Hello Reefs.com!
I have been keeping a long build thread(s) of my 120gal reef system on my local forum and I thought I would share a condensed version of it with you on here.
Here's what my reef system looked like at the start of 2021.

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This system was set up in 2018 after I had torn down a previous 120gal system that suffered a montipora coral crash. I sold that old tank and most of the equipment and started a new build using the existing stand and canopy.
The foundation of the system is a "custom" Planet Aquariums rimless tank with low-iron glass front and sides, a Modular Marine overflow system and the custom stand and canopy that I built back in 2012.

Since I had plenty of time to plan out the new build, I designed the system to incorporate exactly what I wanted for filtration and the reef. I also need to comply with my OCD about keeping everything (as much of everything) placed inside of the stand. I like having everything contained in one neat package.
Since I was starting over, I decided to build my own sump so that it would incorporate my algae turf scrubber and other filtration choices. I was also switching over from dosing 2-part to running a calcium reactor, so I need to account for having all of that located inside of the stand. It is tight inside of there, but I have easy access to what needs to be maintained regularly.

The equipment running the system include:
  • Two (2) Finnex 300w Titanium Heaters
  • APIS-300 Algae Turf Scrubber; fed from a Neptune Systems Cor-15 pump.
  • Reef Octopus Regal 200-SSS Protein Skimmer.
  • Neptune Systems Cor-20 Return Pump.
  • Geo's Reef 618 Calcium Reactor with a 415 Secondary Chamber; fed by a Kamoer FX-STP pump.
  • Neptune System DŌS pump for ATO.
  • Neptune Systems APEX controller, two EB832 Energy Bars and various modules.
  • Neptune Systems Trident.
  • Four (4) Ecotech Marine MP40W-ES/QD pumps.

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My lighting system consists of three (3) Ecotech Radion XR15 G4 PRO LED Fixtures supplemented with two (2) 39w ATI Blue Plus T5 bulbs.
Since I do not like seeing any cords visible, I installed a power outlet above the system in the soffit. The light fixtures are controlled via an Ecotech ReefLink and a WiFi power strip for the T5 bulbs.

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The original plan for this system was to be a scaled back montipora dominated reef; less fish and less coral diversity. I had great success growing montipora corals in the previous system and I wanted to focus on growing them again. I had given my corals from that old system to friends to care for them as I set up this new system, so I had corals coming back to me. This included some nice Lobophyllia pieces and a decent sized ORA Red Goniopora. I have a strict "No sticks." policy with this system.
With concentrating on montipora corals, I knew that wouldn't need much for a reef aquascape. I made a trip over to BRS to hand select some large pieces of Tonga Shelf Rock. I came home with two HUGE pieces that weighed a total of 86 pounds!
I was able to create a nice aquascape by placing the larger piece of rock vertically. I actually had to break off some of the smaller rock to make it fit the space. Those two rocks made for a visually appealing and functional aquascape and they filled the 4ft by 2ft footprint of the tank.
For a substrate, I decide to use TLF ReBorn calcium reactor media. Knowing that I wanted a lot of flow (4xMP40s), I needed something more substantial than just sand. And I've been a fan of using the media as a substrate since I had seen it used in Kevin Kohen's office tanks. The media ia great for a substrate as it stays in place and is very easy to clean.
By October of 2018, I was ready to add water.

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Over the course of the next year or so, there was many obstacles with starting a system with dry rock; bacterial blooms, lyngbya outbreak and almost complete coral deaths. By the summer of 2019, I ordered 25 pounds of live rock from Tampa Bay Saltwater and placed it into my sump beneath the ATS unit. Over the next few months, the dry rock was being seeded with sponges and other microfauna that helped my system stabilize.
While attending some reef shows, I began to collect small frags of corals that I thought would fare well after the loss of all of the other corals. My ORA Red Gonipora was doing well, so I bought a few frags. This was the start of my obsession with the flowerpot corals. The new system was now going to be a Montipora, Lobophyllia and Goniopra/Alveopora/Bernardpora reef.
Here's a picture of what it looked like back in November of 2020.

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I almost forgot about the fish!
Since I wanted to scale back on this reef, I was limiting myself to a very short list of fish. Originally, I only wanted to keep four to five fish total including a pair of Genicanthus semifasciatus angelfish and a Harlequin Tuskfish; my favorites.
Every [size appropriate] reef tank that I have maintained has had a Kole Tang, so one of those was added right away. A LFS was closing its doors and they had a very small Yellow Tang about the size of my Kole Tang, so I picked that one up as well since I hadn't really kept one of them previously.
Some pests had made their way into my system so I needed to add some utilitarian fish to combat those; a Melanurus Wrasse for MEN and a Copperband Butterflyfish for aiptasia.
In another tank, I had our original Percula Clownfish that we bought in 2009. It was the male of a spawning pair but the female had gone blind and eventually perished. It wasn't doing well in another system (lethargic/depressed) so I added it to this system and it loved the goniopora garden and is full of vigor again.
In April, I decided that I wasn't likely going to find my pair of G. semifasciatus angelfish (waited three years), so I purchased two female G. lamarck angelfish from a LFS; differently sized. They're doing well; very well. The larger fish had already developed the black pelvic fins after seven weeks in the reef and completed its transition within a few more weeks.
And then this fall, I tore down my smaller reef system and moved my Ornate Leopard Wrasse over to this reef. After some territorial "discussions", they are all doing well.

This year has been extremely busy so I haven't taken as many photos of the corals or fish, but that should change once our kids go off to college and our house becomes empty.

If you have any specific questions or comments about my system, please ask.
This is a massively condensed version of my typical build threads. I will add more posts to highlight various aspects of the complete build.

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One of the first reactions that I receive about the reef system is the stand and canopy.
I'm a huge Arts & Crafts fan and my main focus was to create a free-standing
piece of furniture that was going to look good on its own; something with a "Wow" factor.
How I got it to look that way, and be strong enough for a 120gal reef tank was my challenge.

Every good piece of furniture has to carry the weight that is put upon it.
My stand was designed for the four corners of the stand to be directly under the corners of the tank.
From there, I added the posts to give the stand more robust and furniture-like appearance.
I wanted the entire front of the stand open for ease of maintenance. So no center post.
I wanted the panels of the stand to match a design element I have already used in some of my work.
I wanted the back of the stand to be open for plumbing, yet finished enough to be easy on the eyes if someone was to stick their head back there.
I wanted a molding detail to add the craftsman style to the stand.
I wanted doors to match the sides and appear to be inset. (They're not.)
I wanted a lot.

I worked out many different designs before deciding that this is what I truly wanted.
The stand is built from Rift-sawn Red Oak and stained a custom mix that created to achieve the deep warm tones common with Arts & Crafts furniture. I painted the panels and trim with an Oil-Rubbed Bronze paint to create the contrast with the wood and also match the color of the hardware.
There is a wood top that encloses the stand and follows the outline of the stand's posts and trim. And the stand is topped off with a completely covered HD laminate top to look like it's a granite slab. I chose to have the laminate top on the stand to help protect the stand from water.

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The canopy is attached to a soffit and floats above the tank.
One of the design challenges with the canopy was providing access to inside the tank. I solved this by designing a canopy that slides back on rollers. I can move the canopy back over seven inches when I need to add/remove larger rocks or perform maintenance in the back of the tank.
I also ran an electrical outlet inside the soffit for powering the lighting. I didn't want to see any cords dropping down behind my tank.

The tank itself is from Planet Aquariums. I ordered a rimless 120gal tank that has low-iron glass on three sides and was drilled for the Modular Marine Overflow and returns. I painted the back of the tank black to conceal the overflow and plumbing. This tank is a beast and I love it!

The stand and canopy are now coming up on eight years of use. I have had a couple of internal floods over the years and the door hinges have been swapped out every couple of years from rusting. After all this time, the stand and canopy are still just as strong and beautiful today.

More to come!


So here's what's keeping this reef system alive.

Let's start with the sump.
As I stated previously, I designed and built my sump to accommodate the equipment that I wanted to use on the system.
I work in a woodshop that has a full-size (5ft by 10ft) bed CNC router that I use to machine my acrylic and polycarbonate parts. It's a great perk to have when you're in this hobby.

The overflow system was a continuous siphon method so there are three 1-1/2" bulkheads for the drains located along the back on the left.
The tank water fills up the chamber beneath the drains and the back 2/3rds of the algae turf scrubber. This is where I have two heaters and the Cor-15 to feed the ATS unit; through the smaller bulkhead on the top of the sump. Water exits this chamber in one of two paths. Either through the ATS feed pump or a slot that empties into the area with the two 4" holes for filter cups.
The ATS unit rests down inside of the sump and sits on a ledge supporting all four sides; the large opening on the left. The main drain from the ATS unit empties into the small chamber towards the front of the sump into a filter sock/cup. The emergency drain empties back into the first chamber and can be recycled through the ATS unit or exit via the slot.
The section with the filter cup holes also has three small holes that utilizes Inline Probe Holders to hold the probes for ph, ORP and salinity.
Water that passes through the ATS unit and the filter cups meet up and fill the large chamber in the front and right of the sump. This chamber is just big enough for my protein skimmer. I also pull water from this chamber to feed the calcium reactor.
The filtered water will pass over and under two clear acrylic panels as it enters the return chamber. The Cor-20 pump is connected to the 1-1/4" bulkhead as it is pumped back into the system. There are four 1/4" bulkheads along the back for dosing and ATO tubing.

The sump is built using black and clear acrylic. The front panel and any forward facing interior panels are made from clear acrylic so I can see into the sump chambers if needed. The bottom, back, sides, shelves and top are all made with the black acrylic. The black bottom really helps to monitor detritus accumulation.


This is what it looked like after the initial set up with the ATS unit and skimmer in place.


And here it is after it's all been set up and running.


I also keep 25 pounds of live rock in the sump placed beneath the ATS unit. The addition of the live rock really helped stabilize my system and it introduced a lot of microflora and microfauna.


Most of the filtration is accomplished with my ATS unit; the APIS-300.
I started running the unit on the system after the live rock stabilized everything and it's been working very well. I harvest algae every two weeks. When I had a smaller bioload, I needed to dose nitrates to keep them from bottoming out at 0ppm. Now that I have a larger bioload and I target feed the corals regularly, I have stopped dosing nitrates and my nutrient levels are consistent; NO3 @ 8-16ppm and PO4 @ 0.04-0.12ppm. I am only running my photoperiod for ten hours per day which is very short when compared to most ATS practices. I am harvesting on average 450-480 grams of squeeze dried algae per harvest.



If you have any questions about the sump or my ATS unit, feel free to ask.

Over the next few days I'll start dropping more photos of what we really want to see; the fish and corals.
Thanks for following along!

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