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Cincyreefer513

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Below is a long account about jumping into a reef tank. It's rather humorous looking back. I have waited 26 years after getting my first aquarium to finally get a salt tank. 17 years of freshwater helped, but I learned more in the first 48 hours of salt than I did over several years in fresh. For those of you who want a lengthy read, strap in...

About 2 years ago I was on the hunt to start my first reef tank, a 75 gallon. Slowly, but surely equipment was being acquired, but there seemed to always be several other items I'd need so it was taking forever. Then, 2020 happened. My whole project got put on hold. Nothing was moving forward and stuff was just taking up room and collecting dust. Fast forward to 2021 and we were looking to move so I sold the 75 tank and stand. I kept the rest just in case. The move didn't happen and honestly I was pretty happy with all of my freshwater fish, well, that is until the first week of January 2022. I had just spent $100 on 3 dream freshwater fish. My wife was with me and as we were looking at the saltwater stuff she told me we should just get a salt tank. I said nope. We're still trying to move and I'm not setting this up just to move it later this year. She said why not a small one? I said I'd rather wait. Well, the thought sort of stuck with me and I took a peek on FB marketplace. Within a couple days I found a 32 Biocube, full setup with livestock for $300. I thought this is it! Sadly m wife hated the dimensions so I watched as it sold shortly after. No biggie. I'm not really buying anything. I'm just looking or something. I sorta accidently messaged a guy about a 32.5 Flex with pretty much everything. It was only a year old and included the following:

Tank
Stand
Return pump
(2) Hydor wavemakers
Marineland heater
UV sterilizer
2 different protein skimmers(Fluval and Coralife)
Inkbird temp controller with fan

His asking was a bit higher than I wanted to pay so he said make an offer. I figured it was easier to give more of a lowball offer, him say no, and I wouldn't have to worry about it because after all, I'm just looking, not buying. That is until he accepted $280 for everything. Shoot, I guess I'm buying this thing. Alright so I'll buy it, set it up and take my time. Or so I thought. I arrive and he shows me the tank that he had just broken down a few hours before. It also included full established media, about 12-15lbs of live rock, sand and 3 corals. Alright then, I guess I'm about to learn really quickly because I don't want this stuff to die. I did my research awhile back, but haven't read much in probably 1.5 years and had forgotten things.
So there are a couple gallons of water to keep the sand wet and the media is sitting in it. The rocks were mostly out of the water. After I leave his house, I stop at a fish store to get some premade saltwater. Thankfully I brought a 5 gallon bucket, but didn't have lid so I only dared putting 3 gallons in. I figured I would set the tank up and pour the water in to keep things wet. This was Thursday night. I would be unable to fill the tank completely until Friday night. So I have 5-6 gallons of water in the tank. No light, no flow, no heat. House is about 72 degrees. The corals looked terrible. I didn't know at the time what they were(now I know they are a toadstool mushroom, paly, and likely a hairy mushroom).
Friday I had to work late. I got off, picked up some 5 gallon jugs and headed to the LFS to get 25 gallons of RODI water, a box of Fritz RPM salt, new sand, a screen top kit, calibration fluid, and some other supplies just before they closed. I didn't get started with the tank until about 9:30pm and worked on it until 4am. Lots of cleaning, changing out the sand, my wife did the rockwork with dryrock we already had and the liverock, as well as setting up everything minus the light. The worst part was mixing saltwater. I bought a used BRS refractometer 2 years back. The readings were incredibly difficult to dial in. I had calibrated the refractometer beforehand and filled the tank with water I thought was 35ppt salinity. Little did I know the refractometer was bad... I went to bed and woke up to a clean tank with temp at 79 degrees and really bad looking corals. I checked the salinity and it's reading like 45ppt. Holy smokes! How did that happen? I had some extra water already made up so I did about a 3 gallon water change. Check again. Now it says 20ppt. Something ain't right here. I literally went from calibration fluid to saltwater back and forth about 5 times each. I got it to where I thought it should be 35ppt...
Great, now let's get them some light. I have 2 Ocean Revive T247 lights from the 75 pile. The tank did not come with a lid so using one of these is perfect. I couldn't mount it yet so I set it on top of the tank for 3 hours. In that time, the temp shot up to 87 degrees! This saltwater stuff sucks lol There is no way these corals will survive all of this abuse. I turn the heater and light off and turn the fans on. Temps cooled and I broke out a brand new heater since the old one potentially didn't shut off. Either that or the light is really that hot. It took about 90 minutes to cool down to 80. I left for the LFS to have them check my salinity and refractometer. I also bought more water. Test came back with salinity at 1.021 and they said the refractometer was shot. If you so much as twist, bump etc it would change the reading. This definitely explained a lot and so a new one was purchased. I slowly raised the salinity back up to where it should be. I also bought shelving brackets and mounted the light off the wall. It sits 12 inches off the water. Finally, everything was stable! Salinity at 1.026 or 35ppt and temp at 78.2-78.7. That was one wild ride and really tested me those first couple days. The following day while looking around at another LFS the guy recommended some snails and hermit crabs to test the water and help with cleanup so I added 2 hermits, 2 nassarius snails, and 2 margarita snails. They did/are still doing great. I tested everyday for a week. Everything was really solid and I didn't have any ammonia or nitrite spikes so I guess there really wasn't any die off and the established media I was given was still good. Nitrates were around 5ppm.

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The transformation of the below coral is pretty incredible.

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Cincyreefer513

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Fish selection is really limited at the moment. We have a lot of stores around, but it's slim pickings. Our desired stocking list is below:

Royal Gramma
Clownfish pair (Flury or Picasso)
Mccosker wrasse
Green Mandarin goby(after we establish a very strong population of pods. Possibly later this year)

The main LFS had 4 RG in stock. I watched all 4 for awhile and picked what appeared to be the healthiest one. He was eating no problem in the store. All of their fish are treated with copper beforehand. While I didn't have a QT tank at the time(I now have a 10 gallon setup), I figured I would take the risk due to the extra steps this places takes. I've had it for nearly 2 weeks now. Strong and healthy, but essentially non-existent due to always hiding in one of 2 caves. I've essentially never seen it outside. It has made a couple lightning runs a few inches outside a cave to grab food, but prefers to eat if I put the food in his cave. Apparently this is pretty normal for these guys and my guess is no other fish in the tank isn't helping.

The initial rockwork (we've since changed some)
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The only full shot of the RG I have.

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Cincyreefer513

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Then there are the corals... As mentioned before, we have some sort of paly, a toadstool mushroom, and potentially a hairy mushroom. The hairy mushroom looked like 2 pieces of chewed up bubble gum. Pink and slimy just hanging off the rock as 2 blobs. I doubted they would survive. I couldn't tell what they were. Over the next week, the one blob began to show bright green spots and it went from a blob to a round disk. Each day more green spots would appear and it started to look alright. The other blob broke off the rock at some point and floated away. It anchored in on another rock and now has a few green spots so it might make it. I don't know if these were severely bleached or what, but the damaged parts are now white, not pink and slowly coloring up to the other part. Each day you can see them healing up little by little.

When we bought the RG, we also picked up a really cool orange ricordia mushroom. Incredibly bright orange with purple stripes and 2 green mouths. A few days later we went to a different place and they had some nice zoas. We thought why not buy 2. Then they said they were 20% off so we bought 3 instead. Ok great, this should do us for a bit. I was happy, but my birthday was a couple days ago and my wife surprised me with corals from Lazy's Coral House. Let me give a shout out to him. Seriously I've been eyeing his stuff for awhile. The local shops don't really have great coral. His photos are like a lot of online places where you don't know if the pic is doctored up or if it's for real. Well, they really are just like the photos. Just really, really good quality. And then there is his customer service. My wife told me he was very easy to work with and answered any questions she had. Apparently my wife was asking about getting a small hammer frag. He said he'd just give it to us. Wow! My wife ended up ordering a zoa (bam bams) too. So we go to pick it up and not only was the packaging great(he boxed them up with heat packs for local pickup) and the corals looked solid, he gave me yet another free coral. A jack o lantern leptoseris. Seriously I was stoked! The texture on this thing is wild! I highly recommend Lazy's Coral House for his quality corals and will be placing another order after I save up. If you see this, thanks again!

My wife added one more zoa from the "budget rack" at a LFS and a local reefer had a 30 head kryptonite candy cane for an insanely low price. My wallet is dry from all of this so nothing new will be added for probably 6 weeks or so. This will also give everything time to get established. It will also allow us to sit back, enjoy, and keep an eye on parameters etc. I've been maintaining 0 ammonia/nitrites and 5-10ppm nitrates. PH is 8.4 and salinity is 1.026. As of now, 3 of the zoas are just sprouting 1-2 new polyps each so something is going right!

The below photos are pretty terrible quality, but you get the point I suppose. Also, I bought glue a couple days later so almost everything is mounted.

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Here is the hairy mushroom. I don't have an updated photo at the moment, but it is now completed round with the mouth in the middle. Pretty incredible for it to come back like this and in less than 3 weeks.

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Cincyreefer513

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Finally, I encountered another great reefing dude a couple hours away who sold me a 5 stage RODI with TDS meter, Tunze 3155 ATO, and Classic Apex energy bar 8 with temp probe, base unit, and display module for only $115! You can't beat that! This is making my life a lot easier. I have not used the Apex yet, but the other 2 items are helping immensely.

The ATO reservoir is an Aqueon 5.5 gallon tank under the DT.

The semi-organized mess down under.

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Up top

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And finally the full tank shot

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Cincyreefer513

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So far, so good. I realize this has gone at a much quicker pace than most. I can credit that mostly to the fact that it had fully established media and some rock. It was scary at first adding things even though testing showed we were good to go. Even still, it seemed a little quick. With everything appearing to be doing well, I guess we'll see.
I also have to say thank you to everyone on here. I've been reading a TON on here throughout the past almost 3 weeks( and a lot a couple years back) and have learned so much. When I can get back on here, I'll post about some of the interesting critters good and not so good I've found with it having established rock.

Lastly, one other really cool thing about this whole project is it's something my wife and I actually do together. A rare hobby. She won't stick her hands in the tank, but helps with other things.

I'll leave with these final pics.

Candy cane in eating mode.

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I forgot to include the toadstool in the coral post. It has green skin and bluish tentacles. Kinda cool.

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Cincyreefer513

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Thanks for reading 11f150 and R33! I give full credit to my wife on the aquascape.

I do plan on using the skimmer at some point. I don't think it needs it yet. I figured I'd let it run without for a little while to give the tank time to mature a bit and will likely try the Coralife one first when it's time. I will need to figure out how to make room in the back compartment for it. I really hate the look of equipment on the glass.
The plan is to also upgrade the wavemakers in time to something with controllers and more flow. Still looking into that one.
 
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Cincyreefer513

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Amazing looking tank! When do you think you’ll start working on a pod population?
Thanks! I already have some that came with the tank and they do appear to be multiplying since there really isn't much in the tank to eat them. I do, however, want to dose some to really get the numbers up if we plan to get a manderine. Not fully sure what a good population is recommended for them. Does a tank this size need 1000? 3000? Even more to sustain a manderine? Do I need to dose them every xx to keep the numbers up? Several questions I'm still needing answers to. I realize those fish eat pods at an astonishing rate.

I'll have to provide a better post in the next day or so with more photos. Short on lunch break time here, but today marks 3 weeks old. The RG hit 2 weeks today and he finally came up yesterday in the blue lights for about 20 minutes! He looked great.
 
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Cincyreefer513

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Great questions regarding the pods- I’m also hoping to get a mandarin so please keep the thread updated on what you find! I’ll do the same if I learn anything!

Very glad to hear your RG is catching some of the limelight :) beautiful fish
From what little I've found so far, they eat a TON. Some people say 2500-3000 pods per day. If that's accurate holy smokes. I also read somewhere that Ruby Dragonets eat a pod every 10 seconds. That's insane. Both fish are dragonets so I'd assume they're similar.
 
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I'll have more updates good and bad when I have time to type. Another blooper episode too.

In the meantime, I've had the tank for 3 weeks now. Most corals are doing very well, but my 2 lps aren't happy. I'm trouble shooting that one, but we'll save that for the long post...

The RG came out yesterday in full light for 20 minutes and I got some photos. He swims around the right half of the tank, eats, and checks stuff out when the pumps are off for feeding. As soon as the pumps turn back on, he's back in the cave within seconds.
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I'm a bit late on posting this, so here we go...

As previously hinted at, my 2 lps (hammer and candy cane) weren't doing so hot. The hammer was good the first 3 or 4 days and then it began shrinking by the day. The tentacles were getting crazy skinny and some were pinched off like balloon animals. I even saw a couple tentacles come off. It really looked terrible and I figured I'd lose it, but had no idea why. Then, during the same time as the hammer decline, the candy cane started looking bad. It was getting droopy, mouths open, darkening color, and overall looking really sad. For the life of me I could not figure it out. Everything else in the tank is doing great. The ricordia is quickly growing and all of the paly/zoas are creating new polyps. So why are my lps crashing?
I decided to ask Lazy(sorry I don't know your real name lol) at Lazy's Coral House if he had any ideas. Once again his customer service is fantastic! We messaged back and forth for over an hour late one night trying to troubleshoot the issue. Not knowing the full parameters wasn't going to make it easy, but he did tell me to try cutting my UV for now and dropping my lights from 10hrs to 8(I dropped to 8.5). He also suggested I get a full water test at the lfs. What I did know at the time was the following:
PH 8.4
Ammonia/nitrites 0
Nitrates 10
Salinity 1.026
Temp 78.3

So the next day I hit my lfs, water in hand, for a test. Unfortunately they were out of their testing stuff so they couldn't help me. To add to it, the employee there didn't seem to have much knowledge in saltwater at all so no brainstorming available. I decided to pick up a couple of the tests they had (slim pickings). I was only able to get the Salifert Alk and Ca.
Long story short, read the instructions AND watch more than one video. I ended up getting a reading of 12 dkh at first which seemed really high. I decided to do a 3 gallon water change and right after I took another test. This time however, I watched a different video. This video aligned with the directions and not only that, I realized that I had put 5ml of sample water in, not 4ml. I'm so used to API kits I didn't even think. So after doing this test the correct way, it came out to 8 dkh. Ok cool..
I then break out the Ca test kit. I had already watched a couple videos on it so when I opened the box and only saw 2 bottles of reagent, I assumed I was missing one. I called the lfs and they said I could exchange it. 2 days later I arrive there and they opened the new box. This one also only had 2 bottles, not 3. After an investigation with the owner and 2 employees it was found out that Salifert just recently changed their test kit from 3 bottles of reagent to 2. None of them were aware of the change. Great, I apparently have a good test kit. So I get home and test the Ca and get 410. This doesn't seem bad either so what is wrong with my lps???
More digging and searching and I see that while candy canes are ok with being on the sand, the sand can irritate them if it's touching the polyps. Hmm. Well, the lower polyps are indeed making contact with the sand and those look the worst. So I take it and raise it up a couple inches and place it toward the back of the tank. Within maybe 20 minutes it's already looking much better. Puffy and mouths were closing. The super dark colors were going away too. Nice! About 2hrs later though it started shriveling up like I placed it in a dehydrator. After the lights turned off it started to fill back in and look fine. Ok, so removing it from the sand worked, but raising it up a couple inches is not making it happy. Back to research mode. Reading and videos. This time on lighting...
So I knew that Ocean Revive lights were strong. That seems to be the general consensus. However, I had no idea they were THAT strong. I had started them at 35% blue, 35% white. And over a couple weeks, I gradually got them to 40% blue and 45% white. Here was another mistake. For some reason I thought channel 1 was white and channel 2 was blue so that's why my white was more than my blue. After much digging apparently whites are supposed to be set low, like really, really low. Here I'm blasting my corals with 45% white and they need single digit numbers. I immediately dropped the whites to 5% and kept the blues at 40%. I also dropped the hammer down a couple inches. This seemed to work. It didn't take long for the candy cane to start look plump and puffy again. Over the next few days the hammer has also quit dwindling away. The damage has been done to it, but maybe it'll make it through this. At least it's not receding or losing tentacles at the moment. The color is getting better each days too. So for those of you who don't know, OR lights are crazy strong. Turn them way down. As for the candy cane, it's still looking pretty nice. It is a bit darker than usual, but it's probably adjusting. I also don't believe this is a kryptonite. That's what I wanted and that's what the guy who sold it to me said it was, but it has never been very vibrant. I think it's just a green candy cane. Still a very nice coral with about 30 polyps, but not the atomic green I wanted.
 
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