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My Nano Reef - The Beginning

Last Updated: 9/20/08

Step 1: Set up tank

On 4/26/08, I set up the tank. The store said the pump is 106 gph but the instruction book says 166 which is much better. The filter would be great for a freshwater tank as it has three sponges, bioballs, ceramic rings, carbon, and the pump. A reef tank though gets its biological filtration through the live rock. There were only four bioballs (big ones) so I left them in there but I took out the bag of ceramic rings. I'll leave the others in for now since I am not sure what to do. I stuck my 50 W Visitherm heater in the compartment with the little pump. I had bought a 100 W heater but realized it was way too much for the tank. Especially once I actually made up and added the saltwater! That is because the tank only holds 8 gallons of water (with 8 pounds of live sand in there). One gallon is in the filter compartment. So, this "12" gallon tank really only has 7 gallons in the main tank! It is wrong that they call it 12 gallons. I am sure they want to make it seem bigger than it is. The problem comes with adding things to the tank. I mixed the saltwater in a bucket with gallon marks on it (I made the marks the day before) and then added it. I made the salt per the Instant Ocean directions but the results were not right on the hydrometer so I had to play with it a lot. I finally realized, I had to stick something down into the hydrometer and hit the needle into the side or minute bubbles would always make the reading too high. I over-diluted to try to fix it and then had to put salt back. If I had assumed the tank was 12 gallons and put that much salt into the tank (6 cups of Instant Ocean), it would have almost twice the proper salinity to start with! And what happens when dosing chemicals, medications, etc.? Or, when you determine how many or much of something to add. That has to be based on 8 gallons, not 12. Anyway, here are two photos of the tank after I filled it up. The water is still cloudy from the live sand but it is clearing up. They are not kidding when they say live sand. When I put it in, this critter (an amphipod maybe) was scurrying all over and a saw a smaller "pod" of some sort (isopod?). They were gone later after the filter had been going for a few hours (got sucked in?).

Tank when first filled with the lights off. My betta, Homer, is watching from the 20 gallon freshwater tank.

Tank a few hours later with the lights on.

For now, the lights are kept off (algae would just grow). The next step is to get some live rock, for 8 gallons, not 12 unfortunately.

Step 2: Add live rock

On 4/27/08, I bought 11.5 pounds of live rock at $9.99 per pound. There were four pieces. I set one piece on top of the two larger pieces to make some hiding places for future animals. The largest piece had a large dead clam on it that I had to have when I saw it. Another piece may have some fire coral on it. There is some coralline algae and some green fuzzy algae too. A long brown worm (looked like a freshwater blackworm) came out and flailed around, and then I think it died.

I did my first water tests on 4/27/08 as well. This was after a dose of Microbe-Lift all in one reef supplement. And yet, my pH, alkalinity, and calcium were all low. The pH was 7.9, ammonia and nitrite zero, nitrate less than 10 ppm (might be zero, hard to tell), calcium 315 ppm, alkalinity 125 ppm as CaCO3, specific gravity 1.022.

I am putting the lights on for a few hours a day but not full schedule. Within a week, there was a nice crop of brown algae (diatoms) growing. I am anxious to add some animals but am so worried that they will not survive.

Here are two photos from 4/27/08:
Tank with live rock
Close-up of the dead clam

Step 3: Wait

On 5/3/08, I made up 2.5 gallons of salt water with 1.25 cups (316 g) of Instant Ocean and 3 mL of Microbe-Lift all in one reef supplement. The specific gravity came out to be 1.022 exactly this time, yay! I tested the tank water (before the water change) again as well as some of the tests on the water to be changed in. The specific gravity of the tank was up to 1.0243 for some reason. The pH in the tank was still 7.8 but the make up water was 8.0. There was still no readable ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate in the tank (so much for cycling!). The alkalinity of the tank was up to 200 ppm CaCO3 which is better but the make up water was only 150 ppm. The tank's calcium was down to 285 ppm, and the make up water was even lower (despite the supplement) at 255 ppm. I am not sure what to do about those. I have ordered some buffer to raise the pH and alkalinity and some liquid calcium. I do not want to fiddle too much with the water chemistry though.

I also discovered that the cooking measuring cup thing I used to determine the initial gallon measurements in my litter bucket was off (compared to larger gradations on my fish bucket). What I thought was two gallons was closer to 2.3 gallons. So, the volume of the tank is closer to 9 gallons, not 8. That is better. As a chemist, I am used to dealing in liters which is much easier! This also explains why the salt water I made last week was too weak to start. I really wish I had some graduated cylinders to work with here! The chemical company we use will not allow individuals to buy "chemical supplies" plus they cost a ton. I could not even get a digital light timer there; I found it elsewhere. It said, "not recommended for use with aquariums!" after I bought it (not on the web site which sold it for plant lighting) even though it looks almost the same as the ones that are sold for aquariums (except four that are on instead of two on, two off since I have three aquariums with day lights there). Too bad, I did. I am glad my boss gave me a free old stirrer (from like 1950, weighs a ton, uses a fan to rotate) and stir bar. It makes dissolving salt solutions go very fast.

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