90 gallon SPS display with 125 gallon trizonal sump

Victor_C3

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jan 27, 2020
Messages
325
Reaction score
458
So this is going to be my build thread. I’ve set up two reef aquariums in the past, one in 2005 and another in 2008 and I haven’t had an aquarium in nearly 10 years. I’ve had a decent amount of success in the past and I expect I’ll do alright with this build too. My other systems where taken down due to relocation and job loss.

What do I mean by “trizonal” and what is a “trizonal sump”?

A trizonal sump is a sump that is divided into three different zones or three distinct habitats. The three zones in my sump will be cryptic, semi-cryptic, and algal rift. Each of these zones are defined by the differences in flow and lighting in each which in turn influences the organisms that inhabit each. As a result of these differences, each of these zones remove different nutrients from the enclosed aquarium system and provide ancillary food sources to the system at large. A greater variety of habitats support a greater variety in life, which in turn makes the system much more stable.

Years ago, Steve Tyree at reeffarmers.com pioneered the use of a cryptic refugium and the use of its organisms for aquarium filtration and wrote extensively about it in his books CMAT Volume 1 and CMAT volume 2 (.pdf versions of both books can be purchased on his website and I thoroughly recommend reading CMAT Volume 2 if you are at all interested in learning more).

I’m taking what I’ve learned from reading about cryptic filtration and coupling it with an algae refugium in this system. The short-term goal is to create a low-maintenance system in which SPS will thrive and my long-term goal is to eventually support NPS, hopefully Dendronephthya. Abundant populations of bacterial and microorganism will be encouraged and, to that end, no mechanical filtration will be used (no protein skimmer or filter socks).

So here is a concept sketch of my sump:

FEDF729E-421F-4C69-A505-11DF0EEE3B8D.jpeg

The exterior dimensions of the sump are 72” long x 21” wide x 26.75” tall. After accounting for the size of the baffles and the actual height of the water, 125 actual gallons of water will be held in the sump.

The semi cryptic zone is roughly 12” long x 19.5” wide x 22” tall (22.5 gallons). Water will flow into this section of the tank from the display. High flow and only ambient lighting will be used in this section. My hope is that the majority of detritus from the display will collect in this area and be processed by copepods and whatever else grows on the live rock in this section of the tank. From here, the water will flow over the baffle to the algae refugium section of my sump.

The algae refugium is roughly 49” long x 19.5 wide, by 10” tall (41.5 gallons). This section will actually be divided in half and lighted by two different fixtures, running on alternating lighting schedules. Half of the refugium will be lit for 12 hours while the other half will remain dark for 12 hours, so photosynthesis of algae will always be happening in one section or the other regardless of the time of day. A majority of the flow to run to the return area of the sump and a small portion will be pulled through the cryptic area.

The cryptic zone is roughly 49” long x 19.5” wide x 12” tall (50 gallons). This section is completely isolated from any light at all. Flow will be maintained by a 50 GPH pump that pulls water through the small gap between the floor of the section above and the baffle of the return area and dumped back into the semi cryptic zone. Turnover will be about 1x per hour. 1x turnover sounds like it is much too low, but according to my reading, this is what the flow in cryptic areas in the ocean experience. Excessive flow results in the pores of sponges becoming clogged with particles that are too large for them to consume. The book that I mentioned earlier in the post by Steve Tyree goes into quite a bit of detail this.

Based on my reading and on conversations I’ve had with other reefers in the past, an algae refugium will compete with nutrients being absorbed by organisms in other areas of the system (mainly sponges from the cryptic zone) and I might have trouble maintaining it down the road due to a lack of nutrients, however I’m still interested in seeing if this is true and I’d really like to add as much biodiversity to my system as is feasible.

Pictures of my actual sump to follow.

Feedback and unsolicited advice is more than welcome!!
 
OP
Victor_C3

Victor_C3

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jan 27, 2020
Messages
325
Reaction score
458
So here is where I currently stand in my project. I am building a plywood sump with a volume of approximately 125 gallons and it will be plumbed to a 90 gallon display that will be dominated by Acropora. The outside dimensions of the sump are 72” long x 21” wide x 26.75” tall and I have it divided into the sections as illustrated in my previous post.

I’m not going to go into too much detail on how I actually constructed the tank, but I built it with ¾” oak plywood and I sealed it with a product called “Pond Shield”. There are plenty of instructional videos out there describing the process in detail. The white that you see along the seams is a marine sealant that I used to ensure that the seams are watertight. Most people don’t do that, but I got lazy and I didn’t use fiberglass cloth at the joints like instructed. I’m reasonably certain that I did an OK job, but the sealant just ensures that I did and gives me a piece of mind.

F20FA4D3-37B0-4881-B6A4-22FD2CC4AB9E.jpeg


F4F92582-9572-40FD-9E9D-2116D5E8D336.jpeg


A75B58E6-298E-4CEA-B439-F445553DDE22.jpeg


52391C15-8011-4703-BE00-1ADE5D241C1B.jpeg


I made a removable floor section to separate the lighted algae refugium section from the cryptic section below by painting an 18” x 48” section of plywood with the Pond Shield. I found that surfaces covered with pond shield don’t readily slide on one another so I cut a piece of PVC molding to use on my support rails to make it easier to slide and remove the floor to access the cryptic area below.

I’m mostly happy with the tank that I constructed. I wish I would have taken the time to cut out a few windows so that I could see into the cryptic area or to view the other sections of the sump from the side, but I’m a recently divorced guy living in a small apartment and I don’t have any of my old woodworking tools available. So, this is what I’ve got. I’d certainly build another sump like this in the future. Between screws, glue, paint, plywood, pond shield, and everything else, I probably have $350-$400 invested into building the sump.

The sump will be stashed into the closet of a bedroom off of my living room. I’m going to punch a few holes into the wall to connect to my display on the other side.

I’m waiting on some stuff to come in the mail before I start plumbing things, but I’m hoping to have water in the sump by this time next week.
 

fermentedhiker

Well-Known Member
View Badges
Joined
Feb 11, 2016
Messages
785
Reaction score
595
Location
Maine
My only concern looking at your sump design(is the drawing to scale?) is it may not have enough reserve space for the drain down from the display when the return pump is off.

As far as the algae refugium running to well and out competing things you can control this by duration of the photoperiod(ie longer for more nutrient removal or shorter for less). You can tune it to achieve your goals.
 
OP
Victor_C3

Victor_C3

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jan 27, 2020
Messages
325
Reaction score
458
My only concern looking at your sump design(is the drawing to scale?) is it may not have enough reserve space for the drain down from the display when the return pump is off.

As far as the algae refugium running to well and out competing things you can control this by duration of the photoperiod(ie longer for more nutrient removal or shorter for less). You can tune it to achieve your goals.
Thanks for the lighting period suggestion, something that simple didn’t occur to me.

No, the drawing is not to scale. The water height in the sump will be about 4” below top of the tank and I figured between that and the return area, that I’ll be alright. Because I like playing with my calculator, that’s about 25 gallons of reserve space. That’s about the same volume as 6” of backflow from the display. I’ll make sure my return is higher than that in the display.

Thanks
B65EAE2E-C95A-42ED-A165-F8A03C5CE137.gif
 
OP
Victor_C3

Victor_C3

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jan 27, 2020
Messages
325
Reaction score
458
There are a lot of great things about being divorced. Here is the sort of thing you can do to your daughter’s bedroom when you don’t have a spouse to yell at you!

30C513F3-3C02-41FC-BD03-1BD81DA56BF9.jpeg


Aside from using her room as a construction site, I’m also stealing her closet space to put the sump tank into.

I will add that my daughter only spends a few nights a week at my place. She is really excited about my tank build.
 
https://www.omegasea.net/
OP
Victor_C3

Victor_C3

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jan 27, 2020
Messages
325
Reaction score
458
I got my parts in the mail yesterday and my tank is filling with water as of last night.

The tank is built on top of three 2x6’s and I put bulkheads on the floor of all three sections of the tank. The three bulkheads all feed into the same line as shown in the picture below.

CA53C43E-4F8C-4046-94D9-BE89CD0DC155.jpeg


The return pump will be attached to the ball valve sticking out of the base on the right hand side of the picture. Under normal operation, the bulkheads in the return section of the sump will be the only one open and plugs will be stuck into the others. In the future, if I decide to drain the sump for any reason, it’ll be a much easier ordeal with this setup.

The sump has been stuck into the closet and the lights, heaters, pumps for the cryptic area, and the return pump have all been installed. The sump is filling with RO/DI as I type this.

1A5C46FE-B4AE-48AA-A494-3A7C5A5B6A5B.jpeg


DE6CF229-B551-4A88-A325-C910B1871E39.jpeg


My guess is that it’ll be another 24 hours until the sump is filled. It’ll take about 125 gallons to fill the thing and my RO/DI unit claims to produce 150 gallons per day, but my incoming water is really cold and the water pressure is just below the lower recommended pressure to operate the system.

A write up on the equipment I’m using will come a little later today.
 
OP
Victor_C3

Victor_C3

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jan 27, 2020
Messages
325
Reaction score
458
I was satisfied that my tank wasn’t leaking, so I added salt, and 140 pounds of dry rock from Marco Rock. I seeded the rock with 50 pounds of Caribbean live rock I purchased from a local store.

The last time I set up a reef tank from scratch was in 2008. I’m not sure if people still do it this way, but normally people add whatever live rock to their tank and then starve it for a few weeks until the ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites go to zero, then they add livestock. I always thought this was a ridiculous way to do things as you end up killing a lot of the life on the rock through starvation and your bacterial populations are depleted as they have little to nothing to consume.

Instead of not feeding my tank, I’ve been adding food to the system everyday. I drop in some frozen food and I’ve been adding a decent quantity of a live plankton blend I purchased from my LFS. I have a shipment of 5 different varieties of macro algae and cultures of 4 different copepod species arriving in the mail either today or tomorrow that I will add to the system as well. Again, the whole idea here is to support as much biodiversity as I can.

For what it’s worth, the only filtration I’m running at all is a bag of activated carbon that I have sitting passively in the return section of my sump.

And, of course, I need to post pictures.

AF32AB43-CE7E-4131-8136-63D6FE27E2CD.jpeg
9D626A88-7450-4FC4-930D-C6E5718A8167.jpeg
 
OP
Victor_C3

Victor_C3

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jan 27, 2020
Messages
325
Reaction score
458
A few pictures of where I am with the sump:

655CBE6F-0CAB-4BB9-86F3-CCE818D8AD82.jpeg


If you look in my first post, the plan for my sump was to divide the sump vertically and create a cryptic area beneath the lighted algae refugium above. I finally implemented that plan. I took half of the live rock and placed it with half of the dry rock on the bottom of my sump, covered that area with a board, then placed the remainder of the rock on the top half. There is a 2” gap on the left side of the algae refugium area where water is pulled into the cryptic area by two 36GPH pumps and dumped into the semi-cryptic area on the right hand side of the tank. Below is my attempt to photograph both of those areas.

image.jpg

Above: The return area is on the left of the photo. The gap where water enters the cryptic area is beneath the powerhead in the photo. I have the powerhead blowing water generally up and away from the gap, but s fair amount of detritus is starting to fall through and collect. In the return area you can see the sensor of my Tunze ATO and the media bag of activated carbon that I’m using passively.

image.jpg

Above: this is the semi-cryptic zone where water enters the sump. It’s semi-cryptic in that high flow (1,400 GPH) passes through the area and it is lit only by ambient light. You can barely make out the two holes in the baffle where water from the cryptic area dumps into this area. I intend to add a bit more rock to the area and I expect that various filter feeders and maybe even aptasia will inhabit. In theory, detritus from the display should collect in here.

91C5D295-C9DE-4100-A4F8-8BB107737DFC.jpeg

Above: The cryptic area before water was added to the sump. On the floor of the sump you can see the two tiny 36GPH pumps.

I’ve added 5 varieties of macro algae to the system. They were acquired from https://www.algaebarn.com/. I built the baskets out of a sheet “egg crate” or light diffuser that I purchased from Home Depot. I cut the sheet and put it together with zip ties.

AC3CF669-E36C-4DCE-B8D5-4DEB1AA66B60.jpeg


From algaebarn.com, I also purchased several containers of their live copepod blend “5280 pods” to seed the refugium with. I’ll have to see how things go with that.

I occasionally feed a few cubes of frozen food in addition to a sizable dose of live plankton. I’m getting quite a bit of a detritus buildup and that might become an issue in the future, but it’s part of my learning experience and experiment at large.

As you would expect with an immature system that isn’t used to dealing with the nutrients I’m putting into it, it’s starting to get kind of of nasty. I’ve got a decent bacterial film growing on everything and the tank definitely smells like a rotten beach. However, things are starting to look (and smell) better after a few days. I’ve hardly had it going for a week.
 
Last edited:
OP
Victor_C3

Victor_C3

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jan 27, 2020
Messages
325
Reaction score
458
Looks like it's coming together. I think you may find those lights a bit weak long term, but time will tell.
I’m currently using two Kessil H80 Tuna Flora lights. They’re about 8” above the water. According to what I’ve read, they should be good for an 18” x 18” area. Each lighted section of the refugium is about 19” x 24”.


Right now I’ve got them running for 12 hours per day.

Like you said, time will tell if they’re sufficient. I’m not afraid to give the system a few months, call it a “failed experiment” and built another sump and try it all over again. In fact, I’ve already been making notes on what I’d change if/when I rebuild the sump. It’s all part of the hobby to me.
 

fermentedhiker

Well-Known Member
View Badges
Joined
Feb 11, 2016
Messages
785
Reaction score
595
Location
Maine
I’m currently using two Kessil H80 Tuna Flora lights. They’re about 8” above the water. According to what I’ve read, they should be good for an 18” x 18” area. Each lighted section of the refugium is about 19” x 24”.


Right now I’ve got them running for 12 hours per day.

Like you said, time will tell if they’re sufficient. I’m not afraid to give the system a few months, call it a “failed experiment” and built another sump and try it all over again. In fact, I’ve already been making notes on what I’d change if/when I rebuild the sump. It’s all part of the hobby to me.
Yeah I think you'll find the h80 specs are overstated(which is odd for kessil especially when you consider the h380 at 90watts is spec'd for 24x24 coverage). I went with a waterproof cob growlight from Amazon(50watts) for less than 30$ and it's growing ulva like mad currently.
 
OP
Victor_C3

Victor_C3

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jan 27, 2020
Messages
325
Reaction score
458
So, it’s been a while with the updates. Things are still cycling and moving forward.

Before I mention the new, I’ll mention some mistakes I think I’ve made. For one, added my copepods too soon. Ammonia was still prevalent in the system and I poisoned them. Additionally, they seem to all have disappeared and died off, despite me adding them to my sump several different times in the last month or two. Before I add them again, I will have more macro algae for them to inhabit and I will isolate the copepods to a much smaller area so that their population doesn’t get diluted in the water column to the point that they never meet enough to breed.

There are a few aspects of the sump itself I wish to change. In the next month or two I plan on building another sump to replace this one. When I do so, I will mention the changes I’m making. Mostly, it has to do with the layout, the way I worked my center brace, and a lack of a window into the cryptic zone.

I added some livestock to the sump to further encourage the dry rock I used to mature. Currently, I have 2x clowns, a gramma loretto, and a bicolor blenny. There are four shrimp (3x peppermint and a single cleaner shrimp) and a few handfuls of hermit crabs and snails.

EBDEC9EC-09C3-4692-B89F-EB966D77D373.jpeg


I’ve got a bit of algae growing on the rocks, but nothing too bad or out of control. When I get my display tank, I’ll deal with it then. I feel like I should mention this, none of the crabs, shrimp, or other livestock will remain in the sump once I get my display. They’re only there to get things going.

So, my display tank. I ordered it, put down a deposit, and construction began about two weeks ago, I was told to expect it to be complete in about 4-8 weeks. The final dimensions will be 36” long x 26” wide x 28” tall. It works out to be 115 gallon. It will be a peninsula, which is kind of odd, but it fits the space I have for it perfectly.

043CC3EC-51BC-4136-B890-A42CE7AF3AD9.jpeg


It will go right next to the arm of loveseat.

The only problem with the location is the thermostat on the wall, but I’ll solve that by simple getting a new one with a remote sensor I can place elsewhere in the room.

The bottom of the tank will rest right about at the height of the arm of the loveseat, or about 22” off the ground. At 28” tall, the top of the tank will be about 2-4” above my head when I’m seated next to it. From the couch perpendicular to the loveseat, it will also be right at eye-level for comfortable viewing.

Another hobby that I was very much into was furniture building. Sadly, I barely have any of my tools in my apartment and I can’t do nearly as nice of a job as I’d like to, but I’ve been building my own stand.

The wood I’m using is an exotic hardwood called purple heart. Like teak and cedar, it’s naturally water resistant. It is also exceptionally strong, 4x the strength of pine and 2x that of oak.

For heck of it, I did a little demonstration. In the photo is a 36” long x 1/4” thick piece. I have two 35 pound plates (70 pounds) balanced on the middle of it.

E9DF1748-A05B-4717-8B62-8286E84BAA20.jpeg


Just some random construction pics...

11AA28A5-D1EF-4600-A78E-069C1319FD74.jpeg


I purchased a mess of pre-dimensioned pieces from woodcraft.com. Above, I’m glueing them up to make a series of 3.5” x 2.25” boards. Laminated pieces like this are significantly stronger than either individual boards or a solid piece of wood of the same size. Without getting into a lengthy discussion, it’s all about the grain structure and grain orientation.

46D4D80C-C1AA-4901-A5DC-0A73E044CE0F.jpeg


I borrowed a really junky tablesaw. It was very challenging to get square cuts.

E3F1796A-6BA4-4F28-BD73-35970CD4D6D1.jpeg


I’m doing the glue-up, and that’s as far as I’ve gotten.

As beautiful as the wood is, I believe I’m going to cover everything with glossy black “piano finish” panels. Purple heat wood just doesn’t go with the eventual look I want to have in the room.

Oh, and I purchased some more equipment too.

B05AF5A2-0F75-4A18-B78C-49D17B3C4055.jpeg


I’ve been setting up my Neptune controller. I’m going to hold off on getting the trident set up as there is no point of doing so if I don’t have any corals yet.

So, that’s it for now. There probably won’t be another update until I receive my display tank. 38A40D5B-E964-405C-8748-502F9D8202EF.jpeg
 
Last edited:

sp1187

Valuable Member
View Badges
Joined
Aug 4, 2017
Messages
1,355
Reaction score
4,494
Location
MICHIGAN
this is so cool.
love the sump set up. wish I had known of this before doing mine. I like trying different ideas.
love purple heart, second to my favorite padauk.
two thumbs up for going tall on the tank.
what's your plans for the scape?
 
OP
Victor_C3

Victor_C3

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jan 27, 2020
Messages
325
Reaction score
458
I don’t really have much of a plan on the aquascape. I’ve generally found that once corals start growing, the aquascape doesn’t matter much.

Since it’s a peninsula, it’s going to be centered. It’s either going to be two islands, or two mountains separated by a saddle in between the peaks (if that makes any sense). I’m going to keep the top of the rock no more that 12” from the top of the water. Working the way up from the bottom, I’m going to place plating Acropora, followed by bushy shaped Acropora, with stag horns going on the top.

I might place a plating Montipora, but I’m hesitant as I’ve always had them outgrow anything else in my past systems. I really like their scrolling shapes.

As far as the purple heart goes, I was shocked that it was as cheap as it was. Woodcraft was running it on sale. Otherwise, I was leaning towards using oak because it’s readily available and reasonably strong. I hate oak though. It splinters easily and I think it’s used too much - especially in places like the cheap cabinets that came with my apartment. Maple is my favorite wood. I love the color and grain structure.
 
OP
Victor_C3

Victor_C3

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jan 27, 2020
Messages
325
Reaction score
458
I’m just about finished with my stand. I tried to cheap- out with a piece of plywood I had that was just 1/8” too small for the top, but I think it looks cheap. I’m going to spend the $23 Home Depot charges for 3/4” MDF and redo that part tomorrow or the next day. Overall I’m happy with the results given that I only had a cheap table saw and a few hand tools.

A jointer/planer would have made the finishing work a lot easier and I would have done some actual jointery if I had a set of good chisels or a mortiser in my apartment, but it looks at least as good as any cheap furniture you’d buy from a store.

The stand is incredibly heavy. I wouldn’t be surprised if it weighs over 100 pounds. Purple heart wood is extremely dense.

18D0A4A5-079A-4137-A064-79E8A3EC272D.jpeg


The tank stand with plywood is 21” tall. The tank will be 28” tall. Maybe it’ll look bigger when it gets here, but it doesn’t look like it is big enough to be a 115 gallon tank to me.

071BF73A-42AA-4A56-AF79-A5911ACC6765.jpeg


And below is just a shot showing what the untreated wood looks like compared to the finished wood. All I used was a clear high gloss wipe-on poly.

1B0BA7FB-A683-4ECF-9A1D-2B62A2B6505D.jpeg


Now I just have to wait another 2-6 weeks for the tank to be built.
 

Maxx

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Apr 1, 2017
Messages
220
Reaction score
314
The stand looks great! Purple heart was a beautiful choice.
I've used Helmsman Spare Urethane on stand's in the past with zero issues long term. It has held up to abuse well.

Looking forward to seeing this progress.
 
Last edited:
OP
Victor_C3

Victor_C3

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jan 27, 2020
Messages
325
Reaction score
458
I received my tank this afternoon, drug it up to my second floor apartment and I managed to get it onto my stand.

I need to finish my wood accent wall project and paint the back of the before I can move it into position and hook up the plumbing and whatnot.

More updates to follow, but here is a teaser photo.

8220A346-1FC0-4F82-88BC-6252342F1146.jpeg
 
Corals.com

How often do you clean your filter socks?

  • Every few days

    Votes: 210 26.3%
  • Every weekend

    Votes: 129 16.1%
  • Every other week

    Votes: 64 8.0%
  • Every month

    Votes: 35 4.4%
  • When they look dirty

    Votes: 65 8.1%
  • I don't ever clean them

    Votes: 8 1.0%
  • I don't use filter socks

    Votes: 260 32.5%
  • Other (please explain)

    Votes: 29 3.6%

Online statistics

Members online
641
Guests online
2,926
Total visitors
3,567
Omega Sea, LLC
Top