Ever think you would see a coral reef in the mountains of Pennsylvania? Well, I built one in my basement. Hi, everyone! My name is James, better known as Duke of Coral 62 on social media platforms. I've been reefing since 2005 but like everyone else who started in the hobby I had no idea what I was doing. I started with a 55-gallon tank with 2 bulb PC lighting and a canister filter. I used a garden hose to fill the tank, got it up to temp and started adding livestock. Everything was pretty in my tank including the cyanobacteria that was growing all over the sand bed LOL. Like many reefers I upgraded and downgraded my aquariums the way others change their socks. I bought this tank in 2012 and had it running successfully for 4 years. I then planned a move from Lindenhurst Long Island up to the mountains of Pennsylvania in 2016. I tried to bring all my corals and fish to the new house, but a 2” bulkhead broke on my sump and could not find another one in time. I lost 100% of my livestock so I decided to take a 2-year break until my basement was refinished.
In July 2018 I finally added water to my old 180. I added 250 lbs of dry rock to my system. This time I was going to be very picky about what type of corals and fish I was going to add. I went with an SPS dominant tank, and most of the fish I wanted to add were going to be fish that cared for the tank. I went with tangs for algae control and wrasses for pest control. Of course, I added a few ornamental fish just so I can have some middle dwelling fish to look at. And what's a reef tank without some clowns and anthias?
I started this tank with SPS frags no larger than 2”. I am a frag guy and I feel adding smaller frags will cut down on introducing pests into the system. But my main reason was I enjoy watching my corals grow and to feel a sense of accomplishment when they do. 3 years later and I believe I achieved what I set out to do.
Let’s Talk About the System!
My tank is a 180-gallon old school Aqueon tank. IT IS 72”X24”X24”. I've had this tank now since 2012. It sits on a DIY 2’x6’ stand with a plywood top. It's not the greatest setup in the world but it is doing exactly what I set it up for. Alongside the tank, I have a 100-gallon DIY sump. In the sump sits my new Reef Octopus Regal 250. So far, it's doing an amazing job for my gas exchange and removing the organics from my system. I also have a reactor to run Rowaphos and a reactor that uses ESV carbon. To keep my Alkalinity as stable as I could I also use a Reef Octopus 10” calcium reactor. I'm using ARM media in the reactor. Indeed, a lower PH than other media but I’ve been using it for a long time, and it works for me. I have a Kamoer STP pump to dose the perfect amount of effluent. Along with the calcium reactor as of recently I've needed to add a dosing pump for alkalinity. The reason for this is my corals are absorbing more Alkalinity than calcium. So instead of messing with the calcium reactor, I decided just to dose 20ml of Alkalinity a day to give me that little bump. For lighting I went with 3 Radion G4 pro XR30s with a AquaticLife retrofit fixture with 4 ATI blue plus bulbs and boy am I glad I did. I'm getting the best of both worlds. As for powerheads, I am using 3 GyreS XF350. I have 1 on the left panel, one on the right panel and one in the back of the tank. I also am using an old Ecotech MP40 on the back of the tank. Along with those pumps i also have 2 ¾ seaswirls attached to my returns. I use Red Sea regular salt in my system. I’ve been using this salt for years due to the fact that it mixes quickly and clean but also the Alkalinity is close to my levels.
The Frag Tank
One thing I truly never had was a frag tank. This system is the first system I've had an actual frag tank on. My frag tank is 36’x24”12’. And it is attached to my DT. The reason I attached it to the DT is because I like to make everything as simple as I can. This means I don't have to worry about the parameters for 2 tanks. For lighting on the frag tank, I'm using very similar lights. I have 2 Radion G4 pro xr15s with an AquaticLife retro fixture. I'm using the same bulb combination of 4 ATI blue plus bulbs. For flow I have 2 Sicce pumps. I'm thinking of getting 2 MP10s but on the fence still. If it wasn't for this frag tank, I honestly don't know what I would do. I’m also connected to an Apex EL that I won at a local frag swap. It’s mostly used as a timer but does control my heaters. As for heating the tank, I use 2 Eheim 300W heaters which I switch out every winter. To me they are a cheap enough piece of equipment that I can do this for and it's a peace of mind for me. I keep my temps between 76.5 and 77.5. No need for a chiller since my tank is in a very cool basement. Only supplements I am using for my tank is Aquavitro Fuel along with Aquavitos Vibrance. Sometimes I will add some Iodine as well. As far as coral foods, I like to use Reefroids with a mixture of TLF Phytoplan. I also will use Benepets when my nutrients get too high to use the Reefroids.
As for my parameters, I am very particular on where I want them to be. I am very anal when it comes to my water chemistry, and I test very frequently. For Alkalinity I like my number to be at 8.5 at its highest and 8.3 at its lowest. I manually test my alkalinity every morning using the Hanna checker. My corals suck up so much alk in a day that it's impossible to keep it any more stable. For calcium I shoot for 420 and magnesium I like to keep between 1350 and 1400. I will manually test this every 2 weeks using Salifert. I don't add any magnesium to my system. I believe there is enough of this in my arm media keeping my levels stable. I also just recently added the Neptune Trident to make my life a bit easier As far as No3, I try to keep it between 5 and 10 using Salifert kit. I am soon switching to the Hanna HR kit when available. As for my PO4, this is a challenge for me. I like to keep my PO4 between .03 and .08. With where they have been collecting the calcium media, the media seems to have a large amount of PO4 inside which when melted is released into the tank. To fight this, I have the effluent dripping into a mesh bag that has Rowaphos inside to help absorb some of that excess PO4.
I'm not a fish guy so I just pick my fish that will help my reef tank. This is my fish list:
- Copperband Butterfly fish (My favorite fish)
- Purple tang
- Powder blue tang
- Yellow kole eyed tang
- Magnificent Fox face
- Sixline wrasse
- Checkerboard wrasse
- Spotted mandarins
- Yellow coris wrasse
- 2 lyretail anthias
- 2 Percula clowns
- 2 chromis
- Scooter blenny
- Purple dottyback
- Red spot
- Bi color blenny
Frag tank fish
- Scopas tang
- Lawnmower blenny
- Sixline wrasse
- File fish
- Astrea snails
- Trochus snails
- Mexican Turbos
- Red legged hermits
- Tuxedo urchin
So to say acropora are my favorite corals to keep is an understatement. I live on seeing my acropora flourish which has gotten harder for me to do. As the corals grow, so do their demands and its very challenging to keep up with those demands. As a result, you lose one here and one there. It breaks my heart every time this happens. I do not have the same feelings when I lose a LPS coral. My tank is set up to keep acropora so I give the acros the right environment to thrive which sometimes doesn't agree with some LPS corals. If I were to pick one acro in my tank that is a favorite of mine it would have to be the MattV rainbow envy and coming in at a close 2nd is an acro I call the counterfeit confetti.
- Bounce mushroom
- War coral
- Space invader pectinia
16. Firework cloves (In frag tank)
Dealing with Challenges
I've faced a few obstacles in this tank. About 2 months ago, I received 2 bad Salifert kits that were showing 8.5 but in reality my alk got as low as 6.5. I found this out after I hooked up the Trident and it showed me low numbers. I lost a big milli colony as well as stressed a few corals out which then started to STN. The corals have bounced back some but I still have stressed corals. Then, in mid-July, my wife and I decided to go out for the day. I forgot I close my fish tank room door and didn't open the vent which led to my tank overheating and killing off an already stressed pink lemonade colony and my new frag of the Jawdropper. This mistake hurt the most because it was a careless mistake and one that should have never happened. Besides the last 2 months of setbacks, the tank has been doing amazing. The way I overcome these issues is to just learn from them and chalk it up to experience. If I were to let failure get me down, I would never have started keeping SPS.
Have you ever added any livestock to your tank that you wished you hadn't (fish, coral, or invert)?
Only thing I ever regretted adding to my tank was a batch of chaeto that I did not fresh water dip which was harvesting planaria flatworms.
What is the best thing you've ever bought for your tank?
Best thing I have ever bought for this reef was my Reef Octopus calcium reactor.
What keeps you in the hobby?
Keeping up with SPS is the reason I stick with this hobby. I like challenges and SPS is a daily challenge which is impossible to win. One wrong move and its checkmate.
Do you have any future plans for upgrades or changes?
I have no future plans to upgrade or have any plans to change anything with my system. I thought about going to the new G5s but my G4s are doing so well for me. I am nervous I would shock my corals with the new par. I've also thought about going for a larger setup. If anything were to go wrong with this system and I had to start over more than likely I would upgrade to a 300 gallon unless someone gives me a deal of the century in which case I may have to reconsider.
I know you've said you love SPS and that's the focus of your reef tank, but if you could set up a 2nd tank that was a different kind of tank, what would that be and why?
If I were to set up another tank (which I will be doing in the near future) it would be a seahorse tank with a forest of gorgonians and maybe some macro algae.
What advances in the hobby (new tech, captive breeding, etc) get you most excited?
What gets me the most excited since I’m a huge fan of doing water testing is the advancement of auto testing. Trident is great but I would love Neptune to create an add-on for PO4 and NO3 which I believe is right around the corner.
Any special tips for success or advice you'd like to share with other reefers?
Tips I would give other reefers is test, test and test again! It's one of the easiest tasks you can do, and it cuts out many issues before they arise. Also find yourself a good reefer to lean on when you need help. Asking questions online and on R2R is awesome, but to have an actual conversation with someone you trust is priceless.
Thank you for taking the time to read my bio on this reef tank. And thank you Reef2Reef for even considering me for ROTM. This was a dream come true for me and something I strived for the last 10 years. I want to thank my family for putting up with my obsession and all my reefing friends who have helped me on this journey starting with KathyC who got me into this hobby and has since passed. Tusi for guiding me forward along with Dan Rigle. Joe Yaiullo who gave me inspiration through his lectures and amazing 20k tank and kept it fun to learn. But my biggest inspiration is all these young men and women who contact me through R2R and social media eager to learn and ask me tough questions that keeps me on my toes.