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20g New Start


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After a rough couple of years that included a couple moves and one near total tank collapse, I've decided to reboot my saltwater tank and start adding more coral again.


I started out with a Waterbox 7 gallon cube almost 4 years ago and it did well enough for a year or two with plenty of growth on my soft corals and LPS, but I eventually ended up going with something larger for some more stability. I moved up to a 20 gallon and got a couple snowflake clowns that were doing really well until we were hit with a nasty storm in summer of 2020 that knocked out power for a week. Unfortunately, my battery backups only kept things going for a few days and I ultimately ended up losing most of the tank, with the exception of some hardier coral, a few sexy shrimp, and some snails.


I kept the tank going and nursed it back to a decent state over the next year or so and eventually added a single clown and a leather frag from a local chain petstore back in October of 2021. After a pretty disastrous move this summer (2022) where our new place wasn't ready on time, my tank ended up being broken down for much longer than I had intended. Many of the inhabitants didn't take well to an extended stay in a 5 gallon bucket and I was left this time with some snails, my clown, and the leather coral I purchased last year. My last LPS and sexy shrimp were lost in the move.


I've decided to place this tank in my WFH office and I want to start devoting more time and money to water changes, testing, and equipment. After settling my live rock back in and rinsing my sand out with RO and then saltwater since it sat for weeks in a bucket, I've added a few additions as of September 2022:



I decided to get another clown and carefully got them used to each other by swapping them in and out of a mesh breeder box over the course of several days. Thankfully, the one I ordered online (no good LFS around here) was larger than the juvenile that I had picked up in October and they've really taken to each other:



I also added a small neon goby, some xenia, and a tuxedo urchin. Since I wasn't entirely sure how large the urchin would be when it got here and I was afraid of it bulldozing my small corals, I ended up anchoring down my corals after making sure flow and light were okay where they were.


Other than the clownfish, all of these pictures were taken with the Fluval set to 100 percent on all color channels; I have the white lights set much lower on my schedule, but my phone camera can't seem to handle that much blue very well.


Current stocking:

  • 2 ocellaris clowns
  • 1 neon goby
  • 1 tuxedo urchin
  • leather coral
  • pom pom xenia
  • assorted snails, including at least 2 nassarius snails living in the sand


Current equipment:

  • 100w Aqueon Pro heater
  • 2 Sicce nano 1000 powerheads
  • 1 non-functioning powerhead - My neon goby took a liking to this right as it died and I haven't had the heart to evict him yet so I've just left it in for now
  • Coralife HOB filter with skimmer - I'm just breaking the skimmer portion back in again after an extended period off, so it's producing a lot of micro bubbles right now in the tank, but I know from experience that it will settle in after a few weeks. Additionally, I'm running a small 50 watt heater in the heater compartment of this filter along with filter floss and chemi-pure blue
  • Fluval Marine 3.0 24 inch - Slowly ramping light up even brighter, but I don't think it'll supply enough long term, even with the little help my second light is providing
  • Nicrew LED light on timer - This light was originally on this tank when it was freshwater. I've turned on the blue LEDs too when I switched the tank to saltwater, but it still doesn't provide enough light and I'm sure it isn't at the right spectrum. For now it's just on during the peak hours of my Fluval light's schedule

Short-term plans:

  • Finish breaking in skimmer and fine tune to reduce micro bubbles
  • Continue with regular water changes
  • Purchase better testing kits - I'm using API tests for now but I'm ordering Salifert kits soon to replace them
  • Manual removal of vermetid snails - I had a few of these still on my live rocks from a frag I got years ago; I started crushing them with small forceps from time to time and that seems to keep their population in check
  • Add light-diffusing privacy film along back of tank and add LED strip for lighting behind tank - I used these LEDs on the back of this tank previously and it looked really nice behind the opaque black background I had up before. Now I want to try it with some privacy film that will still let some light through while also hiding the equipment cords
  • Possibly add some more soft corals or Zoanthids in a couple months


Long-term plans:

  • Purchase a second Fluval light to increase brightness for new corals and replace the Nicrew light
  • Add more corals, including LPS up top once I have more light to support them
  • Add an ATO - I've been topping off with RODI manually for now, but I know the salinity swings can get really bad if I don't keep up on it, especially during the winter
  • Build wood stand with doors to hide equipment and wires - The tank is currently on a cheap Walmart metal stand that I picked up a few years back when I noticed damage and flexing in my stand at the time and needed something to replace it quickly
  • Plumb either this tank or a new 20g (not that confident in my glass cutting ability to not have a backup on hand) and install a DIY 10g sump underneath - This would allow me to hide almost all of my current equipment in my new stand, cut out any remaining micro bubbles from the HOB skimmer since it will be on the sump instead with multiple baffles to get rid of bubbles, and potentially leave some room for a tiny refugium if I decide I need/want it down the line


Most of my "long-term" plans I still want to complete well within the next 6-9 months, aside from maybe the move to using a sump. That might need to wait for my next move after our lease is up. We're planning on moving a few hours away next time, so it would be really nice to be able to just set up the new 20g and sump at our new place and have it ready to go when I move the rocks, sand, and livestock.

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  • 3 weeks later...

After a trip to the vet for my dog, we decided to get her some joint supplements at Petco and I figured I'd pick up some more nassarius snails while I was there. To my surprise, they'd just gotten in a wide variety of invert CUC: crabs, urchins, snails, and conches. Nothing but sad looking coral, but they did have a variety of anemone available that looked quite healthy.


I grabbed some snails and decided to go for a conch even though I wasn't planning on getting one quite yet. Ultimately I decided my sandbed could use a small one given its depth, algae growth, and general lack of CUC from the move and subsequent die-off in the sand-dwelling creatures. The algae growth between cleanings has gotten much better on the rocks now that the urchin has something to say about it, but the sandbed has been getting a bit unruly with the tank down to just two nassarius snails.


A couple days after I got the snails all acclimated to my tank, I noticed something I'd missed on the conch before: its shell is host to a number of limpets that seems to live along its edge. They don't appear to be keyhole limpets from closer inspection of the conch, but I can't tell for sure what species they are or if they'd eat sps if I ever got them. From watching them, they appear to lift their tiny shells for just a half minute or less, poke out and sniff about for food, and then close up again quickly.


Conch with one of the nassarius snails I grabbed at the store. You can see the limpets if you look closely:



Closer shot of the limpets along the bottom edge:



For now the tank is otherwise doing great and I finally got in my Salifert test kits to start getting more precise measurements. Initial results look great for magnesium and calcium, which isn't surprising considering I keep the tank at 1.026 with reef crystals. Nitrate was in line with what the api showed me sticking to, around 2.5 or 5 ppm. Alkalinity was surprisingly low, though, for RC: around 8.6. I tested twice to be sure, but I'm thinking maybe my salt settled some since it's getting fairly old with how slowly I go through it and how close to the bottom I am.


The last test to come in was phosphate and I was eager to check that given it's one I've never tested for before, even through I've gone through some pretty ugly phases of my tanks in terms of algae growth. Results came in closer to 0 than 0.1. I usually do algae removal before my water change on Saturday, so it's not shocking that it's so low on a Friday afternoon. I'll retest this weekend at a diluted concentration for better reading, but for now I'm blaming it on the algae in the sandbed. That and the Xenia more than doubling in size since I got it!

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I didn't get around to my normal Saturday water change today. Instead, I got a little distracted at a nearby LFS and ended up having to settle in some new additions to the tank! I decided it was never too early to add some Zoas. And that way I could finally get some life on my last rock; other than the tuxedo urchin, that is, who tends to prefer that rock when he/she's not harassing my snails or coral elsewhere.


I picked out a couple Zoa frags and while I was waiting to be helped, I happened to spot a little Galaxea frag. Now I definitely had planned on getting some sort of LPS by the end of the year, and I had been leaning toward a Euphyllia anyway, but I had been thinking more along the lines of a hammer or frogspawn. Something about this little one just caught my eye, though, and I had to have it.


Placement in the tank became a bit of a challenge given Galaxea coral's aggression and excessively long sweepers, so I ended up having to do some powerhead adjustments to change flow up a bit. I also decided to stick it way up in the corner by itself. I'm still not convinced it won't kill my toadstool leather, but I have plans to rearrange the tank a bit next summer anyway so I'm just hoping it'll play nice until then.


No pictures tonight really since it took so long to get everything settled and lights were going down by the time the new additions started opening up, but I will leave one shot of these Zoas that decided to show off before lights got too dim:


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Late weekend update since I've been too busy to post:



I accidentally ordered the wrong size window film for one of the windows in my wife's office, so I had some of this rainbow effect stuff left over. It wasn't exactly what I'd planned for, but I didn't want to waste it and it still has the desired effect of letting the LED strip I added behind the tank shine through and it helps hide the wires:



CUC is doing a good job working on the algae and I've been keeping at it in my war on the vermetid snails, but neither front is looking like it'll end terribly soon. To that end, I decided to re-evaluate my feeding schedule and knock it back just a bit. My clowns weren't terribly happy about that change, but they'll be fine.


Everything's holding stable otherwise, if not improving. Overall, my corals are seeming to perk up and the Neon Goby has started to adjust to life without his dead powerhead home. It was taking up too much space and accumulating algae in hard to clean spots, so I decided finally to pull it when I put the window film on the back of the tank.



The new corals are also settling in nicely. The zoanthids are showing more color than I saw at the LFS and I spotted a fifth tiny head that's started growing on the Galaxea frag.



Since I've basically covered my short-term goals (other than vermetid snail removal, but that's an ongoing battle), I've decided to re-evaluate and prioritize my long-term plans:

  • I still want to get a second Fluval light, but I've essentially been told not to buy myself anything in that price range for myself between now and the holidays by my friends and family, so I'm holding off for a couple months basically on that
  • In planning/pricing out a new build for my drilled tank with sump and stand, I've decided it'll be almost the same price, and much more beneficial in the long-term, to just up the size to a 29 gallon. The Fluval LEDs at this size will handle that tank's 30 inch width, especially with two of them. The extra height will actually be used to create a deeper sandbed as I like the look and I know I'll likely be at this next place next summer until we buy our property and build our forever home. This size tank/stand will also have the benefit of allowing me to up my sump size to a 20 gallon high, almost doubling my total water volume from where it's at now with how I'll be doing the sump. I also realized that my current stand's flared legs mean a 29g stand will have the same footprint as my current 20g one, so I'm not even taking up more space than I currently am.
  • While looking for an affordable and reliable ATO solution, I just got frustrated with the price of some stuff in this hobby. On that note, I've decided to start with either a DIY ATO that I develop into a full Reef Pi controller build, or maybe even just jump straight into Reef Pi with just the controller and temperature control using some relay-controlled outlets. Either way the ATO portion will likely have to wait until I get the sump, though, since I want redundancies in place for this kind of build and I don't want to lower my water level at all to allow for those in the 20g. I already have some Pi boards laying around from an old job that was using them; they had extras that had little things wrong that won't affect an embedded build like this, so I got them for free.
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I've decided to give myself a little motivation as we go into the holidays and participate in Nano-Reno as it's definitely in the spirit of what I'm trying to do with my tank anyway.


Since my last post, my neon goby has really become a lot less shy. I think removing the old powerhead in the corner that he was hiding on really helped. He's even taken to cleaning one of the clowns, although I think he's scared the other clown. Poor thing freaks out every time the neon goby lands on him.


Everything else is stable for now, although I'm still combating algae, especially in the sand. After a deep-cleaning by the tuxedo urchin, I could finally positively ID my conch as a Strawberry Conch and not a Florida Fighting Conch, which is what the store sold it to me as. Either way, he/she's doing a great job of helping keep the sand clean and even climbs up onto the rockwork slightly to clean around the zoas.


I've spotted one more tiny head that's starting to grow on the galaxea frag and I even spotted some sweeper tentacles out the other morning before lights started ramping up. For such a tiny frag, it put out decently long sweepers. I just wish I'd thought to get a picture, but I figure I'll have plenty of opportunities as it grows too.




Since I'm going to take part in Nano-Reno, I've decided to try and accelerate some of my improvement/equipment plans a little bit. I'm still holding off on getting a new light, but I wanted to dive right into a budget reef pi build right away. I've already ordered some temperature sensors and will be using a Kasa smart power strip for now instead of building a whole relay-controlled setup. While I may still go down that route for the 29g build with sump, for now at least I think this should be sufficient. I'll probably set up a new post to document the whole reef pi controller build once the power strip and sensors come in.

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My Reef-Pi is all set up and running! I had a couple issues that I've had to iron out, but it's consistently monitoring temps now and I'm using it to control my powerheads and skimmer for feedings. Eventually I'll add a PH probe, but for now that can wait. They don't cost too terribly much, but the PH probe and board for connecting it to my pi would effectively double the cost of my budget build right now. I also swapped the 50w heater inside my HOB for another 100w aqueon pro since house temps have been a bit all over the place with the autumn weather outside.


I stopped by a LFS hoping to get some cerith snails or bumblebee snails yesterday, but they unfortunately didn't have any of either. Of course, I still had to take a look at the rest of their stock, especially the corals.


I told myself that I'd maybe just pick up a blue or red mushroom since I've had a spot all picked out for one for a while. Well, they didn't have any, but they DID have something else that looked pretty intriguing:



Fungia definitely wasn't on my radar for this tank right now, but after some more poking around the store I just kept coming back to this one. It's been in the tank for 24 hours now and I'm really glad I ultimately decided to buy it. My conch was my biggest concern with this one being in the sand, but he/she checked it out once and then just moved on. I also gave it a couple little pieces of mysis while feeding the fish today and it was really neat watching it eat.


Just as I made the decision to pick up the green plate coral, I happened to spot something else underneath the egg crate in the same frag tank. A tiny pink toadstool frag had fallen off its plug and through the egg crate and was laying on the glass bottom. I had never seen a pink one for sale in person and couldn't pass up the opportunity. It hasn't faired quite as well as the plate coral yet, but I'm finally starting to see some polyps coming out. Just a few hours before this picture, I caught my tuxedo urchin making off with it and I had to steal it back and wedge it into a better spot on the rock.



Most of the rest of the tank is doing well, other than the Galaxea, which lost its two baby heads to an Asterina star 😡. These starfish have been in my tanks since I started keeping saltwater a few years ago and have never been an issue, but the other morning I walked up to my tank and saw a starfish completely covering one of the heads and eating the flesh! I immediately removed the Asterina and another that I could see then, but the damage had already been done. I think there's one more to catch somewhere, so I'm keeping an eye out for it as well.


The larger head that was being consumed looks to still have a little bit of flesh on it, so I'm hopeful that it may still come back, but it looks like both of the tiny heads that had been growing were completely eaten 😢. The remaining heads are doing well, though, so I think it'll just be a small setback for now.


Finally, my test results. Phosphate still continues to be largely undetectable due to the algae, and nitrate has even gone down just a touch. I'm hoping once I get some ceriths in the sand, they'll help keep the algae in check a bit better and my nitrate and phosphate can finally start to level out to where I want them. As I've started slowly creeping my salinity down a touch, I've also finally gotten a calcium result lower than 500, albeit only at 480. I'll continue to monitor calcium, especially now that I have a couple LPS species in the tank, but I think water changes should be able to keep it well within an acceptable range. Lastly, alk is up to 9.0 after I mixed my remaining salt up really well inside the bucket. I'm happy with that number and I plan to purchase bags of salt instead next time and just empty/mix them in the bucket from now on.




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  • 3 weeks later...

So, there have been a few changes since my last post and I wanted to update today since it seems that my Neon Goby is now MIA, presumed dead 😢. I spotted him struggling a bit toward the bottom of the tank (which is a really unusual spot for him) the other day and I was preparing to move him into a small hospital tank if needed, but I haven't seen him since. I've been testing ammonia, nitrates, and phosphates daily since then, but even if he passed away I'm thinking he might've just been too small to have any measurable impact on nutrients.


In an unrelated piece of bad news, my 5.5g broke. I'd been planning on using it as a nano reef tank until I combine it and my current 20H into something larger next year, but the side glass cracked while I was prepping it for use a week ago. I scrapped that plan for now and I've decided to add the largest rock from that into my current scape instead:



I think I'll shift things around a little this weekend or next. I want to move all the rocks except the Xenia island over just a bit to the left so that the Xenia doesn't just spread to the new rock in a month or two. That'll also be a good time to do some wire cleanup, for which I'll be using velcro instead of zip-ties this time!


It's hard to tell from the above picture, but I've removed the FW Nicrew light that I had before and I'm just running the single Fluval for now. I had initially turned the Nicrew over to just blue LEDs to see if the reduced warm light might help with algae growth (which seemed to be helping at least a little), but the FW light had so few blue LEDs that I decided to pull it completely and use it on my new 10g planted tank instead. The 10g is currently hosting my CPD fry until they grow up, at which point some will get added to my planted Waterbox AIO and the rest will go to the LFS. After that, it'll probably be used for a Betta:


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Noticed some growth on the Galaxea coral. Despite some of the smaller heads on this frag getting eaten by the Asterina stars, these two larger ones have connected back together and are starting to form what I'm guessing is a dome structure with new heads. Pictures under my normal settings and then all blues:


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1 hour ago, Fish out of Water said:

I really like the back lighting idea with LED's and privacy film. Is it set on it's timer or on all the time? Good luck in the contest.

Thanks! The led strip was on all the time, but lately I've had issues keeping it attached. I'm hoping to super-glue it back onto the double-sided tape when I do some cable management.


And good luck to you too! Your tank must've been a fun cleanup job when you got it!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Another trip to the LFS to up my CUC, but of course that doesn't mean I just came home with snails 😁.


I still wasn't able to get any cerith snails; seems like nobody around here has been getting them in for some reason. I was, however, able to pick up some bumblebee snails to hopefully help with controlling my vermetid population. Even if they don't end up going after the vermetids, I'm sure they'll enjoy all the tiny bristleworms I've been spotting on my rocks.


Current FTS:



At the bottom left is my newest impulse purchase: a walking dendro. I'd never actually seen one in person other than at a public aquarium, so of course I couldn't resist! I initially had set it down closer to the rock, but I think I accidentally put it on top of my buried conch. When I came back an hour or two later, it had moved further into the corner:



What initially looked like some small mushroom corals on a frag plug turned out to be a blastomussa frag instead. Since I really liked the look of this one and the lighting/flow conditions are so similar, I decided to go ahead and grab it anyway and see how it does in the same spot where I initially had planned to stick some mushrooms:



Update on my little blue neon goby! Since my last post, I've actually seen him again twice hiding inside the rockwork. I'm not sure if the clowns are bullying him or what, but he seems to be content spending his time hiding for now.


I've decided to hold off on water changes a little and I've been just testing regularly instead. My last WC was a little over 2 weeks ago now and things are still looking great.


The first thing I realized pretty quickly was that my KH was actually rising! While it did finally settle a few days back, I'm guessing the artificial rock that I added was probably to blame. I'm going to keep testing to be safe, but it seems that it's just buffered my KH and PH a little higher, which isn't necessarily a bad thing tbh. In fact, I'm thinking it may be what's helped the galaxea frag start to grow like it has:



Darn clownfish always getting in my shots! Here's another, without the diva this time:


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  • 2 weeks later...

Walking Dendro has been living up to its name. I keep coming into my office to see it having moved a few inches overnight. Right now it's working its way toward the back of the tank a bit:



As for my other mobile coral, the green helmet coral has made its way to the corner of the tank where it seems to be content for now:



I'm continuing to see steady growth on the galaxea frag from the 3 heads that survived the Asterinas' feast a while back and I'm also seeing some growth on my new blasto frag:



Finally, I was beginning to worry that my micro brittle stars hadn't survived the rough moving process since my rocks had been left in essentially stale, unheated water for so long. I was happy to see a couple of them come out yesterday while I was feeding:



I've also spotted more pods as of late, including some pretty large amphipods living in the rocks. I haven't had another sighting of my neon goby in some time, however, so I'm wondering if he's still in there somewhere. I've had plenty of tiny freshwater fish hide for extended periods of time however, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him again in a few days.


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  • 5 weeks later...

I realized that it's been a month since my last update; with the holidays and some medical complications recently, it's been a busy month. I've only really had time to keep up on feeding and testing lately, so that means algae has largely been left to my CUC and it shows. I'm hoping to get some time this weekend to clean the glass at least, but we'll see.


One definite upside of the algae growth on the glass has been that I've been able to see the growth in some of my smallest CUC populations. Lots of pods of all sizes, small bristleworms, and even some dwarf ceriths have been spotted on the glass. I've also noticed more micro brittle stars, including some on my new rock addition:



I'm really happy to see all the microfauna doing so well right now, but at the same time I'm a little sad because I know I'll be losing a decent chunk of them that live in the sand when I move later this year. Unfortunately, life like the dwarf ceriths and bristleworms likely won't be easy to save when I pull the sand out and rinse it during the move.


For now, however, things are going pretty well. Corals are growing, with the Xenia and one of the Zoas finally growing off of their frag plugs. Blasto has also seen some nice growth since I got it too. Unfortunately, even though I did finally glue it down, it must not have been attached well enough because the urchin still knocked it off the rock just the other day.


My wife got some cute little 3d-printed hats for the tuxedo urchin for Christmas and it's gonna be a lot of fun seeing the little jerk try them out. For now I've only stuck a couple in there, but he already seems to have crowned himself king of the tank:



This weekend will be my first water change in nearly a month; ever since I started testing more regularly, I've been spacing water changes out further and further and I've only really seen things improving. The only major issue I've had was with my HOB filter/skimmer, but it was just because of salt buildup in the air intake line clogging it up a bit. I noticed that this happened a lot faster than in the past, but that may just be because I'm actually turning it off for feedings now and I didn't do that before.


More tank pics will come this weekend when I hopefully get a chance to clean the glass, but for now here's a close-up of my toadstool that continues to grow:


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