here do I start? I guess being born in March gave me the Pisces title, so it was natural that I would love fish. At the tender age of four, I was constantly being rescued from an old converted bathtub that served as a goldfish pond in my parents beautiful garden in Nottingham, England. After moving to Canada as a young boy, I discovered ditches filled with frogs and other living creatures, which I fell into more times than I can count. During my teens, I kept a freshwater tank filled with colorful neon tetras which kept me out of trouble until I discovered girls.
I started reefing just over eight years ago after countless days and nights staring into my friend’s 60 gallon reeftank. I began by keeping two percula clownfish with a long tentacle anemone in a 5 gallon nano. The fish and anemone, as well as I, outgrew the tiny tank after about 6 months. I then made the upgrade to my present tank, a 27 gallon reef which was setup in February 1997.
System & Circulation:
- 27 gallon Hagen glass tank (33 gallon footprint) 36”x12”x15”
- 5 gallon Rubbermaid sump
- a Prizm protein skimmer
- a Mag 3 return pump
- Pinpoint PH monitor
- 100 watt Ebo Jaeger heater
- 1 MaxiJet 1200 powerhead
- a digital and glass thermometer
The tank has a DIY built in overflow, composed of a single piece of acrylic with standard cut teeth that is sealed in place at the right rear corner. This gives me a triangular overflow box where I keep a small chunk of poly wool before the intake exits the back of the rear pane through a 1” bulkhead. The 5 gallon sump houses the heater and probes and I also use Chemipure carbon on a regular basis. The return is fed by a Mag 3 pump which is hooked up to a SCWD water director to alternate flow, every 15 seconds, heading back into the tank. A MaxiJet 1200 is set on a timer to switch on and off every half hour during the daytime and the alternating flow simulates a strong surge on the right side of the reef where most of the SPS corals have been mounted. They seem to love the high flow when the MaxiJet is running. Recently I tried adding a second MaxiJet to blast the left side of the reef, however this side of the reef houses more of my LPS corals that prefer things a little less turbulent. I also make sure to direct one of the two returns at the Maxijet to avoid laminar flow.
Lighting and Photo Period:
- solid pine hand made canopy
- 2 x 30watt actinic normal output fluorescent tubes
- 1 x 30 watt 10K daylight normal output fluorescent tube
- 1 x ¾ watt blue LED bulb
Because I have a shallow tank (only 14 inches tall) I have had great success with strictly normal output (NO) fluorescent lighting. The canopy sits directly on top of the tank and is kept dry with a ¼” sheet of acrylic that also helps to reduce evaporation. A LED moon light is mounted directly under the canopy as well at the center of the tank. My success with both LPS and SPS corals has also kept me busy with constant fragging. I know that some of my SPS corals do not have true coloration and growth rates may be slower than those systems with MH lighting, but I am happy with the overall health and growth of all these corals. Whenever I add a new species to my reef it’s always a small frag, not just for size limitations but also to allow the coral to adapt or acclimatize to my lower light levels. Also all SPS frags or small colonies are kept at 8” or higher in order to help achieve lighting requirements.
- 8 AM single actinic on
- 10 AM single daylight and second actinic on
- 7 PM single daylight and second actinic off
- 10 PM single actinic off
The moon light gets turned on during the evening actinic period over night for a few days each month. I also occasionally have it on when I have company over or when I need a fix from a busy day and haven’t had some reef viewing time.
Fish/Inverts and Feeding:
- 2 pink skunk clownfish (4 years)
- 2 yellow watchmen gobies (5 and 2 years)
- 1 sixline wrasse (3 years)
- 2 cleaner shrimp
- 1 peppermint shrimp
- 1 boxer crab
- 20-25 blue and red legged hermit crabs
- 4 money cowries
- 10-15 assorted snails
- 1 large Hawaiian feather duster
All the fish seem to get along quite peacefully. The yellow watchmen gobies have mated and reproduced eggs on more than two occasions (see Nov 04 issue in editorial). The gobies do a terrific job in keeping the sand turned and tend to sift pretty much the entire sand bed. The two skunks are also a mated pair, and have also reproduced at least once to my knowledge. The two clownfish are happy with their surrogate hosts (an open brain and donut coral), with the female lounging on the open brain throughout the day and the smaller male taking shelter under the inflated bright red donut. The sixline wrasse is my favorite fish with its never ending curiosity as to my whereabouts. I think that a lot of the time it gets as much pleasure out of spying on me as I do on him! I call this fish “the master of my reef”, as it explores through and around rockwork with precision and grace.
Some of the most entertaining critters to watch in my reef are the hermit crabs, changing houses or simply tumbling off rock ledges to conquer yet again and again. I have occasionally seen my cleaner shrimp cleaning the mouths of the yellow watchmen gobies or my boxer crab waving his tiny anemones in the current, trying to catch a piece of shrimp.
The fish are fed twice daily with spirulina flake in the morning and small mysis or brine in the evening. I also target feed both the donuts and open brain corals once a month with either frozen scallop or shrimp meat. The shrimps, boxer crab and feather duster are also target fed with a small pipette from time to time. The entire reef is fed Liquid Life Phytoplankton once a month, usually a few days before the water change.
Corals and Propagation:
Like most other beginners, I set up this tank starting with softies such as zoanthids, mushrooms and leathers. After a year or so I slowly began the transition to LPS corals such as trumpets, brains, donuts, frogspawn and hammer varieties. I also added three types of gorgonians to my reef, they display a nice sense of movement to the reef as they constantly sway back and forth in the current.
About three years ago a friend of mine, who runs a fish and coral aquaculture operation here in my area, gave me a small single branch frag of purple tip acropora. I brought this piece home to see if there was any chance of keeping it alive in my stable, yet low lit reeftank. Due to low calcium levels in my water, this piece simply remained alive and didn’t show much signs of growth. A few months later, I began dripping kalkwasser into my system and it wasn’t long before this tiny frag started to show tiny nubs of growth on the main branch and produced sister branches. After a year of keeping this coral alive I began to introduce a few more varieties of SPS coral frags and I’m happy to report I have only lost two frags in the past two years. Recently I quit using kalkwasser and instead I opted to use Kent’s Liquid Reactor to maintain both alkalinity and calcium at desired levels.
In the past six months I have not only seen amazing polyp extension on all the SPS but some terrific growth rates in the Acropora and Millepora species as well. Even though many of my SPS coral would display brighter colors under more intense lighting, I am happy with the coloration of all of the corals I keep.
Over the past two years I have fragged many of my corals and here are some counts to date:
- green frogspawn: 40-50 small/large crowns
- white hammer: 15-20 small/large crowns
- gorgonians: 80-90 small/medium branches
- birdsnest: 30-40 small/medium clusters
- Pocillopora: 15-20 small clusters
- various Acropora: 30-40 small branches
Coral Species LPS:
- red donuts (Scolymia)
- greentip frogspawn (Euphyllia)
- yellow daisy (Alveopora)
- green trumpet (Caulastrea)
- green open brain (Trachyphyllia)
Coral Species SPS:
- yellow scroll (Turbinaria)
- Montipora (both M. digitata and M. capricornus)
- Birdsnest (Seriatopora)
- Finger coral (Pocillopora)
- Acropora (including A. millepora, A. nasuta, A. valida, A. tortuosa, A. granulose, A. humilis, A. formosa and A. nobilis)
The tank also houses live rock from Fiji, Jakarta, Tonga and Vanuatu and provide the foundation for the reef and hiding spots for all the creatures within. The sandbed is a 1” deep mixture of 40% crushed coral and 60% sugar sand.
Just like any other pet, my reeftank requires daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance routines, below I will try to list the tasks involved for each category. I have included monitoring as a task because I’m simply not viewing the reef just for pleasure during this time. I check the health of certain corals, look for signs of stress in anything in the tank, and make sure all equipment is running properly.
- water top off
- clean and empty skimmer cup
- change poly wool in overflow
- dose two part Liquid Reactor
- clean glass if necessary
- water change 15%
- clean any dirty equip(acrylic cover/skimmer/pumps)
- make up 5 gallons of new top off water
- clean exterior glass(vinegar)
Philosophy and Acknowledgments:
Over the last few years I have contemplated upgrading the tank size several times and have had many reefing pals tell me I need to make the jump as well. Each time I start to rationalize a larger system I always think to myself that even though it would be nice, I have stayed with this smaller more manageable reef because of one reason: it’s manageable! I enjoy other hobbies such as photography, skiing, snowboarding, and hiking so keeping a small reef still allows me to partake in these other activities while still leaving the required time to look after my reef.
As well, friends will ask what my secret is to keeping a successful reef tank and I always respond with the same answer: patience and education were and still are my keys to keeping a microscopic slice of the ocean.
I would like to thank the following people for helping me along the way:
- Alan Barnes for not only getting me into this wonderful hobby but also for teaching me the basics and for helping me with many do it yourself projects
- my father Alan Wynn for building my beautiful canopy
- Paul Gilmore at Paul’s Pet’s for answering years of questions and providing me with some of his 30 years of reefing knowledge
- Paula Carlson for writing a wonderful article in a local paper recently about my reef
- Tim Tessier at Seacare Aquaculture for all his great advice and introducing me to the world of SPS corals
- Gail (formerly from Total Pets) who also provided me with much insight
- Christy Falkenberg for helping me put together and edit this article
- And, of course, the many reefing pals I have at Canreef (my local board), Reefs.org and various other international boards.
It’s a great honor to have my reef featured in Advanced Aquarist, which has also been a huge guidance tool for me through the years, I never missed an Aquarium Frontiers edition and will continue reading Advanced Aquarist for hopefully many more years to come.
Rich Wynn (sumpfinfishe)