55G Soft Coral Reef - My First Reef

CowTusks

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I started this tank in September of 2020. I’ve kept freshwater off and on throughout my life and figured it was time. I’ll post every step I can find pictures for.

This tank started as a home for my axolotls. A friend impulse bought a large salt water system second hand and convinced me it was much easier than it really was. I had always been hesitant about taking the leap into salt water in college for a reason but went against my better judgment. That said, I absolutely cut corners, made stupid mistakes and still am far from perfect.

The Beginning


Dimensions: 12x23x36 45 Gallon
  1. Equipment:
    1. Tidal 55 Hang On
    2. Heater
    3. Power Head
    4. Orbit Marine 18-24” IC Loop
    5. Store Reef Water, Pink Fuji Sand, Live Rock
  2. Maintenance:
    1. Store Reef Water changes every 1-3 months
    2. Tap water top off with Prime
    3. 1x frozen cube daily. Alternated most trips to LFS

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September 16, 2020​

  • Added Six-Line Wrasse “Weewee”
  • Blue Legged Hermit “Harry”

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September 20, 2022​

  • Added 1x Tube Anemone
  • Added 2x Snowflake Extreme Clownfish "Mamma” + “OG Pappa”

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September 29, 2020​

  • Added 1x Royal Gramma
  • Added 1x Long Tentacle Plate (I believe)
This beauty died very fast. I was rushing and adding too many things without doing research. Unfortunately, this went on for a little longer.

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October 3, 2020​

  • Added 1x Coral Beauty “BMC”
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November 14, 2020​

  • Added 4x Orange Yuma
  • Added 1x Green Zoa
Struggled with Cyanobacteria and eventually cleared with Chemiclean. I still do not know the names of these corals and would appreciate any corrections/proper identification.

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November 24, 2020​

  • Added 1x Magnifica Anemone
I finally got the experience the beauty of clownfish hosting. The tank was going through its ugly phase. Definitely was not cycled enough nor was I putting in the labor. School taxed me and the budget never truly had room for this hobby.

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February 1, 2021​

  • Lost 1x Snowflake Extreme Clownfish "OG Papa"
  • Lost 1x Royal Gramma
  • Lost 1x Magnifica Anemone
After suffering a suspected power head wound, the anemone died. “OG Pappa” clown and the Royal Gramma in fell the aftermath.

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February 24, 2021​

  • Added 1x Sebae Anemone. This unfortunately withered away a few weeks after.
  • Added 1x Snowflake Extreme Clownfish. Was alone at the LFS and I took a gamble.
  • Added 1x Fire Fish
I was neglecting glass scrubbing and general maintenance. The tank was still fighting random blooms of hair algae. This was around when I started getting interested in the hobby again and educating myself.

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March 4, 2021​

  • 1x Purple Cespitularia
  • 5x Green Star Polyp
  • 2x Orange Crush Mushroom
  • 2x Arctic Ice Palythoa
  • 6x Mexican Red Leg Hermit
  • 11x Nassarius Vibex Snail
  • 10x Turbo Snail
Mail Day! An order of discount soft corals and a better clean up crew from Aquarium Depot.

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Assorted Photos Between Dates​


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November 12, 2021​

I slowed down a lot and took the time to learn and watch my tank. The cespitularia continued to spread like a weed. It was fine with me as the clowns host it and are a blast to watch
I lost most of the other Aquarium Depot frags to hermit crabs throwing them and neglecting them afterwards. Hadn’t heard of superglue yet and had a putty that never has really worked for me. The mushrooms got bigger and bigger. One of the GSP was still spreading but ended up climbing over the green zoa and was moved. Still doing minimal water changes and intentionally leaving the algae on the back wall.
Added a sand sifter starfish at some point.
The Fire Fish went missing one day and never reappeared. Clean up crews work…

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April 24, 2022​

  • Added 1x Green Mushroom Ricordea?
I also got a Peppermint Shrimp at some point around here. Found it sucked into the hang-on skimmer and dead the next day.

The Moving Saga​


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August 6, 2022​

  • Added 1x Mandarin Goby “New Guy”
  • Added another small sand sifter starfish at some point before this.
This is after a short distance move.
The original Purple Cespitularia frag plug broke free during the move.

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September 1, 2022​

Yet another move to a temporary location while we waited for a new lease. Lost the tube anemone which got lost and buried in the sand. Never saw it again but did find small pieces of tentacles. Also I had trimmed back the Purple Cespitularia and tried to rubber band then down to a frag plug. With all of the moving commotion I didn’t do my best and they fell free and blew away.

I used this move as an excuse to go a little bigger. Purchased a 55 G secondhand for the new apartment.

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September 22-23, 2022​

It was finally time to move the tank into our new apartment. I purchased more sand and had extra LFS reef water ready to go. Moved everyone in and it looked great! Obviously the sand was stirred up but the new size was exciting. Definitely more things to get over time but it was the beginning of the next stage. Somewhere around here the hang-on skimmer died.

The next morning, I woke up to salt water all over the floor. The new-to-me tank was leaking! Ran out to the store for silicon and any way to seal the leak. After a few failed attempts, I decided to just buy a new tank. This sucked since I was no longer saving any money by going second hand and could have invested more into the equipment.

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October 1, 2020​

  • Added 1x Yellow Belly Blue Tang “Allen”
  • Added 3x Smaller Live Rocks
  • Added 1x GSP Frag
  • Added 1x $10 Yellow Button Paly
The tang is only a temporary member. I’m using it as my excuse to go larger in a few years or I’ll rehome him and get something else later. So far, I wouldn’t get another. Allen tends to sit on the sand or between rocks. Expected him to be a little more of a swimmer but things could change with size.

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October 17, 2020​

Aggression between the Coral Beauty “BMC” and Clowns was at an all time high. The clowns are always territorial of their Cespitularia but now they were both chasing each other much more. The Momma Clown would have a missing scale here or there, BMC had fin nips. I decided to rescape everything.

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October 19, 2022​

  • Added 1x Blue Long Tentacle Anemone
  • Added 1x Banded Cat Shark Egg
Decided it was time to try another anemone with the goal of moving the clowns out of the Cespitularia. Unfortunately, after 2 weeks of never putting its foot down, it passed. The shark egg was a mistake. My LFS got them in and as someone that’s always dreamed of a shark, I decided to try it. I was told that my tank mates would be fine and I could just rehome it once it grew.
Sounded great with me!
Then I came home and stayed up all night doing research. It definitely sounded awesome and unique but the fear of losing a fishy friend mixed with so many unknowns had me bringing it back first thing the next day. However, through that research I’ve deduced that an Epaulette is on the list ~15 years down the road.

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November 2, 2022​

Aggression between BMC and the Clowns was still uncontrolled. Time to rescape again. Got another rock shortly after too.

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November 5, 2022​

  • Added 1x Toadstool Leather
  • Added 1x Pulsing Xenia
Made a pilgrimage to a larger fish store near me and (somehow) managed to only come home with:

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November 18, 2020​

  • Added 1x Firework Clove
  • Added 10x Red-Legged Hermit Crabs
My mom got me an early Xmas coral! Just added it so I’m excited to see how it ends up filling in.

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November 23, 2022​

  • Added 1x Peppermint Shrimp
Allen started showing signs of some illness. My LFS and own research led me to believe it was ich. Unfortunately, I was leaving town for Thanksgiving. I added a garlic based flake to the food rotation and a peppermint shrimp to maybe alleviate any issues. Also set the temp to 80.

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December 30, 2022​

  • Added 1x Flameback Angel “CMB”
  • Added 1x Green Singularia
During XMas while visiting family I saw a flameback angle and beautiful Green Singularia and drove them across the country.

Allen had good and bad days. My LFS had told me to just wait it out since I don't have a quarantine system.

I knew to watch BMC and CMB (named because its almost an inside out Coral Beauty) closely but there had been very minor signs of aggression. They had checked each other out and did some short sizing up but everything was smooth!

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January 6, 2023​

  • Added 1x Ruby Red Dragonet “Recent Fella”
  • Added 1x Anemone Crab
  • Removed 1x Coral Beauty “BMC”
Yeah jk… BMC got the crap beat out of him and went to the LFS. The attitudes changed and (thankfully) I was home on lunch and could separate them.

When I was there they had a beautiful male ruby red dragonet. Worked out because it was originally the fish I wanted to drive home but it had sold by the date of my drive.

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January 19, 2023​

  • Added 2x AI Hydra 32HD
  • Removed 1x Current Loop LED bar
Finally got some new lights off marketplace. Way more advanced and will certainly take some more refinement.

iawfq6P30hzV5hDAF7dGkrK0V0pW71Oq99chh8lGKDBMhPU-IYJT2C9mfHFjWJ4XK_GJD0Zv2fagurpYcjPYO2Zf9Wy4Dhsml7bZRIk7fY9wr59ExHuqrl5HDJvlTlFioZ9S1EtVvEooODcAwSO7jeM
Md_fQMQPvy0jtXnaVKfeXxrUaH5LRrR8wqtZVnHimu9zB_-5M4I4hygR7DCHVn-VajYkWCdW4YfnuhTWi5JknFu1kghM_ysO2a-IxrkUqtMCnzLGTM1mqEul9paH-E28TZbiOBx7-EUOKFVwBQxApMY

January 29, 2023​

  • Added 1x Gorgonia
  • Added 1x Asparagus Leather (my made up name)
Made another trip to the big pet store hunting for softies/leathers.

Current Situation - February 5, 2023​

EFA0E3EF-0CFC-49FD-984B-F13AD3840049.jpeg


My current priority is diagnosing/healing “Allen” (Yellow Belly). I’ve begun to suspect that he has HLLE or maybe even just scars from the ich. No other symptoms or spots on any other fish. I’ll edit in my disease forum once I get the photos and parameters I need. Could it be due to the activated carbon in the Penguin 375 filter pads?

“Recent Fella” (Ruby Red) has also been sitting in the back right corner for 3 days. His breathing is steady and he appears to swim fine. He just isn’t moving much at all which is very unusual. My suspicion was the salinity went to 1.028 due to neglecting a top off and clean. Hoping to see some improvements soon now that she's ship shape.

The firework clove has all but left it’s original plug and is climbing up and up. Been pulling its ‘vines’ off of the left Zoas. The Cespitularia had two stalks wither on the far right side but otherwise it appears as strong as ever. Even got 2 plugs out of it last month. The new gorgonia is closed after only being open for the first day or two. I’ve moved it into more direct flow and hope to see something soon.

Since upgrading the lights everything is much fuller looking but the algae on the grass has been annoying. I used to scrub it once a week but now it almost demands a daily swipe. Still in the acclimation mode for another week or so. I miss the warmer colors the Current gave me around lunch but am adapting to the hydras.

New Testing kits and better consistency with testing/water changes are something I need to establish. Currently just using my coals to check and testing salinity.

I’ve got a few things in mind for my next steps:​

  1. Quarantine tank for Allen (and the future) depending on what people advise. I don’t plan to add any more fish but I do need to be prepared.
  2. Sump!!!! I’m sick of the space taken up by my hang-ons and how ugly they are.
  3. Begin a small macro algae refugium display that feeds into the main DT. Build up pods and other beneficial critters. Probably only get a longfin clownfish pair further down the road.

I am 100% open to any suggestions and tips for improving my reef. My goal with this is to be as transparent as I can be and learn as much as possible.
 
Last edited:

SeahorseKeeper

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Thanks for sharing your journey!!! I definitely would do a quarantine tank to help diagnose and heal Allen.
 
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Journey looks like it's been a long one but a really good one!!
Absolutely has been! Knowing what I know now, I'd never have tried to cut so many corners. Just feels like I'm still playing catch up. The dunning kruger effect is hitting hard right now. I feel like I'm crawling out of my second 'valley of despair.'
 
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Got few non-urgent questions. My lights finished the acclimation process just under 2 weeks ago. For the last 3 weeks I’ve been needing to clean the glass twice a day. Is this normal for the lights I’ve got? It’s a red algae or bacteria. It’s really only on the newer white rocks, glass and sand. Any advice?

Picture taken with 15000k ice cap lens.
7609056B-4BF5-4167-87AC-8E30EB8DF135.jpeg
7BE26340-D44E-4CA4-AC04-D499CF4BA8F3.jpeg
 
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This past week un Cespitularia has also started to “wilt” in the center. Is this due to too much light?
In an attempt to stop further development of my Blue Tang’s suspected HLLE i removed the carbon penguin filter pads and now have Acurel Nitrate Reducer cut to fit pads.
 
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Turning off the filter for a few days above the Cespitularia let it bounce back fully. Ill have to find a way to displace the flow from dumping directly on it.

I also did one dosing of Chemiclean and it worked like a charm for the red gunk. Must have been a Cynobacteria that thrived with the new lights.
 

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You could try a background plastic on the back of your tank from your LFS. They usually have a pretty sorry fake aquarium picture on one side and black on the other. (Go black) I did that on my 90 and never regretted it. It will definitely help hide the HOB equipment.
 
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B5E69CA9-75C8-4ED8-9438-4E94F3D4C84B.jpeg

6DC37254-D071-4A57-9703-5F2BD1806F58.jpeg 0B08933E-EF33-4459-9FD4-6C7EC843E242.jpeg F49A6F17-4B77-46A0-B0DA-A453B7746F73.jpeg
Feeling like a proud dad today. My clownfish have finally spawned! After years of doing the dance and cleaning the rocks I’ve finally seen eggs.
Unfortunately for them, my friend cleared out his tank a few months ago and just gave me his extra rocks. Redid some areas to add more tunnels and hiding spaces since the clowns and Flameback control most of the good ones.

Been having a red algae on the glass needing to be cleared twice a day. I used chemiclean over a month ago and that worked but now it’s back and won’t budge. Unsure what’s up but it’s not spreading yet.
 
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The clowns are spawning again! Looks like they’re going to finally be doing so regularly. The Cespitularia has started growing like crazy this month so they moved to the shelf below it. Much easier to watch! Can’t wait!!
 

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Just read through your entire journey. Love your enthusiasm and appreciate reading some of the lessons you've learned. Any update on your clown spawn?

Edit: My apologies, didn't that see your last post was April 2023..not April 2024.
 

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