The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

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Back in June, we (I, Blue Zoo Aquatics, and Sea & Reef Aquaculture) announced an unprecedented raffle contribution to the Marine Breeding Initiative (MBI) in recognition of the 5th Annual Marine Breeder’s Workshop, which is coming up quickly on July 19th, 2014, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In short, Blue Zoo and I contributed one of my holdback Lightning Maroon Clownfish, Sea & Reef contributed two F1 Morse Code Maroons from unrelated PNG Bloodlines to get one to pair with the Lightning Maroon, and Blue Zoo Aquatics footing the bill to ship the resultant pair to the winner within the continental US after the workshop.

Well, the first hurdle has been seen, and passed. On Wed., June 18th, Soren Hansen of Sea & Reef Aquaculture shipped out two select Morse Code Maroons from Maine, to Duluth, MN. In a turn of events that I think has never happened to me before, poor weather somewhere along the route caused UPS to fail to deliver the package that Thursday. Soren and I were quite anxious to see what was in the box when it finally arrived on Friday, June 20th.


My son, Ethan, was eager to see what was in the box too!


The moment of truth – was it a box of dead fish, or had Soren’s packing stood up to the challenge imposed upon the fish?




Yes, that was Soren just going 2 for 2, successfully shipping fish an extra day without issues. The fish were honestly a little stressed out from the extra time in the bags. Both were placed into a 5 gallon bucket with a fair dosing of ChloramX to neutralize ammonia, and then were drip acclimated to reside a cube that had, for months, held my White Stripe X White Stripe holdback pair.

Initially, I thought I might pair up the smaller one with the holdback Lightning Maroon (MWP3), so for the first few days it was given the freedom to explore the main tank.


Meanwhile, the larger Morse Code Maroon was acting a bit jealously. Every time I walked up to the tank, this was what I saw.


So, I switched things up, and allowed the larger one to be out and about, while placing the smaller one into isolation. Here’s the larger one…



The best part? 24 hours after releasing the larger one, I allowed the Lightning (MWP3) to join him. So far…not a single bit of bickering whatsoever.



They don’t sleep together yet, but they don’t bicker or fight and they are indifferent about each other’s presence. Therefore, it’s hard to say that they’re a bonded pair, but they are 100% on the road to more solid bonding in the days, weeks, and months ahead. So, barring any changes or unforeseen murders, this will be the pair of fish up for raffle at the MBI Workshop!

Surfing Concrete

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Walked into the fishroom Thursday night and saw something on the floor that didn’t belong there…

Upon closer inspection…

It would appear that White Stripe #12, aka. WS12, had some suicidal tendencies.

Now, before I get a bunch of nasty or snide comments about how I should be using covers on my tanks, you probably need to look at this:

This is how I keep the vast majority of my Lightning Maroons covered up. With heavy ceramic tile no less.  WS12 is, to the best of my recollection, the 2nd Lightning Maroon offspring to have jumped in the entirety of the project.  And no, I didn’t do this after the fact…

Please, if you’re keeping any of my fish – no open top tanks.  It’s just too risky.  Don’t think clownfish can’t / won’t jump.


So this amounts to a chronological retelling of the story to date, this time with photos, starting  a couple weeks back now.  Perhaps not in as much detail as my minute-by-minute updates, but a good overview of the run to date.

June 21st, 2012

The ongoing health problems with the Lightning Maroon remained, and the left eye on the Lightning Maroon was showing slight swelling.

On a day initially planned to do a skin-scrape of the fish for further examination, I had to call things off because the fish had started going through pre-spawn motions.

By the time we had finished doing a skin scrape on some Banggai Cardinalfish downstairs, Barb & Heidi from the Great Lakes Aquarium got a super special treat, seeing the actual nest having been spawned while they were here.

Lightning Maroon Clownfish Spawning & Eggs

June 22nd, 2012

I was genuinely worried whether we’d have eggs 24 hours in.  Thankfully, they proved to be good parents and good “clownfish”; the first spawn egg eating proved to be the typical first test run that so many clownfish seem to do.  This batch, while I didn’t get a good photo of the parents, was doing well.  The swelling on the Lightning Maroon’s eye had gone away.  Phew.

June 23rd, 2012

So much for resting easy about the health of the Lightning Maroon. The eggs were developing (a fair number that probably were infertile or diseased were removed by the pair), but some funky gunk (yes, that’s the scientific term) showed up on the Lightning Maroon’s right face.  I was once again on high alert; this wasn’t pop-eye; this was more reminiscent of the mouth-rot I had to battle back a little while ago.

June 24th, 2012

So much for being on alert.  By evening, things looked so bad on the Lightning Maroon’s face that I pulled the trigger and initiated the third course of treatment with Maracyn SW and Maracyn II SW in this system.  The telltale bulge around the right eye had started to show as well.  I felt I had little other option at this point; this fish is simply too valuable to take a wait and see approach when symptoms like these show up:

The eggs were looking good and developing fast, although I took little comfort in that given the current situation with the Lightning Maroon.  The roller coaster of stress over this fish during the past couple months has been excruciating.  No doubt, there were times I pondered whether it would all be easier if the fish just passed away – of course solely a passing fancy, but when things are clearly out of your real control, it is incredibly tough to sit there and do “what you can”.  Of course, it’s a whole new level now that we are well within sight of the next major milestone in this 2+ year long project.

June 27th, 2012

June 27th represented the 4th day of Maracyn + Maracyn II treatments, and once again, it appeared I had potentially averted a crisis or loss.  The condition of the Lightning Maroon was drastically improved.  The eggs…the eggs were showing eyes?  They had the classic silvery look of clownfish eggs before they’re going to hatch.

I had been worried that these eggs would be hatching out while I was on a trip to Boston to speak at the Boston Reef Society; but now, only 6 days post spawn, I was very worried that a hatch could come sooner than expected.  The signs (and the data out there) said it was possible, sure, but maybe not likely?  Still, if I waited too long and did nothing I could miss the hatch. Conversely, if I pulled the nest too early, I could miss killing the eggs before they actually had fully developed.  Honestly though, I felt far less pressure about the decisions I was about to make than any of the disease-related issues with the Lightning Maroon; this is clownfish breeding, I can handle it.

There was really only one route to go – I had to sit and watch the tank.  The lights go off at 12:15 AM, so I got things situated for a possible hatch.  I used a small LED flashlight at the far corner of the tank as a larval attractant.

While waiting for the lights to go out, I prepared the area  with buckets and siphons to take out larvae should they hatch in the tank.

Downstairs, I prepared a black round tub to receive broodstock water and possible babies.

Lights went out, and it was time to wait.  All pumps were turned off through an extended feed timer on my Apex Lite (which would ensure they’d all come back on in the event that I somehow forgot about them and went to be).  I did have to unplug the battery backup on the Vortech…can’t have babies going through that pump either.  I’d check every once in a while, and initially got excited around 12:20 AM when I saw movement in the beam of the flashlight – until I realized it was copepods swimming around.

Many more checks turned up nothing, and I was starting to wonder if I had jumped the gun.  Multiple plans of “what next” rolled around in my head, but they all disappeared at 1:23 AM on June 28th, 2012.

That is not a copepod.  If you can’t really see it, maybe this one will help:

The moment that first baby clownfish showed up, I pulled the tile under almost complete darkness, moving it downstairs in a bucket with a lid and 5 gallons of water from the broodstock tank.  I set it up for artificial hatching, and assumed that come morning, I’d see hundreds of clownfish swimming around.  That was the hope…

June 28th, 2012

So much for hatching overnight.  There was ONE baby in the tub.  Terrific (<-sarcasm).  1 is better than none, so in the interest of keeping the one alive, I was forced to tinge the water green with a very light treatment of RotiGreen Nano, and a very small addition of rotifers (lest the baby starve).

The worst fear is that I had somehow killed the eggs in the move or prevented the hatch, which would have generally killed the eggs overnight.  There was only one way to find out.  I took a quick look at the tile.

And here’s what I saw…

They look perfectly fine.  And what a great opportunity, thanks to the advent of digital photography and Photoshop, to get a headcount.

That’s roughly 310 eggs (each color group represents me counting to 50, with the scattered red dots representing the last 10 I counted).  It’s not an exact headcount, but gives a great approximate number of eggs.  Hardly the spawn of several thousand that some Maroon Clownfish are known to put down, but I’ll take it all the same.  So very carefully, this tile went back into the black round tub…

…So long as the eggs didn’t die, there was still hope.  The rest of the tension filled day was spent fighting the urge to recheck the tile for dead eggs.  Come nightfall, I stuck with the photoperiod that the eggs had been used to, and turned the lights out in the basement a little early so that things were basically pitch black by 12:15 AM on June 29th.  Just after 1:00 AM, a quick check with the flashlight caused me to announce to the world, “Ladies and Gentleman; we’re rearing Lightning Maroon Larvae.

June 29th, 2012.

With only hours before my departure to Boston, I had to get things set up right.  As the night progessed into the wee hours of morning (that we normally still call “night”), I fired up the lights, and checked the tile:

No stragglers – that means a 100% hatch.  That means 300-ish baby maroon clownfish.  300 chances to see something really fantastic down the line.  So long as we don’t botch rearing them!

Mike Doty, a fellow aquarist who happens to live 4 blocks away from me, had been over late (or early if you want to get technical) to see how things were set up and to know where everthing was…well that and to share a beer, toasting this milestone. Mike would be completely in charge of rearing the larvae in my absence.


While I got my share of incredulous inquiries about that, I actually had more confidence in Mike than myself; Mike had taken a pair of extra Maroons from me, spawned and reared a couple batches, so he was perfectly qualified in my book (I’ve done clowns, but never maroons before).  We got the larval tub set up with greenwater and rotifers, and in the early afternoon I embarked on my all-day trek to Boston.


 July 1st, 2012

I returned home from Boston in the afternoon, anxious to see how things had gone.  Mike had kept me updated via texts during my absence and things sounded good.  The main message I got from Mike was that my three rotifer cultures had failed to keep up with demand, and he had actually depleted his as well.  I wondered, would we wind up losing this batch to starvation?!

July 2nd, 2012

I’m indeed burning through rotifers, but the cultures seemed to rebound and were producing enough for the moment.  The rotifers in the BRT were also clearing out phytoplankton pretty frequently.

Mike and I had set up a drip for the tub using a spare brine shrimp hatchery and a micro ball valve from Julian Sprung’s Two Little Fishies.  Not only is the drip good for top off, but also for introducing foods (phytoplankton) and ammonia control (CloramX) slowly.

Seeing that there were still many babies (some losses, but still many viable larvae), I took a photo for you all; your first look at what *Could be* a larval Lighting Maroon Clownfish, roughly 4 days old.

 July 5th, 2012

Things have gone well, as I’ve slowly doubled the larval rearing volume to 10 gallons, keeping a watchful eye on the ammonia alert badge as I continue to feed 4-5 gallons worth of rotifers into the tub per day.  With the warm basement temperatures (normally in the upper 60′s to lower 70′s, but lately 78F), the rotifer cultures are now roaring; I’m forced to feed them twice daily at a rate of 30 drops of RotiGrow Plus (and 30 drops CloramX).

I’ve done a couple pre-feeding rotifer enrichments with Super Selcon as well, just to keep the DHA levels up. However, today, now just before 7 days old, we reach another step in the rearing process.  Today it was decided the larvae were finally ready to feed on APBreed’s TDO, size A.  And after the second feeding, it was fair to say they are indeed consuming it.

So now we sit and wait.  Any day now, we will catch the first glimpses of stripes as these larval Maroon Clownfish go through metamorphosis and settle out into juveniles.  Most likely, I suspect that even if we have fish that will one day show the “Lightning” phenotype, we won’t see it at this stage in their development.  But at this time, it is anyone’s guess.  If you’re a betting man or woman, it’s time to place your wagers.  Our first glimpse at the possibilities are just around the corner.

Yes, there is one sure fire way to get an update – heckle me into it via the comment system here at

So for starters, let’s talk NPS (Non PhotoSynthetic corals).  Yes, I’ve had some Balanophyllia for a while now, as a somewhat local reefer grows them like crazy and they always end up donated to our club for fundraising…but no one out there actually pays what they’re worth, so I always do.  Well, they’ve been doing great despite outright neglect.  With a mandate to get some Tubastrea for our club’s fragging demo too, it seems I’ve become a NPS guy…at least a little bit.  We received an Aussie Black Tubastrea, and I wound up buying all the frags we made of that.  And I even went and found some orange Tubastrea recently to help round out the NSP nook in the Lightning’s tank.  Afterall, the hardscape we constructed did leave a large portion of the tank and rockwork shaded, so NPS is a logical addition there. And what I’m learning is that the fish benefit from the feeding too (since I make sure to include things like brine shrimp and fish eggs).  So it’s really no harm to feed the NPS since I have to feed the fish heavily anyways.  So without delay, here’s the NSP nook.



NPS Nook

Now I know you want an update on the Lightning Maroon, Ted, but I’m not ready yet.  Afterall, one of the reasons I shot photos today (since I shot these before you gave me that nudge) was to document the ORA Red Goniopora I’ve been keeping.  For a long time I’ve been watching it and thinking the polyps were not extending as far as they used to, but it turns out that’s not the case. The coral is in fact getting LARGER (so the polyps are the same length as always, just proportionately smaller).  How do I know this?  Well, I looked back to the photos I took for CORAL magazine last year and that was a dead giveaway.  But then again, so was this:

Out of control ORA Red Goniopora

Um, yeah, I didn’t put it that close to the glass last year.  Someone has been doing some growing.

So about those pesky PNG Maroon Clowns?  Yeah, they have been going through the motions of nest cleaning since MACNA 2011…aka September of last year.  STILL no spawns that I am aware of.  We’ve lengthened the light time period, the tank has gotten warmer with the onset of spring, and still nothing.  I know it will happen, and after being reminded by commercial breeders who’ve sat on clownfish for 5+ years before getting spawns, I know this can simply take a while.  So I’ll leave you with a full tank shot for now, which if nothing else is proof of how well the Ecoxotic Panoramas are growing the SPS corals these days!

Full Tank Shot - 3/26/2012

A portrait of the Lightning Maroon by Gary L. Parr

A portrait of the Lightning Maroon by Gary L. Parr

Turnabout is fair play – come here to shoot the Lightning Maroon Clownfish and expected to get shot yourself (granted, I asked for permission to both shoot and post ;) )

Aquarium photography legend Gary L. Parr shoots the Lightning Maroon Clownfish

Aquarium photography legend Gary L. Parr shoots the Lightning Maroon Clownfish

I have to say, Gary was a trooper – our club brought him to Duluth, MN, only to drive him 3 hours west to Bemidji, MN, and then back again.  Throw in delayed flights both ways (Chicago’s fault!).  Still, I have to say, it’s rare that an aquarium speaker gives such a universally accessible presentation – not a single person in that room left without learning something about photography.  I think it’s fair to say that many people were inspired.

If you want an update on the Lightning Maroon Clownfish, this time around I’ll point you to Gary’s post for his thoughts (and some more great Lightning Maroon photography) at - .  If you didn’t already know, Gary is one of the two voices you’ll hear most weeks doing the Reef Threads podcast too.  I haven’t listened to it yet, but I’ve already noted that The Lightning Project is a topic of conversation this week -

For now, I’ll leave you with some rare glimpses of the master at work.  Gary spent most of the morning shooting as Little Miss Lightning wasn’t being very cooperative!  Gives you another look at the Ecoxotic tank too – the Rod’s Food shirt draped over it was to cut down on light spillage.  Enjoy!

Patience…it’s a virtue.

It’s Monday, June 21st, and the power is out as I write this.  Thankfully, Friday June 17th, I had just installed a pair of APC Battery Backups I had picked up on a gift card from Best Buy (a 5 year anniversary gift from work – thanks guys).

APC Smart Battery Backup under the Lightning Maroon's Tank

Of course, I had looked into generators, but Best Buy doesn’t sell them.  So an uninterrupted power supply, or UPS, aka battery backup, was the route I needed to go.  Of course, the Apex controller can actually be set up to detect a power outage using a separate power supply as well as the power supplied through the EnergyBar 8.  You put the EnergyBar on the backup, and you plug the other 12 volt converter into a regular GCFI & Surge Protected outlet.  If power to the converter is lost, the Apex can detect it and trigger an alarm condition, which can take appropriate actions.

In my case, the intended programming would shut off power to the MP10wES (which has it’s own 30 hour battery backup it would run off of separately).  It would also shut off power to all the lights (although some folks will suggest that the lights are actually better at providing O2 than running the tank dark with a Skimmer for example).  I was going to keep power running to the skimmer and the main water pump.  The heater would be on, but I’m thinking I could program it to us a different temperature range when on backup, allowing perhaps a couple degrees drop before the heater would try to kick in.

The plan was to use one battery backup in the office to drive the router and the cable modem.  Our laptops all have built in batteries these days, which meant the backup wouldn’t be necessary for that.  The practical upshot here is that the internet, provided by cable, is presumably independent of the main power to the house.  In other words, power could go out, but internet could be on.  Keeping the router and modem up and running would theoretically keep the internet connection live.  THIS, in turn, would potentially permit the emailing of a power outage alert, as triggered by the Apex.

Of course, this scenario created one other issue – keeping internet on at the Apex.  I had initially used a powerline adapter to provide internet, but based on manufacturer specifications, these cannot be run on even a simple outlet strip, let alone a GCFI or surge protector.  And DEFINITELY not through a battery backup.  At least one person commented here (or somewhere else) about the additional risk to the Apex by having it’s internet coming in over the powerline.  So the powerline internet had to go, and in it’s place, a Netgear WiFi Range Extender was set up.  This range extender provides internet to the Apex over an Ethernet cable, while also being able to run on a battery backup.

So the other backup would drive the Lightning Maroon’s tank, including the skimmer, the pump, the possible use of the heater, the Apex itself, and the wireless bridge / range extender.  Through this seemingly convoluted series of steps, I could detect a power outage, trigger an alert to be emailed out, and I could adust the Apex settings to maximize the length of time that the aquarium could run on only essential equipment.

After doing some reading and research, I discovered that our aquarium pumps present a peculiar problem when used on a battery backup.  Without getting too technical, an inexpensive battery backup produces a square waveform of electrical current, and this can fry out our aquarium pumps.  In order to run our water moving pumps on a battery backup, it requires a much more advanced “true sine wave” battery backup.  Of course, these types of backups aren’t so often used for home use, and they are considerably more expensive.

I have to say now, APC’s online customer support was freakin’ OUTSTANDING.  I have never been shown such in-depth customer service before from such a large company.  A 1 business day turnaround seemed standard, but the level of detail they went into in trying to help me find the right products for my needs went above and beyond.  They took a very long detailed explanation of the situation, even asked me to help them come up with some power consumption estimates, and then directed me to a line of scalable products that I could use and showed me how long things should run.  It almost sucks that they did all the sales work and Best Buy just collected the profits!

In the end, my router and cable modem got a Cyberpower 425VA APC UPS – the standard “run of the mill” type battery backup.  The Lightning Maroon’s setup got a APC Smart-UPS 750VA Battery Backup.  While not the running time I had hoped for, and not scalable like the ones APC suggested, it was the one I could afford with my Best Buy cash.

So how did it all work out?  Well, I have yet to get the 12 volt power supply from Neptune Systems – only ordered it last night.  When the power went out this morning, I had to manually pull the plug on the MP10.  Having there router still powered via their backup, I was able to log into the Apex through my laptop and adjust heater settings, turn off certain items, and overall manage things pretty well.   The power was out for 80 minutes, and when it came back on, the backup was at 23% remaining power.  Interestingly however, I want to say that fairly quickly after the power went out, the battery was only at 80%.  I wonder if the heater had been running – that’s a big 100 watt draw right there.  Still, for that length of time, the tank ran, unaffected by the lack of normal power coming in.  In other words, it was like the power outage never happened.  That, to me, is a big win for this setup, and is money well spent.  Even if this UPS only buys me 2 hours of pump time, it’s still 2 hours I otherwise wouldn’t have had.  And remember, I still have roughly 30 hours on the MP10 as well.

It’s no generator, but today, all these backup systems performed admirably.  Money, or in this case gift card, well-spent.

It’s been almost 4 months since the Ecoxotic was set up for the Lightning Maroon…and some SPS!  Overall, I’ve been very, very pleased with the tank.  Unlike some of the other smaller tanks on the market, I love how easily and brilliantly this one cleans up.  Being glass, I can take a razor blade to it if the algae gets out of control.  Using 7th Generation Glass Cleaner, I can deal with some really nasty salt drips and spills.  But perhaps the best part is how wonderfully the stand cleans up.  Once Ike turned me onto Cabinet Magic, well, this tank can be restored to showroom quality in minutes.  The only thing I can’t clean up is the back plastic filter box; the moment it got coraline algae growing on it, I couldn’t get it off even with a safe-for-acrylic algae pad.

One of the questions I got a lot was about the skimmer.  People want to know if the built in skimmer really gets the job done.  Well, what can I say other than “it works”?

Of course, that was only a couple days after cleaning.  You should see it after a few weeks  – the sludge in the riser tube gets sickly.  Noise?  Well, it’s not whisper quiet – most all of the noise comes from the skimmer churning up the air.  Everything is pretty sealed up, pretty quiet, and since there are no fans on the lightning, well, this tank runs at a respectable and reasonable level of noise.

Of course, the thing people really want to know is how are the LEDs at growing coral?  Well, they are pretty darn good at growing the corals I’ve thrown in there.  The Birdsnests are branching like crazy, so light is clearly not an issue.  Still, color has been an issue, even on the Birdsnests.  Most of the Birdsnests browned out pretty much on introduction, but after a couple months the color was starting to come back.  At night, with the actinic Stunner Strip, and corals that are dull are popping.

Well, it turns out that there was a reason that Ecoxotic refined the Panorama units to include more blue.  It seems that the actinic blue wavelengths are important not just due to the florescence they create, but they also help actually develop the overall general coloration of the corals.  You see, while I really like the “white light” look, it’s good for growth but not so much for color.  Of course we kinda already knew about that, which is why no one runs 5500K bulbs anymore, let alone 10K by themselves!

Part of the solution?  MORE BLUE!  And so begins the a step-by-step addition of a second actinic stunner strip and an all blue Panorama module.

Here’s the stock Panorama setup – one actinic Stunner Strip and four of the Gen 1 Panorama Modules.  ALL of the photos before, during, and after, were photographed on manual settings so Shutter Speed (if I recall correctly, 1/60 on tank shots, 1/200 on light shots), White Balance (probably set at none or fluorescent..can’t remember now), Aperture (3.5 on full, 4.5 on closeups) , ISO (400 on tank shots, 200 on light shots?), all are identical to give a true comparison.

Step 1 – reposition the existing stunner strip to the open space on the left.  Take the cover off the pigtail and daisy chain on the second stunner strip.

Step 2 – Mount the second stunner strip in the far right space.  This was done using the clips and 3M double sided foam tape, as I did with the first one.

Step 3 – disconnect, and reroute the connection on the stunners to run on top of the Panorama modules.  Cap off the pigtail on the second stunner strip and tidy up the loose end with the included cord clips.

Step 4 – install the Stunner Strip Reflectors.  Now, seriously, these are a no-brainer…they just clamp on and are good to go.  I’m not sure how much more the add, but the certainly don’t hurt things.  Then again, look at how much more things *pop* once the reflectors are installed.

Step 5 – break out the all Blue Panorama unit.

Step 6 – Install the Panorama unit in the middle spot.  For this, I once again just used 3M double-sided foam tape.

And there it is.  “More Blue”!

Of course, it’s hard to say just exactly what the difference is until you see the before and after, side-by-side.  Before is on the left, after is on the right.  Again, the settings for all of these were the same, so the difference is accurate as seen.

So overall, things are looking good and I expect they’ll only get better.  I should again point out that corals were growing well under the stock lighting – this additional blue is to see how much more color I can bring to the mix via lighting.  Here’s some closeups after pimpin’ out the lighting a bit…

This is a bright red birdsnest I got from Frank, a local reefer.  Already shifting purplish after a couple days under the LEDs.

I believe Morgan called this one a Sour Apple was a minty seafoam with orange base, but here…well, it’s looking lavender.

The ORA Red Goniopora is lookin’ sweet!

The Alveopora is lookin’ sweet too!

Under the overhang, I’ve placed some Balanophyllias…they grow like weeds, got ‘em from Tiffany and can be traced back to a Diver’s Den offering on  I’ll keep sayin’ it – NPS is the new SPS!

That about wraps it up for the moment!  My next project – a third introduction of the little male PNG Maroon to the Lightning…will this be the time it works?

So it’s been a while since I wrote about the additions I’ve made to the stock Ecoxotic 25 gallon LED Aquarium System that houses the Lightning Maroon Clownfish.  I alluded to them before, but it’s high time I fill you all in.

Two Little Fishies NanoMag™

First up is one of my favorite new add ons – the Nano Magnetic Algae Scraper from Two Little Fishies.  I used to be a big fan of the Aquarium Systems Twister scrapers for a simple reason – low profile on the inside of the tank.  I could have rockwork as close as 0.5″ and still scrape.  Well the scaper design from Two Little Fishies has an even lower profile…I don’t think, all said, it would require even 0.25″ of clearance.  Maybe even half that!  And yet this scraper is STRONG magnetically speaking – I can scrape very fast and the internal portion doesn’t get “detatched” and flutter off into the crevices of my tank.  Bar none, for a magnetic algae scraper, this NanoMag™ is the best I’ve used to date for smalles tanks!

Two Little Fishies PhosBan Reactor 150™

Inexpensive when combined with a small pump, and known to be highly effective as a media reactor, I tried a PhosBan Reactor 150™ on this tank.  My installation options were limited – I wound up pumping out of the middle chamber, and cutting off a corner of the “floor” in the third chamber to allow the filters water to drain into the pump chamber.  The only realistic spot for this reactor was to hang on the back of the tank.  My main use for this reactor was to house carbon.

As of two days ago, I took this reactor off the tank.  I can’t say for certain, but it seemed that once I installed this reactor, certain corals in my tank started to go downhill, primarily Favids and other LPS.  The growth on my Hulk Clove Polyps trailed off too.  My working theory, and it’s just a theory, is that this reactor was so effective that it was “overdoing it” and helping carbon strip the water clean of everything, including possible beneficial elements.  Afterall, this is a reactor designed for a much larger tank.  So, for now I’ve removed the reactor to see if things come back.  I can always return to the less efficient carbon in a bag methodology if I feel a need to run carbon (most all my tanks DO).

Vortech Ecotech MP10w ES with Battery Backup

With the stock water pump pushing 400 gallons per hour through the Ecoxotic tank, I questioned the need for additional water circulation.  Afterall, when all that water was run through a single outlet, it was enough to move the sand substrate around the tank.  Still, the notion of a pump on a dedicated battery backup had me intrigued from a emergency live support standpoint.  When some money from speaking and articles piled up and deal on Vortech Pumps was going on, I had to bite the bullet in the interest of the fish.

The battery backup is big and heavy.  There really wasn’t very much in the way of instructions on how to hook it up either, but eventually I figured out that the controller has a small secondary input for power on the bottom.  Easy enough.  The pump’s instructions were much more thorough, and once I got the hang of it, setup of the pump was easy.

And thus, when I set the pump on my tank and fired it up, I was FLOORED by how much debris and waste it instantly churned up out of the substrate and rockwork.  That was all it took to tell me that yes, more flow would not be a bad thing.  I rearranged the filter’s return outlets to blow across the back wall of the tank, with the Vortech on the upper back left side panel of the aquarium, blowing water in a direction opposite the pump returns.  I did this for a simple reason – when the MP10 is running on minimal settings, I get a nice counter-clockwise flow of water through the tank.  When the MP10 is at maximum, it has more than enough power to overcome the main circulation pump and create a clockwise flow pattern.  Plus you do get the “turbulence” of two flows colliding when the MP10 is running at moderate levels of flow.

The net result is that all my corals are now benefiting from increased flow but it’s not TOO MUCH for the tank to handle.  I’ve set up a “standing wave” in the tank using the short pulse wave mode after clearing this with Ecoxotic (Vortech’s recommendation is to check with a tank manufacturer before making a wave, as some tanks aren’t strong enough to hold the shifting water mass).  I now normally run the MP10 in “Reef Crest” mode with the range set to maximum, but will sometimes engage in “Nutrient Transport Mode”.  It seems like if I keep it in NTM for too long, the corals don’t open as much, so RC is my default setting.

The battery backup works without a hitch and with the single MP10 can supposedly keep water moving for over 24 hours.  If I had to be critical, I’d say I wished that I had finer control over the wave settings of the single MP10 – I can’t get quite the right waving timing on this little tank.  I also wish that the MP10w ES had a truly random mode where it would shuffle through ALL the various modes.  That said, there is a way to accomplish that feat, if I want to by an add-on component for my other main addition…

Neptune Systems Apex Lite Aquarium Controller

In all my years as a saltwater enthusiast, I had never used an aquarium controller.  It seems to me that controllers are often better suited for larger, complex systems that have a lot going on, a lot that could go wrong, and sensitive / delicate processes (like ozone usage) that are far better managed through constant monitoring.

Well, my interest in a controller for the Lightning Maroon’s tank was first sparked by Jay, my SPS guru who’s helping me with the coral care. I did my homework and in the end, I opted for a Neptune for a very simple reason – I sent an email asking for a phone call, and I got it in 20 minutes.  The other controller companies out there…nope.  Maybe a generic email back.  Let that be a lesson to anyone with a business who’s reading this.  During business hours, most people expect a pretty timely response to an online inquiry…customer service can still earn your business.  It earned mine.

As I looked into it deeper, all sorts of benefits came up.  You have a fallback on your heater, so if your heater’s thermostat fails in the on position, the controller can shut it off.  You get better temperature monitoring in general too without batteries to replace.  What really opened up my eyes to the true potential of a modern controller is it’s ability to connect to the internet, and to send email alerts should something be on the fritz based on the parameters you set.  As it turns out, with the Neptune controller, if you set it up right it could, in theory, even email you in the event of a power outage (assuming your internet connection isn’t affected as well).  For a guy who goes on the road a lot to speak about aquariums, this certainly had my interest.  Of course, the REAL kicker for me was the ability to expose real time data over the internet.  My ultimate and yet frivolous main goal?  Put the Lightning Maroon’s tank specs on the website in real time.

Of course, it’s that last goal that failed miserably for a few reasons.  First, on the Neptune’s side of things, the data feeds are password protected.  That’s not a terrible problem in itself, but it does seem excessive to lock down this generic readout data with password protection.  The actual problem is that the credentials you use to access the data feeds are the same credentials you use to access the rest of the controller.  So for someone who wants to do one of those 3rd party signature generators, you actually have to provide them with your full credentials in order for them to pull data from your Neptune controller.  That’s a HUGE security issue in my book as you’re trusting a 3rd party to a) not meddle with your controller and b) keep your credential information secure and protected so that yet another party doesn’t come along and hack it.  I find this current system of password protection unnecessary and a big security risk given what most hobbyists will want to do with a data feed from a controller.  I’ve strongly, adamantly suggested that in the next firmware update, either these data feeds be made public, or they utilize separate credentials from the rest of the controller’s capabilities.  Either one circumvents the problem of giving the keys to a stranger.

All of that said, I’m an internet guy and I figured I’d be running this on my own server anyways.  That meant credentials wouldn’t be an issue.  Ah, but get ready for this one.  Your average home ISP likely blocks incomming traffic over most or all ports.  So even if you use a dynamic domain service to handle IP address changes, it doesn’t solve the entire problem.  You still need to find a port you can enter through.  In my case, the standard port 80 is blocked, as are most other ports.  I did find one that worked…up in the 4 digit range.  “Almost there”.

Of course, nope.  Because my hosting provider only allows me to request data over port 80, the very same port that my ISP blocks.  So while I can access my data feeds through a browser from another city over a port like 4500, my server won’t.  The solutions are simple and mind blowingly aggravating.  I either change my home ISP package to become a business customer ($60 more per month) at which point I can have port 80 traffic, or I migrate ALL my websites from one hosting package to another (again paying more)…which I have to manually do apparently.  The last solution is to go back to one of those 3rd party signature generators offered to aquarists, but then I have to risk having my controller’s credentials in 3rd party hands.  I simply can’t take that risk when the controller handles the life support for the only Lightning Maroon Clown in captivity.

In the end, the controller is great at handling things like my light timing.  The alarms work like a charm.  When I get things configured properly, it will even tell me when the power goes out.  The feed modes are very useful.  There is even a module that will control my Vortech MP10w ES if I want, which would give me the random or programmatic switching between modes I wanted but can’t get through the Vortech itself.  It would also allow me to dail-down the MP10 when I run my “water change” feed timer that currently shuts everything off  (Vortech when off runs off the battery backup instead, which I don’t want to wear out and overuse if I don’t really need to).  I probably won’t tap into the seasonal capabilities although in other circumstances I could find them very useful.  Probe calibration was pretty easy.

I did have problems with small water pumps not turning off when the power was shut off to their outlet, but I found out that is a known issue with the power bar and if you use the right TYPE of outlet on the power bar, it’ll work.  That certainly could use improvement.  Still, the biggest FAIL is that the data-rich features I wanted to tap into wound up being a bust, and I’m terribly frustrated in that regard.  No one tells you any of this up front, so know now that you need to know how to set and configure your router, as well as all this other stuff, and even when you do it perfectly, it may not work.  Now, none of that is Neptune’s fault parsay, but a whole slew of features I want to utilize are off limits unless I want to pay through the nose for hosting or internet.

Eshopps Magnetic Probe Holder

Considering that controller probes really aren’t supposed to be completely submerged, simply hanging them in the tank isn’t a good route to go.  Enter the Eshopps magnetic probe holder, which happens to fit almost perfectly in the middle chamber of the Ecoxotic’s filtration system.

Being magnetic, I can move it up or down if need be.  Of course, once in place, the probes are held in by a screw, which can easily be loosened to take out the probes for servicing.

Birthday Corals

Ecoxotic FTS - 2-15-2011

Ecoxotic FTS - 2-15-2011

Yeah, I took a small chunk of my birthday money and ordered corals for the tank.  While I really, really would’ve liked to pull the trigger on some of the fantastic Goneastreas that have been showing up in the Diver’s Den, I really can’t spend that kind of money on coral for this tank.

So…I turned to eBay and found a seller from Peoria, IL, who goes by “woosaquatics123″.  What clued me into this vendor was a relatively good feedback rating (I always go see what any negatives and neutrals say, knowing that the one negative feedback I ever got from a buyer was a buyer who didn’t have a clue what he was talking about on a WISIWYG auction that even had a RULER in the picture).  That, and when viewing completed listings, it seemed that most frags sold for the opening bid.  I have a feeling that after this post, that might not be the case.  Of course, woosaquatics123 also had multiple small Goneastrea / Favia frags that were of interest to me, including a small 2 head frag of the “Reverse Prism Goneastreas” that have been showing up in the Diver’s Den.  I hate to say it, but $10 for a frag vs. $200 for a colony…sometimes you just have to pull the trigger on the $10 frag.

In the end, I lost a couple things that would’ve been nice to win (like a beautiful little Pink Goniopora) but I got my “colored chips”.  The score included an 2 polyp Aussie Reverse Prism Goneastrea, a 1 head beg-and-plead frag of Dragon Soul, a surprisingly stunning LE Joker Goneastrea, a Red/Green or Brown/Aquamarine Platygyra maze brain (color really varies with light), a nice Aussie red green and purple Blastomussa wellsi, a good sized chunk of Sympodium (fell in love the very first time I saw it) for 1/3 the going rate, and another surprisngly stunning Aussie Goneastrea that seemed kinda “normal” in pictures and has teal eyes and green skin.  There was also a mix-up…I got sent a Favites that I hadn’t bid on instead of another Favites I had bid on.  You know it’s a good seller when they say “keep the frag” and refund the payment for the coral you didn’t get.

Opening up a box from Woos Aquatics.

Opening up a box from Woos Aquatics.

In fact, I’ve withheld this post until my next round of auctions close.  Yeah, those things I missed were up again, as well as more pieces of some of the things that I really, really liked.  I don’t need to encourage potential competition!  Insurance frags.  That, and in a composition, it’s usually recommended to “reuse” certain elements in the piece more than once.  Ideally at least three times.  And so…no harm in having more than one piece of the same thing.

Here’s most of the corals added on 2-15-2011:

The "mistake" Favites - 2-15-2011

The "mistake" Favites - 2-15-2011

Aussie Goneastrea - 2-15-2011

Aussie Goneastrea - 2-15-2011

Platygyra - 2-15-2011

Platygyra - 2-15-2011

Dragon Soul Favia / Goneastrea - 2-15-2011

Dragon Soul Favia / Goneastrea - 2-15-2011

Aussie Reverse Prism Goneastrea - 2-15-2011

Aussie Reverse Prism Goneastrea - 2-15-2011

Aussie Blastomussa wellsi - 2-15-2011

Aussie Blastomussa wellsi - 2-15-2011

LE Joker Goneastrea - 2-15-2011

LE Joker Goneastrea - 2-15-2011

Some additional shots of corals that I traded fish for on 2-12-2011:

Green/Pink/Purple Birdsnest Colony from Cosmic Aquatics - 2-12-2011

Green/Pink/Purple Birdsnest Colony from Cosmic Aquatics - 2-12-2011

Incredible Hulk Clove Polyps from Cosmic Aquatics - 2-12-201

Incredible Hulk Clove Polyps from Cosmic Aquatics - 2-12-201

Sour Apple Birdsnest from Cosmic Aquatics - 2-12-2011

Sour Apple Birdsnest from Cosmic Aquatics - 2-12-2011

And finally, a couple more full tank shots of the Ecoxotic 25 gallon LED Aquarium System….

Ecoxotic FTS - 2-15-2011

Ecoxotic FTS - 2-15-2011

Ecoxotic FTS - 2-15-2011

Ecoxotic FTS - 2-15-2011

One final note – every coral that goes into this tank is going through a pre-treatment with Seachem Reef Dip.  I’d be an idiot not to.

Testing the waters….

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It’s been a while now and things are going well in the new Ecoxotic tank.  Between our son getting sick, me watching him because of it, and somehow still pulling more than a full work week, and then getting sick myself, I’ve been distracted from the project so being “patient” was easy.

I gave the water a test on Saturday morning, February 12th, 2011.  pH = 8.1, Free and Total Ammonia 0 ppm, Nitrite and Nitrate 0 ppm, and total alkalinity was at 1.5 meq/L.  Hit it with a dose of C-Balance two-part which brought the alkalinity up to 2 meq/L.  Still low, but easily fixable.  Having a little free time, it was time to call in some payment on the last 4 juvenile Black Ocellaris I had traded to Morgan at Cosmic Aquatics.  The trade of course, was for my seed corals  – “one frag of each kind of Birdsnest you have”.

In some cases, “frag” meant 4″ colony in Morgan’s mind.  I returned from my trip to Superior WI with a full on colony of a Green with Purple Polyps and Pink Tips Seriatopora histrix, as well as a several inch branch of  Pink with Purple Polyp version of the species.  I also brought back 1 small and 1 larger fresh frag of “Sour Apple” Birdsnest, Seriatopora caliendrum.  My fourth birdsnest, ironically, was a piece of a Birdsnest I had given to Morgan when he opened up his shop; my Iowa Ponape Birdsnest, which is currently considered S. hystrix but at least one author has mused it might be something else (like Seriatopora dentritica).  I chuckle because I think I’ve given pieces of it to several people in the Duluth area and yet I no longer had it myself.

Still on my “wishlist” for Birdsnests are an actual hot pink with white growing needle-tips S. hystrix.  I know they’re out there, I owned one for a couple years, but lately, most hot pink birdsnests I’ve seen around are dirty brown-pink.  I’ll also set aside a spot for the classic ORA Green form of S. caliendrum – it’s a stunning coral when grown out.

The coral fun doesn’t stop there, because I also traded some spare stuff for a Tricolor Clavularia and “Hulk” Green Clavularia.  These large and colorful clove polyp varieties are some of my favorites, and they were placed in lower light areas where I hope they’ll do well.  I’ve had both in the past, but killed both off with my normal “high nitrates” due to many breeding fish all being stuffed with food.

All of the corals were dipped with Seachem’s Reef Dip before being placed into the tank.   I was surprised to see that some small feather dusters that were growing at the base of a Birdsnest made it through the dip unscathed.  I know the naysayers will say this has NOTHING to do with the breeding project and yup..they’re right.  It has everything to do with keeping my wife happy though – for the first time since I set it up, she said it was starting to look “better”.   That’s definitely a step in the right direction…best thing I could hope for when I wanted to bring the Lightning Maroon up from the basement to live with us on the first floor.

So first, here’s some shots of the tank as set up Saturday evening.  Note that I’m playing with camera settings and Photoshop corrections to get real-looking images.  I’ve found that photographing this tank when lit up is difficult, primarily due to all the different light coming from the room, outside (if during the day), with or without onboard flash (I have a remote flash somewhere stashed away…probably should break that out).   Any shots without Flash, but otherwise automatic settings on the D5000, wind up being very purple-hued, which I’ve tried to handle in Photoshop for the time being.

Ecoxotic Reef Progress - 2-12-2011

Ecoxotic Reef Progress - 2-12-2011

Ecoxotic Reef Progress - 2-12-2011

Ecoxotic Reef Progress - 2-12-2011

The other interesting thing I picked up from Morgan was a half dozen Stomatella sp. snails, probably Stomatella varia.  These small snails are actually closely related to the Trochus, Astrea and Turbo snails we’re all familiar with.  Stomatellas have this nice habit of readily reproducing in the aquarium environment without any special care or intervention, provided of course that there aren’t predators that would eat them.  They stay small and are nocturnal, which means they can get into small crevices and places larger cleanup crews can’t, all the while staying out of the way during the day when you dont’ want to be looking at 50 snails on your front glass.  These made the perfect third snail species addition to my sustainable, all captive-bred cleanup crew.

Stomatella sp. - 2-12-2011

Stomatella sp. - 2-12-2011

So that’s what I did on Saturday.  I’ve been watching the water quality and dosing with C-Balance.  It looks like I might have a very slight level of Nitrite, so I haven’t pulled the trigger on the clownfish swap just yet.  As last week was my birthday week, I also treated myself with just a wee-bit of my birthday cash to some additional frags that arrived today, Tuesday, 2-15-2011.  More on those in a little bit.

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