Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The AutoAqua Smart ATO Micro with a DIY Twist!



Intro and Background

A hot topic that always seems to come up is: “What is the hands down best ATO?”

In the past, I have always gravitated towards the pressure-based ATO sensors. But, while they can be very precise and reliable, they can be quite bulky. Some people swear by simple setups that only use a float valve. And then there are others that will only use ATO systems with multiple levels of fail-safe to ensure their ATO system does not malfunction. So it seems that there are a multitude of options on the market and the only way I can answer our question at hand would be to say, “Choose what makes the most sense for YOUR setup.”

With that said, in the realm of nano and pico reef tanks where space and attractiveness are key components, the AutoAqua Smart ATO Micro shines as a key contender.

I recently started a small frag tank in my garage and was starting to get tired of manually topping off every night. Also, I wanted something that would split the top offs into multiple, smaller top offs throughout the day. So I set off to find an ATO system that would work for my setup. I wanted something that was small, attractive, and unobtrusive to the eye. I also wanted something that was precise and reliable so I didn’t have to worry about any unwanted issues.

That is when I came across the new micro version of the AutoAqua Smart ATO. It is small and sleek and barely noticeable in my small 10G display as well as boasting a nice fail-safe method that we will talk about later.

There was only one thing that I did not like: the built in water pump. So I set off on finding a way to utilize the small form factor of the ATO sensor, all while swapping out the built in pump for something I liked better.


The Plan

In the past, I have always used either diaphragm or peristaltic pumps as my ATO pump. I find them to be more reliable and I do not have to be concerned with running them dry if I forget to refill my top off container. Also, the slim top off container that I use would not allow for the included water pump to be used, as it would not fit through the mouth of the container.

Upon reading up on the ATO on CoralVue’s website, I came to find that they actually give you the electrical requirements for a replacement pump. They recommend finding a pump that works on 12VDC and uses less than 10W of power. I was able to find an inexpensive peristaltic dosing pump on Amazon that fit these requirements for just under $13.




Unboxing/Initial Impressions




The ATO system came packaged quite well. It comes with just about everything that you need to set it up, including a good length of tubing for making the run form the top-off container to your desired top off spot. The included instructions are nothing fancy, but more than enough to get the job done.






I was very impressed with the size of the sensor. It is tiny, which is exactly what I was looking for. For anyone using the product without modding the pump, I wouldn’t expect it to take any longer than 5 – 10 minutes to install. It is very straight forward and easy to use. Also, I must note that while I did not want to use the included water pump, it is quite small and would work for most applications, if you were OK with this type of pump.


DIY Time

To replace the water pump with the peristaltic pump, you only need a couple tools and an enclosure for the new pump. I already had a project box with some open space, so that is what I used for mine. You can use a smaller box if you like.

First, the included pump comes wired to the pump cable that interfaces with the ATO sensor. We need to cut the water pump off of the cable so that we can use the cable for our peristaltic pump.




Next, we need to cut a hole in our project box for the peristaltic pump to fit through for its final installation. Choose a bit or hole saw applicable for the size of your pump.




Next, install the new peristaltic pump in the project box with some thread forming screws meant for plastic and solder the leads of the pump cable to the terminals on the back of your peristaltic pump.






Lastly, you can close up your project box, plug everything in, and test out your new ATO system.




Final Impressions

I have now been using this set up for about a month and can safely say that it is working just as I intended. The sensor is very sleek and unobtrusive to the eye. It is also quite precise, allowing me to use it in my display tank without compromising the ability of the ATO system. I have enjoyed the added benefits of coupling this with the peristaltic pump, as well.

The built in fail-safe feature of the AutoAqua Smart ATO Micro is a very nice feature. It utilizes QST (Quick Security Technology) to ensure that your pump does not get stuck on and overflow or lower the salinity of your tank.

Basically, the ATO system remembers the time it took to refill the tank on the very first refill. Then, it compares that to the refill time when the pump is active. If the pump runs for 3 times longer than the first refill, it will shut the ATO system down. This adds a nice layer of protection for your livestock. I have not had any malfunctions over the past month, except for 1 instance where I did not have the tubing down far enough in my top off container, causing the pump to run dry. I actually witnessed this malfunction and the built in fail-safe did eventually turn the system off.

Overall, I would have to recommend this ATO system, both with the included pump or with swapping it to something else.



About Our Guest Blogger

I have been in the reefing hobby since 2014 and it has become quite a passion for me. Coming from a technical background as an engineer, I really enjoy the technological aspect of the hobby, as well as the technicality that it requires to keep such a fragile ecosystem thriving. I also enjoy involving both of my son's in the hobby. While my youngest at 1 year may be a little too young to understand everything, he very much loves gazing into the tank while sitting on my lap. My 6 year old, however, has become quite the fish and coral enthusiast! I look forward to many, many more enjoyable years in the hobby, with both my tanks and my kids.

Friday, April 15, 2016

How to Set Up an Orbit 20 Jellyfish Aquarium and Care for Moon Jellies





I’m sure many of us have been mesmerized by gracefully floating jellyfish at a public aquarium at some point. Up until recently, it has been extremely difficult to keep jellyfish at home successfully as they have unique care and feeding requirements.

Today we are going to show you the Orbit 20 Jellyfish Aquarium and how this ingenious all in one aquarium makes it possible, and easy, to successfully keep jellyfish at home.

At first glance, the Orbit 20 looks more like a contemporary lava lamp than an aquarium. The round shape actually serves a very important purpose. Jellyfish are not strong swimmers and need just the right amount of water flow to thrive. With too much flow they can easily be whisked away into your filtration system and with not enough flow, the jellies will sit on the bottom of the tank.

Jellyfish’s flesh is very delicate and can be easily damaged. The round “Kreisel” design creates a gentle circular flow to keep the jellyfish in suspension. This design also eliminates corners that may cause the jellyfish to settle in a dead spot. Being void of any strong suction or rough surfaces also prevents injuries to the jellyfish’s delicate tissue.

The filtration system is built into the outside ring as you can see here and includes some biological filter media along with a water pump. The black decorate trim hides the filtration and is held in place by a couple of magnets for easy removal.

Out of the box the tank needs minimal assembly and all you need to do is place the media, attach the pump, then connect the power wires and you are all set to fill it with water.

Adding some additional filter media such as the Chemi-Pure Blue Nano will help keep water clean. These are nice because they are pre-packaged in convenient nano-packets that you simply drop into your aquarium.

The water outlet is a spray bar that gently pushes the water over the intake vent which prevents the jellyfish from getting harmed by the filtration system.

Since the design of the tank does not allow for ample surface agitation, it is a good idea to add an air pump to the tank.

Do not use an airstone, just the airline, and keep the large bubbles away from the pump since microbubbles can be problematic for your jellies. The extra surface agitation from the large air bubbles will help with proper gas exchange and keep the pH stable. Without the bubbler, dissolved CO2 will cause the pH to drop overtime which is very dangerous for the jellyfish.

The tank has a couple of auxiliary ports located on the bottom that allow you to easily attach an external chiller, heater, or filter which is really nice if you need to control temperature or boost the filtration.

A color-changing LED light is included and can be controlled via a remote. This RGB LED light really adds some character to the tank and looks pretty cool over the translucent bodies of most jellyfish.

Before adding the jellies you will want to let the tank cycle. Jellyfish are sensitive to water quality and it is important to keep up with regular maintenance after they have been introduced.

If you have an existing aquarium; you can actually just place the biological filter media inside your filter or sump for a couple of weeks to help establish a healthy bacteria population. Then just fill the Orbit 20 aquarium with water from your existing tank and transfer the bio media to quickly establish and stabilize your new aquarium.

Adding a bacteria additive such as Brightwell Aquatics MicroBacter 7 is also a great idea to help get the tank cycled quickly and help maintain a healthy population of bacteria in the system. Always be sure to test for ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates before adding any jellyfish to ensure the tank is ready. Ammonia and Nitrites should not be present in the water.

Jellyfish are sometimes available at local fish stores but can be a rare find. A good option for acquiring jellyfish is an online retailer such as Sunset Marine Lab—which is where we purchased our Jellyfish.

They have been researching and breeding jellyfish since 1996 and offer some of the heathiest jellyfish you can find. You can find their website at www.sunsetmarinelab.com. Since this is a fairly small tank you want to choose a Jellyfish species that stays small and is fairly hardy. Sunset Marine Labs offers a strain of moon jellies which are a great choice for the Orbit tank.

Upon arrival it is important to acclimate the jellyfish. First, float the jellyfish inside the bag for about 15 minutes to allow the temperature to equalize.

Next, remove 20% of the water from the bag and replace it with water from the Orbit tank every 15 minutes.

Repeat 4 to 5 times and each time be sure to retire the bag and continue to float inside the tank.

Rotate the bag occasionally to stimulate the jellies to bell so they can move the newly introduced saltwater through their system.

Lastly, open the bag to let the jellyfish gently float out. The entire procedure should take 1-2 hours.

For food, the Jelly Deli is a great and simple option. It is a unique powder food that includes probiotics to help keep your water clean. Jelly Deli can also be mixed with baby brine shrimp, zooplankton or a commercially prepared food, to fortify their nutrition. Just be sure to soak it with aquarium water and feed a substantial amount. You want the Jellyfish to naturally filter the food from the aquarium water so just dump the food directly into the tank without spot feeding. They should be fed at minimum once per day and since they are transparent, you will easily be able to see the food inside their stomachs.

Maintenance is very simple as long as you don’t overstock or overfeed your jellyfish. A simple 10% weekly water change and monthly filtration system maintenance will keep your jellyfish happy and healthy.

With advancements in aquarium design and nutrition, it is now possible to keep these fascinating and mesmerizing jellyfish at home. With a sleek tank like the Orbit 20, they will also add a unique and interesting addition to your home d├ęcor.

Friday, April 08, 2016

5 Upgrades to Maximize the Performance of Your RO/DI System





After some time of keeping a reef tank, it becomes very obvious just how valuable your RO/DI system.

Here at Marine Depot, we carry a variety of cool accessories that will help you get the most out of your RO/DI filter. Here are our top 5 favorite upgrades and add-ons for your RO/DI:

ADD A BOOSTER PUMP

A booster pump increases water pressure into your RO/DI system. This optimizes TFC membrane performance by maximizing product water production and reducing waste water.

AquaFX offers one of the most economical booster pump kits and is extremely easy to install with quick disconnect fittings and a high-pressure switch that automates its operation.

INSTALL A FLUSH VALVE

Flush valves are very inexpensive and super simple to install. The way they work is by creating a by-pass for the flow restrictor which then allows tap water to rush through the membrane at full pressure and wash away debris.

We recommend flushing your membrane for 30-60 seconds before and after every use of your RO/DI system. Flushing the membrane regularly will dramatically increase the lifespan of your TFC membrane and DI cartridge.

ADD AN EXTRA DI CANISTER

A standard RO/DI system will have three vertical canisters and the RO membrane on top. By installing an additional vertical canister you can add an extra pre-filter or additional DI cartridge.
An additional carbon or sediment filter can really help if your tap water has a lot of sediments or contains chloramines.

The AquaFX Chloramine Blaster Upgrade Kit is a perfect upgrade for dealing with Chloramines, as the kit includes the extra canister as well as two chloramine-removal cartridges.

An extra DI canister is great to help ensure that algae fueling impurities do not make their way into your aquarium.

This is especially useful for those of you producing large quantities of RO/DI water on a regular basis. While you will need to spend some money up front, it will ultimately save you money in the long run by helping to increase the life span of the other filter cartridges in your system and giving you cleaner water.

INSTALL A FLOAT VALVE AND SHUT-OFF

RO/DI systems work great for producing pure water for your tank. Unfortunately they operate fairly slowly and, if you need water fast, waiting 6-8 hours or more simply won’t cut it.

By installing a float valve onto a reservoir along with a shut-off valve, your RO/DI system can automatically produce water as needed ensuring you always have fresh RO/DI water available.

The float valve is attached to a reservoir and connected to the product water line from your RO/DI system. You will then need to install the pressure sensitive shut off valve. Most float valve kits, like those from AquaticLife and AquaFX, will include both the Float Valve as well as the Shut-Off.

When the reservoir is full of RO/DI water the float will close and increase pressure in the RO/DI system and trigger the shut-off valve which then stops tap water from entering the unit. When the water level in your reservoir drops, the float will open, pressure will then drop inside the RO/DI system and the shut-off will then re-open and allow tap water to enter the system for filtering.

ADD A DRINKING WATER KIT

When you own an RO/DI system it really makes no sense to purchase filtered water for drinking because you can actually produce clean drinking water right in your own home. A drinking water kit allows you to automatically collect RO water in a pressurized reservoir which is then always available for drinking.

Since you want to collect the water before it passes through the DI canister it is important to follow the plumbing instructions carefully when installing these kits. We offer a Drinking Water Kit that includes a 3 gallon reservoir and all of the necessary plumbing so you can have clean drinking water at your fingertips.

If you are looking to increase the performance or automate your RO/DI system, Marine Depot has everything you need! Our trained team of aquarium experts are happy to help you out.

Please like, share and subscribe if you found this content helpful to help spread us the word so we can continue to bring you more great articles and videos just like this.

We appreciate your support and until next time, take care and happy reefkeeping.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

How to Build a Custom Sump for Your Reef Aquarium





Today we are going to build a sump and show you guys just how easy it is to build a custom sump filter that is not only effective but also easy on the wallet.

When building a fish tank, thorough planning really goes a long way especially when it comes to the sump. So first up is proper planning.

When sizing a sump, you pretty much want the largest tank possible. So measure the space you have for your sump and choose the largest tank that will fit.

This gives you plenty of room to add equipment and ensures the sump is large enough to hold any water that drains from your tank in the event of a power outage or some other unexpected disaster. 10% of your tank volume is considered the minimum sump size for an aquarium.

We have a 50 gallon display tank and are using a 30-gallon rimless aquarium to build our sump. Just about any aquarium will work for a sump: including regular framed glass tanks that are easy to find and fairly inexpensive.

Now we need to think about the baffles. Be mindful of the different chamber sizes and water level when planning your baffles. I like to take a ruler and sharpie to draw on the side of the tank. This helps me visualize the baffle location and water level. You can even test fit your skimmer and other equipment to ensure the baffles are placed appropriately.

When it comes to water level, you want it to be 4-6 inches or more below the top to ensure the sump can hold a little extra water.

Using our handy aquarium calculator, you can easily calculate the amount of water that will drain from your tank in the event of a power outage. Just calculate the amount of water in the area inside your tank that will drain into the sump (basically the area between your return pipes and maximum water level in the tank).

This way you will know for certain that your sump is large enough to hold the water and allows you to adjust the baffle height before it is too late.

In this sump we want a skimmer chamber, a return pump chamber and an isolated ATO reservoir to hold top-off water. Many pre-manufactured sumps include a refugium chamber but we decided to use this space for the ATO chamber instead.

Notice the baffles are positioned close together in such a way that will trap bubbles and reduce any debris from entering the pump chamber which is pretty common practice and generally referred to as a “bubble trap” and should always be placed before the pump chamber.

I have found it best to have your baffles cut with polished edges at a local glass shop instead of trying to cut them yourself. Freshly cut glass can be really sharp and dangerous; by getting it professionally cut you can avoid this hazard and ensure the baffles are cut perfectly to size with straight edges.

When sizing the baffles, you want to have them cut to be about ¼” short on the sides. This makes them easy to place in the tank and gives plenty of room for the silicone to adhere to both your tank wall and the baffle.

Using thick glass for the baffles, ¼” thick or more, is best. This helps when gluing the baffles in place because with thicker edges you give you more surface area for the silicone to bond.

Now the hard part, working with silicone to secure the baffles in your sump.

You need to ensure you get 100% pure silicone that is safe for aquarium use which is generally available at your local home improvement store.

Start with the first baffle and hold it in place using a few pieces of tape. If you need a gap on the bottom you can use some DVD or CD cases; even a 2" x 4" will work in most situations but the CD cases are nice because they are easy to remove from tight spaces and give you a little flexibility in terms of getting the exact gap size you want on the bottom.

After setting the baffle, run a generous bead of silicone up each of the corners and pass over with your finger one time. Do not press too hard with your finger as this can move the baffle around. Using more silicone is much easier than trying to spread a minimal amount. By only passing once over with your finger it will keep it clean and reduce the chances of your baffle moving around.

Once set into place, you need to let the silicone cure for a minimum of 24 hours.

I find it easier to glue one baffle at a time because this ensures the first baffle won’t move around when you’re working on the second one but if you are confident in your baffling and silicone skills, you can certainly set them all at once.

Don’t be upset if your silicone job is not perfect; it simply needs to hold the baffles in place and probably will not be all that pretty, especially your first time.

After the silicone cures, you can always cut a straight edge using a razor blade if you are one for details but nobody looks at your sump anyway and I usually just leave the ugly silicone alone.

After the silicone cures, dry fit all of your equipment to ensure it fits.

We are using the AquaMaxx CO-1 protein skimmer along with a couple of AquaMaxx Media Reactors. We chose to use the Waveline DC water pump which is new here at Marine Depot and are Apex Ready right out of the box. We also added the CPR Sock-It Filter Sock Holder which easily attaches to the edge of any rimmed, rimeless or eurobraced aquarium.

After test fitting your equipment, you want to do a water test to check for leaks and ensure the water flows through the baffles as expected. I usually just run my garden hose into the first chamber and watch the water flow through the baffles as it fills up. Let the entire sump rest full of water for 24-48 hours then come back and check for leaks.

So there you have it folks, a custom sump that is perfectly fit to your aquarium!



For those of you who have reservations about building your own sump, Marine Depot carries the popular Trigger Systems sumps which are pre-manufactured and come in a variety of sizes that are ready to go right out of the box with all the bells and whistles including adjustable baffles, media trays, sock and probe holders, and much more so be sure to check these out.

If you’re thinking about installing a sump, our trained team of aquarium experts is here to help! Don't forget to like, share and subscribe to show your support and to help us bring you more great instructional videos just like this.

Until next time, take car and happy reefkeeping.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Felicia's 40 Gallon Breeder Mixed Reef Predator Tank





We are back with another amazing Marine Depot Featured Tank Profile. This 40 gallon breeder is quite unique in that it houses a myriad of corals along alongside some deadly predator fish that most of us are not used to seeing in such a beautiful and thriving reef tank.

The tank is proudly owned by Felicia from Berkely, CA who has kept aquariums her entire life.




Dive deeper into Felicia's aquarium and learn more about her equipment, livestock and husbandry practices by clicking here.



Starting with freshwater tanks, Felicia eventually stepped in the reef aquarium world because she is an avid scuba diver and finds inspiration in the natural beauty that can be found in wild reefs.

The tank houses 3 small lionfish species; a Fu Manchu, a Dwarf Zebra and an Antennata Lionfish. She also has a juvenile snowflake eel and this is what really makes her aquarium unique; having these gorgeous predator fish alongside a thriving captive reef is truly impressive.

The way these predator fish naturally behave and swim around the corals really adds some extra character to the tank.

Of course, these aggressive predator fish do limit the size and type of other fish she can house in the tank but, as you can see, her corals and various invertebrates do not seem to mind a bit.

Something I found fascinating with her tank is the way she aquascaped her collection of Gorgonians and soft corals.

For lighting and flow, she uses the Maxspect Razor LED light along with a couple of EcoTech Marine VorTech MP10 pumps.

Her tank is filtered by a 20 gallon DIY sump. The sump houses a Reef Octopus Protein Skimmer along with a Two Little Fishies Phosban Reactor that contains NPX Bioplastics. She also has a refugium with Chaetomorpha that is lit by a Maxspect Razor Nano LED light. All of which help to keep the nitrate levels under control which can be quite a problem for aquariums housing predator fish.

Nitrates are always present in her tank which has led to some hair algae growth but Felicia says her cleaner crew does a pretty good job keeping it under control. The diverse cleaner crew includes a couple of fighting Conchs, a serpent Starfish, a Tuxedo Urchin, a Red Mithrax Crab as well as some hermit crabs and snails.

She performs a weekly 25% water change using Instant Ocean Reef Crystals along with daily automated dosing of ESV B-ionic Two-Part Solution and Magnesium to maintain the water parameters.

Felicia’s 40 gallon predator tank you see in the video has also be chosen as Tank of the Month on the very popular Nano-Reef forum and based on what we have seen the tank is well deserving of this honor.

Be sure to check out her full tank profile by visiting the Featured Tank section of our website. You can see a full list of animals and get a detailed outline of all the equipment in order to see just how Felicia maintains this beautiful tank.

If you found Felicia’s tank inspirational, please like and share this post as well as subscribe to our YouTube channel to spread the word and show your support! Until next time, take care and happy reefkeeping.