Hi, Reef2Reef. I'm Chris. It's nice to meet you all. ----- Disclaimer: There's a fair bit of history leading up to the current build--some personal, and some tank related--so if you want to skip that part, scroll down until you start to see more pictures. Or to the second post, which will be the beginning of the build. But I want to do this thread right, and part of that for me is explaining where I came from in relation to the hobby. I'll probably also recap for those not interested in reading a novel, so please feel free to skip to the end. ----- As I sit here on my couch with my laptop, I've rewritten this post a number of times already. I struggle to find the precise words with which I wish to express myself. For me, this hobby is--in general (and this tank in particular)--intensely personal at times, and occasionally all-consuming. In a lot of ways, I was personally saved by aquariums, and I owe a lot of what I have now to them and the hobby. I want to do it the justice I feel it deserves. I am going be long-winded at times so I hope at least some of you are into reading. This is intended to be a journal for me, and so I'm going to use this space to not only share my build with you all, but also my history with the aquarium hobby and a bit about my life prior to and during that time, my thoughts on the industry as a whole, and really whatever comes to mind. And lots of pictures, I promise. ----- September 2012 I guess the beginning is a good place to start. Back in 2012, my then-23-year-old self was struggling in a lot of ways. I had recently left my university studies in physics because I was on the brink of being kicked out for academic failure. With that, my student loans and bursaries were cut off, and I was jobless, so I had no income. There were some deeper personal struggles as well. Despite probably a hundred applications I sent out, I never got any bites--probably because to that point I had little to no job experience and my French (the primary language here in Québec) was very weak at the time. All of this was of my own making, and I blame nothing and no one except myself for getting to this point. I'll take a moment to say that my situation wasn't entirely desperate. I had lived on my own since I was 17, but was at the time in a house owned by my uncle and wasn't in danger of being homeless or hungry so I was a heck of a lot better off than a lot of people out there. But I still really needed a job. My credit cards had all been frozen for non-payment, and I was out of options. Fortunately, a friend of a friend was managing a retail store and really needed a new full-time hire. I didn't know what the job was, except that it didn't pay well, required very flexible hours and a willingness to learn. I took the interview and was hired on, despite having absolutely no experience or knowledge in the industry. Probably because I was the only one who turned up for an interview. Of course, given my luck at the time, after leaving the building from that interview, I stepped off the sidewalk into a pothole and rolled my ankle, resulting in a severe sprain. There are pictures, but I won't embed them, in case there are some people who don't want to see my messed up ankle. But for those who do: PICTURES HERE I didn't have the luxury of delaying my start to the job so I powered through it. Ace wrap and lots of Advil! The store was named Aquatica, and it was the largest LFS this side of Toronto. For those of you in the Ontario region, it was formerly a Big Al's franchise in Montreal, until they split circa 2009, to give you an idea of scale. ----- I'm not sure how many of you have ever worked for an LFS, or how they did their business, but for me it was a turbocharged introduction to aquaria. There's no way I could ever have learned as much as I did on my own as I did from people who had dozens of years of combined experience in the field. I was very fortunate to be surrounded by educated, compassionate individuals who not only had the knowledge to work at the store in a way I so rarely see at LFSs these days, but also the passion to inspire those around them. They was a deep, genuine caring among my coworkers of the time--and I remain good friends with many of them. My manager--the livestock manager--was highly ethical with what he'd choose to bring in. He refused, point blank, to order any fish that was not reasonably keepable over its entire lifespan in an aquarium. Freshwater fish such as iridescent sharks and redtail catfish never touched our waters. The way feeder goldfish are bred is abhorrent, and we never ordered them. And for saltwater, we refused to bring in mandarins, moorish idols, and a whole host of other popular marine organisms that rarely if ever survive for more than a few months in captivity. We never made a sale at the expense of the animal. We educated each and every client to the best of our ability on the full life requirements for everything alive we sold in the store. We were also unique in our area for being large enough to support doing our own shipments from overseas, never relying on wholesalers. I didn't realise until much later how rare that was and how lucky I am to have been put in that situation to learn that side of the industry. In retrospect it was amazing to not have to rely on wholesalers to get our orders. And on a personal and financial level, the store did wonders for me. I met some great people my own age in my coworkers, and as I said, made some good friends out of them. It gave me the personal confidence to go back out into the world in a social way that I hadn't done in a long time, and even more so than I ever had before. I was also beginning my slow climb out of the debt hole I had created for myself, and while it would be years before I hit the black again, I could safely breathe again. ----- April 2013 With that newly gained confidence, I began dating. In that time, I met the most amazing, wonderful, kind, loving and generous person in the world. Six years after we first met, Samantha and I are still together, and she is the greatest thing to have ever happened to me. I will forever be grateful to Aquatica, and this hobby, for giving me the drive to go out and meet people in general, and her specifically. Obviously it didn't take very long for the hobby bug to bite. I had never thought about owning an aquarium, but when surrounded by them all day, and seeing the enthusiasm with which so many of my clients approached the hobby, as well as my coworkers' dedication to it, I was smitten. I couldn't resist. Around a year after starting at the store, I ended up making the decision to buy a setup with the intention of eventually making it saltwater. Corals had caught my eye, and I needed them in my life, but it was around then that I learned my uncle would be selling the house I lived in, and I would need to find a new place to live, so I didn't want to begin a marine tank, knowing I'd have to displace it in six or eight months. December 2013 The first tank was a disaster. Well, not a disaster. But let's just say, working for an LFS gave me a bit of overconfidence. Apparently, nothing actually replaces the experience of owning your own tank at home. I had no practical experience. It was not well executed. The basic premise was a dirt bottom planted blackwater tank. Equipment: 75g rimless Deep Blue tank 10k Razor Jebao DC9000 Cobalt Neotherm heaters It came out like this, and in the end, I'm proud of what I did. I've never seen anyone else do something quite like it, even if it was far, far from perfect. But there were so many problems. The holes I drilled were barely bigger than the bulkhead rings, and I compromise the structural integrity by notching the centre brace. The bulkheads I used were the ones that came with the tank, and they're those terrible pre-barbed ones. I originally used an Eheim 2217 as a return pump. Every time it turned off, it would un-prime, and I had to use a MaxiJet to start it up again because the sump level was barely higher than the filter. That plumbing job is super sketchy as well, and my present day self is embarrassed by it. My first light was a Marineland LED. Maybe the worst brand name LED ever made? I got in on the ground floor with Cobalt Neotherm heaters. I later had one of these bad boys explode inside a mixing bin of NSW, which resulted in me immediately taking them all out of my tanks and throwing them in the garbage. I think the tank had a lot potential, but I didn't know what I was doing. I also ended up ripping the dirt out of the tank, and going regular sand. I failed to cap the dirt with enough sand, and the tank was constantly silt-y. After running it for around six months, I took it down and cleaned it all up, preparing for my move to my new apartment, and to begin my saltwater journey. August 2014 Part of the process of putting up the saltwater setup was reinforcing the stand. I fixed my earlier mistake of drilling through the centre brace by adding cross bracing and whole new sheet of ply for the tank to sit on, properly jigged out to accommodate the bulkheads this time. I changed the 30L tank to a Gen-1 Eshopps sump, which I now regret and hate, but at the time it wasn't bad. I picked the Eshopps skimmer because it was what my store had on the shelf that wasn't brought in from China, and it was a very reasonable price, with a good reputation, being built in Germany with an Italian pump. Here I am filling it for the first time, and testing my max level. In the early days, I had all the controllers under the stand. The choices I made at the time of setting up this tank would later inform the decisions I would make about my current build. One of those choices was filter socks. I now firmly believe that they're the devil. I'm glad if they work for you, but I can't stand the maintenance and the way they mess up your water level, which changes the efficiency of your skimmer. I chose to go with a Herbie style siphon overflow, which necessitated adding a third hole, which I drilled in the back of the tank in the overflow, on the floor of my apartment with a friend pouring water slowly onto it as I used a (very) old diamond drill bit. Fortunately, because of where I worked, I had first dibs on Vanuatu live rock when it came into the store. This is especially notable where I live, because the only supplier in Vanuatu was owned by a very close friend of my boss, and wouldn't ship to anyone else in the area. I love this rock, and I wish I could get more of it now, but I don't think it's ever going to happen at this point. Overall, I'm pretty proud of what I accomplished with this tank as my first go with saltwater. In my very small apartment (about 300sqft), I carved out a nice little "fish room" corner, where I kept quarantines, water change bins, all my electronics for my main tank. I even plumbed my RODI line into the main sprinkler line for the building. Don't tell anyone. December 2015 I ended up adding six T5s to my Razor light in a canopy, which really gave my tank the boost it needed. The dosing I then added really kicked me into high gear. I was starting to see some amazing growth and colour. At its height it was an SPS and chalice dominant reef, with some acans, and a few other brains. I never really had much success with the acans and brains, so I ended up removing them. I feel that if I had kept on top of things, I would have had something to be truly admired right now, but as with most of us, neglect gets in the way sometimes. Life gets busy, we skip some waterchanges, we don't test our parameters as much or at all and suddenly the problem is way worse than we thought and it's all gone. We've all been there, I think. Or most of us, anyway. It was pretty quick. From the second FTS above in December-ish, to January, I lost virtually every piece of coral I had. And in the intervening time, total neglect of keeping the reef has meant that the only thing left alive are fish. Of course, over almost five years of running this tank, not everything has survived. A couple passed from age or natural causes, one jumped, and another couple got nabbed by a nasty crab. I skipped over it in the timeline, but I did put up another tank in my apartment. It was a pure soft coral tank, meant to be totally maintenance free as an experiment, with a crazy deep sandbed (six to eight inches). I really love this tank. Here's a quick shot of that one from April 2016: I have a lot more to say about these two reef tanks, and what I learned about the hobby from them, but I think I'll touch on it in later posts for the sake of brevity (ha! as if!) now. As of February 2019, both of these tanks are running still in my apartment, with minimal effort or intervention except to feed the fish, pending my new system going up to transfer the remaining livestock into it. January 31, 2016 On this day, Aquatica closed. I'll go more into detail on why in a later post, because I think it's very germane to the hobby as a whole, but for now I'll keep it simple. Financially the store wasn't doing well, and my boss after having run it for close to 15 years was tired of being at work 7 days a week, with three young children at home. Add in that his wife also wanted to move back to Toronto where she's from, and that he's a chemical engineer by education and former employment and had no need to try to right a sinking ship anymore except personal pride, he finally called it quits. As much as I loved that store, when it closed it was almost like a relief for me. It had stopped being fun for a variety of reasons a little while before and I think we all saw the writing on the wall, so there was a cloud over everything we did. By the time the store closed, I had gone from knowing absolutely nothing about the hobby, to the livestock manager of what I believe at the time was one of the largest aquatics-only stores in Canada. When my previous manager left, I was the logical choice to take his position, but I feel like even if I hadn't been the default option, I had gained enough knowledge and expertise in the field to handle the responsibilities. Maybe that's just my ego talking, though. We knew about the closure for a few weeks before it officially took place, and I had already arranged to start at a new job for one of Aquatica's local wholesalers with whom I had a good working relationship. The closure process was heartbreaking, though. A little after I started working for the store, we moved locations and I was heavily involved in the construction and plumbing of the new store, and seeing something I helped build with my own hands was very sad for me. My job at the wholesaler went well, and continues to do so as I'm still in that position. It's a completely different ball game, there's a lot about it that I love, and a lot about it that I hate. My one major regret is that I no longer have the chance to interact with so many passionate hobbyists on a daily basis. There's a lot I have to say about this side of the business, but I'll save it for now. The only notable thing in these three intervening years that pertains to this thread is that I put up another small reef tank in my already too cramped apartment. I did it for noble causes, though. We had received an order of saltwater at the shop, and one of the boxes was for a customer that we had to hold in our tanks for the better part of a week. The problem was that part of that order was ten wild caught A. ocellaris, which some of you may know are terrible carriers for Brooklynella. The risk of contaminating one of our systems was too great to risk, so my manager and boss decided to euthanise them. There was no way I could possibly accept that, though. I took them home, quarantined and medicated them, with the intention of giving them away when they made it through. Sadly, only one of the ten made it through quarantine, and I decided to keep her. She eventually made it into this tank: It's a 20L on my desk with a 30L sump underneath the desk. My apartment looked like this after putting up the tank: Current status of the small tank is that I moved the fish to another tank in order to shut it down, as preparation for moving and beginning the new build. January-October 2018 At this point, my wonderful girlfriend Samantha and I decided that we wanted to take the next step and buy a house, and we looked for about seven months before finally finding one for us. We closed in July and took possession in October (due to some work the owners needed to complete before we were willing to move in). It was at this time when the planning process for my new build began. I knew that with a house to hold it, I could do something really special with the right amount of money, patience and time. ----- So to recap for those of you who are not interested in reading a novel: I've been in the hobby and the aquarium industry for coming up on seven years. I knew literally nothing about aquariums before I started working for an LFS seven years ago. The job I got back then saved me from the personal hell I was in at the time, and taught me a lot about people, myself, and I made a lot of good friends. I put up a few tanks, some better than others, and learned even more from them than I did working for an LFS. I met a girl in that time, and we bought a house recently, and I got her permission to do something crazy and beautiful and awesome. This is that thread.