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Who needs symbionts anyway? Biophilia's 11.3 gallon NPS Party

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After lots of daydreaming disguised as careful planning I'm finally starting up something new. This is a tank I've wanted to do for many years, so I'm pretty excited to see how everything comes together!

Some quick background on me:
I've been keeping saltwater aquariums since ~2007 with a few hiatuses in between. I love marine bio, ecology, conservation and, especially, twilight zone (mesophotic) coral communities. Currently, I'm working as an aquarist at a large public aquarium, but haven't had a reef tank at home since a move back in mid-2019.

The game-plan:
The goal for this aquarium is a small nano tank populated by a few small and peaceful fish, a minimal amount of rock and substrate designed in a way that does not trap detritus due to the extremely heavy feeding it will receive, and a whole lot of non-photosynthetic organisms. The tank will be plumbed to a larger sump with an over-sized skimmer and a separate Steve Tyree-inspired cryptic zone filled with rock rubble and many varieties of sponges, tunicates etc. I'm going to be feeding really heavily (24x7) with a refrigerated auto-feeder, so I'm hoping that the large amount of filtration, water volume, and suspension-feeding organisms down below will help with dilution of metabolites and conversion of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) back into particulate organic carbon (food for the corals). 


  • AquaTop low-iron 11.3 gallon cube (13.8"x13.8"x13.8") - drilled, back painted black w/ Krylon Fusion
  • Marine Depot Depot Elite overflow box (size small), AI Nero 3 powerhead, and AI Prime 16HD dimmed down quite a bit.
  • I'm keeping most of the rock elevated ~2" above the shallow sand bed with a 1/4" acrylic platform that I made to keep detritus from accumulating and give more hiding spaces for the fish.






  • 21 gallon rimless Aqueon with DIY 1/4 acrylic baffles. Right side has a black acrylic baffle with teeth I routed into it, a black acrylic lid, and is blacked out on the outside by paint. There will be a viewing window in the front that will normally be covered with a piece of black Kydex held on by magnetic tape. It'll be filled with rock and rubble, seeded with cryptic zone animals from Steve Tyree's ReefFarmer's company and some others, and fed a low volume of water from a manifold on the return pump into the bottom of the chamber under a plenum. Water will diffuse through the eggcrate plenum, flow slowly upward through the cryptic zone, and exit through the baffles at top back into the return chamber.
  • Skimmer: SCA 301
  • Media reactor: AquaMaxx FR-S filled with Rox 0.8 carbon. Phosphate will be exported via lanthanum chloride...
  • Heater: Eheim Jager 100W
  • Return pump: Jebao DCS-1200 plumbed into a manifold
  • 4" filter sock with CPR Sock-It holder








  • DIY auto-feeder made with a Sharper Image brand peltier wine bottle chiller, A 1L plastic bottle, an airstone, and a peristaltic dosing pump.
  • Lots of food! Modeling the feeding after Chuck Stottlemire's method and some others...





  • Two or possibly three very small, peaceful fish. The tank is too small for a cool deepwater wrasse, anthias, or butterflyfish, so the surrogate is going to be a pink-streaked wrasse. Maybe a croucher goby, hawkfish, or possum wrasse. Still deciding on the fish at this point...


  • I suspect this part will be slow and challenging, because it's getting harder and harder to find some of the NPS corals I'd really like to keep...
  • Some possible coral ideas so far: Menella sp.,  Diodogorgia sp., Dendrophyllia sp.,  Tubastraea sp., Nephthyigorgia sp., Dendronephthya sp., Scleronephthya sp., I'd love Cirrhipathes spiralis if I can track one down...


  • Feather dusters, a seastar  (maybe Fromia sp.), hermits, snails, NPS sponges, etc. 
  • Maybe a crinoid depending on how everything else does.


Here it is so far:




I have some rock and sand that has been cycling in a bucket with 2ppm per day of ammonium chloride for the last month or so that I'll be throwing into the cryptic zone and I still need to buy more rock for the display. The display rock will be epoxied together and glued to the acrylic shelf platform. As much as I wanted to avoid it, I'm starting with dry rock in order to avoid pests like aiptasia which are quite difficult to control in these sorts of systems.

I'm also still waiting on some plumbing parts - so the next week will be all about gluing and waiting for epoxy and silicone to cure.

Hoping to get water in by next week. Thanks for following along!



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I forgot to include a picture of my previous tank... a little coral-hoarder style AIO Nuvo 10 mixed reef:


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In the past week I completed the plumbing, got the floating aquascape finished, and got the tank up and running.

Half of the rock and all of the sand were already cycled in a bucket, so it shouldn't be long before I can start adding animals. I'm dosing ammonium chloride at the moment to get the bacterial load to a point where it can convert 2ppm total ammonia to 0 in under 24 hours.

Here's the aquascape I ended up coming up with. The goal was to keep it mostly suspended off the sand, leave plenty of room for coral growth, and create lots of hiding spaces within for small fish. It's hard to see from the photos, but there are multiple cave areas inside of the rock and all can also be accessed by swimming up into large holes in the acrylic shelf panel that supports the rock. The sand bed is roughly 3/8" deep to keep it easy to clean:




Here's how the DIY sump came out. I still need to tidy up the wiring and controllers on the shelf above:




The black Kydex panel blocking the viewing window to the blacked-out cryptic zone on the right is held on by magnetic strips. Here's the panel removed with the egg crate plenum visible underneath: 


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Your previous tank looks awesome so I'm sure you'll knock this once out too.  Good luck!

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5 hours ago, TatorTaco said:

Your previous tank looks awesome so I'm sure you'll knock this once out too.  Good luck!

Thank you!

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Any updates?

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