Thank you WAMAS! I’ve been a member of our great club since almost the beginning in 2001. I’ve also been actively involved for years now as the WAMAS speaker coordinator. I’m the guy that’s up there introducing all of our speakers at meetings, and handling everything speaker related. I’ve been in the saltwater hobby since I convinced my parents to let me convert one of my aquariums to salt in 1989 when I was eleven years old. Upon getting my working papers as a teenager I began working at a large regional aquarium shop in Northern New Jersey, and in high school had our house filled with aquariums. After getting married in 2001 my wife and I moved to an apartment next to Dulles Town Center, which I quickly filled with aquariums. In 2004 we built a townhouse, where I had a small fish room put in and used my old 180 gallon I purchased by bagging fish in high school as a display on a 500 gallon system. I’ve included some shots of these older systems in this article. Finally, in 2013 we built our “forever home”, which included the forever system you see here that I had been planning in the back of my mind for decades.
This forever system totals 1950 gallons, which includes a 1300 gallon SPS display that measures 8.5’ x 6’ x 42” high. A second aquarium on the system is a mixed reef and carpet anemone display that measures 5’ x 3’ x 25” high. Two six foot frag tanks and a six foot refugium round out the system. The two displays are viewable from the finished basement of our home and set up like a public aquarium, along with a standalone 350 gallon fish-only system. Everything else is in a 700 square foot fish room I had built behind the scenes. This includes a number of fish quarantine tanks, a coral quarantine system, my frag tanks, and a deck I built around my large display for access. The entire fish room floor is covered in epoxy and topped with flakes that glow under actinic light. I designed, plumbed, and aquascaped 100% of this system. It was a Herculean effort to get this system up, and I want to specifically thank Adam Dilks for his help throughout the process on so many of the construction related items. You are the handiest guy I know.
Water movement for the entire system is provided by Ecotech Vectra L1 return pumps and Ecotech Vortech pumps for in-tank circulation. Two Vectra L1 return pumps provide redundancy returning water to the 1300 gallon display, each going through redundant three horsepower heat pumps. A third Vectra L1 provides return flow to the mixed reef, two frag tanks, and refugium. The 1300 gallon SPS display has six Ecotech Vortech MP60s that provide all of the flow I need beyond the return pumps. Three MP60s run at a time, creating a gyre that alternates directions every ten minutes, and draws less than 200 watts of electricity. Innovations like this have kept my electricity bill down and made this system a reality. Years ago a system of this size would have required high wattage AC pumps on closed loops that would have cost a fortune to run. Thanks to Ecotech Marine for putting out great product and great customer service.
For decades now, and still to this day, metal halide has been my preferred lighting for many reasons. I run fourteen metal halides in the house, which include thirteen on this system and one on my 70 gallon coral quarantine tank. The 1300 gallon has six 400 watt 14K Ushio metal halides, supplemented with six 140 watt actinic VHOs and five Ecotech Radion Gen 3 Pro LED fixtures with only the blue, purple, and red channels running. While many people see metal halides in a negative light these days (pun intended), I consider a 400 watt bulb that costs $50, lasts a year, and covers over 200 gallons in my reef with little shadowing a bargain. My mixed reef and frag tanks run on 20K Radium metal halides, with 400 watters on the 25” deep mixed reef and 250 watters on the 13” deep frag tanks. My refugium is lit by ten 18" 6500k 10 x 3W LED strips.
The backbone of my filtration system is a 4' tall and 16" diameter custom Avast Marine cone skimmer with smoked acrylic and neck cleaner powered by two recirculating Waveline DC6000 pumps. The skimmer is gravity fed by two 1” feeds from the overflow of the 1300 gallon display. Six 7” diameter 100 micron filter socks are housed in a custom filter sock holder also made by Avast Marine, mounted inside the main sump where the SPS display, two frag tanks, and refugium all drain into. A seventh filter sock is mounted under the sump where the mixed reef drains. When I look for companies to support in this hobby I look for great product, great customer service, and great people. Saying Avast Marine has all of these is an understatement. I've known Dan Lichens and Justin Casp for years as WAMAS members, long before Avast Marine originated and went big time. I recommend them to everyone, especially WAMAS members, as they are in our backyard. Rounding out the filtration is one thousand pounds of dry Marcorock from Florida I started with, supplemented with some live rock from my existing systems. I also run five cups of Premium 0.8 ROX carbon changed out once a week. I do not use GFO or any phosphate reducing media as my methods predate the use of this. I watched many friends nuke their tank with the overuse of GFO at its inception, including WAMAS friends back in the day!
For additives I dose three cups per day of both part 1 and part 2 of ESV B-ionic. This dosage continues to rise as the system grows in, and supplements my Avast Marine dual chamber calcium reactor that holds about seventy pounds of ARM extra course media. I also dose six gallons per day of fully saturated kalkwasser via an Avast Marine K2 Kalk Stirrer. I do one 200 gallon water change every two weeks, which is about 10% of my system volume. This also works well as I use 200 gallon boxes of Instant Ocean Reef Crystals salt. These days there are many newer salts, and many more expensive salts, but I've been using Instant Ocean salts for decades with no setbacks, and see no reason to change. For water changes I had one hole drilled in the 1300 gallon, and plumbed a standpipe inside the tank hidden behind the black plastic Kydex sheets I use as my false background. With my return pumps off, I open one valve, and exactly 200 gallons of water drains from the system. I close off one valve and open another on my water change vat and 200 gallons of new water is pumped back into the display. A water change on my nearly 2000 gallon system is accomplished with less energy expended than the two gallon water changes I did on my old ten gallon kitchen nano.
As a child I grew up with two major passions in this wonderful hobby: angelfish and SPS corals. At the time in the late 1980s home reef aquariums were still a relatively new concept. The keeping of both SPS and angels in reefs was seldom seen. Through the years I’ve learned many things regarding my two passions, and have even combined the two over the past few decades. I’ve gone on to do presentations titled “Angelfish in Reef Aquaria” and “SPS Success” for MACNA, WAMAS, and many other aquarium clubs and conferences through the years to pass along what I’ve learned. My mix of livestock in this system shows these passions. The 1300 gallon includes almost exclusively SPS corals, along with some Tridacna clams and Magnifica and Gigantea anemones. The 240 gallon mixed reef allows me to keep both soft and LPS corals, free from the picking of some of the larger angels in my 1300. The fish list is too large to list, but includes fish I’ve had for years that have made it from our first apartment to our townhouse to our forever home. These include the Percula clownfish I got in 2001 and had in my kitchen nano to the tomini tang I got in 2004 that arrived huffing and puffing a day late. No region is complete without great local fish stores, and I want to throw a shout out to John Bianchi of Blue Ribbon Aquatics (aka BRK in Catharpin (near Manassas), VA). Like myself John’s a paisan from North Jersey and since meeting him many years ago we’ve been close friends. John can basically get you any livestock you’re looking for and has been a big supporter of WAMAS for years.
I feed my systems twice a day exclusively frozen food, in addition to nori sheets for the herbivores. I feed mainly Hikari mysis shrimp and both of Rogger’s Reef Food Blends. I’ve known Rogger Castells for many years when he was just a hard core hobbyist and professional chef. Rogger basically has always made food the way I would if I had the time and resources. Are you sensing a theme? Great person… great support… great product!
One of my recent challenges arose when my true Tridacna gigas clam that had grown to over two feet in length and between 60 and 70 pounds began spawning. Earlier this year I brought in James Fatherree, author of "Giant Clams in the Sea and the Aquarium", to speak here at WAMAS. After he mentioned that this clam was the largest he'd ever seen in a house, I spoke to him about when it might begin spawning. It wasn't long after when I awoke to a tank I couldn’t see two feet inside of due to the amount of sperm this clam had put out. I’ve included a photo of this as you must see it to believe it. It was the morning before we were leaving on a nearly two week Spring Break vacation to the Southwest. My clam had turned nearly 2000 gallons of water into milk, and initiated the spawning of other clams in my system. I’d never seen my fish more fat as they gorged themselves on eggs. I cranked up the skimmer and began changing filter socks and within 24 hours it was cleared up. Had I not been home this could have been an issue, and would only have become more of a problem with future spawns as the clam grew. With that in mind I decided to donate the clam to the 20,000 gallon reef of friend Joe Yaiullo at The Long Island Aquarium. Joe was one of my many public aquarium friends that helped me design this system. Another recent challenge has been a lower pH as I've continually had to crank up the CO2 I add to my calcium reactor as corals have grown in. I decided to start dosing kalkwasser, which I had not done in years, to raise the pH and ease the burden on the calcium reactor. For a dosing system I entrusted Avast Marine, and I have a fixed amount of six gallons of saturated kalkwasser going into to the system each day, hooked up to my Apex controller as a backstop.
Fortunately, most of my days of planning are in the past. I planned this system for decades in my head, and for a couple of years on paper before having our house built. Planning a home system so large and complex, at a time when our future home site was dirt, was an achievement. I worked with our builder on many modifications, from the addition of a subpanel with seventeen dedicated 20 Amp circuits just for the fish room, to many structural changes in the house. Concerns over humidity were mitigated by installing a dedicated 1.5 ton minisplit AC, 105 pint per day dehumidifier, and variable speed exhaust fan. I also had to plan the move of my old five hundred gallon system loaded with SPS and fish I’d had for years. This necessitated an overlap of months owning both houses. Most importantly of course, I had to get this all by the wife!
My evolution in the hobby has grown alongside WAMAS. I went from being a newlywed 24 year old with a 10 gallon nano, to an almost 40 year old father now with 2500 gallons of madness in our forever home. WAMAS has gone from a small nearly unknown marine club of a few dozen members to perhaps the largest in the nation with over 750! I've given presentations to reef clubs around the nation in twenty three states, and WAMAS is at the top of the list in every category. Thank you to the people that make WAMAS what it is today. Thanks to my many WAMAS friends. Craig Kuhn, our previous President and one of the great people that made WAMAS what it is, welcomed me into the club and into his home way back in 2001. Fast forward to the present and Tom Land has the club in excellent hands. Reef clubs are only as great as the people running them. I also want to thank my parents who always supported my passion. My mother drove me around seemingly endlessly to local fish shops as a child. My father, an Air Force pilot who flew over 200 combat missions in Vietnam, lost his father in World War II when he was just two years old. He raised me with "attention to detail" as his mantra, which has benefitted me tremendously both in life and in my aquariums. If I could give only three words of advice for reef hobbyists, it would be those. My father is also who takes care of my systems when I’m on travel, in addition to my eleven year old son Nick. Thanks Pop. My son Nick now voluntarily accompanies me to all WAMAS meetings and has earned the rank of junior aquarist after catching the reefing bug hard just a couple of years ago. Lastly, thanks to my wonderful wife Virginia. You could be the most skilled reefer in the world, yet without a supportive partner you’d get nowhere.
- Main display: 1300 gal fiberglass reinforced plastic tank by Fiberglass Specialties Inc. (8.5’ x 6’ x 42”)
- Sump: Two 150 gal polyethylene sumps (65” x 29” x 20”)
- Skimmer: Avast Marine custom build
- Lighting: Six 400W 14K Ushio MH, six 140W actinic VHOs, five Radion Gen3 Pro supplements
- Return Pump: Two Vectra L1
- Circulation: Six Vortech MP60
- Reactors: Avast two-chamber CaRx, Avast K2 kalk
- Multicolor x rusty angel hybrid
- Flame x rusty angel hybrid pair
- Shepard’s pygmy angel pair
- Resplendens x cherub angel hybrid
- Regal angel x 2
- White bonnet clownfish pair (wild)
- Timor wrasse pair
- Neopercularis hogfish
- Quoyi parrotfish
- Zebrasoma genus tang mix- gem, purple, yellow, black, black/scopas hybrid
- Purple monster acropora
- Oregon tort acropora
- King tut acropora
- 24k milli acropora
- Turquoise hoek acropora
- Pink lemonade acropora
- Hulk milli acropora
- 20k lokani acropora
- Blueberry miyagi acropora
- Red planet acropora
- Gigantea carpet anemone x 5
- Magnifica anemone x 3
- Bubble tip anemone x a lot
- Blue tuxedo urchins
- Red tuxedo urchins
- Short spine urchins
- Tiger tail cucumbers
- Mexican turbo snails
- Astraea snails
- Coral banded shrimp pair I collected myself