Thursday, June 26, 2014

My First Saltwater Aquarium (at home): Part 3—Going on Vacation

Innovative Marine Nano 24 with the Skkye Light Dual LED Fixture

Spring time. My daughter’s 6th birthday is coming up and we've been contemplating if we’ll throw a party or not. I've always thought that we should only throw parties on milestone years but that’s just me. For the first time, my wife didn't argue against it. It’s too good to be true, it can’t be. She was secretly planning the annual family getaway instead. Why am I not surprised that she already figured out where and what to do. Family vacation it is…

For a lot of hobbyists, going on a vacation causes some sort of anxiety especially for a newbie with a new tank like me. Tank crashes can happen quickly and at any time, how much more am I at risk if I am not around to monitor things?  I need a plan. I’ll be gone for 5 days so my main concerns are feeding and water top off. Thank goodness for auto feeders and auto-top-offs (ATOs).

For the auto-feeder, I picked Current USA’s AquaChef Feeder since I've had experience with this before in my old freshwater tank. For me it’s reasonably priced and it works for pellet food. One thing I've learned about auto-feeders is not all feeders work well for certain types of food. You should pick the one that performs well with the type of food you use. Setup was a breeze as long as you follow the instructions. Sorry who-needs-a-manual dudes, it’s not as intuitive up-front. I set it to feed once a day to make sure I don’t come home to a tank covered with gunk.

As for the ATO, I used the Innovative Marine HydroFill. I've heard mixed reviews about it but I was offered a pretty good deal so I decided to take my chances. As a backup, I asked my brother-in-law to check the tank on day 3 anyway. This is probably the best option you can have while going on vacation. I used a 2.5 gallon jug which should be more than enough to top of the tank for 5 days. I hung the pump over the sump on the back only to find out (after about 30 minutes of continuous pumping) that it’s having a hard time pulling the water from the jug (on the floor) into the tank above. As a fix, I moved it directly on top of the jug and it started moving water right away. As for the sensors, I didn't want the pump to work that hard during refill so I placed the low level sensor just about half an inch from the ideal water level. I tested it a few times and it really filled-up quickly.

Innovative Marine Hydrofill ATO Pump setup

I also planned to do a water change on the day before I left. That’s it; I think I should be all set.

When I first started my tank, one of my officemates, Richard, mentioned that he’d give me some starter frags. About a week prior to my vacation, he said that he’s just letting the corals heal before he gives them to me. 2 days before my departure, he brought me a bunch of corals: Favia; Pink Yuma Ricordeas; Mushroom Leather, Frogspawn and a Purple sponge. At the same time, I’m also finally upgrading to the Innovative Marine Skkye Light Dual LED Fixture. Sweeeet! Feels like Christmas morning! On the other hand, I started to worry about being on vacation right after I add new livestock in the tank.

Unboxing of the Innovative Marine Skkye Light Dual LED Fixture

On the way home, I picked up my daughter from school and shared the good news that we have new corals for the tank. Since her favorite color is purple, I emphasized on the purple sponge. At that point though, I wasn't sure what to do with the sponge since it was so big and I haven’t had a chance to research about it yet.

This time, I used the AuqaGadget AccuDrip to acclimate the corals. I've never used it before and I find it to be very intuitive and I like how you can easily control the flow with the rolling clamp. I didn't even read the manual this time (who needs manuals??). While waiting, I had time to look into the flow and lighting needs to my new specimens. I still don’t know where to set the sponge so I decided to just put it at the back of the rocks in the meantime. As an option, I might end up just cutting a small piece of it for my tank.

Coral package: Favia; Pink Yuma Ricordeas; Mushroom Leather, Frogspawn and a Purple sponge

On the next day, I checked on the new corals and they seem to be doing pretty well. The last thing I would need on the day before I take my vacation is to have unhappy corals. They also look happy with the new LED fixture that’s more suited to reef tanks. I like how I’m able to adjust the intensity of the both Daylight and Actinic channels to my preference and the coral’s. I also appreciate how the moonlight LEDs has its own power cord so I can both day and night mode using timers. My old Current USA Satellite was only driven by one power cord so I had to manually switch it to night mode.

I did my water change and now I’m confident that my tank will survive and I’m ready to focus on my vacation.

Innovative Marine Skkye Light Dual LED in moonlight mode

Just like any other vacation, it is over before you know it. As expected, the first thing I checked when I got home was the tank. I noticed that the goby and pistol shrimp made more burrows under the rocks which I thought was pretty cool. I pictured them having a party while I was away. Then, to my dismay, I saw the bird’s nest and pocillopora bleaching out. The rest of the corals were also closed up and unhappy. The rocks were also covered with red slime and algae (Oh no!). Upon further investigation, I found out that the sponge died and probably contaminated the whole tank. Without unpacking, I sprang into action… I removed all remnants of the sponge, did a water change (good thing I always keep a jug of saltwater ready), and replaced the carbon and phosphate media. At this point, I can only cross my fingers and hope that the rest of the livestock survives.

Looking back, my mentor, Robert, warned me not to expose the sponge to air. Unfortunately, the warning came after the day I added the sponge in the tank. I was even amazed on its rubbery texture and had my daughter feel it. I even remember her saying it was like gummy. I’ll blame this mishap on ignorance and consider it as a learning experience. After a few days, the other corals seem to be getting back in shape.

I’m happy though that the water level was fine when I got back. Looks like the ATO worked. On the contrary, after I spoke with my brother-in-law, he said the water was low when he paid a visit. I suspected the tubing because its material can easily get crimped. Ever since, I've been careful on the tubing and I haven’t had any issues with it.

This is not the first time I left a tank at home while on vacation but for some reason this was more stressful than leaving a freshwater tank. Perhaps it’s just new or maybe saltwater tanks just need more attention.

MISS PART 1 and 2?