Skimmerless since 1997

Timfish

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Better late than never, right! :D Here's a current video of a system I set up in 1997. Initially it was in a 110 gallon, moved to a 200 in 2000, moved to a new location in 2007 and moved to a 240 gallon in 2009. Animals that are from the first year it was set up include a green brittle star (estimated age is 25 - 30 years old), mushrooms, and orange/green zoas and cabbage coral. Unfortunately in 2016 we lost all of the original fish when a new BTA clone crawled in FRONT of a wavemaker within hours of splitting which ripped it open and killed almost all the fish. The Toadstools are daughter colonies from a wild colony original to the system which died in 2017 when the tank dropped to 68° when there was a heater failure. The Pagoda coral was added in 2000 and probably weighs around 30 + lbs. The other notable coral is the Sinualria foliata (Ofwegen 2008), one of the green fingers from Palau. The original frag was bought in 1997 and a colony from that frag was added in 2003 to this system. ( In 2011 I sent a sample to Micheal P. Janes, one of the foremost authorities on soft corals, who identified it as Sinularia foliata.) "Filtration" is just a cryptic sump, no reactors, filter socks, etc. Use of GAC, GFO and HCO3 (bicarb) is sporadic. New sand is added occasionally sometimes some old sand is removed at teh same time.

 

Amboss72

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So cool! I go back to the days before skimmers and all this new equipment that new reefers think they need to enter the hobby. More biology, less technology. That sounds like I’m against all the progress the hobby has made in technology, I’m not. I’m just making a point that I often find new reefers have spent more time on trying to figure out equipment than understanding the biology of the ocean in a water box. How often are you doing water changes on this tank?
 
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Timfish

Timfish

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Thank you! :)

So cool! I go back to the days before skimmers and all this new equipment that new reefers think they need to enter the hobby. More biology, less technology. That sounds like I’m against all the progress the hobby has made in technology, I’m not. I’m just making a point that I often find new reefers have spent more time on trying to figure out equipment than understanding the biology of the ocean in a water box. How often are you doing water changes on this tank?
There certainly has been some beneficial developments in technology for reef aquariums. Sadly the increased knowledge of what the biology is doing has not shared the same interest. Pointedly, this has been noted by researchers "Although captive breeding and propagation of corals is a well-known activity among aquarium hobbyists and public aquariums, the link between coral science and aquaculture is still poorly developed". Like you said many new reefers spend a lot of time and money on equipment and don't understand most of it is peripheral to being successful. It's also disappointing to see when an aquarists has a problem they're told they have to buy a certain piece of equipment they don't need, it's not at all surprising there's such a high failure rate. One of the pivotal moments for me was a couple decades ago. It was a very short conversation I had with a director of an infectious disease department at a local hospital about cycling marine aquariums and she pointed out that medical science was strting to look at any bacteria thriving outside it's normal environment as a pathogen. Like PaulB tried to point out decades ago it really is all about the bacteria. Work done by researchers like K. B. Ritchie or Forest Rohwer among others have now shown how critical the right microbial balance in a coral's holobiont is for a coral to thrive long term and how easy it is to screw it up.

This system gets small water changes weekly. Usually it's 15 gallons salt water and 5-10 gallons freshwater.

Beautiful. I feel like I've asked you this before but is there air pumps creating those bubbles? What are you using for flow overall?
Could be, I've posted older videos other places. There's a MAg 9.5 in the sump and two air pumps in the tank.
 
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andrewkw

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So you are not using any powerheads or closed loop? Meaning turnover is very low?

Not to compare my own tank to your very impressive system, but it's heavily softy dominated and I have a few large colonies I've had years not decades and they seem to really like higher flow. Of course my oldest fish is just about to turn 13 and most of my corals are considerably younger so I have a long way to go. I would like to see a complete breakdown of your system / sump either in video or picture form if you have the chance.
 
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Amboss72

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Thanks for the additional information. It points to the necessity of starting from the inside to the outside. Microbes, bacteria etc. understanding these aspects first and foremost before the focus on all of outside equipment you’ll be placing within the water box. Love your approach and love PaulB approach. Fundamental understanding that is often not even considered by new people in the hobby.
 

Perry

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Awesome aquarium! Thank you for sharing your success and methods, many, such as myself have been indoctrinated into the industry. 15 years of it, lol. I have had many nice tanks in the past, but always fealt I had to push the limits, my endless pursuit of chasing numbers, dosing products, oversized equipment, top of the line everything, but never satisfied. I nearly left the hobby, but stayed in with my little AIO tank. I am trying to grow mangroves, and ultimately use them, instead of the skimmer to scrub the system, and DOC removal. Ultimately a system with less, not more. This tank as well as others leads me in a path that I would have never believed possible, I thank you very much for sharing your experience :) Cheers!
 
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Timfish

Timfish

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So you are not using any powerheads or closed loop? Meaning turnover is very low?

Not to compare my own tank to your very impressive system, but it's heavily softy dominated and I have a few large colonies I've had years not decades and they seem to really like higher flow. Of course my oldest fish is just about to turn 13 and most of my corals are considerably younger so I have a long way to go. I would like to see a complete breakdown of your system / sump either in video or picture form if you have the chance.
I did have a couple power heads hooked up to a wavemaker but I removed them when I had the problem with the anemone.

A few thoughts about flow rates. First I'd point out is our idea of "high flow" has changed quite a bit. A couple decades ago Paletta in an article printed in a Sea Scope (these are all posted on line on Instnat Ocean's website) defined "high flow" as 10X turnovers an hour, now you see it as 30X, 40X or even higher. Second is we don't really know what each species likes. Work by Toonen, et al, shows while one species may be indifferent another may have specific requirements and we need to be looking not at genrealized numbers but what is best for each specific species. A real eye opener for me was reading about Nikko Reef in Palau. It's one of the most pristine reefs in the world. It's also "stagnate" and 60% more acidic than normal reefs. ANd when we start looking at the competing roles of heterotrophic and autotrophic bacteria around corals some aquariums may need to have a high flow rate to deal with the increased onsumption of of oxygen by hetereotrophic bacteria.
 

BeejReef

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Very impressive. I'm glad you shared that link.
I'm only 6mo's along. About two months in I stopped running the skimmer. Never had socks or filter media. Really, it's just a huge blob of chaeto, a lot of rubble rock, and a remote deep sand bed. On water change days I trim the chaeto and give the whole cheoto blob a good swishing in the waste water. I do have to dose some phosphate in my ATO to keep the chaeto happy. Water clarity is great, N is 20, P is .15. I'm happy.

I'm curious about longer term though. What sorts of maintenance activities not common to ultra clean, mechanized systems are necessary. Will I be confronted with a prematurely fouled sandbed in my DT? I do vacuum it every couple weeks.

One thing I love is the biodiversity. 250+ snails and random critters easily. I bought 12. Anything that has an open lane is breeding like crazy and I don't have a hint of algae, despite ample nutrients and light.

Anyhow, just hoping for any longer term advise. Feel free to note any horrible mistakes. I've got a good chin.
 
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Timfish

Timfish

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Thank you!
On a routine basis I ignore the sand bed. There are times when something happens and cyano/diatoms show up on the sand and I will siphon off the surface sand affected. Sometimes I just swirl it around in a bucket of aquarium water and return it, sometimes rinse it in fresh water, sometimes drain it well then soak it in a pint of H2O2, sometimes toss it and add fresh sand. I stopped using snails a long, long time ago, only a tiny percentage survive a year and when they die any nutrients they've sequestered is dumped back in the system. Tuxedo urchins are a much better choice.
 
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Timfish

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Don't get me wrong, I have snails and limpets reproducing too. And here's a mexican turbo happily grazing down coraline algae in one of my systems.


But for algae control I've seen many aquarists dump in lots of snails and only have lots of algae and empty shells to show for it and strongly advise against getting them for algae control. From what I've seen over the decades is urchins are a much better choice for helping control nuisance algae on rocks and have a much better survival rate. For getting rid of nuisance algae initially I only use manual removal (Here's two threads I did on the local forum, thread 1, thread 2)
 
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Timfish

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Here's a video update taken 10-07-19.
The Fungia polyps featured in this video were all born in this system. A single anthocaulus was transplanted to a smallish limestone rock and placed in this system 8 or 9 years ago. 9 more have since have budded off from the original one. Development of new baby plate corals start immediately after it's older sibling drops off. In just a week or two the new polyp can be seen expanding. Depending on how much it's shaded from other polyps it can take from about a year to several years to grow to a point where it drops off. Polyps should not be forcibly broken off as it can kill the anthocaulus stopping any further polyp production. The anthocaulus initially may only be a couple millimeters or about 1/16" in diameter but will grow with each new polyp and can be about 12 mm or 1/2" in diameter. Larger Anthocauli can be gently broken off at the base and glued to a rock being very careful not to damage any of the tissue around the crown. The sump is also shown.

 

Matt Carden

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Beautiful reef tank! I am currently rebuilding my system after I chipped the side panel of my SCA150. I plan on running a variant of a Steve Tyree zonal approach in my custom sump that I'll be building. I am planning a suspension feeder zone free from predation and a cryptic zone. I haven't finalized the design yet but I will probably have an elevated exposed zone for growing macros with a semi-exposed/semi-cryptic zone under the macros.

Before the move I had let my PO4 get out of control from overfeeding so I hope I've learned some lessons and will have better luck with the zonal approach.
 
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Timfish

Timfish

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Thank you Samson!

Beautiful reef tank! I am currently rebuilding my system after I chipped the side panel of my SCA150. I plan on running a variant of a Steve Tyree zonal approach in my custom sump that I'll be building. I am planning a suspension feeder zone free from predation and a cryptic zone. I haven't finalized the design yet but I will probably have an elevated exposed zone for growing macros with a semi-exposed/semi-cryptic zone under the macros.

Before the move I had let my PO4 get out of control from overfeeding so I hope I've learned some lessons and will have better luck with the zonal approach.
Thank you Matt! I first read about Tyree's zonal system over 2 decades ago. It was fascinating to see de Goeij's research show how critical cryptic sponges are to healthy reef ecosystems (search "Jasper de Goeij" at scholar.google.com) and confirm Tyree's emphasis on sponges. I'd also recommend reading ROhwer's "Coral Reefs in the Microbial Seas", it's an excellent introduction to the various types of DOC and the roles they play. DOn't get too hung about about phosphates. I'd advise to keep PO4 around .1 but corals will tolerate much higher and high phosphates don't equate to nuisance algae issues. The scenario you want to avoid is high nitrates and low phosphates:


Nitrate dosing can also be an issue. Here's fig 3 from Shantz and Burkhiles review of 208 experiments from 56 (Oooops! ;Facepalm) 47 papers.
Effects of Nitrate.jpg
 
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Matt Carden

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Timfish

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I think I was a little too high before my break. I was around 10ppm PO4 and 10-20 ppm NO3. I am trying to read this article: http://www.baharini.eu/baharini/doku.php?id=nl:makazi:theorie:koraal_holoboint#refnotes:1:note8
It is a very tough read. He says exactly what you said about high Nitrates and low Phosphate. High Phosphate and low Nitrate is fine.
We're both reading some of same research papers. :D 10 ppm PO4 is too high, it does interfere with calcification and at some point will kill corals. But reef aquarists have been told to keep it too low for a long time. I have two threads dealing with nuisance algae on the local forum showing PO4 levels increasing as nuiusance algae dissappeared, so it's not the direct cause of problems as is often advised. Dunn, et al, showed coral growth increase up to .5 mg/l and Richard Ross's acro dominate tank was over 1.0 mg/l at one point. His article "Chasing Numbers" I think helps put things in perspective. Research done by a group of researchers at SOuthampton University in England with corals maintained in a closed system from 2-10 years shows the problems with imbalances in the N/P ratio. Here's some links:

Nutrient enrichment can increase the susceptibility of reef corals to bleaching:

Ultrastructural Biomarkers in Symbiotic Algae Reflect the Availability of Dissolved Inorganic Nutrients and Particulate Food to the Reef Coral Holobiont:

Phosphate deficiency promotes coral bleaching and is reflected by the ultrastructure of symbiotic dinoflagellates


Addendum,
I forgot to add in my response above I've been very happy with the maricultured Premium Live ROck I've gotten from GulfLiveRock.com Lots of neat stuff and especially a great source for cryptic sponges.
 

Scrubber_steve

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I'd advise to keep PO4 around .1 but corals will tolerate much higher
Hi.
I occasionally read comments like your PO4 recommendations above & wonder what evidence there is to back them.
0.1ppm PO4 may be fine for some, or several corals? but it is well over typical coral reef levels, & above the level typically suggested to hobbyists >> 0.03 ppm to 0.07 ppm, a level many have success with. I also wonder where in nature corals are subjected to much higher levels than 0.1ppm PO4?

You also mentioned - "The scenario you want to avoid is high nitrates and low phosphates:"

I don't know if you have any specific N-P ratio you believe one should stay below, but I've seen some misinterpret, or misrepresent what the science says on this, claiming that a P-N ratio above 10:1 is detrimental to coral health. Consider, no3 @ 2 ppm & po4 @ 0.04 ppm is a P-N ratio of 50:1.

The science mentions a threshold level of phosphate, & below this phosphate starvation can occur, exacerbated by high nitrogen levels. But if phosphate is above this threshold, the N-P ratio is unimportant.

e.g. In this paper Phosphate deficiency promotes coral bleaching and is reflected by the ultrastructure of symbiotic dinoflagellates
it states the following points.

1. " We exposed corals to imbalanced N-P ratios in long-term experiments and found that the undersupply of phosphate severely disturbed the symbiosis, indicated by the loss of coral biomass, malfunctioning of algal photosynthesis and bleaching of the corals."

2. "In our experiments, a phosphate concentration of ~ 0.3 μM (0.0285 ppm) at a N/P ratio of >> 22:1 << yielded an overall healthy phenotype."

3. *** "Accordingly, it is likely that the absolute N/P ratio becomes also less critical for the proper functioning of the symbionts when phosphate concentrations exceed a vital supply threshold > 0.3 μM (0.0285 ppm), even when the symbionts are rapidly proliferating."
=================================

So if PO4 is kept at 0.03ppm or above, so corals are not starved of phosphate to begin with, N to P ratios are not a concern, at least relative to the levels hobbyists typically target.

Thoughts?
 
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