Feature Aquarium: The Nano Reef Aquarium Of Bob Olson

by | Oct 15, 2004 | 0 comments

I began developing this tank in September of 2002. After visiting a few LFS’s, I decided to do a saltwater tank. I liked the idea of a clownfish and a host anemone. I am not new to fish tanks; in fact, I grew up with tanks all over the house. My mother loved freshwater fish, and had guppy tanks here, there, and everywhere – newly hatched fry trying to hide in the fake plastic green floating plants!


When I first started my saltwater tank, I thought I knew what I wanted. I liked the look of the 12 gallon Eclipse. It seemed to have everything I wanted. Small footprint, clean look, and I was told at the LFS how easy it was to set-up and maintain a saltwater tank. I bought it and filled it with a very nice-sized piece of blue coral. I also purchased 15 lbs of crushed coral, and what I thought at the time was a “way too cool” collection of four very realistic pieces of plastic saltwater plants. The next day I added my three clownfish from the LFS and wondered why they died within a few days.

I eventually learned about the cycle of the tank. And with many water changes and lots of testing, I made it through without too many subsequent tragedies. I then discovered nano-reef.com and the nano forum on reefs.org. It was amazing – sites dedicated to the art of nano reefs (which I belatedly learned I had) and how to actually keep them alive. I proudly showed off the pictures of my nice blue coral rock and plastic plants and was surprised when no one was impressed.

Then I started to read. I became obsessed with the posts. I looked at the pictures of the nano tanks and knew that I could do that too.

Lighting was my main concern. Thirteen watts of lights on a 12 gallon is just not enough to keep many corals alive. I soon got a 32W retrofit kit. It worked well for a while, but now I was hooked. I wanted more; a brand new 2x32W PC was installed. I loved the dusk/dawn feature and was quite happy with it and my softies loved it and were growing nicely.

In the meantime, I had pulled out a sock filter, added an Aquaclear 150 for circulation, added 2 small ViaAqua powerheads, and a 12″ Aquafuge for macro algae and growing ‘pods. The SPS bug then hit me. After trying a few frags and not getting good results, I knew I had to start all over from scratch.

I read and read, researched, and read some more. I knew what I wanted and a year and a half later, I started to put together my dream tank


Size was a concern. I had a 24″ width limit, so my choices were between a 15gallon long or a 20 gallon high tank. I chose the 15 because of the height. I like the 12″ vertical reach. It was great for light penetration and easy to work in. The footprint is 24″x12″x12″. I decided everything from the Eclipse was to be transferred, including the AQ150, Aquafuge, and the powerheads. The only thing missing was the lights. The only option was metal halide. The question then was 175watt or 250watt. I also wanted to supplement with some actinic. I wound up with a PFO pendant with 2x32W actinic PCs and went with a 175W Icecap ballast and 10kK XM bulb. New lights, newly painted 15gallon AGA, and I was ready to go. (I have since switched out the 175w ballast to 250w Icecap ballast and 250w XM MH bulb).


  • 15 gallon AGA 24″x12″x12″
  • PFO Pendant
  • 250W Icecap new style ballast
  • 250W 10kK XM bulb
  • 2x32W True Actinic PC bulbs
  • 12″ Aquafuge with 13W 10kK Jalli Light
  • 2 x Via Aqua 320 powerheads


  • False Percula (1 year old)
  • Purple Firefish (1 year old)
  • 6-Line Wrasse ( 6 months Old)
  • Very tiny Molly Miller Blenny


  • Rose Bubble Tip Anemone ( E. quadricolor ) (8 months old)
  • Skunk Cleaner Shrimp
  • Peppermint Shrimp
  • 4″ Blue Maxima Clam
  • 2 small Emerald Crabs
  • 1 Turbo Snail
  • 10 Nassarius Snails
  • 6 Astrea Snails
  • 4 Blue hermit Crabs
  • 1 Scarlet hermit Crab



  • Green Open Brain
  • Red Blastomussa
  • Green Blastomussa
  • Blue Candy Cane
  • Green Branching Hammer


  • Red Mushrooms.
  • Green Hairy Mushrooms
  • GSP
  • Pulsing Xenia
  • Orange and Green Zoos
  • Orange and Purple Zoos
  • Green PE Zoos
  • Teal, Orange and Neon Green Zoos, with brown skirts


  • Blue Millepora
  • Rose Millepora
  • Green Millepora
  • Green Bali Slimer
  • Orange Montpora Cap
  • Oregon Blue Tort
  • Purple Montipora Digitata
  • Purple Tri-Color Acro


  • 2 gallon water changes weekly with Oceanic Salt
  • Dose 15ml of Ocean’s Blend daily ( 2 part additive similar to B-Ionic)
  • Dose 1ml SeaChem Iodide weekly
  • Test Mg, Ca, and Alk weekly
  • Test Salinity monthly
  • Test Results:
  • Ca 460 Salinity 1.026
  • dKh 10.2 Alk 3.66
  • pH 8.3 Mg 1380
  • Temp 80F

I feed the fish once a day usually with Ocean Nutrition Formula One flake. I also feed Formula One, PE Mysis Shrimp, Brine Shrimp Plus, Silversides, Cyclop-eeze, DT’s. The above are fed 2 times per week, all soaked in Selcon.

Right now the tank is pretty much running itself. I have to trim the Xenia and red mushrooms every few months because they grow so fast. I now have the beautiful, thriving community I wanted. It took a lot of work and self education, but it was worth it. Let me encourage you to contact folks in your area with nano reef experience, or use the forums so you can avoid the time consuming mistakes I made and reach your goal even faster.

The majority of my corals came from a LFS here is Denver, CO. Some came from online vendors and I have also received some great frags from the local reef club. A very special thanks to the Rocky Mountain Reef Club, and John, Joe, Malcolm, Freaky, Nathan , Steve, and Andrew for adding to my tank.