A Little History—Late 1980s and the 90s
My first really successful reef aquarium (started in 1989 and ran for about 8 years) was a 160g glass tank with Metal Halides, mixed reef inhabitants (soft and hard corals, mostly Gulf/Florida stock with some Pacific corals, fish, fairly large tridacna clam). This system evolved organically from smaller aquariums into a fairly complex system (for the time), with my original 15g tank acting as what today we would call a refugium (but back then it was a full lighted aquarium that ran off the sump in which I kept a couple kinds of algae, Caulerpa sp., etc). If I could characterize this system with one word it would be “experimentation”, or maybe even “unplanned”. Even so I was very diligent with the maintenance, and after a while, with moderate water changes, it pretty much ran itself. I built several protein skimmers–one was five-feet tall. I was constantly moving stuff around, building filters, playing around with the secondary lighting–actinics, grow bulbs, etc. My primaries were two Coralife metal halide pendant lamps.
My nano-reef aquarium build plans
Fast-forward to 2014 through today, and I have started building out a new reef aquarium, this time going with a “nano” or very small aquarium. And this time I’m planning carefully–I mean every step. I also have some pretty strict requirements.
1. Self-contained (no sump, AIO) system
2. As much automation as I can build or buy
3. Backup power (at least a couple hours for the pumps)
4. Easy to maintain (rollable cabinet, small form factor)
5. Fairly realtime view into the system’s chemistry from anywhere (e.g., web, phone).
Here’s my cabinet, a “Luxor Mobile Steel Adjustable Height AV Cart with Storage Cabinet” I bought at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002C5QBA4. I upgraded the bolts to something hefty and stainless steel. The whole cart is made of 20 gauge steel, and should easily be able to handle a 70+ pound load. I’ve also cut a nice piece of 3/4 inch birch plywood for the top, varnished, sealed, and drilled for power cables to run down into the cabinet below.
I originally planned for the very small (and cool) 4.3g tank, but I have changed my mind and now I’m going with the Micro-Reefs 7.2 gallon AIO Acrylic Temperate (Rimless design) http://micro-reefs.com/temperate-systems.html (I had toyed with the idea of going with a temperate tank, but I’m back to the tropics–still I love the micro-reefs tanks, and the 1/2 inch acrylic is sturdy as hell).
Maintenance: I want the ability to roll the aquarium onto a plastic sheet to do maintenance, water changes, etc. The UPS also gives me the ability to unplug from the wall and roll the whole thing into the kitchen–right up to the sink if I need to.
Water: I have an RO unit built into the house, but I’m a fan of real seawater, so I will probably go with that as the primary source (the Atlantic is only six or seven miles away). For supplemental changes I use Instant Ocean Reef Crystals
APC BR1000G Back-UPS Pro 1000 Uninterruptible Power Supply
I bought a Digital Aquatics ReefKeeper Lite Base system (with ReefKeeper Lite Head Unit, PC4 (4 outlets), and Temperature probe), but after researching things a bit, I think I’m going to make my own Arduino-based controller instead–just ordered an Open Reefs Senseable board below, but still doing research on DIY controller details.
Open Reefs – Senseable pH + EC + ORP + DO
Supports up to 6 Atlas Scientific sensors on the board. My goal is to build a controller for the lights, pumps, heater, and chemistry, with the ability to continuously post data to an online service. A future option would be able to remotely control (e.g., iPhone app) lighting times, temperature, and other pieces of the system.
I just ordered a small skimmer:
Innovative Marine AUQA Gadget Ghost Protein Skimmer
I’ve never used anything from Innovative Marine before, so we’ll see how it goes.
Lighting: to start out I’m going with the Kessil A150W Sky Blue, with gooseneck mounting. http://www.kessil.com/aquarium/A150.php Still looking for secondary lighting.
Live rock from Tampa Bay Aquaculture
I want to show off some beautiful aquacultured (not taken from natural reef formations) live rock I purchased from Tampa Bay Aquaculture. They picked out the perfect pieces for my tank, and sent them via Southwest Airlines cargo to Manchester–air cargo is the only way to go when you’re getting live rock. It’s in the warm Gulf waters one moment (on the farm so to speak) and several hours later it’s in your home. Live = fresh = intact bacteriological system. Take a look at the pics–five days after placing the rock in my tank. This rock came with some nice tube coral colonies (Cladocora arbuscula), several different kinds of Ascidean sp. (Sea squirts), and various other clusters of mollusks, sponge, coralline algae.
I’ve had a nanoreef tank going for a while–let’s just say a minimalist setup (after being away from the hobby for a decade). Over the last several months I’ve been building out a nice compact (12g total water volume) system for my home office (where I write) and my son’s work space–with everything I want in a reef tank–nice lighting, not too big, self-contained, battery backup for all pumps, skimmer, reactor. It will be a mixed tank–aquacultured coral species from both the Caribbean and Pacific, refugium for macro-algae, sea-plants, and a couple groves of mangrove trees.
Except for live sand for the bed, some coralline algae rubble, and six Mangrove trees, everything you see behind the glass came in the big box from Tampa Bay Aquaculture.
I’m loving this new tank, and I haven’t even moved in any of my corals yet!
January 16, 2016: Shot of the aquarium this morning. Zoanthids, possibly Palythoans:
January 17, 2016: Another close up shot of my reef tank--tube coral colonies (Cladocora arbuscula):
January 18, 2016: Four more shots of my aquarium, a few different zoanthid species, and the lower-left is a cousin of the Cladocora sp. tube colony I have growing in the tank. Pretty sure this is a Cladocora, but these are larger, squatter, less branching--possibly Cladocora muellerae or debilis. :
May 23, 2016: The new cool word of the week is kleptoplasty, which is the process of taking chloroplasts from algal cells and keeping them for yourself. Here are some macro shots of my beautiful Elysia crispata, roaming across the front glass. The Elysiids are "sea slugs" (not nudibranchs, in case that's where you were going). This guy can take plastids from the algae it feeds on, keeping them alive in its body, where they continue to photosynthesize and provide sugars for the slug. In other words, a solar-powered sea slug. More info here: http://www.seaslugforum.net/showall/elyscris: