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WAMAS Tank of the Month


Tank Of The Month

February 2007

John Coppolino (JohnC)

John, congratulations on being selected TOTM, now you have some questions to answer:

Thank you! It's an honor. I've seen WAMAS grow so much since I first joined years ago and my thanks go out to those who've grown it to be one of the best clubs in the nation.

About the Tank

Tank Specs
180 Gallon (Main)
125 Gallon (Frag)
40 Gallon Refugium
90 Gallon Sump
Euro-Reef (RC-500) Skimmer
2 GenX MAK4 Return
2 Tunze 6100s
Sequence Hammerhead
3 400 watt XM 10ks
5 160 watt VHO Actinics
Reef Creations CR-2

First why don't you give us a run down on your tank setup and equipment.

Standard 180-gallon display tank, 125 gallon 6' x 2' x 17" frag tank, 40-gallon refugium, and 90-gallon sump. The skimmer is a Euroreef RC500. Circulation is provided by two GenX MAK4 returns (one to the frag tank and the other to the display), two Tunze 6100s with controller and a closed loop with a Sequence Hammerhead on the display. The frag tank also has a closed loop with a third MAK4. Lighting is provided by three 400 watt XM 10ks supplemented by five 160 watt VHO actinics on the display, with two 250 watt 20k radiums on the frag tank. All halides are in Lumenarc 3 reflectors and run on Ice Cap ballasts. Calcium reactor is a My Reef Creations CR-2 Dual model with ARM media. Nielsen reactor is a homemade model used with my top off water. Those are the basics… any more questions just ask in the thread.

How about a fish list?

In the 180 display I have…

  • 3 Regal Angelfish (Pygoplites Diacanthus)- together now for going on two years.
  • 2 Tongan Bimaculatus Anthias (Pseudanthias Bimaculatus)
  • 4 Lyretail Anthias (Pseudanthias Squamipinnis)
  • 3 Green Chromis (Chromis Viridis)
  • 2 Pyramid Butterflies (Hemitaurichthys Polylepis)- yes, they're reef safe!
  • 1 Hippo Tang (Paracanthurus Hepatus)- grown from a squirt… these tangs grow very fast
  • 1 Black Tang (Zebrasoma Rostratum)- love this guy… jet black with a white surgeon!
  • 1 Tomini Tang (Ctenochaetus Tominiensis)- had him for years when tomini's were nearly unknown
  • 1 Powder Blue/Goldrim hybrid (Acanthurus Leucosternon/ Acanthurus Nigricans)
  • 1 Purple Tang (Zebrasoma Xanthurum)- grown from a squirt
  • 1 Sixline Wrasse (Pseudocheilinus Hexataenia)- the largest sixline in North America!

    In my frag tank I have…
  • 1 Jewel Tang (Acanthurus Guttatus)- a rare fish, but not to be confused with a gem tang! Algae grazer for the frag tank
  • 1 Normal Scopas Tang (Zebrasoma Scopas)- grown from practically larval stage. Also an algae grazer
  • 2 Kenyan Chrysurus Angels (Pomacanthus Chrysurus)- I removed these from my display and they are awaiting a new large fish only I'm setting up.
  • 1 Hawaiian Bandit Angelfish (Apolemichthys Arcuatus)- A very rare Hawaiian endemic. I've had him for 10 months and I'm still conditioning him to go into the display.
  • 1 Bright Yellow Variant Scopas Tang (Zebrasoma Scopas)- I got him about six months ago to replace my yellow tang that carpet surfed (yes, even tang could jump) from the 180. A very rare fish and this is the brightest I've seen. He'll be in the display very soon.
  • 1 Lemonpeel / Coral Beauty pair (Centropyge Flavissimus/ Centropyge Bispinosus)- The lemonpeel is one of just about a dozen ever captively bred from my friend Frank Baensch of rcthawaii.com. These were received along with some other very rare angelfish he's spawned that I have in other systems. These are also awaiting the fish only system.
  • 1 Multibarred Angelfish (Centropyge Multifasciatus)- A traditionally tough-to-keep dwark angel I've had for almost two years. He's also awaiting the fish only system where I'll probably get him a nice Sheila to pair up with!

    How did you get into the hobby?

    Fish (Main)
    3 Regal Angelfish
    2 Tongan Bimaculatus Anthias
    4 Lyretail Anthias
    3 Green Chromis
    2 Pyramid Butterflies
    1 Hippo Tang
    1 Black Tang
    1 Tomini Tang
    1 Powder Blue/Goldrim hybrid
    1 Purple Tang
    1 Sixline Wrasse

    While I was born in Brooklyn, NY, I grew up on a lake in Northern New Jersey and our house was situated on an island with about 20 or so others. My life was always centered around the water, water skiing and fishing in the summer and playing ice hockey in the winter. I started freshwater very young, and by middle school I convinced my parents to get me into saltwater. The seed was planted and by high school I was working at one of the largest aquariums in New Jersey and grew an arsenal of saltwater tanks, including the 180 featured here. Now I'm 29, married with a baby and my innate passion for this hobby continues to grow with more gallons than I've ever owned!

    Who in the hobby most influences you?

    On the reef side guys like Steve Weast (website oregonreef.com). We've always seen eye to eye with our philosophies in the hobby and I respect him very much for his ability to maintain a gorgeous reef long term. This hobby has two major aspects really; one is the technical side and the other is the often-overlooked artsy side, with Mother Nature as our Picasso! Some people have one of these aspects and even fewer have both. Some are able to keep healthy corals but not create a nice display, while others are able to create a nice display but unable to keep the corals healthy long term. It's a tough thing to be both left brained and right brained at the same time. On top of this you need to be a plumber, electrician, chemist, farmer, and zookeeper! Another person who has influenced me greatly is local reef legend Robie Sayan, who's been a good friend through the years. He's been out of the hobby for a while, but is looking to enter back in!

    What is your testing routine and maintenance schedule like?

    Alkalinity is really the only thing I test on a regular basis. I try and keep it between 8 and 10dkh and the calcium wherever it falls into place at… usually around 360-380. A lot of people freak out about lower calcium levels, but through the years I've realized alkalinity is much more important. I tweak my system here and there with two part additives whenever necessary, and always add an equal amount of both, without bothering to test my calcium. The alkalinity test is much faster anyway and I know where my calcium will be at just by testing my alkalinity. Alkalinity on the other hand is VERY important, and is one of the few things that could wipe out an sps tank in just days if allowed to drop much below 7 dkh. Years ago sps reefers were running very high alkalinity levels up to 16 dkh thinking that more was better, but the more time has gone on the more we try and mimic good old Mother Nature!

    I do a 50-gallon water change each week religiously. Water changes are the most cost effective beneficial things we could do on our systems, and a near necessity for such a highly stocked sps display. One of the biggest challenges is maintaining excellent color on my sps in such a highly stocked system, but I enjoy it. Some people are more “coral people" and others are “fish people", but I'm about as close to both s you could get. What's a reef tank without fish? I love the fact that we're now able to keep a beautiful fish display in our coral reefs, unlike years ago when we just could not handle the bioload.

    Fish (Frag)
    1 Jewel Tang
    1 Normal Scopas Tang
    2 Kenyan Chrysurus Angels
    1 Hawaiian Bandit Angelfish
    1 Bright Yellow Variant Scopas Tang
    1 Lemonpeel / Coral Beauty pair
    1 Multibarred Angelfish

    Really!! At 360ppm Calcium you seem to get great SPS growth?

    (Big Smile)

    Hey, so does the ocean! :D

    Is that a soft coral I see?

    Ha, well there is one. That's a litophyton that has survived on that rock for over two years since I added that rock from my soft coral display. I pop him off and he grows back. Some things you just cannot kill. So maybe it's a 99% sps tank! :D

    I don't see much in the way of snails or clean up crew in the tank?

    All the Tangs do a pretty good job taking care of any algae. The tank is bare bottom philosophy with an aesthetic crushed coral bed. I skim wet, and if my skimmate gets so thick and smells worse than the average diaper I crank my skimmer up and skim more out. I fill the collection cup every day to every other day, and the skimmer cup holds a couple of gallons and is one foot in diameter. I keep a few astrea snails, but in my opinion clean up crews many times are used to try and be band-aids for problems where an actual cure could be found with proper system planning and maintenance. Still though, it's good to have some snails to graze the rocks if you don't have much in the way of herbivorous fishes. I'm also able to avoid having to add nori and all of the tangs stay fat and happy.

    I skim wet too, it's nice to see a tank like this and be able to relate to some of the principles even though people have disagreed with some of it in the past.

    Regardless of your experience in the hobby, if you can base what you are doing from your personal experience rather that just reading it somewhere, it is valid. If you can see something work and understand it, it's valid observation. I remember when I was using power compact lighting over my 10gallon nano and getting great SPS growth and people were shooting me down. The lights were right on the water and the coral not far from the light source. The corals do not care where their light is coming from, so as long as they are receiving enough PAR they are happy.

    What makes your setup special or unique?

    For years growing up in the hobby I always looked at some of the most beautiful reefs in the world and began noticing trends; their beauty was in their simplicity. On trips to some local fish stores in the past I've seen people entering the hobby being sold bottles of this and that… “Bob's best reef additive" and the like. I've followed the basic principles of where technology is today on high-end sps systems, which include excellent protein skimming, lighting, water movement, and detritus removal. Water quality is so often overlooked in the hobby and goes well beyond what our test kits tell us. Lighting, while important, is often concentrated on too much I believe because it's so easily quantifiable, unlike water quality, which is often a mystery. Many people entering the hobby see apparently complex devices like calcium reactors and are intimidated, when in reality these devices ultimately make running a tank like this easier. There's an old reef saying… if you cannot test for it, don't add it!

    What are your future plans for improvement/upgrade of the tank?

    The first thing I'll be concentrating on is a large fish only system that I'm planning. The 180-gallon will eventually be swapped for a large display in the 600-gallon range, and when our house was built I planned ahead by having five dedicated 20 amp circuits wired into the room. Next month I'll be adding a chiller to this system though, as I'm adding a very special fish to the system that I received from Frank Baensch that I mentioned earlier from rcthawaii.com. This fish is currently in one of my other systems and is a very rare Japanese pygmy angel (Centropyge interruptus). Frank has been the only person to ever successfully spawn these in captivity and first did so back 2002. The wild male from that original pair and the father of all captive bred Japanese pygmies will end up in the 180, and can only tolerate temperatures of up to about 78 long term. The design of my system originally was to run without a chiller, as I run my frag tank lights overnight so one large tank is always cooling the other, but with the chiller I'll be able to evaporate much less water and quiet my fish room by not using so many fans.

    What are your other hobbies?

    Scuba and hockey.

    Scuba was a natural hobby for me to pick up. Every year I go to Hawaii and Guam with work and we dive when we are there. Every Hawaii trip I bring the wife along, and we've hit most of the main islands with only Lanai and Molokai left that we'll visit later this year. In October we visited Kauai and from there I was able to dive Niihau, the furthest NW island of the main Hawaiian Islands. This island is inhabited by about 200 native Hawaiians and is off limits to visitors, but you could dive it! J Due to the slightly cooler water you see many fish you wouldn't otherwise see at standard diving depths, including the endemic bandit angelfish that I have in my system. I was also able to dive with the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Guam is amazing also and offers the biodiversity of the South Pacific you just don't see anywhere closer, including tridacnid clams, clowns and anemones, unbelievable stony coral growth, and more species of angelfish on one tiny island than the entire Atlantic Ocean and Eastern Pacific combined! My thanks go out to Uncle Sam for sending me there!

    My life growing up was centered around fish and hockey. I played from age 4 and played Tier 1 from age 6 in upstate New York over the border from our house in New Jersey. I went on to play for the Washington Junior Capitals in the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League (now known as the Washington Junior Nationals), and was captain my last two years with the team. I now play in a glorified beer league of washed up players in the Ashburn Ice House A league. J

    What kind of music are you into right now?

    My music interests have pretty much remained the same since college… maybe that's part of growing older? J I listened to many things growing up, but my favorite was always the Beastie Boys. In college I lived and studied in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, and lived there for a while after college (and met my wife!), so I've grown to love certain Latin music. It's funny though how “Latin" is a genre when there are so many different types. It's like if there was an “English language" genre to encompass all music in our language. J I listen to many different types though, including some classic rock and 80s (Did I just say 80s? :D) My favorite though is the silent hum of a Sequence pump! One thing I'm not into is country, and if I had the choice between that and adding some uncured live rock to my system I'd have some serious thinking to do!

    Who would you most like to meet past present or future?

    In the past I would love to go back and meet with Frederick Potter and Spencer Tinker, the first two directors of the Waikiki Aquarium in the early part of last century. One hundred years ago the greatest captive collection of fishes belonged to this aquarium, and each time I visit Hawaii I make it a point to meet with Charles Delbeek. My thanks go out again to all who attended the recent auction WAMAS held where we were able to raise nearly $2000 for the new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands exhibit! WAMAS will therefore be recognized on the wall next to the exhibit! Go WAMAS!

    "The fourth director of the Waikiki Aquarium, Bruce Carlson, I've had the pleasure of meeting several times and even had him over my house a couple of years ago. Dr. Carlson is now at the Georgia Aquarium, the world's largest aquarium. All of these guys have had a tremendous influence on the hobby and have been pioneers in many aspects."

    At present I'd really like to meet up with Dr. Rich Pyle, and am going to try and do that later this year as he lives in Hawaii. Rich is a world renowned diver and zoologist and ventures into the “Twilight Zone" using his closed circuit rebreather. He's discovered and collected many very rare fish that have entered the trade, including the legendary peppermint angel (Centropyge boylei). He'd be a great guy to have a beer with!

    In the future it would have to be myself, so that I could ask when and where any tank disasters occurred!

    If you could go one place on earth where would it be?

    While I'd eventually love to go to Australia and dive the Great Barrier Reef, what I'd love even more is to be able to dive some of the scattered islands throughout the world that contain endemic species seen nowhere else in the world. Some of these isolated locales with no commercial travel to them are places like Johnston Island in the Central Pacific (home of Centropyge nahackyi), Clipperton Island in the Eastern Pacific (home of Holacanthus limbaughi), and Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (home of Centropyge resplendens, which I have the pleasure of owning! J). Ascension Island actually allows civilian travel with the British military, but I'd convince my wife to go to the moon before going there for a vacation! :D

    Why did you choose the screen name you did?

    There's something about being Italian and being called by your last name. Copps was my nickname in college and so it was a natural screen name J

    Football or basketball?


    Scotch or bourbon?

    Corona! I was in a frat in college where drinking was a hobby, but now the only time I have a beer or two seems to be when people stop by to see my tank, or I'm seeing someone else's. Corona's advertising really worked on me, and so every time I sip one I feel like I'm on a beach somewhere, and the tank helps set the mood!

    Thanks a lot for letting us talk to you today, is there anything else you would like to add?

    Myself, Doug (dbartco), and Rebecca (Bemmer) are having a tank tour Saturday March 24th. Check out the forums for details, it should be fun!

     I know I'll be back for that.

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