90g FOWLR (first SW tank) journal

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macphoto

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1/11/06: Live rock & live sand added.

Well, I stopped at the above mentioned LFS today after my meeting. Aquatic Specialties in Kenner, LA, the place from which I bought my aquarium, has a good selection of livestock, and some very nice and helpful people (and I'll still likely buy most of my fish there). But the place I went to today, Coral Connection, was simply incredible.

They only sell saltwater stuff, and have just tons of fish and corals to choose from. It was a 2-story building in a semi-industrial area right next to the airport, a little drab looking on the outside, but inside was a different story.

On the bottom floor there was a room with several large vats of live rock at various price points ($2 - $7), and a couple of even larger vats of live sand with some snails and other critters. This room was sorta "utilitarian" looking.

But upstairs, things changed dramatically. Along with some very pretty nanoreefs, there was an absolutely gorgeous large display reef that looked sort of like a bowfront tank placed backwards, so that the flat side was facing the front, but it was built into the wall. Wild guess, it was probably around 300 gallons. This area was set up nice and cozy with carpet, and a couch for visitors to sit and watch (and presumably entice them into wanting a reef tank of their own). Along one wall were rows of small tanks displaying livestock for sale. In another room there was a large shallow pool with all of their corals. There was also a room with skimmers, pumps, powerheads, etc., and yet another room with an incredible number of new tanks for sale. Despite all the beautiful corals and fish, this sight was the most striking... I'm used to seeing just a couple of tanks in the other LFSs I've been to. This one probably had more tanks than all of the others combined, and many of these tanks were huge!

I could have spent hours there. But I had to stay on-task... I was there to buy rock and sand.

First of all, let me say that buying live rock was a lot harder than I thought it would be... picking out pieces (especially as a newbie) was difficult, since I didn't really know what to look for (aside from the "pick pieces that look like they have some life on them" suggestion that I'd read). But I'd also read that a lot of weight should be given to rock that has interesting shapes.

I ended up picking most of it from the $2/lb. vat, as this rock looked the best in terms of shape, holes/crevices, porosity, etc., and still showed at least some signs of life. I also grabbed a few smaller pieces from the $6/lb. vat that had more obvious growth. In all, I ended up with around 30lbs. of rock.

My only slight disappointment with this LFS was that they strongly encouraged me to go with the Arag-Alive bagged sand instead of the sand in their vats, which they said was from their tanks upstairs (that's exactly what I wanted!!!). I got 20lbs. of this, but it didn't really look like 20 lbs. (water is heavy, I guess!).













I'm not sure how many creatures I'll find, but here's what I've spotted so far...



Is this a baby cucumber of some sort? It's about the size of a cutworm... maybe 1 inch long. It's just been kinda hanging out in this one spot since I dumped the sand in, slowly wriggling around.




These appear to be a group of some kind of very thin little red worms. Sorry for the poor-quality photo... I don't have a real macro lens.


It's almost certain that I will not have the large number of hitchhikers (good or bad) on this rock compared to what I've heard about TBS. But in the end, it became clear that TBS is not a viable option at the moment... they're apparently having a lot of trouble harvesting rock right now, so it would probably have been months before I could receive my shipment.



Here's what the tank looks like now (again, the rock was just placed however I could fit it, just to get it in there until I can aquascape).




I think I may have too much rock. Well, some of it will go in the refugium, so maybe not.


--Mike
 

macphoto

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1/13/06: Clear water, and a bigger refugium!

The water has cleared up nicely now. And, I'm pleased to say, there are very few microbubbles in the tank. I placed a couple of sponges for my quarantine tank filter near the baffle in the return section (to get them loaded with bacteria), which might possibly be contributing to this further reduction in bubbles.






Also, I decided to go ahead and install the larger refugium. My wife wanted the box of MREs that was serving as the elevating platform for the little 5g refugium, so I figured I might as well put the bigger one in. As a reminder, the small refugium was added before I figured out a way to fit a bigger one in the stand (along with a freshwater storage tank).

I went with an expensive Eclipse 12 gallon acrylic tank because, as before, I figured a 15g tall (a whopping $38 at my LFS!), plus cost of drilling 2 holes ($50), and a cheap light ($10) would put me in the same ballpark as this $90 Eclipse.

I also oriented it better this time. Instead of being positioned sideways, with the soon-to-arrive freshwater storage tank to the right of it, the freshwater tank will be behind the refugium (and will protrude out the back of the stand a few inches) so that the refugium could be placed so that the front was visible, which is much more pleasing!





The bag hanging in the refugium has a few pieces of raw shrimp for cycling. And, the skimmer is producing some funky liquid in the collection cup. Everything's moving along nicely! I hope to aquascape the tank this weekend, so that we can get some cleanup critters in there as soon as the cycle is complete, in anticipation of the initial algae bloom that everyone seems to experience in a new tank.


As mentioned before, I don't expect to see a TBS-like number of hitchhikers on this rock, but I have seen a few of these things...




Is that a tube worm?


--Mike
 

macphoto

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1/15/06: Rockscaping sure is hard work!

Well, I think I'm just about done with rock placement. I did it yesterday, and it was pretty much an all-day task. I first pulled all the rocks out and placed them in tubs (with a tap over the carpet... I knew this was going to be a messy job).





It was immediately apparent that the biggest obstacle was going to be visibility in the tank. Pulling the rocks out stirred up the sand bed and really clouded up the tank, and I knew that "digging in" with the base rock was only going to make it worse. With the rocks removed, the water level was too low to run the Magnum filter. Not wanting to keep the rock out of the water for a long period of time, I decided which rocks I wanted to use as my foundation, placed them in the tank about where I thought they should be (scooting them back and forth so that they were on or very near the glass bottom instead of just resting on top of the sandbed), then just placed the rest of the rock loosely in the tank (by feel only, since I couldn't see into the tank at all), feeling a bit like I was right back where I started from.




But I was then able to run the micron filter, and I knew the worst part (in terms of sand-stirring) was over. After a few hours, the water had cleared enough to start moving rocks around. Here's the first draft...




This one didn't go over too well with my wife, who thought it looked strange to have most of the rocks over to the right, and I wasn't too pleased with the number of "nooks and crannies" in the formation.

Here's what I eventually ended up with...




There are A LOT of caves and tunnels of various sizes.

Here are top views...







Though this looks absolutely nothing like the rough sketch I posted a few days ago, I did still vaguely stick to my plan of having a little more open sandbed/less rock on the left side of the tank. I MIGHT add a few more pieces of rock to the top... I originally thought I wouldn't have enough room for the rock I had, but after having some of the larger pieces half-buried in the sand, and stacking them more securely, they took up considerably less space than planned. But, on the other hand, I don't want to overdo it, as the fish might appreciate the open swimming space in the upper portion of the tank.

For the most part, the rocks are stacked so that they are quite stable, though there are a few that I'll pull out, drill holes through, and secure with cable-ties.

--Mike
 

macphoto

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Nobez said:
This was amazing! I like the rock formation in the last post, but to be honest I thought it looked really cool in the top picture post #46.
Yes, my wife thought the same thing, and questioned why I was pulling it all out. I kinda liked it too, but there were some reasons for having to redo it. First, I placed the rock in the tank randomly just to get it in there for the time being. So, the biggest issue was that the base rock was just resting on top of the sand, creating a potentially unstable foundation, and the other pieces were not placed with stability in mind. Also, I wanted to create some larger and more clearly defined caves. Last, the rock was a bit too "spread out" and covered most of the sand bed.

Here are a few additional photos that show some of the hiding spots...












--Mike
 

macphoto

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1/16/06: A really neat piece of rock!

I had a meeting with a potential bride in the city today, so I stopped by the LFS (the one from which I bought the tank), and ended up taking home this really nice looking Florida aquacultured rock...








It's got a lot of very colorful growth on it... red, orange, pink, purple, and some macroalgae growth also.








There are many of these cute little fanworm guys coming out of holes in the rock...








Is there such a thing as BLUE coralline algae?





This is a slimy black blob... any idea what it is?


The rock is currently resting in the refugium as I monitor it for potential hitchhikers before moving it to the main tank. There are no immediate signs of any large hitchhikers like crabs or shrimp, but this rock has a lot of life on it (I guess that's why it's $6/lb. as opposed to $3/lb.). I'm really hoping this colorful coralline growth will spread over time.

I did see what I assume was a 'pod. As I was looking at the rock, something caught my eye in the water column... a little chunk of macroalgae with a little bug-like creature clinging to it like a rodeo cowboy as it sailed through the current.


In other news, the cycle is well underway, possibly nearing completion. Ammonia spiked at about 2.0 a few days ago, and is now down to .5. Still showing some nitrites, and nitrates are up to about 20 now. I'm seeing a little bit of brown growth on some of the rocks (diatoms?), so I hope to be able to order my clean-up crew soon.

--Mike
 

macphoto

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1/18/06: Cycle nearly complete, ready to build the auto topoff.
I started cycling the tank about a week ago, and had an ammonia spike to 2.0, and a nitrite spike to 1.5. Now, ammonia is 0, nitrites are .25, and nitrates are 10 (down from 30 just prior to a water change). For the past few days, I've been adding a little food to the tank to provide at least some continuing source of ammonia to sustain the bacteria colonies.

I have ordered a detritivore/refugium kit from ipsf.com, which will hopefully arrive in the next couple of days (brown algae is starting to form on the rocks). I've read mixed reports for IPSF orders on various forums... most are generally quite positive, though there are a few "I paid $99 for THIS?" posts as well. However, to be fair, shipping probably represents half of this cost. Well, we'll see what my reaction is upon receiving my order.

I went with the 9/$99 special, and selected the following...

1. Live sand activator
2. WonderMud
3. MicroHermits
4. Amphipod Breeding Kit (counts as 3 items)
5. Strombus Grazers
6. Tang Heaven Red
7. Baby Bristle Worms

The WonderMud, 'pods, a snail or two, and the tang heaven will go in the refugium, and hermits, the rest of the snails, the bristle worms, and the live sand activator will go in the main tank (I had hoped for more obvious life in the LS I got from the LFS last week... hopefully the IPSF sand will do the trick).

I'm a little worried about the strombus snails' reported tendancy to reproduce like mad... I guess I'm having visions of the entire front glass of the tank obscured by hundreds of snails. I guess I could always remove and give some of them away if it gets that bad.


I'll be doing the auto topoff system in the next couple of days. I'd received the float switches / controller from autotopoff.com a week or two ago, and yesterday the tank itself arrived. I'll need to drain and remove the refugium to get the water tank in position (I guess I'll take the occasion to do a PWC), but first I need to install fittings in the tank (it came blank, no fittings or holes), and get the pumps / tubing in place.

I'm excited... I think I'm on the brink of being ready for a few first fish!

--Mike
 
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macphoto

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1/20/06: First batch of cleanup crew critters added.
A momentous occasion... today I added the first non-hitchhiker residents to the aquarium.

I ordered the following from saltwaterfish.com:

10 Blue-Leg Hermits
20 Scarlet Reef Hermits
10 Cerith Snails
10 Nassarius Snails
50 Empty Hermit Shells

I ended up building my own cleanup crew, because I couldn't find a perfect pre-built package (many of them included a coral-banded shrimp, and I'm not sure if I want one of those in my tank... I hear they can terrorize other inverts).




I placed them all in a clean bucket, and started gradually adding tank water, a cup or so every 5 - 10 minutes. A quick inventory revealed that they had thrown in some extras... I ended up with about 11 Nassarius, 10 Cerith, 16 Blue-Leg (actually, I think one of these is a Zebra), and 22 Scarlets. I guess they include a few extras to account for losses enroute, but all of them were alive and well when I added them to the tank.

A few of the hermits lounged on the sand bed, while some of the snails either made for the glass or burrowed into the sand. But most of them went right to work on the rocks that were accumulating some algae growth.








When I opened the bag of empty shells, an absolutely awful stench filled the air (I guess that's what dead, rotting snails smell like). Now I know why the order information e-mail they sent me said to boil the shells before adding them to the tank!



Here's what the tank looks like now...




And the refugium...





The IPSF package should be arriving Wednesday.

--Mike
 

macphoto

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1/21/06: Auto Top-Off Installed, and FISH!

I finished most of it last night, with just a few things to tidy up today.






(I really need to tidy up in there)


I used a 14g freshwater storage tank from plastic-mart.com, and a dual-switch auto top-off controller from autotopoff.com. The second switch, placed a bit higher than the primary switch, is for redundancy in case the first switch fails. Right now, I just have the line for the RO/DI dumping directly into the storage tank, but I will be installing a float switch for this too (the float switch is missing a nylon mounting nut, and I was not able to find it locally today). Unlike the auto top-off arrangement, this float switch is more "mechanical" in nature. It mounts to the tank, and the output hose for the RO/DI connects to it... when the water level rises, it stops the flow, which is also supposed to cease all flow through the RO/DI unit as well (so that waste water doesn't continue to be passed to the drain). Because I'm paranoid about a this one little part being the only thing holding back an infinite supply of water from my living room, this float switch will only be a backup... I'll manually turn the supply on every now and then as needed, turning it off when the tank is full, with the float switch there just in case I forget that it's on.

Two Hydor Pico 500 pumps were installed... one for the auto top-off, and the other to use as a demand pump for filling up a bucket for PWCs. I chose these pumps because they were small, reasonably priced, and would reportedly still pump water even when the level was very low. They are spec'd at 145gph, but I'm sure it's less than that with a foot or two of head factored in.

The tubing for the top-off dumps into the elbow and piece of pipe that serves as the air vent for the main tank drain. The tubing cannot simply go straight to the sump, because a siphon would then be started until the levels of the sump and storage tank were equalized. Keeping the end of the tubing high prevents this.


And, in other news... we brought home our first fish tonight!




Also, a brittle star...




The lady at the LFS said that the clowns are tank-raised Perculas, but I thought they looked more like False Perculas. Can anyone confirm based on this close-up?




The clowns initially stuck close to one particular area of the rocks, but have since started exploring the rest of the tank. They were acting a bit stressed at first, but seem ok now.

The starfish, on the other hand, made straight for the rocks (as expected) and mostly disappeared from view, with only the ends of one or two legs visible. It was amazing how he was able to easily contort himself into a crevice that seemed too small. But we all REALLY got a kick it when, after dropping a shrimp pellet nearby, he came out right away and started feeling around for it, quickly locating and devouring it. Those guys must really have a good sense of "smell".

--Mike
 

macphoto

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1/23/06: Clowns doing great, but starfish had to go back to LFS

The clowns seem to be doing very well... they're actively swimming around together, and are eating eagerly. Water parameters are still looking good (checking twice a day for now).

Last night, I dropped a shrimp pellet in for the green brittle. It landed maybe a little too far away from him, and he didn't go for it at first. But a crowd of hermits and snails quickly formed and all started trying to get it. A few moments later, the star decided he wanted it, reaching into the pile with one of his tentacles and grabbing the pellet from the mass of crabs and snails.

It reminded me of a football game, when the ball is fumbled, and a bunch of players from both teams pile on top of it (and each other) trying to get their hands on it, with the referee (the starfish in this case) finally having to pry through the pile to get to the ball.

Unfortunately, I discovered that my starfish choice was probably not a good one. While at the LFS saturday, I saw him there and remembered reading that brittle stars are fine. But after reading online last night, most mentions of brittle stars added the caveat "...except for those devilishly sneaky green brittle stars, avoid those at all costs!"

Apparently, they can develop a taste for small fish, and when they get a little bigger, can become quite adept to capturing them. At first, I figured that I'd just target feed him regularly (which is neat to watch anyway), which would hopefully keep him satisfied enough so that he would not go fishing. But I eventually came to the conclusion that keeping him was a bad idea.

Anyway, I captured him... had to move a few rocks, and I barely caught him as he was trying to scoot away (I never thought of starfish as being particularly "fast" creatures... but these are). The man at the LFS said he'd never heard to green brittle stars going after fish, but agreed to take him back. I came home with a plainer-looking (but reportedly safer) brown serpent star. After acclimating, I placed him on the sand near where the other star had made his home, and this one slid right into the same spot in the rocks.





I will miss the green brittle star... he was pretty, and very interesting to watch (though, the new one probably will be too).


--Mike
 

macphoto

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1/24/06: Mysis shrimp.

I picked up a pack of frozen mysis shrimp today. I chopped one cube in half and thawed it in a cup with a little tank water. The clowns seemed to like it, but I might need to mash the shrimps up a bit next time, as the clowns did the eat/spit-out/eat/spit-out thing quite a bit.

However, though the clowns like it, the starfish LOVED it. I put in some extra so that it would sink down to the sand near where he was hiding out, and before it was even halfway down, he was already coming out. And not just reaching one tentacle out to grab the food... he came all the way out into the open (had a bit of a tough time squeezing out of that little crack on the right... the left has a bigger opening).




He immediately began sweeping up the sand, gobbling down these tiny shrimp. Once he decided he'd had enough, he made for the rocks again, leaving behind a few scraps for the snails.

This time, he didn't go back to his usual spot. Instead, as the curious clowns watched on, he climbed began climbing.




He hung out here for a while, and eventually returned to his little designated cave.



And, from the "what the heck is this on my glass?" file...






Noticed these things this evening. I don't think they were there yesterday, and the definitely were not there over the weekend. There are several dozen of them, and they're about 1/16" in size. Any idea what these are?

--Mike
 
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