Chris’ 120g Mixed Reef

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I’m Chris from St. Louis, MO. I’m a biochemist in the pharmaceutical industry and have always gravitated to the the beauty of the ocean, despite being landlocked (other than lakes) for at least 500 miles (to the Gulf of Mexico). I have also always had a taste for eclectic and challenging hobbies, so with my biochem background, reefing was just about perfect for me.

I got into the hobby about 8 years ago with a second hand 120g glass tank I found on craigslist. I drilled and fabricated a corner overflow box out of an acrylic sheet I picked up at Home Depot. Bought a 55 gallon aqueon glass aquarium from petco during “dollar per gallon” sale, found a second hand skimmer, MH/T5 light fixture, a carbon reactor, and return pump, and was ready to dive in head first! All-in for equipment was far less than $1000. I was fresh out of college and still finding my feet financially, but was able to piece together the system, get some sand and live rock and was on my way.

I did a ton of research and fortunately with the help of the wealth of information online and in forums like this, I got off to a pretty solid start. I frequented reef central back then and still do occasionally, though I’ve found this community to be larger and more responsive these days (not sure what changed at RC?).

I successfully kept and grew many LPS and SPS, though the acropora remained elusive. So I got started into dosing 2 part, trace, and eventually carbon dosing. This was about 5 years ago. It worked out great for a while, but then life started happening and I started to neglect the tank. I won’t get into details but lets just say the tank was not the only one getting a steady dose of carbon… I also had a daughter and a hip replacement. Long story short, my tank eventually turned into a fish only with aiptasia, clove polyps, and hair algae. A couple leathers survived my tank’s ‘dark ages’. I lost most of the fish. All due to complete neglect. No water changes, no dosing, no cleaning, even the skimmer was left just constantly in a state of trickling overflow. My wife at least fed the fish a few times/week. This dark age went on for 2-3 years until I got my life back together and became motivated to make the tank beautiful again.

After some serious cleaning and siphoning of detritus, large water changes, and a new CUC that included an aiptasia eating filefish, things are looking up! I still have a long way to go, but it is already such a joy to see life again! I am fortunate to have a great career and can afford some of the nifty tech that was just a dream when I first started in the hobby. So, I have introduced some new equipment during the renovation which I hope will make things easier to maintain as we have another child on the way. I still have the same original 120g tank from craigslist, but the tank moved to a new house and I plumbed it down to the basement where I installed a prefabricated sump from Eshopps.

My current setup is outlined below:
120g DT
Maxspect gyre 350 and a vortec mp40. Also have a small jebao wave pump to help with some detritus trouble spots behind my rock work.
2x 250W metal halides with 4x T5s to supplement blue/actinic
60g basement sump containing Red Sea Roller Mat 500, reef octopus skimmer, carbon reactor, and GFO reactor (temporary)
External Iwaki DC return pump
20g breeder plumbed into sump as refugium
Tunze LED fuge light
RODI filtration system connected to ATO reservoir managed with Apex controller, solenoid valve, and liquid level sensor.
Avast Parrot ATO system
Jebao auto dosing pump for 2 part
50g rubbermaid salt mixing station with submerged return pump plumbed to sump for water changes

Everything is controlled by a Neptune Apex system.

I’m keeping a mixed reef, though mostly frags at this point just getting restarted. Fish: Hippo tang, foxface rabbit fish, 2 clowns, blue chromis, lyretail anthia, diamond goby, 2x leopard wrasse, fire dartfish. CUC: turbo, nassarius, trochus snais, fighting conch, cleaner shrimp, hermits.

Current battle is still eliminating the GHA, and getting my phosphates down, nitrates up. I’m using brightwell’s nitrate supplement to get my nitrate up from zero. Currently at 2.0 ppm, shooting for 10 ppm. My phosphate has been reduced from 3.0 ppm to about 1.0 with GFO the addition of my refugium, and the nitrate dosing, but still have a way to go. I keep Alk at 8.5 dKh, Calcium at 440 ppm, Mg about 1280 ppm. Reef crystals salt mix, seachem fusion 2 part. Just sent my water in for ICP-MS at Oceamo through Reef Moonshiners and may give that program a shot eventually.

Tank shots:

At its best, before my dark period of neglect - 2019.
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Now:
image.jpg
 

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Great to see another STL Reefer! Tank is looking great! For GHA, I had great success with pincushion urchins.. They are through the stuff down to the rock and completely eliminated it from my tank
 
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Great to see another STL Reefer! Tank is looking great! For GHA, I had great success with pincushion urchins.. They are through the stuff down to the rock and completely eliminated it from my tank
Thanks for the tip! Any chance Vandy is short for Vanderpluym? Went to grade school with them…
 
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Today I jumped into the Reef Moonshiners program and did my first dose of elements to correct a few things and started maintenance dosing of Iodine, chromium, cobalt, manganese, and selenium. While not a controlled experiment, I have had a successful established reef in the past in the same system, so hopefully can compare past results to those using the moonshiners program. Dosing schedule shown below.

IMG_3787.jpeg
 
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Thought I’d add some photos of the “fish room” in my basement. Added a 20 g breeder a few months ago as a standalone refugium to the side of my sump.
IMG_3817.jpeg

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Brute can mixing station over in the back corner.
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Little work bench for testing, dosing and other wet-work.
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revhtree

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Keep it up! How do you like having all that "behind the tank" space like you have? Nice huh!
 
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Got my Neptune Trident tester and DOS up and running. I had used a Jebao dosing pump in the past, but had been managing with manual 2-part dosing since the reboot. Excited to have another piece of automation to make things easier as we are expecting our second child this fall!

I did a neat modification with the DOS and used RODI style 1/4 inch tubing that I was able to slip over the DOS pump head fittings by warming the tip of the tubing in boiling hot water first and then tightening the pinch clamp nut while still warm. Made a solid, kink-proof connection and looks great!

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Also an update on my nutrient management issues: With the help of daily Nitrate dosing, the new refugium, and a couple weeks of GFO, I’ve gotten NO3 up to about 2.0 and PO4 down to about 0.1 ppm. Time will tell if I can maintain that. I would like to see the NO3 up closer to 5-10 ppm, but it seems whatever I add is consumed quickly at this point. My new pincushion urchin is starting to make a dent in the hair algae, so hopefully that helps.

Here is a current tank shot.
IMG_3924.jpeg


Happy Reefing!
 
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