R2R Reef of the Month: Joe's 270-gallon SPS Reef - March 2018

A big thank you to Reef2Reef for choosing my tank for their Spotlight. This tank is going into its 10th year so this spotlight is really...
  1. Introduction:

    A big thank you to Reef2Reef for choosing my tank for their Spotlight. This tank is going into its 10th year so this spotlight is really appreciated, even more so that this is the 2nd version of this tank. The first crashed after a nasty bryopsis infestation led me to discover that an invasive sponge got into my tank and eventually forced me to remove my coral and rocks. Then a series of crashes set me back. I was thinking at one point I would have to break the whole tank down and start from scratch I was having such poor success getting SPS to thrive, eventually I worked out my issues and what you see now if the end product of not giving up hope. All corals in this tank were grown from those tiny frags that we all buy online.

    I'll start off with letting you know, I'm not really a fish guy. My wife always says if she didn't make me put fish in the tank I would have none. While that is not entirely true, my focus for the tank really is on corals—SPS to be specific. But as you will see there are a lot of fish. The numbers are mostly in an effort to have enough nutrients to keep nitrates at a high enough level for good coral coloration so that I do not have to dose nitrates. That said there are about 55-60 fish in the tank. For the most part I do nothing for the fish other than feed them, I have not had a disease or any real problems with fish in my tank for years and years. My oldest fish are 9 years old. The group of  Tuka Anthias are the youngest at 1 1/2 years old. 

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    With that said, my reef philosophy can be presented quite succinctly...I want to be a lazy reef keeper. For those of you that know me or have seen me post about keeping sps corals, I have some definitive thoughts on keeping SPS tanks. But underneath it all is the desire to have both a beautiful and full-blown reef tank and also have it be as low maintenance as possible. I have been keeping sps tanks for about 18 years and am always down for the idea of enjoying as much of the tank as possible with spending as little time as possible “under the hood” so to speak. A key idea for me is that long term success and happiness in this hobby is to not be a slave to your tank. If you can keep the amount of daily and weekly work you have to do on your tank at a minimum, I feel that your chances of long term success are better.

    My Reef is a 270-gallon custom tank 72" long 24" tall and 36" deep. Total size of the whole system is 375 gallons. All the corals were grown from frags either purchased by me from online vendors, or given to me by friends in trades. I am a big fan of growing tanks out from frags only, for me the most enjoyable time of my tank is when things are just starting to grow and filling in spaces. The end product you see now is the result of about two years growth from frags to colonies. My system is pretty basic, live rock, live sand, a skimmer and macro algae in a reactor for some nutrient control. I have not used GFO or any form of carbon dosing for about 3 years. I use a combination of Apex DOS dosers and Icecap dosers take care of my alk/ca/mg needs as well as any trace element and nitrate dosing I might be doing. 

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    My ATO is setup to both kick off a 5-stage rodi and fill up a 45 gallon top off container that will fill the main tank as needed. I have literally had times where I was busy in real life and did not look at my sump for 3 months and the top off worked it’s magic all by itself.

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    My last water change was January 2016, just over two years ago. I feed the fish daily, clean the glass every 3-4 days on the Display Tank, clean the skimmer once a week, and rinse out filter socks before I go to bed, but that is really it for my main chores for the tank. I keep track of all the maintenance that has been done and what needs to be done with an app on my phone. However, don’t mistake my quest for being lazy with not making sure everything is maintained as it should. I mix most of my chemicals for dosing (outside of the basic Triton formula) every few weeks and test for deviations from the norm once a month. If anything happens or something goes out of balance I will step in and perform changes, modification, or test multiple times a day if necessary. The goal is to be the lazy, the reality is that doesn’t always work out. But my philosophy can be summed up in this simple phrase I state over and over to reefers: “The key to reef success is to keep your hands out of the tank.” Tinker with things to get them running and then let the tank be, it will reward you.

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    System Profile:
    • Display tank: 270 Gallons  
    • Glass or Acrylic: Starfire  Glass
    • Stand: DIY
    • Sump: 90 gallon Polypropylene DIY
    • Grow-out tank: 35-gallon flat tank 8” of water
    • Protein skimmer: Ultra Reef Akula UKS-200
    • Carbon/phosphate filtration: Carbon in bag. Algae Reactor ARID C-30
    • Return pump: Abyzz A200
    • Water circulation: (2) Maxspect Gyre XF150
    • Lighting (display): Giesemann Spectra. (3) 250 MH Radiums,  (2) T5 ATI Blue+, (2) T5 ATI Coral+
    • Lighting (grow-out): ATI Fixture, (2) T5 ATI Blue+, (2) T5 ATI Coral+
    • Lighting (refugium): ARID reactor LED
    • Calcium/alkalinity/magnesium dosing: Triton Dosing
    • Auto top-off: DIY
    • Heating/cooling: (2) 800-watt titanium Heaters, Chiller JBJ Artica DA-500B
    • System control: Apex Classic
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    Water Circulation and Flow Summary and Objectives:

    My only objective here is to get water circulating around all the corals, that’s it. For me the key is to watch the polyps of the corals as the water is circulating and to make sure you see the polyps moving and shaking as the water passes over them. If I can achieve that I know the corals will be OK with the water movement. I have live sand in the tank, so I can’t have especially strong flow or it will blow the sand all over the place. But enough flow that keeps the polyps moving is what I strive for. With that said I achieve almost all my flow via power heads, specifically Gyres—one on each side of the tank. I alternate flow (one on, one off) back and forth between the two pumps. Each one is on for 12 minutes at 60%, at night I drop the flow down to 40%. I tried every conceivable flow combination available with the apex and the gyre controllers but in the end, a simple back and forth between the two pumps works best.

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    Turnover in the sump is maybe 2x 3x the main tank. I like to give the water coming from the DT some time to run through the skimmer before going back in the tank. As stated earlier, I try to have my circulation done by the power heads and not the return pump.

    Water Parameters:
    • Temp: 76-82 
    • pH: 7.9-8.3
    • Specific gravity: 1.025
    • NO3: 20ppm
    • Ca: 450
    • Alk: 7.7
    • Mg: 1400
    • PO4: 1.2ppm
    • Ammonia and nitrites: 0
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    Lighting Summary and Objectives:

    Lighting goals are as follow, coloration of corals, then growth.

    I am still using Metal Halide for my display lighting. I like the way they look, and the corals color up and grow like weeds under them. I think LED is just still too expensive to make the switch for someone with an existing lighting system. I did a lot of work with PAR measurements of 250-watt Metal Halide lamps in the past to help the reefing community make better buying decisions. So I’ve used A LOT of different MH brands and colors over the years and have settled on Radiums for now. They color up my coral pretty good which is my primary goal. Growth is strong in my tank...it could be stronger if I had a little more PAR, but I don’t need growth to be faster than it already is.

    I also have two Reefbrite Tech 72" Blue LED strips that I added to my Giesemann fixture about 3 years ago. I use this primarily for a dusk effect as it is only used for a few hours at the end of the night for that 70's black light effect.

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    Photoperiod:
    • Display tank: T5: 12 hours 7:30Am-7:30pm, MH: 8 hours 12pm-8pm, Blue LED 3 hours 6pm-9pm
    • Grow-out tank: T5: 10 hours 12pm-10pm
    • Refugium: Algae reactor is 16 hours on, 8 Hours off, reverse photoperiod
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    Filtration and Water Quality Summary and Objectives:

    In the past, I've used a variety of different products for filtration or water quality improvements. The Berlin Method of Live rock and Live sand, GFO, Purigen  Carbon dosing. I was on the zero-nutrient band wagon for years. In the end, I feel that you can be successful with many different approaches, I certainly have had great success with a variety of methods. I feel that one of the great things about this hobby is the journey. One might start out with one way of doing things, but as time goes on we develop our own methods of achieving the kind of success we want from our tanks.

    I am currently a big believer in not having too clean of a tank. I have found that some phosphate and some nitrate are the keys to good coloration. Contrary to what I had thought in the past, my tank did not crash, fade or stop growing as I let my nitrate and phosphate levels rise, on the contrary the colors became more vivid and the corals seems to be more resistant to problems. For a long time, I was targeting 10 ppm for nitrate and 0.1 for phosphate. I was dosing nitrate for years to keep this number and then eventually just started adding more fish until I did not have to add nitrate to keep elevated levels. I have let the numbers go up a little over time, but the tank is still doing just as good as it did in the past, with no nuisance algae. 

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    Calcium/Alkalinity/Magnesium Summary and Objectives:

    Keep them stable. That's the goal. Every time I test they should be just about the same place they were last time. I use Triton Basic Elements and dose that to maintain my alk/ca/mg. My Alk is 7.7-8.0 almost anytime I test, even if I forget to do it for a few months. Ca is around 450 and Mg 1400.  That's it IMO. I used to test everyday my alkalinity until I finally got it dialed in and stable, once that happened, I started testing once a week, then once a month. Now I try for every month or two. If it's a little bit low, I turn the doser up a little and add some Seachem Reef Builder. Calcium and Magnesium same thing.

    For me I think that focusing more on Trace Elements was the piece that has helped my reef both grow but also stay healthy. Stuff still happens as it always will, and the occasional coral with RTN here and there. I don't think that is ever going to change. But the frequency that it happens has dropped a lot and the the ability for corals to recover has dramatically increased. The elements I focus on in addition to the big three are Zinc, Manganese, Iodine, Potassium, Vanadium and Strontium. All are added daily via a doser (zinc, manganese  iodine), or every few weeks by hand, Vanadium and Strontium. Potassium I measure every few months and add some if the levels drop below 400, which has not happened for over a year..

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    Tank Inhabitants—Fish:
    • (2) Clown fish false percula (Amphiprion ocellaris)
    • (1) Coral Beauty (Centropyge bispinosus)
    • (1) Flameback Angelfish (Centropyge aurantonotus)
    • (2) Flame Angles (Centropyge loricula)
    • (1) Regal Hippo tang (Paracanthurus hepatus)
    • (5) Lyretail Anthias (Pseudanthias squamipinnis)
    • (1) One spot foxface (Siganus unimaculatus)
    • (1) Longnose Hawkfish (Oxycirrhites typus)
    • (5) Yellow Assessor (Assessor flavissimus)
    • (1) Cleaner Wrasse
    • (3) Blue Star Leopard Wrasse
    • (1) Chalk Bass
    • (1) Hoeven's Wrasse
    • (2) Wheeler's Shrimp Goby
    • (15) Tukas Anthias
    • (10) Blue Chromis
    Other Invertebrates:
    • Tiger tail cucumbers for keeping the sand bed clean
    • variety of snails for general algae control on rocks
    • (2) harlequin shrimp
    • Blood red shrimp
    Tank Inhabitants— Corals:
    • Mostly Acropora SPS. Almost all are named corals from various friends and vendors.
    • Various LPS corals I put in when I was having problems getting the SPS to grow.
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    Fish and Coral Feeding:

    I feed the fish 3 sizes of pellets (0.5mm for the anthias), 1mm for the rest of the fish and 3mm for the tang and foxface once a day in the morning before I go to work, probably just a pinch of each. Then I feed 6 cubes of hikari frozen Mysis shrimp twice a day, morning with the pellets and evening when I eat dinner.

    I do not feed the corals at all. I have one sun coral that I manually feed 2-3x a week after lights out but that is it.

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    Who was responsible for getting you into the hobby?

    Like many people I kept fresh water tanks as a kid. I always wanted to get into saltwater as I got older but never made the move. At the time my real life job was around IT and all my free time revolved around computers, building, fixing, programming, I was looking for a hobby that was very hands on to keep me away from computers...an analog hobby so to speak. So I got my tank and started with SPS because I liked those colorful sticks. Next thing I knew, I was figuring out how to automate everything I could. I remember at MACNA 2004 showing off how I had written scripts to catch an alarm status from my Aquacontroller II and then send SMS alerts to my phone; for 2004, that was pretty good! Ha! So much for keeping it low tech.

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    How long have you been doing this?

    18 years

    Who or what in the hobby most influences/inspires you?

    What we can do/keep now compared to 2, 5, or 10 years ago is truly inspiring. It's a push forward hobby that changes every year. If you can't do something this year, there is a good chance we will figure out how to do it in the coming years.

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

    I don't really have any plans for updating the tank. I might put a screen over the top to prevent jumpers and will at some point move to LED lighting, but I am in no rush to change out my lighting, things seem to be working just fine.
    Final Thoughts?

    For anyone starting out or just plain struggling with your tank, hang in there. The solution is out there; you just haven't found it yet. There are so many resources that are available that were not even possible a few years ago, this is truly the time to be into reef keeping.



    Thanks for checking out this month's R2R Reef of the Month!
    Don't miss this great video of Joe's reef!


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