Jump to content

Home Office Shallow Reef


Recommended Posts

Updated Photo: Feb 2023



Helllooo NR, 


Last summer my girlfriend and I moved into a home together. During the move my previous 13.5 Fluvial suffered major losses. See the Desktop Reef thread for details on that aquarium. 


But over the last month Ive been able to setup my Home Office Reef. The vision of this reef is to take the concept of my 13.5 fluvial to its full potential with an aquarium focused on torch corals and softies, with a sprinkle of easy SPS. I will be applying the lessons learned from the Desktop Reef as well as my 20+ years in the hobby. 


Here are the hardware spec's: (updated, Feb 28 2023)

- Custom starfire low-iron glass tank (manufactured in Toronto), measuring 15" wide, 48" long and 13" high.  

- Estimated water volume is 35 gallons

- 2x EcoTech Marine XR30 Blue lights. 

- 2x Vortech Mp10 wavemakers

- 4x Kamoer dosing pumps for All-for-Reef, Mg, Soda Ash and Calcium.

- 4x Marine Colour 1.5L reservoirs 

- 5 L autofilling ATO with direct RODI connectio 

- SeaChem Tidal 35 hang on filter. 

- Reef Glass nano Skimmer on eheim 100 air pump and diy c02 scrubber

- 9W UV Sterilizer 

- 100w flat profile heater

- Seneye Monitoring System with web server. 

- BRS 5 stage RO-DI

- Hanna Checker Testers 


Lighting Schedule: 

- Slightly modified version of the stock LPS settings to provide more of a dailylight curve. 

- Sunrise: 8am. 

- Sunset starts at 8pm and ends at 9pm.

- Moonlights from 9 to midnight. 


Step 1: Aquascape (Jan 😎

Using 35lbs of BRS Marco Rock, I tested out a variety of concepts. My objective was to maximize surface area, stay off the glass, provide enough fish comfort zones and of course be visually appealing. I used BRS epoxy as well as BRS reef glue to put the rockwork together. I actually found it easier and a better bond to use the BRS reef glue. 





Dry Setup (Jan 10) 

The final scape looked alot different than those ideas. And once in the tank, I glued it together with BRS reef glue. I also glued portions to the bottom of the tank. I wanted to ensure nothing was going to move from pushy creates like sea urchins. 




Filler Up! (Jan 13)

The next day I was able to put water in the aquarium. I actually ran out of Instant Ocean, which Ive been using for 20+ years and went into my LFS for a box. But they didnt carry it. I walked out the Red Sea Coral Pro Salt. I was skeptical at first, but Im sold now. It mixes fast and clear with good water parameters. And since my LFS has it....makes it convenient. 


Switching salt mix can be daunting if you've got stable parameters and dont want to mess with things. Im glad it happened at this stage. 


I used CaribSea Aragonite Sand. I actually like the smaller grain and seeing the wavey sandbed. Its a heck of a storm when first added in though. Here are the pictures: 





I used Dr Tims to cycle the tank. After a week when Amm settled I added in 'pods from a local Canadian distributer, since it looks like Algae Barn and other stores no longer ship live bacteria products to Canada. Boo-import laws.  




These are from Canada Copepods, for those northern reefers that are interested. 



I also added Tigger Pods, although I dont have a picture of that. 



For new folks that are following, Pods are actually the most important part of your clean up crew in a nano. Since Tangs and Sea Urchin are usually out of the question, most algae problems can be resolved pre-emptively with a healthy pod population. Check out the BRS episodes on tank cycling more indepth testing info. 


  • Like 10
Link to comment


What can be learned when the lights come on? 


The baseline of your reef's consumption can be mapped at this time. Once cycling is complete and the lights have been on schedule for a week, the reef will start to utilize the elements in the water. Now we can figure out how much Calc, ALK and Mg the system is using without inhabitants.


WHY? Even growing coralline algae will deplete the Calk and Mg from your system, despite 10% weekly water changes. The Calc and Mg will be drawn out within 24hrs post-water change. 


Therefore, dosing is an essential practice to keeping coral and even for a healthy fish only system. Its very unfortunately there are no "tank setup guides" that tell you dosing should start BEFORE corals go into your aquarium. 


When the cycle completed and lights went on, I completed a water change and I also introduced my 4 fish (2 clowns, 1 watchman, 1 rainfords) and 3 nass snails, who were the only survivors of the recent move. 




Dosing a tank with just Fish

What I observed was the tank ate up the elements rapidly in the first few days. 



pH: 8.4

dKH: 12

Calc: 500

Mg: 1550


Parameters (Jan 25):

pH: 7.8

dKH: 7.4

Calc: 420

Mg: 1400


The low pH was something that I wasnt prepared for. In my previous reef's I seem to have run at 8.2 rather effortlessly. I suspect this older home has less air circulation and more C02. In order to drive pH and dKH into a better spot, i started to use Soda Ash (ALK) for the first time. 


The concept here is that it would push ALK up and pH with it as well. 


Initial dosing, Jan 28:

All-4-Reef: 10ml/day

Alk: 5ml/day 

Mg: 10ml/day 


After 24hrs:

pH: 8.06

dKH: 8.4

Calc: 395

Mg: 1480


OBSERVATIONS after 24hrs

- Reef is using up Calc faster than its added.  

- dKH is steadily rising

-pH steadily increasing 

- Mg is rising steadily. 


Adjusted dosing, Jan 29:

All-4-Reef: 15ml/day -> increased by 5ml

Alk: 5ml/day 

Mg: 10ml/day 


After 24hrs, Jan 30:

pH: 8.07

dKH: 8.8

Calc: 433

Mg: 1400


OBSERVATIONS after 48hrs of dosing

- Calc uptake has slowed 

- dKH still steadily rising with pH

- Mg uptake has slightly increased. 



I do not adjust the dosing. Same dosing schedule for next 24hrs:

All-4-Reef: 15ml/day 

Alk: 5ml/day 

Mg: 10ml/day 


After 24hrs, Jan 31:

pH: 8.12

dKH: 8.7

Calc: 403

Mg: 1560


OBSERVATIONS after 72hrs of dosing

- Calc uptake has increased again

- dKH maybe reaching a stability point

- pH still going up, which is great

- Mg is almost stable.


This continues, without coral for the next week, until some level of stability or potentially saturation, in the case of ALK goes, is reached. But these are not quite the numbers Im shooting for. They are OK numbers, but could be better. Again, keep in mind there are no corals in the system yet. Im just dosing to find a baseline. 


Daily Dosing from Jan 12-28:

All-4-Reef: 50ml/day

Alk: 10ml/day 

Mg: 30ml/day 


Parameters from Jan 12-28:

pH: 8.18-8.07

dKH: 8.7

Calc: 400

Mg: 1560


Its at this point I realize that All-4-Reef powder, Mg powder and other additive powders are in my future as the liquid version is way to expensive to go through that much in a day. Its what I had been using up until this point. 


I also realize that all my dosing containers are way too small. One my objectives is to ensure the reef is automated for 21 days, as I travel for work in the summers. 





Finally about a week ago the tank settled a bit. I think ALK became saturated. I reached 15 dkH at one point, where some white precipitate was found on the glass. Took some elblow grease to get it off the waterline, all around the glass tank.


Notability - The Alk dosing went from 200 ml/day, suddenly to 20 ml/day, 10ml/day and now 0.  


Over the last 3 days its been stable at 13.5-14, but Im not dosing ALK, except within the all for reef, but thats not much. 




- Just a reminder to new reefers. Do not stock your reef tank this quickly. Its a bad idea for so many reasons. Im in for a rollarcoaster.

- The reef got 5 torches, 2 GSP frags, 1 goni and 1 xenia

- For clean up crew... one tuxedo urchin. I think that should be enough. No snails or crabs.

- And for filtration, 1 mangrove plant. Never tried a mangrove before, so we'll see how it goes.  

- 3 blood shrimp were also added, cause I like blood shrimp









After 24hrs the torches really opened up. Looking big and juicy right now! I'll post update pictures soon. 

My plan is to add 3-4 SPS corals once Ive got the pH and ALK stable for 3 months.  


The Gas Pedal, Jan 31:

The reef's uptake of all elements skyrocketed with the new inhabitants. This was anticipated and is the hardest part of stocking and finding stability.  The first 48hrs as the corals settle, they use up alot of calc. This is one of many reasons not to add this many animals, at one time. 


Dosing from Jan 31-Feb 1:

All-4-Reef: 450ml/day

Alk: 200ml/day 

Mg: 50ml/day 


Parameters Jan 31-Feb 1: 

pH: 8.18

dKH: 11

Calc: 403-420

Mg: 1600



Dosing, 48hrs post stocking - from Feb 3 to Feb 7:

All-4-Reef: 150ml/day

Alk: 0ml/day 

Mg: 45ml/day 


Parameters Jan 31-Feb 1: 

pH: 7.8

dKH: 13.2

Calc: 425

Mg: 1650


Sure the dKH is high, but I dont think thats actually a problem. Frankly I dont think anyone really know what happens when a sustained dKH of 14-15 is kept up in the aquarium.  But I might have to run at very high dKH levels cause....my biggest problem is pH. 


pH Problems, Feb 3 to Feb 7

- Ive observed it takes about 12 hrs for 'good' pH water of 8.2 to slip down to 7.8 in my home (post water change and water mixing observation). 

- Even at a dKH of 15, the Office Reef's pH was at 8.2 and then started slipping. 

- Despite being at dKH 13 now, my pH is super low at 7.8.


I cant continue to dose Soda Ash and continue to raise dKH faster than my system is using it just for the pH. So Ive order some Kalk powder from BRS. Later today, I'll try lowering my All-4-Reef dosing and adding Kalk. This is both a calc and alk additive, so I'll have to watch my numbers closely. 


I anticipate that dKH will go up. Maybe 14 or more. But I think this maybe a worthwhile trade off for a decent pH. Recently alot of data shows how important pH is to coral health. But dKH... no real data exists for running long term into the 14-15 range. Hit this thread up with a dKH discussion if you have info!


Thats it for now! Ive had a bacteria bloom for the last 48hrs, so Im gonna photograph that a bit and talk about it next. Ive ordered a mini UV sterilizer for the first time, so we'll see how that goes, along with increasing pH! 





  • Like 3
Link to comment

Questions for Discussion and thought:

- will Kalk solve my low 7.8 pH

- will Kalk drive my alk too high? 

- what even happens at 15dKH? 


If i have to dose so much Kalk to achive 8.2 pH...that my Alk  continues to rise INDEFINITELY....is my reef even sustainable? 


Is indefinite ALK increase even a real issue? What would happen, exactly if my ALK was 20 or 50 or 100?


Check this crazy pH crash graph after i stopped dosing Soda Ash (Alk).



Link to comment
57 minutes ago, geekreef_05 said:

what even happens at 15dKH? 

From Randy Holmes-Farley


"There are a variety of things that high alkalinity does.

First, it increases the likelihood of precipitation of calcium carbonate on things like pumps, heaters, and sand.

Second, it spurs some hard corals and coralline algae to grow faster since getting enough carbonate can be a rate limiting step in calcification (skeletal growth).

Finally, some SPS corals in a very low nutrient environment with high alkalinity may suffer "burnt tips", which might be due to the tissue being unable to keep up with the skeletal growth, leaving very thin tissue which might be more susceptible to burning by high light/UV levels.

Corals that have issues with alk swings may be suffering from a temporary mismatch between their ability to take up bicarbonate and the internal demand for it."



Alk aside... I'd slow down...

Dry rock creates a super fragile system for 6-18 months.

Link to comment

Id agree that dry rock tanks can suffer more problems and faster, than live rock in the first year. 


I have read that bit from Randy. I think the key difference is that he is talking about alk swings more than sustained levels. 


I experienced some precipitation for sure. But not for several days now and my dkh has been steady around 13-14 for the past week, no visible issues.


My BRS order of kalk powder arrived, so i mixed up a batch and hooked up the kalk to the dosing pump - started at 100ml/day (bit goes in hourly). 


For kalk thats not too much. Its like 4ml an hour. Less than drip rate. I'll monitor over this evening. 


Again for note, my Soda Ash (alk) dosing has been 0 for a few days now. I stopped when i got to 15dkh....cause ya, it scares me a little to be that high. My PH radically dropped over that time.


Lets see how this goes to increase pH. 

Link to comment

Haha. Your tank is looking good Mitten. I just left some likes and comments on your journal.


Maybe we have different approaches and goals but its easy to appreciate your tanks success.

  • Thanks 1
Link to comment

Well...thats an old common saying, not to chase pH. I think this is a good discussion to have, cause certainly im putting this effort in to "chase pH". 


Id say that alot of recent data shows a strong correlation between elevated pH and coral health. A pH of 8.4 really seems to have positive results


What the data also shows that 7.8 is borderline. Its a point where corals are just surviving and not thriving. 


If i do nothing my pH will fall to 7.7 - 7.6. The coral may last a year, but thats not real success in my books. 

Link to comment
9 hours ago, geekreef_05 said:

If i do nothing my pH will fall to 7.7 - 7.6. The coral may last a year, but thats not real success in my books.

I’ll have to strongly disagree with that statement.  I have not once purposely manipulated the pH. Heck, I don’t even keep a kit/tester around to even know what my tank is sitting at pH-wise. And I’d say all iterations of my tanks were growing corals just fine. 

Does keeping higher pH show benefit?  Yes/maybe, I have an online buddy who has his pH in the mid 8 because he runs CO2 scrubber in his skimmer intake. And his tank is simply stunning. However, he does a lot more than chasing pH with his automation.  I recall when I was using “aquavitro eight.four” as the alk additive, yes funny name for alk supplement, my tank was doing just almost the same as it has been. The only difference I noticed was that my BTA at the time was much more bubbly.


now, if you live in a newer tightly-built home, I can see benefit of managing pH. But even then, I’d highly recommend CO2 scrubber at the skimmer air intake, it would have less effects on any other tank chemistry.  And you can monitor everything else separately 

Link to comment

The comments from folks are interesting. It illustrates a more "if it anint broke, dont fix it" attitude. 


10 years ago i may have also said pH is not that important. But previously i never had trouble keeping it above 8. 


Im in this hobby to push the boundaries and adapt with new observational data. From what ive seen pH has alot of importance, making the difference between coral survival and thriving states.


Mitten, im shocked you dont test for pH. If be curious to know what your range is. 


I dont run skimmers anymore, but i would agree that a skimmer and c02 scrubber would help. 


That said, i've noted a number of reefers online who have tried C02 scrubbers, getting skimmer air from outside, installing a hvac fresh air return at home....each seems to bump pH by only 0.1. 


I need a consistent 0.5 bump. Thats alot. Id have to do all those things to make my objective pH. I don't want to do that much. I dont want a skimmer. 


Overnight ive dosed 100ml of kalk. Very little effect on pH. Maybe 0.05 increase in pH. Keeping that overnight drop more stable. Bottomed out at 7.7 instead of 7.6. 


The real question im asking myself is...how far do i push alk to establish a ph above 8.0? 


AM ALK check coming up...

  • Like 1
Link to comment

Morning Parameters, Feb 9 10am:

pH: 7.7

Alk: 14.7

Calc: 405

Mg: 1600


I need a cut off for alk. If theres no improvement in pH this afternoon or if Alk hits 18, i stop the Kalk dosing. 


Id say preliminary, this (kalk) isnt working to boost my pH.


I know it requires a good amount, so ive gone from 100ml/day to 300ml/day. Lets see if it help at all this afternoon. 

Link to comment
31 minutes ago, geekreef_05 said:

The real question im asking myself is...how far do i push alk to establish a ph above 8.0? 


3 minutes ago, geekreef_05 said:

Alk: 14.7


this is so pointless.

I see tanks that sit at 7.5 dkh and have a pH of 8.2-8.5

clearly chasing pH via alk dosing with kalk is not the move.


Link to comment
5 minutes ago, TheKleinReef said:



this is so pointless.

I see tanks that sit at 7.5 dkh and have a pH of 8.2-8.5

clearly chasing pH via alk dosing with kalk is not the move.


I think alot of people use kalk to up their pH. 


Premilinarily in my case, soda ash had more of a pH impact. 


It pushed my pH to 8.2, but i had to keep adding it and it kept pushing kalk up as well. 


Alk additives work for this. Would work better if i had corals that soaked up alk. My torches just dont do that. 

Link to comment

I know sodium hydroxide is another potential alk dosing product that provides the most pH bang per ml. 


But given that its dangerous to work with, I'm ruling it out. 

Link to comment
8 minutes ago, geekreef_05 said:

I think alot of people use kalk to up their pH. 

That's not what I said.

I'm not speaking to it's popularity. I'm speaking to the fact that kalk is not having the desired pH elevating effect for you so why are you continuing to dump it in for no objective reason.



Link to comment

You are correct. 


This isnt working for me. Its been 18hrs and there's no improvement. Ive now discontinued the kalk. 


No alk is being introduced at this time. Just All for Reef is being dosed. 


Soda Ash was definitely better for raising pH. 


I will stop here and consider next steps. 


Options im thinking about:


Having sps would be beneficial to eat alk. Then i can dump more in for sake of pH lol. I was gonna go there post HA explosion anyway. The inevitable marco rock new tank HA bloom is the real question. If the urchin curbs it before it takes off...im golden 


and as mitten said a skimmer with c02 scrubber would introduce maybe 0.1-0.2 pH improvement.





Link to comment
1 hour ago, geekreef_05 said:

Mitten, im shocked you dont test for pH. If be curious to know what your range is. 

lol, I don't test for much these days....that's why I said our routines are very much opposite.  But that's ok, certainly more than one way to reef, and I appreciate the dedications of others (like the friend with high pH and yourself).      


as far as kalk vs pH goes...it's ALL about buffering capacity of your water.  I think this is where the "fancy salt" may be worth their price - assuming their cost increase is due to added buffering ingredient, along with purity, yada yada.  OR if costs is not a huge concern (i can't see it is based on all the methods/approaches you've invested in even if they're each budget-friendly), I had good luck with the aquavitro 8-4 in raising pH - presumably their alkalinity solution comes in a form of high-capacity buffer.    




Link to comment

I had a look at aquavito and their line of products. Looks like 8.4 is another alk additive. 


But they have balance, which is slightly different. But the key is it raises pH without Alk. Its sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide based. Alot like Boost pH+ , which i was also considering. 




That said, after some searching there arent any distributers or easy online vendors available in my area of Canada. Its not on canadian amazon. 


Too bad. 


But Mitten, i ordered a nano skimmer. First time in at least 15 years i'll be skimming. I also bought some scrubber media to DIY a C02 scrubber.


We'll see how this goes to raise pH. 


  • Like 1
Link to comment

Some photos from this evening. Post urchin torch cleaning, nicely aggitating the sweet indo at the front. 


But the real point of this photo is to show the bacterial bloom. Cant see to the end of the 4ft reef. 




So i got a mini uv sterilizer off amazon. I will install it before bed. I only intend to run it occasionally, as required. 


Torches looking good this afternoon. 




  • Like 2
Link to comment

Ok, so lil uv sterilizer has been running overnight. Notable improvement in clarity. And the reef smells like death. If i had a skimmer im sure it be going nuts right now. 


Two shots, from my two cell phone camera clip on lens's20230210_093503.thumb.jpg.ee7e0597d7947815dc690ef126d1241c.jpg


Lens 2: 




And this is the product ive been using:



  • Like 2
Link to comment

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recommended Discussions

  • Create New...