Juan Villa’s Ecopico reef
At just 5 gallon’s, Juan’s pico reef highlights just how little water you need to create a great aquarium. Not only can we share some beautiful photos of this little tank, but we also get the inside scoop from Juan himself. Enjoy.
Name, where are you from, hobby experience etc
My name is Juan Villa, and I was born in Jalisco Mexico, but have spent most of my life living on the south side of Chicago. I’ve been interested in the reefs since I was a young child, but I have been an active reef keeper for about six years now. I started out with a 20 gallon long tank that was packed with beginner corals and zoanthids. Eventually I moved onto a 40 gallon breeder that I ran as a mixed setup for a couple of years with mixed success. About a year and a half ago, I decided to start a new tank after being out of the hobby for a year, and elected to go with a 5 gallon Ecopico. This has definitely been the most challenging tank, but also the most rewarding.
What size is your nanoreef and how old is it? What make/model is it?
As I mentioned before, the tank is an Ecoxotic 5 gallon Ecopico. It hold approximately 5.1 gallons, and is the reef version that originally came with 3 LED strips, although I have added many more than that.
Tell us about the filtration you run on this tank. What type of skimmer etc
The only filtration that I use in my tank is the live rock. Originally I ran the small 85gph pump that came with the tank , but I realized that the sponge wasn’t really helping clean the water and was creating a safe haven for micro brittle stars, making it impossible to clean in between water changes. I removed the small pump, and have not noticed a change in water quality.
What lighting do you use? Wattage? Spectrum? Photoperiod?
There are 10 of the Ecopico LED strips on two mounting arms on this tank, aside from a 12K PAR 38 bulb. Each LED on the Ecopico strips is rated at 1 watt, so a totall of 30 watts comes from the LED strips, and the 21 watts from the PAR bulb come to a total of 51 watts.
Noon-10pm : 4 all blue strips come on (12w)
1 pm-9pm: 6 strips (2 white, 1 blue) come on (18w)
4pm-7pm: 12K PAR bulb comes on (21w)
What other equipment do you run? Calcium reactor, aquarium computer, dosing pumps, auottop off etc
I tried to keep my small system running simple, and efficiently. I found that on my other tanks I had too many things connected to the tank that needed maintenance and tweaking to work well, so I wanted to avoid that with this tank. I added a Vortech MP-10wes for flow. People think Im crazy for adding a pump that costs more than the whole tank, but I find that it’s adaptability makes it an indispensable tool for my small reef. Once I dial it in, it can run for weeks without needing any additional attention. Aside from the MP10, I really like the Ecoxotic 1 touch controller. It comes with a controller that allows you to customize exactly how you want your lights to come on. I really enjoy the dusk/dawn effect that it performs. It’s also a fun party trick to turn the lights on and off with a controller, and show people how corals fluoresce under the actinics.
Tell us about your corals. What have you got and how many corals do you currently have?
Originally I wanted this tank to be only for acanthastrea lordhowensis, however every time I went to the LFS, I couldn’t help buying LPS corals. Eventually, my love for zoanthids and palythoas resurfaced and the tank ended up being a mixed tank. Currently it seems the zoas and palys outnumber the other varieties of corals, but there are acans, favias, chalices, zoas, palys, a digitata, ricordea, and a Duncan.
Your tank is dominated by zoanthids – do you have a soft spot for them?
Yes! I would classify my interest in zoanthids as more of a love/hate relationship, however. I love all the different varieties and find myself wanting frags of all of them. I love how they propagate themselves and spread to cover the rock-work. However, I can never seem to shake the eventual effects of Zoa Pox. The problem with wanting to get some of all of them means eventually you’re going to introduce something that will infect your current stock and you will lose colonies. Originally most of my tank was dominated by Rasta zoas, and I had a bad case of the zoa pox and only a couple survived. It hasnt discouraged me from continuing to buy zoas and palys though.
What about the fish in your tank?
Some people say that a 5 gallon is too small for any fish, but I have kept the clown in mine happy and well fed. He is an Onyx clown from Rod Beuhler at Rod’s Clownfish (yes, the guy who makes the food lol). He is easily one of my favorite fish I have ever had, and his name is Nemus Maximus.
Tell us about the tank overall, what do you love about it, what problems have you had, modifications made etc
Overall, the tank is my favorite that I have ever kept, and it has come with it’s pros and cons. The small volume of the tank actually makes it really easy to maintain. I change 1.5 gallons of water per week, and top off with water daily. I live in Chicago and the tap water is pretty decent, so I mix salt and top off with tap water. People think Im nuts for doing so, but it has worked well for me for several years. Someday, I’ll invest in an RODI, but I don’t really think I need it at this pint. Usually it only needs about 200ml of water per day to replace the evaporation. The main drawback to a tank of this size is that you run out of room QUICK. Sticking your hands into the tank to glue frags, or position things becomes an extreme challenge. Often times, sticking your hand in the tank makes it overflow, creating a salt water mess. Another negative aspect would have to be the sand being stagnant. I have tried adding various nassarius snails to keep the sand moving and free of algae, but it hasn’t really worked. I end up having to manually mix the sand up with a magnet cleaner from time to time. Other than that, it’s a pretty easy tank to maintain.
Do you belong to a reef club? Which online forums do you use, (what is your username)? What books do you read for reef knowledge?
I am a member of the Chicago Marine Aquarium Society (CMAS), and frequently attend club frag swaps and other events. I used to post a lot on Reefcental.com under the name Nemus Maximus, however recently Ive taken a liking to a newer Chicago forum, chicagoreefs.com where I post under the name Cheetofingers. I haven’t really read many books on the subject of reefkeeping, since I have learned most of my knowledge from the forums and members of CMAS.
Anybody you want to thank? Anything else you’d like to say about your tank?
I’d like to personally thank Ecoxotic who has been really great at helping me get parts to grow the best tank I possibly can. Anytime I have a problem their customer service goes above and beyond, to make sure I get what I need, fast. Id like to thank CMAS for having such awesome members, in particularly my buddy Jose who always inspire me to get better at my reef keeping. Finally, Id like to thank anyone who took the time to read these ramblings, and thinks my tank is worthy enough to be featured, I’m really honoured and flattered to be in the company of these other amazing tanks.