First Reef Tank – Fluval Evo 13.5

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Les Poissons

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Hi everyone, another Fluval Evo 13.5 build thread here. I’m a little more than 4 months in, so I figured if I’m ever going to get a build thread done on this it better be now. I have a lot to catch up on, so this will probably come in several posts over the next few days.

As with many others, this is my first reef tank. It was intended to be a Christmas gift to my daughter (which it was, and it’s still in her room), but it has turned into a part time job for me as well. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, but it was somewhat rushed, and in hindsight I would definitely have gone with a different tank. That said I’m always up for a challenge, and I’ve had to learn a lot very quickly to keep this small tank in decent shape.

To get going, here’s the equipment and materials I started with, although I've made some changes along the way:


Tank: Fluval Evo 13.5
Light: Stock Evo Light
Return Pump: Stock Pump
Heater: Fluval M50
Circulation Pump: Sicce Nano 1000
Protein Skimmer: Fluval PS2

Rock: Carib Sea Life Rock
Sand: Carib Sea Arag-Alive Sand

Testing: API Saltwater Master Test Kit


We had a trip planned over the holidays, so we made the tank an early Christmas gift and got things set up to complete most of the cycle while we were gone. We returned from our trip and everything seemed to be going as planned. The ammonia and nitrite were gone and I was now measuring NO3. For good measure, I dosed a little more ammonia which was converted to NO3 again in a day or two.

Now that we were a month in (which my daughter swears felt like a year), we headed off to pick up here first fish and a small CUC. She chose a black and white clownfish (I know, I know, probably not the best way to start), and we picked up a couple of hermit crabs and Astraea snails. We also bought some Seachem Stability at the advice of the LFS and started dosing daily to shore up the biofilter.

I can’t find any pics from the initial setup, but here’s the tank after a month when we added the clown:
Photo Jan 11, 8 53 50 PM.jpg


I haven’t been super happy with the aquascape, but again this was somewhat rushed and the rocks were all that I could find at the time. It’s a little hard to tell, but that’s a cave on the left and the rick on the top right has a nice little point that comes out towards the middle of the tank. Still, I ended up with a fairly flat front face of the rock on the right side so I had to address that later. Also, because the location of the tank in my daughters room will only allow for viewing from the front, I kept the rock towards the back.

Next, against the advice of my LFS, I decided to go ahead and put in a few inexpensive corals. I started with the sale section at World Wide Corals and ordered 1 whammin watermelon zoas, 1 pulsing xenia, and one green birdsnest. I was very confused when two boxes showed up at my door each containing the same order, and I was pleasantly surprised when WWC said “our mistake, you can just keep the extra corals”. Nice way to start. Also picked up a ricordea and a green star polyp frag on a live sale the following week.

So one month in… 8 corals in the tank, one clown fish, and a CUC. Trying to go slow, but also trying to keep a little girl happy who struggles at times with patience. A few early coral pics before I got some decent filters for the iPhone:


Photo Feb 03, 2 30 22 PM.jpg


Photo Feb 09, 9 21 39 AM.jpg


Pulsing Xenia, growing like weeds already:
Photo Feb 03, 2 31 35 PM.jpg


Photo Feb 03, 2 30 02 PM.jpg


"Charlie" the crab sitting on the new ricordea:
Photo Jan 31, 10 21 49 AM.jpg
 
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Les Poissons

Les Poissons

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Keep us posted! Looks good but be ready for a case of the uglies and don't be surprised if you lose a couple of those corals.
Thanks. Went through a short period with diatoms, as is normal, and had a few dinos show up, but so far I've been able to keep things looking pretty good. So far I'm feeling fortunate that I've been able to keep things in pretty good shape.
 
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Les Poissons

Les Poissons

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My first post included the most significant steps in the first month of our new reef tank. This one will cover month 2… from about mid-January to mid-February.

I did a lot of reading and watching videos over the first month after setting up the tank. I also stopped by several nearby fish stores to see if I could learn a little from them and to see if one seemed like a better fit for us than the others. After many hours of collecting and processing information, and after having lived with the tank for a month, I decided to make a few changes. We were not really having any issues with the tank, but I wanted to take some steps to potentially avoid future issues and also to make management of the tank a little easier.

The first change was to replace the stock foam media insert in chamber 2 of the sump with a 3D printed media basket from 3dOcean. Most people seem to go with the option from inTank, but I liked the design of the 3dOcean as I thought it would do a better job routing all of the flow from chamber 1 up to the top of chamber 2 and then down through all of the media. In general I’ve been happy with the 3dOcean chamber 2 insert, but I did need to wedge a little piece of plastic between the basket and the sump wall to get it to fit snug enough. Before I did that I was having bubbles from the protein skimmer slide past the insert and directly into the return pump chamber…and then into the display. Along with the new chamber 2 insert I switched to filter floss and a bag of Purigen, so now I’m running the skimmer in chamber 1, and filter floss, Purigen, and a bag of charcoal in chamber 2.

3dOcean chamber 2 media basket
3DOcean Chamber 2.jpg


Okay, so that was probably unnecessary, but seemed like a good thing to do to better control filtration and give me more media options. The next additions seemed more critical: a temperature controller and an ATO solution.

Living in Florida, our house generally doesn’t get very cold. I found heat from the light, pumps, and skimmer to be more of a problem, especially with the stock hood on the tank. We set up a small fan to cool the light and cause a little evaporation through the feeding hole and the sump (where I removed the cover), but we needed something to control this. Solution: Inkbird ITC308S. The Inkbird has been great and keeps the tank within 1 degree of 78° at all times. I highly recommend this product.

Inkbird ITC308S:
Inkbird Temp Controller.jpg


One problem though with the fan running so often to keep the tank cool…evaporation. I’m home a lot and was able to keep the tank topped off with fresh water, but I was worried about long weekends or vacations, so enter the need for an ATO system. Another trip to the LFS and I came home with a Reef Breeders ATO. At first I just used a large mason jar for a reservoir, but ended up buying a 2.5L dosing container on Amazon. Another problem solved, another $100 invested in the tank. I can see where this is going.

Reef Breeders Prism ATO:
Prism ATO.jpg


Next preventative item, knowing I will need it this summer anyway… battery backup. We have so many thunderstorms in SW Florida that we are pretty much guaranteed to lose power at least once a week. Usually it’s a momentary thing, but sometimes it’s out for a few hours. After reading some stories on forums like Reef2Reef I decided to pick up an APC battery backup and surge protector. It's not going to get me through a hurricane, but I think it will run the pumps for at least a couple of hours anyway.

As far as livestock in month 2: I ordered 3 trochus snails, 2 nassarius snails, another hermit crab, and a fire shrimp from Reef Cleaners. Besides the hermit crab, none of the above were available from my local fish stores. I generally like to shop local, but I must admit that I haven’t been blown away by the stores in my area at this point. Anyway, back to the crew from Reef Cleaners… all arrived well packed and alive. Everything seemed to go well with acclimation until the fire shrimp was dead the next morning. Our first livestock loss. All water parameters were in normal range, and I grabbed a copper test kit which came back at 0. The shrimp was quite large, so maybe just a bit old and couldn’t handle the stress of the shipping? In any case, John at Reef Cleaners was on top of it and refunded the cost of the shrimp right away. Excellent customer service. Wish I knew what the cause of death was, but given the health of everything else in the tank we decided to roll the dice and order another. More on that in the next update.

The tank as it looked in mid-February:
IMG_1175.JPG
 
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Les Poissons

Les Poissons

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I’m now up to mid-February 2022 in my effort to get this build thread caught up to present day. Month 3 was another month of significant activity with the tank, both in terms of equipment changes and livestock.

We had a 10 day vacation planned for my kids’ Spring Break, and while we were only going to be about 90 minutes away it would hardly be convenient to drive home to check on the tank. Not exactly the best timing for a long break from a new nano tank. To address this challenge, I decided that I needed to make several equipment changes to improve automation.

First up was a new circulation pump for the display. The Sicce Nano 1000 was operating as it should, but I was unhappy with the rather significant and narrow flow. I also wanted something that would have some variation in flow but I didn’t want to break the bank on it either. I ended up going with an Aqamai KPS despite the many bad reviews of the software. I’m a reasonably tech savvy person and figured I could make it work. It turns out that the software is indeed terrible and wouldn’t display properly on my iPhone (12 Pro Max) making the pump unusable – that is until I loaded the software onto an old iPad. Now with the software (mostly) functional, I was able to set up a program for the pump that fit my tank. Software issue aside, I really like this pump. It’s small, quiet, easy to position in the tank, and the flow pattern is quite adjustable. I guess the pump has been discontinued now, but I’m glad I got my hands on one. Jumping ahead to late March 2022… Hydor finally updated their software and I can now control it from my iPhone.

KPS in the tank. I really like the way it sits like a little egg in a cup. So much more adjustable than the Sicce pump I had.
IMG_1666.JPG


Next was the light. The stock light on the Evo 13.5 basically runs whites or blues, but nothing else. It also doesn’t have any automation, so it either requires you to turn it on and off manually each day or to use a timer or smart plug. The only thing I could find to take it’s place while still keeping the stock lid was the Fluval Sea Marine 3.0. It’s not perfect, but it fits nicely into the existing hole in the lid. I love that I’m now able to fully control the various color channels of the light as well as the timing. The total output of the light seems a little lower than the stock light, but so far all of the corals seem to be happy.

Here's the new light in place (it's looking a little dirty because the pic is after about 6 weeks). You can see how it fits in the hole in the lid, resting on the extension arms.
IMG_1667.jpg


Automating the twice daily feeding of the fish was the next item on my list. The Eheim everyday fish feeder seems to be the most recommended feeder out there, and the form factor and price were right, so that’s what I bought. I wasn’t sure how I would set it up on the tank with the lid in place, but I was very pleased to find that it clamps perfectly onto the fully extended arm of the Fluval Sea Marine 3.0 light and just happens to line up with it's little sliding food door directly over the top of the feeding hole in the stock lid. It’s like the three pieces were meant to go together. I did have to use some tape on the feed door to make it even smaller than the first setting as many others have done. Pretty easy fix.

Eheim feeder in place, mounted to the fully extended arm of the new light.
IMG_1665.JPG


Lastly, I picked up a couple of Defiant smart plugs from Home Depot so I can control the run time of the skimmer and also shut down the return pump for a few minutes each time the feeder runs. Previous to that the pellets would be immediately sucked into the overflow. At first I tried a feeding ring, but apparently our clownfish isn’t smart enough to figure that out. Now I just have the pump shut down a couple minutes before the feeder runs and then kick back on a few minutes later. It works perfectly, and the app is super easy to use and program. As a safety precaution I added a few additional “turn on” commands to the return pump throughout the day in case I forget to start it back up after working on the tank. That has come in handy a couple of times. Anyway, these are great little plugs, and I’m also using the software to control other lighting in the house. Highly recommended for an inexpensive solutions to problems like this or just for other home automation. They are also Alexa enabled – not a feature I use for the reef tank, but I do use that for other lights around the house.

Defiant Plug.JPG


So that’s it for hardware. Pretty bust couple of weeks. Now onto the livestock…

Fire shrimp #2 arrived along with a couple of very small (and inexpensive) ricordeas, and I went to work acclimating it and stressing over its every move. Like the previous fire shrimp, it seemed to adjust well on day one. Good news on day 2…still alive. 100% better than the first shrimp. Then the morning of day 3…dead shrimp near the mouth of the cave. Oh man, not again! I was thinking there must be some parameter off or some undetected contaminant killing the shrimp. I decided I shouldn’t let him lay there and foul the tank so I grabbed some long tweezers to pull him out. As I did I noticed movement in the cave that looked like shrimp antennae… sure enough, there he was. The dead body in the tweezers was just a molt. Huge sigh of relief. Still, I think we’ll wait a while before adding another fisht or shrimp to make sure things settle in. I wonder how many first time reefers have had the same freak out I did with their first shrimp molt?

What does one do with a new reef tank right before vacation? Fill it with corals of course! I ended up getting sucked into a WWC eBay sale one Monday night and just kept going once I had won one auction. I mean, you have to spread the cost of shipping across several items to make it work, right? I think it was 7 or 8 corals in the end. Fortunately none were very expensive and I was willing to take the risk. I got the corals into the tank a few days later and since things were looking so good I decided it would be fun to get in on the WWC live sale the next weekend. That one cost a little more, but I ended up with a bunch or great corals, but still nothing over $30 or so.

Of course right as all of this was happening, I began to wonder if the some of the brown ugliness on my sand was more that diatoms. It just seemed like I had gone through that phase already. Fortunately I have a friend with a decent microscope and was able to look at a sample. Not the dinoflagellates I had feared, but not diatoms either. Some kind of very small, fast moving critter that nobody has been able to identify as of yet. No matter, they were gone in a week, but it turns out my phosphate level had dropped to zero (which I thought was good) and small amount of dinos were starting to appear. Took some quick action through heavier feeding and dosing NeoPhos to get PO4 levels back to around 0.08 and things seemed to stabilize. The tank needs NeoPhos everyday though - I guess the rock is absorbing it – so I had to call in my father-in-law to dose .5ml on the days he was in town while I was away. Fortunately that all worked out and I came home to a tank with a PO4 level of 0.05.

One more issue to deal with before Spring Break. Somehow an aiptasia made it into the tank. It was in a tough spot, wedged into a hole into the rock on the bottom of the tank. I didn’t think I could get it out without major disruption to the tank so I opted for an injection of boiling hot RO water and then quickly entombing it in the hole with Tunze Coral Gum. I think I was successful as it has been almost 8 weeks and I haven’t seen another aiptasia.

Off on Spring Break, Wyze cam set up to view the tank, and fingers crossed that I wouldn’t return to a disaster.

Here's a view of the tank from early March, right before we left for Spring Break. You can see that I also added several small rocks in front of the main rock structure so that I had more real estate on which to place all that new coral.
Photo Mar 09, 11 33 39 AM.jpg
 
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Les Poissons

Les Poissons

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Well the tank made it through our first 10 day vacation without any major issues. No significant upgrades or changes to the build since that time, other than putting a blue background behind the back glass to hide cords.

I did buy some coral from another live sale (Unique Corals), so now the tank is pretty much stuffed full. Time to let it grow out.

It doesn’t look like I took any full-tank shots again until mid-April, but here’s a look at some of the corals in late-March:

Photo Mar 23, 1 47 15 PM.jpg


Photo Mar 23, 7 32 36 PM.jpg
Photo Mar 24, 2 17 13 PM.jpg
Photo Mar 23, 7 31 01 PM.jpg
 
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This post officially catches me up to date on my Fluval Evo 13.5 build.

Only 1 change this month… the addition of a Kamoer X1 Pro 2 dosing pump. I imagine I’ll eventually use this for alkalinity or for all for reef, but for now I’m using it to handle my PO4 needs. Having to dose about 1 ml of NeoPhos daily in my evo too keep levels constant between 0.05 and 0.08. Not sure where the phosphate is going… being absorbed by the dry rock is my first thought. Maybe some being used by the soft corals as well? In any case, keeping the number in the single digit ppb range seems to have helped with the dinos I had. Some people complain about a difficult setup with the pump, but if you have the ability to run a separate 2 GHz Wi-Fi network it’s really easy and works very well.

Some updated photos of my tank/coral to show how things look after about 4.5 months:

Full tank shot :
30AA9562-0837-4ABA-831A-2B943A69B2BC.jpeg


Fire shrimp coming out to say hello:
3D0E63EC-CF2C-4D23-A818-1EA3B33542B3.jpeg


Starting to see some growth with these favites:
37F2272F-1934-411F-8EBD-3F0FAAB3D3D4.jpeg


Duncan growing more heads (one visible here, one on the back):
EFF48BAD-A480-4169-854F-EC895AAFB068.jpeg


Halle Berry zoas growing quickly:
188C4552-1162-4D50-B939-29AA6155F809.jpeg


Happy Yuma from Unique Corals:
73A3A0FB-EB59-4F79-806E-FA3D4B3A4F0C.jpeg



Our first Ricordea. Not growing quickly, but seems happy. This is still one of my favorites:
69699FE2-3284-470F-8728-F9EE244A0147.jpeg
 
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Did you start off in the reef hobby buying used equipment? Do you still use pre-owned equipment? (Choose all that apply)

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