My home office is down in the basement of our house. There are weeks where my job has me working late nights down there and at some point, I figured a little aquatic life would make my work environment more relaxing and cheerful. However, I didn’t want something requiring a lot of attention and maintenance. I already have a nice reef on the main floor that I try to keep up with so I decided to follow a low-tech reefing route with a low bioload.
So far, the tank has met my goals. It will never win any awards or photo contests, but it has provided me a corner of life and color without much regular intervention. Once a week, I dump a gallon of RO water in for top-off. I usually add some food and A/B additive once a week as well. Once a month, I harvest the macroalgae for nutrient export. My last water change was in 2010.
My implementation of low-tech was a Current USA Solana 34-gallon, with the skimmer removed and the stock media was yanked as well. In the rear compartment, I only keep a bag of carbon and some mangroves. The lack of a skimmer means the tank is very quiet, which is essential for conference calls. I filled the tank with some live sand, leftover live-rock, soft coral cuttings from my large tank, and a handful of manageable macroalgae. The only fish are a clownfish and a bluestripe pipefish.
The bluestripe pipefish has thrived in this tank for a year. I rarely feed the tank, but I suspect the overgrown algae is providing excellent opportunities for natural food sources to persist in his presence. I also have three species of hitch-hiker snails reproducing happily. I do have a patch of turf algae on my powerhead and some valonia here and there. But their growth seems stalled by the presence of more desirable algae.
I think there are 4 factors that allow this particular tank to function. Most importantly, I created a different perception of success for this tank than I have for my larger reef aquarium (learned to appreciate overgrown and disheveled). Second, I filled it with fast growing soft corals, but slow growing macroalgae. There are Caulerpa species that spread at manageable rates, and other genera that are modest growers. I purposely avoided the rabid growers like Caulerpa racemosa. And lastly, I kept the bioload low.
I’d love to tell you this system is “natural”, and throw in words like “biodiversity”, “food webs”, and self-contained “ecosystem”. But let’s just call it what it is; bacteria and nutrient export – low bioload and lots of photosynthesis are what I believe are at work.
So there you have it: My unkempt, simple, shunned-to-the-basement, “Dutch” reef. I call it a “Dutch” reef, because I remember seeing Macroalgae filled reef tanks in Holland way back when… And also because, well, I’m Dutch.. So why not?