Steve Schafer's (sschafer) Reef Aquarium

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Introduction and Background:

I was utterly dumbstruck when I was asked to have my tank featured as Tank of the Month. I have always looked up to the reefkeepers who have been given such an honor, and it seems as though I learn something new from each of those featured tanks.

My father taught high school Chemistry, Photography (never would have guessed that from looking at my pictures), and Biology so I was raised with a great respect for the natural sciences. I remember looking through all the Biology textbooks in awe when I was little. I've had aquariums pretty much as long as I can remember. I started out with a small freshwater community tank when I was four or five. I then moved into African Cichlids, and progressed to Discus from there. I set up my first saltwater tank in my early teens; I remember it quite well. It was a 29-gallon tank with an undergravel filter in which I kept a small Lunare Wrasse, Picasso Trigger and Snowflake Moray.

In my Junior year of high school I took a Marine Biology course which finished with a trip to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. Snorkeling there was utterly amazing. I had never seen anything so incredible. Upon my return I set up my first "reef" tank. It was a 55-gallon tank with a hang-on-the-back overflow that drained into a wet/dry filter . At that time, I knew of only one reef shop, and it was a 30-minute drive away. I had to tear down this tank when I went away to college. Then a few years passed during which I did not maintain an aquarium at all. I actually raised numerous geckos from around the world, as well as chameleons from Africa and Madagascar, but that's an entirely different story. Upon returning to my hometown I set up a 29-gallon reef. This quickly became a 54-gallon reef and then, after I purchased a house, evolved into the 120-gallon tank I now maintain. Those of us in the Rochester area are very fortunate to have three excellent reef shops nearby, and three others within an hour's drive.

The "big tub of water," as my wife likes to refer to it, is in our foyer. Since I am 6' 2" tall and the foyer has no seating area, I decided to make the stand quite a bit taller than the average stand typically seen for sale. I do need a step ladder to get anywhere near the bottom of the tank, but I don't have to lean over to view what I have spent so much time and money on. If I had to do it all over again, and I will, I would certainly keep the tank at this height. The aquarium's overflows drain about 13' into the basement. I was lucky enough to have an existing 10' x 10' room in the basement that is perfect for all my aquarium gear.

Aquarium Profile:

120-gallon All Glass reef-ready aquarium
Dimensions: 48" x 24" x 24"
Stand height: 42"
50-gallon sump
100-gallon refugium


9:30 am: Actinics on
11:00 am: Metal halides on
9:00 pm: Metal halides off
9:30 pm: Refugium lights on
10:00 pm: Actinics off
9:00 am: Refugium lights off

I used a set of four 55-watt power compacts over my two previous reef tanks. After seeing a number of very successful local reef tanks, I was pretty much set on adding metal halides to the mix. I managed to keep a number of SPS under the power compacts, but I really wanted to expand my SPS selection. Currently, I am running two 250-watt Hamilton 14K metal halide bulbs on old style IceCap ballasts. Accompanying these are two 110-watt URI Actinic VHO bulbs running on an IceCap 660. I feel this gives the tank quite an appealing look. The canopy is cooled with a single IceCap variable speed fan. Before switching to the Hamilton 14K bulbs I used Aqualine Buske 10K's. Some of the corals looked much nicer under the AB's while others look better under the Hamiltons. I'm considering upgrading the metal halides to 400-watt double-ended HQI bulbs on the new style IceCap ballasts. I'm going to wait, however, until I read a little more feedback and see them running in person. The refugium is lit by four 110-watt URI VHO bulbs (two actinic and two daylight).

Filtration and Circulation:

I have quite a high bioload in the tank so live rock and skimming are key to maintaining happy and healthy occupants. The main tank has approximately 150 lbs. of Fiji live rock. Initially, I included a 2" to 3" deep sandbed consisting entirely of Southdown play sand. What a mistake that was! I have been trying to get rid of all that sand for quite some time now. While it may have served a purpose for the first year or so, all it has done lately is cause lots of headaches. I've found that the Southdown sand kills the edges on many of my Echinophyllia and significantly retards their growth. The next tank will have a bare bottom with a faux sandbed (using Starboard on the bottom). Until then I'll continue to try to remove the Southdown and replace it with a thin layer of crushed coral.

Water from the tank is filtered through a 100 micron Pure Flo filter pad as it enters the 50-gallon sump. I run approximately 8 oz. of Seachem MatrixCarbon in the system, replacing it once a week. Skimming is done by a EuroReef CS8-3, which I've found to be an exceptional skimmer.

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A Mag-Drive 7 feeds water to the refugium, which started out as a 100-gallon algae scrubbing system. It was originally filled with live rock and Chaetomorpha algae, but I found that the algae trapped tons of detritus. In an effort to try to keep the tank a little cleaner, I've decided that the algae have outlasted their welcome. The refugium now contains about 130 lbs. of live rock and whatever corals from the main tank will grow under VHO lighting.

A single Iwaki MD70RLT has provided water circulation since I originally set the tank up two-and-a-half years ago. This pump has approximately 13 feet of head pressure on it, so I estimate its return at approximately 1000 GPH. Water is retuned to the tank via the two AGA overflow returns. I did use a ½" Sea Swirl for approximately one year, but unfortunately its drive mechanism broke. I've recently added a Tunze Wavebox 6212. While it doesn't fit into this tank very well, its performance is quite impressive, and I actually I like it so much that my next tank will be designed around integrating one in an inconspicuous location. I seem to get much better polyp extension with the Wavebox, and my Mustard tang and a couple of wrasses love to surf the 5000 GPH surge.

Water Parameters:
Calcium: ~ 430 ppm
Alkalinity: 8 - 10 dKH
Specific Gravity: ~ 1.025