I intend to do no water changes in a large system.


New member

Tank Space:
-8 15g tanks (one truly isolated for deep quarantine, so 7 actual).
-1 120g tank.

Filter Space:
-150g Deep Sand Bed fuge (42" tall) w/ macroalgae, (true, gulf) live sand (deepwater, and wet beach sand collected from different fraction layers), macroalgae coated awesome live rock aquacultured in the Gulf of Mexico, (true, bay) live mangrove mud, large root (eventually) mangrove(s), dead space plenum underneath. Probably 20g of this massive .75" thick glass tank is dedicated to the overflow section, so 130g actual. Roughly 6-10" will be water.
-45g sump with many options.
-6 or 7 4g square buckets stacked as a wet/dry tower (that rests into the 45g sump, w/ its own pump).
-16g acrylic box that has a surface area of 35"x20" (35x20x5.25"), which hoists a foam-floating mongrove grid plaform which (luckily) perfectly accomodates 84 mangroves at a 3" grid space.

Extra Filters:
-A huge canister filter w/ micron filter chargeded w/ diatomaceous earth.
-18" UV sterilizer.
-Considering purchasing a used huge 5' protein skimmer at a steal, but might skip that after re-reading about mangrove filters (been out of the hobby for 6 years).
-Macro-Algae: I intend to get at least 1 of every possible plant I can find from vendors and within the bay/gulf.
-Detrivores: I intend to acquire all I can find in live cultures online, in live media, and etc.

Filter Media (inside the wet/dry tower):
-Several layers of course, and then 'blue' filters floss, above layers of 100 and then 50 micron + Aquamaxx "Pureflo" filter screens (top of the tower).
-40oz Boyd Chemi-Pure.
-250ml Brightwell PhospahtR (rechargable).
-Brightwell Neo Zeolite (probably 1L at a time).
-500ml Seachem Purigen (rechargable).
-Seachem Renew (probably 1L at a time).
-Seachem Cuprisorb (rechargable).
-8fl NP BioPellets.
-1.5L of activated carbon (to start off with, as it came with some of this equipment I've acquired).
-12g of CPR Bio-Bale Media.
-4g+ bioballs.
-4g live rock fragments from as many sources as possible (bottom of the tower, mostly submerged underwater).
-Live rock in every tank, but different substrate strategies employed from tank to tank.
-Maximum mini/micro-fauna in the sump filters.
-Cleanup crews all around.
-Armies of cleaner / filter-feeder crews potentially at 15g strategic tank sectors.


Small. Basically $1000. The best part is I already have virtually every piece / filter element. I wont list the actual systems costs until its done, but I'm excited for when I can explain how cheap some of the most massive elements of this system were achieved.


All I'm missing is the square buckets which I have to drive 35mins to get for $1 each. Also most of the filter medias, although they're all ordered and I'm awaiting their arrival. Also missing the live rock needed to fill 6 of the 15g tanks, and their substrate(s). Also most of the volume of substrate to fill the DSB, although several key live layers are in possession.

So virtually every component is in place, just need to drill some more holes in some of the 15g tanks as needed to accomodate the unique gravity distribution required for this complex multi-vessel dual-sump apparatus.


It could be described as starting from the outlet of the DSB sump.

This will feed into one of the top 15g tanks.

The 15g tanks are in a steel store grade display frame that houses 8 tanks, 2 side by side.

The water will then overflow thru several of the 15g tanks, and then finally into the inlet of the 35x20" mangrove platform, and then that will overflow into large "perf" pipe that enters the plenum platform "dead space" underneath the the DSB. This will have a layer of screen, crushed coral, screen. crushed coral, course Gulf live sand, crushed coral, screen, submerged level beach sand, mangrove mud, submerged level beach sand, "sugar sand", aereobic level beach sand, special source truly live sand... water, plants, fauna.

Now that water will feed into the other top level 15g tank, which eventually then overflows its way into the MDT.

Main display tank will be a community tank, bent especially on schooling / shoalling fishes, but also features rocks that have corals and other creatures embedded that the live rock at your LFS couldn't dream of (locally picked up Florida aquacultured rock beats all others hands and feet down, to a degree you cant hardly understand without having it). I can't wait to post these photos...

After a semi-equal gravity distance as the DSB sump, the water drops its way into the 'wet/dry' sump. This 45g sump is an acrylic store fish display vessel that is divided into 4 chambers. The first chamber is all water with the wet/dry tower tower resting in it, and pump plumbing that cycles the water from this chamber into the top of the tower. The lower freeflow cuts in the partition plates are blocked between the 3rd and 4th chambers. This means I have 2 more 10g chambers to house added refugium elements in or flow extra filters thru.

The large canister loaded with diatoms will be closed loop into this sump housing as an extra element. I'd like to flow the return water thru this on its way back into the system, but that would hassle my return pump, which luckily is the same as the pump for the return from the DSB sump. Obviously, the return pipes from each sump not only have to be the same height, but the same exact specs as well, or else one sump will outpace and overrun the other.

The final tank that feeds into the wet/dry sump overflows into the 18" UV filter on its way into the sump. This same tank aslo has its own 'spiral' UV filter. This is the secondary stage of the quarantine element to this system.


New member
I'll follow....
I'd suppose theory being: all the food you dump in will be converted into biomass somehow...and you won't need a dilution/export strategy via water changes

...also is your thinking that whatever trace elements are locked up in biomass will be supplemented with commerical supplements & foods?

...whether this works or not, gotta like the measured approach!!! ....


Team RC
I think water changes would be easier...

On a serious note. I see no problem with managing nutrient export without water changes. What concerns me is the depletion of trace elements needed by corals and the accumulation of trace elements harmful to corals. Water changes help keep the concentrations of elements in our tanks closer to NSW, correct any ionic imbalance from dosing, and dilute undesirable impurities added from food or dosing. It is possible none of these issues will effect your tank but I would be prepared in case they do. Good luck.

Ron Reefman

New member
I'm a fan of doing this as naturally as possible so I'll follow your progress (please keep us posted as you move along both thru set up and after you get it running.

1) What do you plan to keep in the 120g DT (fish, coral & inverts)?
2) You will be adding fresh water to replace evaporation. Do you plan to add anything to that top off water (cal, mag, alk, trace elements)?
3) What do you plan to feed into the DT? And other tanks?

Good luck.


New member
In considering that I'll effectively have 225+ gallons of 'aquarium', and even more system-wide, the idea of 25'ish% water changes every 'time scale' doesn't only sound like work, but sounds like it'll add up in salt fees. Especially taken under the pretense that the same filter media's that can be exhausted will also have to be replaced regardless (labor + money). Nevermind the electricity and light replacement costs.

On-the-cheap yet grand-scale is a major theme that drives me. To me it seems like initially going overkill on the sustainable / natural / rechargable methods as much as possible, and add suppliments when needed would save time and money.

In the past couple weeks since I've gotten back into this full swing, I've been looking for claims of zero water changes or at least close to that tune.
-Apparently people are running tanks with awesome results using simply sealed 5 gallon buckets filled with "sugar sand" (Home Depot play sand) hooked up in line.
-Multiple sources claim zero water changes using 1 floating mangrove seed pod per 10 gallons of 'aquarium'.
-Boyd Chemi-Pure claims no water changes w/ the media's replacement time of up to 6 months.
-Others claim BioPellets can give these sorts of results.
-I read a thread on here yesterday where the guy is building a special fuge system where brine shrimp live inside the runoff detritous chamber and eat the aquarium detritous and then reproduce. He describes a method that allows only the BBS to pass thru into the plumbing back into the main tank.
-A key component in GARF's designs is a plenum underneath the DT substrate.

[If anyone knows other methods claimed to give near/zero water changes please let me know. I want to design everything like this in before I do final plumbing.]

Those last 2 I didn't even read until yesterday. In my old days in the hobby I always wanted to do mangroves, but I forgot the floating seed pod method until yesterday and that using that method 'only requires' 1 pod per 10g. I didn't have the 16g mangrove platform style vessel until 2 days ago, got it for free real lucky. In my old days I recall seeing stuff that looked like biopellets, but don't remember ever reading about the science behind that method in those days.

My reasoning is that if people get awesome results with single approaches from that list above, then I'll scale them (all) up as far as I can and try to do each better.

Like with the 5g DSB buckets. I figure the average reef tank is about 100g, while 5g buckets are only 15" tall. Here I'm employing approx 100g of LIVEsand+LIVEmud+flora+fauna at a depth of about 36". If people actually run '100g' tanks with a 5g bucket DSB as their ace in the hole, then my DSB alone should run 225g nicely.

I don't intend to plenum the DT's, but even better I hope will be to plenum the DSB. This will 'force' the microbes to spread thru the other layers in there which should speed up the maturity even better.

My idea the past couple weeks was to use outdoor drainage 'perf pipe' running down to the floor so that an open water column would be exposed to all of the layers. After seeing the BS 'detrivore reactor' fuge idea yesterday, it seemed like I might be able to easily add that into this water column area. I found that trying to find out if people have raised clownfish fry inside fuges with the food sources they provide.

After getting refreshed on plenums last night, I decided to instead use a sealed outdoor drainpipe (that I already have) instead of the perf pipe (which I dont have) that forces the water up from underneath the DSB. My remaining challenge here is how to enable the BBS to leave this chamber periodically without always allowing the water to escape into the top of this fuge thru the top of this pipe.

If theres any truth to Boyd's claims, then adding all of those other filter medias with it should get results. In a couple months I can double up on Boyd or other medias, as or if needed. To save money I didn't go overkill on all of the filter medias per gallons they claim to uphold. Like with the BioPellets I decided on the smallest amount I could buy, it being $50+ on something I might not need at all.

But maximum diversity at every level is a major directive in this project and I definitely wanted at least some of it in the filter media chamber. As I freshened up on most of the filter media's out there these days, I wanted the wet/dry tower alone to be able to provide a near zero water change outcome. Stacking the square buckets is key providing access to each chamber as desired, and they only cost $1 each. At that price compared to the normal cost of acrylic W/D sumps, plenty of extra funds to have 5x the normal volume of bioball type materials you normally see underneath a 100g tank. Finding the new BIO-BALE material sweetened the deal, and I found it cheaper than bioballs (which I have 8g's of on hand).

Some people run their tanks with a few well rooted mangroves in the tank or sump. Others run it using 1 floating mangrove pod per 10 gallons of tank. This 16g vessel I got lucky on (free in mint condition) enables 84 pods at a 3" spacing. The only possible way I can use it is it will have to rest on top of the DSB tank which would have blocked me from having as many rooted mangroves as I wanted in there. I was going to not include this odd shaped box because of this, but after realizing the floating pod method last night I'm going for 84 floaters, and then one real nice size deep rooted mangrove sticking up out of the DSB fuge opening.

So I'm effectively going overkill with all of these methods (and any others that will fit in before I do the final plumbing next week), which apparently each provides zero water changes for some.

This should put them all to the test.

If I can get the BBS to successfully release into the fuge water layer while trapping the adults, I might even experiment with some attempts at raising fish fry in there. With all of the other microcritters in there it might just work when this thing matures, with a little luck.
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New member
I wasn't going to worry quite as much about coral related details (trace minerals etc) right away. I wanted to let the system mature, have fun with critters, and then when the time was right and I'd be confident the system wouldn't kill anenomes / corals then worry about all that.

'Problem' is I scored bigtime on some awesome liverock from Gulf-View here in Tampa. He gave us a SWEET deal on some of the rock.
I HIGHLY recommend him (Dale) and his rock.

I'll post some pictures soon. Not only are there at least a couple different types of corals on many of them, but plants, critters and other strange fauna... including stationary sea cucumbers... and these huge stationary clam creatures.

When we were taking them out of the box at home it was like THE ROCKS WERE MOVING.

After several days of studying them, I realized these huge things that look like rocks and move when poked are actually some type of clam. It was hard to figure out as their opening side faces the live rock itself. Theres 6 large ones, and at least one (very lively) small one. I've never seen anything like them. They have plants, coralline algae, barnacles, coral, and odd shapes that look and feel like the rock they're attached to. One even has an impressive sized coral cluster on its back that also attaches to the rock behind it.

After studying I finally noticed their mouth openings. Since they face the rock, most of what you'd normally expect to see for their mouth is attached to the rock. Only about 1" of the mouth is visible at one end. I can't wait to get these identified.

So with all of this exotic life on these rocks I'm going to have to get into suppliments sooner than later. One of the used setups I acquired for all of this came with big bottles of Seachem calcium and pH buffer and magnesium that should last a while. I have some liquid B vitamin bottles already. But the trace elements, iodide, etc will be important soon. For all that I hope to find one good product that has everything and isnt crazy expensive, and lasts.

There's so much fun you can have before even considering corals I wasn't worried about that budget buster (to do it GOOD), but having some nice starter corals on these rocks to begin with should be a nice gauge if the system supports corals, without having to buy them and find out.

I do realize there are risks in using so many types of WILD stuff / media. But I'm not too worried about it doing it all from the beginning instead of adding things to running systems.
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New member
IMO this is far simpler than you're making it.

There is no reason to have 36-inch-deep sand beds, or a wet/dry filter, or canister filters, or biopellets (necessarily), or diatomaceous earth filters, or the majority of the chemical media you're planning. I really would recommend simplifying your approach. Using all of these approaches together is at best counterproductive and could actually be disastrous. That is a laundry list of chemical media that scares me.

For these types of natural systems you don't typically want to strip the water of small particles. Ditch the mechanical filters. Consider an ATS in conjunction with the excellent refugium you're planning. Read up on sandbeds. 36 inches is a waste and could become problematic. Other than that, the diverse refugium with various algaes sounds good.

I would use carbon to polish the water, other things as a last resort. I mean, why would you ever use Cuprisorb unless you know you have a problem with copper? That makes no sense. Chemical medias are typically not pure and add byproducts back.

Read the Duplex sump thread on this page. I think it would work well in this application. That thread is chock full of good simple ideas that would work perfectly for you.

I have never used biopellets but they aren't typically used in this type of system.

Few/no water changes is attainable but should not be a goal in and of itself. The overall goal should be the health of the system.



New member
An "ATS"?

I will admit I've been outta the game for a while. But my instincts before were always in never relying on one single filter stream. Backups, like cave divers depend on. I'll definitely check out the duplex sump thread.

In trying to catch up lately my readings with DSB's pointed to the deeper the better. Of course depth can lead to 'ticking time bombs', but to solve that I'm hoping some deep burrowing "cleaner clams" along with those deep mangrove roots should work.

In catching up on the chemical medias, it seemed that most of the carbon and ferrite based products actual leach phosphates / etc. This I want to avoid. The products I settled on claim to not cause this.

One issue I have to worry about after launching this, is whats in all of the various live media's and rocks I'm employing, including locally collected sand and mud from different sources. So to start I will have carbon, as I already have a bunch. That will be phased out completely first, once I assume it's exhausted.

From there as the system matures I might go on to phase out most of whats in the filter media chamber.

With Cuprisorb, I intend to have zero metal problems, period. I used the same pouch for years in my old evolving tank that reached 120g, with pathetic filtration compared to this new build, and did pretty good actually.

As far as some of this other overkill, it's explained by what I have available already after acquiring a couple used setups, and materials etc on hand. The jumbo canister came with the one. All it needs is a new micron cartidge. In my old days I had good results with a diatom charged Magnum 350 canister hooked inline with the others. I already have DE on hand for other purposes.

The DSB is a huge tank I got for $35 on craigslist. It actually fits real nice perpendicular to the DT's in the spot everything goes, so to best utilize it this is all what I've come up with. When I finally itemize the actual costs for that list of the system it should make more sense to you.

The biopellets is a more newer technology in my experience, so I want to try it out. I figure when the system is matured, N-P levels will be low without the media 'eating away'. I hope it may function as a gauge, for an initital $15 investment.

Wet / dry's are an old and proven method for A-P, and I have a trade secret reason for having removable stacks of cultured wet/dry media.


To answer what sort of fauna will be in these 9 DT's, I intend to have this system pay for itself and maybe make some extra money by housing locally collected (and others that I can get a steal on) creatures for sale. I know how to get quite a few exotic things that stores or even online suppliers don't often offer, and knows theres more when we hopefully get out kayaking and boating this year. After a recent review, I was quite surprised by all of the stuff we're allowed to collect here in FLorida without a special license.

Because of this I need a system that can handle fluctuating and possibly massive bioloads, depending on how good things are going in livestock. I don't want concepts such as 'inches of fish per gallons of aquarium' to be things that concern me, ever.


New member
Ok, an Algae Turf Scrubber. I considered that, and would do it, but it might be a major pain to work in with the equipment I'm using. I'd have to sacrifice the mangrove pod platform to do it. I'd also be concerned about further water evaporation issues beyond what I already face. I intend to do auto topoff with built-in RO, with the reject line running outside into my irrigation system, but I still like to conserve water the best I can. The water dept charges a flat sewage rate based on water usage whether or not the water you use goes into the actual sewage outlet.

I like the concepts behind the duplex design. The DSB inlet chamber and plenum will provide me these areas, but it just occured to me that I have 2+ vacant 10g chambers inside the 45g sump that I can use for everything, maybe even a algae scrubber plate if I really want it to.
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wayne in norway

New member
OK, I can appreciate wanting backup, but I can still see layers of products that really do exactly the same thing, and several that are maintenance heavy, and likely redundant.

DSB + plenum - good idea.
Wet dry tower - redundant - you have all the sand in the top of the dsb.
Mangroves. Redundant, inefficient.

Diatomaceous earth. UV. You have a huge system to generate plankton, but these will remove it 100%. What do you want?

Layers, and layers of chemical media. Some of these need tumbling, and the pellets and zeolites both need a skimmer to export junk. Purigen + chemipure + carbon - pick one of three?

And so on. Wouldn't you be better putting this planning effort to exploring a way to collect NSW to do water changes? At least grossly simplify this. I have a skimmer, and a single reactor on a comparable size system, and apart from adding vodka that's it.


New member
Some photos:

150g DSB + 15g x 8 stand:

The 120g is right next to the 15g stand.

16g Mangrove Platform resting on top of DSB:

45g Sump on floor behind but halfway underneath the 15g stand:

Side view of the DSB + Platform:

The wet / dry tower will stack into the 45g sump chamber to the right, where the tank above it will drain into the same chamber. The remaining chambers are available to implement Duplex / ATS / etc / ????? methods. The chamber on the left will house the return pump. I'm considering adding an algae turf scrubber screen cascading into the left chamber.

All I need is the buckets and to make sure I've considered everything I might want to implement before I do the final plumbing and start filling those vessels full of water.

Some photos of the those live rocks I mentioned:


Another nice rock:

The photos of the other rocks didn't turn out well; I'll try again later.
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New member
Pretty cool... Looking forward to this coming together

For what it's worth, I've heard great things about ATS setups...

Good luck and don't get burnt out with it all!!!

...plan for the unexpected... the two pumps that need the exact same plumbing would make me nervous... They'll never perform exactly alike :)


MASC Member
I've heard of several nice 'no-water-change' systems and most involved an ATS. Something I think you might want to think of including. This is a great idea at startup, but it seems as though most people who claim to do no water changes never really planned to have it happen that way. It just sort of worked out. I think water changes during the maturation stage of your tank will be absolutely crucial. I read most of the thread but may have missed it; do you plan on doing water changes during initial cycling? Before the maturation of your DSB and mangroves?


New member
I'm hoping to use the right sources of live DSB substrates and stack them in a way where the dsb inlet goes thru a crytpic plenum underneath. I'm hoping this can speed up the maturation of the dsb faster than expected.

Meanwhile I'm starting strong with chemical filtration.

I have technology that I distribute that can greatly accelerate the growth rate of my mangroves, multiply the normal growth rate actually.

I have huge room left in my 2nd sump where I'm looking at 10g+ for a benthic zone that I'd like to use bioballs in (this takes time), but another 10g+ chamber I intend to do aiptasia's in. My live rocks have quite a few aiptasia's emerging now. So I'm planning on chipping them off the rocks, and running them thru a blender for a moment to hopefully mass multiply them.

I'm also contemplating how I can add a ATS 'battery' with many removable screens.

We'll see how it goes I'll respond how I need to but then again you go pulling all the nutrients out doing huge water changes and that would also slow down maturation. Of course I already have livestock in different forms so I have to find the balance.

wayne in norway

New member
You have an issue in your description above. You are planning on supplementing calcium and alk via. Seachem additives. I might be wrong here, but I believe they are calcium chloride and sodium bicarb. That's all great, and they work well, but you get leftover chloride and sodium ions, so your water gets progressively saltier. Normally the fix is water changes, but you can also track your salinity, and remove some water and replace it with non salted water to reduce the salinity. The issue then is that your water becomes too much like brine, and depleted in Mg, sulphate traces and so on.

So you might need to go to a ca reactor. This no water changes business can be tricky...


New member
I didn't know that thanks.

What about if I used crushed coral as the primary substrate in the 8 display tanks? Will it ever dissolve enough without that CO2 enrichment chamber? I already planned to have a layer in the DBS, but that's childsplay longterm.

I know a bit about doser / reactors from before. My initital plan was build a massive (by my standards anyways) system with overkilled filtration that can handle 'any' bioload I can throw at it, get that all stabilized... and after I feel right about things and when the budget would also look good for the step up, then I'd do a phase 2 approach like I'm doing now but more focused on coral.

Now that I have some nice rocks that even include coral, these more intricate water issues are already becoming an issue if I want to keep these animals alive. That's for the best actually as it's always best to keep forward thinking options in mind for down the road.


New member
I've been doing a lot of reading up on ATS lately, which are similar in effect to other types of 'natural'/non-bacterial filtration systems, and it is recommended to run no particulate filtration at all. One of the biggest benefits to these types of filters is the plankton that is grown/propagated, as someone mentioned above.

If you still wanted to use chemical media, but didn't want it contaminated with particulates, I suggest running the chemical media after a settling chamber (like your sand bed perhaps).

I don't think crushed coral will dissolve rapidly enough without something to hasten the process (like carbonic acid). Also, adding CC to the display tanks is nothing compared to the volume you'll have in that DSB, unless you are planning on using silica sand there?

This is a very interesting discussion for me, as I want to eventually setup a reef tank on a no or very long interval water change basis.


New member
I intend to have one of the 15g's drain directly into chamber one of the 45g sump. The bucket wet / dry tower would be stacked into this chamber as well. A standalone pump would pump water from this chamber into the top square bucket. Roughly the top half of this top bucket would be filled with different grades of floss type media, with roughly another half the bucket would be mircon bags of the various medias. This should eliminate detritous buildup / nitrate factory in the biomedias (bioballs + biobale), and hopefully provide a huge asset to system integrity where most people have abandoned wet / dry methods these days.

The remaining chambers in this sump will be mostly for benthic zones is how I'm figuring at the moment.

If I do go with the wet / dry tower and / or megacanister charged with diatomaceous earth, neither will be directly inline. Each will have their own pumps that operate out of the sump. Whether or not this would be the best way in general, its probably the best way I can attempt to implement them.

Yes, mostly sand in there. Last night I dabbled with the idea of filling it with CC and toying with concepts such as an airstone down in there hooked to a CO2 bottle, but the cost to fill it with CC would be expensive.