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Reefin' 9to5 - Welcome to the machine


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Welcome to the machine


I've done a few wreck dives in my time and I find it cool to see nature slowly colonise the old broken machinery and give it new life and purpose. I've wondered for a while whether I could try and reproduce that in a reef aquarium. Well I shall wonder no more although the answer is probably no 🤣. I'm only allowed another reef tank by the missus if it's a coral quarantine so this has to double as a QT but if the corals remain in there longer than is strictly necessary, well I'm just being cautious aren't I? Also I'm trying to keep costs to a minimum but fortunately I do have a collection of bits & pieces that can be pressed into service once more.


I have a 30 * 30cm cube aquarium that has previously been used as a QT but has been dry for a while. The problem is I want to keep the display as clean as possible so will need to drill and construct a custom sump from acrylic. Let the fun begin.... 😲


Contest Entry Picture:




A 3/4" plywood cabinet has been bashed together.

Current Full Tank Shot:




FTS 14/02/22 - Rubbish iphone pic, will do better!



Stuff I already have

  • Tank: 30 * 30 cm 6mm glass
  • Light: AI prime 16 HD
  • Tunze 9001 DC skimmer  BM QQ2 Nano
  • 100w titanium heater
  • Aqua Medic mini reactor Too noisy
  • reef-pi controlling ATU & Heater
  • Sicce syncra 1.0 return pump (might need to upgrade, dunno yet)  TMC Reef Pump 2000

Need to buy:

  • Acrylic for the sump
  • Pipe, valves etc.
  • AI Nero 3 powerhead 



  • Coral

          Acropora Cerialis blue

          Acropora Millepora green

          Acropora Millepora blue

          Acropora Loripes blue/grey

          Seriatopora Hysterix Green

          Seriatopora Hysterix Pink

          Seriatopora bird of paradise

          Pavona Maldivensis Green

          Montipora Digitata forest fire

          Montipora Digitata red (ish)

          Montipora Digitata purple

          Montipora Capricornis red

          Leptoseris hulk

          Leptoseris oil slick

          Cyphastrea jingle bells




  • Fishies

          Tailspot blenny - Murgatroyd


  • Inverts

          Cleaner shrimp - The shrimp with no name.



Highlight Links:

  • None as yet but knowing me these will be epic fail links!


The current design for the pipework and sump bring the total volume over 9 gallons. This will be fixed in the next iteration of the design to bring it to within contest rules. I could've saved a bit of drilling by going for a durso overflow rather than a herbie but I'm wary of dursos blocking and bits of my anatomy are at stake if there are leaks! The height of the sump is dictated by overflow chamber which is that height to allow for a 4" * 9" filter sock. The rest of the sump does not need to be that high and will be cut down to bring it within the rules. Backflow on power off should be kept to a minimum by the non-return valve on the return. Both the siphon and return are valved to balance the flow as the sicce is not controllable.




The proposed scape will be 3D printed with plenty of locating holes for frag plugs, it has to be a coral QT to pass the tank inspector.. I'll paint it and weather it with non-toxic acrylic paint. It will probably flake and chip over time but I'm hoping that will just add to the effect and that coralline will take over in time anyway.



A render  of the proposed scape. I still have changes to make but it's getting close to how I want it. To make up in part for the lack of home for nitrifying bacteria the central pipe will be filled with sintered glass media, probably JBL sintomec with the side vents allowing some flow through. If necessary I can also put media in the sump.


This has fail written all over it but hey, I'll give it a solid go......


Reefin' 9 to 5, Brought to you by:

intanktemplate.jpg.858bfcd66a6d01fbb99cbe6d0beff090.jpg  &  nanoreeftemplate.jpg.4ff4c41570f99dd79c0198de114ce5e1.jpg

Edited by Maas101
Updated with FTS
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6 hours ago, Maas101 said:

The current design for the pipework and sump bring the total volume over 9 gallons.

Looks great!  Cool idea.  You can go up to 9.5 gallons and still be within the rules just an FYI!

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@debbeach13  Us men are sooooo predictable 😁


@aclman88 Thanks, the advantage of modelling everything in CAD before butchering bits of acrylic is I can pretty accurately calculate volumes etc and chop and change with a few mouse clicks.


32 minutes ago, kekke1082 said:

Looking forward to seeing this project

So am I!! There's a big gulf between getting it out of my head into CAD and getting it wet....

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1 hour ago, Maas101 said:So am I!! There's a big gulf between getting it out of my head into CAD and getting it wet....



@Maas101 that may be so but youre light years ahead of me! I cant for the life of me figure out CAD software 

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@kekke1082 Download a copy of Autodesk Fusion 360, it's free to sign up for hobby / non-commercial users. There's a bit of a learning curve to get your head around how it works but once you do it's actually pretty straightforward to use. There are also plenty of resources / tutorials on the web. 

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1 hour ago, Maas101 said:

@kekke1082 Download a copy of Autodesk Fusion 360, it's free to sign up for hobby / non-commercial users. There's a bit of a learning curve to get your head around how it works but once you do it's actually pretty straightforward to use. There are also plenty of resources / tutorials on the web. 

Thanks for the tip I'll check it out! 

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  • 2 weeks later...

My first time drilling a tank so it was a bit of squeaky bum moment but everything went smoothly and the bulkheads are in place.




In other news... Ooooh an airfix kit 😁




The printer is still whirring away as there are a few more bits yet to print however I should be in a position to finish printing the scape this weekend. The acrylic for the sump arrives Monday (or so Amazon assures me..) so if I get a wriggle on next week I may be able to get it wet next weekend.


I'm still mulling over livestock for this one, I've never stocked a tank this small so am a bit stumped. I'm not a big fan of clowns, I have a pair in my larger tank and the female is 2" of pure concentrated evil! I'm possibly considering either a pink streaked wrasse or a possum wrasse plus a watchman goby or similar. All suggestions are however welcome 🙂


Happy reefing!

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I was hoping to get the tank wet this weekend but a busy work week and a few jobs demanded by my darling wife have put paid to that 😢 There has been some progress though, the funky tiered sump has been completed and successfully leak tested. phew!





Meanwhile the scape is almost there, there are a few small 'brackets' i.e. frag mounting points to go on and I need to distress / weather it so it looks like rusty old machinery but I'm happy with the way it's turned out so far.




I don't like frag plugs and when I can I remount new frags as in my experience many of the nasties ride in on the old plugs. To keep with the industrial theme I've printed some nuts & bolts that I will use to mount frags.


There is still much to do as the space inside the cabinet is limited so I need to carefully plan mounting electrics, ATU container etc. I'm really hoping for next weekend to get it wet though, at the rate I'm moving ATM the whole 925 thing will be over before it gets salty 😬 

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Wot, still no water???   ☹️


A quick test of my old Sicce 1.0 revealed that it had died, a new TMC 2000 was ordered and arrived however when I came to fit all the plumbing together I found that I didn't have a way of connecting the new pump to the 1/2" piping. A quick trip to my LFS at the weekend revealed that they didn't have one either 😡. I've had to order fittings from the web this morning so hopefully I'll be able to connect it all up this week. 


The scape has been suitably rustified, maybe a little too much but it should all blend in when it's populated with corals and coralline starts to grow. I still have much to do though, I need to construct an ATU container that fits the cabinet out of left over acrylic and all the electrics needs to be tidied and fitted into the cabinet.




Where's the ocean?

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4 hours ago, Maas101 said:

The scape has been suitably rustified, maybe a little too much

It looks positively rustified 😁 definitely not too much! I like it and i think it looks pretty authentic considering the amount of wreckage that has been colonized by marine life over the years. 

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@seabass @kekke1082 Thanks, I'm definitely going for the wreck look. The whole thing is based upon a wreck dive I did a few years back. The deck and machinery of the ship was painted in this lurid yellow colour that was rusting away. There was a large broken pipe leading up to the deck that had the biggest moray eel I've ever seen living in it. It struck me at the time as nature making use of what we had thrown away.


@aclman88 Thanks, it's unusual for things to come out of my mind and survive first contact with reality fairly unscathed. There's still a lot of scope for this to turn into a smoking ruin though! To double down on the crazy I'm going to try and run this tank as a zeovit system which is a system I've not used before and is probably nuts to try in a tank this small but pushing boundaries is what this tank is about :happydance:

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Let there be water...


Not all plain sailing I'm afraid. Due to space considerations and the new pump being controllable I decided not to include the ball valve on the return and just the non-return valve. After filling and turning on the noise was incredibly loud. After a bit of investigation I decided that it was the spring in the non-return valve causing a harmonic with the turbulence in the flow, varying the pump made no difference though. Sure enough, I removed the spring and plunger from the valve and the system went silent. Without the restriction of the valve, even at the lowest setting the pump is almost too powerful, raising the water level in the display a bit higher than I would like. 


No problem thought I, the threads on the ball valve and the non-return are the same, I can just switch the cores and use the ball valve to cut the flow a bit. Not happening, although the threads are the same pitch the ones on the non-return are slightly longer which means you can't tighten the nuts onto the flanges.. grrrrrrrrr.. 😡


With the water level in the display higher than I'd like and no non-return valve on the return if the pump stops, either from power cut or just from putting it into feed mode the back siphon will overflow the sump ☠️


I think I'll have to empty the tank, disassemble the plumbing so I can fit the ball valve to regulate the flow and drill a siphon breaker hole into the return somewhere.


Ho hum.. I'm lucky to get as far as I did without major issues so I'm still happy with things overall.




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A small update, after a nights sleep I realised that I didn't have to completely drain the system to swap out the non-return valve for a ball valve so that was done. Balancing the Herbie drain was surprisingly easy and I'm pleased to say that the system runs silently. It is actually in my home office and as I spend much of my day on video conferences a noisy tank would be a deal breaker. 


I am however considering re-printing and replacing the weir section for two reasons. There is a slight leak into the weir from the display. In normal operation this is not an issue, however if a power cut happens when we are asleep for example there is a chance that enough will leak through to overflow the sump. Waterproofing it in-situ would be extremely difficult. Secondly I'd like to lower the weir by about 5 - 10mm, it will give me the ability to amp up the flow at a later stage if I feel it's necessary. Fortunately the centre section is demountable held by a single printed bolt so I don't have to replace everything. 


I'm desperate to start this tank cycling but I also know that fixing these issues at a later date will be next to impossible and I'll kick myself if I don't attend to them and they come back to bite me..


Meanwhile, because all the cool kids are fascinated by plumbing, have a gratuitous pic of the sump in operation :happydance:



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  • 2 weeks later...

I decided to make a modification the sump. When I designed it I had the Tunze 9001 DC skimmer in mind as I had one and even though it's not the best skimmer it is compact. At the time I thought about making an adjustable weir between the main section and the return but decided that as the Tunze needs 6" water depth there was no point. I have been fretting about the sump water level and the possibility of overflow and by chance came across the Bubble Magus QQ2 which can operate in only 4" of water. 2 inches may not sound like a lot but it could be the difference between happy life and very unhappy wife! As it wasn't expensive and had a few design features I quite liked I decided to give it a go, but it would require modding the sump. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but if I'd decided to go with an adjustable weir in the first place it would have been so much easier. Ahyhoo after much cursing and swearing at the confined working space a printed weir was added.




Meantime, left over acrylic from the making of the sump has been turned into a combined ATO reservoir and 3 chamber dosing container which will sit under the sump. The ATO section holds just under 5 litres with the 3 dosing containers holding just under a litre each. Not my tidiest work but none of the chambers leak which is all that matters. 




The tank is now cycling so I should be able to start adding easy corals in a week or so. As  I have a Seneye I did a PAR check and was surprised to find that on the top of the central pipe it's 425 PAR! I didn't think the AI prime HD put out that much light. I'll tone it down when I add corals but it's nice to know I have it in the tank, I could also open a tanning salon on the side 😁.


When I first started this I gave it almost zero chance of success but the further I go the more enthusiastic about it I get. The trouble is I get more ambitious at the same time. There's a huge amount of flow available, more than enough light and a few target corals that I really want to get to grow. I really want to successfully grow SSC acro, Hoeksemi acro and ice fire echinata. I've tried the first two before and failed miserably but god loves a trier right?


A shot of the cycling tank under the blues, it's a crappy Iphone pic, when I get some corals in there I'll bust out the decent camera and macro lens.





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