First of all I would like to thank the members of Ultimate Reef forum for nominating my system for TOTM. I have to be honest and say it came as a complete surprise. I did secretly hope to be up here one day as I am sure most of us do, but I certainly didn't expect it as my tank has only been set up 9 months.
Anyway, I started fishkeeping in my early teens which was just under 30 years ago, I am sad to say it was that long ago! I started like a large number of people with a freshwater community tank in my bedroom. This soon gave way to more tanks and I bred a number of cichlid species such as kribs, auratus, convicts and sold the offspring to the LFS. I can remember having 4 tanks in my bedroom at one point. As I was still living at home with my parents it became quite a squeeze.
About 24 years ago I moved on to marines (still living at my parents). At that time under gravel was all the rage, so I setup a reverse flow under gravel tank (5 foot). This fish only tank was covered in cyano from start, I could never get rid of it.
After a couple of years I setup a smaller (4 foot) tank to house corals. Again I used a reverse flow under gravel system. This tank was much more successful. Algae was not a problem, as at a very early stage I introduced caulerpa to tank, not to export nutrients but because it look nice on the rock in the shop. This grew like wild fire all over the tank and needed harvesting weekly to stop it over running the corals. By chance I had introduced nutrient control without realising it. I also managed to keep sea horses in this tank for 3-4 years. But my weekly trip to local fish shop which was situated 35 minutes away became a chore to collect live food for them. This tank came to end when I was on holiday in Australia. One of the hoses became disconnected and the tank half emptied itself killing everything other than a clown fish.
Having moved out of my parents house and into my own house, I decided I would setup my biggest project yet a 6’x2’x2'. This would house a mixture of soft corals and fish. The setup had it’s own sump, which was my own design. It had half a dozen compartments of coral gravel, siporax, sand. It worked well to keep ammonia and nitrites at bay. The tank looked good for about six months and then green hair algae took hold. It covered everything! I kept on performing extra water changes, but it didn't help, the algae got worse. After reading an article in a magazine which discussed phosphates and nitrates in the aquarium and how they are a nutrient for algae. I went out and bought myself a phosphate test kit. Before then all I tested for was NH4, NO2, and NO3 and salinity.
I then tested the mains water for phosphates and found that the levels were very high. This together with the very high levels of nitrates. I was on a losing battle, I was just putting fertiliser into the tank. At that time (the late 80s), the only RO water units available were very expensive and inefficient. I really didn't know what to do, my only choice was to strip it down and start again. But due to the fact I was considering moving again. I gave up!
After a five year break in my new house I set up a fully planted community freshwater tank, this had been very successfully. I became very much engrossed in the technical/chemistry side. Not so much for the fish (they are easy!), but to grow plants. But every since I set this up, I knew in my heart of hearts that I wanted to get back to marines. But memories of the 6' tank with that thick carpet of hair algae put me off.
After six years with this tank, early in 2005 I decided I would replace this with a reef system. For the next six months, I scanned the forums, visiting websites and generally getting myself up to date on what was needed to run a reef system, determined to avoid my previous problems. I couldn't believe the knowledge there was on the internet and how the understanding of keeping reef tanks had transformed from my earlier experiences. I started to understand what I had done wrong in my earlier tanks.
It was during this time I came across the Reef Eden website. I really didn't know who this Simon Garratt was, but the way he explained his setup on his website seemed to make sense to me and gave me confidence to proceed with my new system. So I based my system on his design, I am sure people will see the similarities to his 2003 reef.