The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

Browsing Posts tagged ECOXOTIC

Yes, there is one sure fire way to get an update – heckle me into it via the comment system here at www.Lightning-Maroon-Clownfish.com

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.

Tubastrea

Tubastrea

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

Well, there’s a lot of random things to update on, sadly the only thing I really would love to shout about (a spawn) hasn’t happened yet.

Meanwhile, a followup on the last pairing trial, the third attempt at a “Female Flip”, pairing a loner white stripe maroon with the massively larger “Labrador” white stripe maroon.  The short story is that we’ll never know if it was going to work, as the Labrador Maroon Clown died.  What I suspect happened was the bowl, which was tilted to allow tank water to circulate through, righted itself and in the process, closed off enough of the flow to cause the fish to asphyxiate.  Of course, that could also not be what happened – this fish was probably a decade or more old, and may have just hit the end of the line.  Hard to say based on the circumstances I found the dead fish in.  Before it passed away however, the smaller maroon showed up simply torn to shreds.  The best I could determine was that perhaps the small maroon had entered the larger fishbowl, received a beating, and then left.  If that’s the case, it would mean that the “female flip” had failed (or at least had not worked yet).

On the water quality front, things are again driving me nuts in the Lightning Maroon’s tank.  The pH hit a record high of 8.7 last night, and was 7.94 this morning.  This, despite having not treated the tank with anything to raise the alkalinity or calcium levels (i.e. no dosing of two part) for a week.   The corals are definite not looking happy; the Australian Blastomussa that had gone from 1 head to 5 heads appears to have died, and earlier last week I removed the Dragon Soul Favia that had also been previously growing well.  The Frags of Aussie Pink Goniopora and Green Goniopora are failing to extend their polyps as well.  I’m feeling terribly limited in options to deal with this problem given the small size of the tank, and that normally, it is simply a matter of depressed pH that occurs in smaller tanks.  Time to hit the reef chemistry books yet again and see if I can’t figure something out.  For now, I’ve reprogrammed the lights via the Apex to start turning off (thus slowing photosynthesis) if the pH hits 8.4, and then again more shut off at 8.5.  Still, I’ve not yet programmed things correctly, as the pH is 8.46 right now and the light that is supposed to be off, is not.  GRR.  This simply cannot be GOOD for the fish, and I’m leaning towards water changes + buffer to at least help eliminate or reduce the low end of the swing – i.e. perhaps 8.3 to 8.7 is better than what I’m currently experiencing.

The final update, our club’s Apogee Quantum (PAR) Meter is finally here in working condition.  I got to test PAR readings out of the modified Panorama fixture.  With the 4 12K Gen 1 Panorama Units, 2 blue Stunner Strips, and 1 Gen 1 Blue Panorama Unit all running, it’s a total drain of 77 watts.  For that 77 watts, with a semi-dirty cover glass, I am getting PAR readings of 150 to 250+ in the upper third of the tank where I have the majority of the Seriatpora corals growing.  At the bottom, the readings obviously vary, but are generally 60-100 (i.e. the ORA Red Gonipora is thriving at a 100 PAR reading).  As most of you know, these levels are capable of growing just about all photosynthetic organisms we may desire to keep, with the possible exception of Tridacna clams (which, per James Fatheree, really want PAR levels more like 500+).  Right above the glass – 700+.

So 24 hours later, not a new scratch on the smaller PNG Male, and the larger PNG female White Stripe Maroon has been tolerating her new mate. They both share the Red Bubble Tip Anemone that is in the tank (Entacmaea quadicolor). Big step forward indeed. The biggest change I noticed when observing them this evening? The smaller male is now really chasing those 6 Percula culls around. None are showing damage, but they are definitely getting his attention, whereas before he largely ignored them. The larger “female” seems uninterested in any of her tankmates now…a dramatic change from times gone by.

But what was responsible for the attitude change? Was it the 6 culled perculas that I added to the tank? Or was it the isolation of the female, allowing the male to roam “her” territory freely? Or both?

While hardly a scientific study, the best course of action might be to sequester the Lightning Maroon in a breeder net or drilled specimen cup (like the one I’m currently using for the male), and allow the smaller PNG male to roam the Ecoxotic for a while. After maybe 2-3 days of that, freeing the Lightning and careful observation should suggest whether it works or not. This is hardly a “new” technique, but in fact it is standard practice to isolate overly aggressive fish for a short period of time, allowing newcomers to settle in. It works with mean Tangs and Angelfish, and so to, it now seems with a mean female PNG White Stripe Maroon. Will it work with the Lightning?

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 Birdsnest..it 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 LiveAquaria.com.  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

2 comments
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 LiveAquaria.com 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.

The last installment of this 4-part series ran this morning on Reef Builders.  Check it out – http://reefbuilders.com/2011/02/17/ecoxotics-25-gallon-led-aquarium-stunner-strip-final-impressions/

I know some of you are kinda going “what does this have to do with the Lightning Project?”.  Well, in a hobby that is currently having a bit of a reality check where sustainability is the new goal, LED Lighting options are one more way in which we’re going to lower the impact of our hobby and even save money in the process.  For a captive breeding project born from a sustainable wild harvest project, using LEDs with the energy savings and material savings they represent (you’re not throwing out bulbs every 6-9 months) is just a natural extension of a project that is rooted in sustainability and reducing our impact.

This is arguably the most special part of the ensemble.  No words spared, it’s another in-depth unboxing article you’ll want to check out if you’re into LEDs.  Bottom line for me – Modular LEDs = a win for consumers.  Check it out on ReefBuilders – http://reefbuilders.com/2011/02/10/panorama-led-review/

Short and Sweet, the second of the 4-part series coving the unboxing of the Ecoxotic 25 gallon LED Aquarium System is up at ReefBuilders.  Check it out here – http://reefbuilders.com/2011/02/07/ecoxotics-25-gallon/

Considering the “sustainable” inspiration behind the Lighting Project, it seemed only fitting that the live rock used in the Lightning Maroon’s final home shouldn’t be hacked off a reef or dug out of a lagoon.  It was that inspiration that got me looking around at more sustainable rock choices.  Of course, the most sustainable live rock might actually be the live rock that’s already been collected and harvested, so I had purchased “used” live rock from a fellow hobbyist (Josh G.), covered in various blue, green striped, and green fuzzy mushroom anemones.  But of course, when my local SPS guru Jay H. saw that I wanted to use that rock, he kinda had a heart attack!  Apparently, mushrooms in a SPS tank tend to be problematic (aka. take over, sting your SPS etc.).  So that rock was nixed, and I was back to square one.

As you may know there is more than one company in Florida who use terrestrially-sourced rock, place it in the ocean, and harvest it after a year or two (Tampa Bay Saltwater, Sea Life Inc and many others).  Of course, dry rock has taken the aquarium hobby by storm, with both Bulk Reef Supply and Marco Rocks being two popular sources.  Then there’s ceramic rocks.  Not to mention the various DIY rocks that hobbyists have come up with.  All these dry and man-made options have the downsides of being very sterile and stark, taking months to become fully covered in coraline algae.  Florida live rock was looking like a good choice.

Of course, I had just recently noticed a product called “Real Reef” Live Rock in the Diver’s Den section @ LiveAquaria.com.  I asked Kevin Kohen (Director of Live Aquaria) about this rock, and that’s what led to a sampling of both Real Reef Live Rock (from Fish Heads Inc) and Fiji Cultured Live Rock (Sasaul Tawamuda Live Rock from Walt Smith International).  That ultimately led to a “battle royale” of these two man-made, aquacultured live rock products on Reef Builders.  Truly, both products wound up being “different” but “equal”, a true draw.  Any decision a hobbyist may make between the two would come down to individual preferences and trade-offs given the materials and the way each rock was cultured.

Personally, for the Lightning Project, if I was choosing between all the various cultured live rock options out there, Real Reef Rock ended up being the winner for one big reason – it never touches the ocean.  It never sees fish.  There is zero chance of hitchhikers or parasites coming on this live rock.  So when thinking about the live rock that will ultimately share the tank with a one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable clownfish, the fact that it was parasite and hitchhiker free helped Real Reef live rock beat out all other contenders.

Of course, as it happened, Mark @ Fish Heads Inc. told me they were just about to release 2 new variations of Real Reef Live Rock, and asked if I’d be willing to give these new products (Nano Rock and Shelf Rock) a look and review.  That, and would I be interested in using it for the Lightning Maroon’s tank?  Ha!  Indeed, this was just the perfect circumstances.  Mark reserved some choice pieces, meanwhile selling out of both new products in the very first week!  Tuesday, a great looking box showed up courtesy of Fish Heads Inc.

After doing the unboxing (it’ll be on Reef Builders soon and I’ll update a link here), Nick K. and I got busy trying to come up with the aquascape for the Exocotic tank.  Coincidentally, the shipping box used roughly matched the inside dimensions of the tank, so the inner portion of the lid was the perfect footprint.  We went through 5 iterations of designs that we liked – for each one, we took a shot, and then took shots “disassembling” the rock structure piece-by-piece, so that we could reconstruct whichever we ultimately chose.

Aquascape #1

Aquascape #2

Aquascape #3

Aquascape #4

Aquascape #5 - the one we went with!

My ultimate plan for this tank’s coral life is to feature various bonsai-maintained colonies of Birdsnest Coral, primarily the thin-branch types (Seriatopora hystrix).  These will be placed on the upper shelves of the structure.  Below, probably a mixture of LPS.  Initially I had really wanted to put a Green Bubble Tip Anemone in place – this is the natural host for the Lightning Maroon.  However, the wandering habits of BTAs conflict with the concept of a SPS tank, so instead, I’m leaning towards some big green Goniopora sp. to act as a host perhaps.  I have a thing for Brain Corals – a teal and brown Maze Brain (Platygyra spp.) has been a must on my list for half a decade, and lately some of the Australian Prism Brain Corals (Goniastrea palauensis) showing up in the Diver’s Den have been beyond drool worthy (I don’t think they will mind if I post these images, copyright LiveAquaria.com, here for demonstrative purposes!)

Goniastrea palauensis, Aussie Prism Closed Brian Coral - copyright 2011 LiveAquaria.com

Goniastrea palauensis, Aussie Prism Closed Brian Coral - copyright 2011 LiveAquaria.com - used with permission

Goniastrea palauensis, Aussie Prism Closed Brian Coral - copyright 2011 LiveAquaria.com

Goniastrea palauensis, Aussie Prism Closed Brian Coral - copyright 2011 LiveAquaria.com - used with permission

Obviously, I’m getting ahead of myself talking about livestock…at this point in the story the tank doesn’t even have saltwater in it yet!  Still, planning your livestock will certainly help drive your hardscape.  Knowing that I’m planning on letting corals grow in, the rockwork was intentionally meant to be a framework, a foundation, and that meant it keeping the amount of rock on the lighter side of things.

Once we had settled on the 5th incarnation as the one that seemed the least contrived and yet functionally ideal, we set to the task of making it actually work.  That meant drilling the rock, using the fiberglass driveway markers and underwater epoxy putty to make a couple crucial joints.

Nick drilling the Real Reef live rock.

Nick drilling the Real Reef live rock.

Of course, we broke a couple of the rocks during the drilling process, but not because of drilling.  No, it was the downwards pressure on them keeping them stable.   Once things were pegged and glued, the main structure was brought upstairs and placed directly on the glass.  The reasoning behind this came from Jay H. again.  If the Maroons start digging, the rockwork could fall on the glass.  By already being stable and on the glass, the risk of cracking the bottom via shifting rockwork is greatly reduced.

The rockwork sits in the Ecoxotic...

The rockwork sits in the Ecoxotic...

Once it's in place, time to fill it...

Once it's in place, time to fill it...

The next step?  Substrate.  Taking a page from how far planted tanks have driven freshwater hardscapes, I didn’t just throw in sand and call it a day.  Far from it.  First, I laid down a base of about 10 lbs sand, specifically Caribsea’s Arag-Alive, Special Grade Reef Sand.  Kept the sand shallow on this one.  Between this bagged live sand, and the fully cultured and cured Real Reef Live Rock, the “break in period” (aka. the new tank cycling) should be minimal.

Next up came the coarser substrate. Almost 20 years ago now, I remembered we use to get big bags off coral rubble that we used as a substrate for marine tanks.  The size was more pebble-like…some pieces up to 2 inches in length.  These days, this rubble isn’t so easy to find.  Turns out, I had read about this “rubble” on Reef Builders of all places, referred to as “Coral Bones” in Two Little Fishies’ Reborn Calcium Reactor Media.  Given that some companies have moved to other calcium sources for reactor material, I gave Two Little Fishies an email to see if they still used the same material – they do.  They even went one-better and sent me some for the aquascaping project.

Just like I remembered it – well worn coral branches, like sea glass, this is the “coral bones” I was looking for.  I placed the coral bones around the back, and around the base of the live rock, creating a transition between the live rock and sand.  I used maybe 2lbs of the 8 lb. batch TLF sent me.

Caribsea Arag-Alive and Two Little Fishies Reborn Reactor Media are added as substrate.

Caribsea Arag-Alive and Two Little Fishies Reborn Reactor Media are added as substrate.

A closer look at the substrate design.

A closer look at the substrate design.

After that, water was added slowly so the substrate wouldn’t be disturbed.  As it happens with fresh live sand, initially, things were pretty cloudy.

Newly filled with saltwater, things are cloudy.

Newly filled with saltwater, things are cloudy.

The final touch involved a use of the Real Reef rock rubble.  A couple handfuls scattered around the substrate created the missing link.  Live rock, rock rubble, coral bones, coral sand.

A few pieces of live rock rubble are added to complete the composition.

A few pieces of live rock rubble are added to complete the composition.

48 hours later, things had cleared up a bit.  Time for some better images!

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

And after taking those pictures, in went the Labrador Maroon.  Now we wait for a couple weeks and see how the water quality goes.  When things are right, out goes the Labrador, and in goes the Lightning!

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