As a kid my room was filled with
aquarium containing turtles, salamanders, frogs, fish and just
about anything else I could find. Since then I’ve rarely been
without an aquarium of some kind, and set up my first reef in
1991. That was a 29 gallon Berlin system featuring some hilarious
DIY equipment, but I eventually went on to a 65 where I
accomplished some degree of success. I set up the current 120 in
October of 2002, which makes it two and a half years old.
The aquarium is a glass Oceanic 120, 48x24x24 inches. The sump
is located in my basement, both to reduce mechanical noises and
to keep temperatures cooler in the summer. Other than one or two
LPS specimens, all corals were grown from small frags. The sump
is a 75 gallon stock tank with a plexiglass cover. I try to keep
systems as simple as possible, and the set-up features little
The return pump is a large Sequence and should have been able
to provide a fair amount of the circulation. Unfortunately, a mix
up with the retailer ended up with the tank having only one
standard sized drain, rather than the two oversized drains I
originally specified. So, the Sequence is dialed way back and I
use various supplementary devices to get the polyps blowing.
Currently, it’s one Tunze Stream, one Mak 4 on a closed loop
with a ¾ Sea-Swirl, one Seio, and one Mag7 powerhead.
I’m a proponent of heavy skimming, and believe many of the
recommendations to feed corals have been overstated. In the past
my reefs have been Adey-inspired naturalistic set-ups featuring
such things as refugia, low-skimming, and macro-algae exports. I
still see benefits there, but am leaning towards a more heavy
reliance on skimming.
I’ve been through a few changes with the skimming, but right
now I’m using a counter-current skimmer based on the
‘Snailman’ design. The air pump is a Whitewater LT15,
hooked up to a 6″ fine-pore air diffuser from Aquatic
EcoSystems. These airstones are very long-lasting, which makes
the whole air-driven approach much more palatable. The skimmer
body is only a four-inch pipe, and when I turned the air pump on
for the first time it shot most of the water right out of the
skimmer! I’m in the process of upgrading it to a 6 inch pvc
pipe, but until then a ball valve is restricting the air flow.
Carbon is used on an irregular basis, usually placed in the
overflow. Also the sump contains chaetomorpha, just a small
amount at present. I’m not running any particulate filter at
the moment, but I think it’s a good idea and I may add one in
I’m a proponent of heavy
skimming, and believe many of the recommendations to feed corals
have been overstated.
Originally, the sump had about 5 inches of Southdown sand, and
the display tank 2 to 3 inches. I was very skeptical of the
current trend to remove sand beds at first, and it seemed that
people were blaming every possible problem on them. Eventually
however, I came around to that point of view. I figure at the
very least that the low-flow sump had to be a settling area, so I
siphoned the sand out over the course of a few weeks during water
changes. I’ve siphoned some, but not all out of the display
tank so far. The system is experiencing a slight increase in
algal growth at the moment, probably due to the sand bed
disturbances. The tank always has had minor algae issues, and I
can’t help but wonder if that has anything to do with
something I did when I first set the tank up. I purchased a pound
of detritus from a live rock dealer’s curing tank and buried
it in my sand bed. It was definitely full of critters, but
probably was a phosphate bomb as well!
Two 250W DE 10K Ushio halides in Sunlight Supply fixtures.
These are great fixtures and I’ve been very happy with them.
I have a single 400W mogul Radium between the two to supply some
blue to the scene. This works fine, but I probably would like to
eventually replace it with actinic VHO or T5 flourescents, as I
prefer that look.. The sump is illuminated opposite the display
tank, with incandescent lighting. The canopy is DIY, and is
ventilated with a 4″ fan, open back, and slat top.
My calcium tends to measure on the low side, but since I get
good coral coral growth I don’t worry about it too much. It
does seem though, that if the alkalinity is low for a while the
growth appears to slow noticably. I’m using a MRC calcium
reactor, dose kalk with a Liter-meter, and use 2-part additives
All came from frags, most traded or purchased online. Some of
the more noteworthy ones are:
- Flourescent green polyp Sarcophytons – these are my
favorites. The largest is perhaps 4 inches across now. Slow
- Lots of Ricordea florida, several colors
- Montipora danae – probably not the correct name, but
I’ll perpetuate this one a bit longer. Bright blue with red
- Yellow with purple polyps
- Bright pink solid
Acropora millepora (or prostrata) nice and hairy
- Hot pink with yellow tips
- Brown with purple tips
- Multicolor pinks and blues
- Green with yellow tips
- Blue (ORA)
- Montipora hispida – cool ochre color with mint green
polyps; forms crazy shapes, ripply plates with upright
- Green with purple rim
- Purple with purple polyps
- Bright orange
- Yellow plating porites – not a monti but grows in similar
- California blue tortuosa (ORA)
- Oregon blue tortuosa – sloooow growing but nice color.
- Green slimer – great coral, hardy, grows fast and looks
- Purple staghorn – nice big fluffy polyps, fast growing
- Hairy stag with ice blue tips – another fast grower, ORA I
Growth sequence: October 2003
Half-black Mimic Tang – Acanthurus pyroferus – This less
commonly seen version mimics the Pearlscale or Half-black
Angelfish Centropyge vroliki. Mine is transitioning to adult
coloration; having lost the “pearlescent” quality and
developing the tail extensions with the orange trim. Great
Comet – Calloplesiops altivelis – I think this is one of the
most beautiful fish, but I wish it would come out a little more!
It is so shy to come out for feeding, and so slow to eat that I
don’t know how it gets enough. It seems to be doing well
though. The one thing sure to draw it out is live grass shrimp,
and its hunting behaviors are very cool. It will fan out its fins
and arch its body, presumably to block escape routes for the
prey. It seems to miss quite often, at least compared to our
fuzzy dwarf lion, who never does.
Fathead (Sunburst) Anthias – Serranocirrhitus latus – The
husbandry recommendations on this species usually says that it
doesn’t like bright light; but mine happily stays out in the
open in the brightest areas. Slightly aggressive with other
planktivores, but does no damage. The one problem I have had with
this fish is color fading. I have fed it food containing natural
coloring agents, and food supplemented with Canthaxanthin, but it
still doesn’t have it’s original brightness.
Black-capped Basslet – Gramma melacara – I could not feed the
tank for a week and I’m sure this fellow would still be fat
like a pig. I suspect he is responsible for the absence of
bristleworms in the tank.
Threadfin Cardinal – Apogon leptacanthus – Nice schooling fish.
One of them always had a mouthful of eggs every few weeks, but
one of the three disappeared mysteriously recently and there have
been no eggs since.
White-ray Shrimp Goby – Stonogobiops yasha – A beautiful fish,
but this fellow insists on surfing my overflow to the basement
sump. Having made three trips down there, I’ve decided he can
stay! Probably better for a nano situation.
I have a variety of snail species, but feel that turbos do the
best job. They are the only ones that can be counted on to eat
hair as well as film algae. I also have a few emerald crabs,
although I’m not sure how effective they are. I suspect they
may be keeping the bubble algae in check.
Things I would change, or do differently
Bigger- I hope to upgrade to a larger tank, both to expand my
fish choices and to give the corals a bigger space to grow out
in. I have too many cramped colonies at the moment.
Circulation- I’m not sure if I will upgrade for this tank or
wait, but I would like to do away with the numerous internal
devices. I prefer the laminar flow created when all the
powerheads are working together rather than turbulence. I would
like a dual manifold driven by a motorized ball valve or similar
device, in which all the outlets would direct flow clockwise for
a short interval (just a couple of minutes) and then the valve
would redirect flow counterclockwise for the same duration. I
think this could simulate surge nicely and you would get a
massive flow from all the devices working together.
Frag tank – I don’t like having all those frags falling all
over the place, and would like a separate tank to grow them out