Alberto Santilli's Reef Aquarium-
A Reef from Rome

A tank maintained with the Blu Coral method without HGH (Human Growth Hormone).

The Tank:

The tank is 185 gallons and measures 150 x 60 x 80 cm (L x W x H); the thickness of the glass is 20mm, and it is visible on two sides. These two visible sides are made with a special, extremely clear glass. The stand is constructed of an entirely stainless steel frame, welded together, and covered with custom wood panels that match the apartment's decor. The entire structure is perfectly soundproofed, so that the noise from the equipment does not disrupt the tranquility of the room. The tank has been in operation for around four-and-a-half years, and all of the equipment, excluding the pumps and IKS controller, was self-constructed.


  Water Parameters:
Ca: 500 mg/l
KH: 13 dKH
Mg: 1600 ppm
SG: ~1.027
Temp: 27° C
pH: 8.3 - 8.7
Sr: 30
NO2: 0
NO3: 5
PO4: 0.01
Iodine: 0.06

The filtration system is based upon the Berlin Method, and therefore contains 120 kg of live rock-of which 70 kg is from Fiji and the other 50 kg is from a previous aquarium. The main sump is made of glass and measures 90 x 60 x 37 cm (L x W x H). This year, I installed a second sump measuring 35 x 50 x 50 cm (L x W x H), loaded with live rock, a slow moving current and a bare bottom. Inside the main sump are two do-it-yourself skimmers, three return pumps (two are 3,400 l/h and one is 2,200 l/h) and an oxygenation system to reduce possible CO2 buildup. Additionally, there are two filter socks on the incoming lines from the tank.

The overflow is externally located on the back part of the tank. The unused space in the overflow contains around 40 kg of live rock. Water movement is managed entirely by a Tunze Multicontroller with two Tunze Stream 6100's (I tend to prefer German equipment).


The lighting is comprised of three 400-watt XM 10,000 K HQI bulbs powered by an IceCap electronic ballast and two 80-watt T5 lamps controlled by an electronic dimmer located on the IKS controller (to simulate sunrise/sunset). In addition to that, blue LED's are used for moonlights and help simulate the lunar cycles.

Other Equipment:

Outside the tank: a calcium reactor with 25 kg of crushed coral (Jumbo), and a kalkwasser reactor for restoring the evaporated water (around 30 liters a day). The kalk reactor and magnesium reactor are both controlled by the IKS controller. There is also an Aqua Medic 2,000 l/h chiller and a UV-C sterilizer supplying two pre-filters. Currently, I am in the process of modifying the chiller system so that it matches the homemade version of Francesco Bunicich (Fra2).

Tank management is controlled by nine timers, an IKS computer and a Simmod IKS for controlling sunrise/sunset. The IKS controller uses the following probes: temperature, redox, salinity as well as three pH probes.

On the balcony I constructed a "camouflaged" structure (below) with a covering identical to the condominium. Inside, I positioned the equipment to produce plankton, such as rotifers and some new macroalgae, to the inside of my reactor with a magnetic stirrer. For the phytoplankton, however, I only use a simple tube for aeration. The external tank is connected to the main aquarium and is used as a coral fragment grow-out tank. This is by far the part of the tank that brings me the most joy. The natural light gives the corals exceptional colors and remarkable growth-as well as allowing for a wide array of micro fauna inside the tank.


On average, I change 50 liters of water every two to three months, prepared with Preis salt. About every 15 days, I clean the pre-filters and the UV sterilizer bulb.


The only products actually used are: Tropic Marin brand Iodine and Strontium, and "pappone" (the Blu Coral method's food) every two days in conjunction with amino acids and omega 3 fatty acids.


This aquarium is the result of 10 years of prior experience, in which I experimented with various solutions that I could put into action when designing this system. The main criterion in this system's design was primarily to not have any equipment in view. With this system I am free of the classic problems that one would typically encounter with a tank of this size. I am able to reach every major or minor part of the tank for regular maintenance of the pumps, equipment and plumbing.

You all know very well that when you have an aquarium in the house, it causes noise, odors and raises humidity. These, in time, can create problems. I searched for a way, therefore, to minimize these particular annoyances, and a way to isolate and send the extra humidity outside.

I took great care with the safety of the plumbing system in order to prevent eventual breaks or leaks. The security of the electrical system was of prime importance for me, especially in an aquarium where this is always water-an optimal conductor of electricity. I found a convenient and secure way to separate the electrical wiring (all cables and wiring watertight) to keep the aquarium separate from the rest of the wiring of the house, and I even installed a separate distribution board for the system.

I am sure that if one reaches an equilibrium similar to that of nature that the fish, shrimp and snails will reproduce in cycles, creating food for the other inhabitants of the tank-a sort of mini food-chain. The corals and the clams all grow before my very eyes, and I am fortunate to often provide coral fragments to my friends.

The corals even grow in a natural manner thanks to the distribution of the water current by the pumps. While it is difficult to accurately measure the species' growth and diversity present in my tank, I am able to determine with certainty that the easiest to grow corals such as A. nobilis, A. millepora etc., grow approximately two to three centimeters per month.


Pavona cactus
Acantastrea echinata
Seriatopora histrix
Seriatopora caliendrum
Euphyllia ancora
Euphyllia paradivisa
Pachyseris rugosa
Scolymia sp.
Turbinaria reniformis
Acropora anthocercis
Acropora willisae
Acropora cervicornis
Acropora formosa
Acropora millepora
Acropora nana
Acropora abrotanoides
Acropora grandis
Acropora turaki
Acropora efflorescens
Acropora nobilis
Montipora digitata
Montipora stellata
Montipora samarensis
Montipora foliose
Montipora confusa

1 Zebrasoma xanthurum
1 Zebrasoma flavescens
1 Paracanthurus hepatus
3 Crisiptera parasema
2 Amphiprion ocellaris
4 Chromis sp.
2 Dascyllus sp.
4 Tridacna sp.
4 Calcinus sp.
2 Lysmata amboinensis
2 Lysmata amboinensis
2 Stenopus hispidus

Final Thoughts:

In conclusion, I would like to thank all of the members of Reef Central, the readers of Reefkeeping Magazine, and in particular I would like to thank (from the bottom of my heart) Reef Italia, the Italian Reef Community that helped me put this article together.

Article by Alberto Santilli, Fra2, Ocean Drive. Photography by Pietro Cremone (Dirk), coral identification by Leo Bisck from Florence, and translation by Thomas DiRocco (DarkXerox).

Feel free to comment or ask questions about my tank in the Tank of the Month thread on Reef Central.

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Tank of the Month - January 2007 -