Wednesday, April 30, 2014

My First Saltwater Aquarium (at home): Part 2

After waiting… and waiting… and waiting… my aquarium is finally cycled after about 5 weeks.

Cycling is the killjoy of starting up a new fish tank. After you get all hyped up on the build, you’re forced to just sit and wait in the corner like a little kid. Being asked “When are we putting fish in?” i.e. “Are we there yet?” everyday by my wife and daughter doesn’t help either. Hoping to speed up the process, I put some fish food in and added little pieces of live rock.

The last stage of the cycle is when nitrate is produced as a byproduct. On the 4th week, I was hoping that it would be ready. I crossed my fingers and grabbed my Nitrate test kit but it turns out0ppm. Not what I was hoping for. This would have been awesome if I had an established tank, but I need some nitrate! Another week it is…

During this period, my mentor Robert (from our videos) told me to do a small water change. The first thought that came into mind was wouldn’t this hinder and prolong the cycling process? He confirmed my suspicions and said that removing substantial amounts of water during a cycle will only prolong the process.  However, my tank has been running for four weeks with no water removal and gas pockets in the sand bed gave us a strong indication that beneficial bacteria was present and processing waste. A small water change at this point would help ensure the water is clean and ready for animals in about a week.

Cycling tank w/ finished rockscape


I also added lights to the tank. I’m currently using a 36-48” Current USA Satellite Freshwater LED Plus which I inherited with the tank. Before you say anything, I’m aware that it’s the not the ideal light for a reef tank but it’s what I have at the moment. I definitely plan on upgrading it to a more suitable light in the near future.

Speaking of water changes, I got some feedback on my first post about how crappy my tank location is for maintenance work. I’d actually been warned beforehand and while I appreciate the concern, I’ve committed myself to just deal with it since it’s the best location in my home. I refuse to just stick it against a wall that would be more distracting than compliment a room. I must admit though, I did have my share of spilled water and lifting heavy buckets and jugs over the couches. And yes, I did hear whispers of “I told you so…” in my head.

To minimize this, I moved one of the couches farther away to create more space so now I can easily walk in and out. I also decided to use smaller jugs (2.5 instead of 5 gallon) and buckets so it’s easier to manage. Later on I plan on using a pump and tube combo to replenish the saltwater instead of pouring it in. I also find using an old blanket to cover the floor very helpful in cleaning up after doing maintenance.

By week 5, I suspected my tank was now ready and Robert agreed. Coming from someone who can measure salinity by tasting saltwater, I could have probably taken his word for it but decided to test my parameters anyway. Success! Now I'm excited to add a little life to the tank.

Since we’re in the process of moving the office tank (38 gallon Innovative Marine Nuvo) into a bigger 80 gallon Innovative Marine Nuvo SR-80, I was able to score some coral frags. I got a small rock with a bunch of mushrooms attached to it and a frag of bright green Sinularia (Mushroom Finger Leather Coral). Robert also gave me some birdsnest frags from him home tank.

Before I introduced the corals into my tank, I had to setup a better water flow system. At this point I was only relying on the built-in skimmer and 2 outlets of the Nuvo tank. I got a hand-me-down Koralia 2 x pump + wavemaker kit and I installed one pump at each far side of the tank. Like most hobbyists, I’d love to eventually get my hands on EcoTech Marine’s MP10 (when the budget permits).

I soon realized that placing corals inside your aquarium is not as easy as it seems. Besides arranging them in an aesthetically pleasing manner, I had to consider their light (yes, I know my light isn't appropriate quite yet) and flow requirements. I decided to mount the freshly fragged sinularia to a small piece of live rock. Of course, I forgot to bring home some glue. Good thing I watched the video about fragging soft corals and was able to use a rubber band (c/o my daughter) to mount it. BTW, the sinularia I have is a direct descendant of that sinularia in that video I just linked to.

Green Sinularia


As for the birdsnest, it came in a few pieces so I just stuck them together in a hole in the rock. The mushroom was the easiest; I just placed it on the sandbed. I was advised that they spread easily and I don’t really want them taking over a rock, therefore I isolated them (somewhat). For acclimation, I used the Reef Gently AccliMate.

Birdsnest Coral


Colored Mushroom Rock


It didn’t take long for the corals to open up and start showing some colorYes! I didn’t kill them! My loyal sidekick (daughter) was with me all throughout the process but it didn’t really excite her as much as a clownfish would. At least there’s officially life in the tank now!

Like Pringles: once you pop, you can’t stop… I already felt the urge to get more corals. I know it's unwise to add a bunch of animals right away, so I planned to pick up just a few corals and a cleanup crew. I’ve always been an admirer of ricordea, so I’m bent on getting some for sure. I’ve been envisioning my tank to be some sort of ricordea (flower field) farm wherein a big chunk of live rock is just full of colorful ricordea. I also want a coral (e.g., torch coral, hammer coral, etc.) that would possibly have a symbiotic relationship with my future clownfish. I’m open on this one and I’m a little hesitant on anemones since I’ve heard they’re not for beginners. I’m pretty open on the cleanup crew as well, as long as they’re not the type that would easily knock off corals.

I went to a LFS (local fish store), Reef Raft USA. They had so many corals it was  overwhelming. But of course, I needed to stick to the plan and get out of there as soon as I could before maxing out my credit card. I had to develop tunnel vision to keep me away from the pricey specimens. Stick to the plan, I kept telling myself. Thank goodness for self-control. I ended up getting: 2 ricordeas (1 orange; 1 green) and a branching hammer coral. For the cleanup crew, I got: 1 cleaner shrimp; 3 nassarius snails; 1 astraea snail; 2 hermit crabs.

 Branching Hammer Coral

Ricordea Florida


Robert gave me a heads up on how inverts are very sensitive and they need more care in acclimating. I put both the inverts and corals in separate containers and poured tank water in little by little. Arranging the corals didn’t seem as challenging this time. A little research on the lighting and flow needs helped as a guide. I also came prepared this time with E.S.V Zap glue. I was impressed by the thickness of the glue and how it works underwater. I had the scape ready in no time. When I turned on the moonlight that night, I was completely amazed by all the vivid colors in the tank. They literally glow-in-the-dark. I need more ricordeas!
  
24 gallon Nuvo tank w/ moonlights on


 Glow-in-the-dark Ricordeas


Sinularia under moonlight


After the high of adding livestock to the tank, I had to ensure to keep my new inhabitants happy. I added Seachem’s Phosguard in the system to keep phosphate levels in check. I also started dosing trace elements (Kent Marine) and a 2-part calcium supplement (E.S.V. B-Ionic)Robert kept stressing that I need to test the calcium levels besides nitrate and phosphate levels. Good thing I did because because they were low. 

The last installment of livestock (for now…) includes a Bluespotted Watchman Goby, Tiger Pistol Shrimp and a Green Pocillopora. They were up for adoption from Robert’s tank which he had to take down because he’s moving. Since they were endearing to Robert, there’s pressure to keep them alive and healthy. It did require me to take an oath to make sure they’re provided the best possible care.

Once the goby and pistol shrimp were acclimated in the tank, I noticed they act like inseparable BFFs. They dug a hole under the rock and made it their common hideout. I could picture them putting up a sign saying “Home Sweet Home” on the wall. I thought it was weird and then I looked it up and apparently they develop a symbiotic relationship similar to a clownfish and an anemome. The goby acts as the pistol shrimp’s “watchman” since it has poor eyesight and the shrimp protects the goby from predators. Pretty cool!
  
 Cleaner Shrimp and Watchman Goby

 Green Pocillopora under moonlights


It’s nice to finally have a fish in the tank but the goby spends most of its time hiding with the pistol shrimp. I only get to see them from afar. Once I close in, they immediately run for cover. Even when I feed them, they don’t come out until I’m nowhere to be seen (so they think…). I definitely need more lively specimens in my tank. Nothing beats a clownfish for newbies like me! Besides, I promised my daughter we’ll get a “nemo” fish. I’m also thinking of getting a six line wrasse because they look badass. Or maybe a blenny? I really like the unique way they swim. Did I mention I want more ricordeas?

Read: My First Saltwater Aquarium (at home): Part 1

Kalkwasser: 10 Frequently Asked Questions



The life inside your reef aquarium is constantly using up the calcium in your tank water.

The rate of uptake varies from tank to tank—calcium usage largely depends upon the type of corals you keep in your aquarium.

Reef tanks that are predominantly filled with hard corals—like Acropora, Montipora and Euphyllia, for example—will have a much greater calcium demand than an aquarium filled with soft corals, such as leathers, mushrooms and xenia.

Fortunately, there are a few different ways we can replenish the calcium levels in a reef tank. One popular approach is by dosing kalkwasser (or simply "kalk").

We receive a lot of questions from hobbyists curious about kalk, so we put together a list of the most frequently asked questions to answer your inquiries and help you decide if using kalkwasser is right for you!


1. What is kalkwasser?

The description of Two Little Fishies Kalkwasser supplement mix defines kalkwasser as "the German term for limewater, a saturated solution of calcium hydroxide in water."

Calcium hydroxide—Ca(OH)2—is sold in a powdered form for aquarium use. Most of the top supplement manufacturers produce and package their own versions of kalk (you can check out reviews on our website). The purpose of dosing kalkwasser is to maintain optimal calcium and alkalinity levels in a reef aquarium.

To dose kalkwasswer, you must first mix the kalk powder with freshwater. This produces a clear liquid with some white residue leftover on the bottom of the mixing container. You can then dose/drip the clear kalk solution into your aquarium to help maintain calcium and alkalinity levels.



2. Should I use 2-part supplements, a calcium reactor or kalk to maintain levels in my tank?

There isn't a right or wrong answer to this question because every aquarium and tank owner are different. Kalkwasser is certainly an economical and easy-to-use solution: you can manually dose it, have it delivered via dosing pump or use a kalk reactor, each of which have different price points.



3. Can I use kalkwasser and a calcium reactor at the same time?

Without a doubt, yes. If your calcium reactor is having difficulty keeping up with the demands of the calcium consumers in your aquarium, dosing kalk can pick up the slack. Experiment with stronger and weaker kalk mixes so you can dial in the best dosing regimen for your tank to keep levels stable.



4. How do I dose kalkwasser? Is one approach better than another?

Here are another couple of questions that don't really have a right or wrong answer.

First and foremost, kalkwasser needs to be dosed slowly. Kalk has very high pH: if too much is added at once, you may raise the pH of your aquarium water to dangerous levels.

If you manually dose kalk, I suggest using ¼” tubing (like airline tubing) along with a valve to dial in a slow drip rate. You can siphon the kalk from the holding container into your sump or other area of high flow in the tank to quickly dissipate the mix within the aquarium. Another method is using a dosing pump (like an Aqua-Lifter) to drip the mixture in to your sump. Since you aren't relying on gravity to drip the kalk, the reservoir can be at the same level as the sump.

There are also kalk reactors available that can be used with auto top off systems or dosing pumps to help with dosing. A kalkwasser reactor is simply an inline chamber that stirs the kalkwasser solution automatically ensuring maximum concentration. You can easily connect these reactors inline with your automatic top-off or electronic dosing system.



5. Why should I dose kalk at night?

In a reef aquarium, you often see a swing in pH levels from day to night. pH levels are highest during the day and lowest at night. Dosing kalk at night helps you keep pH more stable. Does this mean it is bad to dose during the day? Not necessarily. You can dose kalk during the daytime but you will want to make sure the amount being dosed doesn’t cause the pH to rise too high.



6. How long after I mix up my kalk powder with freshwater can I use it in my tank?

This will vary depending how much you mix, but you will see a clear liquid within a couple of hours that is ready to be used.



7. Can I reuse leftover undissolved kalk powder or do I need to mix a new batch every time?

You can reuse it, but you may need to add a little more kalk powder to make up for what been dissolved and used. For best results, I recommend changing out your kalk about once per week. Most manufacturers discourage users from making more solution than can be used in one week.



8. How do I know how much kalk powder to mix with freshwater for my tank? How do I know if I am using enough/too much kalk? 

The simple answer is test your water. Monitor your calcium and alkalinity levels at a minimum while dosing kalk. Start with a lower amount dissolved (1/2 to 1 teaspoon per gallon) and monitor your tank's parameters over the next couple of days. If you are seeing a drop in the calcium/alkalinity levels, increase the amount of kalk used; if you are seeing a rise in the levels (beyond the levels you are trying to maintain) decrease the amount used.



9. Are there any downsides or possible negative effects from dosing kalk?

Due to the caustic nature of kalkwasser, it can cause major issues in your aquarium if overdosed. Specifically, it can raise your pH to dangerous levels. If you are dosing with a dosing pump or other automated system, you may want to use an aquarium controller to stop dosing in the event the pH level rises too high.



10. I have a nano reef—can I dose kalk?

We generally do not recommend dosing kalk in nano aquariums. Changes in water chemistry occur more quickly in nano aquariums due to their small size and using kalk could lead to a dangerous pH spike. However, if you're an experienced reefkeeper and feel dosing kalk is the best way to maintain your calcium and alkalinity, by all means proceed. My advice would be to try the minimum recommended amount first, if not slightly less. This will reduce the risk of dramatically altering your pH, which could have disastrous results in nano tank.


Have More Questions?

Hopefully you've found this list of frequently asked questions useful. Of course, if you have additional questions about dosing kalk in your own tank, we are more than happy to offer you free one-on-one support to help you get started on the right foot. Give us a call, hit us up on live chat or send us an email: we'd love to hear from you!

Monday, April 28, 2014

New Item Roundup: 4/28/14


EcoTech Marine Radion Wide Angle Lens Upgrade Kit
These replacement upgrade lens are designed to increase the spread of the Radion LED fixture to 36" x 36". Can be use with any generation of Radion XR30w LED fixtures. 2 lens per pack.



D-D AquaScape Aquarium Epoxy Grey - 4oz
AquaScape has been specially developed in association with Milliput for use within Marine Aquariums. Grey AquaScape Epoxy cures underwater to the color of natural stone, which makes it far more aesthetic than standard aquarium epoxy.



Red Sea Copper/Cu Test Kit - 100 tests
Red Sea’s Copper Pro Test kit accurately measures chelated and non-chelated Copper in salt and fresh water aquarium.



Red Sea Aiptasia-X Treatment Kit- 8.5oz (250mL)
In an exciting development for reef-keepers Red Sea has developed a unique patent pending formula to treat the pest anemones Aiptasia sp., Anemonia majano and Boloceroides sp. Affecting almost every reef aquarium, Aiptasia (otherwise known as glass anemones), are often introduced via live rock or corals and can quickly reach plague proportions in marine aquaria, destroying corals and other marine livestock with devastating effect.



UP Aqua D-522-3 CO2 Glass Diffuser
Glass CO2 diffuser with built-in bubble counter. High quality ceramic plate for atomizing CO2 gas for a higher efficiency diffusion rate.



Real Reef Live Shelf Rock
Works great for adding shelves to your existing or planned aquascape. Great for creating shelves to accommodate frags, clams and other marine life needing a flat surface. Made from the same all natural calcium based ingredients as Real Reef Rock and functions great as a natural filter or growing surface.



Mr. Aqua 32 Gallon Frameless Low Iron Glass Aquarium
Mr. Aqua aquariums are produced using high clarity glass with thicknesses ranging between 5mm to 10mm depending on the size. By eliminating the plastic frame that surrounds typical aquarium systems, the Mr. Aqua aquarium provides a clean and clear view of your aquatic life. This model is 32 gallons, measures 23.6" x 17.7" x 17.7", features low iron glass and an extra-fine silicone finish.



Mr. Aqua 12 Gallon Frameless Low Iron Glass Aquarium
Mr. Aqua aquariums are produced using high clarity glass with thicknesses ranging between 5mm to 10mm depending on the size. By eliminating the plastic frame that surrounds typical aquarium systems, the Mr. Aqua aquarium provides a clean and clear view of your aquatic life. This model is 12 gallons, measures 35.4" x 8.3" x 9.4", features low iron glass and an extra-fine silicone finish.



Mr. Aqua 53.4 Gallon Frameless Low Iron Glass Aquarium
Mr. Aqua aquariums are produced using high clarity glass with thicknesses ranging between 5mm to 10mm depending on the size. By eliminating the plastic frame that surrounds typical aquarium systems, the Mr. Aqua aquarium provides a clean and clear view of your aquatic life. This model is 53.4 gallons, measures 35.4" x 17.7" x 19.7", features low iron glass and an extra-fine silicone finish.

Friday, April 25, 2014

7 Cool Tools to Clean Your Dirty Reef Tank


With spring in full swing, it may be time to give your aquarium a good spring cleaning!

I won’t lecture you on the importance of regular tank maintenance. If you’ve been in the hobby for a while, you already know how important it is to stay consistent with aquarium upkeep.

Today we’re here to talk about all the tools available to help us with the dirty job of cleaning up a fish tank.

The easiest way to keep an aquarium clean is to get a clean-up crew. I’m not talking about an aquarium maintenance guy that comes over to clean your tank, either. I’m referring to the unsung heroes of reef aquaria—the snails, hermit crabs, shrimp and the like—who slither, scuttle and swim around your tank keeping the sand bed, rockwork and even other animals clean.

Truth be told, these animals can only do so much. Even if you’ve got a diverse CUC, state-of-the-art aquarium equipment and change your water regularly, you’ll still need to apply a little elbow grease every now and again to make your tank spotless and draw the “oohs” and “aahs” of guests.

There are a bunch of cool tools at your disposal which are great for Spring cleaning and year-round use. Here are some of my favorites:



Algae Magnets

The only tank maintenance tool I remember from my dad’s old aquarium was the algae magnet. It made a particular impression on me because I can recall how fun it was to move around and how satisfying it felt to clean off the glass and peer into a clear tank.

Using an aquarium algae magnet isn’t rocket science, but there are some good practices I recommend. The first is to use your algae magnet often. Doing a little work here and there won’t allow as much gunk to build-up so you won’t have to work as hard.

The way an algae magnet works is simple. There are two parts, both magnetic. Place one part outside your tank and one inside. The inside magnet, the part submerged underwater, has an abrasive, Velcro-like surface that scrapes algae and calcium deposits off your glass/acrylic as you push the outside magnet with your hand. The outside magnet has a smoother surface that polishes the outside of your aquarium as you move your hand up-and-down, side-to-side for a streak-free shine.

The inside part of some algae magnets, from brands like Algae Free and Mag-Float, will float right to the surface of the water if you remove the outside magnet and break the magnetic field. This is important to note because not all do and occasionally, as you’re moving the outside magnet around, it does separate. Say, if you’re going over a rounded corner, for instance. The inside magnet then sinks to the substrate and sand particles can get caught in the Velcro-like scraping surface (though you also can inadvertently get sand in your algae magnet by simply cleaning close to the sand). You basically just want to be cautious so you don’t scratch your glass or acrylic tank walls. Scratch removal kits are available, but it’s definitely something you want to avoid.

You want to be conscience of the size of the algae magnet when you shop to ensure you choose the proper tool for your tank. You don’t want one too big, you don’t want one to small: like Goldilocks, you want one that’s just right. Even if you have a super-small tank, there is an algae magnet for you (the NanoMag). If you have a glass aquarium, you could use a magnet suitable for glass or acrylic, but if you’ve got an acrylic tank, you need to be careful to use only algae magnets with a scraping surface suitable for your tank so you don’t scratch the walls up.

Last but not least, don’t forget to leave room between your tank walls and aquarium rock when you aquascape your tank. You want to have enough space around your reef to move your algae magnet all the way around the tank (it will help with water circulation, too!).



Algae Scrapers

Your algae magnet may be the maintenance tool you use most often, but sometimes you’ll need to access hard-to-reach places or require better leverage to scrape off really stubborn algae or calcium deposits. In these situations, you need an algae scraper.

Handheld algae scrapers are particularly useful. You can get right down to the sand bed and scrape off pretty much anything on your tank walls, even coralline algae. If you’re gluing frags and accidently get some on the outside glass of your tank, just use your algae scraper to get the glue off.

In addition to the handheld variety, there are longer versions, some with telescoping handles, to reach down deep and into tight spots your arm or magnet won’t reach. Most scrapers have interchangeable and replaceable blades available for different applications, such as a rust-resistant stainless steel blade for calcified deposits on glass aquariums, a plastic blade for cleaning acrylic (or glass for general algae removal) and a fabric pad-covered blade for fine cleaning and mopping.



Algae Pads

I have an Innovative Marine 38 gallon Nuvo Aquarium and a flat algae magnet or algae scaper doesn’t do a very good job of cleaning the bent corners. This is where algae pads come in handy: they bend and fold according to the curve of your glass to remove unsightly algae no other tool could.

Scrubbing your aquarium with an algae pad isn’t dissimilar from scrubbing a dish with a sponge. Just hold the pad in your hand and push up against the surface you want to clean and scrub back-and-forth.

Algae pads are the least expensive tool for removing algae and many consider them to be indestructible, so they’re a terrific value. They are usually rectangular in shape and can sometimes be attached to a plastic or wood handle to allow you to reach deep and clean those difficult nooks and crannies. Similar to magnets and scrapers, algae pads are available for both glass and acrylic aquariums.



Siphons

Siphons are one of the most common maintenance tools in the aquarium hobby. I have yet to meet a single fresh or saltwater aquarist that hasn’t used one at some point to perform their water changes. Regular water changes are crucial for removing waste and debris so you can replenish your tank with new, clean water.

Most siphons have a rigid plastic tube called a gravel vacuum at one end to clean sand and gravel. Your substrate will tumble inside the gravel vacuum, freeing detritus and debris to be siphoned up and out of your tank into a bucket for removal. It’s easier with larger-grained sand or gravel because the sugar-sized stuff can easily get sucked right out. The trick is to pinch the vinyl tubing to slow down the water flow or use flexible tubing for better control during water changes.



Coral Feeder aka Turkey Baster

Coral feeders are essentially modified turkey basters for the aquarium hobby. They are a versatile tool every hobbyist should have in his/her aquarium tool chest.

Coral feeders are affordable, easy to clean and serve a variety of purposes. You can use one to feed your corals, invertebrates, clams, anemones and even fish. You can gently blow sediment and organic matter off corals and live rock. You can stir up detritus to siphon out during a water change. You can suck up extra food, nuisance algae or anything else you don’t want inside your tank.

Even acclimating livestock is made easier with a coral feeder. Just suck out some water from the bag your fish arrived in and replace it with tank water. Then repeat those two steps as needed.

I’ve even used my coral feeder to successfully remove a few bristleworms that had grown too large in my tank, although it’s pretty challenging—I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded!



Toothbrush

Toothbrushes are another great tool for cleaning an aquarium. You can buy one just about anywhere or use a spare you already have in the house. They are an inexpensive all-around cleaner that are easy-to-use and give you leverage to clean hard-to-reach areas.

You can use a toothbrush to clean rough surfaces, but you can also use them to scrub more delicate areas, like around your corals. A toothbrush can make it easier to brush glass and rocks to free debris that can be removed during a water change.

My favorite ways to use a toothbrush for aquarium maintenance is to clean my protein skimmer, media reactor, return pump, powerhead and media baskets. I always keep my protein skimmer collection cup clean with a toothbrush so I can see the bubbles and skimmate being removed from the tank.



Bristle Brushes

Over time, algae and other buildup needs to be cleaned and cleared from pumps and plumbing parts. Bristle brushes are the best tool I’ve found for cleaning the inside of tubing. They are also useful for cleaning out the grills of your powerhead or inside the pump’s impeller chamber. I’ve used my bristle brush to clean the inside of my protein skimmer collection cup, too.



Pump Soaks

Most reefers like how coralline algae looks on aquarium rock, although not everyone wants the stuff covering their powerheads because it can eventually impact performance. Pump soaks free your pump/powerhead of unwanted coralline and dirt to make your pump look and run like new. Pump soaks, also referred to as accessory or equipment cleaner, decalcify aquarium parts faster than vinegar.

To use a pump soak, remove the pumps from your aquarium and soak them in a bowl or bucket filled with water and the equipment cleaner of your choice. You will begin to see algae dissolve from your pumps within minutes. They’ll be good as new in no time!

Check out my colleague Kira’s review on D-D EzeClean Equipment Cleaner for more detailed instructions and photos.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hydor Nano-Skim Protein Skimmer Review: Great Skimmer for the Nano Crowd!


Have you ever been told you don't need a protein skimmer because you have a small aquarium?

This may be true if you are doing big weekly water changes and have a light stocking level—or if you just have very easy-to-keep fish and corals. Most nano aquariums tend to be more heavily stocked than larger aquariums and very few hobbyists perform water changes as often as what is considered "ideal."

The truth of the matter is that a protein skimmer always makes your water cleaner and is helpful in aquariums of every size.


Having a protein skimmer also gives you more options in nitrate and phosphate control. Both biopellets and liquid carbon-dosing, such as RedSeaNO3:PO4-X and AZ-NO3, require the use of a protein skimmer for nutrient export.

The Hydor Koralia Nano-Skim and Slim-Skim protein skimmers are great options and have been very popular with our customers. The Nano-Skim is rated for aquarium up to 35 gallons while the Slim-Skim is rated for aquariums up to 65 gallons. These skimmers are well-designed, easy to install, easy to adjust/clean and are very reasonably priced: which are likely the reasons for their popularity.


Out of the box, the Nano-Skim has a nice, solid, feel. The Hydor logo cut-out on the outlet is a very nice touch. All acrylic pieces look to be very nicely made and fit together well, which is impressive for a skimmer this size and in this price range. With a small footprint of just 3 1/8" x 3 1/8", it is also one of the smallest skimmers and should make installation easier for many applications.

Once the skimmer and pump have been assembled, simply place the skimmer in your aquarium (with the water level about half way up the outlet) then use the included magnets to attach the skimmer to your aquarium. Next, plug in the pump and you are good to go.

As with all skimmers, it will take a week or two for the skimmer to break in. Once broken in, the only adjustment needed is the height of the collection up: raise it for drier skimmate and lower it for wetter skimmate.


After the initial break-in period, the Hydor Nano-Skim has been working very well in my 34-gallon Solana and pulling out lots of dirty skimmate. Prior to using a skimmer, I constantly had trouble keeping my nitrates below 30ppm—even with 30% bi-weekly water changes. And yes, I am guilty of knowingly overfeeding my fish.

Now with the skimmer in place and carbon-dosing, my nitrates have decreased dramatically, the corals are looking happier and I can freely feed my fish without feeling guilty.


Although protein skimmers are never required, they are beneficial to every aquarium because they remove waste before it breaks down, thus keeping the water cleaner. Many hobbyists consider protein skimmers to be the heart of their filtration systems. With marine fish and corals being as delicate as they are, any equipment that can improve water quality is always welcomed.

If you have a nano or smaller aquarium, the Hydor Nano-Skim and Slim-Skim may be just what your system needs to go from ordinary to extraordinary.

Real Reef Shelf Rock: Recreate the Tonga Look and Save a Reef


One of the most important, yet often forgotten, pieces of any saltwater reef is the aquascape. The ideas behind designing great scapes have changed a lot over the years, but the basics are the same:
  • Provide an amount of rock adequate for filtration.
  • Arrange it in a manner that is visually appealing.
  • Leave proper spacing and height for different coral placement.
But for me there was one more piece that was crucial—I wanted something that had absolutely no chance of harming our coral reefs. Conservation of our reefs (and teaching the same to my kids) is really important to me, so I knew that I had some work ahead in order to find the rock that I wanted.

I had already done an aquascape in my 40 breeder using AquaMaxx Dry Reef Rock (which is harvested on land, from an ancient reef) but I wanted to mimic the rock shelves that we see in the oceans around Tonga.

Unfortunately, many of the reef areas around Tonga have been harvested to the point of destruction. Most of the shelf rock that you'll find today is actually from Indonesia or Fiji, and doesn't do a very good job of replicating the flatter, wide surface of the Tonga rock.

Before: Lots of AquaMaxx Dry Reef Rock
Fortunately the folks at Real Reef have an answer in their Real Reef Shelf Rock. It's real rock, just like you'd find in the ocean, but it's grown in an enclosed environment so it has absolutely no effect on the ocean. It looks and feels just like the "real" thing, because it is the real thing.


I was sent 40 pounds of Real Reef shelf rock for my aqauscaping project, and I was wildly impressed with the quality of the product. It's porous, has great shape and it looks like it's already covered in purple coralline algae. It's also seeded with nitrifying bacteria, so you can use the rock to help cycle a new tank even faster.


And Now, The Design


After gathering some ideas from my local reefing group on Facebook, I decided on a lagoon or cove-style design. I knew that I had some corals that would need space in the sand bed, so I wanted to leave plenty of open space there. But I also wanted a lot of varying height to the main aspect of the aquascape so the lagoon idea worked out very well.

I started by washing the Real Reef rock in RO/DI water to remove any fragments or dust that came off in shipping. I then laid out all of the rock and found some pieces that fit not only the size that I was looking for but also the shape.

Once I found the pieces that I wanted, we started moving the base rock into place to form the overall structure. Since all of my base rock was already in the aquarium and cured, we had to do a bit of underwater work with the epoxy and gel adhesive. Overall though, I'm very happy with how the rock stacked together, as well as the shape the it provided.


One thing to note: unlike the "natural" rock that you often find, Real Reef Shelf Rock will not have the trunks attached to it. You will need to build these yourself out of base rock. It wasn't a problem, but had I known that in advance I definitely would have kept some base rock out of the water to help make this process a bit easier.

Top down. You can pretend you don't see those diatoms!
The aquascape that you see here fills about 1/2 of my tank. I used around 15 pounds of the Real Reef Shelf Rock to provide one main shelf, a couple of "bridge" areas and then some smaller shelves toward the top of the structure. The fish seem to love hanging out under the cover that the shelves provide, and the ample flat space leaves me loads of room for coral placement as I find more pieces that I love.

Say hello to P.T. He's such a ham!
So what would I have done differently? As I said before, I definitely would have ordered a bit more rock and kept it dry to help ease the gluing process. I also would have set up my tank with Real Reef Shelf Rock the first time, instead of aquascaping after the fact! Other than that, I'm incredibly happy with the results and I can't wait to do the left side of the tank next. I decided to wait on that side, following my own advice of having some dry rock to work with first.


All said and done, I would absolutely recommend Real Reef Shelf Rock for anyone who wants to mimic that Tonga reef look. I'm still thinking up what I want to do on the left side, but experience now tells me that no matter what I choose, it's going to look great.