Re:changing aquariums

Pete Giwojna

Dear Tammy:

It’s going to be a challenge to salvage the bulk of your pod population and transport them to the new Innovative Marine 38-gallon Mini Nuvo aquarium system once it has cycled, Tammy, because the pods are so small and insignificant and tend to colonize the rockwork and substrate rather than swimming freely in the open water column, but I can offer a few suggestions in that regard.

As you know, the 38-gallon Innovative Marine Mini Nuvo aquarium system includes room in the back for a refugium, and Innovative Marine offers an LED light fixture for such a ‘fuge, Tammy. The first thing I would do would be to install a small refugium in the back of the new 38-gallon aquarium as soon as it has finished cycling, just as you’re planning on doing, and provide it with LED lighting. Then I would transfer the contents of the old refugium that you have tried so hard to keep thriving despite the power outages to the new refugium as intact as possible.

Secondly, I would transfer the mechanical filtration media from your JBJ 28-gallon to the new 38-gallon Mini Nuvo aquarium system by Innovative Marine as soon as it’s up and running with newly mixed saltwater at the proper pH, temperature, and specific gravity, Tammy. That would be a great way to seed the new tank with beneficial nitrifying bacteria to help jumpstart the cycling process, and one thing I have noticed is that Gammarus and other amphipods love to colonize the mechanical filtration media in an aquarium, where they typically thrive and prosper and reproduce, feeding on the particulate matter and organic wastes it strains out of the aquarium water. So the mechanical filtration media for the filtration system in your JBJ 28-gallon aquarium is very likely the one location in your aquarium with the highest concentration of amphipods and copepods, and transferring the mechanical filtration media to the new 38-gallon Mini Nuvo tank will effectively relocate the bulk of the Gammarus amphipods to the new aquarium as well as seeding it with beneficial bacteria.

Then if you want to perform a major water change in the JBJ tank in the hope of recapturing more of the pod population from the water column, it might help a bit as a finishing touch, Tammy. Hopefully, those measures will help to build up a thriving pod population in the new Innovative Marine 38-gallon Mini Nuvo aquarium system for your Mandarin and your seahorses as quickly as possible.

But you must be prepared to provide your beautiful Mandarinfish with plenty of prepared foods to serve as its staple diet nevertheless, Tammy, even if the Mandarin will have an opportunity to graze on copepods and amphipods between meals.

As we have discussed before, I absolutely love the spectacular coloration and peaceful nature of Mandarin dragonets, Tammy! There’s no disputing that they are gorgeous little fishes and make ideal tankmates for seahorses. They are docile, slow-moving, passive fish that are beautifully marked and very deliberate feeders. And they are quite hardy fish providing they can be fed properly.

However, until quite recently, feeding mandarins and providing them with good nutrition in the aquarium was nearly impossible, and most wild-caught Mandarin dragonets were doomed to a depth by slow starvation in the aquarium, Tammy. For that reason, they were considered extremely difficult to keep and a fish that should only be attempted by expert aquarists with large tanks having sandy bottoms and live rock and a large population of copepods and amphipods in their aquariums.

Nowadays, thank goodness, it’s largely a different story. Captive-bred-and-raised Mandarin dragonets from Oceans, Reefs and Aquariums (ORA) in Florida are trained to eat prepared foods and are hardy little fish that are relatively easy to keep in the right type of aquarium. They are every bit as spectacular as the wild-caught Mandarinfish, perhaps even more so, and infinitely easier to feed. ORA has even developed a reddish color form of the Mandarin dragonets, which as much more of the bright red orange swirling stripes than the normal psychedelic Mandarins do. So, as long as you can get the tank bred specimens that have been raised in captivity, Tammy, there is no compelling reason for you not to include a Mandarin Dragonet in your new, larger seahorse tank once it’s well established.

It has been my experience that the captive-bred-and-raised Mandarin dragonets from ORA are quite hardy when they are maintained in a suitable aquarium with compatible tankmates such as seahorses and pipefish. I suspect that the home hobbyists who are unsuccessful with the tank-bred Mandarin dragonets are either attempting to keep them with incompatible fish that are active feeders and that outcompete the mandarins at feeding time, or they are offering them the wrong type of prepared foods, or both.

Often, the best way to feed captive-bred-and-raised Mandarin dragonets is to set up a special feeding station for them, just as you would do for seahorses. One thing I have noticed about the captive-bred-and-raised Mandarin dragonets is that they tend to be lazy feeders. They are not great at hunting for food and seem to have lost some of the foraging skills of their wild counterparts. But they do really well when provided with a feeding dish they can come and go from as they please. When they are hungry, they will come and sit in the feeding dish and pick out choice morsels to eat, and then they will go off and about their business when they have had their fill, returning to sit in the feeding dish and pig out again the next time they are hungry.

Also, I find the favorite food of the Mandrins is chopped frozen bloodworms. That’s what I would fill the Mandarin feeding dish with, Tammy, and you can be quite confident that your Dragonet will love bloodworms of suitable size. They also go for frozen baby brine shrimp, for a change of pace, but that’s messier to feed. For that reason, I prefer to provide them with live newly hatched brine shrimp from time to time, rather than the frozen baby brine shrimp. Aside from finely chopped Hikari Frozen Blood Worms and live baby brine shrimp, Mandarin Dragonets will often eat Nutramar Ova and other fish roe, as well as frozen Daphnia (which is messy to feed them), and if you can get them to accept the New Life SPECTRUM Small Fish Formula pellets, which some of them will do readily, then they will really thrive in the aquarium.

So, I think if you set up your own Mandarin diner and then offer your Mandarin Dragonet the proper prepared foods, I think you will find that he will do very well, Tammy. Heck, I’ve even known the tank-red mandarins to visit the seahorses’ feeding station to clean up scraps of frozen Mysis!

But before you can begin to think about building up a thriving pod population in the new aquarium, Tammy, you must first get it up and running.

And when you are ready to set up your new Innovative Marine 38-gallon Mini Nuvo aquarium system, you must first clean up the tank. Cleaning a brand-new tank straight from the manufacturer is a fairly simple, straightforward process.

The first step in preparing your new tank is to cleanse it thoroughly before you set it up, Tammy. Obtain a new cellulose sponge (which you will hereafter reserve for aquarium use only) and scrub out the tank inside and out using a little non-iodized salt and water to remove any potentially harmful residues. Rinse it well afterwards, and your corral will be ready for use. This step is especially important if the tank has been previously used as an aquarium.

As soon as this initial cleaning has been performed, you can get started setting up the new 38-gallon aquarium, Tammy, beginning with the leak test.

Prepare your aquarium for cycling by setting your system up with just freshwater at first, attaching the equipment and apparatus (filter, aeration, circulation, heater, skimmer, lighting, accessories) and testing it all for a day or so to make sure you have everything in place, and that it works correctly without any leaks or unforeseen problems. If all goes well and the tank holds water, and the LED light fixture, pumps, and filters are all working properly, you can drain the water from the tank and proceed with the installation.

The next step is to install the thin layer of live black sand along with any rockwork or aquarium decor you would like to include. Of course, installing the substrate and aquascaping the aquarium are much easier to accomplish when the aquarium is empty, which is why you should drain the water from the tank after completing the leak test.

After the shallow layer of black sand is in place, go ahead and install the rockwork and aquarium decorations. If you will be using live rock (or one of the manufactured or aquacultured substitutes), Tammy, try to select pieces with complex shapes and interesting textures that catch your eye, and experiment with different configurations until you achieve an arrangement that you find attractive as well as functional. Your goal should be to arrange interesting caves, overhangs, ledges, and structures that provide shelter and look nice, but also to make sure that the formations you create are anchored solidly in place so that they won’t shift suddenly and there will be no accidental collapses.

When it comes to selecting rockwork for the new, larger aquarium, Tammy, in order to avoid introducing undesirable hitchhikers to the 38-gallon tank along with the live rock, such as mantis shrimp, bristleworms and fireworms, or Aiptasia rock anemones, which could pose a risk to the seahorses, I recommend using pest-free live rock such as the Real Reef Live Rock discussed below, Tammy. The Real Reef Live Rock has all the benefits of both genuine live rock AND pest-free dry rock such as Macro Rocks combined. It is man-made live rock and is therefore guaranteed to be free of unwanted hitchhikers, but it is bioactive and is already cycled, so it therefore houses large populations of beneficial nitrifying and beneficial denitrifying bacteria to seed the aquarium and provide it with instant biological filtration ability. So it is pest-free like the dry Macro Rocks and completely safe to use in your marine aquarium with seahorses, but is completely bioactive when you purchase it, so it accelerates rather than prolongs the cycling process of a new tank.

But what I especially like about the pest-free Real Reef Live Rock is that it is made so that it looks as if it’s already encrusted with colorful purplish-pinkish coralline algae. That makes it ideal for use in a seahorse tank since adding the Real Reef Live Rock to your aquarium will not make the prominent background color in the tank be brown or tan or gray, like genuine live rocks tend to do, and the pretty coralline color is great for encouraging seahorses to look their best and brightest as well as making a good foundation for colorful live soft corals.

So, in your case, Tammy, I would suggest that you guys start out with a shallow layer of live sand as well as a nice selection of Real Reef Live Rock to serve as shelter as well as providing a foundation and attachment sites for a nice selection of seahorse-safe soft corals (are colorful artificial corals and gorgonians).

This is what I normally advise home hobbyists regarding such alternatives the live rock, Tammy:

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Pest-Free Dry Rock

Another good option, which is the safest and easiest procedure for most home hobbyists (especially those new to the hobby), is to start out with "dead" foundation rock instead of live rock. This dead or dry foundation rock is considerably cheaper than live rock and is, of course, completely free of undesirable pests and unwanted hitchhikers. But it will quickly enough becomes alive once it’s placed in the aquarium as it’s overgrown by algae and inhabited by copepods, amphipods and myriad microfauna. And over time the porous dead/foundation rock will become inhabited by a thriving population of nitrifying bacteria, giving it biofiltration ability. Eventually the oxygen-deprived interior of the "dead" rock will be populated by aerobic denitrifying bacteria, which convert nitrate to nitrogen gas, thereby helping to keep the nitrate levels in the aquarium under control.

By this point, the foundation rock will be very much alive and can provide all the benefits of live rock with none of the risks. The inert foundation rock looks completely natural when surrounded by living, growing macroalgae, especially when it becomes encrusted by microalgae or coralline algae, as the case may be.

The drawback to this approach is that it takes considerably longer for a new marine aquarium to cycle from scratch using dry rock than it does with live rock, and you must "seed" the tank with beneficial nitrifying bacteria from another clean source in order to start the cycling process. But the advantage of using dead foundation rock is the cheaper cost and, above all, the fact that it completely eliminates unwanted hitchhikers such as Aiptasia rock anemones, bristleworms, mantis shrimp, hydroids, and rock crabs. If they are patient, many home hobbyists feel the advantages outweigh the drawbacks.

One good source for such dry foundation rock is Macro Rocks, which offers dead, dried ocean rock in a number of interesting formations and a wide variety of types (Florida, Fiji, Tonga, etc.). They offer many beautiful, unique and intricate formations of dried ocean rock that would be an asset to any seahorse setup Best of all, you can even purchase the Macro Rocks precycled and carrying a full complement of beneficial nitrifying bacteria, which allows you to cycle a new aquarium using the Macro Rocks as fast as an aquarium with live rock.

Macro Rocks are available online at the following website:

Even better is the Real Reef rockwork from Pacific East Aquaculture, which is pest-free, fully bioactive, and the color of coralline algae to make it even more attractive, as discussed in more detail below. Because of these benefits, it is the type of rockwork that I personally prefer for seahorse setups.

A note regarding Real Reef rock:

Pacific East Aquaculture is a coral farming facility, we also breed and raise clownfish and other reef aquarium animals. Our focus is on aquaculture and in this light we offer Real Reef. The other so-called live rock that is currently available is actually brought into the US via boat, a process that takes weeks and most so-called live rock that is sold in the US is in fact quite dead and has been sitting in a box for months. This is a fact and one that I know from seeing the process myself. I tavel to Los Angeles monthly to hand pick stock and I have seen the boxes unloaded and opened many of these boxes of so-called live rock and it is not live in any way. The so-called live rock available to hobbyists now is junk and I refuse to offer it for sale and this is why we are offering the Real Reef man-made alternative. I use it in my own tanks and am confident in its quality!


Real Reef is an artificial man-made live rock alternative.

Non-Toxic dye is added to the rock that appears similar to coralline algae.

The rock is fully cured and totally reef aquarium safe, we have used this rock at our facility for over a year with no problems and use it in our personal tanks and recommend this rock to anyone starting a reef aquarium or Fish Only aquarium.

It is an environmentally friendly alternative to live rock taken from the natural reefs. We keep the Real Reef rock in a tank system in which we keep baby tank-raised clownfish that we growout. Over time the Real Reef rock has natural coralline algae coverage just like any other live rock.


Information about Real Reef provided by the manufacturer, Real Reef Inc.:

REAL REEF a bio-active living rock.
Saving the World’s reefs one piece at a time!

With the increasing demand and environmental impact of the Live Rock trade, we developed REAL REEF in response. Real Reef is a trademarked patent pending American aquacultured bio-active living reef aquarium rock.

Real Reef is a 100% environmentally friendly Live Rock substitute. It is a clean calcium carbonate rock with great buffering ability, shape, color and everything else you like in a great live reef rock. There is no curing required.

Real Reef doesn’t have unwanted hitch hikers such as crabs, aiptasia, sponge, flatworms, bristleworms and other nasty creepy crawlies! Real Reef looks, feels and aquascapes like real live rock. Most Aquarists think it’s better than the real thing!

It’s time as a hobby and industry we start looking into the future and protect this hobby we all love so much. Try aquascaping with Real Reef today.

You can purchase Real Reef Live Rock online for about $7 per pound from the following source, Tammy, and it is the type of rockwork I would recommend for your 38-gallon Innovative Marine seahorse system. Just copy the following URL, paste it in your web browser, and it will take you to the right webpage to purchase the Real Reef Live Rock:

Once the aquarium substrate and aquarium decorations are in place and you are satisfied with the aquascaping, Tammy, it’s time to fill the tank so that you can begin the cycling process.

If possible, I recommend using reverse osmosis/deionized water (RO/DI) to fill the aquarium initially and for making regular water changes once the aquarium has been established. RO/DI water obtained from a good source is ultra-pure and using it to fill the tank will help prevent nuisance algae from ever getting started in the newly established aquarium.

If you do not have an RO/DI unit of your own, you can always purchase the reverse osmosis/deinonized water (RO/DI) instead. Most well-stocked pet shops that handle marine fish sell RO/DI water as a service for their customers for between 25 and 50 cents a gallon. If your local fish store (LFS) does not, WalMart sells RO/DI water by the gallon for around 60 cents, and you should be able to find a Wal-Mart nearby. (Heck, even my drug store sells RO/DI water nowadays.)

However, it’s not always safe to assume that RO/DI water purchased from your LFS or your drugstore or some other convenient source is as pure as you might expect. If the merchants selling the RO/DI water are not diligent about monitoring their water quality and changing out the membranes promptly when needed, then the water they provide will not be a good quality and will not produce the desired results. I suggest that you look for an aquarium store that maintains beautiful reef systems on the premises — that’s a good sign that they know their stuff and are maintaining optimum water quality at all times, so the RO/DI water they provide should be up to snuff.

If you do not have access to a good source of reliable RO/DI water, then detoxified tap water will have to suffice for filling your new aquarium. In many areas, the municipal water supply has undesirable levels of amines, phosphates or nitrates, and in the United States, it is always chlorinated and fluoridated, so be sure to dechlorinate/detoxify the water using one of the many commercially unavailable aquarium products designed for that purpose when you add it to the aquarium.

Once the new Innovative Marine 38-gallon Mini Nuvo aquarium system has been filled with suitable water, you can go ahead and add the artificial salt mix and adjust the specific gravity of the water to the desired range, and then cycle the aquarium as usual, Tammy.

When the cycling process is complete, all you need to do is tweak the aquarium parameters so that the specific gravity, pH, and water temperature of the new 38-gallon Mini Nuvo aquarium system is the same as the current conditions in your JBJ 28-gallon aquarium, Tammy, and you’ll be back in business.

That’s going to make the transition from the old tank to the new, larger aquarium extremely easy, Tammy, since there will be no need to acclimate your seahorses were Mandarinfish. You can literally scoop them out of the JBJ tank and release them directly into the Innovative Marine tank, Tammy, and nothing could make the relocation of the ponies simpler and less stress-free than that, which is very good news, indeed!

In order to avoid any adverse impact when you relocate the seahorses during the move, Tammy, the main thing is to handle the seahorses with all due care and to take precautions to make the move as stress-free as possible. Separating and relocating seahorses to strange new surroundings is always a stressful experience for them to some degree, so you want to take whatever steps you can to minimize that stress and assure that the move goes smoothly. That’s why it’s so helpful to be able to simply transfer the seahorses from your old tank directly to the larger Innovative Marine set up without any delay at all. Just be careful when you are handling the seahorses and everything should go smoothly and without a hitch, Tammy.

When handling seahorses, I do not like to use an aquarium net to transfer or manipulate my ponies, since their delicate fins and snouts can become entangled in the netting all too easily. I much prefer to transfer the seahorses by hand. Simply wet your hand and fingers (to avoid removing any of the seahorse’s protective slime coat) and scoop the seahorses in your hand. Allow them to curl their tail around your fingers and carefully cup their bodies in your hand to support them while you lift them out of the water. When you gently immerse your hand in the destination tank, the seahorse will release its grip and swim away as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

Composed of solid muscle and endowed with extraordinary skeletal support, the prehensile tail is amazingly strong. Indeed, large specimens have a grip like an anaconda, and when a 12-inch ingens or abdominalis wraps its tail around your hand and tightens its hold, its vise-like grip is powerful enough to leave you counting your fingers afterwards!

In fact, it can be quite difficult to remove an attached seahorse from its holdfast without injuring it in the process. Never attempt to forcibly detach a seahorse from its hitching post! When it feels threatened, it’s instinct is to clamp down and hold on all the tighter. When you must dislodge a seahorse from its resting place for any reason, it’s best to use the tickle technique instead. Gently tickling the underside of the tail where it’s wrapped around the object will usually induce the seahorse to release its grip (Abbott, 2003). They don’t seem to like that at all, and will quickly let go to move away to another spot. Once they are swimming, they are easy to handle.

After you have introduced the seahorses to their new home, leave the aquarium light off for the first day and just give them as much peace and quiet as possible, allowing them to explore their new surroundings and get adjusted at their own speed. The next morning you can turn on the aquarium lights and feed them as usual, and all should be well. I think the seahorses are going to flourish in their new, more spacious home.

Best of luck transferring the seahorses into the beautiful Innovative Marine set up, Tammy! Here’s hoping everything goes as smoothly as I anticipate!

Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech Support

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