A nano marine aquarium is one which at the smallest end is around 10 gallons capacity and at the largest around 30. They can be fish only or reef, but of course the capacity for fish and corals is restricted.
Most aquarists dream of an aquarium which is large – 6 ft by 2 by 2 is a fairly common size. These allow a larger number of fish to be kept and many more corals. The impact of a successful large aquarium is simply stunning; I cannot imagine anyone who breathes not being taken by the overall beauty.
The advantage of the large aquarium is that the aquarist has a lot to play with and, within guidelines, could create nearly anything. The disadvantage is the cost. The aquarium itself is not going to be cheap. Then equipment to service the gallonage is required = a larger protein skimmer, several and in the case of a reef more powerful lighting, more live rock, larger heaters, larger chiller etc. Stocking the aquarium will be more costly – more fish, more rockwork, more corals in more seawater. The cost goes on – dry salt for routine seawater changes, electricity costs (electricity becoming more expensive in particular). So buying a large aquarium needs some careful forethought. Going over-budget and cutting back on routine maintenance is not going to enhance the likelihood of success.
For many a large aquarium is simply just a non-starter. This is usually because of cost but can also be because there isn’t a location to keep one. In these cases all is not lost; a smaller aquarium can be just as interesting and far less costly to obtain and keep.
The apparent downside is that there will be less fish or other livestock. Clearly fish need to be suitable to the captive environment and corals need space to grow. If fish only are to be kept then rockwork is needed to provide homes. Live rock will not be so expensive. The fish kept will be small types. A shrimp could be added. Lighting is not a problem. This environment for fish will be interesting and could be beautiful, the rocks aquascaped to make the most of the space available. Watching the fish settle in and become accustomed to their home is very satisfying. There aren’t any aggressive large fish to cause the small ones to be timid so they’ll be seen often.
If the aquarist wants a reef then it is obvious that it is going to be small. A reef of live rock can be constructed in a small aquarium, though the smaller ones look better with just three or four larger rocks carefully arranged. Fish choice is limited to one or maybe two small ones as seawater quality must be high and fish place the greatest pressure on this. The choice of corals must be completed cautiously, as large corals are not best placed in small aquariums. However, soft or hard varieties could be kept with their number restricted and positioned with care. Suitable lighting is required of course, and in a small aquarium it is more likely that fluorescent T5 tubes could be adequate. If metal halide is used, then bulb wattage will be minimal thus reducing running costs.
That is the biggest advantage, running costs. With smaller heaters and lighting system etc electricity will not be the potential monster it could be with a large aquarium. Routine seawater changes will not be many gallons so dry salt will last a long time, and supplements likewise if used.
A nano aquarium could be constructed piece by piece by the aquarist, or alternatively there are now a good few companies marketing ‘plug in’ versions. With these the aquarist will have less time to wait for the aquarium to be ready for livestock, though that prerequisite for marine aquarists – patience – remains important.
So the nano aquarium is less costly to run and stock, but what about ongoing maintenance? All the jobs of the equivalent large tank, fish only or reef, have to be completed. The routine seawater change needs to be done (but being less gallons a smaller and more manageable container is suitable). The lights need to be changed at recommended intervals (the cost will be less). Seawater parameters require routine testing as on a large system (no difference). The aquarium glass needs to be cleaned regularly (being smaller the job will take less time). Livestock needs to be observed for health (there are less so this also takes less time). All the jobs of the large aquarium are needed, there will not be a saving in this (except in cost), but the time the jobs take could be less overall.
There are some really lovely nano aquariums about. They admittedly do not have the impact of a large display, but get down in front of them and they suggest a small part of a reef. The beauty is not in any ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ but in the detail that develops.