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35 Gallon Nano Commercial Set-Up

by Bob Fenner

This month’s example of a small/ish marine system can be found in one of San Diego’s few, but exemplary retail outlets: Aquatic Warehouse (www.aquaticwarehouse.com). To hear the owner, Pat Hurley explain it, the pieces of this marine rig were put together to serve as a model of what any hobbyist could put together (versus a commercial "all-in-one" combined product) given less-expensive, available lighting, filtration etc.. Though it is represented as "low cost", all told the components and livestock retail for upwards of two thousand U.S. dollars.

I’d like to thank Sam Garcia (aka Scalz… www.scalz.com) employee, friend and principal designer of this set-up for taking the time and effort, sharing what thoughts went into this system, its assembling and operation. <Pic of the system, w/ or w/o Sam>.

System: This is a lightly fish populated (two Papua New Guinea Ocellaris Clowns and a Royal Gramma, G. loreto), coral garden aquarium, dominated by "soft corals": (Leathers, Corallimorpharians, Zoanthids and Gorgonians). To foster these organisms well-being, stony corals (Scleractinians) are excluded, making for less allelopathy; i.e., negative Cnidarian interactions chemically and physically.

Tank: This is a very clean all-glass and clear Silastic product of Mr. Aqua (Singapore), available through a few etailers (Marine Depot, Premium Aquatics…) and some retailers that can be searched through their site: (http://mraqua.net/aquatic-retail-stores/).

Filtration: Simplicity in itself, surprisingly this tanks filter gear consists of two simple hang ons. A Hagen AquaClear 50 power filter and an Aeroforce CPR Skimmer

Circulation: Water movement is provided in part by the spill over discharges of the aforementioned power filter and skimmer. Additionally there is good placement of the Aerofoamer’s intake pump <pictured> and a Korallia Nano pump. This last is well situated in the upper right, back corner where it sets up a gyre moving the system’s water in a clockwise vortex (seen from above), with the intake from the skimmer helping by taking in water at a right angle to the Korallia’s discharge. Not huge circulation by turnovers per hour, but with good spacing, allowing room around all sides, adequate for this shape, volume system and types of life employed.

Having the Korallia positioned near the surface, blowing along one side, aided by the Skimmer pump intake at a right angle, the system’s water is set in a clockwise (seen from the top) gyre. Space has been allowed all along the front, back and sides to promote overall flow.

Lighting: Three off the shelf Hagen "Glo" T5 24" double bulb lighting fixtures are fitted w/Giesemann lamps; two Fiji Purple, two Actinic Plus and two Aqua Blues… the last two types of lamps are great for setting out ones dawn to dusk transitions, but are a bit "too blue" for my taste.

Biota/Livestock: As you know or will, putting assortments together for small volumes is a demanding task; likely the hardest part of being a keeper of such systems. With smaller size… come increased competition and the ill-effects of such between warring attached, benthic organisms. This situation can hardly be overstated; allelopathy is likely the principal factor in not only limiting the growth and preponderance of life on wild reefs, it is the principal determinant of health and survival of "corals" and their stinging-celled relatives in our captive systems.

Retail stores are much more fortunate than the majority of hobbyists in that they have many systems, organisms to choose from, and therefore the flexibility to sort through, remove and replace specimens that aren’t apparently doing well, or that may be mal-influencing their tankmates. Further, most all modern LFSs have "recirculating systems", sub-systems that co-mingle water (by type: saltwater, invertebrates…) that eases maintenance, dilutes wastes and potential toxins, and very importantly, serve to more gently introduce what often are potential competitors. The 35 gallon here is a prime example of these benefits. Two of the principal groups contained, the Mushrooms and Zoanthids are in the "high" chemical warfare groups of Cnidarians, and great care should be exercised when introducing these "warriors" to the same volume, especially if it’s small. In this retail stores holding systems, these and other stinging-celled life were already accustomed to each other’s "smell", greatly reducing the likelihood of real trouble when all were thrust/juxtaposed in the isolated 35.

A vital note to all who would keep such life ("corals" and relatives) in small volumes (tens of gallons): Amongst the primary uses of a separate "quarantine" (aka treatment, isolation) system, is to do the same as mentioned above; to initially keep all new stinging-celled life apart from your system/s of established mix/es. After a couple weeks’ time to assure health, a lack of pests, parasites, some (a few cups) of water should be mixed from one system to the other (both) to generate this same effect. MANY problems with "mixed reef gardening" (the assemblage of hodge-podge gatherings of Cnidarians) are directly due to allelopathy; and most all of these events could be avoided through this simple isolation and water-mixing protocol. Do adopt/adapt it to your use.

This 35 is mainly a soft coral garden, containing the leather corals of the family Alcyoniidae. These include one green Sarcophyton (likely an ORA product), and a mix of Sinularia and a Lobophyton. Additionally, amongst the Octocorals present are a Cespitularia toward the upper back and a Clove Polyp (Clavulariid) in the middle foreground.

A smallish green Sarcophyton

Sinularia, Lobophyton, Cespitularia, Clove Polyp.

I count at least four types/species of Mushrooms (Corallimorpharians) and an equal number of Zoanthids/Sea Mats here living in apparent harmony.



Zoanthids present and accounted for.

Last I’ll mention the two sea fans and the three fishes as livestock. There are a couple of VERY nice (Amphiprion) ocellaris clowns here from Papua New Guinea, and a tropical West Atlantic Gramma loreto.


Of the two Gorgonians here, the Briareum is especially nice

PNG Ocellaris Clown


Inspiration: As stated, this excellent store endeavors to put up displays that demonstrate possibilities to all ability and interest level aquarists. This particularly marine one is of "good size" (to allow for flexibility in stocking and stability to aid success), with parts that are sold most everywhere, that anyone might put together themselves. Happily there are quite a few manufacturers’ lines nowadays that provide all-inclusive systems including tank, lighting, filtration… even stands for such small to really Nano systems. With this 35 gallon minimalist assemblage one can really get enthused putting their ideas together, rather than a plug and play arrangement.

Maintenance: According to Aquatic Warehouse’s staff, the basic upkeep on this system is mainly a matter of careful feeding and water changes. The mechanical filter media in the AquaClear is rinsed out weekly, and the CPR skimmer’s collection cup and contact chamber given a surface rub down at this time. Foods/feeding consist of daily small portions of PE Mysis and Cyclopeeze.

Overall Assessment: This is an "A" arrangement, with simple to get, assemble and operate components, and an beautiful, interesting assortment of livestock. As for the lighting though, I myself don’t care for this system’s "too-blue" look… and would switch out at least one, if not two of the actinic/blue lamps for more "white" for appearance. However, functionally, it’s obvious the photosynthetic life here has no such complaint.


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