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Timfish's 15 gal Blog


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In response to all the discussion regarding stocking levels on a recent thread I'm setting up 15 gal demonstration tank to see how much can be maintained in a small tank. Hopefully I'll have water in it by the end of the week. My plan is to post at least weekly status of the tank with pictures and parameters. I also wanted to show how simple a system can be. Over the years I've come to believe that methodology and equipment is pretty much irrelevant. What is important for a successful reef system is nutrient control, water movement (not necessarily water flow dependent on a pump) and correct lighting (spectrum and intensity) for the species of coral being kept.

Keeping a heavily stocked tank will have enhanced risks as the fish grow and mature I want to reiterate some of the points other people have made in other threads: Maintaining low fish levels has advantages such as lower nutrient and waste production and reduced behavior/territorial issues and in case of problems reduced risk of loss of animals. Definitely research any fish being considered before adding it. The species I'm putting in this system are species I am very familiar with and have a pretty good idea what to expect from them.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Set the tank up Sunday August 1st. The tank is a 20 long, 30" x 12" x 12". These dimensions give a volume of 18.7 gallons guessing for displacement of rock it's nominally a 15 gallon system. No filtration just an airline bubbling with no air stone. Water came from my personal tank and one of my holding tanks. Most of the rock is local limestone taken from my holding tanks, two small pieces of liverock about 3" diameter. Fish added (already quarantined) include 4 Royal Grammas, 4 Fire Gobies, 2 Yellow Tail Damsels, 1 Black Percula (A. ocelaris). Additional live stock include 3 Sallylightfoot Crabs, 6 Blue Legged Hermits, Green Brittle Star, Banded Serpant Star, Texas Striped Leg Hermit (from the coast). Haven't decided on the lights yet but either T5 or LED.

Tuesday, August 3rd, added small Montipora digitata frag.

Wednesday August 4th, added small orange and green Zoa colony and some green star polyp pieces. Still haven't checked water parameters but everybody is eating well.


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I wish you luck on the tank, but that is rather heavy stocking and I'd be lying if I said I thought everyone in the tank would make it.

I would reconsider the airline though, all that bubbling will end up splattering a lot of salt and organics (like a skimmer) on whatever is on top of or beside your tank. If you go with a power head of some sort, you get the increased air to water interface that you get with the bubbler (at least, if the tank surface doesn't have a skin), but you also get some more circulation around the rock, which reduces debris collection somewhat and makes better use of your rock as a biological filter.

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An article I read about 18 - 20 years ago in FAMA helped to a degree form my current approach to reef keeping. It breifly discussed a demonstration set up by the Georgia Fisheries Dept. Using Rainbow Trout as the test fish they were able to maintain by weight a ratio of approxamitely 1.1 to 1 water to fish. In my tanks I run into behavioral issues before I run into what I think is a maximum capacity for a tank. That is why I empasized in my first entry to research the animals going into a tank and emphasized the species I have added to this setup are species I am familiar or very familiar with and am pretty sure of what to expect from them.

Still haven't put lights on it yet but I am going to put glass covers on, also still have to stack the rock for the corals I'll be adding. I just threw it in Sunday to get the system going. As far as using a powerhead for improved biological filtration, bacterial colonies grow to the amount of food that is available additional water flow will not increase it any.

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Day 5, put a Ecoxotics 21W PAR 38 12,000K bulb on the tank. This should be bright enough to bring out the purple and red the Montipora digitata is capable of.

Day 7, added a T5 39W actinic to the tank. Additional livestock added 1 small birdsnest frag, 1 small plating montipora frag and some Green Star Polyp I peeled off a rock where it was getting stung by an anemonie. Once I put the lights on one hiccup that surfaced is the tank I grabbed for this setup had been sitting outside for ???, anyway it's got some oxidation clouding the glass. Spent about 5 minutes on one spot with some 2500 grit wet/dry sand paper and didn't make any difference. So I'll need to replace the tank to get decent pictures.

Did a 3 gal. (20%) water change. Before the water change water tested as follows:

pH - 8.0

alk - 7

calcium - 480mg/l

Nitrates - 40ppm !!!!

Got egg on my face :hmm:, nitrates came from the holding tank I was tearing down last weekend and stole some water from to start this setup. Good news is my personal tank doesn't have any nitrates at all which is a little surprising since I'm not real religious about doing water changes with it.

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Still haven't replaced the tank so the pictures are a little cloudy. Two of the Firegobies have paired off and surprising to me the larger of the two is VERY aggressive towards the other two, going after and clearly biting them if they come out from behind the rocks. The times I've tried keeping them in groups in larger tanks I've been frustrated by never achieving more than 4 - 6 months before they start disappearing one at a time. I've generally attributed it to not being able to compete with faster or more aggressive tankmates. While I've seen dominance display between members of a group it's never stood out like it has in this tank. This may just be an exceptionally aggressive specimen but it may partially explain why I haven't been able to maintain groups for the years I'd expect the fish to live.

I didn't like the looks of the tank with just the one T5 actinic so I switched out the fixture with one that holds two 39W T5's, one 10,000K and 1 actinic.

Calcium - 500 mg/l

pH - 8.2

Alk - 9

Nitrate 160 mg/l !?

Nitrates are 4X higher than last week. I've added powdered krill to the pellets I was feeding so I'm going to look at that for the nitrates.

Did a 3 gal, 20%, water change with about half a tablespoon of Kents Superbuffer and about the same of Caribsea's Aragamight.



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Day 15, first fatality. One of the Sally Lightfoot Crabs was found on the floor several feet away from the tank. All the cats denied culpability under intense questioning so for now it's listed as an accidental death.

Day 21

Still haven't swapped out tanks, I'll get to it one of these days.

Calcium 480 mg/l

pH 8.8

Alkalinity 11

Nitrates 160+ mg/l

20% water change. Looks like I can stop adding aragamight to the makeup water.

Day 22, Oooops! Forgot to post pics.



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Well, I am very annoyed and very frustrated! Yesterday evening noticed one of the Royal Grammas dead, one dying and the Fire Gobies, Black Ocelarus and Yellow Tail Damsels covered with ich. Had an unused 40W but that'd cook everything in a 15 gal system so had to shuffle sterilizers around to use my 9w on the tank. This evening 3 of the gobies were still alive. The Gobies, Damsels and Grammas were all QT'd for over two months. The mistake I made was moving the Black Ocelarus after only twenty days of QT. All the other Black Ocelaris Roral Gramma and Maroon in the QT look good. Moral of the story: Always finish your QT no matter how good the fish look!

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This is a great project, it will prove how cheap you can do a saltwater tank. I think a lot of people go way overboard with the setup and don't pay attention to the basic rules. All you have to do is have patience and you will be successful.

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Busy weekend, anyway haven't done a water change this week. Two of the Fire gobies seem to have survived the ick outbreak. Water parameters are:

pH - 8.6

Alk - 12

Nitrates - 300 ppm

Was curious just how high the nitrates were so the test sample was diluted with water from a tank that tested 0 (2:1). Two things have surprised me, one is the nitrates are so high without associated problems with pH & Alk, whenever I see nitrates there's always a problem with over feeding and/or not enough water changes and pH and Alk are usually affected. Second. the monti and birdsnest are still polyping out. Sprung has said he feels nitrate itself is not harmful to corals but I would not expect polyps to be opening up at this level.

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Everybody seems happy. Have been having fits trying to get a closeup of the monti but the camera keeps focusing on the glass even "locking" the focus hasn't worked. Anyway, there is some hair algae showing up where the Sallylightfoots can't get to it, no surprise there after the fish loss. Water tested as follows,

pH 8.6

Alk 12

Nitrates 120 ppm ?!

With no water change last week expected the nitrates to go up more not down by half. Tested it once by dilution and once straight. 20% water change.

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

Sept, 26, 40% water change. Added Frogspawn and Atlantic Green Urchin.

Sept. 27, added Green Stripped Mushrooms

Oct. 3rd, the two Fire Gobies still avoid each other. 20% water change.

pH 8.6

Alk 11 dKH

Nitrates 90 ppm


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  • 2 weeks later...

Oct 10, Day 77, finally added some sand (not live sand), 20% water change

Oct. 17, 20% water change

pH 8.6

Alk 11dKH

Nitrates 50 ppm

Here's 2 photo's to compare the Bird's nest frag in my 15 to birds nest frags in another tank. Both were fragged from the same parent colony at same time and removed from the parent tank at the same time. The colony in my 15 is two frags super glued together so is stands alone and weighs 5.5 grams, the the sybling frags are epoxied to a piece of limestone.

Lighting on the colony in my tank is primarily 12000K Ecoxotic PAR 38 LED bulb, light reading is 13,000 lux.

blogentry-1247-064446900 1287358937_thum

Lighting for the sybling colony is 250W MH Ushio 14000K HQI and the colony is getting 25,000 lux.

blogentry-1247-027347300 1287359342_thum



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  • 5 weeks later...

Time flies when you're having fun!

Week 13, pretty much ignored it this week. Hair algae from the ich dieoff has pretty much stopped.

Week 14, 20% water change, added 3 Yellow Tail Damsels and a small Green Star Polyp colony.

Week 15, ignored it this week too. One of the Yellow Tails has been missing for 4-5 days.

Week 16, 20% water change. Replaced the 39W actinic bulb. Got tired of the urchin moving the M. digitata and the M. confusa (?) frags so they got superglued to pieces of limestone. Birdsnest wieght 6 grams.

Replaced the 1/4 plate glass covers with 2 mm lexan covers. This didn't have any significant change on the lux readings under the Ecoxotic 12K par 38 bulb but stirring things up in the tank did dropping from the reading from about 15,000 lux to about 12,000 lux (est. PAR 277 to 222, here's a link to an article by Dana Riddle on measuring light and lux to par conversion factors http://www.advancedaquarist.com/2008/2/review#h1 ).

pH - 8.3

Alk - 9 dKH

Nitrates 40 ppm

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I almost choke Bay every time I see or hear you use the word "patience". The ich breakout was very annoying. The Grammas, Fire gobies and damsels had all been quarintined for over 6 - 8 weeks. The clowns had only been quarantined for 3 weeks but since they were captive raised and quarantined seperately in a new QT setup I felt comfortable putting them in. Obviously if I had waited the fourth week so the ick would have had time for 2 life cycles I probably would caught it and saved myself a lot of frustration and embarrassment. Another frustration with a tank this small is even a 9 watt UV causes significant heat issues which risks everything in the tank. The hair algae problem worked it's way through a little faster than I expected since I didn't go after it real aggressively with a toothbrush or syphoning off as much as possible with every water change (I tried to keep maintenance to 10-15 minutes a week) but that could be attributed to the rather large percentage water changes which work out to 80% 100% a month.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Week 17 20% water change.

Week 18 20% water change added a piece of slate with five 1/2" red plating montipora superglued to it.

Week 19 skipped water change this week.

Week 20 20% water change.

Week 21 20% water change. After the water change water tested as follows

pH 8.6

Alk 13 dKH

Nitrates 0.0 Finally!

Pink Birdsnest has gained another gram.

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  • 1 month later...
  • 2 months later...

Man I'm slow sometimes!

weeks 25 - 27 20% water change

week 28 20% water change and added two small acan frags

week 29 20% water change

Week 30 - 32 ignored it

week 31 added 3 Royal grammas and 1 Percula Clown, removed Green Brittle Star

week 32 20% water change

week 33 20% water change

week 34 20% water change added small Acropora ? frag from DoMa

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