Chris Ward's (cward) Reef Aquarium
My passion for reefkeeping
started almost five years ago when a friend from work talked
me into setting up my 65-gallon as a mixed reef tank. From
there my excitement for the hobby grew, and I soon started
planning a 120-gallon stony coral reef tank that would be
located in the basement with an equipment room behind the
tank. This tank was really doing great, and I never imagined
I would run out of room, but then I brought home an A.
millepora that kept growing, and growing and growing.
Finally, I decided to build a bigger tank so I wouldn't have
to chop up the Millepora.
After seeing Steve Weast's beautiful
reef tank, I knew that I wanted a tank with a lot of front-to-back
depth. My good friend George Weber helped with the planning
and construction of my current tank, which is made of acrylic
and measures 51" x 49.5" x 25" (273 gallons).
I wanted as much inside tank space as possible, so we decided
on the 32" x 6" x 16" external overflow that
has two 2" drains and a 1" feed for my skimmer.
When laying out my aquascaping, I really wanted to showcase
the tank's depth, so I decided to create a valley similar
to Steve's. I used most of the live rock from my 120-gallon
system, with the addition of a couple larger 35+ pound pieces
that I used to create the valley's foundation. I also wanted
to give the corals as much room as possible to grow, so I
placed them far enough apart that they could mature into large
colonies. I also knew that I wanted to give the corals a lot
of flow, so I decided on a shallow sand bed for my goby and
Heliofungia. My display tank is connected to a 115-gallon
sump, a 100-gallon refugium and a 60-gallon remote deep sand
bed, which gives my system a fair amount of surface area to
dissipate heat. The extra water volume also keeps the system
I have to admit that I am an equipment
junkie, and it's really one of the first things I look for
when I see a "Tank of the Month." My equipment room
measures 13' x 12' and really gives me the space I need to
do routine maintenance and for water storage. I have an air
conditioning duct in the ceiling as well as an exhaust fan
that turns on every two hours for 45 minutes. A dehumidifier
is also installed to reduce the moisture level in the basement,
which is really necessary to keep everything from becoming
rusty and molded. I decided to keep the refrigerator outside
the equipment room to cut down on heat. For electricity, I
decided to go with three dedicated circuits that give me plenty
of options for wiring configurations. I also added DSL for
internet access on my computer to provide the option of remotely
monitoring the tank via an Aqua Controller III.
I am a firm believer that good random
flow is needed to keep small-polyped stony corals, so I decided
on a Sequence Hammerhead, rated for a maximum flow rate of
5800gph, running into an Oceans Motions 4-way wavemaker as
a closed loop. I also have three 1" returns that are
fed from a Dolphin Ampmaster 3600 (3600gph), which also feeds
the remote sand bed and the refugium. I ran this setup for
a while, but found that I could never really get rid of some
dead spots so I added two Tunze Stream pumps (a 6100 &
a 6200) controlled by a Tunze 7095 multi-controller. The multi-controller
gives me the option of adding more Stream pumps in the future
if I decide later that more flow is needed.
The system's filtration starts with
the strong flow that I have in the display tank, which keeps
the detritus and dissolved organic compounds suspended in
the water column, thereby allowing them to be exported from
the main tank via the large external overflow. I have a 1"
drain from the overflow that feeds the 12" GEO external
needle wheel protein skimmer. Two 2" drains feed into
the 115-gallon sump, where the water flows over carbon and
filter pads. The return pump feeds the display tank, as well
as a 60-gallon remote deep sand bed and a 100-gallon refugium
that is filled with 100 lbs. of live rock and Chaetomorpha.
I wanted a lighting system on the
display tank that would allow easy access to clean it and
change the bulbs, so George and I built an aluminum frame
made out of 2" x 2" square tubing that is hung from
a track system originally designed for barn doors. The system
works great, and the rack slides back into the equipment room
effortlessly. The lighting consists of two 400-watt 20K Radium
bulbs and two 400-watt 14K Hamilton bulbs that are mounted
in Luminarc III reflectors. The Radiums are powered by a 400-watt
PFO HQI ballast which burns the bulbs brighter than a standard
ballast and make them look more like 14Ks. The Hamiltons are
powered by a standard 400-watt PFO ballast. Both ballasts
are mounted out of the way on top of the light rack. I also
use two 110-watt and two 75-watt actinic VHO bulbs to give
the tank a dusk and dawn effect. Both the refugium and remote
deep sand bed have one 250-watt HQI pendant with an IceCap
ballast that is on a reverse lighting schedule. The only reason
I light the sand bed is because I have some small Acropora
colonies that I just don't have room for in the display tank.
All of the lights are controlled by commercial timers except
for the actinic VHOs, which are controlled by the Aqua Controller
on (display tank)
on (display tank)
off (display tank)
off (display tank)
on (refugium & DSB)
off (refugium & DSB)
I really feel that I wouldn't have
had the success that I've enjoyed if it wasn't for my GEO
calcium reactor. At the rate at which the corals deplete the
calcium and alkalinity it would be a real chore to manually
add the supplementation needed to keep the system balanced.
I've also added a GEO kalkwasser reactor to help maintain
the system's pH, and the kalkwasser has the additional benefit
of adding more calcium. While the calcium reactor runs continuously,
I use the kalk reactor to replace all evaporated water between
the hours of midnight and noon. Other supplementation comes
from 50-gallon water changes, which I do every two weeks.
Other than testing calcium and alkalinity levels, I check
the system's magnesium every month and supplement if needed.
My daily routine usually consists
of cleaning the display tank's front viewing panel. Because
my tank is acrylic I have to be diligent about preventing
coralline algae buildup or risk the chance of scratching the
inside, which is a pain to buff out. I also check the equipment
daily to make sure everything is functioning properly. My
weekend chores consist of cleaning the skimmer's cup (which
my wife really loves!) and adding kalkwasser to the reactor.
I do a 50-gallon water change every two weeks, which I've
simplified by using a saltwater reservoir with a valve on
the bottom that drains directly into the sump. I also have
a mixing pump and a heater connected to the reservoir so the
water is mixed, aerated and heated to the proper temperature.
A drain on the sump is connected to the floor drain outside
the equipment room. This makes it easy to drain the correct
amount of water from my system when performing water changes.
On a monthly basis I siphon any detritus that builds up in
the sump and change/clean the filter pads, as well as changing
the carbon bag that hangs in the sump. I replace the filters
in my six-stage RO/DI unit as necessary and test its output
on a weekly basis. About every six months I do the usual pump
cleaning, probe calibration and bulb/reflector cleaning.
The fish are fed a mixture of brine
shrimp, squid, Mysis shrimp, Cyclop-Eeze®
and nori every other day, and I feed Spectrum pellet food
on the alternate days. I also feed the corals a mixture of
ZoPlan, Golden Pearls and DT's oyster eggs three times
When I started this tank I really wanted to give the corals
plenty of room to grow, so I decided to keep the stocking
level to a minimum. All of the corals you see are from the
120-gallon tank that I previously set up, which were started
mostly from 1"-2" fragments donated from local club
members. It really didn't take long for the corals to fill
this tank and I occasionally fragment them out of necessity,
but I'm trying not to interfere with their growth too much.
My plan is to let the table Millepora grow as big as
possible (it's currently 37" L x 27" W), which will
likely doom some of my favorite corals resting underneath
it that are struggling for light.
6-Acropora millepora (various colors)
- 2-Montipora digitata
Green Star polyps
1-Pocillopora damicornis (spawning has created
dozens of babies growing everywhere in the system)
1-Yellowheaded Sleeper goby
- 1-Sixline wrasse
- 1-Copperbanded butterflyfish
Cerith spp. snails
Astraea spp. snails
Scarlet hermit crabs
Emerald Mythrax crabs
- Blue leg hermit crabs
- 1- Fighting conch
I would first like to thank my wonderful
wife, Julie, who allows me the time I need to work in the
fish room and for tolerating my obsession. I would also like
to thank my good friend, George Weber, for all he has done
to help me in this hobby. Also, thanks to Skipper and his
crew for picking my tank to be "Tank of the Month"
for October's Reefkeeping Magazine. It is truly an
honor that I will never forget, and I can't thank everyone
at Reef Central enough. Additionally, I've been very fortunate
to be in a great local club (CORA) whose members bend over
backward to help one another, so thank you, CORA.
Photography courtesy of Jason Hollback
Feel free to comment
or ask questions about my tank in the Tank of the Month
on Reef Central.
If you'd like
to nominate a tank for Tank of the Month, click here
or use the button to the right.