Nano Reef Aquariums: Pros vs. Cons

Nano Reef Aquariums: Pros vs. Cons

At some point in your life, you saw a coral reef aquarium and you were likely captivated.  After some time, you determined you wanted to look into the possibility of bringing one into your home.  At some point, most of us think, “Well, I’ll just start with a little one so it won’t cost as much.”   While this may be true, there are things to consider before taking the plunge on nano reef aquariums.

What are Nano Reef Aquariums?

Nano reefs tanks are simply small aquariums generally under 30 gallons. The typical nano reef aquarium contains a small number of easy to care for corals and invertebrates and perhaps a few small fish.

Pros of a Nano Tank

Nano reef aquariums are typically less expensive than larger aquariums and their smaller size allows them to be kept just about anywhere.

Here are some common benefits of a nano reef tank:

  • More Affordable: Not just the aquarium, but also the equipment, live rock, and livestock.
  • Small Size: Takes up little space and can be placed on a desk, a cabinet, or another piece of furniture.
  • Lower Maintenance Costs: Requires less water, salt, food; also consumes less energy. 
  • Easier Maintenance: There is less water to change.
  • Less time to set-up: Many nano tanks include built-in filtration systems. The smaller size also means less time aquascaping.

Cons of a Nano Tank

Nano reef tanks look easy. However, the truth is that they are generally harder to maintain than larger aquarium tanks. The reason for this is simple: nano tanks have less water making them more prone to changes in water parameters and temperature.

Here are some common drawbacks of a nano reef tank:

  • High Risk: Higher risk of the tank crashing and losing everything.
  • Increase Difficulty: The limited water volume compounds any mistake. For example, having six dead, rotting snails in 25 gallons of water is a huge problem, but hardly a blip on the radar at 250 gallons.
  • Limitations on Livestock: Some fish will grow too large, and some species are not suitable for the confined living quarters of a smaller tank. The total number of fish in a nano reef is also significantly limited.
  • More Frequent Maintenance: Since a nano tank is more susceptible to changes in water chemistry, staying on a consistent maintenance and water change schedule is a must for success.
  • Not as Affordable as they Appear: Although the initial set-up costs are generally less, the on-going maintenance costs are usually not significantly less. An alkalinity or calcium test, for example, costs the same regardless of the size of the tank.

In reality, the challenges of maintaining a nano reef generally make it best-suited for an experienced hobbyist. With the right frame of mind, it is possible to start with a small tank; however, large aquariums are far more forgiving, which typically leads to more success, happiness, and less frustration.

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