Rebuilding A 20Gal After A Move

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Donya

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I recently moved from Connecticut down to Texas and decided to take many of my marine critters with me. I'm now re-building a 20gal reef from what I brought and also wanted to share how I brought everything, since it was a lot more successful than past moves I've done. I did a move the other way 8 years ago from Texas to Connecticut, also with marine animals but it was a nightmare! It went much more smoothly this time, although more effort and planning took place. In this first post I've put details on that further down. 
 
This is what will be going into the tank right away once the dust settles:
- 1 PJ cardinal
- 1 Bangai cardinal
- 1 chalk basslet
- 1 damselfish of unknown species (but he's lived with all the other fish before for years, so no aggression problems expected)
- Bunch of hermit crabs of various species combined from multiple tanks
- A few snails
- A few soft corals
- Some anemones I previously kept all together in a different 20gal
 
Equipment will be:
- AI Prime LED
- Fluval 206 canister for phosphate remover and carbon
- One Hydor powerhead
 
I'm not doing a skimmer on this tank. After many years of being skimmer-less I explored skimmers on tanks of various sizes, and ultimately concluded that I prefer a canister with chemial media on smaller tanks like this one.
 
Over time I'm hoping to grow the corals out and add some newer, more interesting and colorful types. Most of the soft corals I've kept over time have been fairly blah color-wise and I only recently got lighting that will support more snappy colors. 
 
This is the new tank that's waiting for particulates to settle and/or filter out. It's basically opaque right now because I was stupid (really tired at the time) and just emptied the sand in without washing it. It's a 20gal high with an AI Prime LED light - which is a really cool little thing that I can control via my phone.
 
new_tank_sm.jpg
 
It will be ready-to-go with no real cycle from the live rock once that happens, although I will need to keep a very close on water params to make sure nothing funky happens.
 
How I Moved Critters
 
To transport the critters, I used a series of containers like this:
 
transport_tank_sm.jpg
 
These were some air tight containers I got online. Each one holds about a gallon of water and I filled them halfway - which made them both splash resistant and possible to pick up with the handle without the lid snapping off. I used a soldering iron to put two holes in the top for airline: one for air in and one for air out (to keep the seal tight around the edges). The location for both is near the middle to make it difficult for water to splash up there. There were only a few drops of leakage each day, so the design was very successful in that respect. Each container then went in a soft, waterproof cooler to keep the container thermall stable. I used sponge filters that I'd pre-colonized in the tanks for several weeks leading up to the move, so they were filtered along the way being powered by battery powered air pumps. I had 7 of these containers in total stacked into the back seat of my car. Every night there was quite a bit of work: unload all coolers to the hotel room, check everybody, hook up to a standard plug-in air pump with multiple outlets, and do water changes on the messier animals (some containers required zero changes until I arrived - the power of sponge filters!). 
 
Things That Arrived OK
 
Most of my corals are doing great, although I didn't take many; mostly I just brought a few hardy leather corals of various types and focused more on anemones. I took three different species of anemones: a bunch of rose BTA clones, a Heteractis aurora, and a mini maxi. All are acting like nothing happened, although they are very hungry since they're used to being fed daily and can't start with that again until the new build is done. The anemone transport container required zero water changes for the 3 days of travel plus 2 additional days after arrival (I kept them separate for a bit so panicked fish didn't swim headfirst into them).
 
I brought LOTs of Crustaceans. Hermit crabs are really my thing in marine stuff and I have a ton of them that are all just fine. They are also an easier animal to transport this way since many species are tidal, and tidal species are quite hardy. I also have a number of shrimp that arrived happily.
 
Fish that made it are a little blue damselfish (never did manage to ID it properly), two cardinalfish and a basslet. I only lost one fish (one basslet). The fish were all in together to stop them from eating stuff, and required substantial water changes along the way as a result. Fish are also better able to deal with a bit of ammonia than, say, shrimp, which was another reason I put them in together. Messy things with messy things and clean things with clean things.
 
Everybody is in a temporary tub right now with live rock and the Fluval canister, since getting a tank stand took longer than expected. I didn't have one to bring with me since I was using ugly cinder block and boards before. I'm hoping to make this tank actually look nice though.
 
 
Things That Didn't Do So Well
 
I lost only 2 animals during the 3-day travel period itself. Both were extremely old Crustaceans that worried me a bit when I was preparing everybody to go into the travel containers, since they were very sluggish even then. They died on the very first day and there were no water quality problems, so probably the stress of changing environments was too much for them.
 
Three corals melted: two tree corals and some Xenia. One tree coral melted shortly after arrival (no idea why for that one) and another melted in the temporary tank I set up while waiting on the build to clear up. A cabbage leather rolled onto it overnight, and that will not be the first time I've had a cabbage melt something. I am also really not at all surprised about the Xenia; that stuff either grows like a weed or dies if you look at it funny. I had an overabundance of it prior to leaving and probably saturated the local market for it in CT with frags before I left, since I know it doesn't travel long distances reliably. I only took a little with me because of that and, well...I guess I must have looked at it funny at some point, since it turned into goop a few days after getting some good light on it. 
 
I had one fish casualty some time after arrival and after setting up a temporary filtered tub. I brought a basslet pair with me, and one might have injured itself along the way - or it may have had a brain tumor, I'm not really sure and didn't do any detailed diagnosis. After it died, I saw the skull was quite asymmetrical with an enlarged section on one side, which was not obvious when the animal was in motion and could either be swelling from an injury or something that developed slowly over time (it was very similar to the appearance of some internal tumors I've seen in the past). The other basslet has been going absolutely bonkers since its mate died, so I'm a little worried about it at the moment, but I'll just have to see how things go with it. Other fish are totally fine so far.
 
One thing I took a big risk on was taking some Echinoderms with me. They are quite fragile animals to transport. Some went back to stores because of that, but I took a few urchins and a big brittle star. I ended up losing a few of the urchins, but not because the water got polluted - the water was actually fine the whole way in the Echinoderm container. Instead, the urchins got hungry during the transport and chewed on a couple of the brittle's arms. I have lost fish and other animals to trying to eat brittle stars, so the outcome was not surprising: everybody that partook in a nibble experienced gradual rigid paralysis over a few days followed by a period of weird hyperactivity and then eventual death. The brittle star is fine, as is the one urchin who did not have a snack on the way. 
 
Things I learned
 
A few important things to pass on to others who might want to undertake something like this...
 
1. You cannot fast your fish in an established tank. I tried this for a couple days since that's what you're supposed to do to prepare fish for travel - in theory, it minimizes the amount of waste. Instead, after 2 days of no feeding, I noticed all my Amphipods were gone from the tanks, and I had to move them to a tub that they promptly made a huge mess of. So, fast your fish in a sterile environment where they can't cheat on their diet.
 
2. Be really careful with toxic animals. I would have avoided the sea urchin deaths if I'd done 8 containers instead of 7 to keep the brittles separate.
 
4. Always take premixed saltwater with you (which I did) and test it thoroughly before you set off, more than once (I was not sufficiently dilligent about this). I have not had trouble mixing salt from home-made RO in years, but several jugs in the batch I whipped up before leaving mixed really low for some reason. I had to run to a pet store in Tennessee one morning to try to make corrections on the road, which was not fun.
 
5. Live rock seems to get nuked a bit even with the best of treatment. I thought did everything right this time: packed it with some water to splash around, kept it all wet by being wrapped up in paper towels, kept it from overheating by taking it into the hotel each night (lugging a 5gal bucket full of rock a couple times each day is not fun!), and it still made a truly incredible ammonia bomb. I had to get new rock from a LFS upon arrival to set up a temporary tank while the old rock sorted itself out. The nuked rock is much improved now, but it took a week to get the ammonia reading back on the chart.
 
More pics and updates to follow as this tank comes together.
 

WesleytheBetta

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Wow!  Great job on the move and thanks for sharing...can't wait for pics of the new tank 
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Donya

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Lots has happened...
- I had originally intended to do a single 20gal after the move, but critter interactions in the temporary tub told me this wouldn't work well. So, I will document both tanks here instead of just the one. Instead of just the reef tank, I'm doing a reef and a tidal tank, which I will get pics posted of soon. For the moment I just have photos of the reef tank.
- I forgot a couple fish on my list of traveled fish: an engineer goby and a neon goby. 
- I lost the remaining basslet.
sad.png
  He seemed to just give up on life immediately after his mate died. No other fish showed any problems.
- Rock is cured again and tanks are running at good params. 
smile.png

 
Here's a short evolution in photos.
 
Dust clearing...
new_tank1_sm.jpg
 
 
Starting to move everybody in last week...
new_tank2_sm.jpg
 
And from today...
new_tank4.jpg
 
There is some macroalgae in there because it does wonders for nutrient export in unstable systems. Overall things have gone oddly smoothly and not much has surprised me beyond losing the basslets and the urchins vs brittle deathmatch. So far I've just done lots of water changes on the temporary tub for a week and then once the 20gals were running the mini cycles ended quickly. I've been a few days without needing a water change now although I'm still checking tank parameters morning and evening in case something bonkers happens.
 

Some critter shots.
 
Heractis aurora - zebra anemone
heteractis_aurora_sm.jpg
 
Stychodactyla tapetum - mini maxi carpet anemone
stychodactyla_tapetum_sm.jpg
 
Duncan coral
duncan_coral_sm.jpg
 
One of my Turbo fulctuosa snails.
turbo_fluctuosa_sm.jpg
 
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Donya

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More pics...
 
The two tanks all my stuff has been split between. 
two_tanks_sm.jpg
I have an armchair set up (took the pic while sitting in it) so that I can sit and admire them with coffee in the mornings/evenings. I need to do something about the buckets and neon yellow gloves though. The cabinets are unfortunately already full-ish; they're housing canister filters and some other equipment. 
 
Reef tank
20gal_reef_tank_sm.jpg
This has all but one fish (cardinals, damsel, neon goby), my corals, two anemones, my small hermits, and it DID have my surviving urchin until this little guy decided to make a horrendous pain of himself...
 
bee_shrimp_sm2.jpg
He is a bee shrimp. They are similar to harlequin shrimp, but are not obligate feeders on Echinoderm tube feet. This one used to live with my neon goby and still does share a burrow with him, but in tanks past he showed zero interest in eating any Echinoderm feet. He suddenly discovered the one urchin after the move, and I found him chasing it around mercilessly one day. So, the urchin had to go to the other tank.
 
Modification I had to do to the top of the tank.
tank_top_mod2_sm.jpg
Having done many open-topped nanos, I am not a fan of them anymore, since they have too much evaporation and too much potential for splash and fish escaping when frightened. But, typical hinged lids with the colored hinge don't work with the lights like the AI prime, since the darker hinge makes a big shadow in the middle of the tank. The solution is to just pull the glass out of the hinge and just sit the two parts of glass together (you can slide one back over the other to open it up), but then the lid is a bit short front to back after doing that. So, I used some quilting template plastic to make an extra back panel. This approach has worked really well so far. I only need to top up the tank a very small amount ever 4 days or so. I was originally going to get an auto top-off unit, but I don't think I really need one in fact, not at the moment anyway.
 
Shallow tidal tank
tidal_tank_sm.jpg
This one houses my larger hermits and is built to give them the opportunity to poke their heads out of the water if they want (which they do want frequently). It also has the engineer goby, the surviving urchin, my BTAs, and the meany green brittle. 
 
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Donya

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Testing out embedding from facebook to do higher resolution pictures...
 
This is my green brittle, who is mostly back to regrowing leg tips. The patterning on the body for this species changes with time. If memory serves right from reading about it, babies seen from rare captive breeding events of the species are not actually green, but they turn green at a pretty small size (obviously most in the trade are not captive bred). By the time they are the size of most that arrive in stores, they are the characteristic green with white-with-black-rim spots in initially small areas, usually arranged in a few lines radiating outwards. The spotting pattern slowly gets more convoluted and covers more of the body as they age. This guy is pretty old and is almost all spots now.
13558823_10209763024501297_3691937997360675213_o.jpg
 
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Donya

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Well, this is a good illustration of the main reason why I set up two tanks instead of just the one. There is the exact same amount of sand in each tank. Came in one morning, and...somebody had built a sand mountain overnight to reach the seaweed clip.
 
sand_sm2.jpg
 
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Donya

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Just realized I took some more decent pics a while back but forgot to share them here.
 
I think these are Calcinus tibicen. The light/dark contrast is typically not this pronounced in other C. tibicen I've seen but there is also quite a bit of color variation in the species.
 
13725098_10209885345719251_7948848072594835506_o.jpg

 
I recently added a Strombus luhuanus to my non-reef tank.
 
13690910_10209937994515438_6901263159272124271_o.jpg

 
 
My palys are the happiest I've ever seen them now. I've had this colony for a really long time. it started out as a about 4-5 polyps and took several years to get to the 25 or so it's at now. It's been extremely slow growing to this point; not sure whether that is just the species (I've heard large species are often slower growers) or if the conditions were never optimal for it in the past. It definitely loves its current tank, but it's too soon to tell whether that will affect its growth rate. A cool thing about this pic is you can see some of the little spicules (sclerites - embedded bits of calcium carbonate) in the brown tissue in some places where the light is hitting it at just the right angle.
 
13710470_10209938009835821_8766566291073447568_o.jpg
 
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Donya

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I thought I should show some things that I've found have made these two tanks vastly easier to maintain than a lot of past systems I've done.
 
1. A seaweed clip that floats when the suction cup loses its grip. All other clips I've had in the past sank...which meant they rapidly got burried and/or chewed on.
algae_clip_sm.jpg
 
2. Aquarium-safe wipes. I don't know what solvent it uses, but it is supposed to be safe if there's brief water contact. Probably there are cheaper generic things to be had, but I didn't feel like taking a chance since the chemicals aren't listed on most products, and I do know that a number of other common cleaning wipes aren't safe. I give my tanks a big wipe-down once per week at least, sooner than that if I have my arms in the tank slopping water about. I've had zero salt buildup around the rims of the tanks. In the past I just used damp paper towels, and the result was streaky glass and a constant salt buildup battle unless I resorted to vinegar, which of course made things stink for a while.
aquarium_wipes_sm.jpg
 
3. This little algae scraper. Long-handled ones are too big for my 20gals and also make it hard to apply pressure on stubborn corraline. The tendons in my arms get aggravated easily, so I have trouble using the really tiny scrapers (basically just the replaceable insert part of this one). This one is just right.
scraper_sm.jpg
 
4. These Fluval 206 canister filters. I do water changes by emptying the canister when cleaning the media, letting the canister re-fill by draining the tank, and then re-filling into the tank. These canisters have a manual pump primer that works wonders to get them filled again, which is an issue with low-water-line tanks like my hermit tank. For media I am running basically what they came with: sponges, ceramic rings, carbon, and phosphate removed (GFO). I've had zero spills with this approach and nutrient export has been great. No detritus accumulation either, but all sponges get a clean weekly.
canister_filter_sm.jpg
 
5. These odd little auto feeders, which are Resun AF-2003 feeders gotten from Amazon. They are a very basic design; they just start the timing cycle when the batteries go in and can be set to rotate at 12h or 24h (I have them on the 24h setting). They work really well with tanks that have glass hoods like mine, which don't allow a lot of space at the back for dumping food in. Prior to these, I also tried another auto feeder that was about 3x the cost and it worked very poorly by comparison. I think most are designed for either bigger tanks or open-topped tanks. Anyway, the Resun feeders have been very useful for me since there are a few days each week where I have to get out the door long before my tank wakes up and then return pretty late in the evening.
auto_feeder_sm.jpg
 
Overall, my weekly maintenance on both systems combined takes ~1/2 hour on Saturdays, so about 15min each. 
 
 
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Donya

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I was just out of town for 4 days with no check-ups on these tanks. SG is good and everyone is happy. There's a bit of algae on the glass, but that's pretty normal by this time of the week and will get cleaned away in today's maintenance. I will add some more snails sometime soon to compensate for that, but wanted to wait until after traveling to do so. I'm quite happy with the degree of automation I've managed with these tanks now; it's nice to be able to go out of town for work reasons without needing to have someone around daily to look after things.
 
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Donya

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My bumble bee shrimp came out to say hello. That's a frag plug he's sitting on (with a Kenya tree). This cute but evil little guy is the reason my Echinometra sea urchins are living with my big hermits rather than in the reef.

bee_shrimp_cropped_sm.jpg



And speaking of Echinometra urchins...over in my non-reef, apparently E. lucunter eats digitate hydroids. I have never seen anything eat digitate hydroids before. This wasn't an accidental nibbling either; I watched it pull the hydroids out of the Caulpera and eat the whole colony.


echinometra_cropped_sm.jpg
 

NickAu

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Love the tank, I use vinegar to clean the glass but will try those wipes.

I actually wouldn't mind try salt water one day,
 
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Donya

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Love the tank, I use vinegar to clean the glass but will try those wipes.

I actually wouldn't mind try salt water one day,

Prior to having these two tanks I used RO and sometimes RO + vinegar, but the vinegar smell drove me nuts since it always lingered a bit . Getting a streak-free clean also took a lot of buffing, which made my fish panic. The wipes have definitely saved me a lot of time and fish fear.
 
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Donya

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Fun surprise: I just pulled an unexpectedly large worm out of my non-reef. I noticed that my engineer goby and other critters that usually hide in the rocks were suddenly avoiding the area, which is really weird for animals that like to be covered. Upon inspection with a flashlight, I saw what appeared to be multiple worms as big around as my index finger milling around the rock. The spines were a good half-inch long, so that would be why the goby got pushed out! While I've got no problems with small bristle worms, my past experience with larger ones has been uniformly bad when I haven't pulled them out ASAP, so I took apart the rock pile to de-worm it. Turns out there was only one worm head, and everything else I pulled out was all part of the same huge body. I'm going to guess the whole worm must have been around 15" long. The largest rock must have a hidden cavity in the middle somewhere; can't see any other place where it could have hidden this long and grown to such a size.
 
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Donya

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Some critter pics.

Abalone in my non-reef:
abalone.jpg


Yellow coral banded shrimp in my non-reef:
yellow_coral_banded_shrimp.jpg


Green cabbage leather in my reef:
cabbage_leather.jpg
 

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