Day Late, & Always a Dollar Short!


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Feb 23, 2020
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Northeast Ohio
I've been meaning to work on this build thread, and seeing as how this is my very first foray into our wonderful salty world - I find myself with a week of vacation, and figured better late than never. Also, the timing couldn't be better as right about the Fourth of July here in the states, will mark the 1-year mark for this tank. Without further ado, here we go!

This tank is a labor of love, but I will say has been SUCH the learning lesson as I go. I know the community preaches planning, research, and avoiding mistakes, but inevitably I think we're all going to run into them, so I suppose I'll brave it enough to share the bunch of them I've made thus far. "...Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it..." or something like that, right?

This tank was a gift to me, hence the 'typical' 55 gallon size. Quickly after my visions of a stunning reef faded, I learned that a 55 is thought of as less than ideal due to the odd dimensions... but I was determined to make it work, and enjoy what I was given.

After bringing the tank to it's location in the house, I started playing with where the stand and tank would fit in the room scheme...

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Long way to go, and so much to START learning...

A forty minute - 30 mile drive on a random weekend netted a few cheap buys from the nearest big box pet store, I had low expectations, but ended up finding some sand and salt (that I had at least heard of to that point) so I went ahead and grabbed what I could to at least have something on hand.

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So, salt, sand, how hard could this really be? :oops:o_O

Live rock was where my research began to get muddy. Or rather lack of access to live rock. Here in Ohio, I've quickly realized reef tank keeping isn't quite the norm, for a few miles anyway, and I just kept reading horror stories and watching videos of these awful hitchhikers that were destroying folks tanks, or causing headaches as tanks matured years later. Needless to say, I decided dry rock would be alright for me and I'd just have to have the patience to clean it up, wait out a couple months for a cure of sorts, and move forward. Found a box of 55lbs online, decided to go for it.

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Getting things ready to rinse and clean up for curing...

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Now, my first 'questionable' decision was made here. After thoroughly cleaning these rocks for an entire day, I came to the realization that the premium of real estate here at the house / farm - it wasn't going to be easy for me to just take a Brute can and leave it in everyone's way - for several months with a powerhead, heating element and filled up with saltwater to allow these things to 'mature' in the recommended method. I have a 55 gallon empty tank waiting to be filled up, right? Well, might as well just start aquascaping that and allow the tank to sit fallow for a few months. Hindsight is 20/20 and I'm right down the middle of the road on this decision. I was patient enough to not rush any livestock for 4 months, and when I did I started with just a couple of hearty specimens, but more on that later.

The first take on the scape, it has in fact changed slightly and I think for the better, but this was where we started...

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Now, since I was already questioning this dry rock being IN the tank, I figured it wouldn't be a bad idea to use the pre-packaged junk equipment that came with the tank (HoB filter, heating element and some cheap LED's) to essentially make this a 'nicer' curing area for the rock and move some water around, and keep temps stable (I'll use that term loosely here) for the time being. Back to filling the tank with some sand and making sure things were stable.

After a full day of doing it the painful way, mixing bucket after bucket - but getting the water in there, seeing it start to come together was rewarding. Also, not sure why these older pics were so out of balance, I promise you guys I checked levels, multiple times, before and after filling, so apologies for my shaky camera holding, but hey at least I was documenting the process.

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After about a solid 48 hours, things were dissipating a bit and settling out...

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After the month of July, I had done enough reading and knew that I needed to get flow going in this thing before any inhabitants could arrive. Now I must say that flow is still stumping me to this day, and I'm a heavy handed person, if a pump says that it's great for tanks up to 50 gallons? My foolish self will start thinking, oh that extra couple of gallons is probably going to require something bigger. I loved the idea of these gyre pumps, and that they had what seemed like great controllability right out of the box. My shoestring budget at the time meant that I was looking into the IceCap brand, as the Maxspects were just out of my range. Here was probably a 'mistake' of sorts again, I picked up the 3K rather than the 1K at the time, feeling that if this was too much flow, I could de-tune it rather than find out that on it's highest setting it was still too weak. Well, these things move a TON of water - awesome, but boy was I not ready for that. I tried multiple configurations, vertical, horizontal, either side, etc. Eventually settling on the left side of the tank shooting that sheet across the top. I figured as long as fish I would add in the future could handle it, I had time to fine tune or even change out pumps if and when I would get into corals.

I also learned the hard way that one of the biggest drawbacks to these 55 gallon tanks - the narrowness front to back - also left me virtually NO room for this 3K pump, but with some simple DIY mods on the end caps of the pump, I was able to make it work without any damage or issues. Whew. One crisis averted...

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A makeshift wooden frame to raise these cheap LED's off the tank as I knew they would be getting replaced and I was liking the idea of the tank not being so 'choked' out with the top sealed up. They'll do for now...

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Now there was a lull in the activity for a few months and I essentially just continued researching, planning and learning what I could. In preparation for livestock and seeing how the tank would develop. I loved the idea of a sump and clearly understand the benefits, but my then budget and space constraints in the room just wouldn't allow for one, so I was going to have to come to terms with some quality hang on equipment and just make stability and simplicity my mantra until I was able to step up. One of the first changes I would make (oh that dreaded c-word) was to start buying Tropic Marin Pro Reef salt. I'm a very budget oriented guy, but I just seemed to have days go by when I would mix up Instant Ocean and felt like I always had a haze even after a few, I just thought, if I'm looking for pro results, I'm going to go ahead and spend the extra money on a quality product. So far, one year in zero complaints. Super consistent for me. Went ahead and invested in a name brand heater prior to winter coming to the buckeye state, a refractometer, a few small pumps for salt mixing and just to have in emergencies, and some other odds and ends, gravel vac, and a Hanna thermometer, etc. Maybe things will come around sooner than later?

After making sure my cycle had completed, I had used the ammonia dosing method, and testing regularly, when the ammonia was processed, and nitrite had found it's way to nitrate, I knew we were ready to go. The first inhabitants? A lovely pair of what I believe were Darwin Clowns. The nearest LFS to me had a decent selection and they were captive bred, so I definitely wanted to support a local business. Brought the guys home, got them acclimated as it's actually a long drive, and got them into the tank!

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Now, bringing us about halfway through my forray to current day, and hands down my biggest mistake to date - my next livestock choice. Cue the 'Tang Police' and PETA... I brainwashed myself a bit much on livestock choices, and despite the research, decided that a Kole Tang would be acceptable. Well, several issues arose here - obviously this tank is a bit small, she would also require plenty of nori, which would add some additional time and effort on my part, but the biggest problem and the one that would forever alter my progress, was where I sourced her from and my lack of quarantine. She same in looking fat, happy, and no visible issues. Who can say what brought it about, and hell it could have been the clowns, but I was to have my first and hopefully ONLY encounter of marine velvet. It struck the clowns first, and as great as they had been, they went down FAST. I barely had time to notice what was going on, let alone know the procedures to take. The first clown was gone, no trace whatsoever - assuming they went down in the night, and the CUC (at that time a few turbo snails) most likely did their job, or just one of those times where you swear up and down that they just vanish with no trace. The next couple days the Tang was being more and more sluggish, and in the same day that I noticed her being much more idle, I found her passed and removed and gave her a proper farewell, vowing to never make the same mistake. Back to work the next morning, upon returning home the final clown had gone, and I also removed and bid them goodbye. Truly devastated, frustrated with myself for knowing better and still proceeding... Lessons learned, but I certainly gave them the best go I could.

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I spent a week or two with the tank and only the Turbo's around, debating if I could even do this moving forward. After a couple weeks, spending time researching, I elected to try a fallow period and just let the parasites go through their cycle with no livestock to multiply. Shout out to the couple forums here on R2R that gave me the info I needed to feel confident enough to know that I was starving the buggers out and using the time to plan a path forward.

Knowing that I also wanted to add corals in the future, I needed to get lighting behind me and what a better time. Having my equipment relatively basic and trying to stay simple, I wanted to try something different than all the Radions and Kessils. I decided to go with the Maxspect Razor X R5 200w. I loved the idea of the pre-installed legs, and the fact that I could avoid having to tap into my 10ft high ceilings. LED also spoke to me because of the controllability. Now things were starting to look like a reef tank...

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My first order from WWC came in, I went with the indestructible Green Star Polyps, and a half dozen Trochus snails, as the Turbos had passed as well. Initial research on those guys told me that they arguably weren't going to last long, and I loved the idea of Trochus being a bit more durable and even potentially breeding in captivity.

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Two months later, things were going just fine, and I had stumbled across the idea of a refugium. I absolutely fell in the love with the idea of this concept for a tank, the natural filtration approach, and the haven for copepods and other critters was exactly the sort of mindset I wanted to employ. Sticking with my simple and somewhat obtrusive gear, I found the CPR Aquafuge, and picked up a medium sized unit, as well as a simple Eheim HoB filter to run some carbon in and keep things tidy. These fuges are really well made, the acrylic is crystal clear, super sturdy, and short of the standard pump that comes bundled with it - I think a great buy for a build like this. BRS had just made a video about these things at the time, and the waterproof Tunze light seemed like the perfect fit as well. Grabbed some clean chaeto from Algae Barn, and a couple bottles of their 5280 pods to add in with everything.

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As I had been religious with my weekly water changes of 10%, I started getting ready to add a new coral or two, as the GSP was looking just fine and my biggest hurdle was trying to figure out where to put it without losing control of the rock work. I decided to try my hand at a Favia. Being in Ohio, I stumbled across Than and the crew at Tidal Gardens, I loved that they were in Ohio, and his videos had been a valuable source for a newbie like me, so I decided to give them a shot and grabbed a Moon Stone favia frag during one of their Live Sales. Arrived nice and timely and what a clean frag! Not a spot on this thing and the coral looked beautiful. Had the perfect spot picked out already and was excited dip it, and get it into the tank.

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What I did find in the meantime, on my GSP plug, was some kind of intruder that was nowhere near visible upon introduction to the tank. One evening I decided to bite the bullet, pull the frag and so some surgery as the GSP wasn't necessarily withering but wasn't thriving like most folks say it will. This is what I found...

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Vermetid Snails! No wonder the poor guy was struggling this thing found it's way right onto the center of the GSP. Looked it over super closely and think that I got extremely lucky in getting it removed before they got everywhere. The favia was doing great, even as a slow grower I was noticing it slowly encrusting outward, but again, pure progress was about to be set back. I had shopped around, exchanged a few messages, and found a seller who was willing to quarantine some new fish for me for a month, in order to keep a tighter grasp on what they were exposed to. I started with a pair of Picasso clowns. I'll have to get a much clearer picture of them in the future, as they've grown quite a bit already. I also stumbled upon two of my now favorite tank inhabitants, and arguably the most unique ones I have to date - a tiger tail sea cucumber, and ROCK FLOWER ANEMONES. These would become my love and where I think my tank will move forward with into the future, I just love the aesthetic, the colors, and the hardiness. Tidal Gardens supplying the anemone, and Vivid Aquariums supplying the Tiger Tail. Both arrived super healthy, acclimated well and are still thriving today! In the meantime, I had grabbed a couple other deals, and found a great Tri-Color Blastomussa Wellsi, and an absolutely stunning Mint Chocolate Chip Acanthophyllia (The Blasto is still around and doing ok, the Acantho is on it's death bed as I think it just couldn't mesh with my tank, and has broken my heart. I tried everything to keep him happy).

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Now the keen eyes may notice, the brown crud showing up on the sand... This was not diatoms, this tank was somewhere around 8-10 months at this point and I was using a 4-stage BRS RODI unit. Little did I know my largest battle was starting and it was a worthy adversary and would present me with my 2nd largest setback and no clear way forward. I started noticing a smell from the water, the buildup was developing during the day cycle of lighting and seemed to recede at night. Again R2R to the rescue, and my fears were aligning with what folks were sharing as dinoflagellates. To summarize this a bit, I was panicked. I had just gotten things going post my first pest issue, and with these new additions, I did NOT want to lose anybody. The information feels so conflicting on dinos. I hope that in the very near future we are able to come up with a concrete set of rules for future reefers and outbreaks. Over time I tried a few, I reduced filtration time / methods, began dosing Nitrate and Phosphate as my levels did show 0's, and not much seemed to be helping. I did end up 'losing' my favia. He VERY quickly started to recede, and the tissue just began to dissolve seemingly overnight. Was absolutely heartbroken with this after seeing him do so well! The GSP hung in there, while coloration and growth seemed to dull a bit, the polyps were still extending, the anemone hung in as well. It actually ended up multiplying as I now have 3 babies of the same coloration and look, so whether the stress / toxins of the dinos prompted it, or the small Alk swings that I started having issues with from the dinos as well. Too hard for me to say. I tried bacteria dosing, with Microbacter 7, a three day blackout of the lights and tank (which IMO just added unneeded stress) and the dinos hung tight, and keeping nutrients at detectable levels just wasn't working. I started with a weekly siphoning of the sandbed, and it didn't matter.

I didn't get many good pictures of the dinos at this time, I was too preoccupied with defeating the things, but I did pick up a good microscope and was able to find a few when I took a sample from the sandbed and shook it up in a vile, removed some water and gave it a look see. Here's what I found positively ID'ing them.

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After my failed attempts at eradicating the things, I just thought, I need to leave things alone, if some loss happens, it's going to happen but I can't keep reaching in the tank every day, blowing them loose, potentially spreading them easier, moving corals and irritating them, etc. Well, for better and worse, this worked. The good didn't happen without losses, and heartbreaking at that - the favia tissue receded, which is now essentially a skeleton that algae has tried to take over, but I see a single polyp still colored, so it will stay and I'll let it try to see if it can ever come back. The Acanthophyllia withered away and is still in the tank as well, moved just an inch or so closer to the rock structure to try and provide it some shelter from the flow but the tissue is starting to recede and expose skeleton and I'm noticing the mouth seems open more than it should be so my hopes have relatively diminished as well. I've tried multiple supplemental feedings giving it nearly an hour of no flow to allow it to try and take something in and I would be shocked if more than a couple pellets over a few days have actually been digested. I just think it may be too far gone. Breaks my heart so much with such a pricey, stunning specimen.

With this more recent setback, I wanted to really lean into my personal beliefs when it comes to keeping the tank, going against the grain at times. I wanted a system to kind of control the majority of things and minimize water changes when they weren't needed. Enter Triton. I realize it's a newer method in the grand scheme of things but if it helps me conserve water on occasion and can help me keep better insight into my tank than just my own speculation and reading forum posts, I'm willing to commit and give it a shot. We're about a month into it, using the Core7 line and my initial ICP test being done the last week of May. Things were actually fairly close to my regular testing, and the only parameter that Triton dubbed out of whack was a high level of Zinc. Recommending a series of 6 weekly water changes to reduce the level, this week will be my final water change. I have another ICP and N Doc test arriving in the next day to check out the numbers after my water changes, so it will be exciting to see if it has helped.

For the time being the tank is better stabilized for sure, the clowns - Frieda and Pablo as they are aptly dubbed - are thriving, I have added a beautiful Forktail Blenny who is too cute and inquisitive every time I approach the tank, and my most recent addition for my birthday this month was a stunning Melanuras Wrasse - what a hog this guy is :D. He just wants food all day, every day, but so much personality and always patrolling the tank for pests.

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I've settled on my idea of a Rock Flower style garden of sorts as I just love the little guys and they seem to stay strong regardless of my errors. I have two more on the way tomorrow from Tidal Gardens, Happy Birthday to me! Hoping to do a better job and keep much shorter posts here in the future to make it easier to keep up with, but this is my first year of reefing in a nutshell, couldn't have done it without the help of a few folks and their posts here, so look forward to sharing with you guys! (I'll try to get a decent pic of the wrasse as I don't have any yet, he spent his first four days hiding out in the sand but now comes out and likes to stay up late, not unlike myself!)

Also, a very special shout out to Paul B - I know he's a popular guy here, but when I found your book available on Amazon, and myself being a failed English Major in college, knew I would laugh hysterically and also learn - picking a copy was happening without a doubt. What gets me on a personal level is that you donated the profits to MS research. My Mother has had MS for almost 20 years now, and she is still keeping on! Best of wishes to your wife, and everyone else suffering from a similar issue. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and if I could convince my farmer neighbors / friends that reef tanks are more fun than bailing hay and planting crops, I'd buy them all a copy to support. A reefers work is never done, right? ;)
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  • 5% - 10%

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  • 20% - 30%

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  • 30% - 40%

    Votes: 7 2.5%
  • 40% - 50%

    Votes: 5 1.8%
  • 50% or more

    Votes: 1 0.4%
  • No water change is worth it

    Votes: 7 2.5%
  • Not sure

    Votes: 6 2.2%
  • Other (please explain in the thread)

    Votes: 12 4.3%
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