Cade’s Saltwater Aquarium Adventures


As I approach the 10 year mark of my journey into the expensive, aggravating, patience-testing, but rewarding and beautiful world of salt water aquariums, I thought it would be fitting to take a look back at my triumphs and downfalls through the years…

I started with a simple (if not ignorant) setup:  20 gallon AGA, 65×2 Coralife PC fixture, a small hang-on-back refugium, some improperly-cycled Florida liverock, and no skimmer.  Needless to say, it was a bumpy, dirty start.  My sister had given me a maroon clownfish for my 21st birthday which would prove to be one of the few constant inhabitants of my aquariums as I either killed or traded countless other fish and corals.  Within the first couple years, I upgraded the tank with a 175w metal halide + 32×2 actinic PC lighting fixture, a AquaC Remora skimmer, and some great Bali liverock.  I was finally starting to get the hang of it by learning from my mistakes and my tank really started to take off.


Not satisfied with the 20 gallon, I added a 10 gallon frag tank and 10 gallon refugium.  Not the best looking set-up, but it was fun to have a larger system.  If anyone out there is thinking about drilling an AGA 10 gallon for a setup similar to this, DO NOT DO IT!!  The glass of a 10 gallon is simply too thin and will eventually fail near the bulkhead.  I learned this the hard way and ended up with a lot of water on the floor.  Time for a bigger tank…


I eventually upgraded to a 40 gallon breeder, but unfortunately do not have any pics of it.  While the tank was larger, I overstocked it at first and had to scale back the bioload after a few fish and coral fared poorly.  The 40 gallon was unexpectedly donated to my sister one night when her 33 gallon long sprung a leak.  I was finishing grad school shortly anyway, and wanted to downsize for my move to Schaumburg, IL.  I moved everything back into the old 20 gallon and prepared to move my aquarium for the 4th time in 4 years.

The long move cost me a few of my favorite corals, but I persevered and kept it going.

20 gallon in Schaumburg

After living in Schaumburg for a little over a year, I convinced Molly that I needed a bigger tank.  I found a decent deal for a 60 gallon cube on Craigslist, and I was on my way!

60 Gallon, 1st Setup

I really enjoyed the volume that the 60 gallon gave me with such a small footprint and it was a great tank to have in an apartment.  In 2008, Molly and I bought our first house in Grayslake, IL and the tank made the move.  We put the tank in the basement where we could more easily regulate the temperature, and the tank started finally growing in and becoming truly established.

60 Cube in Hainesville

Unfortunately, Murphy’s law intervened by way of our cat.  The aquarium’s power bars were sitting on the floor behind the tank stand, and during the course of our new kitten’s exploration of the house, it inadvertently turned off the power to the fish tank on 3 day summer weekend when we were out of town.

The tank was a near total loss, with only my hardy maroon clownfish, some palys, greenstar polyps, and a single blue mushroom surviving the huge swings in temperature and lack of flow.  I was crushed, and my once beautiful aquarium fell into neglect, and quickly became an algae pit.  I posted the setup for sale intending to keep only my maroon clown and a few chunks of liverock, but could not get anyone to take the entire system. I decided to once again downsize to the old faithful 20 gallon.  There my livestock languished with the bare minimum water changes, lighting and maintenance.

My wife and I sold our house in 2011 and moved to the city.  The tank made the move (its 6th) and I began to rebuild.  With my interest re-invigorated, I began to add fish and corals again, but soon realized that I was in need of a larger tank and more liverock to handle the bioload.

20 gallon on Marine

I pulled the 60 gallon, my halide pendant, and a bunch of liverock back into service from its retirement in my grandma’s basement.  After an incredibly long cycle, the tank was ready to go and I moved everything into it.  Here it is today (Feb 11, 2013), on its way to looking better than ever.

60 Cube Feb 2013


UPDATE – 9/2/2013

I upgraded from the halide fixture to LEDs from Coral Compulsion here in Chicagoland and have been much happier with my coral colorization.  The light is more spotlighted than I would prefer, but that is because the LED fixture is resting on some 3″ pillars of PVC… still working on a proper canopy which will get the light up higher and eliminate dark areas.

September 2nd 2013 60 Cube


UPDATE – 1/16/2014

My father made me an awesome canopy for Christmas and in addition to classing up the living room, it really helped get the lights up higher to reduce spotlighting.  However, I am still considering adding a couple LED strips to fill it out even better.  Everything except for my chalices (maybe too much light for them) are growing like weeds, although I did lose the frogspawn colony pictured below to a bad infestation of euphyllia bugs.

Jan 2014

aquarium, 60 gallon cube


UPDATE – 7/16/2014

The tank is thriving and I am dosing kalkwasser and baking soda to keep up with calcium demand. I fragged almost half of the pink cap because it was shading 1/3 of my tank. Unfortunately, I lost my 3 year-old yellow watchman goby to an unknown cause.  He was too large for my dwarf lionfish to eat, so I am not sure exactly why it died, but I am now searching for one more fish to add.

Aquarium, fish tank, mixed reef, 60 gallon cube, LED

maroon clownfish, adult


Current Fish (date acquired):

Maroon clown (2003), potters angel (2012), fuzzy dwarf lionfish (2013), royal gramma (2014)

Clean-up Crew

Coral banded shrimp (2014), blue leg hermit crabs, sand sifting star, stomalla snails, margarita snails, chitons, etc


Pink monti cap, green monti cap, pokerstar monti, sunset monti, misc montipora digitata, misc acropora, green birdsnest


Green/pink hammer, green/gold torch, galaxia, green acan, cat eye bubble coral


Green star polyps, blue mushrooms, misc palys, misc zooanthids


Red rock anemone


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