My New Tank: By Mike Paletta

As I wrote in my last article for ReefBuilders last December, I am planning on setting up one last tank for myself. Over the years I have set up a...
  1. My New Tank: By Mike Paletta

    As I wrote in my last article for ReefBuilders last December, I am planning on setting up one last tank for myself. Over the years I have set up a fair number of tanks for myself as well as assisted on over 100 more for others. As a result, I am confident that with this new tank I can achieve the many goals I want, which is more than just growing healthy colorful corals. First, unlike all of my current tanks, this tank will not be an experiment, in that for the most part tried and true methodologies and equipment will be used on it. I know it will be tough not to tinker with it, but that is my first goal. Second, I am hoping to make it more energy efficient than the current system, currently there are 37 different things plugged in to manage this tank and the attached frag and nano tanks. In my new design I hope to get this down to a more manageable 24 things. Third, and most importantly, it will be designed so that doing everything on it will be easier. This is important because as I have gotten older, I realize how strong the truism about the easier things are the more likely they are to be done is about this hobby and the many maintenance tasks we need to do regularly. Also I am tired straining my back by having to be a contortionist any time some kind of maintenance needs to be done under the tank. And lastly, as I get old I want to still be able to enjoy the hobby and if I can’t do the things necessary to keep a tank running easily I would be forced to get out of the hobby, which is something I do not want to have forced upon me.

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    A picture of the favorite tank I have set up for myself. I was stupid for taking it down.

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    The tank I took it down for. A 1200-gallon tank that I built myself.

    So considering this, the first question may be then why do you want to go through all the work and hassle of moving your tank from a 300-gallon one to a bigger 500-gallon tank. Fifteen years ago I moved from a 500-gallon tank to a 1200-gallon tank, with mixed results, so why would I go through all of that again to go from a 300 to a 500. There are actually several resons. First, the best tank I have ever had was the 500-gallon tank that preceded the 1200. It was literally packed top to bottom with thriving colorful healthy colonies and did not require a whole lot of work. Truth be told if I could do it all over again I never would have taken it down for the crazy big 1200-gallon tank, but back then I always thought more and bigger were better. So having gone through that why go through it again. The other reason is that when the 300 was set up it was not well-planned in that it was for the most part set up so that I could save the corals that were failing in the 1200, which was in a house in which I was no longer living. So now I hope to have a much more well thought out tank instead. And while this tank is doing well I am also becoming more aware each day that down the road maintenance on this tank will become more and more difficult as both I and the tank become older.

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    A top down shot showing why the new tank will allow for this type of access and ease for taking pictures. Also note the Euro bracing around the top of the tank.

    So what is going to be done on this tank or used that will make it be better designed, more energy efficient and easier to maintain? First the tank itself will be different. After talking with several custom manufacturers, I am having Exotic Aquariums out of Florida build and deliver my tank. I chose them not only based on price, which they were quite reasonable on, but also because they were willing to build the tank according to my design and what I needed it to do, i.e, it has an external overflow on one of the short sides so there will be no overflows within the tank as well as none of the tank will be drilled. It is also going to be double Euro-braced to add strength to the build. I did this on the 1200-gallon tank I built myself and it is still in service now some sixteen years after the build and after having been moved to Chicago five years ago. This bracing also provides one other benefit that I did not realize until I set up a rimless tank. The upper bracing keeps water from splashing over the sides, which results in the outside glass needing to be cleaned more frequently. This may seem trivial, but as I said I want everything about this tank to make my life easier and so little things like this will do just that. The other reason why I chose them is that they also built Jason Fox’s 700-gallon tank as well as the large display tank at WorldWide Corals. Since I have been able to see these tanks and the workmanship that went into them in person as well as trusting the due diligence that Jason, Lou and Vic did, I am confident that I made the right decision.


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    A diagram of the new tank showing the new layout for the overflow.

    The tank itself will be seven feet wide by four feet front to back and thirty inches tall, and it will be located where I am currently keeping my frag and nano tanks. As I noted, it will have an external overflow on one of the short sides and it will be double euro-braced all around the inside perimeter of the tank at both the top and the bottom. The tank will rest on a powder coated steel I-beam stand, with the stand only being twenty-five inches tall. Plywood and Styrofoam will of course be between the tank and the stand. As a result, the top of the tank when resting on the stand will only be approximately 56 inches tall, so it will be relatively easy to work on the tank from above as well as view the corals and take pictures from above as well. This will be possible as unlike my current 300 there will not be a canopy above the tank. I am not using a canopy as from my experience when a canopy is in place on a big tank it makes it more difficult than I would like to work on or in the tank. So for these reasons the tank will be lower than one would normally do and there will not be any obstructions above it so any activities like viewing and picture taking will be much easier. It should also be noted that the other reason a shorter than normal stand will be utilized is that unlike all of my current tanks, no equipment, sumps or anything else will be housed beneath the tank. As a result, there is no need for a taller stand as the sump and all other related equipment will be away from the main tank itself.

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    Water from the overflow will move down two 2-inch pipes as in this overflow.

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    Careful planning is necessary to make sure simple things, like getting the new tank in through the door, are possible.

    Speaking of the sump, it will rest in the same room as the new 500 will be in, in the space currently occupied by the 300. Yes, it will be crazy switching and moving everything around, but it is the only way I can do this. I am planning on it being a 180- gallon glass tank that will be modified with baffles, but no holes will be drilled in it. I am tired of leaks, cracks and other problems that always seem to arise in my drilled tanks over time. It will be 72 inches long by 24 inches wide so it will have a smaller footprint than the current 300 so there will be some space around it. Space will also be saved because the frag tank will rest above have of this sump. A 36” by 24” by 12” tall custom built tank will rest on the sump and house the frag collection. The sump will rest on cinder blocks so that it will not simply be resting on the floor. This is being done so that when water changes are done the bottom of the sump can simply be siphoned off and since it will be above ground level gravity will be all that’s needed.

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    A large Dastaco reactor will help to maintain a steady alkalinity level.

    As mentioned above, the overflow will be external on the short side of the tank. From this overflow, the water will move via two 2-inch pipes so that the water will flow across the frags in the sump. This will reduce the need for 2 pumps that are currently being used in the frag tank now. The water from the frag tank will then flow down and into the sump itself. Here it will flow through submerged bioballs and then through a series of baffles to allow sediment and detritus to settle out so that it can be easily removed during a water change. In the last chamber the water will be pumped back to the main tank over the top, because as I mentioned the main tank will not be drilled. Water from the main pump will be split off so that it will not only feed the main tank, but it will feed the media reactors, carbon and GFO, and chaeto, and also something new, two external reactors holding Miracle Mud will be used. While a bit of an experiment per se in that the mud will be external reactors rather than on the boom of the sump, Miracle Mud has now been used in my tanks since 1996, so I am quite happy with its results, but the reactors will be used to reduce space and to make it easier to change.

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    A photo of the author's tank which obviously is in need of more space.

    In terms of equipment, as I said, I am going to primarily use equipment from manufacturers that I am currently using that has proven to work for me. So for lighting there will be 8 Radion Pro G4 lights suspended with their lights bars across the tank along with a couple of 6-foot Reef Brite strips. This combination is what I am using on all of my tanks and is providing both good growth and coloration in all of my corals and anemones. I will be using a modified version of the optimal color template that Ecotech provides for these lights and the lights will be on for approximately 10 hours per day. I have reduced the lighting cycle by two hours over the last two years and have not found any negative results due to this change, so this will help to save some energy.

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    Space eating corals like this Montipora cap will not be added to the new tank.

    Just as these lights have worked well, so too has the Vertex skimmer I have been using since the tank started. However, since this tank, sump and related tanks will have almost twice the volume of the old set of tanks obviously a bigger skimmer will be needed. So I have gotten a new vertex skimmer that will handle this water volume. And in an effort to make the skimmer be more efficient it will employ a next cleaner that will scrub the neck of the skimmer regularly. By having this done frequently my hope is that it will not only make the skimmer be more efficient, but it will also negate the need to do the unenviable task of breaking down the skimmer and cleaning it. I am also currently experimenting with running my skimmer 12 hours per day instead of 24. After several months of doing this I have not seen any negative effects of doing so, so I may employ this methodology on the new tank as well to further reduce energy consumption.

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    Radion lights will run from front to back using this method of suspension above the tank.

    Since the return pump will not be employed to generate much water motion in the new tank, pumps will be employed to generate flow with the goal of generating 40 times the tank’s volume plus. However, I intend to deploy the pumps in a somewhat unique manner to generate flow. On the bottom of the tank below the overflow three Tunze Stream pumps will be utilized to move water across the bottom of the tank and away from the overflow. Conversely 3 Ecotech Vortech 60 pumps will be located on the upper edge of the tank directly across from overflow. My hope is that by deploying the pumps in this manner a gyre will be created within the tank that will not only keep detritus in motion but that the flow will be strong enough that it will be drawn out and over the overflow and out of the tank and into the sump. But, it has been my experience that even with strong flow within a tank, detritus will come to rest in “dead spots” within the tank, and with a tank this large dead spots are sure to develop. So to reduce these dead spots 4 large Tunze powerheads will be placed in each of the four corners and come on randomly during the daytime to reduce the likelihood of these dead spots from forming and to further aid in getting detritus out of the tank. It I my belief that as long as the current is not so strong that it rips tissue off of the skeletons this movement will help in getting my corals to grow faster.

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    Large Tunze powerheads will be located in each upper corner of the tank.

    To aid in this goal of getting faster growth a couple of other pieces of equipment will be used. First, a bigger version of the calcium reactor I am currently using, a Dastaco, will be used. In my experience this reactor has not only been the easiest I have found to use, but once locked in, it has maintained the alkalinity levels more consistently than any other reactor I have used. In addition to this reactor two peristaltic dosers will be employed to dose not only trace elements, but also strontium, iodine and Acro Power on a daily basis. Currently all of these are dosed via a bolus, with good results, but it is not the best way in my opinion as bolus dosing tends to lead to a significant amount of waste. So it is my hope that small multiple daily doses will be more efficiently used and will require less time on my behalf as it will no longer be necessary to measure and dose these compounds on a regular basis. It will be interesting to see if these seemingly small changes lead to even faster growth in my corals. Lastly in terms of reducing work further, an automatic feeder will be used to feed the tank, flakes and pellets small amounts 4 times per day. Currently, the tanks are fed three times per day, twice with dry food and once with frozen, but what I hope to do with an automatic feeder is feed the tank more often with smaller amounts in the hope of reducing waste and allowing the fish to metabolize the food more completely between feedings. There are papers indicating that constant feeding of small amounts of food reduces nutrients significantly compared with infrequent large feedings so I hope to see if this is the case in this tank.

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    The goal will be to not only be more organized but also to use fewer pieces of equipment.

    Just as with the equipment, the tank will be aquascaped using what has worked for me with the hope of using minimal rock and with the overall aquascape being open and full of corals. In order to do this, the live rock from the 300 will be used and as in the 300 it will be mounted on fiberglass rods, which are attached to cement walking stones which have been cured. Currently 200 pounds of live rock are employed in the 300 and only an additional 50 pounds will be added to the underlying structure in the 500. The goal will be to allow the the corals to fill up the space in the tank rather than having live rock take up much of the tank. An additional goal is not to have the tank be filled with space eating corals that grow too fast and need to be frequently pruned like Seriatoporas, Stylphoras, and Montipora caps. So these corals will be removed from the 300 before all the corals are switched over to the 500. As a result, there will be a lot of space to work with in the new 500, which has not been the case in the 300. So as I did with the 1200 and the500 before it, this tank will be started initially with lots of frags. While I realize this will make this big tank look empty initially, I have learned the value of being patient and allowing frags to grow with plenty of space around them.

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    Without a canopy there hopefully will not a large flat surface to store stuff on and create an eyesore.

    Patience is one of the virtues this hobby has taught me, and one which I wish I possessed in larger amounts. In an attempt to be more patient, one of the other new things that will be employed in this tank will be two separate quarantine tanks. Unlike playing Russian roulette like I have in the past, there will be quarantine tanks for both new fish as well as corals. By employing these tanks, I hope to keep my impulse buying from causing me to lose things as has been the case from time to time in the past.

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    With the new tank I hope to also have a more elaborate quarantine system.

    As I have told everyone, I am planning on this being the last tank I build for myself, and as such I want it to be perfect, or at least as good as my old 500-gallon tank was. But I am experienced enough to know that despite my best intentions and planning this will take time and still will probably not be as good, but I will try. I also have to admit that since I seriously began getting ready for this tank my 300-gallon tank has suffered. It was not intentional, but more a function of time and losing interest. Neither of which are good excuses. So keep this in mind when you start planning a move like this. By telling all of you my plans I hope to get some input from all of you in terms of what you think how I might make it better. I am not arrogant to think I have thought of everything, I will tell you about the fish later, so if you have anything you think might make this tank better or how I could improve it I would love to hear your input.

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    About Author

    Mike Paletta
    Michael Paletta’s actual career is working in genomics in breast and colon cancer for Genomic Health. He has been an avid reef keeper since 1984. He has kept personal reef aquaria ranging in size from 20 gallons to 1200 gallons and has helped set and build other reef aquaria up to 4,000 gallons in size. He currently maintains several reef aquaria including a 300 gallon sps dominated tank and a 75 lps tank. He has also consulted for The National Aquarium in Baltimore as well the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium.

    Michael has published over 100 articles on various aspects of reef keeping in SeaScope, Aquarium Fish Magazine, FAMA, Practical Fishkeeping, and Coral Magazine. He has also published two books: The New Marine Aquarium and Ultimate Reefs. Michael has been invited to speak at various venues around the world and across the country and has given over 200 such talks.
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