Greetings from New York. I’m extremely honored and humbled to be featured this month as ‘Reef of the Month’ on the best forum on earth, Reef2Reef. I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to share the details of my system with all the members of this forum.
Although I go by Tusi, my real name is Joe. I am 58 years old and originated from the island of Malta. While I was in biology class, a freshwater tank full of guppies caught my attention and it became love at first sight. That moment, gave me the drive to build my own homemade tank. I have been in the hobby now for 40+ years and my dream of having a saltwater reef tank began when I was 14 years old while still in grammar school.
Fast forward: I migrated to the United states in 1983, and after having many fresh water tanks I decided to embark on my dream journey of building a reef tank. While having no knowledge of saltwater tanks, I knew off the bat that there would be many trials and tribulations to this. I began doing as much research as possible. My first step in doing this was joining this forum, Reef2Reef. The amount of knowledge, help, advice, and inspiration I have received from this forum is immeasurable. There is a reason why I call it “the best forum on earth”, and that is because of all its members helping guide me through my first build and never discouraging me, but instead encouraging me and helping me to never give up.
My tank was custom built in Texas by Acrylic Glass Exhibits. The bottom is PVC and measures 60” long X 30” tall X 24” wide. The glass is 5/8” thick and has an acrylic euro brace 1” lower than the top edge of the glass. The reason that I did it like this is to help prevent water from running down the glass every time that I have my hands in the water. Also, another benefit to a euro brace is that it holds three sections of glass covers. The tank is viewable from three sides, like a peninsula. Originally, I did not want to have powerheads so I decided on doing a closed loop system. While making that decision, my intentions were to have an LPS tank so I did not feel that I needed too much flow. The overflow box is divided into two: half for tank water filtration and half for the tank closed loop system.
The stand was built by a local iron shop with adjustable legs. All the cabinetry was built custom by a local wood shop since it was a bit complicated to have the cabinetry integrate with my office furniture. My grow out tank was built by Advanced Acrylic and is connected to the main tank.
At first, my tank was an LPS dominant tank. My current system is an SPS dominant mixed reef, that is approximately 200 gal including the grow out tank. It is now approximately 12 years old. My sand bed is about 2” deep and has never been vacuumed nor replaced. I maintain it with 200+ nassarius snails and 8 conches. My aquascape was done with Tonga live rock. I aim to run my reef in the most natural way possible. I provide strong lighting and strong flow to get food to corals the most efficient way without over overfeeding. I maintain my nutrients with feeding bacteria along with carbon dosing and an algae reactor. I also do a 25-gallon water change per week and my choice of salt has always been Tropic Marine Pro Salt.
- Glass oceanic sump
- Reeflo Dart for closed loop
- Reeflo Marlin for my outdoor water chiller.
- Outdoor chiller by Trade wind Chillers.
- 45 Watt UV sterilizer
- Vertex Calcium reactor
- Vertex reactor with De nitrate rocks
- Custom PM probe holder box
- PM kalkwasser reactor
- Bubble king skimmer
- Arrid algae reactor
- 3 eheim in sump pumps for all above reactors
- GHL Profilux 3 controller
- GHL – 4 doser
- Apex / Trident testing control
- 60 gal mixing tank for water changes
- Blue line aqua pump for mixing tank
- 5-stage reverse osmosis set up
- 2 - MP40's
- 4 - Tunze 6105 powerheads.
- 2 - MP10's for grow out tank.
- 2 – 400w radiums with electronic ballasts.
- 4 – 60” T5 by Aqua medic
- 2 – 48” reef brite Blue led strip lights
- 4 – 8” reef brite blue led strip lights mounted on each side of halides
- All lights are controlled by my GHL controller.
- 2 – Kessils over my grow out tank.
- 4 – led moon lights
- T5’s and Led fixtures come on at 10 a.m. and go off at 10 p.m
- The first 400w halide come on at 12 noon and turns off 4 p.m.
- The second 400w halide come on at 1 p.m. and turns off 5 p.m.
- All other moon lights come on at 10 p.m. and go off at 10 a.m.
- Kessils on Grow out come on 10 a.m. and goes off at 10 p.m.
- My calcium reactor maintains my calcium, alkalinity and magnesium.
- My doser is used to dose Tropic Marin trace elements A & K, No Pox and additional magnesium.
- Manual daily dosing:
- Potassium iodide
- Sponge power
- Iron & Manganese
My auto top off is controlled by my Apex and runs through my Kalkwasser reactor which helps my PH.
Maintaining a steady temperature in a tank is important. One issue I find with running halides is that they put out a lot of heat, so maintaining a steady temperature could be challenging. My indoor chiller was creating a lot of heat in my office, so that’s when I contacted Trade Wind Chillers. I had them build me an outdoor chiller that can work through all four seasons. It was challenging to run the piping since this was an afterthought but I never gave up and found a way to overcome the challenge. My tank water passes through a sock, skimmer, bagged carbon and out to the chiller 40’ away and than back directly into the tank. I truly believe that steady temperatures help in preventing cyano blooms.
- Temp: 76 – 77 F
- PH: 8-8.2
- Specific Gravity: 35-36 ppt
- Ca: 440
- Alk: 8.5
- Mg: 1350 – 1400
- K: 380
- Ammonia and nitrites: 0 ppm
What salt mix do you use?
Since day 1, I have always used Tropic Marin Pro reef salt because it mixes well and contains more trace elements than most other salts.
Calcium / Alkalinity / Magnesium summary and objectives:
I like to run my reef tank as stable as possible. I use a calcium reactor with Reborn media and some magnesium media as well. The affluent is discharged into my algae reactor in which any excess co2 helps my algae grow faster and any po4 will than be consumed as well.
Are you dosing anything else for your reef health [carbon dosing, aminos etc]
I manually dose potassium iodide and potassium concentrate daily, since I like my blue colors to be deep a color. I also dose Dr. Tim's Eco Balance bacteria. Occasionally I dose zeovit sponge power which helps to grow natural sea sponges. With my GHL doser I dose Tropic Marin A & K trace elements, ESV magnesium, since my calcium reactor is not enough to maintain at higher levels and No Pox from Red Sea to help with my carbon dosing. My amino acid of choice is Elos amino acid and I dose it once a week.
Filtration and water quality summary and objectives:
My philosophy is always to be simple and effective in a natural way. A good protein skimmer is a must and maintaining a clean sock is just as important. I find growing sea sponges is also super important which helps to keep my water crystal clear. Another important point I try to maintain is to keep a balance of healthy fish with one heavy feeding per day.
What is your maintenance routine?
- Clean glass
- Feed fish
- Clean sock
- Clean protein skimmer
- Check alkalinity
- Inspect all corals and fish
- Test calcium, Alkalinity, magnesium, strontium, iodine, potassium, nitrates and salinity.
- Scrape any caroline algae
- 25 gal water change
- Check dosing jars for refill
- Clean power heads as needed
- Vacuum overflow box
- Check main pumps
- Check and clean outdoor chiller
- Replace trident reagents
Tank Inhabitants (Fish)
- Hippo tang
- Purple tang
- Black tang
- Gem tang
- Yellow tang
- Joculator angel
- Tail spot blenny
- Cleaner wrasse
- Pair of Flame wrasses
- Johnson’s wrasse
- Bells wrasse
- Leopard wrasse
- Femininus wrasse
- Pair of Rhomboid wrasses
- Maroon clown
- Sunburst Anthia
- 3 Hutchi anthias
- Blotched Anthia
- Dracula Goby
- Twin spot goby
- Copperband butterfly
- 3 Long spine cardinals
- Earli wrasse
- Lennardi wrasse
- Chaoti wrasse
- Pin tail wrasse
- A pair of Randall Pistol Shrimps
- 2 Skunk Cleaner Shrimps
- 10+ Red Leg Hermits
- 75+ Blue Leg Hermits
- 50+ Turbo Snails
- 200+ Nassarius snails
- 8 counches
- 2 Harlequin shrimps
- 4 Porcelain crabs
- STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE
- ORA PEARLBERRY
- CHRISTMAS MIRABILIS
- JACKSON RAINBOW
- TYREE PINK LEMONADE
- SUPERMAN TABLE
- RRC RAINBOW SPLICE
- JF FLAME TIP
- JF HOMEWRECKER
- ORANGE PASSION
- JF JOLT
- MATT V RAINBOW
- RRC JAWDROPPER
- RR USA ANGRY BIRD
- CC PINK HIGHLIGHTER
- PROM QUEEN
- ACID TRIP MILLIE
- PC RAINBOW
- SUNSET MILLIE
- ASD RAINBOW MILLIE
- POTO SIDE CHICK
- CHERRY BOMB
- STAGHORN ACRO [ACROPORA HOEKSEMAI]
- STAGHORN ACROPORA [ABROTANOIDES]
- BRANCHING ACROPORA [GOMEZI]
- RED DRAGON ACRO
- RRC BLACK SABBATH
- PINK CADILLAC
- WALT DISNEY
- GREEN SLIMER
- GARF –BONSAI
- OREGAN TORT
- VIVID CONFETTI
- PURPLE MONSTER
- ARC FIRE WORKS
- RR ASIA WOLVERINE
- PRINCESS PEACH
- ULTIMATE TABLE
- BALI SHORTCAKE
- POTO PIXAR
- ED MURRAY
- ORA NEON BIRDSNEST
- ORA STYLO
- PALETTA PINK TIP
- RR GHOSTBUSTERS
- RAINBOW GRANULOSA
- NORTHERN LIGHTS GRANULOSA
- ORA HAWKINS
- PINKY THE BEAR
- BRANCHING CYPESTREA
- RED SETOSA
- RAINBOW MONTI
- REVERSE SUPERMAN
- LENG SHI CAP
- JF BEACH BUM MONTI
- CRAZY T MONTI
- WWC KUNG PAO MONTI
- PHOENIX MONTI
LPS / SOFT CORALS:
- GREEN FROGSPAWN
- NEON CANDY CANE
- WATERMELON CHALICE
- BAZOOKA JOE CHALICE
- RAJA CHALICE
- RED AND BLUE CHALICE
- BUBBLE GUM CHALICE
- WATERMELON 2
- GREEN WITH ORANGE MOUTHS CHALLICE
- SPRUNG'S STUNNER CHALICE CORAL [ECHINOPORA LAMELLOSA]
- BLUE ZOOS
- GREEN ZOOS
- ORANGE ZOOS
- GREEN PALYS
- ORANGE AND GREEN BRAIN [LOBOPHYLLIA HEMPRICHII]
- RED AND GREEN OPEN BRAIN [TRACHYPHYLLIA RADIATA]
- BLUE MUSHROOMS
- RED MUSHROOMS
- STARBURST GREEN POLYPS [BRIAREUM SP]
- RED AND GREEN FAVIA [FAVITES PENTAGONA]
- RED AND GREEN FAVIA 2 [FAVITES PENTAGONA]
- ORANGE EUPHYLLIA
- WHISKER CORAL [DUNCANOPSAMMIA]
- NY KNICKS TORCH
- ASD HOLY GRAIL TORCH
- 24 K TORCH
- INDO GOLD TORCH
- DRAGON SOUL TORCH
Fish and coral feeding:
My fish and corals are fed once a day with a mix of frozen food. The frozen food contains hikari mysis, spirulina enriched brine shrimps, ocean plankton and fish eggs. I like to cover multiple particle sizes for my fish as well as other filter feeding animals in the tank. I do not direct feed my corals.
How did you decide what to keep in your tank:
This will always be a difficult decision for me to make. I like every coral in the hobby and did not have anything specific in mind. My main goal was to try to replicate my tank after what we see in the natural ocean. With this being said I aimed to see bright colors with full spectrum lights that made my reef look full, colorful, and natural. The biggest problem I face is that I can only fit so many corals in my tank. Every two years I re-aquascape and replace corals that I grow in my grow out tank. Since I only wanted to keep approximately 30 fish, I decided to buy fish that serve a purpose and also give me pleasure to look at. My mixture is a balance of wrasses, tangs and other purposeful fish.
Any stocking regrets:
The only regret I have is adding blue mushrooms to the reef. They grew out of control like weeds and I feel they took up too much real estate!
Any fish, invert or coral you will never keep:
The only fish I regret adding is a flame angel. It terrorized every fish I added and in some cases killed them. It was extremely difficult to catch him and I don’t plan on ever getting another!
What do you love most about this hobby:
Aside from the fact that I am able to keep a piece of the ocean in my house, I’d say I love the reefing community the most. I have had many conversations with reefers through Reef2Reef across the country and across the world. I also got to meet many people through meetings in homes of other fellow reefers like myself. Through this amazing hobby I gained many new close friends and I am honored to be part of this community.
How long have you been doing this:
I have been in the reefing hobby for 12 years now.
Who was responsible for getting you into the hobby?
It was the freshwater fish tank in my biology class that got me into this hobby. After seeing and owning so many freshwater tanks, my dream of having a reef tank started after I saw a saltwater reef tank in a pet store at a young age. At that point with the very little resources that I had, I started doing all the research needed to educate myself about reefing and it only grew from there.
Who or what in the hobby most influences/inspires you?
The list of who and what influences me in this hobby is way too long to list! What inspires me the most in this hobby is the simple fact that I am able to replicate a piece of the underwater world in my own home. I was always fascinated with the living world below the ocean's surface and being able to grow it at my discretion will keep me engaged for many more years to come.
If you could have any tank, what size would it be and why?
In the unrealistic world, I don’t think there is a tank big enough that would satisfy me!
In the realistic world I would dream of having a tank the entire size of my kitchen floor. With this, I can have a glass floor to be able to look down on my reef. There would be access to it to allow me physical access to the inside of it for a more hands on feel. For me, this would be the closest thing to swimming in a coral reef while also being able to care/grow one in my own home!
This is tough to pinpoint just one fish since I have a love for all. If I had to choose just one, it would be my Dracula Goby. The reason for this is because I find it extremely fascinating watching its symbioses with a pair of pistol shrimps.
With the amount of corals that are available now a days it makes it very hard to choose one. I am still mainly in love with the original corals that were available at the time when I started out in this hobby. My favorites are the Purple monster, Purple Stylophora, Oregon Tort, Garf bonsai. These corals all have a story behind them from reefers before us that had no technology and not as much information available to them as of how to grow them and color them. These corals show their beauty with full spectrum light with no need for orange filters or deep blue lights.
Without a doubt my favorite invert is my pair of harlequin shrimps. They are the perfection of nature.
How do you get over setbacks:
I get over my setbacks by perseverance. I look at setbacks as lessons to be learned. I try to stay calm, level headed, and patient. I learned not to panic and not to jump to any conclusions. The process I take for this is to take a step back and backtrack to what was most recently added or changed in the tank. I check all equipment for any failure, to help assist in finding the problem. In most cases it is a simple fix but with this hobby being so delicate it doesn’t take much to have a setback. My advice is to be patient, stay disciplined, and be aware and listen to the needs of your tank.
Have you faced any major challenges with this particular tank, and if so, how did you overcome?
Facing major challenges is an understatement with my tank. I have had almost every imaginable reefer’s nightmare. Since I have never quarantined fish or coral (#1 mistake) I had to deal with Brooklynella Disease which cost me a fortune and AEFW which thank god I caught early on so I was able to stop it. That’s why it’s important to always look at your corals closely. I have had red bugs which was probably the easiest to treat with no major setbacks. Another challenge I had was aiptasia and majanos which were both handled by a Copperband fish and a Filefish. The biggest major challenge I faced was when I found out by accident that I had a Bobbit worm. At this point, I thought the end for my tank had arrived. After weeks of sleepless nights thinking if I should disassemble the tank and call it quits, I caught a second wind. The support of my family and fellow reefers that became close friends I decided to go after the 3’ monster! It was not an easy task but my love for this hobby is so strong that nothing will stop me from overcoming any problem that might arise.
What is the best thing you ever bought for your tank / what is the worst thing you ever purchased for your tank:
I combine these two questions because they relate to each other in some form or another. I don’t think there is one particular thing that I can say is the best or the worst purchase. I have realized every piece is just as important for the performance of my tank. It is in my opinion important to buy quality equipment and proven equipment so the performance is always at its peak. This was a hard-costly lesson learned for me. I replaced mostly all equipment that I originally purchased due to malfunction or poor performance. I am a simple, old school reefer so proven equipment is important to me, which makes it harder for me to change to newer technology.
What are your future plans for improvement/upgrade of the tank:
What I would love to improve on is having a dedicated room for a quarantine system for fish, coral and even live rock. I do plan on finding a way to better expose my equipment allowing me better access to service it. Another improvement/ upgrade I am planning on incorporating into my current tank are automatic water changes. As far as a future tank upgrade goes, my next tank will be more carefully thought out. It will encompass all of the things I’ve learned about successfully keeping SPS corals over the last decade.
Any special tips for success or advice you’d like to share with other reefers?
Things learned from my own mistakes over the last 12 years:
- First and foremost, it is to learn and understand the biology of the system you are about to be caring for.
- Do as much research as possible.
- Make a plan and stick with it.
- Quarantine every live animal you buy [I learned the hard way]
- Don’t be intimidated to ask questions to other reefers that have been in the hobby. Their tanks will speak for themselves and it’s a true saying that no question is a stupid question.
- Be disciplined and patient with your tank.
- Be respectful to the hobby and other reefers because in the end, we are all learning from each other.
- Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to ask questions if you see something wrong in your tank.
- Give your tank a good balance between fish and corals. I would also suggest to definitely use live rock and sand.
- Give your tank more than sufficient lighting since corals depend on it.
- Flow is important, so plan on a good turbulent flow pattern.
- Teach young kids about the hobby so they can succeed.
- Use only equipment that has been proven.
- Plan on a fish list ahead of time, so you don’t regret it later. It can be very challenging to catch them to remove and find another home for them.
- Plan on a coral list ahead of time. This will allow you to be able to set up a certain aquascape for them to allow enough room for growth and lighting to hit them.
- Calculate what your tank is going to cost you to run ahead of time so it does not become a problem later
- Support local reef shops
- Keep a close eye and spend about 10 minutes every day to look at your tank and see how everything is doing.
I want to Thank Reef2Reef for the opportunity to share my system with you all on the “Reef of the Month” series. I appreciate all of you who have supported me here through this beautiful journey. There are many tanks that are worthy of being tank of the month, so for that I am truly humbled that my tank is recognized as one of them. If anyone has any questions about my system please don’t hesitate to reach out to me and I will answer them as best as I can. No matter what stage you may be in, don’t give up. In the end, this community is always here for support.