My name is Joseph Palermo and it is an honor to have been selected as Reef Tank of the Month. I am humbled to be in the company of so many accomplished aquarium hobbyists. I have been inspired by so many of the tanks over the years, and although these reef keepers don’t know me personally, they have been my mentors in this wonderful hobby. It is with great excitement I present Our Natural Sun-lit Reef for your review.

Where to begin... I've been an aquarium hobbyist for as long as I can remember. Growing up in the Bronx, New York early on I could remember my father's fish tanks. It was a joy being able to assist him with water changes and cleaning the tanks. Some of my great memories are when we would feed the Oscars live goldfish. We even had a saltwater tank with clownfish and some ornamental coral I was drawn to the coloring of the saltwater fish. Even back then. I thought to myself… someday I would have my own.

Jump forward many years, I am now married and have my own home and the itch started to have a fish tank. Like so many others, the first dive back into the aquarium hobby started small. I remember my first tank was a 38-gallon freshwater community tank with neon tetras, tiger barbs, a shark, and freshwater staple the plecostomus.

Quickly I grew tired of such a small tank and upgraded to a 155 bow front African Cichlid tank. The colors and activity were enjoyable, but I still wanted that saltwater tank. So I added a 150-gallon reef tank. Lighting and cooling we're always a major problem, and electricity costs to run three 250 watt metal halides, four 160 watt 6 ft VHO's, and a 1/2 horsepower chiller were breaking the bank.

I remember it like it was yesterday, waking up one Saturday morning, I greeted my beloved wife at the dining room table for coffee and I began my pitch. "I have an idea!" She looks at me with the "oh my God, here we go again" and says “okay… let's hear it..." I get up and walk to the entry wall and point and say, “I want to tear down this wall! Cut holes in the roof for sunlight to come in! Then build a 400 gallon fish tank that fills this whole wall!" She looks and is quiet for a moment. She asks one question, "Do you think you can build that?" I look back at her and say, “I know I can!” And her response (as we already know) was, "Let's do it!"


When I was asked about featuring my tank as Reef of the month, I was worried about the emotional roller coaster that came into our lives just after the development of our natural Sun-lit Reef. I'm not going to lie. During portions of this write-up I've shed some tears with some of the memories.

Our family's struggle with my wife's battle with late stage 4 cancer could have been the end of the reef before it was even started. Kelly wouldn't hear of it. It became a testament of our love and commitment to each other and our passion for the reef hobby.

After Kelly's passing, I leaned on so many of my reefing friends around the world for strength and support. All I can say is "Thank you!" While I haven’t met so many of you, I think of you as friends.

In 2020 with COVID ravaging the world, not knowing how the everyday would turn, I fell into a deep battle with depression. Work was really the only thing that kept me going. The reef tank took a back seat, maintenance and husbandry really fell off a cliff. Towards the end of 2021, I had a pipe rupture in the foundation of my home and flooded portions of it. I really was ready to throw in the towel, break the tank down, sell the house, and find a new place to start over.


After talking with several close friends and some of Kelly's dearest, they all made suggestions about reimagining the tank. Use that energy to reinvigorate yourself. And the lightbulb went off! I'm enjoying the hobby again! The reef tank is a testament of our love and commitment to her!

In the end, nothing is ever so lost that it cannot be found again, and no tears have ever been cried that weren't worth the joy that came before.

I'd like to present Our Natural Sunlit Reef in loving memory of my beloved wife Kelly.


System Profile Questions:
  • Display tank: The display tank is 400 gallons dimensions are 72 by 36 by 36 constructed with 1-inch-thick acrylic and a coast to coast overflow.
  • Glass or Acrylic: The tank is 1 in thick acrylic
  • Stand: Where the fish tank stand sits used to be my laundry room the construction is 2x4s 2x6s ¾ in marine grade plywood for the to. The sides were reskinned with sheetrock, textured and painted to match the existing walls.
  • Sump: The sump is 5 ft x 2ft x2 ft I have two filter sock chambers and connection for two Reeflo Super Dart Gold pumps.
  • Protein skimmer: A My Reef Creations MR-6R recirculating protein skimmer powered by a Reeflo Hammerhead Gold
  • Return pump: Reeflo Super Dart Gold
  • Water circulation: 2 Ecotech MP60’s and Maxspect Gyre XF280
  • Lighting: The main lighting for the reef tank is natural sunlight! The Sun-dome lighting system used was built by a company in Miami, Florida The 21” domes give of the equivalent of over 3000 watts of metal halide lighting. One of the great features next to zero heat transfer to the tank of surrounding area.






One thing that always bothered me was not being able to show the reef in the evening, during the tank refresh I added four Kessel a500's


  • Calcium/alkalinity/magnesium dosing equipment: Apex Trident & Bubble Magus Dosing Pump
  • Auto top-off: For auto top off I have two electronic float switches that control the reservoir output, to the sump one is set at water level and a failsafe just above incase the primary switch fails.
  • Heating/cooling: Heating and cooling are easily controlled by a fan mounted at the top of the tank with just the one fan the tank stays between 76-77 degrees all year.
  • System control: I use an Apex Neptune and Trident, these two systems were added this year as well. One thing I always loved was the simplicity of the system, less moving parts lass electronics less items to worry about failing.


Water Parameters:
  • Temp: 76-77
  • pH: 8.06-8.26
  • Specific gravity: 1.025-.026 or 34.5-35 ppt
  • NO3: 5-10
  • Ca: 470-490
  • Alk: 9.5 -9.7
  • Mg: 1225-1250
  • PO4: .02-05
  • Ammonia and nitrites: 0


What salt mix do you use?

LiveAquaria Professional Reef Salt

What kind of rock did you start with? (live, dry, combination)

I used a combination of life rock from my established 150 reef and added an additional 400-500 lbs

What is your substrate?

400 lbs of Ocean Direct Live Sand Oolite



What and how do you dose for the big 3 (alk/cal/mag)?

I currently use Tropic Marin All-For-Reef and Bulk Reef Supply’s Calcium chloride

Are you dosing anything else for your reef health (carbon dosing, aminos, etc.)?

Liquid carbon dosing 100ml of 6% vinegar dosing is spread throughout the day.



blonde naso2.jpeg

Lighting Summary and Objectives:

Lighting changes all day, every day, from the first bit of light at sunrise to the last of the sun during sunset. The intensity is constantly changing, cloud cover, lightning moonlight all effect the look of the tank.


What is your export strategy?

Ever changing constant flow with some very turbulent times where everyone better hold on to something. I believe with constantly changing water movement it allows the coast to coast overflow the ability to capture as much of the floating detritus not allowing it to settle on the rocks or sand bed.

What is your maintenance routine?

With the addition of the Apex and Trident systems daily routines have been able to be cutback, dosing and water parameters are all checked many times a day
Weekly: Filter sock replacement, clean the acrylic, and do a small water change.
Other: About every 4-6 months I go on the roof and see if the sun-domes need to be cleaned if they do I’ll give them a quick buff with fine cut polish and they are good to go.


Tank Inhabitants—Fish:
  • Gem Tang
  • Yellow Tang
  • Blonde Naso Tang
  • Regal Tang
  • White-Tailed Kole Tang
  • Copper Banded Butterfly
  • Blue Stripe Butterfly
  • Swallowtail Angelfish
  • Flame Angel
  • Coral Beauty
  • Flame Hawkfish
  • Diamond Watchman Goby
  • Mandarin Dragonet
  • Orange Back Fairy Wrasse
  • Melanurus Fairy Wrasse
  • Twin Spot Wrasse
  • Six Line Wrasse
  • Lyretail Anthias
  • Bartlett's Anthias
  • Ocellaris Clownfish
  • One Spot Foxface
  • Talbot's Damselfish
  • Yellowtail Damselfish
  • Blue Damselfish
  • Three Stripe Damselfish

















Other Invertebrates:
  • Hermits crabs
  • Astrea snails
  • Blue Knuckle hermit
  • Blue Leg Hermit Crab
  • Brittle Starfish
  • Cerith snails
Tank Inhabitants— Corals: Primarily LPS and Softies.










Fish and Coral Feeding:

Nori, Rod’s Food, PE Mysis, blood worms, live brine shrimp, flake



How did you decide what to keep in your tank?

Research, talking to friends in the hobby.

Any stocking regrets?

Well…One time early on I did bring home a stingray I was new in the saltwater hobby and the LFS said it would be fine…Famous last words. I got him out right away.

What's the best thing you ever bought for your tank?

The Sun-Dome system



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

Since the refresh I’ve been thinking I might try SPS again, I was having good luck with it in the beginning.

Any special tips for success or advice you'd like to share with other reefers?

Keep it simple, when something does happen make small changes and adjust accordingly.


Final Thoughts?

So there you have it a little glimpse of our natural sunlit Reef. 11 years ago when I had the idea to try a natural sunlight lighting system I was in uncharted Territory there weren't many systems to fall back on for advice or suggestions. It was all developed by trial and error. Early on I had many pieces of coral die because of such intense lighting. I now have an acclamation mesh used for gardening that can be installed over the sun domes to reduce the intensity kind of like an acclamation dimming program you would use for an LED lighting system.

Controlling algae when lighting with sunlight can be a challenge and again a learning curve with where the sweet spot was for Po4 and No3 needed to be kept. It's gotten to the point where I don't even need to check those levels and I can tell just by looking at the Rock and Sand bed what they are.

Here's to the next 11 years let's see what our natural sunlit reef will look like then. I can't wait!

Thanks for letting me share a bit about our reef!

Happy Reefing, Joe