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Nano-Reef Aquariums: Part 1

When it comes to reef aquariums, bigger is not always better.

By Scott W. Michael |

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I have been keeping nano reefs for many years. In fact, I was into nano reefs before they were cool. This was out of necessity, not because I was some sort of trendsetter. Nano reefs were ideal for keeping the predacious frogfishes that I conducted research on as an undergraduate student. These gluttons do best when housed on their own because they are inclined to dine on their fish neighbors. I would house them in 2- to 20-gallon tanks with a couple pieces of live rock. I also kept nano marine aquariums during my college days because funds and space were limited. I decided a smaller tank was better than no tank at all. These were not elaborate reef tanks, but they consisted of live rock, some macroalgae and a piscivorous resident (i.e., a frogfish). I also kept some more pugnacious species in these tiny tanks, such as dottybacks, and fish I was interested in studying or photographing.

Nanos of the Past
Of course, back when I started keeping these smaller tanks (in the mid-1980s), most traditional saltwater fishkeepers were of the opinion that small aquariums were not stable enough. Less water means less “environmental inertia,” and inevitably a catastrophe would occur. The minimum tank size of a saltwater aquarium back in the early days of my fish store employ was 30 gallons, but more often than not, store employees tried to steer people to the more “stable” 55- or 75-gallon tanks. In the 1980s, we certainly did not have access to the amazing array of lighting, filtration systems and foam fractionators that the nano reefkeepers have at their disposal today. Now, not only are these products functional, they are also aesthetically appealing. Many of the prepackaged, contemporary nano reefs are “sleek” systems that are self-contained — all the equipment is strategically incorporated in the aquarium so that the system is aesthetically pleasing. In the early days of the nano reef, it was about improvisation — we did the best we could to glom together a system that would work. Our inferior equipment meant that we were more limited in what we could house in these tanks, especially when it came to cnidarians.

Want to read the full story? Pick up the June 2011 issue of Aquarium Fish International today.

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Nano-Reef Aquariums: Part 1

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Reader Comments

Ross    Cordova, MD

5/29/2011 10:08:57 AM

I'm looking into this, really serious about the whole nano reef adventure

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