Feature Aquarium: The Aquarium of Michael G. Moye

I‘m the only person I know who originally got into this hobby for spite. Not that I didn’t always have an interest in the sea and its inhabitants; having spent many of my formative years in the Outer Banks of North Carolina; it would be impossible for me not to. But back in 1978 while living in Los Angeles, my landlord informed me that he had changed his mind about one of the conditions in his lease and decided that, as of now, I could not have any pets; except for maybe something innocuous like fish. Well I wanted a dog. After all, he had a cat. And not just any cat: The Supreme Mother Of All Whores cat who would entertain suitors all night, loudly and continually, from one spot under the building which I guessed to be directly beneath the southwest corner of my bed. Now, I suppose I could’ve just sued him, but being a couple decades away from ‘Judge Judy’, I failed to see any real entertainment value in that. So I took him up on his snide little ‘fish’ offer and instead of the globular, bubbling, pink and purple bottomed septic tank I’m sure he envisioned, I returned home with a 55g TruVu aquarium and stand, an undergravel filter, several boxes of Instant Ocean, and all the bleached, dead coral skeletons I could fit in the car.

I doubt if this had any impact on the cat.

Look, before I go on here, let me take a brief moment (really) to introduce myself. I’m the former TV producer guy; the guy who co-created “Married…With Children” (among other things), that was interviewed on The E Channel some time ago. The one who was blocking the reef tank in the background. Yeah. Well, here, I am thrilled to present that reef tank without any of the annoying showbiz babble to distract from it; the way it should be. Personal introduction over, by the way (told you). So let’s get back to the matter at hand.

Hindsight being 20/20, I guess one could say that my slightly twisted motivations into fishkeeping were probably responsible for more than my share of ‘newbie’ mistakes back then: If it had spines, I was stung by it. If it had teeth, it bit me. If it used electricity, I’d eventually become a conduit for it. And if it was advertised as the newest, most revolutionary, miracle whatsis ever in the history of aquarium husbandry, I probably had two of them. But even with these growing collections of junk and scar tissue, I soon began to notice something else: This was a damn cool hobby! And the positive impact it had on my stress level was nothing short of remarkable. Soon, even the mistakes were becoming fewer and farther in between. This I attribute to two things: Finding an LFS that cared about the animals and not just the sale ( Tis Tropical Fish, Fountain Valley, CA: May it Rest In Peace) and my own penchant for reading just about ANYTHING hobby related.

By the early 80s, I was successfully maintaining 4 FO tanks; a 125, 2 55s, and a 15 gallon species tank that housed a warty Frogfish I’d named Michigan. Man, I was REALLY relaxed now. I had the social life of the star of a cancelled sitcom, but I was truly one (non-pharmaceutically) relaxed television writer. I guess my landlord could sense this because he asked me to either scale things back a bit or move. Obviously, I moved.


In the midst of this, I decided to deal with the social life problem by condensing all that water volume into a single large tank. It turned out to be a 300 gallon beauty and, except for having to give up Michigan, I was an even more contented guy. That is until George Smit published his “Mini-reef” series of articles in FAMA. For me, after that, the world in regards to the hobby would never be the same. Just the thought of being able to keep various invertebrates whose names I had no clue of how to pronounce, was a challenge I could not pass up. Not that I jumped into this thing willy-nilly. As I stated before, I had become an inveterate reader and recalling some of my past mistakes, I was going to make sure I had SOME idea conceptually of what I was getting into before taking the plunge. Well, it took well over a year, but by 1988 I had converted my tank into a state-of-the-art Berlin style mini-reef. Eventually, it was chock full of leathers, lps corals, and even a few anemones. But the most fascinating thing of all was many of them were actually growing. That gave me a sense of accomplishment like I never felt with any of my FO set-ups or sometimes even my job! Did I still make mistakes? Oh, you betcha. But there were major successes too; for instance, I once had the largest single Elegance coral I have seen to date! Larger than a football and incredibly healthy; it was eventually killed in a ‘rockslide’ caused by the Northridge earthquake. I also grew a Sarcophyton that was so big that when I had to tear the tank down, it had to be cut into several pieces just to get it out. That was in 1994 and according to a very reliable source; there are cuttings from that coral that are still alive today.

In all, the tank ran for a little over 8 years and paid for itself many times over;considering what it saved me in more traditional stress related therapies. Also, the educational factor was priceless; heck by the time I was ready to move back East, I could glaze over a non-reefers eyes with the best of ’em! Of course, by this time, there had been quite a few advances made in the hobby so one of the things I was looking most forward to regarding THIS move was the construction of my ‘dream reef’. It was to be a 500 gallon in- wall, complete with a workroom/equipment room behind it, a viewing room in front of it, and it would incorporate all of the bells and whistles necessary to make the maintaining of my favorite leathers, ‘lps’ corals, and exotic fish a breeze. At least, that was the plan.

Construction was begun in 1995. The system was designed and installed by Reef Systems from Orange County, CA and because the house itself was literally being built around it, the process took nearly a year to complete. At this point let me take a little time to explain why I chose to go barebottom instead of having a sandbed since, regarding the tank, this is by far the question I get asked most often. When I was in the process of previsualizing this set up, sandbeds (mostly with plenums) were just beginning to catch on in terms of popularity and I was very interested in going that route. After all, except for the front view on the glass, I really like the way sandbeds look and I certainly understand their benefits;at least in theory, anyway. The problem was that whenever I tried to get a consensus as to depth, grain size, etc., not only would I get wildly differing opinions, but EACH opinion would come with a warning intimating that if I deviated so much as an iota from their prescribed methods, I would eventually crash the tank, have to pull everything out, and start all over! It’s amusing that considering all of the debate these days regarding the merits of dsb’s, to the point where some reefers are actually getting rid of theirs, suddenly my tank has become ‘cutting edge’ again. The truth of the matter was that I was frightened (and slightly annoyed) back to the Berlin style because the gurus at the time couldn’t get their act together (much like now). And also, I wasn’t about to tear down a 500 gallon aquarium every few months to try someone else’s “Plan G”.

It took nearly another year to really get the system fired up by the way, partially because of my traveling back and forth to L.A. and partially because I DID wind up having to tear it down; twice in fact. Once, to rid it of three Mantis Shrimp and the other to rectify the worlds worst Valonia infestation. But once I did have it up and running, all that was left to do was amass some livestock (the fun part) then once again settle down to bask in the presence of a dream fulfilled. Which is what I did. For about 18 months. Then something really weird began to happen.

In the midst of all the Colt corals and Frogspawns, between the Neptheas and fuzzy Mushrooms, I noticed a tiny blue/gray ‘bump’ apparently growing on one of the live rocks. I had no idea what it was, at first thinking perhaps I had some a tiny and unusually colored limpet. But since it never moved, I had to rule that out. I also asked a few other ‘knowledgeable’ people in the area, to no avail. So just in case I had something unusual here, I began to photograph it, no doubt wondering if the release of the resulting images would cause a bit of parking problem between all the National Geographic staff and worlds leading biologists who I imagined would descend upon the house to fight over who would be first to officially ‘discover’ it;after naming it after me, of course. (You can understand the show biz thing now, right?). But it was then, while looking at it closely through a macro lens, did it finally dawn on me exactly what this little hitchhiker really was: It was a little Acropora! And it was spontaneously growing from a two year old piece of live rock that I not only had in and out of the tank several times during the Mantis hunt, but that I also SCRUBBED while getting rid of the Valonia.

This was just about as cool as if I HAD found some brand new species. Not that I wasn’t familiar with this burgeoning new facet of the hobby, keeping acros, I just never gave it much thought, quite honestly. I mean, they were pretty much just colored sticks, right? And mostly brown judging from the stock in the local shops at the time. But now, I was starting to think I’d been wrong. These things really WERE interesting. I mean, they didn’t sway or anything but there was something about them;and something about my being able to maintain them. “I’ll just buy a couple more”, I reasoned, “For, uh, balance and diversity”. That was 1998 and I’m still every bit as giddy over them today, obviously. By the way, that little spontaneously growing piece is still with me. Though it’s been fragged, it is now 16″ wide and weighs over ten pounds! I think it’s an A. millepora.

Now, before I get into the stats and stuff, I do not want to leave anyone with the impression that this transition was simply a matter of removing the softies and adding the hardies. Actually, it was a long, involved, and extremely expensive undertaking that had me either upgrading or entirely replacing just about every piece of original equipment I had. Before I did, I’d say about 85% of all the new ‘sps’ corals I acquired would be dead within a few months. I actually gave a lot of thought to just keeping my lone little homegrown acro and forgetting about other Scleractinians, period. Then, I was lucky enough to receive a visit from Greg Schiemer who lives nearby and, upon request, gave the system a thorough going over. Long story short (okay, less long); the result of many of his subsequent recommendations is presented here today. I, and a whole lot of stony corals, owe him a major debt of gratitude. In addition to Greg, the list of people I’d like to thank would require this article being continued next issue so I’ll just give a general shout-out to all the authors, bulletin board participants, LFS employees, online vendors, etc, etc, etc who have been so patient and helpful to me. Obviously, I’d like to thank the staff here at Reefs. org and Advanced Aquarium magazine for this outstanding honor. Also, a special thanks goes out to Ray Bennett; service technician extraordinaire (also, my eyes, hands, and nerves in regards to the tank when I’m away). But most of all, I’d like to thank my wife and daughter who are much too used to seeing me bent over a box of artificial seawater on days when ‘normal’ dads are doing something much more ‘family friendly’ and yet somehow, saying nothing. Well, not really actually nothing;I mean, they ARE saying something. I just can’t hear them over the pumps.


Reeftank Beauty Shot circa Dec. 2002 before fragging and overhaul.

So without further ado (whatever ado is), here, presented in the style of Michael S. Paletta’s “Ultimate Marine Aquariums”, is a down and dirty profile of tank as of 12/18/03:



Owner: Michael G. Moye; Location: Greenwich, CT.

Date Established: 1996. In current configuration: 1998.


Reeftank Beauty Shot circa Dec. 2003 AFTER fragging and overhaul.



  • Description: 500 gallon in-wall. Barebottom. 3/4″ acrylic.
  • Dimensions: 96″ X 36″ X 36″.
  • Sump Volume: Approx 75 gallons.

Reeftank viewing room (early 2003).


  • Tank Overflows: (2) Corner overflows, each equipt with a 1 1/2″ modified Durso standpipe.
  • Additional Exits: Via 6 intakes drilled though the tank floor, hidden amongst the live rock.
  • Main System Pumps: (3) Iwaki RLT 100’s.
  • Other Pumps: Iwaki RLT 70 running skimmer, Iwaki Walchem MDM-400 return from chiller.
  • Water Returns: Two lengths of 3/4″ PVC running the entire back length of the tank. The ‘top’ return pipe is split off into 7 bulkheads which, in turn, are again split off into 7 1/2″ reducing Y nozzles. This creates 14 separate ‘mini-returns’ that can be individually positioned in just about any direction. The ‘botto return splits off into 4 bulkheads, which in turn split off again through 4 1/2″ reducing Y nozzles. This creates 8 ‘mini-returns’ which helps to eliminate any dead spots behind the rockwork. The top return is powered by 2 of the RLT 100’s while the bottom is powered by the third.

    Back of tank showing top and bottom return plumbing.

  • Wave Making Device: George Fischer (Model EA-20) electronic actuator unit. It’s a gate valve that alternates sending water through a set of 4 flared return nozzles. Two nozzles each are mounted through bulkheads at each end of the tank and, as it is powered by yet another RLT 100, the current produced is pretty strong. The direction alternates approximately every 45 seconds.
  • Turnover Rate: Approx 10X-12X.



  • Temperature Controls: 1 hp UMI chiller on Ranco controller. There is a duplicate chiller and controller for back up. ‘Systems’ switched every six months. Eight (8) Radio Shack 4″ Fans (installed into hood for MH heat dissipation).
  • Heater: None needed.



  • 50 Micron Filter Sock tied onto sump intake for gross particulate matter. Changed every two days.
  • MTC Power Pro Quad IV skimmer.
  • Approximately 1000 lbs. of Live Rock.
  • One charge of Black Diamond carbon in Lifeguard Chemical Module. Used intermittently.
  • 500g of Phosban in an Ehiem 2215 Canister Filter.
  • Two Lifeguard QV-40 UV modules. Used constantly. Bulbs changed every six months.
  • Thirty gallon fishless refugium with various macroalgaes.

    Reflection Shot.



  • Four 5′ 160W URI Actinics (VHO). Changed once a year.
  • Four AB 250W 10K MH’s in Spiderlight Reflectors. Probe ballasts. Changed every six months.
  • Two 400W 20K Radiums in Spiderlight Reflectors. Bluewave pulse start ballasts. Changed every eight months.
  • Photoperiod:
    • Actincs: 15 hours (6:30 am-9: 30 pm)
    • MHs: 13 hours (On and off times staggered. First halide comes on at 7:30 am, then moving right to left, each of the remaining bulbs turn on in 15 minute intervals. Off mode is similar, beginning at 7:15 p.m and ending at 8:30. I do not adjust them for daylight saving time.

      Workroom, refugium, and skimmer. Note catwalk to aid in gaining access to tank.


System Parameters & Chemistry

  • Water Temperature: 76.9-78.4 F
  • S.G.: 1.024.
  • pH: 8.09-8.28.
  • Alkalinity: 12.8 dKH.
  • Calcium: 450 ppm.
  • Magniesium: +/- 1350 ppm
  • Nitrate: <0.25 ppm.
  • Phosphate: Below measurable limits. (“Still some cyano though”)
  • Water Supply: Well.
  • RO/DI: SpectraPure 2000 5 stage unit. 100g per day.
  • Salt: Instant Ocean. New water mixed and held in 125 gallon storage unit until needed.
  • Additives or Supplements: B-Ionic 1 & 2 to new water. Kent Magniesium as needed. Calcium levels maintained by MTC Pro-Cal Calcium Reactor and DIY 44g (Brute) Kalk Doser.
  • Dosing pump: SpectraPure Litermeter.
  • Testing Supplies: Salifert and LaMotte test kits, Octopus 3000 temp, pH, and Orp probes. Hanna pH and TDS probes. Refractometer. Pinpoint pH probe.

    Attilla: Undisputed king of the reeftank.


Auxillary Equipment

  • 20 Gallon Quarantine Tank.




Bicolor Anthias.

Fishes: 37

  • 1 Sohal Tang (10″)
  • 1 Purple Tang (5″)
  • 1 Chevron Tang (6″)
  • 1 Fine-Lined Bristletooth (5″)
  • 15 Bartletts Anthias (1″- 3 1/2″)
  • 7 Olive Anthias (1″- 2″)
  • 7 Green Chromis (1 1/2″ – 2 1/2″)
  • 1 Crosshatch Triggerfish (f) (5″)
  • 1 Flame Hawk (2 1/2″)
  • 1 Australian Pseudochromis (4″)
  • 1 Mulleri Copperband Butterfly (4″)

    Green Chromis bedding down in large acro.


‘SPS’ Corals

  • Acropora: Approx 35 colonies; 1″ frag to ten pound A.
  • Millepora
  • Montipora: 7 colonies.
  • Fungia (3)
  • Heliopora
  • Hydnophora
  • Merulina

    Early (circa 1999) photo of hitchhiker A. Millepora. Note turbo snail for scale.

  • Pavona
  • Pocillopora
  • Porites (‘Also grew out of the live rock’)
  • Sandalolitha


‘LPS’ Corals

  • Blastomussa merleti (2)
  • B. wellsi (2)

    Same coral out of tank in 6/03.

  • Caulastrea (2)
  • Echinophyllia
  • Euphyllia (5: One Torch, Four Frogspawns including one volleyball size specimen that has been with me forover 5 years now)
  • Lobophyllia
  • Symphillia (2)
  • Scolymia



  • Sinularia

    Same coral. Detail shot.

  • Lobophytum


And The Rest

  • Zoanthids, Mushrooms ( Actinodiscus, Rhodactis, and Ricordea ), tons of ‘clean up crew’ critters (snails, micro-bluelegged hemits, Emerald Crabs) Acro crabs, Pistol Shrimp, Sponges, Majano Anemones, and whatever comes over from the refugium.


Noteworthy Specimens

  • Fish: ‘Attilla’, my Sohal, Crosshatch Trigger.

    Unidentified Acropora and Hawkfish.

  • Corals: Huge A. millepora and Frogspawn. Colonies of both A. efflorensence and ‘true’ A. solitariensis. Unusual ‘steel-gray Montipora capricornis, Steve Tyree Limited Edition M. Verrucosa, Sandalolitha, Conjoined Scolymia colony, some as yet unidentified Acropora.
  • Misc: Flourishing colony of fuzzy Purple ‘Tonga” Mushrooms,
  • Unidentified Rhodactis colony, Unusual Protopalythoa colony.



I feed pretty heavily but because I skim aggressively also, I’ve been able to get away with it;so far. When I’m around (and because of the Anthias), I’ll feed 3 times a day. On any given day, the fish receive a choice (but not all) from a list of: Ocean Nutrition’s Formula 1, Formula 2, Prime Reef, VHP, and Enriched Brine Shrimp. Other foods include Piscine Energetics Mysis Shrimp (a staple), Brine Shrimp Direct’s Nori Sheets (usually soaked in Selcon), Cyclop-eeze, Gracillaria Algae, Jhemco’s Pure Spirulina Flakes, and San Francisco Bay Brand Freeze Dried Plankton. The ‘SPS’ corals are fed Golden Pearls (3 smallest sizes) twice a week plus whatever they can glean from the ‘fuge. The other corals happily make do with the ‘fish food’ they catch from the water column. And finally, I’ll feed the refugium with DT’s Phyto, a pinch of flake food, and fish food table scraps also twice a week.


A. efflorensence detail from above.




Things Owner Likes Best About This System

No obtrusive power heads or other bulky devices inside tank. Viewing room is a house tour highlight. Many fishes display ‘natural’ reef behavior in the tank such as spawning displays among Anthias and Chromis ‘bedding down’ in Acropora branches at night. Fungia has spawned several times.


Tricolor detail.


Things Owner Likes Least About This System

Sump configuration. Fairly high maintenance. Tank is too deep; should’ve gone no deeper than 30″ and used the other 6″ for more ‘back-to-front’ space. Workroom should’ve been twice its current size; no room for frag growout tank. Workroom not air conditioned (‘idiot;idiot;idiot;’).


Favorite Comment by Others

“May [my fiance] and I spend our honeymoon in here?”


A. microphthalma axial corallites (Photoshopped Effect).


Least Favorite Comment by Others

“I think THIS one is my favorite.” (One of my wife’s friends in reference to an Aiptaisa.)


Biggest Recent Mistake

Getting caught up in the Great Crystal Sea Bio-Assay Exodus of 2003. Lost several (9) ‘sps’ colonies and a few ‘lps’ colonies due (apparently) to mixing CS with IO.



Montipora capricornis.

Biggest Livestock Mistake

Pseudochromis. Has made it impossible for me to keep Fairy Wrasse or Hogfish as it delights in running them out of the tank.


Close Second

Purposely introducing Actinodiscus Mushrooms into the System about 6 years ago.



A. solitaryensis.

Luckiest Recent Break

Installed new household generator a few months before last summer’s blackout. Power was out here over 9 hours; ambient temps near 90. Worked like a charm. No damage.


Best Evidence It’s All Been Worth It:

Honors such as this. Thanks.

By the way, if this STILL isn’t enough information for you, please visit my website at http://www.moyesreef.com.

Michael G. Moye (Stonehaven)


A. subglabra detail.











Cynarina Detail.




















Zoanthids under actinics.




  Advanced Aquarist, Advanced Aquarist

 Michael G. Moye

  (1 articles)

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