Canister driven nano tank: how I optimised my system to get the most out of my canister filter

chris_pull

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I want to preface this with a disclaimer that I am a novice reefer, with under a year's worth of experience and learning all the time. That said, I've wanted to post a build thread for a while as I have the impression more and more people are using canister filters on small reef tanks, yet I think they can be optimised to achieve better results. I don't want this to be a sump vs canister debate, rather that this is what has worked for me and I think it could help those who are tempted to or have gone down the canister route.

I will have to come back and update this thread with photos, but I wanted to first explain my canister set up and how I have optimised it for low maintenance, low nutrient results.

Firstly, some background on my tank: I have a 20 gallon/80 litre mixed reef that's fairly heavily stocked: pair of clowns, royal gramma, yellow clown goby, neon blue goby, pistol shrimp-goby pair, ruby red dragonette, blue star leopard wrasse (will be re-homed when it grows too large!) and the usual clean up crew. Coral wise I have a mix of soft, LPS and SPS corals, as well as a rock flower anemone. It has been running about 9 months now and, beyond the intial cycle, my nitrates have never been higher than 5 ppm. I am using the Oase biomaster thermo 350 canister filter, which has a built-in but replaceable heater. I use Tropic Marin Pro reef salt and dose soda ash several times a day to maintain alk levels (so far no need to supplement anything else). I test and log all parameters on a weekly (alk, nitrates, phosphates) or monthly basis (calcium and magnesium). I also have a Seneye tucked away in the back, though I will likely stop using this once the last slide runs out as I find it's not that accurate. Here is an older photo of my tank from November – I need to take some updated ones as the corals moved around a bit since then!

IMG_3139.jpg


To optimise my filtration, I use a skimmer inlet designed for planted tanks. This sucks in water at the bottom and the top, in the same way a weir does on a sumped tank. This is important to skim the oil film on the surface. Given it is transparent it isn't too visible and in the long term I hope will be hidden by my gorgonian.

Water that enters the inlet then travels into a pre-filter canister that houses my mechanical filtration. At the base I have two egg-crate style coarse foams for maximum surface area, followed by a medium density foam and filter floss. Finally, I have a bag of carbon for chemical filtration, which I replace monthly. Recently, I have been experimenting with adding a sheet of 200 µm nylon mesh between the medium foam and filter floss to mimic a filter sock. This does seem to be trapping a fair bit of detritus though I am not sure if it is any better than the floss alone, which also does a great job. The benefit of having this pre-filter is that I don't have to lug out my heavy canister filter, remove all the trays with biomedia to reach the sponges at the bottom (which is where they should be to prevent detritus build up in the bio media trays). Essentially this means I don't have to touch the canister filter on a regular basis – I last opened it about 5 months ago and will open it at 6 months to give it a clean.

From this pre-filter, water enters into the canister filter. As stated above, I removed all sponges from the canister to avoid having to open it up regularly and took off the tubing on the built-in pre-filter as it was not needed and likely limited flow (this is a feature specific to this filter; no need to worry about it on other brands). Every tray is filled with BioHome marine media, which is a highly porous sintered glass type media for biological filtration. I have 4kg of biomedia in total, mimicking a sump filled with live rock (indeed you could place live rock here instead). Water also passes through a compartment with the heater within the canister, meaning this piece of equipment does not need to be in the tank. Incidentally, I use an ink bird thermostat on this heater (I set the heater to 27C and the ink bird to 25.2 C), with the probe in the DT for better accuracy. I used to get a fairly large night time drop of about .5-1C when it was really cold, but the ink bird now keeps it within .3 of a degree C.

Now we come to the part I am most pleased with: once the water exits the canister it passes into a DIY algae reactor. I made this out of the same brand of pre-filter canister that I have on the inlet for the sponges, except this one is transparent. I have wrapped 2 metres of red and blue LEDs around it and can control the brightness with a set of dimmer buttons. Inside is chaeto that I harvest about every two weeks. There is a coarse sponge at the top to prevent the chaeto entering the display. It grows incredibly well and is supporting baby turbo snails that I leave there until they grow too large, as they eat the algae that build up on the inside. When I harvest the cheato I give the sides a wipe down to keep light transmission high (the build-up is not a lot but would be if I didn't clean it). The water then returns to the tank and the outlet is placed so that it feeds directly into a wavemaker, and is thus pushed out into the tank.

IMG_4321.JPG


Importantly, the pre-filter and algae reactor chambers are "plumbed in" using double taps, allowing me to easily shut off the water and remove the canisters without needing buckets and water going everywhere. As they are so compact and light it's easy to take them to the sink for maintenance.

Maintenance wise, I perform a weekly 10% water change and clean out the sponges/replace the floss at the same time. As mentioned above, I harvest chaeto every two weeks or so and wipe down the inside of the reactor. All in all, it takes me about an hour or so a week to maintain this system (not including daily feedings). I have very little algae and my water has that "gin clear" look to it, where the fish almost seem to be floating in the air. I add Tropic Marin reef actif weekly and think this is playing a role in keeping the water so clear.

One concern I had with this system is that the turn over rate would be too low so as to be ineffective, due to all the extra connections and piping reducing flow. However, this does not seem to be the case. Before I added the algae reactor my nitrates were consistently 5ppm though I constantly had high levels of phosphates (> 0.1 ppm). I controlled them for months using GFO in the pre-filter but it just didn't work that effectively and was messy. Since adding the algae reactor, phosphates range between 0.02-0.06ppm. My nitrates have actually begun to bottom out, so I am currently experimenting with lowering the reactor photoperiod and dosing nitrates in the meantime until I find a good balance. Clearly, the reduced flow is not a problem – in fact, it may have actually improved the effectiveness of my biomedia, since the canister is now essentially a slow-flow media reactor with plenty of contact time. I should say though that the flow from the outlet is actually still significant, which I think is due to the fact I am using an oversized filter for this tank. Moreover, I don't rely on the canister for flow in the DT; I have two jebao powerheads at either end of the tank that pulse alternatively to create lots of random flow within the tank.

One of the major benefits of adding the algae reactor is being able to massively up my feeding: in the morning, I usually feed some flakes or pellets to the fish; in the evening, I add a mix of reef roids, LPS pellets, mysis, amino acids and usually another type of frozen food (krill, baby brine, rotifers etc) for the fish/corals. Since doing this I've seen great polyp extension on things like my SPS and gorgonians, and my micromussa are super fat and fluffy, usually with tentacles extended all the time now.

Although I think sumps are indeed the way to go on larger tanks, my experience so far is that canisters can be used effectively on smaller tanks and are not nitrate factories if set up properly. Although I now have an algae reactor, I ran this system without one for ~ 7 months and my nitrates have never risen above 5ppm, depsite starting with dry rock. I think where people might run into issues is not using enough biomedia and having too much sponge, which can trap a lot of detritus even when cleaned reguarly, and they are often placed at the top, meaning detritus is trapped and builds up in the bio media below it. Having the separate canister for sponges before the biomedia ensures the biomedia works effectively without being clogged and it is just much eaiser to maintain. I buy big sheets of cheap but high quality coarse and medium pond sponges that I cut to size and so can replace every 6 months or so.

I will try and update this post with more detailed photos of the set up so people using canisters can see if it would help improve their system or not. I will also try and update as my system matures and grows, so I document whether canister filters are good long term solution or not.

Thanks for reading!
 
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I want to preface this with a disclaimer that I am a novice reefer, with under a year's worth of experience and learning all the time. That said, I've wanted to post a build thread for a while as I have the impression more and more people are using canister filters on small reef tanks, yet I think they can be optimised to achieve better results. I don't want this to be a sump vs canister debate, rather that this is what has worked for me and I think it could help those who are tempted to or have gone down the canister route.

I will have to come back and update this thread with photos, but I wanted to first explain my canister set up and how I have optimised it for low maintenance, low nutrient results.

Firstly, some background on my tank: I have a 20 gallon/80 litre mixed reef that's fairly heavily stocked: pair of clowns, royal gramma, yellow clown goby, neon blue goby, pistol shrimp-goby pair, ruby red dragonette, blue star leopard wrasse (will be re-homed when it grows too large!) and the usual clean up crew. Coral wise I have a mix of soft, LPS and SPS corals, as well as a rock flower anemone. It has been running about 9 months now and, beyond the intial cycle, my nitrates have never been higher than 5 ppm. I am using the Oase biomaster thermo 350 canister filter, which has a built-in but replaceable heater. I use Tropic Marin Pro reef salt and dose soda ash several times a day to maintain alk levels (so far no need to supplement anything else). I test and log all parameters on a weekly (alk, nitrates, phosphates) or monthly basis (calcium and magnesium). I also have a Seneye tucked away in the back, though I will likely stop using this once the last slide runs out as I find it's not that accurate. Here is an older photo of my tank from November – I need to take some updated ones as the corals moved around a bit since then!

IMG_3139.jpg


To optimise my filtration, I use a skimmer inlet designed for planted tanks. This sucks in water at the bottom and the top, in the same way a weir does on a sumped tank. This is important to skim the oil film on the surface. Given it is transparent it isn't too visible and in the long term I hope will be hidden by my gorgonian.

Water that enters the inlet then travels into a pre-filter canister that houses my mechanical filtration. At the base I have two egg-crate style coarse foams for maximum surface area, followed by a medium density foam and filter floss. Finally, I have a bag of carbon for chemical filtration, which I replace monthly. Recently, I have been experimenting with adding a sheet of 200 µm nylon mesh between the medium foam and filter floss to mimic a filter sock. This does seem to be trapping a fair bit of detritus though I am not sure if it is any better than the floss alone, which also does a great job. The benefit of having this pre-filter is that I don't have to lug out my heavy canister filter, remove all the trays with biomedia to reach the sponges at the bottom (which is where they should be to prevent detritus build up in the bio media trays). Essentially this means I don't have to touch the canister filter on a regular basis – I last opened it about 5 months ago and will open it at 6 months to give it a clean.

From this pre-filter, water enters into the canister filter. As stated above, I removed all sponges from the canister to avoid having to open it up regularly and took off the tubing on the built-in pre-filter as it was not needed and likely limited flow (this is a feature specific to this filter; no need to worry about it on other brands). Every tray is filled with BioHome marine media, which is a highly porous sintered glass type media for biological filtration. I have 4kg of biomedia in total, mimicking a sump filled with live rock (indeed you could place live rock here instead). Water also passes through a compartment with the heater within the canister, meaning this piece of equipment does not need to be in the tank. Incidentally, I use an ink bird thermostat on this heater (I set the heater to 27C and the ink bird to 25.2 C), with the probe in the DT for better accuracy. I used to get a fairly large night time drop of about .5-1C when it was really cold, but the ink bird now keeps it within .3 of a degree C.

Now we come to the part I am most pleased with: once the water exits the canister it passes into a DIY algae reactor. I made this out of the same brand of pre-filter canister that I have on the inlet for the sponges, except this one is transparent. I have wrapped 2 metres of red and blue LEDs around it and can control the brightness with a set of dimmer buttons. Inside is chaeto that I harvest about every two weeks. There is a coarse sponge at the top to prevent the chaeto entering the display. It grows incredibly well and is supporting baby turbo snails that I leave there until they grow too large, as they eat the algae that build up on the inside. When I harvest the cheato I give the sides a wipe down to keep light transmission high (the build-up is not a lot but would be if I didn't clean it). The water then returns to the tank and the outlet is placed so that it feeds directly into a wavemaker, and is thus pushed out into the tank.

IMG_4321.JPG


Importantly, the pre-filter and algae reactor chambers are "plumbed in" using double taps, allowing me to easily shut off the water and remove the canisters without needing buckets and water going everywhere. As they are so compact and light it's easy to take them to the sink for maintenance.

Maintenance wise, I perform a weekly 10% water change and clean out the sponges/replace the floss at the same time. As mentioned above, I harvest chaeto every two weeks or so and wipe down the inside of the reactor. All in all, it takes me about an hour or so a week to maintain this system (not including daily feedings). I have very little algae and my water has that "gin clear" look to it, where the fish almost seem to be floating in the air. I add Tropic Marin reef actif weekly and think this is playing a role in keeping the water so clear.

One concern I had with this system is that the turn over rate would be too low so as to be ineffective, due to all the extra connections and piping reducing flow. However, this does not seem to be the case. Before I added the algae reactor my nitrates were consistently 5ppm though I constantly had high levels of phosphates (> 0.1 ppm). I controlled them for months using GFO in the pre-filter but it just didn't work that effectively and was messy. Since adding the algae reactor, phosphates range between 0.02-0.06ppm. My nitrates have actually begun to bottom out, so I am currently experimenting with lowering the reactor photoperiod and dosing nitrates in the meantime until I find a good balance. Clearly, the reduced flow is not a problem – in fact, it may have actually improved the effectiveness of my biomedia, since the canister is now essentially a slow-flow media reactor with plenty of contact time. I should say though that the flow from the outlet is actually still significant, which I think is due to the fact I am using an oversized filter for this tank. Moreover, I don't rely on the canister for flow in the DT; I have two jebao powerheads at either end of the tank that pulse alternatively to create lots of random flow within the tank.

One of the major benefits of adding the algae reactor is being able to massively up my feeding: in the morning, I usually feed some flakes or pellets to the fish; in the evening, I add a mix of reef roids, LPS pellets, mysis, amino acids and usually another type of frozen food (krill, baby brine, rotifers etc) for the fish/corals. Since doing this I've seen great polyp extension on things like my SPS and gorgonians, and my micromussa are super fat and fluffy, usually with tentacles extended all the time now.

Although I think sumps are indeed the way to go on larger tanks, my experience so far is that canisters can be used effectively on smaller tanks and are not nitrate factories if set up properly. Although I now have an algae reactor, I ran this system without one for ~ 7 months and my nitrates have never risen above 5ppm, depsite starting with dry rock. I think where people might run into issues is not using enough biomedia and having too much sponge, which can trap a lot of detritus even when cleaned reguarly, and they are often placed at the top, meaning detritus is trapped and builds up in the bio media below it. Having the separate canister for sponges before the biomedia ensures the biomedia works effectively without being clogged and it is just much eaiser to maintain. I buy big sheets of cheap but high quality coarse and medium pond sponges that I cut to size and so can replace every 6 months or so.

I will try and update this post with more detailed photos of the set up so people using canisters can see if it would help improve their system or not. I will also try and update as my system matures and grows, so I document whether canister filters are good long term solution or not.

Thanks for reading!

Would you mind sharing the makes and models of the components?

And some photos!

Otherwise thanks. Great write up. You’ve answered a lot of questions.
 
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chris_pull

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Would you mind sharing the makes and models of the components?

And some photos!

Otherwise thanks. Great write up. You’ve answered a lot of questions.
Of course! I will go on a photo spree this weekend and upload as much detail as possible.
 
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Equipment list

I think this is pretty much every piece of equipment on my tank:
  • Aquarium – 80 litre/20 gallon long that I picked up second hand. I took it apart and re-sealed it myself, which is why the silicone joints are less than attractive! There are some pretty bad scratches in places as well. However, we are moving soon and I will use this as an opportunity to upgrade to a slightly larger tank new tank, which is about 10 cm larger in width and length and 30 litres or so more volume. I am happy with the size/shape of the tank but would like to have nicer silicone and no scratches!
  • Oase BioMaster Thermo 350 – even though this has a built-in pre-filter, it's still not as effective of easy to use as my supplementary one, so I don't use it. That said, the replaceable built-in heater is such a bonus I'd still go for this filter again.
  • Inkbird thermostat – I found that the Oase heater has a pretty wide heating differential. Pairing with the ink bird and placing the probe at the opposite end of the tank to the outlet has really reduced my temperature swings.
  • SunSun/APS Pre-filter canister– you can pick these up very cheaply from All Pond Solutions in the UK or from places like AliExpress, and there are different sizes available. I use an opaque version for the mechanical filtration and a transparent version for the algae reactor (both 1.2L). I will be the first to admit that the catches are not the highest quality and, although no issues so far, I make sure to have a spare just in case.
  • Double taps/quick release valves – again, I am using a cheap Chinese version, but you can splurge a bit more on an Eheim/JBL version. These really save time and energy as they allow you to remove the pre-filter and algae reactor from the system without water spills. I don't think this set up would work without them.
  • Nicrew Skimmer Inlet – skims the surface and prevent an oil film build-up. For a while, I also used the Eheim surface skimmer but wanted to reduce the amount of equipment in the tank.
  • Grow light LEDs – 2 metres that have a 4:1 red:blue spectrum and are waterproof. I wrapped them around the canister and secured in place with cable ties. I also paired them with a Chihiros brightness controller that I had lying around and a timer.
  • Pond sponges – I like these egg crate ones as they have a greater surface area and you can buy them in big packs. I cut these to size and they seem to last about 6 months or so before they become a bit "deflated".
  • Filter floss/nylon mesh – any will do, I buy a big roll of floss from amazon and cut it to size. The 200 µm nylon mesh was cut to size from a sheet I bought on eBay and I singed the edges to stop it from fraying. Not sure the mesh is really needed but doesn't hurt!
  • BioHome Ultimate Marine Media – I like this media and it seems to replicate well the function of the live rock, being super porous and providing space for anaerobic bacteria to reside that convert nitrates to nitrogen gas. Who knows if it's worth the price tag but it should last a long time.
  • Turing 75 from PopBloom Led – a cheap black box LED. I went for this one as it completely covers the length of my tank and is fanless, so no annoying noise. Plus it came with supports that I have fixed to the wood behind the tank. We are currently renting so I had no option to hang the light, though I may do this in our new house. I really like the light but the layout of the LEDs could be improved. I'll talk more about lighting in another post.
  • P1 Dosing pump – I only really need to supplement alk at the moment thanks to the weekly water changes, so I use this to dose soda ash several times a day.
  • Sw2 wavemaker – I have two of these placed at opposite ends of the tank; they are synced up so that they come on alternatively for about 10 seconds each. I find both on at the same time is too much flow, but alternating is just right and creates a nice back and forth motion.
  • Compact ATO – the downside with this is the fluorescent green sensor being in your display tank and snails climbing over that trigger it to overfill. I solved this by putting it on a timer so that it comes on every couple of hours for 2 mins at a time. This also acts as a safety feature to prevent it from overfilling. Additionally, I added a 3D printed cover that both hides the sensor and prevents snails from interfering with it. This is fed by a 10-litre jerry can of RO under the tank that I fill up weekly.
  • Seneye – I thought this would be handy for alerts but to be honest, the slides are expensive and not very accurate (my pH reading constantly drifts down over time, despite calibration). I will probably remove it once the last slide runs out and just keep it as a PAR meter.
 
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Just a quick update: I've been dosing Sodium Nitrate for a couple of weeks now and NO3 seems to be sitting at around 1ppm, which was my aim. However, now my phosphates have bottomed out. I'll try dialling back the algae reactor some more today to 12 hours...gotta try and find the sweet spot where they are in balance and I don't have to dose! You can see in the graph below that my Nitrates have always been pretty good and stable, though phosphates have been all over the place. You can see though since installing the DIY reactor that Po4 has been in the "safe range"; it's just not that stable. Making sure the NO3 are high enough though should help with that stability.

The upside is that I am pouring in food – every night I make a cocktail of frozen foods, amino acids, vitamins, fish pellets, coral pellets and reef roids. I've had much better extension on things like my Micromussa and Gorgonians as a result!

Another thing I've changed is removing the 200 µm nylon mesh from the mechanical filtration. I'm not sure it's made a huge difference and it's one more thing that needs cleaning, so it's gone. Definitely trapped some dirt though!

IMG_5210.jpg
 
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This is a very interesting build thread! Would love to see pictures of the filtration set up. I’ve always wondered how effective a canister filter would be on a smaller tank so I’m glad to see someone finally trying it out! Looking forward to following this thread
 
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This is a very interesting build thread! Would love to see pictures of the filtration set up. I’ve always wondered how effective a canister filter would be on a smaller tank so I’m glad to see someone finally trying it out! Looking forward to following this thread
Thanks for the feedback! I keep meaning to get shots of it all but the last few weekends have been packed.

As a tease, I am working on a 3D printed inlet/outlet that functions like a freshwater surface skimmer pipe but looks like a nano overflow box and should reduce the amount of piping in the tank. I am hoping it'll be very compact and clean.
 

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Thanks for the feedback! I keep meaning to get shots of it all but the last few weekends have been packed.

As a tease, I am working on a 3D printed inlet/outlet that functions like a freshwater surface skimmer pipe but looks like a nano overflow box and should reduce the amount of piping in the tank. I am hoping it'll be very compact and clean.
And that is something that would connect to the canister filter?
 
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And that is something that would connect to the canister filter?
Yes, at the moment I have a glass skimmer inlet that is primarily used by freshwater aquarist (see photo). They suck water in at the top through a floating skimmer head (this removes oil and scum), whilst also sucking in at the bottom. Having that bottom suction is key or the canister would suck too strongly at the surface, pull in air and potentially run dry. I don't have any problems with the function of the glass skimmer other than I think it's overly large and juts out quite far into the tank. I am hoping this 3D printed version will function the same but will be much more compact and hidden away in the top right corner.

It should be printed in the next week or so!
 

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DeanB.reef

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I had a canister on my old 40gal tank and it did just fine with a couple fish and coral in there. The flexibility you get with the pipework being able to move the canister away from your tank easier is nice too. Canisters are also dark inside which can help a lot unlike a sump that can get light leaked into it to accelerate unwanted algae etc.

I’ve never used a sump, but the only differences I can see is the hassle of removing the lid to maintain inside and the lack of upgrades for them without buying a new unit completely. Definitely a nice way of filtration for smaller tanks.
 
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Update: So this is going to turn into a more conventional build thread as I decided to do a little upgrade when we move house in a couple of weeks, meaning I can document the set up as I go. The upgrade is partly because I figure it'll be easier to move corals/fish between two tanks rather than break down one tank and rush to set it up at the new house before things start dying, and partly because there are things I wish I had done differently now I know better (see scape below).

The new tank will be a rimless 140 litre/36 gallon opti-white low iron glass aquarium from a supplier here in the UK. It arrived the other week and it's the most beautiful tank I've ever owned (not the one in the photo below)! This is just under doubling my current tank size, so should give me more room to work and add corals. Since I am struggling to maintain NO3 and PO4 I think my current canister filtration and the reactor will work just fine on the bigger tank. Plus the 4kg of biomedia means I won't have to cycle and can just transfer everything over in one day.

I know you should not re-use the sandbed and so I have bought a bag of Caribsea Ocean Direct sand. My current substrate is a bit boring and I was always jealous of the one at my LFS that is more a mix of fine sand and larger particles and shells, which looks really natural. After I saw Ryan from BRS talking about this sand I ordered some for this build as it should create the aesthetic I am going for. Plus those ocean bacteria should help with the fact that I will be using new dry rock.

I have also gone for new lights as I hate my current ones and think they're actually affecting coral growth (PAR too low and incorrect spectrum). I've ordered a Reef Breeder Photon (known as Evergrows here in the UK) that is the same length as the tank (80cm) – I'll get some light spill but those 90-degree lenses should limit that and it'll mean I have wall to wall coverage across the length of the tank. I cannot wait to get it suspended from the ceiling in the new house!

As part of the upgrade I decided to make a new aquascape as my old one was just two piles of rock that were too close to the glass. This led to dead spots and not that much surface area to place corals. I first glued all the pieces together using the tissue/cotton superglue trick that bonds rocks pretty tightly within about 10 seconds. I then went over all the joints with sand and glue. The sand/glue bond looks really natural and is shockingly strong. As I test I tried to break some and failed, with the rock typically breaking instead.

I'm really pleased with how the 'scape turned out. It's full of arches and caves and will greatly improve flow. It's also got a lot of depth to it that doesn't come out well on the camera. I tried to essentially built a kind of a reef-shelf/drop off, such that I can places corals below others without too much shading. Something I also learnt was the importance of space around the rock for placing corals that like the sandbed – plus I just like the look of that negative space around the scape. We have about a month or so until we move so I am going to start cycling this rock with bacteria to get a bit of a head start though I am sure I'll get a lovely outbreak of algae on these new rocks. Hopefully, the live sand, corals and biomedia will also reduce this, but who knows!

What do you guys think? The board the scape is on is pretty much the same size as the tank, so gives an idea of what'll look like. It comes up to just over half the height of the tank, so plenty of room for SPS to grow. I also found these cool ceramic caves at my LFS that I might use for risky corals like GSP, which I always wanted but couldn't add to my old scape without it spreading onto the main rock.

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chris_pull

chris_pull

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Still waiting to move and set up new tank but thought I'd give a bit of an update on a recent semi-disaster that I had.

A few weeks back I cleaned out my canister filter, meaning I took out the trays of biomedia, rinsed them in saltwater and cleaned things like the propeller etc. Again, all in saltwater. There were an awful lot of pineapple sponges on the biomedia and walls of the canister; after rinsing, there was a pretty nasty slurry of sponges and other bits of detritus in the bucket. Overall though the media was fairly clean and there wasn't a lot of detritus collected in the canister.

Skip forward a week or two and I notice my kH is dropping like crazy, from about 9 to 7 dkH in the space of a week. My fish also looked stressed – not ich but a sort of weird white mucus on some of the fish (they seem fine now). I also lost a birds nest coral that was completely stripped of flesh within a few days – this is a shame as it was my first SPS and one that has always grown consistently well for me. I couldn't figure out why kH was suddenly dropping so fast and randomly came across another post about how a rise in Nitrates causes a corresponding drop in kH – typically I had just run out on my Salifert test kit but when I managed to find one (they seem to be hard to get at the moment due to Brexit?) my nitrates had risen from <1 ppm to about 25 ppm in the space of about one and a half weeks.

I am not 100% sure what happened but I figure I killed an awful lot of the sponges in the canister when I exposed them to the air during cleaning, causing an ammonia spike and subsequent nitrate spike. I doubt the nutrient spikes caused any issues (some of my corals actually look happier with the higher levels!) but the sudden kH crash was not good. It's also possible I killed some of the bacteria off when I rinsed the media.

My levels are now okay, at about 10 ppm Nitrate, 7.8 dkh alk (I wanted to drop it down lower from 9 anyway) and phosphate is about 0.08 ppm. I've whacked my algae reactor back up to full intensity and running again for 16 hours rather than the 8 I had it previously. I also started dosing Microbacter7 as if this was a new tank to help in case I did kill off some of my bacterial population. On the plus side, I seem to be cleaning the glass ess and have cleaner sand despite the higher nutrients, though that could be down to the Microbacter7/reactor out-competing algae. Additionally, a hammer that's been looking a bit unhappy is now much fluffier and perhaps needed more nutrients in the water column.

I guess this is a possible downside to a canister filter though I think the same thing could have happened with a sump. However, having a skimmer may have helped in this situation and prevented some of the damage. It also opened my eyes to the relationship between alk and nitrate – naively my first thought was that my corals were suddenly growing more! But after reading it can be due to bacterial activity. It's also made me think more seriously about investing in a KH monitor – I test about every three days but that wasn't enough in this case (though I also didn't react fast enough when I saw the drop as I couldn't explain it).

Anyway, just thought I'd share so that I don't forget about this experience and to help others.
 

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What's the first coral you ever bought?

  • An invasive soft coral

    Votes: 69 18.6%
  • Zoanthids

    Votes: 96 25.9%
  • Mushrooms

    Votes: 58 15.7%
  • Other Soft Coral

    Votes: 48 13.0%
  • LPS

    Votes: 80 21.6%
  • SPS

    Votes: 10 2.7%
  • Other (please explain)

    Votes: 9 2.4%
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