Donya's 55-Gallon

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Donya

Donya

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Well, the nitrite definitely can't be a pre-existing level at this point, since it's actually gone up since the first reading. It's basically at the top of the color chart right now and trace ammonia is showing now too. Must be some sort of die-off...not what I was expecting. I went ahead and put the mud in after that finding. I figure I may as well let the sump get through it's opaque, mud pie stage while it cycles.
 
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Donya

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The sump is up and running connected to the tank now. The nitrite spike tuns out to have been from the tank water, even though the main tank measures at zero. I had been getting suspicious that water die-off was the culprit, since the only similar thing I've seen has been from seawater collected off the coast and allowed to sit for a few days as the micro-organisms die off (makes a similar big nitrite spike, often with little or no ammonia). The proof of that hypothesis came when tank and sump were at zero nitrite finally, but when I switched things on there was a big "blorp" sound and a bunch of water spat out from the drainage tube with some delay after that before the siphon created a steady flow. Apparently I had forgotten to empty the drainage portion of the system while waiting for the cycle, so a few cups of water sat there, disconnected from both systems during the cycle. Testing immediately after that event showed trace nitrites had popped back up again, whereas it was zero immediately before. The trace levels were so tiny I wasn't worried and they also disappeared within a few hours. 
 
Since there are lots of Echinoderms in the tank, which are very sensitive to rapid shifts in water chemistry, I didn't just switch the sump on and let it go. Instead, I switched it on for a few minutes at a time spaced out over a few hours to allow a gradual shift in any chemistry I hadn't tested for. When switched on permanently, I let it run first with the return pump throttled down for a while and opened it back up the following morning. Something about the change also triggered spawning in several sea urchins. That doesn't necessarily indicate any sort of serious stress; spawning in aquariums is commonly associated with larger water changes, increased surface agitation, or even just putting in a new circulation pump. In my longspine urchin tub, I have a rotating pump that often gets stuck in one position, and fixing it so it rotates again often results in the urchins in the tank spawning. So, it could just that the change in flow was the culprit this time.
 
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Donya

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I started doing a big clean-out of my fish room this week for the purpose of turning it into a work space...or, rather, a neighbor-avoidance space for when they are being unbelievably loud directly above my unit's main room. The sound of flowing water from the various tanks helps to cover up the sounds stomping and boom bass pretty well. I'm not breaking down any tanks to do this, just moving things like water storage buckets to places other than the middle of the room and throwing out old stuff. So, now I have a desk to work at that is facing the 55gal.
 
desk1.jpg 
 

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That's cool donya, sounds like a pain to have neighbors like that sorry.
 
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Donya

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Been ages since I updated this thread. Tank's still doing well, although I had to move out the cabbage leather when an anemone got a case of the wiggles and the two got into a fight (anemone stung the coral and then the coral tried to slime the anemone; both are fine). I may be able to move the cabbage back eventually; not sure yet. I have two 20gal reef tanks at the moment and it's doing alright in one of those for now. I also had to move my two T. gratilla urchins and my purple urchin that I originally thought was T. gratilla but isn't (forget off the top of my head what I discovered it actually is). The lot of them just got too big and started shifting rocks that were really too big to be dragged around the tank safely. Other than that, not much interesting has happened livestock-wise.
 
The sump is about as safe as it can get now I think, although it sure took long enough to reach that point. I discovered a few months back that the sump was not well guarded against the siphon being blocked. Not broken (which can be restarted by the little pump I've got hooked up to it), but actually blocked with something that stops water from getting in. I discovered this because an anemone slithered into the overflow and caused the water line to get a bit higher than I'd have liked. Now I've got a sump controller on the system that will shut off the return pump if the sump waterline drops too low. This also protects the return pump from running dry. The sump controller I got was one of these:
 
http://www.washerwatcher.com/Hi_Lo_Controller.htm
 
which says it "works great in salt water"...which it did eventually, but not without extra stuff. The probes require a properly grounded environment, which my tank was not. Without a ground, the controller just clicks off straight away as soon as one sensor is dry. Keeping both wet isn't an option since it then thinks the return pump is broken and starts beeping. So, I had to get a ground probe for the tank, which then required GFCIs on all relevant wall outlets for safety. That's all done now, so the tank is both safer and better secured against equipment failures. 
 
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Donya

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Video of some Xenia I've been growing in the tank for a while.
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xB0ylvr-2hg&feature=youtu.be
 
People often have trouble getting this coral to do what it's doing in the video above; they can be finicky. It's always been happy in this particular tank regardless of its location. A while back, I divided the colony in half a while back, leaving half in this tank and putting the other half in another reef tank across the room. The one in my 55gal pulses all the time like it is in the video, but the one I moved out is completely passive and just drifts slowly in the current even after several weeks - won't pulse even the slightest bit, but continues to grow at roughly the same rate. 
 

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That is beautiful. I thought that pulsing always had to do with the water flow that is hitting the xenia? I thought they only pulsed in the absence of flow so they can get food. In a higher flow they don't need to pulse to get the food on their tentacles. The pulsing would use energy that they wouldn't need to expend in a higher flow. 
 
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In this case I think it's unlikely to be flow, although that's definitely a common culprit. I've got the non-pulsing one in low flow that, from watching the flow of particulates in the water, looks pretty close to what it's like where the original is currently in my 55gal. I've heard from many other hobbyists that water chemistry is a big factor too. I'm not picking up any big differences with the kits I've got, but I haven't been extensive with that and the feeding regimes are different between the tanks. I did notice some polyps on the one in my 20gal reef were giving a bit of movement this evening after I added a slurry of really disgusting stuff to feed some filter-feeding corals in the same tank, which is something I've only just started this week. So, it could be down to dissolved nutrients...will have to see if they perk up over time with the new yucky food going in regularly. I throw a lot of stuff like that into the 55gal that doesn't normally go into my smaller tanks.
 
Finally got some pictures tonight of a basslet pair I've got in this tank. I've had them for months now and they're really friendly most of the time, but they always run off behind something when the camera comes out, or any strange object they're not used to for that matter...or new people. They're odd little things. Good eaters though...have to be a bit careful when dropping food in since they like to jump to get it before it hits the water.
 
basslets1.jpg
 
basslets2.jpg
 

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I have a mobile anemone as well. He seems to be looking for trouble. At first he found a peaceful home away from any lps neighbors but for whatever reason moved into bubble coral territory so I had to intervene. Shortly after he moved above a hammer and kind of close to the bubble. Not much for wiggle room, I wish he stayed in his original location.
 
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I should update this to say that my raffle-won PM protein skimmer lasted only ~1 year from being set up. It performed very well during that time, but this past month the pump started periodically rattling strangely and not being able to put out water with any force. It would be normal for a while and then stop, just spitting periodically. Then one day it basically just quit and started heating up pretty badly. I took apart everything that's meant to come apart for routine maintenance to see if it was a cleaning issue, but...it was pretty much spotless inside. There was a limpet that had managed to get in where it didn't belong, but that won't have been what caused the problem since there were no moving parts around it. The impeller can spin freely since there's no buildup of any sort anywhere, but isn't being spun at all except in short bursts, so I assume it's an electrical issue or something in the part of the housing that one isn't normally supposed to open up. I don't think I have any way to make a warranty claim on it unfortunately, but may see if I can either repair it or get a replacement pump at some point down the line if I do a bigger tank. 
 
In the mean time, I decided my 55gal had been running long enough with a skimmer that I didn't want to suddenly leave it skimmer-less for good now, so I picked up an Eshopps S120 locally as a replacement. The Eshopps skimmer is actually much quieter and obviously is a much better fit, so I will be sticking with that on this tank. Here it chugging along:
 
new_skimmer.jpg
 
The tank did go about a week without a skimmer. Everything looked and tested fine, and I cut back on feeding to make sure of that, but it apparently got filthy even with that. Normally new skimmers and recently cleaned ones have a "priming time" during which they build up the foam, and it can take several days sometimes. The cleaner the water, the slower it is. For example, I ran my new one for a couple days in freshly mixed salt to make sure it was clean and running smoothly before going in the sump, and it didn't make any foam at all (after all, newly mixed water should be pretty clean!). However, once in the actual sump, it made a foam column immediately and there was a noticeable layer of brown goop in the collection cup within an hour - had to empty it the next morning it had built up so much stuff. That speed for pulling out actual goop (vs. water/wet skimming) is pretty unusual; I'm sort of surprised I didn't get any spikes of anything. The goop buildup has since subsided and is back to more-or-less the rate it was at with the larger PM skimmer.
 
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Proof that fish do not grow proportionally to their environment...
 
pj_cardinals_sm.jpg
 
These two fish were pretty much directly in line, one above the other when I snapped the photo, so the size difference is not because one is significantly closer to the camera. The one on top really is a much bigger fish. They about about 3.5" and 4.5" nose to end of tail fin. The big one is pale because it just went into the tank and is therefore doing the nervous, washed-out-color thing.
 
Some number of pages back in this thread I had tried to have a pair of PJ cardinals in this thread. Both were probably about 2" at the time. My first one was obviously a male from the displays he did, and had I introduced another one that I thought was likely a female. The male made courtship advances but was ignored, and he turned into a massive grumpypants and I had to remove the presumed female and put her in a 20gal. Today I finally moved her back to try again. She is the beefy one top in the picture despite growing in a tank less than half the size. So far she actually seems to be responding to the advances this time, so maybe I will have better luck at pairing them. If I don't and just have a repeat, it will be the male that has to get the boot to a smaller tank instead given the size difference.
 
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This tank will likely only be up and running for a few more months, as i am likely to need to move when summer arrives. I have a few important take-aways from this experience that I want to share. Obviously I had a lot of fun with the tank, and I would do it again if in the same situation as when I got it, which is to say that I had plenty of space and new I would not be moving for a long time. Here are some things I have learned from the experience:
 
Positive points (which will be more concise because they are pretty obvious and don't require explanation):
 
- More space = opportunity for a more diverse ecosystem. Interesting things will emerge that simply don't take place in smaller bodies of water.
- More water volume = more resistance to freak accidents involving nutrient spikes.
- More space = a potentially wider range of interesting animals.
- Sumps add to stability
- In-sump skimmers are great filtration and have NOT starved out my filter feeders. My filter feeders have flourished with a big skimmer attached.
 
 
Negative points:
 
- There were and still are parts of the tank that are effectively off-limits to me due to my arm length. Even climbing up on a stool and using tongs doesn't 100% solve this.
 
- When equipment fails, it costs more to replace. Bigger tanks require stronger pumps, which cost more, and so on. The usual things of lighting, power heads, and so on have failed at about the same rate I've observed for the same stuff on smaller tanks. In my cases I don't believe it was poor maintenance in any observed cases either; things just punk out sometimes, either randomly dying with no apparent cause or with an obvious culprit like power fluctuations (everything is surge protected, but some equipment doesn't seem to handle brown-outs very well). 
 
- My sump came with two major downs sides:
 
1. Top-offs: the sump is a big open-topped area that creates a lot of evaporation. I have to add at least a whole gallon of RO every single day - that's the sort of top-off neediness that is usually associated with tiny tanks. If I were to skip it for 2 days, the sg would be through the roof. If I was going to keep the tank long-term I'd have to invest in an auto top-off system, but these have their own problems such as flooding as a failure case (which can also kill animals if it drops the sg too fast - I've heard many horror stories of this).
 
2. Overflows are a great way to sump a non-drilled tank, but they introduce more points of failure. Mine has always been very reliable for very long periods of time, but if something is going to go wrong, like an animal somehow getting inside the siphon tube, it goes wrong really fast and has to be caught and addressed rapidly to keep the system ticking over smoothly. For example: one day I found a large hermit crab in the back chambers of the overflow spending its time dismantling the siphoning backup system and pushing the siphon tube up. I still have no idea how it got back there, but finding that somewhat shook my confidence in the system. I am also aware of cases in others' tanks of anemones and corals blocking up drains and overflow tubes, although it has not happened to me personally.
 
 
If/when I move, I think I will be scaling back to the nano range and doing more primitive, fairly self-contained tanks (i.e. no sumps) with either hang-on or canister filters for using chemical filtration media instead of skimmers. Or I may go the sump-in-the-back rout like biocubes have; I've really liked the way my fluval specs work, which are similar. Either way, I don't think I will be doing a traditional below-the-tank sump again for a long time to come. There are a few reasons for this, all of which are basically related to changes that will be taking place in with my job and living/home situation:
 
- I need something that has less possible points of failure, particularly where water leakage is concerned. While my 55gal has never had a complete floor-flooding disaster, there have been small overflows while I've been switching things on/off for maintenance and there have been a few other close calls I would have preferred to avoid. I also really need to be able to go to bed and not wake up at 1am wondering if that sound I'm hearing is my neighbors taking a shower or my sump spilling over due to another mysterious crab in the overflow.
 
- I will likely need to be able to travel for a 2-4 days periodically without having someone to look over the tanks. Right now, my 20gals could actually do that without a hitch. My 55gal definitely couldn't due to the sump-induced evaporation rates. 
 
- I need it to not be an ordeal and a half if, for random home repair-related or similar reasons, I need to dump everybody in a bucket, drain the tank, and temporarily move it to another place. Small tanks pretty obviously beat out large ones for this. I know from past experience that I can do this with a 20gal in an afternoon quite easily without having an unstable mess. In contrast, it will take me at least a whole day just to get critters out of the 55gal when I need to break it down to move.
 
While keeping the 55gal, I've had two 20 gallons running on the opposite side of the room that have served as a good comparison for stability and maintenance stuff. When not overstocked, I have actually found my current 20 gallons to need far less maintenance overall than my 55gal now that it's sumped. Evaporation is also a lot easier to control on those tanks and the amounts they require for top-offs are currently microscopic compared to the sumped 55gal. And, short of the tank shattering, there is also a lot less risk of water getting onto the floor. So, while I loved my 55gal as an excursion out of the nano range, I think it will have to be back to smaller things for me later this year.
 

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Thanks for the info.as much as I love my new saltwater tank I wouldn't like to be tied down to a larger one.for my lifestyle just now a 20 gallon is perfect.
 
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Donya

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as much as I love my new saltwater tank I wouldn't like to be tied down to a larger one.
 
 
Indeed, people often don't talk about time commitments when recommending larger tanks (I've been at fault for this as well in the past). I've been fortunate to be in one place for over 7 years and have had this particular tank for 5 of them, which was a good amount of time. I think you're right that 20gal is about as big as you can go while not having to drop anchor for such a long time. It's well above the daily neediness and instability of tiny desktop tanks in the pico range, while still being possible to easily to relocate if needed. 
 

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