30 July 2012

Corals, Fish & Invertebrates!

After 2 months of tank cycling and steadily improving water quality, we made our first additions to the tank.  On our way back from camping in Acadia, we stopped by AquaCorals in Fairfield, Maine.  Peggy, the owner was absolutely wonderful!  After giving us a tour of the nicest reef tanks I've ever seen, she worked with us to pick out a collection of 6 soft corals to start with:
This is a red colt coral, a specimen I really enjoyed in my last tank.  It waves beautifully in the current and can get quite large.
Metallic green neon polyps are also a carryover from our last aquarium, where they did very well and spread like wildfire.
The cabbage leather coral is probably one of the hardiest corals out there and can also get quite large.
This is a new one for us….the orange ricordea which fluoresces orange with a green mouth under out blue LED lighting.  I placed it low in the tank, away from strong currents and hope it will spread up the coral slope.
Here is another first for our tank, green zooanthids.  These corals and their related palythoas contain palytoxin, one of the most toxic substances known.  For my fellow chemistry friends, its structure has been solved as:
Apparently, some Hawaiian Islanders with serious anger issues, discovered smearing paste made from these corals on a spear tip would ruin your enemy's whole day.  

Finally, I added a striped Xenia to the collection.  We had a pulsing Xenia in our old tank, which was a favorite.  Peggy also introduced us to a skunk cleaner shrimp which we brought home.
This interesting little fellow actually sets up a little "service station" for the fish where he picks dead scales and parasites from the fish.  I saw him actually stick his appendage inside of the gill slits of a fish to remove something from the fish.

We also decided to add some very small livestock to the tank a couple of days later when we saw some good looking livestock at great prices at the PETCO in Nashua, NH.

Our first addition is this Canary Blenny, also known as a fanged blennie due to the venomous fangs in the fish's lower jaw.  A docile fish, it apparently bites the inside of the mouth of the larger fish swallowing it, inflicting enough pain to have the predator spit the blenny out unharmed!  I've noticed our swims around peacefully except for nipping at nassarius snails in the tank.  It leaves the nerites and ceriths alone, but goes after the nassarius.
3 extremely timid pajama cardinals were added to our tank.  They seem to like to school together, suspended motionless in the upper water column.
Finally, we added this tiny fellow, a sharknosed goby.  He is another cleaner fish who is already spending his time sucking stuff off of the Canary Blenny.  When not engaged in these activities, he perches on rockwork throughout the tank and at feeding time is an absolute pig in gobbling brine shrimp close to his size.

Now we wait for a while to watch how the water quality responds to new additions and I will slowly turn up the LED lighting over the next couple of weeks to acclimate the corals.

08 July 2012

Cleanup crew arrived.

Ordered some snails from Reefcleaners.org and they arrived two days ago.  They were acclimated by simply floating bags in the DT water to acclimate temperatires for 20 minutes than placed in the tank.  Reefcleaners does not suggest doing a water exchange drip before introduction, just the thermal acclimation.  The new additions were:

66 dwarf cerith snails
24 nassarius snails
20 florida cerith snails
30 nerite snails.

After two days they seem to be moving all over the tank.  A number of the dwarf cerith seem immobile ner where they were placed on the sand and so may be dead.  Nitrate has also moved up to 5 ppm from near zero so some may have perished.  We'll see what the week brings as far as nitrate and skimming.

The work I did on the skimmer was very helpful as well.  For the first time it filled the skimmate tank in only 4 days!  I'll cut back the make-up air to get finer bubbles and see whether it is possible to dry the foam out a bit.  I'm hoping a week of good skimming will help bing down some of the nitrate levels.

01 July 2012

Month 1: Ready for Cleanup Crew

After 4 weeks of operation, the water quality of the tank has improved enough to consider addition of a cleanup crew.  As of today, thhe DT parameters are:
Specific Gravity:   1.026
Temperature:  79.9 oF
pH: 7.92
Ammonia:  0 ppm
Nitrite: 0 ppm
Nitrate: 0 ppm
Carbonate alkalinity 7.5 dKH (134 ppm)
Calcium: 460 ppm
Magnesium: 1470 ppm
Silicate: 0.03 ppm
Phosphate: 0 ppm (Salifert)
Strontium: 0 ppm
Iron: 0 ppm

I toyed with the idea of adding some soium carbonate to increase my pH and hardness but both of these parameters seem to be increasing over the past 4 weeks so I will just let hte buffer set up naturally with CO2 from the air and increased circulation.

Speaking of increasing circulation, I added a Tunze 6095 Turbelle nanostream to augment circulation from my Vortech MP20 powerhead.  I interfaced the Tunze with an APC module on my Reefkeeper Elite system and after a number of small glitches, has it circulating at 60%/30% flow at 2 minute intervals.  The glitch is that the APC module cannot be programmed through the RKE head module.  Instead, I have to connect up using a borrowed laptop and program the pump with MyReef Software.  They say it will be fixed in some future software update.

As far as the tank itse;f is concerned, I passed through a diatom bloom and have seen lots of green hair algae which we've been cleaning off.  It seems to be coming back slower and I've decided to order some cleanup snails to keep it under control.  Hopefully, these will be in the tank by the end of this week.

04 June 2012

CAlibrating Reefkeeper Elite SL1 Module

Thanks to some help from Digital Aquatics, I was able to get the SL1 lab module working in the basement.  The thermocouple was showing a Temp error which was resolved by hooking up themyReef software and resetting the temp channel to factory default settings.  Then calibrated the pH probe with both 7.0 and 10.0 pH buffers which couldn't be easier.  Next step will be to set up the auto topoff feature with my kalkwasser reactor in order to get the pH up.

03 June 2012

Finally, a functioning Aquarium!

Wanted to at least get saltwater circulating through the aquarium this weekend.  Filled up 110 gallons of salt water which was in the basement and pretty cold (about 67 degrees F) but really could only get it warmed up in the system using my immersion heater.  I put about 30 gallons of water into the aquarium and then worked in all of my old dead sand to make a 3"+ bed.I then added 10 lbs. of live sand to inoculate the bed from Tropical Isle in Framingham.

I them placed my dead Kaelini rock in the aquarium with a passable aquascaping job, and filled up the aquarium with saltwater.  After adding 10 lbs of live rock to the aquarium, we filled the system with the balance of our salt water and started the main pump.  It was quite the sandstorm and the WMD-40RXLT  Iwaki pump did a fine job of lifting the water from the basement into the tank.

Down in the basement, the Bullet skimmer was making bubbles, but no foam.  I also took the opportunity to place some live rubble in the refugium, along with a small ball of chaetomorpha algae.  The heater was on and slowly brought the loop temperature up to 79-80 degrees.

By the next morning, the LED lights had come on as programmed and much of the sand had settled.  The circulating water temperature was about 79 degrees F with a specific gravity of 1.023.  The pH probe was not yet calibrated and I was having some problems with the RKE SL1 probe module.  All data and control was through the head unit which I mounted on the left side of the tank, near the overflow.

Finally, to get better circulation in the tank, I installed a Vortech MP-20 magnetic pump on the right side of the tank which was set to maximum flow and placed in reef mode, which will randomly vary the flow every minute or so, simulating the swell in an energetic reef environment.

I had this unit, unopened in a box for the past 5 years.  Although it is no longer in production, I figured it would still work well and it does contribute to the total tank flow.  I estimated that the Iwaki pump will handle about 10 gpm or 600 gallons per hour.  For my 90 gallon tank, that would be 7 turnovers an hour.  The Vortech MP-20 will contribute another 500-2000 gph  so at this point I expect 12-29 turnovers an hour.  It would be great to have this distributed between two prop pumps but well see how this works out.

02 June 2012

Lighting Issues Resolved

I contacted both Aqua Illumination help line as well as Digital Aquatics for help in figuring out why only one of my two AI Sol Blue modules was following the Advanced Lighting Program I placed in my Reefkeeper Elite Head Unit.  I have to admit, both companies were really quick to respond with useful suggestions…..Thanks Guys!

Ininitially diagnosing the problem, I executed the program using every combination of options for hooking up the serial input cables.  Each AI Sol unit has two so there are 12 combinations of how the units can be daisy chained together.  I also ran each module as a single unit as well as swapped power suppliee bewteen units.  In all cases module 1 followed the programming flawlessly wihilst #2 would come on for a couple of minues, suddenly get bright, momentarily turn off and finally just stay off for good.

Aqua Illumination quickly mailed me out this new control board plus instructions on how to install it.  The boards looked slight different with the new one labeled R8.1 vs. the R8 it was replacing.

The actual swap was very easy but have a gentle hand!  The entire cover comes off with 4 allen  screws and the optics lift off of the LEDs very easily.  The board itself is connected to the base through 3 phillips head screws but the board is very thin, so take care when pulling it off of the four sets of LED pins.  I can see how an unknowing brute could flex the board and snap it.

Same warning when installing.  Make sure all fo the board sockets are lines up with the LED pins before gently pushing the board home in all sockets.  When replacing the phillips and Allen screws, just tighten them minimally.  I can see how it would be easy to strip the tapped hole in the thin plastic of both the board and the cover.

After reassembly, tried out the lights and they both worked great, following the program in perfect synchronization.  Time to start aquascaping!

28 May 2012

New Kalkwasser Reactor & Lighting Problems

Finished assembly of a new Kalkwasser reactor today.  It's a simple reactor, made with parts obtained from Avast Marine Works and took the day to assemble (allowing for hour glue drying periods bewteen steps.)  It was quite easy and will plumb it dowstream of my peristaltic pump that I use for an ATO unit.  The TKE float switch will serve as the ATO level sensor and I'm still deciding whether I will use a single or double switch level indicator.

On other fronts, I downloaded all of the firmware for the RKE system and assembled the unit.  The chain looks like this:

RKE Head --> PC4 --> ALC --> (Basement) PC4 --> SL1

I do not terminate with a SID unit since I will be programming and running the unit d=from the RKE head module.  Everything went smoothly and powered up well.  I fabricated a serial data cable by splicing the ALC SDO cable to a piece of AI data cable terminating in a small 3-connection jack.

It worked like a champ, running a program I placed in the Advanced light function but only one of the two AI Sol LED modules resonded to the signal.  The second flickered, pulsed and finally went out, not able to start again.  I contacted both AI and DA for help and will update how it all progresses.  I knew things were going along too smoothly!

26 May 2012

Bulding AI SOL Suspension Frame

We decided that in setting up the new 90 gallon tank, we wre going to make some lighting changes.  Our old 2 x 250 watt metal halides were in need of at least 1 new ballast and transformer and the remaining working electronics showed some cracking as well.  Rather than repair the old unit, we decided to try LED lighting.

After doing some research, it seemed as if the Aquailluminations Sol units had many of the features I wanted.  Independently controllable white and blue channels, enough power so that two units would allow me to grow stony corals in my 90 gallon tank, a price tag less than the equally intriguing Radions, and finally, the ability to interface with my Reefkeeper Elite controller.

One issue was in mounting.  The ceiling wire mouting brackets that come as an option with the AI Sol lights allow for mounting across the width of my tank, not down the long axis.  I saw one person on YouTube mount them down the long axis of the tank on a single mounting rail, but I saw two problems with this.  First, the lights balance on a single rail so the smallest amount of weight, say from a power or data cord, would tilt the light away from an an angle normal to the water's surface.  Second, a single suspension bar running down the length of the fixture blocks the cooling fan which is centered on the AI Sol module.

I built my own mount using 80/20 aluminum extrusion.  Using the 1" x 1" Series 10 material, I simply made a frame using two 36" lengths of extrusion as well as four 12" lengths. The 12" cross braces were set far enough apart so an AI light module could hanng from two of the cross braces using the OEMs mounting screw.  I used a plug tap (13/64") to thread the ends of the 36" extrusions in order to accept an M10x1.0 screw which attached the entire frame to my ceiling mounting wires.

The assembly and mounting are shown in the video.

Thankfully it all went well.  The lights look great.  I was worried that they would be too blue but at 100/100/100 they give out a great, cool white light.  The photos make it look far bluer than the eye perceives.  Tomorrow I wil work on setting up the controller and cleaning up the data and power cables on the unit.

16 May 2012

Generator Arrives!

Today our generator arrived, a Briggs and Stratton 15kW unit with 200 amp service and an auto transfer switch.  The folks from Toreku Tactor in Ayer did a great job….I'd highly recommend them to anyone looking to make a similar purchase.

THe raeson this is in the blog is that after the past power losses, I vowed that we would have no aquarium until we had some power back-up for the house.  Now that it's here, we're almost in business.

Next we need to get LPG tanks installed and finally have the electrician hook up the transfer switch and install the outlets in our "fish room".  Can't wait!

13 May 2012

Starting the project.

About 4 years ago, a December ice storm left us without power for almost 2 weeks.  We were left with a dead aquarium which has set dry and empty since then in our family room.  After another week long power outtage this past October, we decided to purchase a whole house generator which opened up the possibility of restoring our tank.  This will log the construction and startup of the new tank.