Maintaining your nano reef tank can be a rewarding experience. After all, part of enjoying a little part of the ocean (on top of your desk), is watching it flourish. From the initial stages of setting up your aquarium, tank maintenance should be front and center.

Spending a few minutes per day, will go a long way in ensuring your inhabitants remain healthy. The successful reef keeper understands that maintenance is required, and up for the challenge! In this article we will discuss the most important tips to maintaining a healthy nano reef tank.

The most important daily tasks for maintaining your nano reef tank include:

• Replenish evaporated water
• Feeding and observing your inhabitants
• Check your pumps and any other equipment
• Cleaning your glass

Important weekly and monthly tasks include:

• Water changes
• Water tests
• Clean pumps and replace filters as needed
• Check water parameters such as temperature, pH, alkalinity, ammonia, specific gravity, calcium (some corals deplete calcium faster than others)

How Often Should I Change May Tank Water?

Keeping saltwater fish for several years, has taught me several important lessons. One of the most important includes weekly water changes (key to a successfully reef tank)! Some tanks are more susceptible to danger than others. The more animals you keep, the higher the bio-load. If you are maintaining a couple of fish and limited corals, you “could” get a way with changing your saltwater every other week. Ultimately, the deciding factor will be the results of your water tests. If your water parameters yield positive readings on a consistent basis, you most likely can add more fish or corals. I would not add more than one per week.

You can safely change 10%-20% of your water weekly. Since I perform weekly water changes, I always have saltwater mixed and ready to go. Remember, when mixing your water, make sure the temperature and salinity levels are correct before changing your water. Luckily, it does not take long for a few gallons to reach proper temperature (78 degrees for a nano reef tank). An added bonus of keeping some saltwater readily available, is in-case an emergency water change is needed.

Changing your aquarium water regularly will take care several potential problems that could negatively affect the health of your aquarium. Fresh saltwater will continuously add needed trace elements and remove unwanted waste.

Replenish Evaporated Water

Another daily task includes the replenishment of evaporated water with RO (reverse-osmosis) water. Since mini reef tanks house a small volume of water, salinity levels can change drastically with just a small amount of evaporation. When topping off the evaporated water, always use freshwater (not saltwater)! The reason you need to top off evaporated water is to keep your salinity in check. As the water evaporated from your tank the specific gravity of the water rises, and is why fresh water is used for top off.

There are several options to automate the water top-off of your aquarium. I personally prefer an automated method, as this can be a time saver and is better in the long run for your inhabitants.

Clean the Sides of Your Tank Walls to Control Algae

Eventually algae will grow on your aquarium walls, and you will need to clean it with the appropriate tool. Glass aquariums are easier to clean algae, as you can use a razor or similar tool (you can easily pick one up online or at your local fish store). Acrylic on the other hand requires a different tool, most commonly made from plastic. Also, keep in mind acrylic can scratch easy, however, there are scratch removers for acrylic that are quite effective.

Another effective method to clean your glass is with a magnet cleaner. There are several available in the market place and they work great. Most importantly, you can avoid getting wet! If you choose to clean the back wall of your aquarium, however, you will need a glass cleaning tool as described above.

The good news, if you clean your glass on a regular basis, then the algae is easily manageable, and will not require much effort to clean.

While cleaning your aquarium, make sure to observe your fish and corals to ensure they look healthy and vibrant. Is everybody happy? Your corals should be fully open and not contracted. Do you see slime omitted from your corrals? If so, this could indicate a problem with the water chemistry of your tank. Your fish should also be moving about at a normal rate, and not “jumpy” or breathing abnormally. Experience will ultimately offer clues for potential problems, in the interim, education is your best bet.

What Equipment Should I Keep On-Hand?

It’s a good idea to keep a couple of extra supplies just in case you are faced with an emergency situation:
• 20-30 gallon bucket for saltwater mixing – For a 20-gallon mini reef tank, you should have a 30-gallon plastic trash can handy. Most hardware stores carry 30-gallon buckets (brute is my favorite).
• Additional 5-10 gallon bucket for cleaning power heads, staging livestock, etc.
• Aquarium heater while mixing saltwater
• Aquarium Siphon Vacuum/Gravel Cleaner – used for water changes
• TDS monitor – test your RO/DI water
• Battery operated air pump, in-case of a power outage. A definite must as you will undoubtedly lose power at some point (unless of-course your home is powered by a generator).
• Quarantine tank just incase you notice any of your fish or corals with a disease or parasite.
• Clean towels

Note regarding protein skimmers: With larger tanks, greater than 40 gallons, and an increased bio load, protein skimmers are extremely useful in helping to purify the saltwater. However, nano tanks typically do not need protein skimmers, especially if you change the water weekly.

What tests should I check for on a nano reef tank?

• Calcium is required for healthy coral growth, and is the building block for coral skeletons. If there is not enough calcium, corals will not flourish. Calcium should be between 350 – 420 ppm (parts per million)
• Proper alkalinity levels serve a vital role in your aquariums long-term success. Similar to calcium, alkalinity is used for coral growth. Alkalinity should be maintained above 7 dKH
• pH levels should not be greater than 8.0
• Salinity readings should be near 1.026
• Ammonia, phosphate, nitrate, nitrites all should be basically zero