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My 110 gallon reef


undrtkr_00
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After reading some of people's adventures here, I figured I'd better start a log of my reefing activities. Actually, Dsoz linked his tank thread to me, and his enthusiasm gave me the extra motivation I needed to snap some pics and start recording my progress in the hobby.

 

I want to say that you guys seem to be a great bunch, and I'm surprised at the cooperative and helpful spirit I see. I'm glad I've found you here, and hope to make some good friends. I haven't made it to any of the meetings so far, but my schedule will soon be changing around some, and I hope to make it to some starting in the fall (oh, and get my membership card so I can start getting livestock discounts (clap))

 

My reef adventure started on the Sunday before Memorial Day, 2007. After having turtles and then freshwater tropical fish for about a year and a half, I had been looking into setting up a nano-reef at my office. Those little things were fairly expensive, though, and it wouldn’t be that much more money to just convert my 55g at home, so I contemplated that for a while, and opted to downsize its contents into a 29g planted tropical community tank, and that’s the one that ended up in my cubicle. It’s doing great. Anyway, somehow in the midst of all of that, I wound up finding this beautiful looking 110g tank with a great dark red/brown stand for only $750 on Craig’s List. After a bit of question and answer about various details, the seller said they’d let it go for only $600. I had to bite, so I withdrew the cash from the bank, recruited a couple of friends, and headed over to Newberg to pick it up. The tank only had two fish (a Foxface Rabbitfish and a Koran Angelfish) with no corals, and a couple of snails and hermits thrown in, but over 100 lbs of live rock and an inch or so of sand on the tank bottom. It was a perfect tank for me, because I kind of wanted to build a reef from the ground up.

 

It took three guys just to carry the glass tank – that sucker is 48” long by 18” wide by 30” tall, all ½” thick glass – it must weigh a few hundred pounds! It took pretty much the whole day just to break the tank down, haul it home, and set it back up again, and that was with me rushing around the whole time. We brought water containers and buckets, and were able to take a lot of the tank water with us, and ended up only having to add in about 35 gallons in the end. With what I know now, I’m not sure I shouldn’t have replaced most of the water with newly mixed, but it has all worked out OK, I guess.

 

The sump had originally been set up with a wet/dry bio-ball configuration, but the previous owner had taken that out and put a plastic tub full of crushed coral. See the water specs below to find out what the effect of that was. (sad) Because I had heard that both bio-ball systems and crushed coral can be nitrate factories (again, see further comments below), my friend and I grabbed a tall Rubbermaid tub, just a little smaller than the dimensions of the sump compartment, and filled it 6-7” deep with live sand from the display tank, hoping to create a small deep sand bed for converting nitrates and phosphates. It seems to be working OK, as there are now gas bubbles gurgling up to the surface from deep in the sand. The lights were just two 4’ normal fluorescents. I knew I’d have to shell out some cash to replace those as soon as I could.

 

The day after the move, I spoke to a couple of reef keeping friends and a guy at the LFS and got pretty much the same advice... “You moved the tank. You’re going to have a lot of die-off. Wait at least 10 days before you add any livestock.” “10 Days!?! Not even snails?” “Not even snails.” So, I left the poor little fish all alone in there (plus the minimalist cleanup crew). I got some quick-dip strip tests that gave me the following readings:

pH: 7.8

Alk: 300+ ppm (300 is the highest reading on the chart)

Nitrite: 0

Nitrate: 200+ (200 is the highest reading on the chart, and the color on my strip was darker than that).

My salinity was about 1.023 (as measured on my hydrometer, and checked against the LFS refractometer).

 

More to come...

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Part II

 

I waited a week or so and did a 30% water change. After the water change, the readings were exactly the same. (sad) I couldn’t believe my nitrates didn’t drop at all. So, over the next couple of weeks, I did a handful of 30-40% water changes (I bought a 45 gallon garbage can that serves as my saltwater mixing container, so I can’t really do anything more than a 40% change at any one time, or I would have). After 2 water changes and the nitrates still at 200+, I went to the LFS to talk it over. He suggested I keep doing water changes, and hold off on adding any macroalgae, etc. because the high nitrates would probably “burn” the algae just like adding too much fertilizer to your lawn. Somewhere in the first couple of weeks, the rabbitfish died. (sad)(sad)(sad) He had been sluggish, and stopped coming to the surface at feeding times for a couple of days. I guess I can’t be too surprised given the conditions. I grabbed a net and gave him a proper porcelain burial as soon as I discovered him dead. After a couple more water changes, I finally got the nitrates down to 80ppm. Still not “good”, but I figured I was safe to add some macroalgae in to start absorbing some of the nitrates, so I went down to Seahorse in N. Portland. They will give you a free clump of caulerpa if you ask for it, and a free cup of live sand to seed your sand bed, too. Also, at that point I added some turbo snails and hermits to start grazing down the microalgae growth in the display tank. The rocks were getting pretty well covered with light brown algae, and there was a little hair algae cropping up. The newly reinforced cleanup crew went right to work and had the algae growth down to the nooks and crannies in just a week or so.

 

I left for vacation, hoping that the algae, the deep sand, and maybe a miracle, would bring my nitrate levels down. (whistle)

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Part III - My first corals!

 

After getting home from vacation, my nitrates had not changed at all (flame) (at least according to my strip tests, gradated at 0, 10, 20, 40, 80, 160, and 200 ppm). I was pretty disappointed. It had been almost a month since I brought my tank home and I still didn’t have any corals or new fish. I ran the numbers on the number of water changes I had done and how much nitrate I had exported, and figured out that the nitrate levels just after the move must have been in the range of 600 ppm. Amazing! I’m surprised the big angel fish made it through all of that. Up until that point, I had only been feeding my fish a tiny bit of flake food once per day, so all of that nitrate had to have come from the original water and whatever die-off occurred following the move (also, I tested my source water – no nitrates or anything bad). I told myself that if I did more water changes and got the levels down to 40 ppm, I’d risk that nitrate level with some cheap and hopefully hardy corals. The next water change did the trick, so I went off and picked up my first corals – a pipe organ with bright green polyps, a finger-y leather coral, a pink and green hammer, and something they called a daisy polyp. The daisy polyp has pink “flowers”, and is actually a stony that does well in low light. The guys at the LFS assured me that these corals would do OK in my low-light tank, and they have. I did place them higher up on the rocks to maximize their light exposure. The leather coral doubled in size within the first couple of weeks, and has continued to grow a lot. I’ll probably frag it out sometime in September. The pipe organ grew a lot, too. It started out with only 11 small polyps, and after about two months it has at least 30 polyps, and the originals are all substantially bigger. The daisy polyp has grown modestly, adding a few new polyps, and the originals increasing in size. The hammer seems to be happy, with good polyp extension, etc, but has not grown much.

 

Here are some pics of my first corals (snapped on 8-22-07, a couple of months after bringing them home):

 

Finger leather:

fingerleather01.jpg

 

Pipe organ (top) and hammer:

pipeorganhammer.jpg

 

Daisy polyp:

daiypolyp01.jpg

 

Some of my crew:

hermits01.jpg

 

Also during that week, I picked up another 4’ shop light (T8) from Home Depot and got an actinic bulb and a 10k bulb from Petco. That brought my total up to 4 normal output fluorescents.

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Sounds like you are off to a good start. You have really turned that tank around. Leathers sometimes do well in higher nitrate environments and actually tend to feed on the nitrates if levels are not too high. Looks like yours really liked your nitrate level. Everything looks very healthy in there. I commend you for your efforts and your battle with the toxins.

 

Do you have a protein skimmer yet? This will help you out significantly. The nitrates, phosphates and other organic materials created by your fishes and their waste will be significantly removed with one of these guys. I use a recirculating model by Pacific Coast Imports and it does wonders!

 

What do you plan on doing for lighting? I recommend Metal Halide lighting if you can. You will see much better color and growth from your corals with this intense lighting. It isn't light on the wallet however. T-5's or compact flourescents are the next good option.

 

Thanks for the story so far. Keep us posted.

 

Garrett

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Part IV – The goby:

 

A couple of weeks later, I went to the LFS and brought home a yellow watchman goby and a couple of feather duster worms. Even though the goby mostly hung out near the bottom of the tank, the resident angel fish was not interested in sharing his territory. He started nipping at the new guy almost immediately. I guess he figured 110 gallons was just the right size for a fish, and he wasn’t about to share his water with anyone else. The morning after introducing the goby, I found him in the overflow. The angel’s harassment had been too much, and he had decided to take a dive. There is a screen near the top of my overflow to trap any “jumpers” and keep them out of the sump. It caught him and contained him with water rushing over him, but he was not moving. I assumed he was dead. I went to grab him and send him down the toilet, but he started wiggling in my hand! :D I dropped him back in the main tank and he swam around with all kinds of energy. I was pretty happy. I didn’t want him to spend any more time in the overflow, so I grabbed some filter floss and made a barrier to keep him out of there. He found a good place to hide in the rocks, and I didn’t see him for a while. Unfortunately, my wife found him in the overflow again that afternoon. I can’t figure out how he got past the filter floss barrier! She, too, thought he must be dead, but he wiggled in her hand, and so she dropped him back in the tank. By now this little guy must have been really stressed. (scary) When I got home from work, I fixed the filter floss barrier again, and this time it must have worked OK, because he never got back into the overflow.

 

The angel continued to harass the goby, so then he would hide in the rocks for hours at a time. Every time he even poked his head out, the angel was right there to attack him. I knew I’d want to add more fish later on, and that this angel would not help me out in that department, so I took him to the LFS and traded him in on a nice coral beauty dwarf angel (pics below). He is one of the nicest fish I’ve seen, and I’m really glad I made the trade. He didn’t bother the goby at all. Unfortunately, I think all that stress was just too much for the goby. He died a few days later of what I am assuming was some kind of secondary infection. Even though the new angel didn’t bug him, he rarely came out of the rocks, so it was hard for me to diagnose what was going on, but he rarely ate at feeding time, and did not look well at all. I saw his corpse under some rocks, and the hermits had eaten him down to the bones before I got around to taking him out. They’ve been a very effective cleanup crew!

 

Here are a few pics of the coral beauty:

leather_n_beauty02.jpg

 

leather_n_beauty01.jpg

 

coralbeauty01.jpg

 

A big feather duster:

featherduster01.jpg

 

The feather dusters have survived nicely and their "plumes" have filled out. I assume they are happy. One thing that concerns me is that I placed them up in the rocks rather than down on the sand bed. They are both attached firmly in place, and have secreted some kind of goo to extend the length of their tubes, but the tube is not getting opaque or hardening up. I'm guessing that they might count on collecting sand on the goo to make up their tube? I dunno, but I can now clearly see the worm's body through the clear walls of the lower portion of the tube. It's been this way for at least a few weeks now, so I don't expect it to change. They are firmly attached to the rocks, so I don't want to try to pry them off. I wonder if there is anything I can do or need to do? (scratch)

 

Also around that time, I was really getting anxious about improving my lights, but didn’t have much cash to spend. I had read a little about overdriving normal output fluorescents, so I decided to try it out. I already had one 4' shop light, and I picked up a second from Home Depot. I took the ballast from each light and wired them into one of the shop lights, each one wired to a single bulb. I then bought a third ballast (normally used to drive 4 bulbs) and wired it into the second shop light. Based on my research, each of the 4 bulbs is slightly more PAR than a 55 power compact, and the fixtures (bulbs not included) only cost me about $60 all together. I now have them set up on a dual timer system so that the actinics come one an hour or so before the 10k bulbs. Coral growth seems to be a little better, and the tank looks way better, too.

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Part V – Adding to the livestock

 

On July 25, my veteran reefkeeping buddy came by. After following my progress and seeing that my tank was becoming stable, he decided it was time to bequeath some frags on me, for which I was very grateful. He brought over a few different kinds of zoanthids and a couple of different mushrooms, and we set to work gluing them to rocks and placing them strategically in the tank.

 

Big mushroom, eating…

Open:

bigshroom01.jpg

 

Partly closed:

bigshroom02.jpg

 

Closed up (swallowing):

bigshroom04.jpg

 

Zoanthids. The yellow ones are closed up because they caught some mysis shrimp:

zoas01.jpg

 

My friend gave me a small mushroom that was mottled, a sort of blood red with bright green splotches. I glued him on the same piece of rubble as the zoas, but he apparently didn’t like it there. The first day after placing him in my tank, it looked to me like he was “leaning” off toward the edge of the rock. The next day, I came home from work and he was gone. He had torn a tiny piece of his “foot” off, leaving it glued to the rock, and jumped off! After a little search, I found him in the shadows down near the big mushroom, where he has stayed and seems pretty happy. Apparently he didn’t like that much light (even though my lights aren’t too powerful). The only disadvantage with this is that both mushrooms have grown quite a bit and are overlapping each other now. I tried to move the smaller, mottled mushroom, but he is firmly attached, and I’m not too excited about cutting him. With the little bit of prying I did, he seemed crabby and stayed all balled up for a few hours. Because he hangs out in the shade, it’s tough to get a decent picture of him, but here is a blurry close up shot:

mottledshroom01.jpg

 

If you know a more precise name than I have given for any of my corals, please tell me. I'd be happy to know the names, common or scientific, of any of them, and I have not done much reseach yet to pin them down. (scratch)

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Part 6 – Mandarin

 

Shortly after deciding to get into reefing, I picked out a couple of goals – items that I wanted to work toward. I really liked the looks of Mandarin fish, and one of my goals was to have one or two. You’ll see them referred to as Mandarin gobys, but they are actually not gobies. They are in a class of fish called dragonets. There are a few different types of dragonets that you will run across. I had read about a number of different people’s experience with these, and knew that they were picky eaters – the pickiest will not eat any prepared foods, but dine solely on the little copepods and amphipods that grow on the live rock and in live sand. I had been watching my tank closely for signs that these little critters were present, and got live sand from a few different sources to make sure that I was getting “cultures” of multiple different kinds. After spending quite a bit of time just watching the surface of the sand and the edges of the live rock, I saw that they were in fact becoming fairly abundant. A few days after my friend had brought his zoas and shrooms over, I decided that the tank was ready for a dragonet. (clap)

 

I had heard about Waves from a couple of different people, but nobody could tell me exactly where it was. Supposedly, it was right near my office in Tigard. I did a search on google maps for saltwater aquarium supplies, but Waves did not come up. (scratch) Finally, I found the web site and after a little driving around, found the shop. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had what I was after in stock. Some people will refer to it as a green mandarin (as opposed to the "blue" multicolor mandarins you see). Waves was calling it a target dragonet. Whatever the best name is, they had one in stock (among the rest of their very impressive inventory). I wanted to make sure that it was a healthy one, so I came back a couple of different times, and asked some questions. They reported that he had been there for quite a while and was doing well, but did not eat any prepared foods that they knew of. I was pretty confident that my pod population was sufficient, so finally I bought him and took him home.

 

He has been a happy little guy, keeping my copepod population in check. Also, the other day at feeding time, I saw him sucking down some mysis shrimp! That was a first. I don’t know if he just learned by watching the other fish, or was curious what was floating by, or what, but he chased down and ate several little bits of shrimp. I am very pleased to have this little guy as a part of my collection. I love the colors and patterns, and his strange little movements. He has found a spot down at one end of the tank where he likes to “dance” up against the tank wall. I think he sees his reflection and is responding to it, but why he favors that particular spot is kind of a mystery.

 

Here are a few photos of the green mandarin/target dragonet:

target01.jpg

 

target02.jpg

 

target04.jpg

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Part 7 – More fish!

 

A couple of weeks later, payday rolled around again, so it was off to the LFS for me. I was satisfied for the moment with my corals, but I wanted to see some more action in the tank, so I went to pick out a fish or two. I ended up with an orange spotted sleeper goby, a banggai cardinal fish, and a longnose butterfly (okay, that's three...). My dwarf angel picked on the butterfly a little bit when I first introduced the new guys, but the butterfly just responded by raising up his spiny dorsal fin and pointing it at the angel. They still tussle a little now and then, but otherwise all the fish seem to get along just fine.

 

The main excitement following this acquisition came from the sleeper goby. I had removed the filter sock from the overflow output because I thought the filter feeders (featherdusters) might like the little bits of stuff to be left in the water. It didn’t seem to add too much “snow” to cloud the water, so I had left the filter sock off for a couple of weeks. The next day after adding the new fish, I came downstairs to a snowstorm in the tank. I hadn’t seen it so cloudy since we moved the tank into my house! The sleeper goby had gone to work excavating a cave under one of the live rocks. Not only did he dig all of that out and displace it, he was re-landscaping the whole tank! It stirred up so much dust that I was afraid everything was going to choke to death. So, I got the filter sock and put it back on, and the water cleared up after a little while. The goby is really hilarious. He never stops scooping sand and either sifting it through his gills or else dumping it on some pile that he has made. I was a little concerned about how all of this would disrupt the life in the sand bed, but it seems to be doing just fine. Adding the three new fish certainly added a lot of life and action to the aquarium. Now my wife doesn’t think I’m quite so crazy (nutty) when I spend a couple of hours just staring at the tank. Here are a few pics:

 

Sleeper goby in a rare moment away from the sand bed:

sleepergoby02.jpg

 

Banggai cardinal:

cardinal02.jpg

 

cardinal01.jpg

 

Longnose butterfly – sorry for the bad shot – he’s in makeshift QT in a 5 gallon bucket at the moment, but more on that later in the log….

QTbutterfly01.jpg

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Part 8 – More Shrooms –

 

On the same day that I picked up the three fish, I got a little red mushroom from the $5 frag tank at Waves. I just placed him on a prominent spot on the live rock in an area without too much flow. Like the other mushroom that moved on me, this guy seemed to favor the shady areas, because after about a day and a half, he had crept down into a crevice in the live rock. I know he moved there and didn’t just get knocked in or blown in by the current, because I watched it happen slowly over time. Every time I went by the tank, he had inched a little further along, until he was down in the shade. Not sure if I have too much of a certain spectrum in my lights or what, but those smooth shrooms seem to like it in the shade for some reason. DOH!

 

Well, now that red mushroom is in a spot where I can barely ever see him, unless he stretches out to get some light (which he sometimes does). So, I went back to Waves and picked out another just like him, and also a small, bright Ricordia polyp. I placed them both on a good spot on a big rock, and they both seem to be doing OK. I’d really like to see the Ricordia stretch out and grow. I’ve only had them for about a week, so I guess I should exercise a little patience.

 

I don’t have any good pics of the new shrooms, though you can make them out in one of the cardinal pics above.

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Sounds like you are off to a good start. You have really turned that tank around. Leathers sometimes do well in higher nitrate environments and actually tend to feed on the nitrates if levels are not too high. Looks like yours really liked your nitrate level. Everything looks very healthy in there. I commend you for your efforts and your battle with the toxins.

 

Garrett

 

Garrett,

 

I think you are on to something there. I have been noticing that the leather's growth seems to have slowed, especially in the last month or so. The dropping nitrate levels may have something to do with that. Thanks for the insight.

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Part 9 – The setup

 

Well, that pretty much catches us up for the moment in terms of life and livestock. For those who are interested, I thought I’d throw up some of the specifications of my system (or, scroll down for the pictures).

 

Tank: 110 gallons – 48”L x 18” W x 30” H. All 1/2” glass. The overflow is a 4” (roughly) square in the right rear corner of the tank, with a bulkhead fitting at the bottom, plumbed to an outlet hose and into the sump. The infeed pipe comes up through the bottom on the left hand side of the tank. I think it is 1” in diameter.

 

Sump: Total volume is probably around 20 gallons clear full – all glass (1/4” I think?). But with the tub of sand I have in there, the water volume is substantially less. Accounting for the total volume of live rock, sand, overflow box, etc, I would guess the entire system’s water volume is around 110 gallons. On the right 2/3 of the sump I have a large, deep tub of live sand and a couple of pieces of live rock and a little macroalgae. This used to be a wet/dry bioball setup, but rather than try to reconfigure the whole thing, I just threw a Rubbermaid tub in there to contain the sand. The overflow drains into this tub, and then overflows into the main body of the sump. I now keep a good sized wad of chaeto algae in the main part of the sump, with a little DIY acrylic grate to keep it from getting sucked into the pump, which is plumbed to a bulkhead fitting in the lower left hand corner of the sump tank. The sand in this tub seems to be fairly active in terms of converting the nitrates and phosphates, just based on the bubbles of gas I’m seeing come up, but the total surface area is very small (perhaps 10” x 16”). Over time, I’ll build up a deeper sand bed in the display tank so that these nutrients will be converted on a larger scale.

 

Stand/hood: The stand and hood are all solid wood or plywood, as far as I can tell. It is pretty well constructed, and the the carpentry is well done. I like the dark reddish brown finish. The hood does not have any doors on the front, but rather a flip-up top. This is OK, but I would rather have swing-open doors on the front. Also, it is really too shallow to have a decent light setup inside (about 6” inside height).

 

Plumbing/flow: The primary pump puts out 1,140 gallons per hour with no rise. Factor in the rise to the tank, and the “T” splitter that takes part of the water through a UV sterilizer (which I am not using – it came with the tank), and I probably get about 600 gallons per hour cycled through the tank and sump. The outlet of the UV sterilizer line goes back to the “infeed” area of my sump. Any more than that and the overflow will not keep up (the water level rises up over the top of the overflow wall and big chunks of stuff, or fish, can drop right into the overflow chamber). Not the biggest problem, but I prefer to keep it down to where it outflow is keeping up. Currently, I have 3 maxi-jet powerheads – two 900’s and a 1200. I put a “variable current” spinning thingamajig on the 1200 to help bring an intermittent current past some of the corals, and to provide some randomness to the water flow. It was only $25, and I really like the effect. So, my total water turnover is something like 10-11 times per hour. Not really high, but at the moment I don’t have anything that really requires a lot of current. I have paid attention to how the flow moves around the tank, partly by watching stuff like pieces of food drift around. It seems like I have pretty good flow with few dead spots (apart from back in behind the big wall of live rock) with a fair amount of randomness to it, where currents bump into each other.

 

Lighting/wiring: The lighting is definitely the weakest part of my setup, IMO. For what I have spent, my 4 ODNO (over-driven normal output) fluorescent bulbs are doing nicely, but I will certainly have to upgrade if I want to have any (more)LPS or clams. I have the lights on 3 timers – actinics on one for about 12 hours/day, 10k’s on the second for about 11 hrs/day, and an 18 watt strip fluorescent in the sump for growing algae on a reverse cycle from the main tank. I also have a second 18 watt strip installed down there that is not on a timer – just handy to have when I want to work down there but the timed light is off-cycle. My display tank lights come on about 11AM and shut off about 11PM. This is partly so that the heat buildup from the lights ends well after the hottest part of the day – just trying to even the fluctuation out a bit – and partly because I like to look at the tank when I am home late in the evening on weekdays. I don’t run a heater. At the moment, the ambient heat from the house (with AC in that room), the pump, powerheads, and lights provide more than enough heat. I may put a heater in this winter, but that remains to be seen. I’ve hears that the problem with heaters is that when they fail, the thermo-regulator is the part that usually fails first, so they stay on and cook your tank. If I do put a heater in there, it will probably be on some kind of a timed cycle so that won’t be allowed to happen. Back to the lighting issue, my hammer seems OK and alive, but very low growth, and it is pretty high up in the tank. I love clams – I want some day to have a whole bunch of clams, so the lighting will have to be upgraded eventually. I’ve looked at T5 setups, but with a 30” depth even a really powerful T5 combination may not be enough (from what I’ve heard… seems like a lot of opinions in this area). Also, I really, really, like the shimmery effect that MH lights give. Joel from Waves said with a 30” deep tank, he would recommend a 400W halide setup. So that will be some dough right there. Then I will have to modify the hood in some way to allow the lights to be mounted higher off the tank than what is possible right now. Oh, and I’ll have to have an electrician rewire a chunk of my house. Our place was built around 1918 and probably rewired sometime in the 80’s. For some reason, they wired about 2/3 of the lights and plugs into a single circuit, so even a small step up in power consumption for my lighting system is likely to require some rewiring. So the lighting upgrade is at least a few months down the road for me. Maybe my birthday and Christmas will yield enough to get me there by the new year. We’ll see.

 

 

Overall, I’m trying to stay fairly low-tech. This is partly due to the cost factor, but also partly the challenge of building a system that has some natural balance to it. I’m avoiding a calcium reactor (not an issue now because I have mostly softies). I’ve heard that Reef Lab makes some tablets that do a very good job of providing good and stable alk (calc and mag) levels. Also, in spite of my high nitrate issues, I’m holding out on getting a skimmer. The funny thing is, my nitrates seem to be fairly stable no matter what I do. With a very low feeding regimen and very little livestock, the nitrates didn’t drop at all without water changes. During the couple of weeks with my filter sock off, I was putting a LOT of food into the tank, trying to see what effect that would have (I felt safe experimenting with so little livestock in the tank). With two full weeks of very heavy feeding, my nitrate levels didn’t rise at all. I got a Salifert test for nitrates because the range on the quick-strips was so large. Those results have been consistent, too. My only guess about that is that the macroalgae (chaeto in the sump, caulerpa in the main tank) and microalgae really ramp up their growth to consume more nitrates when more are produced. Right now, the Salifert tests are showing 25 ppm, while the quick-strips are showing 40 ppm (which I am guessing just indicates that they are somewhat higher than the next step down, which is 20 ppm). Anyway, these figures have been stable since my last water change (3 weeks ago). If, through water changes and altering my feeding levels, I can stabilize the nitrates between, say 5 and 15 ppm, without a skimmer, I’ll probably skip out on getting one altogether. If that means I won’t be able to keep some corals, I’m OK with that. From what I have read on clams, most clam keepers want some residual nitrate levels (I’ve heard of people adding ammonia to the system) for the clams to absorb. Anyway, most of the issues with high nitrates in my system were from getting a poorly maintained system and from the die-off that happened. Since then they have steadily declined with water changes.

 

OK, enough typing for now. Here are a few more pics:

 

Chaeto in my sump (I know, I know, very exciting):

chaeto01.jpg

 

The sump overall:

sump01.jpg

 

And finally, the full tank shot:

fulltank02.jpg

 

Honestly, I’m really pleased with the results so far. I have a lot more that I’d like to do (and buy), but I’m happy with what I have now, and really enjoy working on it day by day. I like that I can put a little time and money in at a time and slowly build up to something really great.

 

I guess the next time I post will probably be after payday, with my next livestock purchase. (drooler)

 

If anyone has some softie frags they’re dying to get rid of, I’d be happy to accept donations. :D I’m not too picky. I do want leave some room in there for clams and LPS when I get my lights upgraded, but as you can see, there is quite a bit of open space.

 

Also, your questions, comments and suggestions are welcomed. I know I’m a noob at all this, and anything ideas you have to improve my chances at success are appreciated.

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  • 4 months later...

Part 10 - A few months down the road

 

Well, it's been a few months since I gave any kind of updates. I have made some mistakes, and certainly learned a lot, and really appreciate this group and all that I have learned here. I won't get into too much detail, but here are a few of the highlights since my last post:

 

Changes in livestock (bad news first):

 

RIP - Longnose butterfly - Not sure why this guy died. I had him in QT for ich, and went in one day and he was floating upside down. Nothing unusual in the water params, etc, and the ich was not visible on him at all by that point. (scratch)

 

RIP - Target dragonet (green mandarin) - He slowly starved to death over a few months even though I added tigger pods a few times, and even witnessed him eating some of the thawed out mysis that I feed the others. This one was particularly frustrating because I really tried to make sure that I had a lot of life on my rocks before I purchased him. I still see lots of 'pods on the rocks, so he must have been a really picky eater or something. (scratch)

 

RIP - Orange spotted sleeper goby - Committed suicide into the overflow a couple of weeks ago. I had him for a few months with no problems, but he started freaking out one day after I added some new sand and shifted the landscape around a bit. He had been hiding in the rocks and then would go tearing around the tank every few hours. Wierd. Unfortunately he was already dead by the time I found him. I've had jumpers that survived the overflow before, but not this guy... (sad)

 

RIP - Green pipe organ coral - This one was my "canary in the coal mine", telling me that something was wrong in the tank. I had been (stubbornly) relying on my swing-arm hydrometer to test salinity, being too cheap to go buy a refractometer. Boy, was that a mistake. All my other params tested fine, but this guy and my daisy polyp were closed up for more than a week, so I knew something was wrong. I finally picked up a refractometer at Waves, and sure enough, my salinity was about 1.030! I had been reading about 1.026 on both my hydrometers (cussing) So I lost this guy. The daisy polyp is pretty damaged, too, but I think it may pull through. I also lost my feather dusters during this episode. (sad)

 

Around Thanksgiving, I picked up a crocea clam. It was a nice one – about 4” long with nice purple and blue coloration. Not sure exactly what went wrong with this one. Seemed fine for a few days, then took a tumble off the rocks. So I put him back in place, and a few hours later he was back down on the sandbed. Not sure if he did not like where I placed him, or what. After that, it seemed like I never saw full mantle expansion, and after about a week, I came home to a dead clam. I’ll have to do a little more research before picking up another, I guess. (scratch)

 

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. (clap)The other fish (Coral beauty, bangaii cardinal) are alive and well, and I’ve added a few other fish with apparent success:

 

Hippo tang (he hides in the rocks a lot)

Hippotang01.jpg

 

 

Kole (yellow-eye) tang and Blue-green chromis (I had 5 of these guys to begin with, but 3 of them disappeared within the first couple of weeks)

 

Fishnbrain.jpg

 

Bah! Seems like I can only get blurry shots of this guy...

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Part 11 - More success, and more challenges

 

I’ve also added some nice corals, all of which seem to be getting along just fine:

 

Tonga yellow leather

 

Tongayellowleather01.jpg

 

Green favia

 

GreenFavia01.jpg

 

Multi-color open brain

 

OpenBrain01.jpg

 

Blue/purple mushrooms and xenia

 

Blueshroomnxenia.jpg

 

Red and fuzzy mushrooms (thanks, Curtis!)

 

Fedandfuzzyshrooms.jpg

 

Fuzzynredshrooms.jpg

 

Green star polyp (thanks, Curtis!)

 

Greenstar02.jpg

 

I’ve also had a bit of success with fragging. In the fall, I cut my finger-leather into 4 pieces and glued each of them to a different piece of rubble. They all are growing nicely (if anyone wants a piece, let me know). That went well, so a couple of weeks ago, I went ahead and sliced a chunk off of my yellow leather and have it rubber-banded to a piece of rubble. I’m hoping it will be fully attached to the rock in a couple more weeks. It seems to be getting along OK, with good polyp extension, etc. I may look to trade that once I am sure it is attached to the rock.

 

Other changes include a light upgrade. I got a good deal on some 96 W pc ballasts (Thanks, Joel!), and with a little modification to my hood, installed 5 96W bulbs in the display, and a power quad (also 96W) over my sump. Still not the MH setup I would like to eventually have, but I don’t think that will happen while at this house. It would require a wiring upgrade that is just a bit too much for me. Anyway, the current lighting seems to be treating my LPS and softies OK.

 

Looking back at my previous posts, I was really having a challenge with the nitrates. I’m glad to say that situation has been resolved. Starting in the fall (sometime not too long after I added the goby), the deep sand bed in the display tank really started to bubble a lot. I was seeing small bubbles rise up almost constantly for a couple of weeks. Over time, the nitrates dropped down to zero. They have been holding steady at zero for a few months now, thanks to my deep sand bed (I have no skimmer going). My current challenge is with phosphates. I didn’t have any testing kits before, and didn’t have too bad of algae problems, so I assumed that they were not too high. Wrong assumption. When I finally got a Salifert phos test a couple of months ago, the phosphates were pretty high – over 0.25 ppm. I have done some water changes, and used some products to remove phosphates, and that has worked somewhat. The levels will drop for a day or two, and then jump right back up. I have reduced the amount I am feeding to a pinch of mysis and a tiny sliver of cyclopeez every other day, but this has not had much effect. I’m thinking that the sand and rocks may be saturated with it, and that once I export some, more leaches back out of the substrate. Just a theory. Anyway, I will continue to read and work on this one. I am really trying to stay low-tech with this tank, and avoiding getting a skimmer or phos reactor, but if I can’t get this resolved, I may break down and get one or the other. I’m encouraged with my success in reducing the nitrates, so I’m going to keep trying “natural” methods of exporting phosphates for a while longer. One hangup seems to be with my macroalgae. I have a couple of fist-sized balls in my sump, and they don’t seem to be growing much, even with that 96W light down there. One theory is that the very low nitrate levels is limiting their growth, but I’m really not too sure. I’ll keep playing around until I find something that works.

 

OK – I’ll close with an up-to-date FTS. Thanks for reading!

 

FTS01-21-0801.jpg

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Yeah, things do look yellow in the pics. I am using half and half 10k bulbs and actinics. It looks much brighter/whiter in the room, but I haven't figured out how to adjust the camera correctly for taking good color-balanced shots. Some shots look more natural (like the ones of the red mushrooms) and some come out really yellow (every shot I took of the open brain). Don't know enough about what I am doing to get it right consistently. Probably should get a tripod, too, as I have lots of shots that come out blurry and end up deleting.

 

The standpipe on the left is my return line from the sump, which comes up through a bulkhead in the bottom of the tank. Overflow is the blue square at the back right corner.

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  • 6 months later...

August 2008 Update

 

OK, it's been too many months since my last post. Time for an update.

 

In April, my wife and I moved about a mile down the hill from our previous place in Oregon City. We bought a really old (c. 1891) Queen Ann Victorian style home... lots of character. I was able to set up my water mixing station in the basement and plumb it up to where the tank sits, and I now have the tank set up in the same room as my new TV. All my favorite things in one room! I hardly spend any time anywhere else in the house (other than sleeping). My wife always knows where to look for me.

 

I was a little concerned about how everything would survive in the move, but I didn't lose anything at all. All the corals and fish made the move just fine. Moving the tank took just about 10 hours start to finish. I was also concerned about stirring up the DSB and whether it would release toxic junk into the system, but had no trouble at all. I took all the sand out (couldn't lift the tank with just 3 people otherwise) and put it right back in place with no apparent negative side effects. Also, I expected to have a nitrite/nitrate spike following the move but did not see either. I did see a tiny bump in nitrates (1-2 ppm) a week or two after the move, but nothing at all to worry about. Apparently, the DSB went right back to de-nitrating my water column right away. I was relieved about that.

 

I did a little re-scaping when we moved the tank, including making the DSB slope from front to back so that there is less of a sand line visible along the face of the tank. Also, in the pictures that follow, you'll see some DIY live rock that I got from Dennis (dsoz). I put that in a few weeks ago, and I think it fits right in. See if you can spot those pieces in the pictures.

 

Also, about a week ago, I replaced my PC lights with some T5 retrofit kits from Sunlight Supply. Because of the configuration of my hood, I went with 2 48" (54W) and 2 36" (39W) T5HO's. Currently, I only have the 48" bulbs running all day because I don't want to "sunburn" my corals. I'll slowly ramp up the use of the 36"ers over the next several weeks. The funny thing is, even though I am using bulbs with the same color temperature rating (half 10k and half actinic) as I was with the PC's, the new setup is much, much more blue looking. It is slightly more blue than I would have liked, but much better than what it was previously, and my corals seem really happy. Bulbs are by UV, in case you wondered.

 

OK, enough chatter... pics to follow (clap)(clap)

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August 2008 Pictures cont...

 

White xenia and blue mushrooms...

DSCN1969.jpg

 

Green encrusting monti (much deeper green in person) and yellow sarcophyton leather

DSCN1971.jpg

 

Chili... This guy is non-photosynthetic. It didn't extend its polyps for months when I brought it home, and I was afraid it wasn't going to make it. Well, a few weeks ago I put it up next to my new Koralia 4 powerhead, and it started extending its polyps (at random times). Seems to like its new spot. I don't target feed it, so it is living off of whatever is already in the water column.

DSCN1975.jpg

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