Ever since joining Ultimate Reef over two years ago, I have drawn much inspiration from the previous TOTM's and have always been inspired by the passion that has gone into them and it's always been my ambition to end up with a tank that wouldn't look out of place alongside them.
Well, today I have been awarded TOTM August 2007, I am not by any means satisfied with the way my tank currently is, I doubt I ever will be, which I see as a good thing really as it means I will continue to be passionate about my tank and the hobby as a whole and one day it may be completely to my satisfaction (unlikely though!)
I am still relatively new to the hobby compared to many. As with most people I started out keeping tropical fish some 15 years ago. While on honeymoon with my wife in the Seychelles in May 2005, I found a new passion for coral reefs. As soon as we returned home my wife and I planned on turning our then four foot tropical tank into a reef tank..... and boy was that a steep learning curve! After setting up the tank with some of the usual newbie mistakes (no liverock, no sump, no skimmer, tap water, etc, etc) I searched the net for a reef keeping web site to see if there was anything I was doing wrong! Ultimate Reef welcomed me and then dropped me down to earth like a lead balloon!
So it was back to the drawing board, we got a sump, an overflow weir, more powerheads, 40kg of liverock, an RO Unit, phosphate remover, a skimmer and a big bank overdraft too! Well after almost a year, the four footer was actually looking quite good, we had a couple of deaths, but never had any real algae problems and everything was growing well.It was then around this time we decided to move house. One of the main criteria’s in our house searching was one that could accommodate a bigger tank than our four footer and without all the noise, smells and mess involved. We found the ideal house with an integral garage and a hole in the wall 6 foot tank was in the planning before we had even signed contracts to move!
I had already consulted with the local council planning department to discuss any implications of this. We were given two choices, one was to build the tank out of fire retardant glass and seal around the edges with fire retardant mastic, and this proved way to expensive.
The second option, which we followed through, was to build a fire retardant stud wall behind the tank to separate the garage from the lounge, as apparently 700 litres of water wasn't considered as a barrier between the lounge and garage in the case of a fire!
So builders were called and within a week they were on site. They knocked the hole out to my exact measurements and then set about building the block work stand with 3 supporting concrete lintels. The next day the plasterwork was made good and I could now get my exact measurements for ordering up the tank and sump.
These were made by AC Aquatics and were mm perfect to my instructions. The tank had to be made with a 45degree angle at one side to allow clearance for the door that opens from the hallway into the garage. It took 5 of us to lift the tank off the lorry and carry it the 15 metres or so, with lots of grunts and groans we managed to lift it onto the stand, I have to tell you that was the longest 15 metres of my life!
All the plumbing, pumps, equipment and lighting had already been received a couple of weeks before so I was ready to start plumbing straight away.
After the tank was operational and all existing stock from my old tank (which had been running in the garage for 2 months) was transferred over, it was time to get the firewall put up. Once this had been built, plastered and painted it was finished to my suffering wife's delight!However around 6 months after the tank was finished I got the urge to add more tanks to the system - 3 more to be exact! This was an idea copied in part from Simon Garratt's tank build. The purpose for adding more tanks was to increase the water volume to increase system stability, to add a refugium to increase live foods and plankton, to add a DSB to help with nitrate removal and to add the all important frag tank. The only way this would all be possible was by building a stacking sump system that is plumbed into the main tank and sump. Six months on and the sump stack has been working perfectly just as I had hoped. The system now holds just shy of 1000 litres.
I'm pretty pleased with the current look and feel of the lighting, but I wouldn't be surprised that I change the make and/or spectrums again next time the bulbs need renewing, as I do like to experiment!
The halides are supplimented with 2 x 4 foot 54 watt actincs powered by an Arcadia twin ballast, using the D&D Giesemann actinic pure tubes.
So the main tank is illuminated with 858 watts of lighting, you can do the maths if you like to see what that works out per square foot/metre, I have no idea, and am not too interested in this figure either which a lot of people seem to get fixated on! I have 2 moonlight LED's powered by a lunar tracker from TheLebos.com, these come on between 11pm and 8am and provide a subtle moonlight shimmer to the tank, not enough light to disturb the sleeping fish but just enough light to things moving in the tank at night.
The lighting schedule is as follows:
10.00 - Actinics and sump light ON.
12.00 - 1st Halide ON
12.30 - 2nd Halide ON
13.00 - 3rd Halide ON
21.00 - 1st Halide OFF
21.30 - 2nd Halide OFF
22.00 - 3rd Halide OFF
23.00 - Moonlight LED's ON
23.00 - Actinics OFF
08.00 - Moonlight LED's OFF
In addition to the tank lighting, the frag tank is lit by a 150 watt Dupla Electra Metal Halide unit with a Marinelux 14K bulb. The Refugium is lit 24/7 by an Interpet twin 54 watt compact T5 unit with one white and 1 actinic tube.And finally, the main sump is lit by a simple low voltage 11watt clip on lamp, this is just for viewing purposes, nothing is growing in the main sump.
This effect means that no corals are subjected to direct flow, which would cause tissue damage long term, yet the whole tank gets good water movement with very few dead spots.
The refugium at the top of the sump stack is fed by a MaxiJet 1200 pump (restricted to about half flow) located in the weir of the main tank and drops back into the main tank via gravity.
The frag tank - the last of the tanks in the sump stack, has a NewJet 2300 pump which feeds to the chiller located in the garage and back to the frag tank again, this provides good flow for the corals in the frag tank and saves electricity on using another pump to supply the chiller.
The display tank has a turnover of approximately 25,000 litres per hour or a turnover of about 38xThe overall system has a water turnover rate of around 33x.
There is around 100kg of liverock in the display tank. 40kg was from my old tank, which was previously obtained from another reefer closing his tank down. This rock was well matured and had numerous corals attached when I obtained it, such as rhodactis, pavona and some sarcophyton. The other 60kg was purchased cured, from STM.
There is a DSB tank within the sump stack, which holds 6 inches deep of two mixtures of agagonite sand. At the end of the DSB tank is a small partition holding a few more kg of liverock, this is effectively a cryptic zone. The DSB tank is completely in the dark for three reasons, firstly as the back of the tank isn't painted you can see straight through the tank from the lounge into the tank room. I didn't want to be able to see the DSB on full view from the lounge, so I cladded the sump stack stand with ply board and painted the same colour as the rest of the tank room. The second benefit of cladding the stand and keeping the DSB in the dark is that it prevents the growth of any algae in this tank. Thirdly, it appears that by keeping the DSB tank unlit, the activities of the usually nocturnal bugs is greatly increased, it is literally teeming with pods! In the end crypic zone are lots of brittle stars, tubeworms and small sponges and tunicates, all adding to the filtration of the water.
The next means of filtration is the refugium on top of the sump stack. Fed by a MaxiJet 1200 pump from the weir of the display tank, the water flows across the refugium tank and back to the main tank under gravity. This prevents any live pods from getting mashed up in a pump as happens with refugiums usually located under the tank and pumped back to the display tank. The refugium is covered with an inch deep layer of crushed coral sand with lots of Caluerpa and Halimeda macro algae growing. I also have a couple of mangroves in there as well. It is lit 24/7 by a 54watt, power compact T5 lamp. Cyano has been flourishing in there lately, but I don't see this as much of a problem as it all adds to the export of nitrates and phosphates.
At the heart of the filtration is a Deltec AP701 Skimmer, fed by gravity from one of the two overflows in the weir of the display tank. This produces a full cup full of skimmate every week. Phosphates are taken care of with a Deltec FR509 Phosphate Reactor located in the main sump area. I hang a bag of activated carbon in the sump for a couple of days each month to help remove any yellowing of the water.
Due to my high stocking levels, nitrates have always been a bit of an issue. Usually running at between 25 and 50ppm. To combat this, I obtained a Korallin Sulphur De-Nitrator Reactor. This has been giving mixed results for the past few months, with nitrates coming out at zero one week and then 10 to 20ppm the next. This is possibly due to the fact I am feeding the reactor from a T off of on of my pumps. I may change this feed to a peri pump soon to see if a more reliable drip rate will be achieved resulting in a more stable environment for the bacteria in the reactor.
I do have a Vecton UV25 Ultraviolet unit plumbed in, but this has been offline for 2 months to observe any negative or positive changes, so far I have noted no changes good or bad so will continue to leave it off for now.
I also have a 300mg/hr Ozone generator, which is connected to a MV Controller, this has not been used for a while, and I only turn it on if the ORP value goes below 300Mv.I have recently started dosing the Fauna Marin UltraBio and UltraBAK in an attempt to reduce nitrates further. It is still early days at the moment so nothing to report as yet.
The first summer that the tank was running I was floating 3 or 4, 2 litre bottles of frozen water in the sump in an effort to bring the temperature down which was hitting 28 Celsius by the evening. This year I purchased a Teco TR20 Chiller and this is now giving me a very stable tank temperature of between 26.9 and 27.2 Celsius accompanied by a big electricity bill no doubt! I also use a couple of clip on fans aimed at the main tank and another at the frag tank.
Two bathroom extractor fans are installed in the wall of the tank room, one bringing in fresh air from outside, the other taking out the humid air, both with ducting fitted and travelling across the garage ceiling behind. All 5 fans run 24/7.I also have a System 2000 temperature alarm module, this monitors the tank temperature and sounds a very loud alarm if the tank temperature drops to 25 Celsius or climbs to 28 Celsius. I haven't heard the alarm yet this year, last summer it would go off every day around 7pm!
I dose Kent Tech-M periodically if Magnesium levels drop below 1350.Corals are fed twice a week with coral vibrance mixed in a cup of tank water and squirted in front of a stream pump just after the main lights have gone out.
A pH controller for my calcium reactor. The chiller has a built in thermostat, I use a separate heater thermostat to control the heaters and I use a back-up temperature alarm module and a battery powered flood detector on the tank room floor.I believe this is enough to run my tank worry free.
The biggest eater in the tank is my Snowflake Moray Eel, which devours 4 frozen prawns every 3 days. He lets me know when he is hungry by coming out of his home - a 40mm tube set underneath the rockwork. I feed him using a pair of tongs as he has some pretty sharp teeth. It is actually quite hard work feeding the Moray, as the tangs seem to love his prawns as well, so I have to entice the other fish to one end of the tank with brine shrimp squirted from a turkey baster then with the other hand lower the prawn down to the Moray's face. They have very poor eyesight!I don't direct feed any of the corals, it is simply a case of mixing some coral vibrance in a cup of tank water and squirting in front of a stream pump, this is done just after the halides have gone out, twice a week.
The front and back glass is cleaned daily with magfloats. Perhaps once a fortnight I will get the razor blade scraper out to remove any stubborn bits of coralline.
I was carrying out 7% weekly water changes religiously for the first 10 months, however I am now trying to stop them altogether as I seem to spend the next week rectifying any imbalances with the salt mix! Also I have noticed that my fresh mixes of salt (Reef Crystals) have contained levels of Phosphates in the last 2 buckets. I have only done one water change in the last 2 months and expect to continue along these lines.
Water tests are carried out weekly using Salifert test kits for calcium, magnesium, alkalinity and nitrates. For testing phosphates I use the D+D high sensitivity phosphate test kit. A refractometer for Salinity, and electronic controllers for pH, temperature and ORP.The skimmer cup is cleaned out at least once a week; phosphate removal media is replaced once a month. Other odd jobs like cleaning the halide lenses, cleaning pump impellors; removing excess macro algae from the refugium are carried out as and when required.
I went through the usual Cyano and Diatom algae outbreaks last year, the Cyano was a bit of a problem for around 4 months, then one day it just disappeared.
My Regal and Powder Brown Tangs had a particularly bad outbreak of white spot last year, I thought I was going to lose them. I added a UV lamp followed by an Ozone generator and within days it cleared up. The Regal still gets a few spots from time to time but they usually disappear after a few days.There is a 4-foot long Eunice worm hiding in the rockwork that comes out at night. He munches on some of my soft corals from time to time, he stripped out all the Zoa's and a small rock covered in spotted Discosoma mushrooms was also stripped bare. All of these have started growing back now. One day I will try and catch the worm, which will be interesting!
I have been far more successful with frags than shop bought colonies. All the frags have held their colour and grown well, where as a few of my shop purchased wild or Maricultured colonies have lost colour, more than likely due to the excess levels of Nitrates in the tank.I would recommend the swapping of frags between reefers, using the local clubs section on Ultimate Reef is a great way of meeting people local to you and swapping. However the only caution I would advise is to ensure either your tank or your fellow reefers tank have not had any problem with things like Acro eating spiders, Zoa spiders, Montipora eating Nudibranches or flat worms before exchanging coral frags. Reefers in the USA are having big problems with many of these bugs and we are starting to see an increase of them in this country, the more swapping that goes on the more likely the problem will grow if tanks are left unchecked for these problems.
|Magnificant Rabbit Fish|
|Powder Brown Surgeon Fish|
|Black & White Percula Clown Fish x 2|
|Pyjama Cardinal Fish|
|Blue Green Chromis x 5|
|Scalefin Anthias x 6|
|Male & Female Mollies in the frag tank|
I'm almost satisfied with it all. I could maybe have had more front to back depth, but then reaching the front bottom of the tank would be a problem as I’m not Peter Crouch!
Fitting the closed loop spray bars has caused some cleaning problems on the glass behind, so I would advise against this method if possible and drill outlets from under the tank where possible.
Other than that, I'm very happy with the way things have gone over the last 15 months, the corals are growing well, the fish are doing well and the nitrates are finally starting to come down. I look forward to the next 12 months of growth and wonder how things will look then.As with everything in this hobby, patience is the key. Make any changes to water parameters slowly, regular testing is a must and most importantly, research the requirements of any new stock purchases and avoid any impulse buys you may later regret.
I would also like to thank everyone on Ultimate Reef that contributes and makes this my second home.
A big thanks to Matt "snowsurfer" for taking some fantastic photos for this article.
And a final thanks to all the members of the WestCountry Reef Club (and their suffering partners) that have exchanged frags, beer, food and reef chats.Steven Musgrove (muzzy)
Please leave your comments and questions on the Tank of the Month thread at UltimateReef.com.