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DaJMasta's Nano Reef Blog


DaJMasta

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So I'm back in Austin after a winter break with my family and I'm greeted with a whole slew of boxes in my apartment office full of aquarium stuff. This is most of what I ended up getting and since I have limited transport ability, it included all the heavy stuff and the tank. The project is a 7.5 gallon nano reef and it's my first reef setup, though I've done a fair bit with freshwater tanks even in very small sizes.

The hardware includes:

7.5 gallon Mr. Aqua bow front aquarium

Hydor Koralia Nano

Marineland Stealth 50W Heater

Nova Extreme 18" T5HO fixture (one 10k sunlight, one 460nm actinic)

All the assorted testing and setup supplies my research told me were good (more than a few!)

I also got my live rock shipment today, I opted for an attempt at a soft cycle and a fresh source to get as many interesting critters in the tank to start and keep them there, so I ordered 10 lbs of deco rock from http://dansmarinelife.com/ (though through his ebay store). It arrived a day ahead of time via priority mail and smelled pretty fresh - especially for non overnight shipping. I was a little disappointed to find a few deceased little crabs in the bottom of the bag (less than 1/2" shells + legs), but the rock itself was covered in coraline algae, macroalgae, and all sorts of things I hope to eventually be able to identify.

I added the rock to the tank after mixing and heating the water and instantly saw a few pods swimming around and what looked like a 2.5" bristle worm swim off of it. I then 'aquascaped' loosely and dumped in the sand... it took some time for the dust to settle and the pipet from the refractometer is no replacement for a turkey baster to blow the sand off the rocks, but it really seems to be coming to life. I've seen a couple more bristle worms, have found what look to be a number of corals - even several different varieties - lots more red and orange algae - and two really interesting things. They're attached to each other and to the rock and both are alive (they've moved). One looks somewhat like a mussel and the movement I saw was it shifting, opening about a quarter of an inch, venting, and closing again. The other is more unusual, I initially thought it was a sponge and I don't know if that is wrong, but I have my doubts. It's between 2 and 3 inches long and is a dark burgundy in color. It's shape is similar to a stereotypical green cactus, without the arms. So you get a sort of plant bud tip with a hole in it to a cylindrical body with ridges. The whole creature is then covered with a fuzzy red algae of some sort, and it is rooted to the rock and can both move around on it's anchor and close the hole at the end.

I hope to find many more critters, and I really do hope one of those tiny crabs survived the journey by hiding in a crevasse, cause they looked really neat. At the moment my water params are a little off, salinity is good (1.023), pH is a bit low, between 7.8 and 8.0, and ammonia is present, between .5 and 1 ppm. That means tomorrow will be a water change (perhaps two) to encourage a truly soft cycle - keeping the ammonia and nitrates down enough to keep the stuff on the rocks alive and well. Tomorrow will be spent mixing water and running some more tests (including nitrates, nitrites, and alkalinity so long as it arrives). Coming additions include: a proper aquarium stand (in the mail), a refugium modded from an AC70 filter (also in the mail), a little more live rock (from a local source), and some good old fashioned time to let things settle in and give me a good look at what's already in the tank.

By the way, I used a sand I haven't seen mentioned many places called Nature's Ocean which is a proper live sand (packed in seawater, expiration date on the package). It was pretty cheap and the Drs shipped it equally cheaply, I obviously can't comment on the long term usefulness of it but the grain size seems reasonable and it looks nice.

I'll have some pictures of things up tomorrow when I unpack my memory card reader.

Ahhhh this is exciting. :cool:

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While it says day two, my aquarium has really only been realized for 26 or so hours at this point. Regardless, it's the second post and the second day I've done things with it so it counts as day two. The water has cleared up and I did a fairly significant 2 gallon water change earlier today. Post water change the levels (now a full battery of tests) seemed rather similar to the last day's, but aren't quite in ideal places... I have a gallon more brewing for a change late tonight to keep the ammonia levels as low as possible. Today the KH test kit and the heater for my seawater prep barrels came and I also visited lowes for a selection of buckets, as well as some aquarium related equipment that should be useful in the coming days, weeks, and months. The full parameters today look like this:

Specific Gravity: 1.0235 (estimated, the purple line between the white and blue areas of the refractometer is as wide as .001, so I'll just put it in the middle)

Temperature: 78F

pH: 8.0

Ammonia: .5-1ppm

Nitrates: 0-5ppm

Nitrites: .25ppm

KH: 14 degrees

The pH is still slightly low and the ammonia/nitrates/nitrites are still clearly in cycling (what else would I expect), but the alkalinity has me a bit concerned. I'm not sure how it got to be so high and I don't have a calcium test, but I will see if it normalizes in a few days with a few more water changes and a little tank maturity under it's belt. As all of the critters in here now already survived 2 days in a box I think they'll probably be alright with a little extra alkalinity.

The tank is still at maybe 2/3 capacity and on a cardboard tray because the stand has not arrived, and I don't want to make moving it more difficult than it already will be. I think I'll be visiting aquatek tomorrow to browse, but considering I've got a refugium on it's way I may pick up a little more live rock and some chaeto or another macro, as well as some airline tubing and valves for general use (1/2" hose is a little bit too much flow for water changes and siphoning in a 7.5 gallon tank).

But as promised, I've got some pics of everything ready to go:

initialsetup.jpg

With salt dissolving, the tank is first assembled (with cardboard tray intact) on my nighstand.

After adding the live rock from the package, some stuff came out of it! I think it's a bristleworm (have seen a couple others now) and the crab next to it is deceased. I haven't seen one of those crabs alive but I really would like to :cool:

wormandcrab.jpg

Then came the sand:

sandstorm.jpg

In some of my first looks around the tank after the sand settled, I saw a few more neat things. The first looks like a coral skeleton, but I don't know if it was alive when shipped.

coraley.jpg

The second was a little polyp of something. The next day I looked again and there's a few 2mm or so long clear tentacles which remind me of an anemone.

polyp.jpg

And at the end of the day, the whole thing looked something like this:

endofday1.jpg

The next day I got the new equipment and made a water change, my room gradually resembling a lab of some sort.

thelab.jpg

And a through-the-flow picture of the reason I don't have a problem with a few dead crabs on this rock.... it's packed full of alive stuff anyways:

shimmeringlife.jpg

Second half of the entry to follow.... image limit......

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Continued from Day Two: The Nitty Gritty

And I leave you with a mystery. That 'cactus' described creature is still baffling me. I think it is attached to the one I thought was mussel like, and the mussel like one also has circular openings. Both seem to be alive and well (or as well as a plant like creature I know nothing about can look), but I have no idea what they are. Just the hunch that they're filter feeders because of all the holes (which are actually the color of terra cotta on the inside!). Thus, it's temporary name is the whale sponge, because I think it could be a sponge and because when you look at it from sand level, it looks sort of like a whale covered in fur.

whalesponge.jpg

whalespongearm.jpg

whalespongelight.jpg

whalespongetop.jpg

Any ideas what it is?

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Day 3 have come and gone, but today it's been somewhat less eventful. I visited Aquatek this morning and while the staff was friendly and helpful and all, the power went out within a minute of me entering the store - so I suspect I missed seeing some of the livestock properly. Regardless I picked up a couple extra pieces of live rock bringing my total to about 11 lbs and some airline tubing and valves and things for drip acclamation and smaller scale siphoning. Fedex also decided not to show up until the apartment office was closed, and thus declared the package undeliverable today... so the tank is still sitting at 2/3 capacity on my night stand.

I did a water change after I woke up this morning and it was showing about 3ppm of ammonia before it (was approximately 2 gallons or 50-60% change after that reading). I ran the full battery of tests just recently and have some potentially odd results - though again I'm not going to fret too much because it is still in the early stages of cycling.

My current parameters are as follows:

Salinity: 1.025

pH: 7.8

Ammonia: 4 ppm

Nitrate: < 5 ppm

Nitrite: 0 ppm

KH: 17 degrees

The ammonia is pretty much expected, it's spiking but I'm doing enough water changes that I don't think it's to tank-killing levels by any means. The nitrate and nitrite are lower than I expected, and lower than yesterday's, but perhaps that's the result of the live sand - if the bacteria for eating nitrate and nitrite were already there, perhaps they're quicker working that the ammonia eating ones for the moment and have cleaned up some nutrients since yesterday's measurements. The salinity is higher than I want, I'm not using an ATO and I need to do a better job topping it off with fresh water when needed. Probably more than once a day until I find a solution for it.

Now what really concerns me is that the pH is back down again (could be part of cycling but I don't know why) and the alkalinity is through the roof - as in off the charts of the provided information package. So in the interest of finding out why, I tested my ready-mixing seawater to be used in tonight's water change:

Salinity: 1.023

pH: 8.2

KH: 17 degrees

The mix seems good in terms of pH, and since it has a top little evaporation has kept the salinity stable, but the alkalinity is still way high. So I'll test the source - tap water.

KH: 5 degrees

GH: 4 degrees

Interesting.... the tap water is not to blame for the excessive hardness of the water. Well then there's two things it could be: either the water conditioner or the salt... and I've got some water waiting for the topoff....

KH: 6 degrees

GH: 5 degrees

That's probably within the margin of error for the test (API by the way). So the salt is making my carbonate hardness rather high. I'd be curious to see what the calcium readings are, but I don't have the kit at the moment. Perhaps this salt is designed to over-correct on the alkalinity to compensate for what corals and such would take out of an established reef aquarium. If this is the case, then I should see KH gradually decline as the aquarium matures and as I add livestock. The salt is Instant Ocean by the way.

Since I'm looking into the viability of tap water as a water source, I also bought a TDS meter off of ebay today, I don't expect to see it until mid next week, but it should help me make a decision and if the kH thing is still a mystery it may be able to shed some light on the situation.

Finally in terms of life, the yet unidentified 'whale sponge' is still alive and kicking, though I'm convinced that it's "arm" is actually some of the sponge growing on top of a bivalve of some sort (maybe a mussel), because when the mussel like part opens you can see a white and black fleshy portion that looks nothing like the terra cotta colored holes in the "whale sponge". The little polyp that looked like an anemone has somewhat larger tentacles, the bristle worms are remaining out of sight, there's small tunnels in the sand up next to the glass indicating probably copapods, and one of the new pieces of live rock had something in it. At first I thought I saw two little crab legs, then I thought I saw a part of a bristle worm, then I thought it looked a little like a squatty snail....... so I have no idea what it is but there certainly was something there.

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The fourth day of this tank's existence is upon me and it's starting to really shape up. Fedex was kind enough to bring the stand which should have come yesterday (the filter to be made a refugium is still absent however) and with the new piece of furniture I've rearranged the room. Now that the tank's in its more or less final place, I've also been able to fill it all the way for the first time, which I have to say looks much better. The massive water changes have continued, but the parameters have improved slightly. The 'whale sponge' is alive and kicking along side its bivalve friend, and I've spotted two new creatures in the tank: a segmented round worm, and a little feather duster!

The tank looks more gray than it did because a lot of the fuzz on the rocks has died and is becoming debris (or is that detritus), but at the same time there's great signs of life from the plants on the rocks. The most common macro on those rocks is probably halimeda and while some leaves are getting paler and limp, all of the plants also have leaves that have darkened in color and are holding their firmness. There's even a little green macro sprout on the topmost rock, probably the same plant all the gray fuzz was in its previous life. I'm looking forward to seeing more things venturing out and more things spring to life in the next week, and perhaps am only a few days away from a single daily water change instead of the approximately 12 hour water change schedule I've got going now. My parameters are looking like this:

Specific Gravity: 1.024 (too high for what I'm aiming for, but probably nothing too bad. Keeping the right level with the top off will be easier with it fully filled though, I can just keep track of the high water mark and fill to that point every time)

Temperature: 78 F

pH: 8.0 (improved from yesterday)

Ammonia: 1 ppm (improved from yesterday and before the morning's water change)

Nitrates: 5 ppm

Nitrites: 0 ppm

Alkalinity: 17 dKH

And the tank's looking like this:

fts.jpg

Since everything's looking good and I'm rather antsy to get something that moves around the tank to watch, I'll be placing a small order for the tank in the ARC's group buy to reefcleaners.com. Especially with all the debris and with the refugium on the way, some clean up crew to get this thing spic-n-span is a nice thought. Until then I watch and wait :cool:

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Yep, that's the impression I got after looking around a bit too. I've got a few other types, a couple of things with big anchors, some smaller red and green kinds, but that seems to be the dominant kind.

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The short answer is no way.

But anyways, the 5th day has come and gone and it's been a bit less eventful. I did a 2 gallon water change in the morning and have one on the charts for the next hour. The water parameters are surprisingly stable, despite a marked increase in detritus. There's a little more growth and a few more things which have appeared on the rock - all generally promising signs for my young reef. I also stopped by lowes to pick up another bucket, a smaller hose for siphoning (the 1/2" was simply too fast for the size of the tank, and 2x airline tubing was too slow), and a couple of switching extension cords. Now no such cords were there to be found, so I got two cheap extension cords and two inline lamp switches to make my own. I wanted a switch for the pump and heater in the seawater mixing bucket as well as one for the powerhead and eventual filter to minimize wear on the sockets from big water changes. Since they're low power devices and everything's going into the GFCI anyways, there wasn't a big requirement for quality.

Today, the parameters are:

Specific Gravity: 1.024 (higher than I initially was shooting for, but from reading that inverts tend to like saltier water and that 1.022-1.025 is generally acceptable, I don't think .001 more is a problem. I'll be shooting for 1.024 in the future)

Temperature: 78F (turned up the heater last night to minimize the overnight drop, but it's about the same regardless :cool:)

pH: 8.0 (same color as yesterday, in light it matches 7.8, in shadow it matches 8.0. Against the white backdrop of the card, only the 8.0 matches as the color is too washed out to look like 7.8 in the light)

Ammonia: 1 ppm (level despite the obvious decay in the tank)

Nitrates: < 5 ppm (still low despite dropped ammonia, methinks the fresh rock and the live sand got the nitrogen cycle kick started)

Nitrites: 0 ppm

Alkalinity: 17dKH

And finally, some pictures to give this entry meaning:

fts1.11.10.jpg

My newfound feather duster (a shy little thing):

featherduster.jpg

The anemone that was a mere polyp just a few short days ago (still too early for me to scream apstasia, but I'll keep it in mind):

anemone.jpg

And the infamous whale sponge is still whaling away. Going to post something on nano-reef.com to see if someone can ID it.

whalespongefront.jpg

whalespongeside.jpg

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What can I say, the times, they are a-changin'.

I didn't even bore you with the minutia of yesterday's developments (at least, in a separate blog entry), the landscape of the aquarium has changed, and the work I'm putting into it is changing as well. Today is the first day I will be doing only a single 2 gallon water change daily, that's 50% less water changes than every earlier day (on a schedule, 2 gallons in the morning, 2 at night previously for almost 2/3 water change every day). It's still significant as it's still almost 1/3 of the water capacity of the tank after you factor in the sand and rock volume, but it marks an important step towards maturity. If I had to do these water changes every day for the life of the tank, I would not have started it :cool:

The parameters have gotten a bit better, yesterday the ammonia levels began to drop, being between .25ppm and .5ppm all day long while the other vitals stayed fairly constant. Despite the ammonia dropping off, the nitrates and nitrites didn't hop on back up like you would expect with a typical cycle - a promising sign for someone trying to soft cycle the tank. I also noticed some new critters - a hydroid with maybe 8-10 tiny striped tentacles flailing in the current on a piece of live rock that's maybe 6-7mm across - my very first aptasia (two of them actually, on the LR from aquatek exclusively) - and some renewed growth on existing creatures. The halmedia is clearly growing, though in an odd way: it's literally bursting out of it's old leaves with little green bumps sticking out of the decaying leaf shell that remained.

This morning however I was greeted by a small diatom bloom, basically anything that was gray on the live rock is now brown, and there's a tiny bit in the sand. Since my nutrient levels are all pretty low, I think it's because of my full length photoperiod and not enough plants to take up the decaying mass of stuff. In the morning the ammonia was a solid .25 ppm, down from the days before, and nitrates and nitrites were both stable at almost nil. My full batch of tests tonight showed more progress down the road to stability:

Specific Gravity: 1.024 (though it dropped just a smidge thanks to an overzealous top off earlier in the day)

Temperature: 78 F (got to 77 when my roommate decided to turn down the heat in the apartment....)

pH: 8.2 - distinctly more purple than the more brown earlier samples, and I think it's influenced by....

ammonia: 0 ppm - that's right. The 7th day (not even a week with the tank full of water) and my ammonia 'spike' has subsided without any signs of nitrate or nitrite spikes

nitrite: 0 ppm

nitrate: < 5 ppm

alk: 18dKH (still ridiculously hard)

The diatom bloom even made the place a little easier on the eyes, now with not so much gray everywhere, so it's been a very good couple of days. The AC70 to be modded into a refugium should have arrived, but fedex is once again dragging it's feet and delaying it for the third time, so that will wait until tomorrow (if I'm lucky). Also got the reefcleaners order coming in on friday, so I'll have some snails, 2 hermits, a peppermint shrimp, and some macro and mangroves who will be the first real purchased stock for the aquarium. The TDS meter is also in the mail to tell me more definitively whether I need to go RO/DI or not.

Oh and finally, the 'whale sponge' is tentatively identified as a "Red Condominium Tunicate" and I've heard from another reefer with rock from the gulf with a very similar looking organism. Neat!

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My tank has passed it's week anniversary and is celebrating it with good water paramters and a healthy diatom bloom. It's a little thicker and a little more spread around than yesterday's bloom preview, but I still remain convinced that it's fine and when some more things are around to eat it all will be well. Speaking of more things, I discover new critters in my tank every day and today is no exception. Of course, with the lights off for the night and a bunch of pretty blurry pictures (getting a macro shot focused when the viewfinder is black can be challenging....), I will only be able to describe them to you.

First off there's two coral positive IDs. One is the polyp I once thought was an anemone, it's apparently "phyllangia americana" or hidden cup coral - not a particularly colorful species, but it seems to be healthy, it looks kinda neat (clear arms with white dots), and I've heard from another nano reefer who ID'd it for me that it may spawn in the tank. In finding out what that looked like to verify, I stumbled on another picture which resembles some polyps at the base of my big-red tunicate, Cladocora arbuscula reportedly comes from the same area and has been seen on the same live rock, and I've got a few polyps which look just about the same. I've also seen a growing number of white worms (spaghetti worms?) climbing around the rocks and other worms burrowing in the sand.

Perhaps my proudest find for the day was late last night, the tank lights had been off for hours and I went hunting around with my flashlight. I managed to scare up a tiny little crab, probably no more than 1/2" toe to toe, who for the life of him couldn't swim down to hide after I scared him. He did a couple of hilarious laps around the tank in the current (trying to scuttle away the whole time) before landing behind a rock and vanishing.

As for unidentified critters, I've got at least one yellow sponge that survived the trip on the LR and though it's fairly brown with diatoms now, the vents have always been kept clean. I also see a tiny purple ball (2mm across) with white spots which i haven't noticed before, and perhaps a small colony of orangish translucent tunicates - it's hard to tell for sure because of the position, but they're in a small cluster like many I've seen and they all have a hole at the end. And I've got bubbles - all over the place, under rocks, in crevices, sometimes getting sucked into the power head. I guess it's a good sign for oxygenation, also an interesting note: since the ammonia has reached zero the tank has smelled much more like fresh seawater than the stagnant stuff sometimes found near shore.

In non-critter news, the Aquaclear 70 arrived today (finally) and I proceeded to cut it to bits to make a refugium for the tank. Modifications include: sponge over intake, reduced impeller size, strainer on water outflow, strainer on entry to refuge chamber. It's all glued using silicone and is curing while I write (and some time into tomorrow of course).

fugefront.jpg

Maybe I'll get a black sponge to make it look a bit better, but maybe the various wildlife in the tank can give it a makeover with time. I'm also open to the idea of a surface skimmer mod (2 elbows and a crown with notches basically) to go on the end. I've also reconsidered a deep sand bed in the fuge and think I'll be getting another chunk of live rock instead. Oh, and yes it's tall enough to fit my heater :cool:

I also got the TDS meter today, and Austin's city water coming through my very own tap registered a pretty respectable 165 ppm total dissolved solids. Now I know that this varies day to day and can spike at times, but for the moment it means I have no more reasons to buy RO immediately (though the old reasons are still there). So here are the full stats for the tank:

Specific Gravity: 1.024 (2 top offs today kept it more stable, I think....)

Temp: 78 F

pH: 8.0

Ammonia: 0 ppm

Nitrates: 0 ppm

Nitrites: 0 ppm

Alkalinity: 17 dKH

And this is 24 hours from the last water change, so while I'm still bailing out every night for some fresh water, it's showing that there's some stability on it's own. Definitely for the better since the purchased inverts are now only two days away :P

And finally, a full stand and full tank shot, in all of it's brownish glory (though that's better than the former grayish glory, right?):

fss1.13.10.jpg

fts1.13.10.jpg

Finally a to buy list:

Mag Float Mini

Another chunk of live rock

Food for the peppermint shrimp

Phyto for the filter feeders? (maybe if it's a good price)

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Today was a day of additions, both the new refugium built out of an AC70 filter and of a new electrical switching system. I'll begin with the latter.

I began the tank with a simple 5 outlet GFCI power strip, then just enough to get everything covered in terms of sockets and all was good. Within a couple of days of doing water changes (big ones that required the powerhead to be off, and switching on and off the pump and heater in the bucket to fill the tank from it and to start anew) I realized that I was going to wear out these plugs mighty quickly if I were to continue like this. I also got the distinct impression that hands covered in salt water shouldn't be the norm when dealing with this. The next day I went to lowes and picked up a couple of extension cords and a couple of inline lamp switches - mainly because I couldn't find any remote switch extensions that I was actually looking for. While these worked, the switches were rated for very low current (though still under the maximum draw I'm quite sure), they were far from watertight, and while I could make drip loops through clever positioning of them, I still had to grip the entire thing to turn it on or off. In switching the one attached to the seawater blending bucket, I could have sworn I even got a small shock when switching it.

So those obviously wouldn't work, but for the two cords and two switches it had been only just over $5.... no big loss. So I went off to lowes today with a better plan after researching remote extension cords and wirelessly switched outlets - build my own switch box to make this easy. I opted for a single gang metal box rated for outdoor use and a double switch and faceplate. Because I knew having the sockets in the box would both get the water closer to the electrical contacts and make the project cost increase, I opted to use extension cords for the outputs. I rigged the whole thing up complete with 3 prong grounding for just about $30 and I think it's built covered enough for my use. I color coded the switches and output cables (which have 3 sockets each) and zip tied them to my stand (making permanent drip loops in all cables) and it's up and running flawlessly. It was more expensive than I had hoped - the double switch was sort of expensive, the box was a bit more than I expected, and the cables were reasonably priced - but I wanted them color coded so I got 3 of them even though I only needed 2. In the end, if I was doing the super-budget version, you could probably shave off $10 by buying two pronged cords and only two of them. Regardless, I ended up with this after only a half an hour of work and basic tools:

electrical.jpg

There is no gasket under the faceplate, and there isn't covers for the switches, but I don't think I need it to be completely water proof.

Then I had determined that the refugium that was curing overnight was about ready to go, but in a conversation with a friend I found a way to screen the impeller in a better way, allowing something I didn't think was really an option with the setup: a deep sand bed refugium. After reading the benefits of it and using a sponge to help screen out the sand, I proceeded to add almost 4 inches of sand to my former filter and hung it on the back of the tank. Since this is a 70 gallon sized filter, I also had to trim the impeller blades for less flow, but I ended up with this:

fugefinalside.jpg

fugefinaltop.jpg

Since I've got a bunch of mangroves on the way from reefcleaners (arriving tomorrow!) I'll be planting them in the fuge with the hopes that they'll be tall enough to get some natural light from above the windowsill. I also managed to get the heater in there and out of the main display, though it has to be turned up another degree or so to keep the temperature up properly.

Again last night I saw that hitchhiker crab struggling to swim in the flow of the tank, but this time I managed to get a blurry picture of it happening:

hhcrab.jpg

(that's actually the least blurry of several pictures of him...)

Other than that, the measured levels are in line with what they should be - though the alkalinity dropped rather sharply; I want to be concerned, but then again it's much closer to a normal reading now. The water is clear and smells fresh, and the old plastic hotel key I used as an algae scraper did pretty well on the diatom bloom, though a mag float is still in my future. So without further adieu:

The numbers:

Specific Gravity: 1.024

Temperature: 77 F (working on dialing in the heater to be in the fuge)

pH: 8.0

Ammonia: 0 ppm

Nitrates: 0 ppm

Nitrites: 0 ppm

Alkalinity: 14 dKH

The pictures:

fts1.14.10.jpg

And the newly reorganized stand complete with switch box:

fss1.14.10.jpg

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I'm amazed. 11 days and the tank is already cycled and stocked with a basic clean up crew. Plants are growing and things are alive all over the place. I've even dropped the daily water changes to 1 gallon or so a day, so half again of what I had been doing - but the parameters are actually looking better with that.

Yesterday my numbers looked something like this:

SG: 1.024

Temp: 78 F

pH: 8.0

Ammonia: 0 ppm

Nitrates: 0 ppm

Nitrites: 0 ppm

Alkalinity: 13 dKH (that's like in the acceptable range!!!!)

And today they've continued in good standing:

SG: 1.024

Temp: 78F

pH: 8.0 (though this test kit is ambiguous.... the color doesn't really match any of the 8.0-8.4 range but it's got elements of each.... 8.0 is the closest match)

Ammonia: 0 ppm

Nitrates: < 5 ppm

Nitrites: 0 ppm

Alkalinity: 12 dKH (so long as it doesn't keep dropping, this is good.)

The diatom bloom is a thing of the past and the halmedia is really coming in well. I've got a few little patches of what appears to be normal green algae, but it doesn't seem to be growing particularly fast - will keep my eyes out. Yesterday the reefcleaners order came in (thanks to everyone who helped set it up and who received the package!) and I got a handful of ceriths, some nassarius, and 3 hermits all introduced to their new home. I also got a bunch of mangroves planted in the fuge (along with a nassarius in there as well). It was interesting to see them all react, they all did things similar to others of their species. The nassarius snails were the first to move in the acclimation bucket and the first to move when dropped in the tank. The hermits in both cases came out of their shells and waved their antennae around at about the same time, but didn't move much for a while. All the ceriths were the slow ones of the group, they seemed together enough in the bucket but they all seemed disoriented when they were dropped in the tank. The Nassariuses all dove into the sand before anything else could wake up, the hermits woke up but stayed in one place for the better part of an hour just picking at the sand, and it took the ceriths more than an hour to get all of themselves righted with only about half making it more than a few inches from the drop zone.

Regardless of the slow ceriths, they all seem healthy and crawling around the tank as expected and the collection of new hermit shells that came with the order (which one hermit changed into within a couple hours of being in the tank.... in the middle of the sand with the lights on) all look nice in the tank. That night I saw the little tiny HH crab again - it's a nightly occurrence now, I think he just goes for a late night jog of sorts around the tank. Today rolled around with almost no discernible change from the day before. Snails a-climbin', hermits perched on various places on the rocks, macro growing silently, and the sun shining in through an open window into the tank - only for a few minutes, but I thought it looked quite nice.

fts1.16.10Sun.jpg

I can see why T5's don't cut it for high light requirement corals - the sun is a powerful thing. All was not peachy though in the land of the reef, overnight the GFCI had tripped and according to how far the light timer was behind it had been out for more than 4 hours. I had one other short trip earlier yesterday, so today I switched off the mixing pump and heater to see if they were the culprit - the GFCI did not trip today. It could have been a one time thing (two time thing?) as i'm mixing again for tonight's water change and it hasn't tripped, but it has me worried. Not only about the tank missing out on flow, heat, and light, but that something is shorting and I don't know what it is. Process of elimination begins now I suppose.

Later in the day I managed to stop by Aquatek for a mag float (even the smallest size is a bit big though....), some sinking food pellets, and a peppermint shrimp. Ended up being the same price as the reefcleaners one would have been, just needed to pay tax. I gave him an about 40 minute acclimation treatment with about 4-5x the initial water level and dropped him in. After a while of cowering behind a rock and then the heater, he's explored most of the back of the tank and the rockwork and seems to be fitting in nicely. Quite frankly I'm amazed I've been able to add any kind of livestock this early - the tank isn't even two weeks old but all the signs I can tell are saying that he's going to be alright. It's still going to be a while before an actual fish arrives - at least 2-3 more weeks - but I may end up with a cleaner shrimp or a couple of coral frags before then.

Since I've got some hitchhikers though, I've been wondering about what feeding would be appropriate before I get frags or another shrimp. I got the sinking pellets for the peppermint shrimp for a day or two from now - hopefully giving him time to whet his chops with aiptasia - but I certainly want to keep my hidden cup coral, my tunicates, and my feather duster. Since two are filter feeders, would it be worth it to get a phyto or zooplankton food source to feed them? I assume the coral would want something bigger, but since I'm currently at one polyp I think spot feeding frozen food is a bit wasteful. I do expect to get a copepod colony going in the fuge, but I'm not sure how long it will take to develop and whether it would be able to feed a tank's worth of mouths (even if there don't end up being a huge number). Also, if I were to pick up some frags in the next week or two, what would be good choices? Remember, 36W of T5 in a 7.5G tank, so probably no SPS, but I'm also a bit of a beginner so something somewhat hardy may be better. I don't mind feeding them but if I were going to get two I would get at least one photosynthetic if I had the option. Any opinions? Zoas? Shrooms? Gorgonians?

Thanks for reading :cool:

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Today is all about pictures, as little has changed since yesterday's additions. The peppermint shrimp (now named peppeh) has really livened up since feeding today - I tossed in some little sinking pellet food and the shrimp came out and the nassarius snails popped up. After the frenzy of minute proportions subsided, peppeh hid under a rock near the front of the display - not atypical at this point. But after the lights went off, peppeh went all over the display including investigating the sponge and the front panel of the tank rather thoroughly. He also met the little HH crab who was doing his nightly laps, but after somewhat of a mock skirmish they both went their own ways and acted disinterested. Peppeh even did his job as a peppermint shrimp within just hours of being in the tank - the only aiptasia I could find before is gone. I still see another small anemone in the tank - it could be a majano, but I couldn't get a clear pic so IDing will have to wait a bit - but it's still quite small and in an out-of-the-way place. He did not take a bite out of that one.

The mangroves in the fuge have perhaps gotten a little bit firmer, but I noticed little black flecks on the sand, presumably the same black flecks on the plants themselves, indicating they're doing something. I've also found a couple new things which I managed to get pictures of, tiny fan like things coming out from what I thought was partially alive macroalgae - a picture will follow, and little colonies of what I think are white tunicates - they have the same general shape and are slightly translucent, my picture is a bit blurry though. The numbers for the tank are also running well and despite a good amount of time with all circuits on, the GFCI has not retriggered, perhaps I had dripped on something, but it's nice that it's not failing.

Numbers:

SG: 1.024

Temp: 77-78F

pH: 8.2

Ammonia: < .25 ppm

Nitrate: 0 ppm

Nitrite: 0 ppm

Alkalinity: 13 dKH

And the all important pictures:

hhcrabgood.jpg

A better shot of my tiny lap-swimming hitchhiker crab, when he takes a break on the silicone (this shot is sideways).

peppeh.jpg

Peppeh the shrimp.

hermit.jpg

A hermit climbing on some halmedia.

nassarius.jpg

A nassarius snail surfacing for the smell of sweet sweet pellet food.

featherdusterjan17.jpg

The feather duster has grown!

whitetunicates.jpg

The white patches with circles are (I think) the new-found tunicates, the yellow thing is a sponge that survived the trip here. It's feeding/breathing/venting/whatever holes have always been free from debris, though lately the diatoms have made it somewhat less yellow.

whitefeatherthing.jpg

And the mysterious white feather coming out of a macro (at least so it seems). Another filter feeder for the tank?

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The second full week that the tank has been operational has come and gone. The tank is running quietly and correctly, the nutrient and chemical levels I can test for are all looking healthy, and all of the critters I know of are still around doing their thing. Peppeh has become more adventurous, one of the hermits has taken up the awesome looking almost zebra striped shell as his home, and the snails are quietly roaming the sand, rock, and glass in search of whatever they want to eat - as there's plenty of it. Yes, I've got an algae bloom on my hands. I've read that the order with new tanks typically goes cycling spikes (mostly avoided thanks to insane water changes), diatom bloom, green hair algae bloom..... and my tank is no exception. The two days after adding the shrimp I fed the tank with some micro pellets, the algae had already started cropping up then, but has almost doubled in size since, despite undetectable nitrate levels. It is certainly out in full force, but I also don't plan on feeding anything for a couple days, and it seems to be growing more slowly. My mangroves have also seemed to take root and the macroalgae on the live rock is growing at it's somewhat slow but manageable pace. Even so, I've bought a phosphate measuring kit to start monitoring that and have priced out a 4 stage RO/DI system if I still have problems in a couple of weeks (about $150 with chloramine treatment from bulk reef supply, about $110 for a 6 stage dual DI from ebay - of lesser quality)

In celebration of 2 weeks of successful operation.... I caved and bought more stuff. Luckliy, it was from sealifeinc.net, and subsequently won't arrive until the tank is about three weeks old (priority mail shipping plus monday and tuesday shipping days). The order included 3 easier difficulty small corals, a small green zoa frag, a small yellow gorgonian frag, and a red mushroom, but also included a bit more to beef up the clean up crew: a pair of orange legged hermits, a few nerite snails, and a small sized red brittle star. Now I'm fully aware that in a tank this small the CUC doesn't need to be very substantial, but I like inverts and I know that I can still feed them if I need to and they are pretty friendly in terms of tolerance of other critters, so I think the increased diversity and numbers will be fun additions to the tank. Yes this is also running somewhat counter to the 'slow start' plan I began with.... of course these are chiefly CUC members and the cycle was much faster than I expected. I also don't plan on adding fish for weeks to come (don't even know what I'd get at the moment), though when the tank is fully mature I'm looking at a fish or two and a cleaner shrimp plus some corals for the final total.

And finally, the 13th day was the first day sans-water change, today was the first day with neither a water change nor a full suite of tests. I will however do both tomorrow, but the tank parameters have remained stable even with less maintenance - a great sign. I've seen tons of pods in both the fuge and the main display now, and what I thought was a majano anemone either died/was eaten, moved, or only existed in my imagination as I haven't seen it for the last two days.

And a FTS, with all of it's green-algae-carpet spendor:

fts1.20.10.jpg

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Another day passes, the algae gets a tad bit longer. While everything in the tank seems healthy, I can't help but be disappointed that the algae is covering up so much activity and color in the tank. Yet, since even my phosphate readings can't explain the bloom, I am still chalking it up to being a new tank.

Today I took a look at the refugium (HOB filter) intake and decided to change it again. If you recall, I started with a large sponge block with a hole cut in the middle to allow a large surface area for intake and some basic mechanical filtration. Nothing was really wrong with it, but it was big and got dirty fast, so it wasn't the greatest to look at. So on the advice of a nano-reef.com member, I cut a smaller chunk of sponge (smaller than a ping-pong ball) and basically jammed it in the end of the filter tube. Lower profile and less noticable - yes - but still looked about the same. I would have kept it too except I started noticing a film on the top of the tank, especially after a day without a water change. I had seen 'surface skimming' mods for intakes before made of two PVC elbows, basically routing the filter intake upwards instead of down and cutting notches in the crown, similar to the teeth in an overflow box. I figured it was cheap enough and easy enough to do that even if it only helped a little it would be worth it.

To make the mod was a bit more difficult, mostly because of how the filter is put together. The deep sand bed I've got goes above some of the holes for letting water out into the main body of the filter, and the sand is kept out of the impeller with a chunk of sponge. Of course, to take off the intake tube - because it snaps into place - you have to take out the sponge to be able to insert it back in place. I fumbled around with trying to get things to fit properly, eventually cutting the sponge cover for the impeller in two, a wall to keep the sand at bay and a chunk to surround the tube and hold the other piece in place, then I beveled the second piece to make the U tube easier to insert at an angle, since the sponges had to be in place to keep the sand out. I then pumped and sucked the sand out of the impeller hole with a turkey baster, dropped the impeller in, and snapped the U tube in place. The added extension is made of two gray PVC 3/4" slip elbows (< $3 for the whole mod), a piece of one of the intake tubes as a connector between the two PVC tubes, and the end strainer of an intake tube, cut down to one row of teeth to make the strainer on the top. The strainer end can be raised or lowered a bit to adjust for the optimum water level and each PVC elbow has a 1/8" hole drilled in back. This lets water in to reduce noise when the water level gets low enough that the strainer is almost completely above the water level. The holes are small enough that the strainer intake is still the primary intake, and in fact you can see a little vortex even when it is running at a full water level.

Today is a day of a small water change (just over a gallon) and a full battery of tests, as yesterday I did neither. However, despite my algae growth my parameters are stable and near optimal:

SG: 1.024

Temp: 77F

pH: 8.2

Ammonia: 0 ppm

Nitrate: 0 ppm

Nitrite: 0 ppm

Phosphate: 0 ppm

Alkalinity: 12 dKH

You read that right. That's why I'm chalking the near 1" long algae on most of the tank as a symptom of being a new starting ecosystem without a whole lot of CUC.

And of course, I have my already mentioned goodies coming for next week. Wednesday will probably be the day with 2 new hermits, some new nerite snails (new species for the tank), a small brittle star, a small green zoa frag, a small yellow gorgonian frag, and a red mushroom (**** good for $55 shipped). But since I still have a bit in the paypal account from selling some computer parts and since it's been on my list for a while... I also ordered an ATO system. I ended up going the prebuilt route mostly because a lot of the DIY kits are larger or uglier than the prebuilts, and in a nano with no space to hide things that does matter. My ATO will consist of the JBJ ATO unit with 2 float sensors, a TOM Aqua Lifter pump, some airline tubing, and my trusty 2 gallon bucket currently holding the manual top off water. Especially to keep the 'skimmer' going without noise, regulating the water level in the tank accurately and often is important. The coming week looks promising: new livestock (more than just CUC even!) and a new level of automation on a tank which actually keeps getting easier to take care of, now that neither testing nor water changes happen every day.

A couple random things I've noticed recently:

A new kind of sort of bladed leave macroalgae growing, mostly on the big tunicate and on the rock it's based on.

Little baby white bristle worms, maybe 1/4-1/2" long wriggling in the current the night before. I caught one (a very fast swimmer) in a test tube and took a look, seems those worms like it here.

I moved one mangrove out of the fuge.... 6 was a bit much for that little space anyways, so I'm hoping on trying the simulating tides thing with the one in the main tank, where you hold it out of the water sometimes to promote those picaresque mangrove roots to grow, so now it's rubber banded to a chopstick in the main tank looking slightly conspicuous.

Now here's some pictures of how things are going:

fts1.23.10.jpg

Yes, there's algae. Yes, a lot. Yes, I know. It may yet be tap water's fault and I may yet buy an RO/DI and scorn my current ways, but my testing kits aren't showing it and I have some patience left in me.

peppeh1.23.10.jpg

Fresh from a molting peppeh is as adventurous as ever.

fastworm.jpg

A white bristle worm resident towards the front of the tank.... I haven't seen all of him but I have seen him fully retract from this position into his den faster than the blink of an eye.

skimmerintake.jpg

The final version of the skimmer intake, the holes are drilled but are in back so they're not visible here.

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Not trying to knock your tank, but do you have some aversion to going to one of the LFS here for livestock. It seems you could have already had some of the HA eaten up in the time your waiting for your CUC to be delivered. BTW i really like that overflow mod, I might have to try that on my 5 gallon

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Haha it's no aversion, I actually like going to Aquatek quite a bit, but i've got a couple of unusual situations which can make it less than easy:

My primary and fastest mode of transportation is my bike... so distance can be a problem especially with my 14 mile round trip to school commute 5-6 days a week and carrying large or heavy things is difficult if not impossible. This also means that other than Aquatek, there really isn't another store that I can regularly go to, or at least not another one that is close enough to make a casual errand run to.

I'm a full time student with at best the equivalent of a part time job, so while I don't want to get cheap quality stuff, I don't have the money to really afford the good stuff - but I'm a pretty good online bargain hunter.

And third.... I've actually sort of got a CUC going, what i've got coming is probably considered a little bit overkill in total with what I have, 3 blue leg hermits, more than a dozen cerith snails, and 5 nassarius snails, plus peppeh (who is from aquatek). Thanks to the reefcleaners group buy I was able to get those very early on and get to build up the CUC gradually and see how the tank reacts.

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i would like to help if i can....from the pictures it looks like the algea isnt just green hair algea...it looks like u have some bryopsis growing too..and ive heard that almost nothing will eat it...i have a tank that ive had for about 10 weeks and i had the same problem..just too much algea growing..i just dont have a cleanup crew yet but what i did was take all the rock out one by one and scrubed it with a tooth brush in a bucket of ro/di water...alot came off and i re arranged my rocks..but u can look on reefcleaners.org and look at the algea id guide and it will show u pics of it to identify what it is and what eats it and etc etc...good luck on the new tank man..dont give up..nothing good happens in a reef fast..remember that

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Just read through the algae guide.... there's quite a few of them! While early on I did see a few fern-like algae bits growing, I can't see any of it now (good thing), and most of what I have seems like your run-of-the-mill hair algae.... there's just a lot of it and only a few hermits to graze on it. I actually think the stuff growing on the tunicate is dictyota, I will see how that all goes but for the moment it's growing much slower and presenting much less of a problem.

It also seems like a emerald crab is sort of their universal fix for algae. I think my little HH crab is a red mithrax, so I may have a young helper already in there. Because I want a second shrimp down the line and I'll have 5 hermits and a HH crab on wednesday, I'm hesitant to go with an emerald just because of potential overstocking. That said, I'll certainly keep it in mind.

Oh and don't worry about me giving up, I've spent enough time and money at this in 2.5 weeks that I have no interest in giving up without months of fighting :lol:

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The tank is officially more than 3 weeks old. To 'celebrate' this, my order from Sea Life Inc arrived in great condition and was added to the tank late in the night after a full day of school. Unwrapping a package of new stuff for your aquarium is a great experience - especially when loaded with freebies. I got an extra orange leg hermit, an extra nerite snail, 5 blue leg hermits, and a small frag of a different zoa all free with my $63 order (including shipping), and after 2 days in transit and 6 hours or so in a mailbox, everything seems to have arrived alive and well.

I drip acclimated the inverts (snails, hermits, starfish) and used a separate tank for the starfish to be sure it didn't get picked on - turns out it was a lively one and probably would have been fine either way. Without fancy lugols solution or flatworm exit or anything like that, I gave the zoas and the mushroom a 6 minute dip in freshwater (in hindsight, I maybe should have reconsidered the mushroom, as I didn't have specific evidence that it would be fine, but it seems alright). This turned out to be probably for the better - the bag that had the zoas I had ordered smelled foul and I thought I saw some movement. When I dipped the zoas from that bag I saw little shrimp like things literally jumping off and curling up. After some inspection it looks like these were amphipods, so they were probably harmless, but the combination of movement and foul water with a new coral probably isn't a good sign. About an hour in I turned off the drips and got everything into the tank - the yellow sea whip gorgonian was the only critter I didn't do anything to acclimate.... because I couldn't decide what would be best. I figured a freshwater dip probably wasn't advisable because it wouldn't normally see freshwater at all in its environment, and since it was partially unsubmerged with a piece of paper towel keeping it damp, I didn't think dripping water in would be much use, so I inspected it and found a place in the tank. By the wee hours of the night the hermits and snails had dispersed, the brittle star had crawled partially under a rock, and a few zoas had partially opened - little glowing green bits at the heads of the polyps under a UV flashlight.

acclimation.jpg

By morning things had changed - but certainly not for the worse. The hermits had begun clearing a patch of the live rock from algae (and the area has been getting bigger steadily all day)... it's interesting that all of them are working in the same general area, it's not like there's an algae shortage anywhere. The brittle star had decided that the upper left corner of the display was the place to be, and stayed there hugging a nerite snail who was taking a break for hours, only to descend to the rock below at sundown or so. Zoas on all frags had opened up, though one part of the ordered green ones (not the smaller freebie greens of a different variety) seemed more reluctant to open. Peppeh also spends more time trampling those ones, but I'll give them some time yet. 12 hours to having most heads open after 2 days in a bag is pretty good odds. In fact the only thing that doesn't seem to be doing just great is the gorgonian - I see no polyps of any sort on it, I also expected this to be the latest to open because of shipping, and I'm unsure of the eventual polyp size so I don't exactly know what to be looking for, but I will give it some time before I wonder what to do next.

In the afternoon I got the packages with the ATO equipment and got to setting it up. The mounts provided for the float sensor looked too big and intrusive for my tastes in a nano, so I jury rigged my own solution. It's not particularly durable or pretty, but it is small.... I will probably end up making a proper mount when I get some time to go to the hardware store. After a little testing, it works perfectly. I've got a JBJ ATO system connected to a TOM Aqua Lifter pump, which runs to a 2 gallon bucket used for freshwater. The freshwater bucket has a low-level water sensor, the tank has the top off sensor, and the return is mounted conveniently on the HOB fuge with a suction cup. It pumps at 4-6 drips per second and seems to be the perfect setup for an ATO in such a small tank.

After the dust had settled (and I stirred up a bit of it) I took some pictures and ran a full set of tests. Despite being the 4th day with no water change (though I added maybe a half gallon of fresh seawater after disgarding the acclamation water yesterday), the parameters look great. Because of the length of time since the last one and the ever so slight smell to the tank (probably from the sinky zoa), I will probably do a small WC tonight, but it doesn't really seem necessary. In fact, despite the tank being really young, my params have been great for some time:

logs.jpg

And now for some pictures:

fts1.28.10.jpg

Full tank shot (algae is still very much a problem, but look at that patch on the right.... go go hermits!)

algaeremoval.jpg

The algae removal patch, revealing a beautiful coralline coverage that I thought had bleached and gone away more than a week ago.

fss1.28.10.jpg

The full stand, new pump on the left, ATO controller clipped to the outside right, and Red Sea Coral Pro - the salt I'll be trying next thanks to advice on the forum and reviews at the store. I'll be doing an intermediate period of 50/50 with my current instant ocean for a gradual change, but I hope that it does a bit better to keep the nutrients up which I can't yet measure for and am only now getting organisms that will use :lol:

greenzoas.jpg

The green zoas I ordered. They advertised 15-20 polyps, with the freebies I probably got 35+ with the order. Are they.... supersonics?

freebies.jpg

The small freebie zoa colony.... looks to me like green crossettes.

whitelegs.jpg

A tiny hermit riding a larger hermit.... who still isn't a big hermit. Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!

porous.jpg

For anyone who doesn't know how porous live rock is..... brittle stars can show you. By the way, I'm calling him Little Brittle.

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Today was relatively normal, nothing showed dramatically new behaviors, I didn't find any new species in the tank, and as expected the newly aquired corals are looking better with their second day in the tank. The ATO works quite well, the params are good, the smell is less than it was..... but the overstocked CUC has been hard at work. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Yesterday:

algaeremoval.jpg

Today:

cleanedalgae1.29.10.jpg

The results are simply staggering.... this is 23 hours worth of change.... needless to say I am no longer concerned with my algae problem. Of course these results come with a caveat, I'm overstocked on CUC. I've got a 7.5G tank with perhaps almost half a gallon in the fuge (less with the sand).... right now I have:

8 blue leg hermits (2 of which I paid for :lol:)

3 orange leg hermits

1 dozen+ dwarf cerith snails

5 nerite snails

5 nassarius snails

1 small brittle star

+ hitchhikers

I don't think they will be too much of a problem so long as they're fed when the algae dries up, but I may end up having to give some away because of the sheer numbers I've got (and did not plan for), though this won't be any sort of problem for some time yet.

In other news, the mushroom hasn't done a whole lot, but looks a little healthier than it did yesterday. The sea whip has gone almost no where as well.... not notable deterioration, perhaps slightly more definition on the bumps on its arms, but no white fuzzy looking branches covered in polyps - at least so far.

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For a quick turnaround on CuC, visit Mama of Rockin' Reefs. Cheap cheap prices.

As for using tap water, I was strongly advised by reefers to not start a tank with dechlorinated tapwater. The reason being is that the phosphates, metals, etc. leech into the rocks and for months and even years later, you may have problems with it.

Also, with the amount of hair algae you have, your phosphates are likely being absorbed so fast that you literally cannot test for it--it always reads 0. Large and frequent water changes are your only option, combined with about a 3-days lights out. I would save the lights out until you get your CuC dropped in there.

HTH.

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