Recorded live at Reefapalooza New York, Ryan kicks off our latest BRStv Investigates video series with a summary of the conclusions and lessons we learned by closely examining the biome, cycle, and ugly stage of reef aquariums. This is one of our most profound experiments to date and the results have completely changed the way we approach the cycle process and how we comprehend the biological balance in our reef tanks.  

The Experiment

The experiment was set up using multiple Red Sea Reefer 170 aquariums in the BRStv Lab. Each tank contained a unique combination of substrates or was stocked using a shared biome from an existing aquarium. We used the same freshly mixed seawater and stocked each aquarium with two small clownfish.

  • x1 Control Aquarium: Dry rock and dry sand
  • x3 Live Rock Aquariums: Live rock, both from the ocean and captive-cultured
  • x2 Biome substrates: Stocked with biome in a bag products like Aquaforest Life Source and Caribsea Ocean Direct
  • x1 Insta Coral: Live coral added on day #1
  • x5 Shared Biome: Substrates, water, or media shared from established aquariums

This experiment allowed us to observe and compare the development of the microbiome and the ugly stage in each of the various aquariums and see how these different combinations of substrates and stocking of the aquarium affected the process.

The Stages

All of the aquariums went through the following consecutive stages so we could see how environmental conditions and the introduction of organisms comes into play. 

Stage 1 Dark Cure - Lights off for a period of four weeks over a brand new aquarium. The nitrogen cycle is established during this time. 

Stage 2 Illuminated - We then turned on the lights to reach the LPS zone (75 - 150 PAR) for another four weeks. We then cranked up the lights for another four weeks to reach levels suitable for SPS corals (200-300 PAR). 

Stage 3 Introduction of Pests - We pulled as many of the pests as we could from each of the tanks to create a slurry of pests, then dosed that pest slurry into all of the aquariums.

Stage 4 Introduction of Microcrustaceans - The last stage was the introduction of micro-crustaceans such as copepods and amphipods from Algaebarn. 

Throughout each of the stages, we sent off samples of the water to be eDNA tested by AquaBiomics. The DNA test results helped us capture the biological diversity and balance of the microbiome of the aquariums relative to a typical, healthy aquarium. 

The Questions

Throughout the entire 10-month experiment we were able to draw conclusions and answer the following questions and it is these answers that will dictate how we approach cycling new aquariums in the future. It should be noted that cycling a new aquarium is much more than establishing an efficient nitrogen cycle.  

  1. What are the uglies?
  2. What causes the uglies?
  3. Do "slimes" have natural predators?
  4. Why is the solution to one problem the direct cause of the next?
  5. Is an ounce of prevention really worth a pound of cure?
  6. Diversity sounds good, but is it?
  7. Is dry sterile sand & rock better than wet live substrates?
  8. Can we seed the microbiome cleanly?
  9. Is a "dark cure" worth the effort?
  10. Does dipping corals affect the biome cycle?
  11. What does a good biome cycle look like?
  12. Is it possible to build layers of redundant protection against the uglies?
  13. What is the #1 mentality holding us back?
  14. Are we emulating a pristine natural ocean reef or a successful artificial ecosystem?

Please join us over the following weeks as we release the detailed BRStv Investigates episodes and share the experience from our individual test tanks. You will not only see how the tanks performed but will also the DNA test results from AquaBiomics and learn exactly how we answered these questions and what you can do to improve your own biome cycling approach in the future.