1. Getting Started
2. Cycling the Aquarium
3. Adding Livestock
4. Regular Maintenance
5. Upgrading Your BioCube
For accompaniment to this article, view the How To Set Up a BioCube Aquarium Video
You just received your new Coralife LED BioCube Size 32 or Size 16 Aquarium. Now what? Setting up your BioCube is actually a simple process if you’re patient and follow these five steps.
NOTE: As the BioCube is primarily designed as a reef aquarium this guide assumes you’re setting up a reef tank.
|Step #1 Position Your BioCube |
Where should you put your BioCube? It should be placed close to an electrical outlet and out of direct sunlight. Use either a GFCI outlet or power strip with a built in GFCI. A third option is using the Shock Shield GFCI Plug Adapter. Place your BioCube on a flat, level surface that can support its full weight. Do not underestimate how much a full BioCube can weigh. The BioCube Size 32 is easily over 300 pounds when full.
You can use the Coralife BioCube Size 16 Aquarium Stand or Coralife BioCube Size 32 New & Improved Aquarium Stand. These Stands are designed specifically for BioCubes. We've posted the How To Build a BioCube 32 Stand Video on YouTube to help with assembly.
It’s a good idea to leave a couple inches between the aquarium and the wall to route cords and allow access to the back of the aquarium if needed. Remember, once you fill your aquarium with water, moving the aquarium will only be possible if you first drain the tank.
Step #2 The Pump and Filter Cartridge
Once the aquarium is in place, pull the power cord connected to the main return pump out of the opening in the canopy located directly above the pump. Do not plug the pump in yet. Open the bag containing the BioCube Filter Cartridge and rinse it in your sink with tap water. Place the cartridge on top of the media rack in the middle chamber.
The BioCube Filter Cartridge should be replaced monthly. Save money by purchasing a multi-pack, such as the BioCube Filter Cartridge 12-Pack.
|Step #3 Sand and Rock |
Before filling the tank with water, add sand and rock. When choosing rock there are two options, live rock and dry rock. Live rock is harvested from the ocean floor and has bacteria and other micro organisms living on the surface of the rock. These micro organisms help to keep the aquarium clean and provide a natural food source for the fish and corals in the aquarium. Dry rock has no life on the surface. It’s recommended to start with live rock so your aquarium matures faster and it replicates natural conditions better. As a cost saving measure you could use a mix of live rock and dry rock. NOTE: If you do decide to use live rock, you will want to prepare your saltwater before adding your rock. Skip ahead to the Step #4 Add Saltwater section.
We do not sell live rock. We sell two types of dry rock: CaribSea LifeRock Shapes 20 lb (also 15 lb) and Two Little Fishies STAX Rock (also 5 lb). Both brands look realistic and contain the pores necessary for biological filtration.
Personal preferences vary, but most people will use around 7.5 pounds of rock and 6 pounds of sand for the BioCube 16, and 15 pounds of rock and 12 pounds of sand for the BioCube 32. For the BioCube 32 we have the SALT, SAND & ROCK PACKAGE for the Coralife Size 32 LED BioCube. It includes the perfect amounts of LifeRock and Seafloor Reef Sand along with salt, glue and egg crate.
If the bottom of your rock is not smooth you may want to put some small pieces of plastic or lighting Egg Crate at the bottom of your tank to set the rock on to protect the glass. We sell Egg Crate and it's included in Complete Reef Package and the Deluxe Complete Package. Add your rock one piece at a time to create an attractive structure in the aquarium. Go easy with the rock as your corals will grow to fill the space. You also want to be sure there is space for the water to circulate.
Try to avoid placing rocks very close to the viewing panels so that you can easily clean the glass in the future. It helps to use coral glue or an underwater epoxy to hold rocks together and make sure the structure is stable. We do not carry live rock or dry rock, but we sell adhesives. Take a look at the BioCube 32 Rock, Sand, and Salt Package Guide (at MarineAndReef.com) to see how this is done.
Aquarium sand should be rinsed to avoid excessive cloudiness. It’s best to rinse sand outside. Place the sand in the bottom of a bucket dedicated to aquarium use. Then turn on a hose and put it in the bucket. Let the water in the bucket overflow. Stir the sand with the end of the hose until the water running out of the bucket is no longer milky, but clear. At this point you can pour off the excess water and pour the sand into the aquarium.
|Step #4 Add Saltwater |
Once your sand and rock are in place you can begin adding water to the aquarium. If you used live rock then you must mix saltwater before adding the rock to the aquarium.
Mixing saltwater starts with water. All of the water that enters your aquarium should first be purified through an RO or RO/DI System (RO/DI is purer and will result in less algae). You can purchase RO/DI water from your local fish store or RO water from a machine in front of the grocery store.You can also make the water yourself using your own RO/DI System. We recommend purchasing the AquaticLife Twist-In Compact 3-Stage RO Unit, 100 GPD along with the AquaticLife Twist-In Dual Deionization Filtration Unit.
To mix saltwater, start with RO/DI water and then add some salt mix. Each manufacturer will have its own recommendations for how much salt mix to add, but it is generally around a ½ cup for every gallon of water.
We highly recommend using the Two Little Fishies AccuraSea1 Artificial Seawater Mix. The product normally comes in the 50 gallon size with ten bags that each will produce approximately 5 gallons of seawater. We sell the entire 50 gallon size as well as a 10 Gallon, 15 Gallon, 25 Gallon and 30 Gallon sizes. The 15 Gallon Size is appropriate for the BioCube Size 16 and the 30 Gallon Size is appropriate for the BioCube Size 32. We prefer the AccuraSea1 for a couple reasons. For one, it's very high quality salt. But just as important to its quality is the way it is packaged. Many competing dry salt mixes are not carefully blended. Unless you use the entire bag each mix you produce may not be the same. And when a bag of salt is not used in its entirety humidity gets in and reacts with the salts, producing insoluble residuals that fundamentally change the formulation. AccuraSea1 avoids this problem by having ten precisely measured bags that are small enough you will always mix the entire bag.
Keep in mind, when you have a saltwater aquarium you will want to have extra salt on hand for water changes. For this reason you may want to get extra salt and purchase the full-sized Two Little Fishies AccuraSea1 Artificial Seawater Mix. If you have a BioCube 16 and just want some water for water changes you might be interested in the 10 Gallon. For water changes you might want to purchase the Two Little Fishies AccuraSea1 Artificial Seawater Mix with a Blue Life 5 Gallon Water Jug or just the Blue Life 5 Gallon Water Jug. You will also need a pump to mix the salt in the Jug. We recommend using the Lifegard Aquatics Quiet One Pro Model 400.
The salt needs to be mixed into the water either by hand or with a small submersible pump. Once it looks as though all the salt is dissolved you will want to confirm the salinity by testing with a refractometer or hydrometer.A hydrometer is a simple and affordable piece of equipment that measures salinity by comparing the density of water. The more salt, the denser the water. A refractometer is a more precise instrument that measures salinity by using the refractive properties of saltwater.
Hydrometers such as such as the Coralife Deep Six Hydrometer and the Instant Ocean Hydrometer will be suitable for most people, but refractometers like the Red Sea Seawater Refractometer are more accurate and easier to read. The salinity should read between 1.025 and 1.026 specific gravity. If the salinity is too high, more water needs to be added. If too low, then add more salt. After you have confirmed the salinity of the saltwater you can pour it into the aquarium. It’s best to pour the water onto the rockwork to stop the force of the falling water from disturbing the sand. Continue adding water until the main aquarium and the back compartment are both full. The water level in the back compartment can be viewed through the window on the left side of the back filtration area. You can stop adding water once the water level reaches the max water level mark or slightly above on the viewing window.
For those putting together a reef aquarium who are interested in getting the correct amount of salt, sand & rock (as well as egg crate and glue) for the Coralife Size BioCube, we have the Coralife Size 32 LED BioCube Aquarium Reef SALT, SAND & ROCK PACKAGE. This package has what we feel is just the right amount of everything. Please take a look at the BioCube 32 Rock, Sand, and Salt Package Guide (at MarineAndReef.com) for more details.
|Step #5 Time to Plug In The Pump |
Once there is saltwater in the aquarium, you can plug in the main return pump and start water circulation within the aquarium. However, make sure the cord leading from the pump to the outlet has a drip loop. Drip loops should be installed on every single piece of aquarium equipment to ensure the safety of you and your home. A drip loop is where the cord coming from the pump or other aquarium device first dips down below the level of the outlet and then rises back up to the level of the outlet. The drooping piece of cord ensures that any water that drips down the cord will drip onto the floor rather than enter the outlet where it could lead to an electrical fire.
After the pump is plugged in the aquarium will be cloudy. This should subside after a couple days. You can turn the light on momentarily to view the aquarium. But in order to prevent algae, do not turn on the light for extended periods of time. Once the process of cycling the aquarium is complete the light can be programmed.
2. Cycling the Aquarium
For accompaniment to this article, view the How To Cycle A BioCube Aquarium Video
Cycling your BioCube Aquarium is a critical step. The process of cycling is where the natural bio-filter of the aquarium is established. The vast majority of the filtration in a given aquarium is not from the filter but from the living bacteria in the aquarium. The bacteria comes from the air, bodies of the fish, and live rock. This bacteria will break down fish and food waste into less toxic compounds so your fish and corals can live.
For the cycling process to start you must first provide a food source for the beneficial bacteria. Traditionally this was done by adding a couple of very hardy fish, such as damselfish, to the aquarium. This has lost popularity because the damselfish often die from the abnormal amount of waste in the water and because damselfish are very aggressive fish that will likely kill any new fish introduced to the tank. If you do decide to add damselfish you can add two to the BioCube 16 and three to the BioCube 32. You should feed them regularly during cycling and remove them after the cycling is complete.
Another method of adding a food source to the aquarium is to add some fish food to the aquarium and simply let it rot. You can use flake or pellet food, but most people prefer adding a larger food source such as a couple of frozen krill or a frozen shrimp. These foods will rot away for a week or so, and then you can pull out what is left. This method avoids the problems with damselfish, but you won’t be able to add any fish to the tank for the 3-5 week cycle.
Step #2 Wait For Nature to Works Its Magic
Once you have added a food source for the bacteria, your aquarium’s ammonia level will rise. Ammonia is toxic to fish, but the nitrifying bacteria in your aquarium will soon proliferate and begin breaking down the ammonia. When the nitrifying bacteria break down ammonia, it produces nitrite. Nitrite is less toxic than ammonia but can still be dangerous to your fish. Another group of nitrifying bacteria will then proliferate and break down the nitrite.The byproduct of nitrite reduction is nitrate. Nitrate is only mildly toxic to fish and corals, yet it’s still undesirable because it can also cause excessive algae growth. In the ocean, a specialized group of bacteria removes nitrate from the water by converting it into nitrogen gas. In the aquarium, nitrate is usually removed through water changes.
Live rock and live sand will speed up the nitrification process, and you can also add bacteria to enhance nitrification. We recommend using Brightwell Aquatics MicroBacter7 or the Two Little Fishies Bactiv8 NPX.
During the coming weeks you will want to test for ammonia, nitrate and nitrite. The Red Sea MCP Marine Care Test Kit includes ammonia, nitrate and nitrite tests.
Step #3 Monitor the Cycle
During the cycling process you will need to monitor the aquarium’s water parameters so you can know where your aquarium is in the cycling process. Testing weekly or bi-weekly is sufficient. You should test for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate each time you test.
During cycling you will also need to regularly add top-off water to your BioCube. When water evaporates only the water leaves the aquarium, not the salt, so you should always top it off with fresh water. As with your original aquarium water, your top-off water should be purified with an RO/DI system. Make sure to fill the tank to the same level it started with. If you add too much fresh water, it will lower the salinity level in the aquarium. Once your test results show there is no more ammonia and nitrite in the water, the cycle is complete and you can begin preparing to add fish. The entire cycle process usually takes 3-5 weeks.
Step #4 Preparing for Fish
When you finish cycling you will need to perform your first water change. The water change will help to remove the nitrate left over from cycling your tank. About 1/3 of the tank water should be changed initially. This amounts to about one 5-gallon bucket for the BioCube 16 and two buckets for the BioCube 32. Make sure to prepare your water ahead of time just as you did when you initially filled the aquarium.
Before removing the dirty water you should clean the algae off the glass of the aquarium with a Coralife BioCube Algae Cleaning Magnet or an algae pad such as a Seachem Duo Algae Pad. Then you can remove water from the aquarium by using an Aqueon Aquarium Water Changer or Python No Spill Clean & Fill Gravel Vac. Unplug the main return pump and then place the gravel vac in the aquarium. Gently suck on the hose end of the gravel vac to start the siphon and then place the hose end in a bucket. Gently push the gravel vac into the sand removing as much waste as possible. Once you have removed the dirty water from the aquarium, you can pour the new saltwater you prepared into the aquarium and turn on the main return pump. At this point you should do your first cartridge replacement. You should replace the cartridge before you add fish so that your filtration is functioning optimally. Rinse the new filter cartridge just as you did with your original cartridge.
Step #5 Let There Be Light
Now that the cycle is complete you can program your BioCube lights. Before you start programming there are a couple things to keep in mind. The lights do not need to come on when the sun comes up. If you’re home in the evenings, then have the lights run when you’re home and not at work. Also, remember that running your lights longer can lead to excessive algae.
A reef aquarium should have a photo period of twelve hours a day (corals in nature experience light close to 12 hours a day throughout the year). However, you do not need intense light for twelve hours. If your aquarium is in a room with ambient light, then running your LED lights six to eight hours a day is adequate. You can run the relatively dim
Start by plugging in the BioCube lights (make sure to include a drip loop in the power cord). Turn the hood on. Just press the
A clock icon should be displayed when setting up the clock. Use the up and down arrows to change the hour. After setting the hour, press
For accompaniment to this article, view the Adding Livestock To A BioCube Aquarium Video
Adding livestock is the most exciting part of setting up your BioCube Aquarium. Here are some basic guidelines that can make it simple.
When selecting what kind of fish to add to your aquarium, consider the eventual adult size of the fish as well as the temperament of the fish. Fish that grow excessively large or are extremely aggressive should be avoided. You should also avoid fish with difficult dietary needs and other hard to satisfy care needs. Selecting fish should start before you walk into the fish store. Using the internet or an aquarium guide book can direct you to some species that are well suited for your aquarium. A quick list of some suitable kinds of fish include: Clown Fish, Gobies, Blennies, Dwarf Angelfish, Fairy Wrasses, Chromis, and Basslets. Once you have selected what kind of fish you would like to add, you will need to select the individual fish you would like to purchase. When selecting fish make sure to choose fish from clean aquariums with no dead or dying fish. Inspect the fish to ensure it’s free of wounds, blemishes or spots. The fish should be eating, plump, and responsive to stimuli. A skinny fish is prone to disease and is likely being bullied by its tank mates. Ask the employees at your local fish store to feed the fish for you and only buy fish that you see eat. It is also a good idea to use the same food that you saw the fish eat.
After you pick out your fish you will need to take it home and acclimate it to your water. When you are transporting your fish try to keep the fish in a dark temperature controlled environment. Bringing a small cooler along is ideal. While a fish can survive in a bag for long periods of time, you want to minimize the stress on the fish by reducing the amount of time that the fish is in the bag. Try to go straight home after purchasing your fish. Once you have the fish home you can start the acclimation process. Float the fish in the bag on the surface of the aquarium for 15 minutes. This will equalize the temperature between the water in the bag and the water in your aquarium. After the temperature is equal you can open the fish bag and pour the fish with water into a small pitcher, bucket, or other container.
Slowly drip water from the aquarium into the container with the fish. You can do this with a piece of aquarium airline tubing. Place one end in the aquarium and the other end in the container with the fish. Make sure that the container with fish is lower than the water level of the aquarium. Gently suck on the end of the hose going into the fish’s container to start a siphon. After starting the siphon, tie a knot in the hose. The tighter you pull the knot, the slower the water will drip, and the more you loosen the knot, the faster the water will drip. You want a drip rate that is right between a drip and a stream. Put one end of the hose in the tank and one end in the aquarium until the water level in the container has approximately doubled. This should take about 45 minutes. You can then net the fish out and put it in the aquarium.
After you have put the fish in your tank, throw out all of the water in the container that the fish was in. You never want to add any water that is not your own to your tank. You may need to add a little bit of fresh saltwater back to the aquarium to make up for the water that you lost. After your first fish you can add more. Be very careful not to add too many fish too quickly or too many fish in total. No more than one to two fish should be added at a time to the aquarium. Wait at least a week before adding more fish and stop adding fish once the tank becomes too difficult to keep clean or the fish continually fight over territory. Most BioCube Size 16 Aquariums should have three fish or fewer and BioCube Size 32 Aquariums should have five or fewer fish.
There are a variety of invertebrates you can add to your BioCube. These include motile invertebrates such as shrimp, snails, and sea stars. You can further categorize these into cleaner invertebrates and ornamental invertebrates. Cleaner invertebrates are much easier to care for and can be added soon after the tank is set up. Cleaner inverts, often called the cleanup crew, tolerate dirty water well and don’t require any specialized feeding. The biggest problem with the clean up crew is they often starve. Because of this, do not add a cleanup crew until there is something to clean. Once you notice algae growth and detritus accumulation you can add a cleanup crew. The most common cleaner inverts are snails and hermit crabs. Make sure not to add too many cleaners. This can lead to the clean up crew starving and dying. If you are unsure of how many snails or crabs to add, then remember that you can always add more down the road if there are still algae and detritus to feed them. Snails and crabs are very hardy, but it is still best practice to acclimate them in the same manner as you would fish.
Ornamental invertebrates such as sea stars, shrimp, some crabs, sea cucumbers, and lobsters can all be added to a BioCube. Most ornamental invertebrates are more sensitive to water parameters and should be added after your fish when the tank is more stable. When selecting what invertebrates to add, do the same research as you would for selecting fish. Find out what the animals’ maximum size is as well as its diet. You don’t want to buy a cute little lobster only to find that it will grow to two feet long and eat all your fish.Selecting invertebrates is more difficult than selecting fish. Make sure that the animal has no wounds or unusual growths. The invertebrate should be responsive to food and touch, but keep in mind that some invertebrates like sea stars move very slowly even when fed and touched. Once you have selected your invertebrate you can transport it home and acclimate it the same way that you would a fish. The only difference is that many people prefer to acclimate invertebrates slower because of their more sensitive nature. It’s not unusual for the acclimation process to take as long as 2 hours for some sensitive invertebrates.The stocking limit for ornamental invertebrates is based on space and food. Scavengers only have so much to scavenge, so you may need to stop adding invertebrates once the tank is free of leftover food. Invertebrates can also be limited by space. Many invertebrates such as shrimp will live in caves and once all the caves are full they can start fighting. Most people will include two to three ornamental invertebrates in a BioCube 16 and three to five in a BioCube 32.
Fish are what get people interested in the hobby, but coral are what keep people interested. Once your tank is up and running it is likely that coral will be your primary focus. Coral are more sensitive than fish and should usually be added after your first few fish when your tank is more established. When adding corals make sure to do your research ahead of time. Corals all have different lighting, flow, and food requirements, and there is a huge range of difficulty levels when choosing corals. As a beginner, it’s best to start with soft corals (corals without bones). Soft corals are more forgiving than stony corals and can be just as beautiful as stony corals.
When you’re picking out your coral, look to see that there are no obvious cuts or wounds on the coral. Even if the cuts are intentional for propagation purposes, it’s best to let these wounds heal before taking the coral home. The coral’s polyps (mouths) should be open and willing to accept food and the coral should have visible signs of growth. The best sign of growth is encrustation. The coral should be completely smothering the rock or plug it is on so that you know that the coral was not recently glued down but has been growing in place for a while.
Coral do not need to be acclimated like fish and invertebrates. However, it is wise to use a coral dip before putting them in your BioCube. Dipping your corals in a coral dip like Two Little Fishies Revive Coral Cleaner helps prevent parasite outbreaks in your tank. To dip your coral, take some water out of your aquarium and mix in the manufacturer recommended amount of coral dip. Take your coral and gently swish it in the solution for the manufacturer’s recommended amount of time (usually around 10 minutes). Remove the coral, rinse it in a separate container with tank water, and place the coral in your tank. When placing corals in your tank it helps to use coral glue or epoxy to mount the corals in place and keep them from falling off the rock work.
Add as many corals as you want to your BioCube. Just make sure they do not touch each other because corals can sting and overgrow each other.
To keep your animals healthy and your tank looking good your, BioCube requires regular maintenance. You need to clean the aquarium, feed the aquarium, supplement the aquarium, and service your equipment. To make sure that you perform regular maintenance it is best to stick to a schedule.
Observe your animals. Make sure that you look at all of your corals, fish, and invertebrates to ensure that they’re all eating and responsive.
Feed your tank. Fish should be fed on a daily basis and some corals should also be fed regularly as well. Clean the glass. It’s best to clean your glass daily. Using an algae magnet like the Coralife BioCube Algae Cleaning Magnet or the Flipper Nano 2 In 1 Magnet Aquarium Algae Cleaner will make daily cleaning easy.
Top off the tank. Every day you should check the water level in your BioCube to make sure it’s not too low. Once it has dropped noticeably top off the tank using RO/DI water.
Supplement your tank. Some supplements such as amino acid and iodine supplements need to be dosed daily. Read the manufacturer’s recommendations and stick to them to get the full effect of your supplements.
Water changes. Water changes should happen at least monthly, but many people prefer doing a small water change every week rather than a large water change every month. If you like adding lots of fish and feeding lots of food, then you may have to do weekly water changes.
Test your water. When you first start your tank it is very important that you regularly test your water. Testing weekly can let you know where your tank is in the cycling process and it can also alert you to problems before they get out of control. Once the tank is established you should still test weekly for nitrate, phosphate and alkalinity. We recommend using the Red Sea MCP pH/Alkalinity Test Kit, Red Sea MCP Phosphate Test Kit and Red Sea MCP Nitrate/Nitrite Test Kit.
Assuming you have cycled your aquarium properly, you should not need to test for ammonia and nitrite. However, if a fish or coral dies it may be an indication that you have ammonia or nitrite in the aquarium.
Water changes. If you don’t do weekly water changes, you should do water changes at least once a month. Change at least 1/3 of the tanks volume at least once a month. Doing water changes more often than this can help, but changing more than 50% of the water at once can be stressful on your animals.
Replace your filter cartridge. Replacing your filter cartridge monthly, just as you did before you added fish. A fresh cartridge will be free of debris and have fresh activated carbon to absorb impurities. Clean the top of the aquarium and the light lens. The surfaces of your BioCube will be splashed because of the water movement in the aquarium. Over time this splashing will form salt creep. Salt creep forms when saltwater lands on a surface and the water dries up, leaving the salt behind. The result is a crusty salt build-up on the surface of the aquarium. Clean off this buildup with a damp rag. The most important area to clean is the lens cover of your light. When salt creep builds up on the light cover it will limit the amount of light entering the aquarium and getting to your corals. Cleaning the cover regularly can prevent this. You can use Kent Marine Salt Creep Eliminator.
Test your water. While some testing should be done weekly, some tests can be done once a month without a problem. Testing salinity, calcium, and magnesium monthly can ensure that these parameters are where they should be. Testing for salinity was discussed in the 1. GETTING STARTED section. We recommend the Red Sea MCP Calcium Test Kit and the Red Sea Magnesium Pro Aquarium Test Kit to test for calcium and magnesium.
Clean the main return pump. Cleaning your main return pump will help it last longer and pump more water. Unplug the main return pump to the BioCube and remove it for cleaning. Disassemble the pump by removing the screen cover by pulling it away from the main body of the pump. Then rotate the impeller cover so that the grooves on the side are out from underneath the clamps on the pump body. After you’ve rotated the impeller cover, pull the impeller cover away from the main body of the pump. You can then reach inside the body of the pump and remove the pump’s impeller.
Once you have the pump disassembled you can clean all of the pieces with a tooth brush and then re-assemble the pump. If you have another pump in the aquarium to oxygenate the water, you can use vinegar to remove calcium deposits on your pump (you should always have at least one pump running). Pour some white vinegar in a small container such as a pitcher, lower the pump into the vinegar, and then plug the pump in. Wait for a couple hours, or overnight, and then rinse the pump off in the sink and return it to service.
Clean your light. Beyond regularly cleaning the light cover you should unscrew the light cover and use compressed air to clean dust and debris from the LED panel and the cooling fan. This will help insure that the light is properly ventilated and that the fan is functioning properly.
Clean any other electronic equipment. If you have added any other equipment such as a protein skimmer, circulation pump, or media reactor, the pumps running these pieces of equipment should also be cleaned. You can clean these pumps in the same way that you cleaned the main return pump. If you have added a heater or chiller, recalibrating it regularly can ensure that it is maintaining the correct temperature.
NOTE ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS:
While reef aquarists with larger tanks add calcium, trace elements, and buffer to their aquariums, if you do the regularly prescribed water changes these additives will not be necessary. When you do water changes you will be adding fresh salt that has calcium and trace elements. An advantage of smaller aquariums is the relative ease of doing regular water changes.
As your aquarium matures and you become more experienced you will want to find ways to improve your BioCube. You can upgrade your tank’s filtration, circulation, lighting, temperature control, and automation. These upgrades will reduce maintenance and increase the functionality of your aquarium so that you can keep more delicate animals with less work.
When you receive your BioCube the back filtration area is intentionally left empty. This is so that you can customize the filtration to your liking. The simplest way to boost your filtration is to add some chemical filter media to the trays in the center chamber of the filtration area. The most common filtration media is activated carbon. Carbon will help to improve water clarity, reduce odors, remove heavy metals, and remove dissolved organic compounds. We recommend using the Inland Seas 6 oz Pelletized Activated Carbon for the BioCube 32 and Inland Seas 3 oz Activated Carbon for the BioCube 16. The Tom Granular Activated Carbon Pillow could also be used. Granular carbon is a bit superior to pelletized carbon for filtration, but it’s messy.
Another option is to add a form of resin filtration. Popular resins include Seachem Purigen, Poly-Bio-Marine Poly Filter Pads, and Chemi-Pure Blue. Resins last longer than carbon and can remove compounds carbon can’t, such as ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. Resins are also better than carbon at removing heavy metals.
A third option is to add a dedicated phosphate remover such as Seachem Phosguard, or a GFO such as Two Little Fishies PhosBan. Phosphates can be particularly problematic because they lead to excessive algae growth and poor coral growth. There are multiple trays in the back chamber, so using more than one of these filter medias is possible.
A second way to upgrade the filtration is to add a protein skimmer. A protein skimmer is a filtration device that uses bubbles to remove proteins and dissolved organics from your water. Protein skimmers do not use any filter media and require very little maintenance.
Protein skimmers require adjustment to get the proper blend of water and air. The water level in the aquarium can affect how a skimmer is tuned. If you use a skimmer, it’s very important that you keep your aquarium’s water level consistent. You can do this by topping off the aquarium on a daily basis or by using an auto top off.
The Coralife BioCube Protein Skimmer is the only protein skimmer designed specifically for the Coralife BioCube. This skimmer fits in the first chamber of either the BioCube 16 or 32. To adjust the skimmer you can turn a small valve connected to the air pump powering the skimmer. The airstone at the bottom of the skimmer will clog and need replacement about every other month.
A more powerful skimmer to use with the Coralife BioCube 32 (NOT 16) is the Tunze Comline DOC Skimmer 9004. This skimmer fits into the middle chamber if you take out the BioCube media basket. If you still want to have a media basket get the InTank BioCube Media Basket. The DOC Skimmer and the InTank Media Basket will fit perfectly side-by-side in the middle chamber of the BioCube 32. There are other skimmers that will fit, but they will need to be modified to fit. The modification of these skimmers is beyond the scope of this guide.
A third way to upgrade your tank’s filtration is by adding a refugium. A refugium is a refuge for beneficial animals and algae that can’t survive in the display tank because fish in the tank will eat them. The most beneficial organism in a refugium is macro algae. Macro algae is a seaweed-like algae that absorbs nutrients, raises pH and provides a home for beneficial micro organisms.
The middle chamber of the BioCube can be converted to a refugium with the addition of a light. The Coralife Mini LED Aqualight was specifically designed for this purpose. The light uses double-sided tape to affix to the back of the BioCube and provides macro algae in the middle chamber with plenty of light to grow. For those looking for the best macro algae growth a Kessil H80 Tuna Flora LED Refugium Grow Light along with double-sided tape is an upgrade option.
When converting the chamber to a refugium you may want to just grow some algae in the stacking media rack in the middle chamber. This is the simplest solution. Some prefer to let algae grow and fill the entire back chamber and others will prefer to let the algae grow on the rack itself for quick removal. We recommend chaetomorpha algae over any other kind of algae because it is easy to find, affordable and effective. You can purchase chaetomorpha at most local fish stores. To use, just place a clump of the algae in the middle chamber. You may also choose to add some live rock as a place for amphipods, worms, and sponges to live in.
You can then add your light and start growing the algae. We recommend putting a timer on the light so that it is on a reverse daylight schedule. A reverse daylight schedule is where the light is on whenever the main lights are off. For example, if your aquarium lights are on from 11:00 in the morning till 8:00 at night then you will want the refugium light to be on form 8:00 at night till 11:00 in the morning. A reverse daylight schedule ensures that your tank has a more stable pH because the algae raises the pH when it is lit and the tank’s pH is the lowest when the main lights are off. The increased stability that comes from a reverse daylight schedule may be one of the greatest benefits of a refugium.
Some aquarists may not want to devote the entire middle chamber of the filtration section to a refugium. You could divide the chamber into two sections using an InTank BioCube Media Basket and InTank BioCube Fuge Basket. When using both of these together you can have half of the middle chamber as a refugium and half as a location for chemical media. If you are facing the aquarium, the Media Basket should be on the right and the Fuge Basket on the left.
If you want to keep some space open for an after market protein skimmer, then use the Media Basket alone along with a smaller refugium light such as the JBJ Nano Glo LED Aquarium Light. This is a good solution for those using larger more powerful skimmers such as the Tunze 9001. We do not recommend using the Fuge Basket with an aftermarket skimmer because the basket is not well screened off and algae can often fall out and clog the skimmer pump. You could use the Fuge Basket with the Coralife BioCube Skimmer as that skimmer is small enough to fit in the first chamber where it is adequately separated from the Fuge Basket.
The only maintenance on a refugium is pulling some of the algae out once a month to allow new algae to grow and replacing the light bulbs in the Mini Aqualight about once a year to ensure that the algae is receiving plenty of light.
The water flow in the BioCube is certainly sufficient for a freshwater planted tank or a fresh or saltwater fish-only tank. However, those with reef tanks may want to upgrade to a stronger pump. This can be done by changing the pump in the back compartment of the BioCube, by adding a circulation pump in the main tank, or both.
Increased water movement serves several beneficial roles. Water movement oxygenates the water, which is necessary for your fish to breath, and helps to elevate pH. Water movement also stirs up debris in the tank so it is lifted into the water column where it can be filtered out by your filter cartridge or protein skimmer.
Yet, water movement alone is not what corals are accustomed to. The water movement in the ocean is not a constant speed from a single direction. Instead the ocean is more like the random sloshing inside a washing machine. This is the type of flow you want to replicate in your BioCube. The Rossmont Mover M900 Circulation Pump (with the Waver), Tunze Turbelle Nanostream 6040 Pump and Hydor Aqamai KPS Wi-Fi Controllable Wavemaker Pump all change the direction and vary the water flow in a manner similar to the ocean (these pumps are discussed in detail later in the Guide). Corals have adapted to this powerful, varied wave action flowing over them for millions of years, and when this is removed corals can become stressed and eventually die. Corals also need ample water movement to filter feed, sexually reproduce, and to remove their excreted waste.
To replace your return pump you need to find a pump that can fit in the pump chamber and connect to the plumbing from the original pump. In the BioCube 16 the most popular replacement pump is the Marineland Maxi-Jet 1200 Pro Power Head. This pump directly attaches to the plumbing.
For the BioCube 32 the most popular replacement return pump is a Rio 6HF HyperFlow Powerhead. This pump will fit in the pump chamber, but the pump does need to have plumbing adaptors in order for the pump to connect to the original plumbing. You can use a Nylon Straight Adapters 1/2" MPT x 1/2" Hose Barb and a Marlex Coupling 1/2" FPT x 1/2" FPT to adapt the Rio 6HF. We include these two plumbing fittings when you buy the Rio 6HF.
Adding dedicated circulation pumps to the aquarium can significantly improve the water flow inside your BioCube. Coralife makes the Coralife BioCube Circulation Pump, which is specifically designed for the BioCube. This pump has adequate flow but it has a couple down sides. The pump mounts to the side of the aquarium with a suction cup. Suction cups eventually fail, resulting in the pump dropping to the bottom of the tank causing a sand storm. The BioCube Pump is also not controllable. It can’t pulse or ramp up and down to create realistic wave movements. Some better pumps are the Rossmont Mover M900 Circulation Pump (with the Waver), Tunze Turbelle Nanostream 6040 Pump and Hydor Aqamai KPS Wi-Fi Controllable Wavemaker Pump. All of these pumps use reliable magnets to attach the pump to the aquarium, and have the ability to be controlled . The Rossmont Mover Pump is a reliable pump that is better built than the BioCube Circulation Pump, but it does not have variable flow capabilities out of the box. The Rossmont Waver will allow you to control up to two Rossmont Pump through a computer, tablet or phone. The Tunze Turbelle Nanostream 6040 Pump is smaller than the Rossmont Mover Pump but with comparable flow, and it has a unique design that allows it to be easily hidden behind rockwork. The 6040 also has a built in simple controller for variable flow. This is ideal for people who want controlability but are intimidated by a computer application. The Hydor Aqamai KPS Wi-Fi Controllable Wavemaker Pump is the most advanced option. The pump flow is ready to be controlled with a free phone/tablet app out of the box. This pump is quite strong (up to 1050 gph) even though it’s the smallest pump in the list.
Most people will mount their circulation pumps against the back wall of the aquarium so the viewing panels of the aquarium are clear and easy to see through. If you’re keeping demanding SPS coral you may benefit from two or more pumps in the tank.
The lights that come with the BioCube are great for keeping a mixed tank with light loving corals at the surface and less demanding corals at the bottom of the tank. If you want to put the light demanding corals all throughout the tank you may want to upgrade your lighting.
Typically, upgrading the BioCube lights requires removing the aquarium hood and adding a light over the top of the aquarium. Some aquarists have added extra lights to the canopy, but this process is difficult and often requires extensive modification.
To remove the canopy, unplug the canopy and locate the pins that attach the canopy to the aquarium. You can pull these pins out by grabbing both ends of the pin and pulling in opposite directions (you might need pliers). This will separate the pins from their locking end caps. Once the pins are removed you can lift the canopy off of the tank.
When you’re selecting what light to put over the BioCube you will need to limit your search to pendent style LED lights. This is because few light fixtures will fit properly on aquariums with the BioCube’s shape. While there are a variety of LED lights to choose from the Kessil LED lights stand out from the rest. These lights are affordable, attractive, and powerful. On the BioCube 16 either a Kessil Tuna Blue A80 LED Light or Kessil A160WE Tuna Blue LED Light Fixture are good choices with the A160WE being for the most demanding tanks. On the BioCube 32 the Kessil A160WE or Kessil A360WE Wide Angle Dimmable Aquarium Tuna Blue 90 Watt LED are good choices with the A360 being necessary for only on the most demanding tanks. This light upgrade will not only allow you to keep more demanding corals easier but also let you to enjoy your tank more because of the more attractive light spectrum.
Upgrading Temperature Control
Most people will not need to add a chiller or heater to their aquarium. Any temperature between 76 and 82 is acceptable for a reef aquarium, and most aquariums will naturally stay in this range without any additional effort. However, if your home temperature is in the low 70s or mid 80s then you will need to look into ways of chilling or heating your BioCube.
Heating the aquarium is much easier than chilling it. Adding a simple and affordable aquarium heater such as a classic ViaAqua heater, or AquaTop heater will ensure that you aquarium stays warm enough. The BioCube 32 can accommodate a 100 watt heater (ViaAqua Quartz 100 Watt Aquarium Heater or AquaTop 100W Model GH-100 Submersible Heater), and the BioCube 16 only needs a 50 watt heater (ViaAqua Quartz 50 Watt Aquarium Heater or AquaTop 50W Model GH-50 Submersible Heater). The heater is usually placed in either the first or third chamber of the BioCube. If you decide to place a heater in the third chamber, you will need to raise the water level in the third chamber so that the heater stays submerged.
Aquarium chillers are far more expensive than aquarium heaters. Fortunately, the new LED BioCubes run much cooler than the older fluorescent BioCubes, which sometimes had heat issues. Despite using LEDs, if your aquarium is in a hot room a chiller may still be necessary. Adding a nano chiller such as a JBJ 1/15HP Mini-Arctica Aquarium Chiller will insure that your aquarium stays cool enough. Chillers must be plumbed inline, making their installation a little difficult. The most common way to install a chiller is to use the main return pump to pump water out of the aquarium, and through the chiller, and then pump back from the chiller to the outlet inside the aquarium. Because of the extra work required for the pump to push water through the chiller, it’s a good idea to upgrade your pump when adding a chiller.
Adding automation to your aquarium can help you do less aquarium maintenance. It’s also an excellent way to maintain your aquarium when you’re out of town.
The most common automation addition is an automatic top off unit, or ATO. An ATO will keep the water level in your aquarium consistent. This will help the performance of your protein skimmer and prevent your pumps from running dry and burning out when you’re out of town.
Maintaining your water level with an ATO will also keep your salinity stable. Remember, when water evaporates from your aquarium the salt is left behind, leading to increased salinity.
There are a variety of ATOs to choose from. An excellent choice is the IceCap ATO. This ATO is affordable, reliable, and has small, discrete sensors that fit into the third chamber of the BioCube. To install the ATO, connect the sensors and pump to the control unit. Use the magnet to place the sensors right at the water level in the third chamber. Place the pump in a container of fresh water and rout the pump’s hose back up to the aquarium and turn on the unit. The ATO will then maintain the tank’s water level at the point where you placed the sensors. Just make sure to fill the reservoir with RO water when necessary. With a five gallon reservoir you could have enough top off water for a couple weeks.
One of the most common concerns people have when going out of town is feeding the fish. You can always have a friend or neighbor feed your fish, but often these helpers will overfeed the fish, leading to a dirty aquarium. An automatic feeder such as the Hydor Ekomixo Fish Feeder will feed your fish a consistent amount of dry food on a daily basis. Feeders are also needed if you have a tank at work and you can’t feed your fish on the weekend. To use an auto feeder, fill the drum on the auto feeder with your choice of dry food. Then program the feeder according to the manual and test the feeder by having the feeder dump some food on to your hand. You can adjust the amount of food by opening or closing the door on the auto feeder.
If you’re only gone for a short period of time, you can have the feeding door open at the top of the aquarium hood feeding door. For a more permanent solution you can cut a small hole in the canopy and set the auto feeder above the opening.
Everyone at CoralifeBioCube.com wishes you the greatest success with your BioCube. It may seem like a lot of work, but if you follow this guide, and if you’re patient and organized, you will succeed. The Coralife BioCube is both a great way to beautify your home, school or office, and a fulfilling hobby. It’s also a great way for families to connect. If you want your children to understand the ocean, biology, chemistry and mechanics, aquariums are a great teaching tool. Feel free to reach out to us with any questions you may have about your BioCube or other aquariums (toll free 877.878.9349 / [email protected]).