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The Retreat 2.5


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Hello everyone! I have been a lurker here since probably 2014 and finally decided to go out on whim and just start the damn thing (it also helps that I am now a senior in undergrad so have a little more stability hahaha). I unintentionally brought home a tiny anemone (Diadumene lineata) when I grabbed an oyster shell with Ulva on it at the beach the other day to put in a jar for my desk, and it sparked my return to this lovely site over the past month. So- I ran to petsmart to scoop up a Top Fin Retreat 2.5 and that is all I have so far! I am still determining lighting (I am thinking Kessil A80 but not sure how you all feel about that), and intend to keep mostly softies, LPS, Macros, etc- but definitely want to try some SPS along the way.  Any lighting input for such a small tank is highly appreciated and I can't wait to get it wet!


Display: Top Fin Retreat 2.5g 8"x9.6"x9.2"
Rock: Cured rock from LFS
Sand: Nature's Ocean Aragonite Reef Sand
Lighting: AI Prime HD
Return Pump: NEWA Mini MN606
Heating: Archaea Mini Heater 50w
Filtration: A little filter floss covering the inflow
I use distilled water and IO salt, and keep heat around 80 F


FTS 10/19/21 (dirty glass oops)



FTS 10/17/21

Sand and water added



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The Rainy Day Aquarium

I love Kessil's A80, but would personally go with something a little stronger if you want to keep SPS later on. Depending on your budget, maybe like an AI Prime or something in that range? Idk, I would always rather have a more powerful light so that when I do add SPS or even more demanding LPS corals I don't have to reinvest in another light to support them, but that's just me. That said there is nothing wrong with upgrading your light (or other equipment) later on if you decide you want to try more light demanding corals. 🙂

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I have never owned a Kessil or an A1 but after following dozens of pico tanks I think the Kessil would be fine on a 2.5 gallon tank. BUT the A1 is programable and if/when you upgrade to a larger tank it would probably be a better choice.

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I have had a Kessil A80, ran it over a 5gallon cube and got good growth out of a number of SPS Corals, would not run it on anything larger or deeper than 12" though as it really struggles to penetrate that much water, the fact that you would need a controller for the light is a stumbling block however

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The tank is just over 9 inches high so I should be fine in terms of depth- I really love the idea of an AI Prime or Nanobox (😍) but I think this is going to be a smaller budget build and more of a fun little experiment for my first saltwater experience, so I think I will probably stick with the Kessil as one of the better budget options out there (assuming I can find a used one)

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Where do you guys get live rock online? I have a few lfs's available but maybe one sells LR- plus they are all at least an hr from me so limiting trips is best. I do want to try and be as sustainable as possible with everything I purchase- both LR and livestock!

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14 hours ago, Chowder's Reef said:

 Idk, I would always rather have a more powerful light so that when I do add SPS or even more demanding LPS corals I don't have to reinvest in another light to support them, but that's just me. 

I share that with purchases.  The A80 may be a nice light for small tank and could be ideal for first tank, but limiting if your interest grows into the hobby.  This hobby seems to want to expand as you learn more and have success.  


While my first light wouldn't work for your pico, I went with a Viparpectra and am upgrading to 20L soon, and later a 40 breeder or 55 maybe.  My Vipar light cover my 10 gal, a 20 L or 29 gallon tanks by itself.  It and can be paired up with a second light and cover 40 Breeder, 55 or 75 gallon tank without a problem.  


An AI 16 HD would give you more flexibility to grow into a slightly larger tank if you wanted to go that way later on w/o having to buy another light.  But yeah, it cost more up front.  have weigh pros / cons on your own.  They do seem to sell on and off used for around 180 on HW classified with a mount arm though.


My first and current tank is a 8 mo old 10 gal and about 3 months in.... I wanted bigger.  


Kessil is a nice light, but generally considered underpowerd for anything but a pico reef as one light.  Re: Controllability not so much unless you get a controller for another 100 bucks.  You basically choose a shade of blue and intensity with the Kessils, but their spectrum is well regarded for growing coral. I was woo'd early on by ramp up and down, but with the Blue / White channel Viparspectra light I don't feel like I'm missing anything there.  Only knock I'd give my light is it's not the most attractive light ( large and have to hang ) but it hit my price point and I really like it. 


Also, it seems the most successful pico reefs are from veteran reefers vs first tank reefers.  My limited time in hobby suggests there is likely good reason for that.  I'll probably set up a pico at some time in future, but i"ll likely go larger before going smaller and I'll have a great deal more reef knowledge when I start one.  


I agree with finally jump in and start.  As a fellow long term lurker that's what I did in January 2021.  Used old tank, and equipment for 2 months as a 1 fish FOWLR before settling on a reef light.  When tank was stable and happy, I started moving toward reef.  Dead Rock + Used light + old equipment + time.  Rock has matured nicely, mixed success with corals but the directional swing seems up right now.


Wish ya success with your first tank

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I actually already have a slightly larger tank I have been scheming up for a few years, but will be moving after I graduate and don't want to set up anything super permanent or hard to move yet. I also plan on moving slow after adding rock- I really just want to have a little world to observe and watch evolve and LR should give me plenty to watch. I also agree with the idea of buying the nicer things off the bat instead of going bit by bit- I have experienced buying over and over plenty of times in both my previous FW tanks and in keeping reptiles. It does worry me, but I also know that I will be O.K. starting from scratch if I have to once I am in a more permanent location (physically and life-wise)

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What gph should I be looking for roughly? I am trying to find a tiny pump that will fit in the back of this tank since the stock pump is like 15gph and I know that I want to have some more demanding corals at some point. Is 90gph too much?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Got most of my equipment! Got salt, refractometer, heater, AI Prime HD (hehehe), and a couple thermometers. Just need a test kit and some sand, rock, and water and this bad boy will start rollin!


Still haven't bought a pump- I found one that should fit my back chamber (I think!) and it has an adjustable flow so I should be able to make it work. Starting to think I want a mostly Caribbean tank here, with a few exceptions for things I really like


Pump I am thinking about:


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Had some setbacks budget-wise (ughhhhh) so right now I am going to start practicing good husbandry on my little Ulva jar with my anemone and tiny crab (I think an invasive species called a Chinese Mitten Crab). I started with my first ever saltwater water change last week!!!! The sg was around 1.018 (bay water salinity) so I used my refractometer for the second time ever and bumped it to 1.020 after the W/C. The ulva has been bleaching at the top some for the past few weeks, but not rapidly- may be from lack of nutrients but I guess lack of flow could be a factor too? Thinking about upgrading the jar to a larger container I can put my tiny 15gph pump in- may get anemone to open up more too since he usually stays closed

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Anyone know why Ulva might be bleaching at the top? Maybe the top 20% is clear but not much has changed over the past several weeks, and it isn't disintegrating or anything

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well the copepod (?) population in the jar has exploded- they cover everything. I am getting my sand this weekend, so may consider transferring some pods into the tank and cycling the tank for a little until I can get the live rock I want (probably from salty bottom, but looing at aquarium creations online too). Ulva looks about the same, but hair algae has sprouted across the bottom of the jar and on the dead tips of the Ulva- it has been fun to watch these small developments in this jar and makes me feel more confident about choosing to start a reef tank 🙂

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While I debate making an impulse purchase of some live rock- just a few things I did along the way so far:

Took out the pump to tubing fitting and drilled it so that I could maximize flow from the VERY small pump that came with it (saw that on someone's thread); found a possible replacement 

Ordered flex arm for AI Prime


Update: got just under 1.5 lbs of rock, scape isnt set and I may pull one of the smaller rocks on the left (love the front right one though😍)








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  • 4 weeks later...

Wow I have been busy- almost a month since I last updated! The tank has some life now-

Clean up crew:

2 Florida Ceriths (too big, did wonders to clean everything but now have no food)

1 Nassarius (he is tiny)

2 Pacific Nerites (still working on my diatoms)

1-2 Stomatellas that hitchhiked in



Purple Discosoma


Teal ricordea (my fave already)

Gorgonian (I think it is a sea feather)

Burnt orange leptastrea 


I have 2 issues right now- one is returning at least one cerith and the other is figuring out how to make the ricordea happy. I don't want to put him on the sand, but I think my light is too bright to put him on the flat rock area on the right side of the tank ☹️

Pics coming later today!


p.s.- I also bumped the pump up to one with a minimum output of 84gph. It is a lot, but I think it is better than only 15 gph like before

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That is my plan- return one of the big boys to my LFS now that the main grazing is done. Here are a few bad pics haha, still figuring out how to take good ones (plus my ricordea is never happy and idk what to do so 🙄). I love that leptastrea, and once it starts to grow over the rock😍!!! Havent figured out placement for GSP and ricordea as I mentioned, and I am considering turning the light down since every time I put the ricordea on the main flat rock, it somehow ended up on the sand




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  • 2 weeks later...

Just got back from a week vaca! Everyone looks fine, but I do think I am going to turn the light down. None of the corals look like they are opening like I would expect 😞

Gonna do a WC and try a new lighting schedule today/tomorrow

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I just posted in the lighting forum about turning down the light- no one is really growing or opening up so I want to get that fixed. Big cerith is going back this week, and glass is totally clean from nerites!(except the eggs they lay) Also have tons of little brown flatworms on the glass and a small aiptasia on my gsp frag that I cant get off the plug- need to get some epoxy

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  • 3 weeks later...

Corals are much happier! Never got around to getting it under 20 watts but I will after the holidays- got 2 more ricordeas, one neon orange with a green mouth and one is like a shimmering white with colored dots. Returned one of the massive ceriths so now I just need some epoxy to get these guys in their spots and then back to sitting and waiting (no signs of coralline or any life from a maturing aquarium yet). Also, look how cool these are! https://www.liveaquaria.com/divers-den/product/576524/saddled-stargazer&s=nlh&r=

Probably a bit too big for this endeavor but down the road...

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