syndrome and crashes. Siphoning all that crud out didn't kill the tank though, so that's either a head-scratcher or things hadn't gotten too dire.

 

I'd talk you into a skimmer if I can.

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Kvasir

You're right. Like I said, my math was overly simplified, but you're exactly correct. It's a battle of eventual zero sum.

 

And a skimmer isn't off the table, and I'm trying to plan the refugium to fit one. Just a matter of when that step of planning and execution happens.

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sango

@Kvasir I'm interested in your approach and I'm following along. Any updates on your build? 

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