Reef Mentoring Series: Part #2 – Goals and Equipment

by | Dec 14, 2022 | Equipment, Tanks | 0 comments


Preface: This Reef Mentoring article series is to document my recommendations to a hobbyist I have been mentoring. I am basically building a reef tank with his setup at my house and maintaining it for a year with weekly in person hands on sessions.

In the previous article, Reef Mentoring Series:  A Slightly Different Approach I discussed mentoring a local hobbyist by setting up his tank at my house. I will go through each step based on my 35 years of experience in this hobby.  The goal of a mentor is to guide a novice around all possible failure modes in the process. In this article I will discuss the very first step in the process, “Goals” and why it is important.


As always I emphasize the 6 P’s (Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance) in any project. Part of this planning is answering the question: “What is the goal for this system?”

Some of the inter-related variables to consider:

  • Cost of Entry Budget
  • Monthly Run Cost
  • Maintenance Level- Low – High (Based on Lifestyle Schedule – What amount of time are you able to commit?)
  • Desired livestock hardiness and care requirements
  • Manual Labor vs. Automation

My hobbyist’s experience level and busy lifestyle resulted in focusing on simple, entry-level soft and LPS coral selections. The fish bioload will be his six existing nanofish.  If the goals change, it may impact the equipment needed long term. The level of automation can be revisited as the system progresses. Personally I like to automate everything so I will pursue it with my own equipment that I have lying around. At minimum I may consider plumbing it into my main system and perform auto water changes between them.  I will try to keep it a standalone system first to simulate an independent nanoreef system.

The goals were defined as the following:

  • Low Maintenance
  • pH Stable
  • Minimum water changes via supplementation
  • Soft to LPS coral primarily
    • List desired corals and research their requirements
  • Minimize fish bioload for ease of nutrient exporting
  • Add automation to meet the hobbyist’s lifestyle schedule and to simplify vacation caretaker’s responsibilities
  • Add redundancy and emergency solutions


List all the equipment you will need to fulfill your goals. Make sure the equipment is sized appropriately to match the system. Gather all the equipment prior to setting the system up. Educate yourself on how each is set up and works, and what it takes to maintain them.

Listed below are the items available from the hobbyist’s current setup that I cleaned and repaired:

My personal equipment contributions to this build to suit my requirements while under my care:

Hardware Setup

One of the most fun parts of this process is to set up the hardware you’ve collected. Make a plan of how you want it to look, based on viewing what others have done. Keep in mind serviceability should trump appearances. The health of the livestock is the priority and being able to easily maintain the equipment will promote this.  With respect to used equipment, ensure all items are cleaned and operating correctly prior to installation. Some disassembly and creativity maybe required to ensure peak performance.  Take your time to ensure a clean and serviceable layout. Label all wire connections and outlets. The harness cleanup will usually be the last thing to work on.


This article series is a form of documentation for the hobbyist I am mentoring but a good practice is to document as you progress. Document how everything is connected and configured for future reference. If you ever have to train someone to care for your system they can have something simple to refer to.

Even a simple spread sheet table is very beneficial

Outlet #FunctionBrand & ModelModuleH/W Controls
1Return PumpSicce Syncra 2.0Apex Jr
2HeaterBRS InkBird ITC-306A + 200W TitaniumY
3Light #1AI Prime 16HD
4Light #2AI Prime 16HD
5Circulation PumpRed Sea Reef Wave 25EB8Y
6SkimmerEshopps Nano Skimmer
7KalkReactorIceCap KM-120
9Cabinet LightLED
10pH ControllerMilwaukee MC-720 pH Controller / Dosing kit
12Dosing PumpMilwaukee Doser

Next Step:

The next step is to build the aquascape, fill the system with saltwater, and begin the cycling process. Stay tuned for Part #3 in this series.

  • Ellery Wong

    Ellery is a mechanical systems engineer at a Fortune 500 technology company. He has automation experience in the automotive, appliance, printing and robotics industries as a product development professional but also has over 35 years of saltwater aquarium experience as a hobbyist. He currently maintains a 9 tank / 540 gallon SPS/LPS/Mixed systems. DIY is his forte!


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