Nano Reef Tanks

Setting Up A Nano Reef Aquarium

Setting up your own nano reef can be quite simple and is almost the same as a traditionally sized reef. This article will go over the basics of setting up a nano reef, as well as the equipment that is necessary.

To start, you will need to pick out the aquarium you would like to use. Three good starter sizes are the standard 15 gallon, 20 gallon, or 29 gallon aquariums. Next, you will need to decide on the lighting system you want to use. Powercompact retrofit kits and canopies are highly recommended. These powercompact lamps will provide your nano reef with plenty of light for many types of corals. For the heater, I highly recommend using a 50w or 75w Ebo Jager brand heater, as users of these have consistently had success in such small aquariums. Lastly, you will need a small powerhead pump for circulation. 

For your filtration it’s recommended to use an all natural method. Good quality live rock and live sand are the key to a successful system. You will want to use at least one pound of live rock per gallon, and about one-half pounds of live sand per gallon.  Which we will talk more about soon.

When you look for a location to place your nano reef, you will want to keep a few things in mind. The tank should be placed on a level and sturdy surface that can support approximately 70-250 pounds depending on the size of the tank. You will also want to place it in a high traffic area where it will be seen often, so you do not forget to feed it or do maintenance work when necessary.  It is also important to keep the aquarium away from windows where it would receive direct sunlight.

When the time comes to fill the tank and get it running, you will need to have purchased a good synthetic reef salt and a specific gravity meter.  Swing arm hydrometers are typically inaccurate and should be calibrated with a refractometer. A more expensive refractometer is recommended for highly accurate readings which are essential in nano reef tanks. Fill the tank with water and add salt until the specific gravity is 1.023. Place the powerhead in immediately so it will help mix the salt. Now is also the time to place in your heater and get the water temperature to 78 degrees. Once your s.g. has reached its proper level, you can add the live rock and live sand. Place the live rock in first, using an open pattern so the fish have room to swim through and hide in the rock. Be as creative as you want during this process and don’t be afraid to go back and change it later. Once the rock is where you like it, you can pour the live sand around the rocks, keeping it at a fairly even thickness throughout the tank.

If you have the desire for a nano reef aquarium, and you are not an experienced hobbyist, you should consider using an aquarium maintenance service, like Dallas Aquarium Experts.  This will help ensure a proper set-up and a strong foundation to begin working with. 

Natural Filtration

The methods used to maintain a nano reef can vary greatly throughout the hobby. The methods described below are methods used at Dallas Aquarium Experts have found to work best in maintaining a successful nano reef. Simplicity is the key in nano reef keeping; inexpensive and easy to follow. This is of course by no means the only way to keep a nano reef.

The natural method of filtration consists of only liverock and livesand. No protein skimmers are used and no additives are dosed. The nutrient export is provided by frequent partial water changes of 10-15% about every week. Trace elements are replenished through water changes.

As you go about purchasing all of the supplies for your new nano reef, you’re going to have to make a decision on which salt mix you should use. Because no additional dosing is usually done with this method, you will want to be using a good reef salt mix. Not all reef salts are created equal however. Unfortunately there is no set data that clearly shows which salt is better over another, which makes the decision even more difficult. At Dallas Aquarium Experts we have had great success with nano reef aquarium maintenance, and believe our choice for salt mix is one of the most important components to a successful nano reef tank.

When starting out your nano reef, your first livestock purchase will be liverock and livesand. You will want to purchase the highest quality live rock as you can possible afford. It will be the entire basis of your filtration so there should be no skimping. Only a small quantity of liverock is needed, so cost shouldn’t be so much of an issue.  Placement of your liverock can be nearly anything you like, just keep in mind that the more open it is the better.

In this type of system livesand is also important. The depth of sand can vary to anything you like. Sand beds from 1″ to 3″; won’t produce much of a difference in this system, but there are benefits to both. If the bed is deeper is tends to be a more efficient filter. If you choose to have a deep sand bed, make sure you have plenty of detrivores to keep the sand stirred.

With this natural method, no protein skimmers or dosing is used. Studies of skimmers have shown that they remove various trace elements, along with pods and plankton. When people run protein skimmers, they dose trace elements to replenish them after their corals and skimmers use them. Because the skimmer removes most of the elements, such as iodine, it is dosed back in causing almost an endless cycle. The main problem this holds in nano reefing is that many of the trace elements cannot be easily tested for, so no one ever knows where their level is. This can lead to overdosing which will crash a nano reef in a matter of hours. The skimmer also begins to starve your corals by removing their food source. It’s simply too risky.

Protein skimmers are beneficial however, because they remove excess nutrients from the water, but this advantage is out weighed by the disadvantages. To remove the excess nutrients from this system you do a partial water change. The water change also doubles to replenish your trace elements, which are in your synthetic sea salt. Nitrates are removed, dissolved organic compounds are removed, and your trace elements are replaced. Your nitrates will always be at or near zero, and the elements will stay at a consistent level. 

The last key factor to this system is having good flow. Use a powerhead or two to give you a flow rate of about 7-10 times the tank’s total water volume.

I encourage everyone to try this method for their nano reef. It is uncommon to not use a protein skimmer, but nano reef keeping isn’t the same as a traditional sized reef (though this method also works great on larger tanks). It’s simple, it’s cheap, and there is no extra equipment to worry about. As I always say, the less ‘toys’ you have on your reef, the less there is to go wrong.

Nano Reef Aquarium Maintenance

Nano Reef Aquarium Maintenance  is a very important task.   The most important part of maintaining your nano reef is doing partial water changes. Water changes must be done religiously! You can do your partial water changes every week to every other week, depending on the bio load in your tank. If you decide to do them weekly, change out 10% of the tanks volume with freshly mixed saltwater. If you do them bi-weekly, then you will need to do a 15-20% water change.  Dallas Aquarium Experts highly  recommends doing weekly water changes.  Also, make sure that the water is the same temperature and salinity as the water already in the aquarium.

Next to water changes, evaporation top off is also very important. You may have to do this daily depending on the size and shape of your aquarium. Evaporation top off is simply adding freshwater to your aquarium to make up for the water that evaporates throughout the day. Remember to never use saltwater to top off evaporation, because the salt is left behind during evaporation and your specific gravity will rise.

You will also want to be wiping off your nano reef with freshwater to keep it clean of saltcreep. Saltcreep comes from the salt left over from the evaporated water. You will notice it collecting on the top of you tank and on the lights. Be sure to never use a chemical cleaner! If any of it were to get into the aquarium, it could kill everything.

If you have algae growing on the sides of your nano reef, you will need to clean that off as well. If you have a glass aquarium, you can use a straight edge razor and scrape it clean, or if you have an acrylic aquarium, you can use an appropriate acrylic-safe scraper. If you use the razor, be sure to rinse it off after you use it, because the saltwater will corrode the metal.

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