Nano marine aquariums are appearing with greater frequency as the quality of equipment and accessibility of the science behind them improves. They are popular primarily for new entrants in to the hobby due to the lower running costs and relative ease of physical maintenance in comparison to large scale setups.
The world of Nano Marine keeping however can still be complex and laden with pitfalls for inexperienced hobbyists.
This article aims to walk you through the setup, science and stocking of a Systemised Orca Nano tank. From purchase of your tank to purchase of your fish in three easy to understand articles. We will primarily look at the Orca range of tanks (sometimes branded as Boyu) though many of the principles discussed apply across range and brand. For the purposes of practical illustration I will use my own Orca Tl-550, but will reference particular differences between the Orca 450 and 550 where appropriate. Parts 2 and 3 of this guide will encompass a variety of principles which can be applied to most Nano Marine setups regardless of brand or model.
We will cover the set up of these tanks using the ‘Berlin’ method of filtration. A brief explanation of the principles of ‘Berlin’ filtration is available - HERE
What Equipment Will You Need?
Below is a handy checklist of the basic equipment you will need to get your tank up and running. Tick them off as you go. (Print the list if needed).
|RO unit (or reputable source of RO water)|
|Salt (reputable brand, quality is important)|
|Powerheads (to achieve 20x turnover of water volume)|
|Lighting. (Moonlights if desired)|
|Test Kits (BASIC: pH, Ammonia, NitrITE, NitrATE. RECOMMENDED: kH/Alkalinity, Magnesium, Calcium, Phosphate. ADVANCED: Iodine, Strontium, Boron, Silicate, Copper)|
|Nets (Varied sizes)|
|Filtration media (CHEMICAL: Carbon, Phosphate remover. MECHANICAL: Filter wool/floss)|
|Strong Rubber Gloves (Some invertebrates can sting, open wounds should be covered and soap or other residues on hands etc should have limited contact with the tank water)|
|Food Grade Plastic Buckets/Water Containers|
As you can see, the list of basic equipment is extensive. In here lies the beauty of many of the systemised Nano tanks available on the market. Most of these tanks come with much of the basic equipment (such as Skimmer and Heaters) that you require. So the first thing to do is choose your tank!
The Orca models we will look at are:
The above tanks are similar in both aesthetics and type of equipment supplied. As with freshwater aquaria, the bigger the better. A larger tank allows not only for greater water chemistry stability but for a wider range of livestock choices. Obviously however, the cost of upkeep and equipment increases exponentially with the size of the tank.
Before considering a tank, estimate the upkeep, taking into account;
Marine fish keeping, no matter what size the tank, is expensive. Expect to run at anywhere between 10 to 20 times the cost of a freshwater tank and to have significantly higher original outlay costs. Fish Only tanks (FO) are the cheapest to run, Fish Only With Live Rock (FOWLR) tanks run at a moderate expense due to initial outlay and power costs for pumps/lighting, and Reef tanks are the most expensive due to their high power lighting, circulation pumps and livestock costs.
Don’t enter into the hobby without first looking at whether you can afford it. The tank is a life support system for the animals you choose to keep in it, the equipment and disposables mentioned above are essential. Ask an experienced marine aquarist to walk through the costs with you if you are in doubt.
With all that in mind you’re ready to choose your tank!
How Do I Set My New Orca Up?
So you’ve chosen between the Tl-450 and the Tl-550, your tank has arrived and you’re ready to start putting things together. Where do you start?
You should already have a location in mind before you buy your tank. The site should be:
Build up your stand and check that the top of the stand is level. Wash the tank with RO water and clean thoroughly to remove dust and detritus. Place the tank on top and again check that the weight of the tank hasn’t offset the balance of the stand.
As you’ll see, the layout of the Orca 450 and 550 (as well as many other brands/models of Nano) consists of a large front display section, and a four chambered section behind a false wall. Familiarise yourself with the layout of these chambers. From hereon in we will number these chambers 1 to 4 from right to left as shown below. 1 is the point of entry for tank water to the filtration system, 4 is the point of exit.
Now that the tank is in position you can begin to arrange the equipment into positions which allow for maximum efficiency and minimum disruption during maintenance. For example place your powerheads inside the tank allowing for enough cable to reach the socket and a suitable place in the tank to encourage thorough water circulation.
Powerheads should be situated in places which will encourage thorough circulation and in a manner which averts the creation of flow dead spots. (Once the live rock goes in you may need to adjust angle/direction of flow depending on your décor placement.) Placing one powerhead at the top back and the other at the front bottom on the opposite side should encourage a cyclical flow throughout the tank.
Remove all supplied sponge and bio-ball filtration media from the rear chambers, this can be found most commonly in chambers 1, 2 and 4 of both tanks. This media can be discarded, as it is seen as counterproductive with regards to Nitrate control in a ‘Berlin’ system. Instead we’ll be replacing this with chemical filtration, live rock rubble and a disposable (weekly) filter wool mechanical filtration element.
Tidy all cables and ensure you create drip loops on the wires (leave a length of cable running down below the mains socket so that should condensation run down the cable it does not come into contact with the socket, see fig 1.). Mark plugs up with labels detailing what they are for and ensure cables are kept well maintained and tidy. Do not plug heaters, pumps etc in with no water in the tank, pumps can overheat and heaters can smash whilst not submerged. Water is conducive to the safe running of this equipment.
You are now ready to add egg crating to the base of the tank. Egg crating is an important and often overlooked setup material. It is added to the base of the tank to protect the glass from sharp live rock edges and to give the rock a good foundation to avoid slide and movement. A display of 15kg of live rock is capable of smashing your tank should it collapse. Egg crating is available from most good marine stockists, or can be bought online marketed as ‘Koi grid’, ‘Reef Racking’ or ‘Egg Crating’ for approximately £20 for 120cmx60cm (Mar’09)(See Fig 2).
Now that you have your equipment in the right locations, cables are tidied, egg crating is down, tank is washed and cleaned and any sealant used has been allowed to dry, you are ready to start adding water!
By now you should have a source of RO water (whether produced yourself or bought from a reputable supplier), test kits, a Refractometer, thermometers and some marine salt.
Production of your own RO water is favourable, both for quality control (many retailers mix tap and RO, only part filter the water or have problems with Phosphates and Nitrates), long term cost (you can often recoup initial outlay costs in the first few years of your setup) and convenience (RO water has limited shelf life, and if not stored appropriately will diminish in quality quickly, making weekly trips to your local fish shop for heavy buckets/tanks of water both laborious and expensive).
Expect to pay around £100 (Mar’09) for a 100 gallon per day RO unit and slightly elevated water bills as a result of the waste produced by the filter. Replacement filter media every 6 months or so will cost approximately £15 (Mar’09) depending on make/model of RO filter.
Whether you produce your own water or buy from a local retailer you should have a TDS meter. TDS stands for total dissolved solids and relates to the level of charged ions including salts and/or metals dissolved in the water. Pure RO should have a TDS reading of 0ppm, acceptable levels for marine use should be as close to this as possible, it is widely accepted that anything over 5ppm should be rejected. Tap water supplies will often have anything up to 500ppm and over. RO water purchased from a shop should be tested on site with your own TDS meter, this is common practice, if you are un-happy with the quality go elsewhere or produce your own. Getting the water right is one of the most important considerations in running a healthy and sustainable marine tank. High TDS can be indicative of inappropriately stored RO, RO mixed with un-filtered water, or old RO filters/DI resin which need replenishing/replacing.
You now have pure RO water (or the means to produce it), and an empty tank. Fill your food-grade plastic buckets (food grade limits the possibility of toxins leaching from the plastic and building up in the tank over the course of subsequent water changes) and measure the correct amount of salt for each bucket. Mix thoroughly till all the salt has been dissolved (some brands have a small amount of un-soluble precipitate matter which may appear in the bottom of the bucket, siphon/scoop this out). Once mixed use your correctly calibrated refractometer to ascertain the specific gravity of the water (if your refractometer does not have Automatic Temperature Compensation you will need to bring the water up to temp before testing, as you would do with future water changes), optimum range for a reef tank tends to be around the 1.025 mark. Mixing and testing each bucket as you go will help improve your proficiency with the refractometer and give you a feel for future water changes. Add each bucket to the tank till the waterline is covered by the plastic trim at the top of the tank but below the tops of the partition walls at the back of the tank (you don’t want these to overflow).
Now you can plug in and turn on your pumps, heater and powerheads (Keep the skimmer off for now). Monitor the flow and make sure that the flow dynamic is adequate to keep the whole water volume moving. Allow the tank to stand for 48 hours with all pumps on, after the 48 hours are up make one last measure of Sg and run tests for pH. Make sure that the temperature is around 25.5°C. Readings should have stabilised at a pH of 8 - 8.4 (dependant on your salt brand/quality) and SG around 1.025, you can use RO water or salted water to move these parameters up and down as needed. More on this later!
In part 2 we’ll discuss adding chemical filtration and the 4 rear chambers in more detail, the cycle/adding live rock, the science behind the water readings you’ve just taken and we’ll take a more detailed look at the skimmer’s role in the ‘Berlin’ method… In the meantime get to grips with how your tank works with water in, do some background research on the principles of protein skimming and talk to other marine keepers about their experiences!
Article Part 2: Filtration, Live Rock, Basic Marine Water Chemistry and Skimmers
Orca Nano FAQs: Click here