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WAMAS Tank of the Month

I got myself into the hobby during my law school years up in Lansing, Michigan, when I set up a 29 gallon fresh water tank in my apartment. One of the local shops in Lansing that I purchased fish from had a saltwater section. Every time I would go to that store I would spend 30 or more minutes looking at all the fish and corals. I always said some day when I have a job, I'll get into keeping saltwater fish. After getting established in a home in the Reston area in the summer of 2000, I went to the Marine Scene to check things out and learn more about keeping a saltwater tank. I met the owner, Tom White, and he gave me some great advice, took the time to answer my questions, and rather than sell me a tank or livestock that day, he sent me home with John Tullock's book "Natural Reef Aquariums: Simplified Approaches to Creating Living Saltwater Microcosms.Ē Since I was new to saltwater, Tom advised that I do some research and learn more about the hobby. Tullockís book provided some nice detailed overview of the different styles of tank setups.

The tank is a 215 gallon Oceanic reef ready tank with a starphire glass front. The overflows flow through the wall to a sump in the back room. I also have a 70 gallon rubbermaid stock tank hooked into the system which serves as a frag tank and refugium.

A Sequence Dart pump on closed loop provides in-tank flow through an Oceans Motions 4-way flow device; and I have two Vortec MP-40s. In addition, the sump returns through two 3/4 inch Sea-swirls, providing additional flow.

The display tank has three 400 watt 25k Radium bulbs on Blueline electronic ballasts, supplemented by two 160 watt VHO actinics run on IceCap ballasts. The stock tank has a 150 watt 14k Ushio bulb. Over the last five years I have attended a number of MACNA conferences and have looked at the LED lights, but Iím still not sold on them. In addition to the high setup costs, I have read too many posts on the reef forums where the LED fixture has malfunctioned after only a year or two. With the metal halide equipment, itís still a plug-n-play type system and ever 9-12 months I can swap out the bulb and be good to go and the ballasts I have are still working after 12 years of service. I also have some blue LED lights for a dawn to dusk effect.

The tank is filtered by a Deltec AP 702 protein skimmer and a 57 watt Aqua UV light. For calcium addition, I have a Geo calcium reactor and a Deltec Kalk stirrer KM 500 for the Nielsen reactor.

I use a Geo calcium reactor and also dose calcium hydroxide via a Deltec KM 500 Kalk stirrer and a Litermeter III to control the flow rate. If a parameter tests low I will also use two-part B-Ionic to try to bring the levels up as needed.

The tank is predominately an sps mixed reef tank with lots of fish because Iím a fish guy at heart and the fish I keep generally donít pick on the sps corals that much. I would have to say that the amount of fish I have in my tank make it unique. 38 fish in a 215 gallon system is probably pushing the limits, but good tank maintenance practices and quality life support equipment help me balance the nutrient load. The Imperator is my favorite because they can vibrate their rib-bone on the airbladder and make a ďgruntingĒ noise. You can learn more about this and other angels in Marine Angelfishes by Joachim Frische (TFH Publications - January 1999). Iím also a wrasse lover Ė fairy and flasher wrasse. My favorite coral is the Oregon Tort Ė I love the solid blue color.

I feed nori sheets, flake food, pellet food, and various frozen foods. Regarding the frozen foods, I feed my fish a variety of Hikari and San Francisco Bay brands: mysis, spirulina enhanced brine shrimp, krill, and plankton. For the pellet food, I use the Apex controlled feeder and program it to feed when Iím not home. I also dose phytoplankton a few times a week.

I still try to do a 32 gallon water change every 7-10 days. I have not really changed my method over the years. I use a Mag 24 pump to pump out most of water in the sump. Then I use a python syphon hose to suck out the detritus from the sump. After that I pump in new saltwater from a rubbermaind trash can and turn pumps back on. I probably spend 1-2 hours a week playing around with the tank. I try to spend 10 minutes or more a day checking on the tank and making sure all the pumps and equipment are functioning properly, and visually look at the corals and fish to see if there are any signs of stress. I also have a Neptune Apex controller connected to the system which controls lights, chiller, pumps and numerous other devices in addition to its ability to chart PH, ORP and Temp. It also has a built-in web server that lets you remotely check on tank water parameters and control the equipment.

Iím looking to upgrade my sump in the near future. Iím currently using an old commercial brand sump that just isnít designed that well nor was it a quality build. My upgrade plans for the sump include an increase in capacity, I want to make it about 45 gallons or more, and also add in an ability to run filter socks when needed. If I were to do anything different, I would probably jump on the newer trend of creating pillar structures with the rockwork by using a concrete paver, fiberglass rod, and some mortar-mix. Sanjay Joshi up at Penn State wrote up a good description of the process in his 500 gallon build thread on Reef Central. In addition, I wish I would have went with a 2-3 inch deep sand bed instead of the 4-6 inches that I currently have.

My advice is to pay attention to the details and donít put off the tank maintenance. I learned this the hard way in spring of 2012 when I slacked on doing water changes for over a month, didnít do my weekly salinity check of the tank water, and didnít notice that I ran out of CO2 for the calcium reactor. Add up all those stressors and I suffered a tank crash. I have my system set up so that the waste water from the skimmer flows down a utility sink drain and I also have an auto top-off system that pumps in RO/DI water. My guess is that my skimmer must of went crazy and sent lots of saltwater down the drain and the top-off kept the water level normal so on my quick inspection at feeding things were looking normal. I ended up losing several of my fish and lots of corals due to drops in salinity, calcium, and alkalinity.

  • Salinity: 1.026
  • Temperature: 75-77°F
  • pH: 7.95-8.20
  • Alkalinity: 10-12 dkH

  • Pomacanthus imperator
  • Pomacanthus xanthometopon
  • Pygoplites diacanthus
  • Holacanthus ciliaris
  • Apolemichthys xanthopunctatus
  • Centropyge loricula -3
  • Centropyge multicolor
  • Pseudanthias bartlettorum -6
  • Cirrhilabrus rubrisquamis
  • Cirrhilabrus jordani
  • Cirrhilabrus condei
  • Paracheilinus octotaenia
  • Pseudochromis fridmani
  • Pseudochromis flavivertex
  • Gramma loreto
  • Zanclus canescens
  • Zebrasoma xanthurum
  • Zebrasoma flavescens -3
  • Acanthurus leucosternon
  • Paracanthurus hepatus
  • Pterapogon kauderni -3
  • Amphiprion percula -2
  • Synchiropus picturatus -2
  • Chrysiptera cyanea
  • Macropharyngodon geoffroyi
  • Cirripectes castaneus