180 Gallon Florida Coral Reef Aquarium Build at the Ocean Discovery Visitors Center

Brandon McHenry

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Hi guys!

I work as a graduate student assistant and aquarist at the Ocean Discovery Visitors Center. We are a small educational facility designed to showcase all of the research being conducted by the marine scientists and engineers at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, which is located in Fort Pierce, Florida. We have recently renovated the visitors center to include several aquariums that highlight some of our research areas. As a long time hobbyist and member of Reef2Reef I wanted to show everyone here some of the aquariums we have built.

The aquarium I would like to highlight is a new build that will be part of our Marine Ecosystem Health Exhibit. We have decided to include a 180 gallon Florida Coral Reef Tank in this renovation and I wanted to start this build thread to show off the whole process and its progression. This tank will showcase the research being conducted by our Coral Reef Health and Ecology Lab lead by Dr. Joshua Voss.

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Coral reefs are both economically and ecologically valuable ecosystems. They provide protection to our shorelines from coastal erosion, essential habitat to a diverse array of life and are vital in cycling global ocean nutrients. They also support a multi-billion dollar diving and tourism industry worldwide. Unfortunately, reefs around the world are being threatened by emerging coral diseases, climate change, fisheries exploitation and land-based sources of pollution. Our Coral Reef Health and Ecology Lab studies reefs around the Caribbean, both in the state of Florida as well as the Gulf of Mexico. Our team is currently exploring the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico, assessing the effects of freshwater discharges and sedimentation on the St. Lucie Reef (Florida's northern-most shallow reef tract), as well as determining the disease susceptibility, resistance and resilience of Caribbean corals.

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As some of you may know, Florida hard coral species are protected and cannot be harvested. So in order for us to showcase corals such as Acropora cervicornis, Acropora palmata and Montastrea cavernosa, we will have to work with individuals from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Mote Marine Laboratory, the Smithsonian Marine Station and our Coral Reef Health and Ecology Lab in order to obtain colonies.

We hope that with this setup we will be able to accurately demonstrate the beauty and diversity that can be found on a Florida coral reef as well as illustrate why this type of research is crucial to the health of our planet.

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This is an ongoing build that we have been working towards for several months now. We have received lots of support from various vendors and collaborators to make this aquarium become a reality. Below are the supplies that we have gotten so far as we move towards installing this tank.

Current System Supplies:

Marineland 180 gallon wide aquarium (72x24x24)
Eshopps PF-1800 Overflow Box
3 Ecotech Radion G4 XR30 Pros
2 Ecotech Vortech MP40QD
Ecotech ReefLink
Trigger Systems Triton 44 Refugium
Reef Octopus Classic 152-S Protein Skimmer
Ecotech Vectra M1 Return Pump
Bubble Magus 3 Channel Dosing Pump
Tunze Osmolater 3155 Auto Top Off
Pentair 48 inch UV Sterilizer
Apex Controller with pH, temperature, salinity and ORP probes
Eheim Jager 300watt Heater

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Aquascape:

320 lbs CaribSea Special Grade Reef Sand
160 lbs CaribSea Shapes LifeRock
1 CaribSea 36 inch Archway

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Refugium Setup:

2 lbs CaribSea Mineral Mud
Cheatomorpha

I would like to thank Marineland, Ecotech Marine, Trigger System Sumps and CaribSea for their contributions to this build. Without them, we would not have been able to take on such an extraordinary undertaking.

Stand:

Custom Built Sanded Plywood with Trim
Golden Oak Stain
Base (72 L x 36 H x 24 W) Doors (28x28 – 4 total)
Canopy (72 L x 24 H x 24W) Doors (28x18 – 4 total)

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Additives:

BRS Pharma Calcium Chloride
BRS Pharma Soda Ash
BRS Pharma Magnesium Chloride
BRS Pharma Magnesium Sulfate

I will be finishing the stand construction this weekend and I am hoping to begin the tank installation this coming Tuesday. I will be posting updates with pictures as this build progresses so I hope everyone enjoys this process as much as I am going to! I am looking forward to creating this very unique aquarium so stay tuned!
 
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Brandon McHenry

Brandon McHenry

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Stand is finally finished (after a 2am night of staining) and staging at its final location at the Harbor Branch Visitors Center. Just a few more finishing touches to be complete. The tank will be up top by tomorrow afternoon! Very excited so stay tuned!

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Flippers4pups

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@Brandon McHenry, just got caught up with your thread.

Looks like a great start to a very interesting build!

Will be following your progress! Very cool!
 
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Michael Naegeli

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Awesome. Love the equipment u chose. I have exact same gear except I went w Kessil ap700 and some Reefbrights 72’s on my 180. All the stuff you chose is A+. I’m a Florida Diver for many years. I’m anxious to see your tank when it’s all done. Good luck, sounds very exciting
 
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Brandon McHenry

Brandon McHenry

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@Brandon McHenry, just got caught up with your thread.

Looks like a great start to a very interesting build!

Will be following your progress! Very cool!
Thanks! It should be really cool and I’m very excited!

Awesome. Love the equipment u chose. I have exact same gear except I went w Kessil ap700 and some Reefbrights 72’s on my 180. All the stuff you chose is A+. I’m a Florida Diver for many years. I’m anxious to see your tank when it’s all done. Good luck, sounds very exciting
Yes we decided to get the best of what we could afford for this build and it is turning out great. I definitely chose the brands that I trust and have used on my personal tanks. I’m glad that you have an appreciation for Florida reefs and I’m looking forward to sharing their beauty with everyone. We do some really cool research and I can’t wait to make it come to life!
 
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Brandon McHenry

Brandon McHenry

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Well the tank got filled today and is running on bare bones equipment right now (return pump and powerheads). Already starting to clear up nicely! I’m hoping to get the rest of the equipment/controllers up and running tomorrow. Enjoy!

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Brandon McHenry

Brandon McHenry

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Awesome tank! I live in Orlando so one day maybe I’ll get down there to see it! I love that arch.
You definitely should! We give guided tours of the visitors center that discuss all of the marine science and oceanography research that is going on at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. On Wednesday’s we also offer campus tours which are really cool! And yes I love the arch too!

That arch is great!
Agreed! Can’t wait until there is coral growing on it!
 

If you don't keep your sand bed clean it will cause your tank to crash.

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