Nano Reefs – Do it Yourself Guide
Nano Reefs and in particular, Nano Cubes are some of the latest technology in saltwater fish and reef tanks. These small, self-sufficient ecosystems are inexpensive, easy to maintain, and absolutely stunning.
Nano Reef Testimonial from Daniel Bisso:
My son is completely captivated and in awe by the fact that we have an Australian Sea Apple in our home along with other amazing sea creatures like starfish, exotic cleaner shrimp, Nemo fish, Dory fish and anemones. Our 12 gallon nano reef is amazing and simple!
Daniel is just one of many who have discovered how to bring the magic of the ocean into your home life. Here are a few more ways that children will enjoy your new nano reef aquarium:
- Children love books about sea life. Now you can bring your favorite books to life!
- Kids love to collect the shrimp and crab exoskeletons! Simply remove and allow to dry.
- Kids can hold starfish, crabs, and sea urchins that live in your nano reef.
- Watch as cleaner shrimp lightly hang on your child’s finger and clean his or her cuticles.
- Play discover games like: Who can find the most micro stars? Or do you see? Or I spy.
- Watch the feeding frenzy!
- Quiet the mind and emotions by simply watching your nano reef.
Nano Reefs – How it works:
- You purchase a Nano reef system which includes the tank, lid, lights, pump, bio-balls, calcium, carbon, and filtration all within a self contained system (no setup required). The lighting includes a daylight bulb, an actinic light (which makes everything glow and enhances colors), and moonbeams for night time. You may also want to buy a submersible heater, a stand, and a thermometer.
- Purchase live sand and rock. Salt tanks are easy today because of technology that allows the ecosystem to self sustain. The live rock and sand is loaded with micro-organisms, tiny shrimp like creatures, and other stuff that keep the water pure while feeding other inhabitants. Run the system with the 2″ deep bed of live sand and feature of live rock for 2-3 weeks to allow the biology to normalize. Then you will begin by adding macro algae (sea plants), hermit crabs, and snails. Cycle another week of two and your system will be ready to for other inhabitants. It is possible to use biological boosters to successfully cut the cycling time in half.
- Don’t over populate your nano reef tank! 12 gallon nano reef tanks should only have 2-3 fish. Click here to see a fully populated, balanced 12 gallon nano tank with room for growth.
- Be sure you have the right balance of life. Fish add bio load to the system from waste. Macro Algae (plants) consume the waste and product oxygen. Plants also provide shelter for copepods which are small shimp-like animals that help feed corals and fish while cleaning the water and sand. Coral reefs need crabs, snails, and sea weed. They are the cleanup crew! Use filter feeders to fill out you aquarium without adding bio load. It is amazing how much you can put into a Nano reef tank when it is properly balance. Coral Reefs are very densely populated ecosystems, however, there are limitations when recreating them in your home or office. Please consult the experts at Crystal Clear Aquariums to learn all that is required in creating a balanced aquarium environment.
Maintaining your Nano reef tank:
What you do is a 2-3 gallon water change as frequently as needed. If your nano reef tank is well established an has a low bio load then you might discover that caring for your nano reef aquarium is easier than your freshwater aquarium. I have a balanced, established nano reef tank that only needs water changes every 3 months, but it helps the water clarity to change it more frequently and when you begin adding more sensitive animals, more frequent water changes will be necessary. Water changes are easy to do! No need to clean a gravel bed etc. It is best not to disturb the sand in nano reefs! This is a cool thing about salt reef systems: you don’t want to disturb biology taking place within the sand. Cleaning simply involves occasional water changes and a magnetic glass cleaner which the kids love doing!
How much Maintenance is really required:
The amount of maintenance depends on your system. If your bio load is small because you have fewer fish and are feeding them the proper amounts and frequency, then monthly water changes may be adequate. The frequency depends upon:
- How balanced is your system
- How often you feed
- How much you feed
- What is your bio load or how populated is your tank.
- How sensitive are the animals in your nano tank.
- How large is your nano tank
<A good rule of thumb is to do a 10% water change at every two weeks.>
Water Change Process – Nano Reefs: (usually takes about 15-20 minutes)
You need a five gallon bucket, short siphon hose, a bag of reef tank salt, a hydrometer, and RO (reverse osmosis) water.
If you don’t have RO water, no worries….they have everything you need at the store (buy a 5 gallon jug and they will fill it). You can also buy pre-mixed, enriched saltwater. Then the water change is super simple…just take out 3 gallons of the old and add three gallons of new.
Mixing your own water and doing a water change:
- Unplug the pump
- Siphon out about 3 gallons (use a line on the bucket).
- Dump the old water
- Use RO water…fill to line.
- Add salt while using a hydrometer to check the salinity.
- Once desire salinity is reached, add the new water.
Tips for mixing:
- Begin with about a ¼ cup of salt per gallon.
- Once the salinity measures on the hydrometer, add sparingly. It doesn’t take much to increase it to the desired range of 1.02 to 1.023
- If you have temperature sensitive animals such as anemones, then it is a good idea to use your microwave and heat up some RO water in a large bowl. Add this to the mix and temperature will not be an issue.
10 TIPS on Keeping Nano Reefs:
- Purchase hardy fish. Hardy fish are typical, cheap and just as beautiful. If you really get into the hobby and want more sensitive creature and hard corals, you should buy a larger system. Nano reefs have their limitations due to limited water volume. Larger tanks have the advantage of more water to dilute nitrates and ammonia spikes that can occur if an animal dies.
- Upgrade to LEDs: For the most intense, neon glowing colors: upgrade your lights to high output LED. It is a $100+ upgrade, but you will use less energy and grow corals much faster. In addition to helping grow corals, the LED lights also save money in the long run because they don’t need replacing, they don’t require bulb replacements, and they use less energy. The LED lights can also greatly reduce heat gains and thus allow you to keep the water temperature of you nano reef more constant without relying on cooling fans. LED lights greatly enhance the beauty of nano reefs by providing higher output luminosity.
- Teach your children how to feed the nano reef tank’s inhabitants. If your child accidently spills food in the nano tank and does not tell you about it for an entire day or two, the ammonia levels will spike. The ammonia will turn into nitrites and then into nitrates. High nitrate levels will kill fish, corals, and inverts. When this happens in nano reefs and you don’t catch it for say eight or more hours, everything will likely be dead except maybe a starfish, the hermit crabs, snails, and some hardy corals. So help your child understand that the nano reefs ecosystem is sensitive! That way, they will avoid placing thing into the nano tank that might disturb the balanced ecosystem.
- If a cooling fan goes out, replace it ASAP. Lights can heat up the water temperature very quickly in nano reefs because you don’t have enough water volume to act as a buffer. When this happens, your corals etc will begin to shrink and eventually disappear. Crabs and other animals within your nano reef may also be starved for oxygen and die. Note that if you choose to upgrade to LED’s, make sure the fixture is mounted with an open back so it cools properly. In a nano cube, it is best to remove the reflector plate and lens/cover (that came with your old power compact lights) and mount the LED strips such that air flow happens on all sides. If you do this, the LED strip will not produce much heat. Note that fan upgrades are available for all nano systems.
- Observe your animal and plant life. If the plants are growing like crazy, then they are feeding on nitrates in your nano reef tank. They will consume the nitrates, but after a couple cycles of this it is wise to do a water change to stay ahead of the nitrogen cycle and to improve water clarity. Also, if you have a particularly sensitive animal, maybe such as an anemone, then observe how that creature is doing. A water change is frequently the first step to take when an animal is not flourishing in its environment and no other noticeable habitat issue or territorial battles are the obvious cause.
- Tanks continue to cycle and improve for the first two years or more. If your nano reef tank is brand new, then some more sensitive animals might struggle a bit until it gets established. Biological boosters do a great job of helping speed the process along. It is as easy as a once a day dose for 7 days.
- Care for your corals through observation and then move them to the best locations by trial and error. This is the fun, creative part of keeping a saltwater nano reef! Many corals do not like too much direct current from the power head. Some handle it better than others and some more specialty corals actually like the current. Keep your corals from being covered in sand. The sand is abrasive and blocks out the light. Coral tissue is beautiful, delicate, and needs light to flourish.
- Research specific animals before placing them in your aquarium! A natural ocean environment is filled with predators and competition for food and habitat. In time, you will learn that adding something simple like a crab can hurt something expensive like a sea apple or anemone. Many fish eat coral! Also, some animals are more temperature sensitive while others are sensitive to changes in salinity. It really depend on the species, the tank size, the feeding schedule, and the unique characteristic of the particular animal. Even crabs have preferences and personality.
- Invest in the right equipment to simplify your life. If you dial in your system, it will be easy to care for. For example, the water in your nano reef aquarium will evaporate. This means regularly adding RO (reverse osmosis) water to top off you aquarium. Filling jugs all the time gets old fast. To simplify your life, you should purchase and install a good RO unit. I like the 5 stage RO units with a de-ionizer and carbon cartridge for taste. The units cost about $250 and will double to provide you with excellent drinking water.
- Place you nano reef aquarium in a location you will enjoy! I have two nano reefs in my dining room and a larger nano reef in my living room. We spend all of our time in these rooms and the nano reefs bring a living piece of art into each space.