In a further attempt to raise my nitrate levels I decided to add a few more fish to the tank. I was watching a video posted on social media by my LFS and spotted that they had some Ghost Cardinalfish (Zoramia leptacantha) in stock. I have rather fancied trying these fish ever since I saw a large group of them in a tank at the Horniman Museum in 2019, whilst they are not really showy, they do have the most incredible blue eyes. I checked that they were still available and the shop kindly allowed me to pay for them over the phone and pick them up outside which was perfect for me.
The recommended minimum number of Cardinals to add to any tank is five so that's what I purchased. On introduction it didn't take long for Sunny the Sunburst Anthias to decide that he did not like these fish at all (there's always someone/something that has to play up whenever I add something new!). One of the new fish became separated from the rest and ended up trapped in the top right hand corner of the tank where it was repeatedly harassed by the Anthias. The rest were chased as well but they had safety in numbers. I kept mentally willing the solitary fish to go and join his brothers and sisters but he just couldn't pluck up the courage to move. After a while, when I could bear it no longer, and I shooed the solitary fish over to the others with a net. Now it was five against one, much better odds. The Anthias continued to chase the group but they just scattered briefly before shoaling together again so no damage was done.
Here they are sticking together on the day of introduction.
They didn't eat anything on the first day and didn't seem keen to eat on the second day either so I tried adding some live copepods. They loved these and that seemed to give them the boost to try frozen food later on and they haven't looked back since. In fact I have since discovered that these fish love to eat, they love to eat a LOT! In fact they are like little piranhas. I use a pipette to target feed some of my fish and they very quickly learnt to associate that with food and crowd around it whenever it enters the water. It's refreshing to have some fish that are not finicky with food but the downside is it's made it trickier to feed some of the more shy fish. I can't really win, lol.
It's been just over a week now since they were added and they don't tend to keep together as much any more. Three of them swim together in front of the big gorgonian, one hangs out above the A. hyacinthus and the last one swims round the back. They all come together however when it's feeding time. They look fantastic under the LED lights, the blue around the eyes really seems to light up and the scales look like they have been dipped in silver. Sunny the Anthias still chases them every now and again especially at feeding time but the Cardinals don't seem to care one bit, they just dart out of the way and resume whatever they were doing two seconds later.
All in all I've been very pleased to add these fish, in hindsight I wish I'd added more than five now. I hope that I have a mix of males and females and they settle enough to start breeding. Fingers crossed.
Where to begin? In my last update I mentioned the sand had started to look a bit green and generally manky looking (scientific term, lol). At the start of August I noticed a patch of sand at the back of the tank had developed a suspicious brown look to it. It didn't look quite like diatoms and warning bells were ringing so I dusted off the microscope for a closer look.
This is how the sand looked at the back...
...and this is what I saw under the microscope:
So yeah it was dinoflagellates but not a species I had encountered before, this was large cell Amphidinium. Apparently this species is not toxic to livestock but can be much harder to get rid of. The best way to tackle it is to outcompete it by encouraging the growth of diatoms, to do that you have to raise the silicate level so I ordered myself a bottle of Brightwell's SpongExcel. I have since found that this is not the cheapest approach as it's not very concentrated, Waterglass is much most cost effective but at least it would get me started. Apart from the dinos making the tank look dirty nothing seemed to be suffering or dying so I took my time with the dosing, starting off slowly. It's pretty hard to test silica levels with home kits, Hanna do make one but it's aimed at freshwater and doesn't work well for saltwater so I didn't see the point of buying it.
In addition to silica dosing I decided to get a better grip on the nutrient levels. At the beginning of August the nitrate level was around 2.5ppm thanks to dosing NeoNitro but phosphate was still extremely low often registering as 0 on the Hanna ULR. I invested in some NeoPhos and started dosing that too (bonkers really!).
A sand sample taken just over two weeks later looked like this...
There were still dinos present but now I was also seeing some diatoms mixed in as well. I continued to dose silica but still at a lower amount than is normally recommended. The phosphate level had risen to approximately 0.04ppm on the Hanna ULR by the end of August. By mid September I realised that the orignal brown patches at the back of the tank had faded away. I sampled the sand on the 11th September I couldn't find any Amphidinium under the microscope, this was honestly quite a surprise to me as I'd expected to see some still hanging around. So my sand was clean right? Well no, I had replaced one sort of brown for another.
This was the 'new' brown...
I stopped dosing silica and by that time the phosphate was up to 0.06ppm or thereabouts so I decided to hold off dosing any more of that too. By October the sand had progressed from brown to green when cyanobacteria decided to join the party too. It's even got the audacity to smile at me under the microscope!
At the time of typing this the sand is a mix of green and brown. I'm not so bothered about the diatoms because the CUC love it but the cyanobacteria is nasty. So how do I combat green Cyano? I did think about using Dr Tim's Re-fresh but it states on the bottle that it could be harmful to snails and shrimps. I queried this with the manufacturer but they wouldn't elaborate as to how serious the risk was or even how the livestock is affected, is it toxic to them or do they die because of a knock on effect? I'd also rather not use chemicals such as Chemiclean either. So I have an imbalance between the nitrate and phosphate levels right? They currently stand at around 4.5 ppm for nitrate (Salifert) and 0.06-0.09ppm phosphate (Hanna ULR, the test results vary from day to day). Should I keep raising the nitrate (I am still dosing NeoNitrate every day) or try and reduce phosphate, or do both? I did add a couple of new fish at the beginning of September in the hope of addressing the nitrate issue but there was no noticeable effect. Maybe I need to add a few more?
The struggle continues...
I let the tank and myself have a breather for a week following 'clamgate'. Clive the clam appears to be fine after the incident and I'm pleased to report that nothing succumbed to an excess of clam ‘protein'. Then I transferred over my two remaining Acropora (gomezi and hyacinthus). I'd been putting off moving these because as we all know SPS can be tricky in new systems but it had to be done and if they didn't make it that'll be that. The A. gomezi was super easy because it's a tiny frag on a frag plug but the A. hyacinthus had grown rather large. I tried my best to frag it off the rock in one complete piece but, yeah that didn't happen. It broke into three, I was going to keep the two largest but in the end I opted to add a single bit only (easier to fix down). Those who followed my old thread may remember that the Reefer 170 had an issue with red bugs. I hadn't seen any of the little red devils for ages but that doesn’t mean that they were all gone, I can only hope. I dipped both frags in Reef Primer and checked them quite thoroughly before they were transferred.
Now we get to the big one. On the 26th April I decided to complete the tank transfer and shut the Reefer down. Prior to this I made one last concerted effort to catch Rei the yellow wrasse and Spike firefish but Rei would only poke his head briefly into the trap and Spike avoided it entirely so it was simply a no go. We did try catching the Spike using nets and acrylic baffles, much chaos ensued with the tiny fish outwitting us every time.
The strip down progressed pretty much as planned with no disasters to speak of, I found it quite stressful nonetheless. We emptied out the water and rocks in stages. The corals that I wanted to keep were cut off and placed in one bucket with the remaining rocks/corals going into another. Spike the firefish was cornered with a net and safely removed. Ming the Pom pom crab was discovered clinging to the underside of a rock. Finally we were left with a tank containing a little water, one last piece of rock and sand. With my breath held, the rock was lifted out revealing Al the pistol shrimp and Flash his Whitecap goby partner hiding underneath. Phew! A careful bit of sand exploration was required to flush out Rei the yellow wrasse. Swipes the porcelain crab was MIA at that point so we had to carefully go back and examine every bit of rock again placing them one by one back into the Reefer as we went. Finally we discovered her hidden in a hole in one of the base rocks. That was pretty much it except for one last thing of note, I discovered a rather scary number of Aiptasia living in the overflow weir along with half a dozen baby sun corals.
Following the transfer Rei the yellow wrasse hid in the sand for a whole 10 days before finally deciding to make an appearance. I honestly thought he’d died from stress or something. Everything else made it through OK which I’m relieved about. The fish were naturally pretty freaked out however so I didn’t take any photos for ages.
The Acros are still alive and growing but have lost colour which is probably down to the poor nutrient situation. There have been a number of reports circulating recently that TMC eco reef rock leaches phosphate and silicates but apart from a brief spike of phosphate during the cycle that hasn’t been my experience at all. Nitrate and phosphate have been consistently registering as zero on my test kits (Salifert and Hanna respectively). In the old days this wouldn’t have bothered me much but the internet has taught me to fear the dreaded D word. For a while I saw a little growth of what looked like some brown algae on the rocks but when viewed along the length of the tank with natural lighting behind was in fact green hair algae. There must have been some nutrients knocking about somewhere to fuel the growth. This algae started to become a little more pronounced so I decided the CUC needed a tiny boost. Two weeks and 6 small Trochus snails later most of this algae was gone, I felt quite pleased with myself. However the removal of the hair algae shifted the balance somehow and combined with a lack of nutrients I began to see the appearance of dinoflagellates on some of my gorgonians. Normally I would take a watch and wait approach but it’s hard not be affected by some of the algae horror stories I have read online. I dusted off the microscope and identified the species as Ostreopsis, fearing a full blown infestation along with the death of my beloved snails I decided action was required in the form of nitrate dosing. I had already been feeding quite heavily to that point including Reef roids and phytoplankton but it didn’t seem to have made any measurable difference. It felt wrong to be actually dosing nitrate! I began with a laughably tiny amount (0.5ml of Brightwell’s NeoNitro per day, 12.6ml will raise my tank volume by 1ppm so 0.5ml was nothing lol). After 6 weeks I gradually increased the dose to 4ml per day, during this time the dino growth increased slightly, mainly evident on the gorgonians, but never turned into the major disaster I feared. The gorgonians still had their polyps extended and the snails seemed fine too. I continued my weekly water change regimen using the opportunity to siphon as much of the dinos as possible every time (not recommended I know but I like to perform water changes).
When the tank was 4 months old I sent off the first ICP sample. I discovered elevated levels of Cobalt and Aluminium. I have no idea where they have come from, leeching from the rock maybe? The nitrate level was 0.02mg/l, phosphate was 0.03mg/l and silicate was 66ug/l. Iodine was a bit low as expected (and some other elements low as per usual).
Finally after 7 weeks of dosing nitrate I started to register 1ppm on the Salifert kit, incredibly the dinos started to recede! This might have been a coincidence of course and nothing at all to do with the nitrate level but either way I am happy.
I am curious to know why I’m not registering a release of phosphate and/or silicate from the TMC eco reef rock. Perhaps the corals are soaking up the nutrients as they are released, the gorgonians are growing very fast. Or maybe the rock is hatching a plan to trip me up later on down the road.
I began the tank cycle on the 2nd February 2020 with a bottle of Dr Tim's One and Only plus the recommended dose of ammonium chloride. Thereafter I tested ammonia, nitrite and nitrate every day for 27 days. Needless to say the levels I recorded in my tank did not look like the neat and tidy graphs I see posted online. I added further doses of ammonium chloride, as per instructions, on days 3 and 6. I also boosted the ammonia again on day 15 and 17 to keep things ticking over. The lights were left off during the cycle but there was some overspill from the Reefer 170.
Here's what the ammonia and nitrite levels looked like.
And here is nitrate.
By day 10 the nitrate level had reached the upper limit of my Salifert test kit so I had to dilute the sample first by 1 in 5 and then later on by 1 in 10. On day 15 the nitrate level had reached a whopping 250ppm!! I envisioned having to perform water changes every week for the next 6 months or so. Things were starting to look a bit grim. The largest water change I can perform at any one time is 30% so on day 19 that's exactly what I did. The following day I recorded the level at 180ppm which is exactly the amount I expected following the water change but what I didn't expect was to see an increase in the nitrite level again. I continued my daily testing and not only did the nitrite levels fall back down again but the nitrate levels kept dropping and dropping till on day 27 they read a rather acceptable 5ppm with no further water changes required. How weird! I have a feeling that the off the scale nitrate levels were probably due to interference by nitrite, either that or I have a super duper nitrate reducing system in my tank. Patent pending.
Whilst the tank was cycling my tank cover arrived and I was somewhat disappointed to discover that there is what I consider to be an excessively large gap between top of the weir comb and the mesh lid. What's that all about? Why can't the level of the weir be designed to be more in line with the top of the tank?? I don't have the D-D branded cover but I can't imagine that sits any lower than any of the other alternatives. Anyway there's more than enough room for any of my small to moderately sized fish to squeeze through and since there is no cover on the weir they'll end up stuck down inside it or take a ride down into the sump. Neither alternative is acceptable so I plugged the gap with some clear acrylic sheet. There is still a small gap to the right of the weir comb that I haven't fixed but it's pretty narrow so hopefully my fish won't discover it (famous last words I know).
On day 11 I fired up the skimmer, an Ultra-Reef UKS-160 mainly for aeration purposes. This is not a new skimmer but you wouldn't know it, as soon as the pump was fired up it went completely crazy so I left the cup off for the time being. Plenty of air going in there to be sure.
10 days later it showed no signs of calming down and I was getting a bit sick of the salt creep everywhere so I fitted the cup with the drain plug removed so that the water overflowed into the cup and back into the sump again. As you can see protein scum began collecting inside the cup.
Skip forward another 13 days and still the skimmer was in overdrive despite the flow restrictor being wide open and the unit sitting in exactly the right level of water. I decide to craft a stand to raise it up a bit, eggcrate, PVC pipe and cable ties later...ta da!
That was version 1, since then the pipe legs have been cut down a bit as the skimmer was then sitting a bit too high (typical) but it's started working well now. I have read that skimmer collection is reduced in tanks where roller filters are also employed but it's definitely pulling out some stinky stuff. Talking of the X-filter, I must hold my hand up and admit how I eagerly watched and waited for the motor to turn for the very first time, yes I'm sad like that. It seemed to take an age for the water level to rise up and trigger the level sensor, lol. The excitement has since worn off a bit as I've become used to the motor just doing its thing, it is quite satisfying to see the used dirty brown roll. Better out than in (I hope).
On day 27 I considered the tank to be pretty much cycled. Diatoms were beginning to take hold on the sand and rocks so I decided to add some Tisbe copepods. I wanted to encourage the growth of these little critters as much as possible before transferring any of (my pod loving) fish over from the Reefer. For a couple of days I thought the tank must be toxic and I'd killed them all off as I couldn't find a single pod on the glass but then they bit by bit they slowly started to appear. This made me one extremely happy reefer (I'm easily pleased clearly).
On the same day as adding the copepods I fired up the refugium. I'm a big fan of refugia not just as an area for the growth of macro algae but also for the reproduction of beneficial critters (and also as a place to relegate any naughty crabs etc if needed). I wanted to keep the light spill down to a minimum inside the sump itself so I designed something to sit in the cupboard to the left of the sump with the pipework entering and exiting via the existing hole in the cabinet. I didn't want to have to modify the cabinet in any way and I almost, just almost, got away with it. The pipework was a tight fit but worked out perfectly, however the tank height was out by just over a millimetre, arghh! I had to sand down the back wall of the cabinet a touch to get it to fit. Ooops! I decided not to make the tank myself this time as it would be a lot bigger than my previous set up and hence more water to worry about leaking, instead I got Wharf Aquatics to make it for me. I'm running a Kessil H80 for the time being (that one I had lighting the Reefer refugium) but I may switch to something more viewer friendly at a later date, I'm not really a fan of the red/purple lighting to be honest.
Here it is looking clean and tidy (needless to say it doesn't look like this now, far from it!).
Incidentally even though I did not directly add any copepods to the refugium some have made it down there anyway from the DT and it's now buzzing with pod activity. I have the X-filter bypass controllers fully closed but still the pods have managed to find a way through the filter, past the skimmer and through the refugium pump/pipe and into the refugium, which I find pretty amazing to be honest.
Not much new to report really, everything seems to be ticking along and there have been no new additions.
I harvested a load of macro algae from the refugium as the upper half was a completely solid mass. I think I might have been a bit over zealous with my pruning as the algae growth seems to have stalled somewhat since then. A knock on effect being that the nutrient levels within the tank have risen slightly. On the 9th January phosphate tested at around 0.046ppm and nitrate 0.35ppm using the Elos low range kits. When I tested again on the 10th January the phosphate level had crept up to 0.08ppm and nitrate to 1ppm. Hopefully once the algae growth picks up again the levels will stabilise as I don't really want the phosphate level to get any higher. I must get into the habit of harvesting smaller amounts of algae on a more regular basis.
I've also been chasing the male pintail wrasse round in the hopes of capturing a decent photo of him displaying to the female but boy, he's really fast! I have multiple shots of just his tail or the rear half of his body, lol. I am very persistent though, thank goodness for digital cameras or I would have probably given up by now.
I finally relented and moved the Balanophyllia to the sump, it was on the fast track to coral heaven if I left it in the DT thanks to the Pintail's attentions. It's so much easier to feed down there now, especially during the day as the refugium is reverse lit so it's nice and dark. The good news is whilst the flesh on one side has receded quite badly due to the earlier infection it doesn't appear to be getting any worse and it's certainly happy to start eating again. It's a pale shadow of what it once was, the photo below shows how far the tentacles currently expand (and the receded skeleton). I hope it improves and opens up fully again.
The green tentacled corallimorph was looking a little more extended than I usually see it during the day so I whipped out the camera for a quick snap of that too (with flash). It looks like an anemone (and is commonly called a ball anemone) but actually is a part of the mushroom family. It hitchhiked into my tank on a small piece of zoanthid rock and doesn't appear to have spread much in 8 months time, mind you neither have the zoas either, lol. I think it actually looks rather attractive.
I'll sign off with another short video. It's not much different than the last one I posted tbh but hopefully still enjoyable to watch.
When the tank hit one year old I sent off for another ATI ICP-OES analysis. The results of which are below.
Sooo, if it's not one thing it's another, last test the calcium level was a little low and now this time it's potassium. I don't currently own a potassium supplement and am debating whether I really need to order one now or not, I've never had to dose potassium before so it's a new one on me. The tin level is continuing to drop so that's one issue sorted and I seem to have hit on the right level of iodine dosing too. Nitrate and phosphate are still on the low side, I keep expecting them to rise as the tank gets older but there's not been much change yet. Despite this the coral growth is slow but steady and the colours are looking nice (well to my eyes they are at least) so I will continue as is for the moment.
Hi, my name is Lisa and I live in Derby, UK. I am a self-confessed reefaholic!