View Full Version : OKStriple's Oceanic Biocube 14 - An inherited mess

10-07-2013, 12:45 AM
I am beginning this journal just to document my progress with a 10 gallon biocube that was thrust upon me. At the moment I am not looking for any specific advice until at least a week or two from now when I take my next steps and see where I am at.

History: I know very little background on this tank.
My 20 y/o son's friend recently moved back to California and left his fish tank behind at our house (in Oklahoma) to take care of it - with no instructions. He may move back here within the next year and reclaim his tank, or never return and it's mine to keep. My son has a couple years experience with freshwater tanks but doesn't know much about salt tanks - but more than I do. Unfortunately ( or maybe it IS fortunate) my son lives in an apartment across town and I only see him a couple times a week so I'm on my own with the fish tank.

After tending to this neglected tank for 3 weeks, I went to the LFS yesterday and started steps toward improving the water.

Oceanic Biocube 14 ( I believe it's 10 gal) with two large living rocks that don't appear to have much life on them except some stringy green algae that probably shouldn't be there. There are also a few mushrooms that may be of the candy cane variety. I was told there were 4 fish and two snails. However after 3 weeks I am positive there was never a 4th fish and after vacuumeing today I'm sure there are no snails. There were 2 clown fish but one managed to jump the back wall into the filter area because it was too full.(RIP). I'm not sure what other fish is but it small skinny dark purple with greenish tail fins. So its just the two small fish and two tiny starfish that hug the walls.

LFS sent me home with 5 gal of saltwater to replace after vacuuming 5 out and said to do it again in a few days. I also added 3/4 tsp of buffer. They told me to bring back a water sample to test in a few days when I go back for 5 more gallons of saltwater. Nitrates are 160, Ph is 7.8 (prior to vacuume and adding water). The lights were out so I replace on of them with a 50/50. It looks to me like it does not have a heater unless its hidden back so with winter coming on, I may need one.

Amonia 0; Nitrite 0' Nitrate 160; Ph 7.8; Alkalinity 9; Calcium 520; Salinity 1.024.

Following this water change, wait a few days to settle down, then take a sample back to the LFS and change 5 more gallons of water. I'll get a heater at my next LFS visit since it doesn't have one. And since I see no evidence of a cleaning crew, I'll ask them if the timing is right to reintroduce a cleaning crew. I also want to ask if adding a skimmer will help make this any easier.

Healthy environment with most of hair algae removed, add cleaning crew, add one additionl small fish, perhaps a gobi of some type. Possibly introduce additional coral or mushrooms. If I enjoy this and the original owner comes back, then I'll pick up a 55 gal tank off craigslist and start a new SW tank. If I don't enjoy this, it goes back to previous owner or my son will take it over.



10-07-2013, 01:00 AM
A journal is a very good idea - you'll be amazed at how different your tank looks after a few months of dedicated care and this is the best way to document and show the progress!

10-07-2013, 01:06 AM
Keep up on the waterchanges. All but your nitrates seam to be OK. You really want your nitrates down to around 5ppm (I keep mine just under 1ppm). You may find it may take a while for your nitrates to lower as your live rock can soak up nitrates like a sponge when placed in high nitrate waters. Once you get the nitrate lowered through water changes, the rock will release some of the nitrates back into the water. It may take some time, but if you keep up with the water changes, you will get there.

If the LFS is using a API test kit for your nitrates, I would suggest getting your own, and better quality test kit such as Salifert. The API kit can easily give you a false reading if you do not complete the test perfectly.

I would also like to make two other suggestions to help things out. The first would be to get a skimmer. That will help make it easier to maintain your water parameters and most bio-cube manufactures make skimmers for their tanks are are designed to fit into a compartment in the back of the bio-cube aquarium. Also, I would like to suggest adding tow more pieces of dry/dead rock to the tank. Two rocks about the same size as the current ones would be a good start.

Assuming your nitrate reading is at least close to being correct, you may want to start with a minimum of 15 to 20% waterchanges every other day (about 7 gallons ) and keep up that routine until your nitrates do not climb above 5ppm

10-07-2013, 01:18 AM
Thanks for the replies. I have been furiously reading from this forum and another one as I know almost nothing about either salt or freshwater aquariums. I understand all this is easier to work with a larger tank but this is what I've got in front of me so I'm going to accept the challenge and see what I can do.

Thanks for the recommendation of more/bigger rock. That wasn't on my radar but it makes some sense so I understand where you're coming from. The skimmer is something I was considering but will consider more seriously now

10-08-2013, 01:09 AM
Water numbers today:
Ammonia 0; Nitrite 0; Nitrate 30; ph 8.4; salinity 1.0235. Prior to changing 3 gallons more water.

Added 6 lbs live rock, added 4 snails cleanup crew (more to come later), added filter pad, added heater. Lights are running 6 hours a day for now. Making good progress. Check again in a week and see where we are.

10-08-2013, 01:10 AM
Water numbers today:
Ammonia 0; Nitrite 0; Nitrate 30; ph 8.4; salinity 1.0235. Prior to changing 3 gallons more water.

Added 6 lbs live rock, added 4 snails cleanup crew (more to come later), added filter pad, added heater. Lights are running 6 hours a day for now. Making good progress. Check again in a week and see where we are.

10-08-2013, 02:37 AM
keep a close eye on your ammoina - its not uncommon to have an ammonia spike after adding new live rock - once live rock comes out of the water for shipping or transferring tanks, you end up with some die off which can sometimes cause an ammonia spike. Just something to watch out for - you may want to check your ammonia more often than once per week - I would check it daily for at least 3 days of zero readings before going weekly.

10-08-2013, 11:03 PM
+1 to the above

It is never a good idea to add newly purchased live rock to a existing aquarium unless you re-cure it yourself. Adding dead/dry rock would be safe and it would develop into live rock over time (above 6 weeks IME)

Keep a close eye on your parameters daily and increase to 20% daily water changes if you get any ammonia or nitrites

10-14-2013, 03:57 PM
Update: about 5 days ago: Ammonia 0; Nitrite 0; Nitrate 160, ph 7.5, Alkalinity 17; Calcium 520; phosphate 0.5; salinity 1.024.
As expected - a Nitrate spike which remained through a couple 20% water changes. Nitrates now down to appx 40 and plan a 30% water change tomorrow. Ordered some salifert test kits so I can stay on top of things better instead of relying on the LFS. Also bought a API Nitrate test kit locally just to stay on top of that daily for right now.

Adding some buffer to help with Ph. Snails have done a good job with the algae but with the Nitrates high I can see it coming back almost as quick as they eat it. I need to continue to focus on getting the Nitrates down and stabilized before I start looking for some Zoas or something to add a little color.

10-14-2013, 04:38 PM
If your alkalinity is really at 17, then you need to stop adding the pH buffer as that would most likely be the cause of your extremely high alkalinity which will also make your pH unstable. Its a vicious circle.

If you maintain your alkalinity and calcium in balance with each other and within normal ranges, your pH should naturally stabilize for you. This approach has always worked well for me. The below link will help to explain this in a little more detail


For now, stop dosing any type of supplement. try daily 5% water changes maintaining your salinity at 1.026 for the next week to slowly bring down your alkalinity level without causing a large pH swing that would seriously stress out your fish and snails. After one week, increase the daily water changes to 10% and the following week 15 to 20%. This will help to stabilize your parameters while also lowering your nitrate levels.

10-15-2013, 10:31 PM
Salifert test kit came in this afternoon (after I completed a 5% water change). ALthough this is my first time using the kit, I believe these numbers to be fairly accurate.
Nitrate 80; Calcium 385; kh/Alk 10.9/3.88; Phosphate 1.0.
I'll continue with daily 5% water changes but these numbers are better than I expected. So Cal numbers are 'safe' and the dKH is still high but not so terrible as it was. Phosphate is higher than before. I suppose this will come down along with the Nitrates through the 5% water changes.

Thats all the testing kits I bought so far.

10-15-2013, 11:32 PM
Those numbers do look a lot better than before

Keep up on the waterchanges and you will start seeing a different in the nitrate levels once you get up to 20% or more

10-19-2013, 02:02 AM
I didn't plan to update again this soon but I had a perceived crisis. I was digging around in the sump and saw the sponge filter for the first time. I took it out figuring it would need cleaning. Oh crap did it ever - all sorts of stuff broke loose from it as I was getting it out and the tank flooded with nasty brown stuff and suspended particles in the water. I went ahead and washed it out and replace it and then did a 10% (all the water I had) water change while the stuff was still floating around in tank. I also removed all the bio balls from the refugium as they were all covered in large algae slime.

I headed to the LFS for more water and have them test water while I was there. To my suprise the numbers were good but I question if they were accurate on the Nitrates:

Ammonia .25 (never had any ammonia before)
Nitrite 0
Nitrate 20 (later I vacuumed another 1 gallon and I tested at 20 AFTER adding 1 gallon from the LFS)
Ph 8
kH 9
calcium 380
Phosphate .5
Salinity 1.025

All in all- I'm pretty happy with the numbers...and suprised they weren't any worse after stirring up all that crap. The LFS recommended I put the bio balls back so I did. I'm was thinking that there might be something better I could be doing with the refugium instead of the bio balls but IF these numbers are any kind of accurate, I could be on the edge of getting this stabilized. I recently found another LFS that has a greater coral selection so I think I will test my own numbers, then take a sample to them and see if they can confirm these findings.

Meanwhile I need to clear out the particals floating around. I put a fresh filter pad in the back of the bio cube to help filter out some of this.
Thoughts? Opinons? Did I jsut set things back a week or am I on the path toward progress? Keep the bio balls or nix?

10-19-2013, 02:11 AM
Likely just a slight set back if any. Keep a close eye on your ammonia and nitrate levels and you will know for sure

Once you get some more dead rock in there, and you allow it to become cycled, you can get rid of the bio-balls as they can be a source of nitrates when not clean very often.

I would suggest clean the sponge out at least weekly. All that trapped "stuff" will also add nitrates to your water.

10-19-2013, 02:27 PM
Would you recommend putting dead rock in the refugium in place of the bio balls? I already have around 10-11 pounds of live rock in the main tank. FTS from front and side below. MUCH better than before - most algae gone.

10-19-2013, 02:52 PM
I would suggest about 20 lbs of very good quality rock for your tank, inside the tank (remember, only add dead rock). This would give you the option to add some more livestock and/or corals in the future should you choose, as well as helping you tank remain stable once you have worked through your current water parameter challenges. I would only use the back sump compartment for a sponge (if you clean it at least weekly) and any chemical filter media you may want to use, such as carbon or phosphate removers.

You tank is really looking a lot better, great job !!!

10-19-2013, 09:27 PM
I would suggest about 20 lbs of very good quality rock for your tank, inside the tank (remember, only add dead rock). This would give you the option to add some more livestock and/or corals in the future should you choose, as well as helping you tank remain stable once you have worked through your current water parameter challenges. I would only use the back sump compartment for a sponge (if you clean it at least weekly) and any chemical filter media you may want to use, such as carbon or phosphate removers.

You tank is really looking a lot better, great job !!!
If I add 10 more pounds of rock, I'll be out of interior space. It's only a Biocube 14 and with the rock thats in there now, it only holds about 10 gallons of water. I know you know what you are doing waaaaay more than I do but most things I have read suggest about 1lb of rock per gallon. 20 lbs rock would be double that. I'm not sure how much less water I'll end up with 20lbs of rock.
This time I'll add only dead rock but I'll be giving up access to any of the sand floor for vacuuming.

10-20-2013, 12:12 AM
You are correct, my mistake, I keep thinking you have a 29 gallon biocube

10-27-2013, 08:44 PM
update for this week. Tank seems stabilized.
magnesium 1270; Alkalinity 10.2; calcium 400; Phosphate .25; Nitrate 10; Salinity 1.026.
Went to a different LFS today an purchased a small xenia and a Zoanthid frag. I had some difficulty inderstanding their instructions for dipping them and acclimating them. After going through the process and getting them in the tank, they both look like crap. But I assume they will perk up in a day or two. I swear I think I put them through more trauma and they would have been better off to just acclimate them to the water temp and put them in. But it's done now so we shall see. I'll do pics in a few days when they look better, or when theyre dead :)

10-27-2013, 10:38 PM
Good job with the tank. Your parameters keep getting better and better

Coral dips can be stressful for corals. It can be worth the risk tho as when it is done right, you can greatly reduce the risk of introducing some real nasty hitch-hikers into your set-up.

I would give to corals a day or two to get used to their new home. I've added corals in the past that took two days before they opened up after I acclimated and dipped them and then another few days before their color looked like it fully returned.

10-31-2013, 11:48 PM
Doing 10% water changes every 5 days or so- changed yesterday. Nitrate 10; Calcium 410; kH 9.6 phosphate .5
The xenia and the zoanthid are doing well. I'm keeping the zoo close to the light for now. I'll move it to a permanent home in a few weeks

11-07-2013, 02:27 PM
Your parameters are looking good, even tho the nitrate is still a little high.

What did mean buy:
Doing 10% water changes every 5 days or so- changed yesterday.

11-18-2013, 08:18 PM
What I meant is that every 5 days I am doing a water change. When I do that water change, I am only changing out 10% of the water. I have since stretched that out to every 7-8 days I will replace 10% of the water. NUmbers as of yesterday:
Nitrate 10 (Just doesn't seem to want to go down but isn't going up either) Calcium 410, Kh 10, phosphate.5, magnesium 1260.
So things seem to be pretty stabilized.
Two things of note:
ONE: A LFS thought 410 was a little low on Calcium and that I should dose it to get it a little higher. Coincidentally they didn't have any smaller bottles and suggested I come back in a couple days when they had smaller calcium bottles in. I went to another LFS who agreed with me that these are good numbers including the calcium and didn't see any reason to increase the calcium especially when I do not have any hard corals for now.

TWO: My Zoa is gone. It seemed to be doing well for over a week. I had seen the blenny picking at it from time to time, and I had seen a large turbo snail parked right on top of it just before it 'disappeared' from the frag. I removed the snail and put it in another part of the tank. A day later it was back on the frag. Took it off again and next day there was nothing left of the Zoa on the frag (not even a trace it once existed). I suspect the turbo snail is the guilty party but the blenny and the clown aren't talking. It could also be those tiny arthropods I had heard sometimes eat them but I 've never seen them on it before.???
I bought another Zoa and the turbo snail was starting to climb the frag in 45 minutes. I moved the Turbo to the opposite corener of the tank and he was back in 2 hours. He in now in turbo snail jail in the sump and the new Zoa is still doing fine (after only a day).

Three: ( I know I said two things but I can't count well). With my current parameters, do you think I could handle a Acan frag? I understand they need feeding and I think I can do that.


11-18-2013, 08:38 PM
A few pics
Xenia doing very well
New Zoa

And snail jail

11-18-2013, 09:58 PM
And FYI- I'm reading your writeups on various corals now. I recognize I will need to add a powerhead for better flow.
Also there is a local seller on craigslist that has some hammer coral frags I am interested in.

11-18-2013, 11:53 PM
I would suggest increasing the frequency of the water changes to about 2 to 3 days if you want your nitrates to drop even more.

Based on your current water parameters, softest would most likely be best suited for your set-up. Acans and hammers, as with most other LPS seam to do better long term with lower levels of nitrates (between 5 and 1ppm). Keep in mind, LPS will consume a good amount of calcium and alkalinity from the water for their skeleton growth so testing both elements will become more important once/if you start stocking them.

I can not accurately comment on your calcium without knowing what your alkalinity is. However, 410ppm is the average calcium level found in ocean around the coral reefs. If your alkalinity is balanced at around 7 to 8, then your calcium is right were it should be.

11-19-2013, 12:04 AM
Sorry - forgot to mention Alkalinity is at 10. Just a little high

11-19-2013, 12:10 AM
I would suggest either increasing your calcium to 430ppm , or decreasing your alkalinity between 7 and 8. That would bring it into balance and be a lot better for your corals

11-22-2013, 01:47 AM
So the Xenia and the Frogspawn got into a fight. And whats up with the Zoas?
Sorry I got impatient and got a Frogspawn. The kid who originally owned this cube may be moving back here over Christmas and I may have to make a decision about giving it back, buying it from him, or starting my own. I'm still in the 'try it before you buy it' phase and I've spent a couple hundred bucks to basically stare are rocks and 2 fish. I enjoy it but thus far the reward isn't equal to the time and cost but I know its getting closer to the fun stuff. So with slightly better water numbers (Nitrate 10 Calcium 420, Alkalinity 8, phosphate.5, magnesium 1260.) I bought a Forgspawn and Red legged Hermit Crab.
I know its not the smartest purchase at this time, but I'm happier with the way things look now.
I need to move it a little lower in the tank. I watched as a longer arm of the xenia reached over to the Frogsapwn and latched onto it. Clearly the Forgspawn applied a sting to it and the Xenia retracted its arm substantially and looked a little clumped up/beat up. It was pretty cool. (moved them further apart right after that).

I have a question. The Zoa is looking less healthy (see pics below) a few polyps aren't opening up. It's away from the others. You will recall I last my last Zoa frag. This one didn't start looking bad till I release the Turbo snail from snail jail. Do you think he is the problem? Or something else?

Last night I saw a Biocube 29 for sale on Craigslist for $100, I planned to call this morning on it but it was gone already. I guess I'm getting a little more hooked

11-22-2013, 02:41 AM
Yup, it is always more costly to fix problems rather than aviod them in the first place.

I would keep a eye on that turbo snail and your hermit crab. They can crawl over your corals and stress them out. Also, they do need a lot to eat so you might want to feed them every once in a while (about twice a week maybe?) as there may not be enough in your tank for them. Don't forget to place some bigger empty shells in the tank for your crab to grow into, or he could attack the turbo snail to steel it's shell. The red legged hermit can be the more aggressive among the hermit crabs so you want to keep fat'n'happy to help avoid a lot of problems.

11-22-2013, 02:33 PM
I'm thinking the Turbo will be contacting a Realtor soon. I hear there is a neighborhood in my sons 20 gal tank across town that just finished cycling and is looking for a clean up crew. Need to get our water parameters fairly close (make sure his nitrates are staying down) and drip acclimate him

12-01-2013, 01:46 AM
Two weeks in and the Frogspawn is still doing very well. It seemed to use a lot of calcium early on but with some dosing my calcium stabilized at 460. Nitrates are now staying closer to 5, maybe getting close to 10 just before water changes.
Nitrate 5 Calcium 460, Alkalinity 8, phosphate.5, magnesium 1260, ph.8.0.

The turbo snail and hermit crab are leaving the Zoa alone but it is still losing some polyps. I am certain it's not a water issue but that something is eating at it. LFS suggested to look for tiny sundial snails, Zoa pox, or nudi's. Looking closer I'm pretty sure its not Zoa pox. I don't think I see any sundial snails but not sure. Still trying to check on it at night by turning the light on at random. I'm suspecting nudis

Doing this (with the light) I found a flatworm coming out of a rock. It was a long way from the Zoa and I don't think that one is the problem but there could be others. No luck getting it out yet. It extends out of its hole in the rock about 3 inches but as soon as I turn on the light to see it, it retracts into the hole within a few seconds and I cant get it

12-01-2013, 01:54 AM
You water parameters have improved, good job

If but flat worm you mean bristle worms, I would not worry to much about them. Every marine aquarium gets at least some of them and they don't typically bother corals.

Have you tried treating the zoas with a coral dip ? That might buy you some time to figure out what is killing off your zoas.

Have you added any other fish ? Are you currently dosing anything else right now ?

12-02-2013, 12:13 AM
I finally got the worm and yes, it was a bristle worm. Although I can't be certain that the worm I got is the same one I saw before.
I did a coral dip before I put it in the tank (like I do with all my corals) but I was also thinking about taking it out to dip again (as you suggested).
Otherwise, no new fish, snails or anything else and I'm not dosing anything. I was thinking about adding a cleaner shrimp but I'm not doing that until I figure out this mystery. If the Zoa frag dies off, then I just won't be buying any Zoas again for a long time since it doesn't seem to be affecting anything else.