Darkrabbit's Red Sea Reefer 250... reef

darkrabbit

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Figured I'd start a build thread for this guy, changes happening all the time so it would be good to document it.

I used to have freshwater aquariums through most of my early years in life, but I am a reefing n00b. Spun the tank up (as in put rocks in it) in Nov 2018. I've wanted a salt tank for a VERY long time, and decided to start now as my little girl is obsessed with oceans and marine life. I am big on automation / IoT, hence the Apex. Automation is a must as I need to be able to leave the aquarium for 2 weeks with maybe one - two checkups on it from someone who knows nothing about them. I also have a company and some days can't give it daily attention as much as I might want to.

I'll also state I am a very active home brewer, and it's quite funny how the two hobbies cross over in terms of equipment and water chemistry :) For example, I had zero issue finding pumps for water changes, my lab grade pH meter can now point out how terrible Apex probes are, and part of my brewery has become a testing area for water and aeration of live food. I also learned just how much damage standing salt water can do to stainless steel.

I started with this, and still have it for now :)

Reefer 250 with the stock sump setup (v2)
Two AI Prime lights and gooseneck mounts
Reef Octopus Classic 110INT skimmer
2 x Current USA eFlux circulation pumps
Current USA eFlux DC return pump
Neptune Apex system with ATO (which won't fit the 250) and AFS
A pair of 150W Eheim heaters for redundancy
APC BackUPS Pro BR 1350VA (temperature drops FAST in my basement)

Also some poundage of dry rock (no idea how much) and 40lbs of live sand.

When I finished cycling my population was:

1 blood shrimp (pretty)
1 skunk shrimp (active)
2 Nassarius snails (these are incredible, love how they dig the sand and roam like the creatures in Tremors)
1 long spine urchin (little fella, room to grow)
2 scarlet hermit crabs
1 dwarf blue leg hermit crab
1 emerald crab

Why the Red Sea Reefer 250?

I wanted a full solution of very high quality. I didn't know enough about individual components and the RSR gave most of the full setup at a high quality (in terms of the tank), with a correspondingly high price. I had researched different options for up to a year but I loved how the RSR's looked, that they were consistently top rated, and that the setup time would be minimized. With all the things to concern myself with in a new saltwater setup, aquarium build quality wouldn't have to be one of them.

Size wise I went with the 250 because I didn't realize I'd be putting this in my basement, I thought it would be main or 2nd floor and weight would be a concern. I have no regrets but I would have probably gone 350 or even 425XL if I knew it would be dropped in the basement. But here we are. I'll probably end up expanding later though, maybe to even the 6 or 7 series. Who knows. Starting with a smaller tank may be much smarter anyway so I have less to deal with, you can always go up.

Here are some initial pics during assembly and deployment in November.

It's certainly well packaged. Picked this up from aquariumdepot.ca in November, he trucked it to my door the same day. It weighs a ton, I can't imagine how much work putting in an XL model would be :/

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My daughter loves her new tank :)

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And putting it together... It's basically IKEA furniture, a 3 year old can assemble it.

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The cabinet is really nice, like I said the finish is fantastic even if the guts are IKEA with a mediocre fitment.

Speaking of which, it's not a top notch cabinet. Manage your expectations. The finish is great but at the end of the day it's rough pressboard with IKEA assembly parts. It wouldn't be terribly difficult to split the wood or the parts if you overtighten, the feet are cheap plastic with a nail through them (which break easily) and I had to 'convince' some of the parts to fit together. In addition, many of the... nuts?... didn't fit flush so the caps you're supposed to use to cover the ugly holes wouldn't go in. But you're not paying for the cabinet so much, I think, as the tank itself. Regardless, keep some extra tools handy if you need to shave some wood down or drill out the holes a bit more. I'd also recommend some better feet, possibly levelling feet from Home Depot, just make sure you place them on the load points and not screw them into the side. This wood would tear like cardboard when given ~800lbs+ of shear force.

This is a RSR250v2 by the way, not the brand new one (v3) that came out literally 1 month after I bought this one. I didn't know this, which led to hilarity and more money a few months later.

-J
 
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darkrabbit

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I went to Big Al's and started to pick up rock. Myself and one of the guys there pulled everything out of a nearby aquarium and started to piece together a look. In 15 mins we came up with this:

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Stepped back... dang! That looks great! We got so lucky with this, I expected to spend 2 hrs there figuring it out. But now how to replicate at home... I took about 25 pics as he disassembled the structure piece by piece, and put it into a box with each one ID'd / labelled. I got it home and realized it's not as easy to replicate :) Took 2 hours to get everything just right, part of the issue was the sand, the rocks didn't sit the same on sand as gravel. But eventually it all settled in properly and I didn't smash any glass doing it.

Here's the other problem I ran into and something that would cause a major incident later: I didn't epoxy / add acrylic rods to this structure. They just sat on each other. I'd pay for this later, with a life.

Also, we decided the best place for the tank was in the basement. We tried several spots on the main floor and 2nd but this is not a small piece of furniture and didn't really 'fit' anywhere else. I am in the process of finishing the basement and in the end this is where it's going anyway, so might as well put it there now. Plus my home brewery was down there which provides a massive commercial sink, tons of power, and an RODI unit.

Deployed!

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The sump area.

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My tiring attempts to replicate the rock work.

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Close enough!

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I had to adjust the left side because of the sand / balance issue. Just didn't fit right. Note the foam in back to keep the glass from being smashed by my hamfisted balancing efforts.

Filling with salt water!

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I use the Red Sea Coral Pro salt. Turns out this was a good move, I've never had to add elements to the water other than my weekly 5gal water change.

All full and sitting there.

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One light only for now, I needed another gooseneck for the other light.

Next step... this weird thing I've never heard of called cycling.
 
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darkrabbit

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Cycling

This is one thing I didn't know I had to do at first: Cycling. From what I read, basically I needed to build up bacteria that could chow down on ammonia and nitrites so they don't build up when livestock is added. All the little creatures start excreting ammonia in waste, which is deadly to them. Logically it makes perfect sense that something needs to clean that up and convert it (eventually) into something harmless but as an air breather it's not something you immediately think about. We don't wade nose-deep in our own leavings, so I guess we can't expect this of marine life.

I picked up an API master test kit and decided, since I have live sand and dry rock which have little to no bacteria really, to add ammonia and 'bacteria in a bottle' to kick the cycle off (fishless). So it begins, I added 2 ppm ammonia (which was 260 drops in my tank to cover 65g in display and sump) and also added the Dr. Tim's One and Only. It took a few days, I can't recall how many, but eventually the ammonia was used up and the nitrites spiked up. So I waited probably 5-6 days for the nitrites to drop and they started to but not by much. I did some reading and didn't realize I needed to keep adding ammonia to keep the bacteria fed. Again, this makes sense but I didn't think of it at the time. So I added more ammonia, and nitrites went up, then started dropping a bit while ammonia would drop pretty fast. Cool, ammonia-eating bacteria is in there. Kept adding ammonia every 2-4 days, sometimes 1ppm sometimes 2ppm depending on how the nitrites looked. I could never get nitrites to clear in 24 hours. But weeks later all of a sudden nitrites just disappeared. Yes! So I added 2ppm ammonia, ammonia got eaten in 24h easy, waited, 48 hrs later nitrites are gone again. Kept doing this until nitrites disappeared in 36h and decided this was sufficient. We're cycled.

A few notes:
  • The cycle took ~3-4 weeks from the day I added ammonia to when the nitrites were disappearing. From what I understand this is par for the course.
  • The nitrite portion of the cycle happens insanely fast. For weeks you're seeing nothing but purple in the test then all of a sudden, boom. Light blue.
  • I don't agree at all with the bottle of Seachem Instant Ocean or whatever I had that said "Just add this to your tank and you can add fish the same day". I don't see how this process can be sped up. In my albeit limited experience you HAVE to make sure the ammonia and nitrite can disappear in 24-36h. To be fair I never used Seachem's bottle (as I forgot I had bought it in all the purchase-commotion, lol) but I used Dr. Tim's equivalent and it still took 3-4 weeks. Granted I am a noob to salt aquariums but I don't see how you can compact 4 weeks into 1 day.

Spinning up the skimmer

One thing I have noticed in the aquarium world is how woefully terrible documentation or information is. I can't believe how difficult it is for someone new to this to even find out what a skimmer is, let alone how to put one together. Rant start: Reef Octopus documentation is total and complete dog****, with few details on how to assemble their product let alone where to optimally install it. I found the skimmer aspect even more frustrating since I didn't even know how to maintain it or know that it needed to break in, wondering why it was bubbling over the top constantly. A 1 pager on assembly, placement, and a note on break-in would have been lovely, but nope. Jesus even say "for complete assembly and break in instructions go to https://www.reefoctopus.com/someactualfinginformation". Unreal. Although their website, under 'downloads' says 'coming soon'. Ok.... Thank god for R2R and Google.

Regardless, I knew I needed a skimmer and so this was recommended. It was also on sale. I did my best to muddle through assembly and everything, and it's doing skimming things.

Here's me trying to figure out what the f I am doing... obviously it's not supposed to do this lol.

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If I were to change anything I wish I had gotten the motor INSIDE the assembly. Outside sounds great for cleaning, which is how it was 'sold' to me, but it takes up more space which is at a premium in a RSR250 sump, and possibly in future sumps.

Here's something interesting, I ran it right away, as soon as I put water in the tank, before cycling. Ran about a week and it was still overflowing (breaking in I guess). When I started cycling I read that skimmers should be off, so I turned it off. Left it for 3 weeks. Then when cycling was done I turned it back on, no more overflowing. Weird. I guess it broke in just sitting there with a bunch of salt water and stuff in it?

It still took a long time for me to figure out optimal height for the bubbles, and what consistency the skimmate should be, etc. And all this could have easily been documented. Maybe I'll put together a 'noob' article on skimmers from the perspective of someone new to them, it would likely help a lot of ppl like me.

Next up, adding livestock!
 

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Wow, love all the details. Nice you had a little helper too. Looks like a great start!

 

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I have basically this same tank and I love it, the same skimmer too and it's pulling out some nice junk! I have mine sitting ins about 7.5" of water. Great post!
 
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darkrabbit

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Wow, love all the details. Nice you had a little helper too. Looks like a great start!
Thanks! Yeah she's quite involved, though if she fed the fish as often as she wanted to I'd have a major ammonia issue :)

Sounds like a great start! I love the scape! I just upgraded my 80 gallon saltwater tank to the Red Sea Reefer 750 XXL....love it!
Thanks! That's my goal as well, I love the RSR 750XXL, big fat tank :) The best part I imagine is you're not restricted on livestock. I'll probably start planning it once I gain a bit more XP with this one!

I have basically this same tank and I love it, the same skimmer too and it's pulling out some nice junk! I have mine sitting ins about 7.5" of water. Great post!
Thanks! Indeed, some of the gunk this skimmer pulls is crazy eh? It took me months to get it set the way I like but now that I know what I am doing it's pretty easy to adjust. The worst part is emptying it. Not in all my years of pet ownership have I ever had such a foul smell to deal with. I know a few friends whose gag reflex would be triggered pretty quick :) Imagine that stuff still in the tank. Yikes.

-J
 
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darkrabbit

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First Livestock

Next up I added a CUC to take care of the tank. I did quite a bit of research beforehand, making sure they all 'generally' get along. I have some pics but really didn't diligently take photos of them all when I got them. This is what I added at first:

Blood shrimp (1)

Gorgeous little guy but isn't such a fan of the skunk shrimp (scarlett). He's quiet during the day, doesn't come out much at all, but that's fine. He does his job, cleans around the tank, and is voracious for algae pellets! Sees a piece of one floating down and he hoards it immediately.

Skunk Shrimp (1)

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See above. He's not aggressive but the blood is. As long as they steer clear of each other they're ok. But this one comes out all the time. He takes care of a lot of junk around the tank for sure. He'll even clean my hand if I put it in his cleaning area :) It's a bit startling to have your hand in the tank and feel a sudden prickling sensation from a shrimp locking onto your hand. Almost whacked my urchin one time.

Nassarius snails (2)

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My favorite snail. They burrow and stir the sand up, cleaning it quite well and eating lots of stuff lying about. With the crabs I was worried that they might get nipped but the snails can whack a hermit very hard with their shell and shake them off. My Emerald got hold of one once, and the snail was able to escape his claw easily. They also lay eggs like mad, at least in my tank. I'd say minimum twice a month there's a new clutch somewhere.

Black Long Spine Urchin (1) (see pic above :))

A good cleaner of glass and rocks, and just beautiful. They don't look like much from a distance but up close they have amazing detail, little blue spots, striped spines, etc. I wanted an urchin, so despite warnings of corals getting stabbed and knocked about I picked one up. Smallest I could get so he can grow.

Scarlet Hermit Crab (2)

A reef safe crab to clean up all the junk on the bottom. Plus they look cool, and I love that they switch shells around.

Dwarf Blue Leg Hermit Crab (1)

As above, reef safe, cleans up junk, etc. Just a neat looking creature that keeps the rocks and sand free of leftovers. This one is growing like a madman, and as he always switches for a better looking shell. It's interesting to watch them shop for homes. They're very particular when purchasing real estate.

Emerald Crab (1)

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The only crab that actually looks like a real crab :) Picked him up small so I can watch him grow. Loves algae and likes to clean rocks, sand, corals, and hermit crabs. I've seen him grab a hermit crab by his shell and pick at the shell to clean it. If the hermit started to walk away he'd reach out and pull him back. You don't decide when you're clean. The Emerald decides when you're clean.


Introducing them to the tank was done through drip acclimation for a few hours. A procedure I had never heard of but was explained to me by the LFS. I added them all into some jars and dripped them then tossed the water in. What I did but I guess shouldn't have done is tossed the water back in as it included LFS water. Oh well.

First Corals

I then added some corals very shortly after. I thought I'd wait for a month or so but that didn't happen :) I think this was basically 7 days after I added the CUC. I had a no SPS policy as I don't feel I could support them yet, so stuck with LPS and Softies.

Green Tip Hammer (1)

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This guy was expensive ($190) and a definite risk for me. I wasn't sure yet whether he'd take to my tank but he was just gorgeous and I wanted him. Had 2 'heads' from what I could tell, and should do well in my tank with no other nearby corals yet for him to sting.

Kenya Tree.. Or a Colt. I think it's a Colt now. (1)

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He came from an LFS tank called "Misc. Leathers", and so I never found out what he was. Kenya tree or Colt. After all this time I think he's a Colt because he's getting large but he's not shedding. A hardy coral, so perfect for a starter.

To add them to the tank I drip acclimated them, having never heard of this thing called 'dipping'. So they went into my DT raw :) No adverse issues after over 1.5 months so I guess it's not so bad. I dip now though :)
 
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darkrabbit

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Round 2:

Later, as I saw everyone was generally getting along, I decided to add more CUC members.

Nassarius Snails (+2)

They do such a good job of stirring sand, makes sense to toss a few more in there.

Dwarf Blue Leg Hermit Crabs (+2)

They're just cool to watch :) Plus I'm big on crustaceans for CUC.

And….

Clown Fish - Ocellaris (2)

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I decided to add a few fish to the tank at this point. My daughter wanted Nemo, of course, and so did I. I got a pair of them as apparently they will get along best this way. I didn't realize how aggressive Clowns are, so I got the most tame species I could get. What's great is that these two came from the same tank and seem to be good pals. They're always together, which is great to see. They seem to love the tank and they don't bother the corals too much. Can't say they're very interesting to watch but they're competing with crabs, shrimp, and snails for attention.

Again, drip acclimation and right into the DT. Settled in no problem.

The Bloom

As the tank matured, I started to get a good algae bloom. Brown algae (diatom) and later green algae.

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While a natural part of the cycle, I didn't want to let all that food go to waste :) So I added some more members:

Mexican Turbo Snails (4)

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... getting a cleaning, oh so desperately needed.

Yes, 4. Apparently this is a lot to add but so be it. I love these guys. They rip through algae on glass, rock, anything solid. I've seen the odd hermit crab go on them and clean their shells, some have taken a little nip but these guys are big. One good knock from them and the crab is usually off. One hermit rode one like a cowboy at a rodeo once and managed to stay on for 12 seconds. Nice work.

Their cycle is basically: Eat, sleep and crap. Eat, sleep and crap. When ripping through my algae, they'd get tired and tuck themselves into the sand. When they emerged many hours later, they'd leave a dent in the sand with a not insignificant amount of snail poop. Quite the bio load.

They haven't starved yet, that's for sure. No one in this CUC has, I sometimes think I don't have enough members but I'd hate anyone to starve.

Strawberry Conch (1)

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This guy is very fascinating. I got him to help the Nassarius stir the sand, apparently they're great for it and eat like mad. Bring him home, he buries himself in the sand and lays there. For days.. Then a week… useless. I moved him to a different spot just to see what would happen. Again, buried in the sand, didn't move. Useless. So I waited and waited… 2 weeks later he emerged and tore through a huge chunk of the substrate, cleaning it. Woah, now I see why people like them. So fun to watch them move with their giant foot and long mouth. They are awkward creatures but very interesting! He even comes out during the day and does his thing. Maybe he just needed to adjust to the aquarium.

That, I decided, would be it for the CUC for now. Let's let everyone get settled, let the tank adjust to the bio load, and see what happens.

Of course I still wanted to add the odd coral..
 
Legendary Corals
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darkrabbit

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Man it's been a while since I've made an update. Life just kind of gets in the way, and lots happening with the tank.

At this stage I added 2 more corals (around Jan 2019)

Pink Gonipora (1)

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Just a beautiful coral! Easy-ish to keep apparently and would add some nice color to the tank. Through all this time he's been consistently good with steady growth.

Elegance Coral (1)

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"Easy to keep" I was told. This was my wife's pick. She saw it and instantly fell for it. I agreed, they are awesome. So we picked him up as well. I knew he wouldn't be AS easy as the others but I like a challenge and was pretty happy with my tank parameters so I went for it.

Zoanthids (1)

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Not a great pic but you get the idea. One frag anyway. These are apparently easy to keep so I could manage him, and they grow out nicely over time.

Everything was great, then:

The Great Rock Collapse (January 2019)

Just as everything was nice and steady, I added a Neptune auto feeder. I was loading it up with pellet food and realized I put too much in. When trying to take the autofeeder off the mount, the lid opened up and the food in the auto feeder all dumped into the tank! This was a code red, I needed to get the food out before it was too late so I grabbed my siphon, shut down the pumps, and started sucking up all the extra food. While doing this, I struck my rock structure with the siphon and collapsed it, with the top of the rock structure falling and hitting the Elegance Coral right on one of the polyps (square in the mouth). It immediately folded in :( Now I had a disaster on my hands, because I had to rebuild the rock structure and still get all the food out which would result in major substrate disturbance.

So that's what I did. Pulled the rock structure out, rebuilt it, this time I drilled out some holes and put acryllic rods in to hold some parts, and 3.5 hours later of cleaning and reassembly, everything was back. But the tank was in chaos in terms of having a lot of junk stirred up. All I could do at this point was wait.

The corals were so unhappy, for 2 weeks they remained retracted. Fish and inverts didn't seem to care. Nitrates spiked. Well everything did.

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Eventually as things came back to normal, sand settled, etc. I noticed the Elegance was just not doing well. Every day it got worse and worse. I tried moving it to a different spot just to see if it would do better in lower flow but nope. Eventually, Jan 29th I called it. Time of death: 19:46.

The timeline:

Initial rock hit:

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Shrinking:

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More:

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The end:

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End of the day I am really fortunate in that huge incident all I lost was an elegance. And I will absolutely get another one, they are amazing. But I planned to wait for a while first and focus on building out more of my fish, other corals, and equipment.
 
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darkrabbit

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As the tank finished recovery, I wanted to add another fish. There's one I wanted and would really make the tank pop. Unfortunately, the general consensus is installation of this fish to anything less than a 500 gallon tank is a mortal sin and requires me to pour gasoline on myself and light a match. The alternative was to put the fish in anyway and not care if it wasn't popular. So that's what I did.

Hippo Tang (1)

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I debated quite some time before adding one in, as I know they generally want lots of space to swim. But reading many posts with people who have added one successfully to a tank this size or less, with as few rocks as I have so there's lots of empty space to swim, and simply moved the fish if it got big, I decided to go for it. I got a nice small one too. This was always going to be a first tank for me until I could get the basement done and pop a larger one in. Even then, I have no issue taking him back to the store for a smaller or different fish later if plans don't work out.

Neat fish though! VERY active, fast, and loves hanging around with the clowns which I thought was odd. He found a great hiding spot in the rocks for night time or when startled. Comes out for seaweed. And does he ever brighten the tank up! He is really odd though... he'll play dead if I enter the basement at night and he's out. I would see him swimming then as I approached him he'd freeze and lie on his side. What an oddball.

Didn't stop there:

Diamond Watchman Goby (1)

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I have a genuine love / hate with this fish. I got him to clean the sand in the tank as frankly the Nassarius snails just weren't doing enough and I didn't want to add a star for various reasons. What I wasn't prepared for was the onslaught of destruction that would ensue. In summary:

- He digs around corals like my hammer which tips them over, as the sand is holding them up.
- He digs under rocks causing a bit of instability in the structure. The rocks are on the glass but glass isn't sticky. They can still move.
- He buries empty shells so the hermits can't get to them. This is more funny than anything, as he stores them under a certain rock, but it's still aggravating sometimes.
- He spits sand all over my goniporas. As they are on a lower rock, he will sometimes bury them, necessitating an immediate cleaning of the rock so the corals don't stay buried for long.
- If a frag falls off the rock, it's gone. He will take the frag and bury it. I will then need to locate it by digging around the sand and put it back. He definitely is responsible for an increase in coral glue use.

But in terms of the benefits, my sand is WHITE. It was green, likely a bloom due to the rock slide, but now it is gorgeous. So I am in a real debate here as to how to 'live life with a goby'. I can give him back and revert to my green sand. Or keep him and just arrange the tank in such a way that he can't bury everything that is on the sand. This debate continues... Plus he's easily the most interesting fish in the tank, and great to watch. He'll even pick up hermit crabs and move them :)

Next up, a whole new sump setup and some new corals!
 

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I too have committed the mortal sin, and I love my hippo. I also plan on either upgrading the tank or trading him in for a newer model. In all fairness for me though, he came with the tank I bought.

I also have a Diamond Goby - another great fish to watch. He is extremely entertaining.
 
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darkrabbit

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Sorry for my late replies, life getting in the way.

I too have committed the mortal sin, and I love my hippo. I also plan on either upgrading the tank or trading him in for a newer model. In all fairness for me though, he came with the tank I bought.

I also have a Diamond Goby - another great fish to watch. He is extremely entertaining.
Nice! They are really entertaining... but how do you deal with the general chaos? He's a PITA to my corals on the sand...

I do enjoy watching pick up and swim with hermit crabs though lol.

Well documented man.
Elegance corals are like weeds over here in Aus.
Thanks! I wish they were easier to get here, they're beautiful. I'll probably put in another maybe after the summer so I am not leaving him alone while we're away on vacation. I want to monitor him this time.

What is the new setup? With the current sump or a new sump?
Ah new sump! I replumbed everything and dropped in a new Triton sump from Crystal Reef Aquatics. RSRN-250. I'll definitely post that install.

I'll have more updates soon, stuff keeps happening I just have to find time to put it in here :)

-J
 

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My diamond doesn't do too much to the corals on the sand bed. Occasionally I have to blow sand off the disc coral or acan but usually he is just building sand dunes everywhere. Then I just play bulldozer and smooth everything down. He gets right back to work. He is the hardest working creature on my tank.
 
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darkrabbit

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My diamond doesn't do too much to the corals on the sand bed. Occasionally I have to blow sand off the disc coral or acan but usually he is just building sand dunes everywhere. Then I just play bulldozer and smooth everything down. He gets right back to work. He is the hardest working creature on my tank.
Yeah ok that's sort of what I have to do. I think I just have to adjust to him. I moved a hammer over that would often get sand piled on him as he was about 3" from a rock. Once he was more like 6-7" no more sand on him.

Yeah he's easily the hardest working thing in there. Always on the move, but sleeps like the dead at night. I still have NO idea where he goes. Under one of the rocks but which one :)
 

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