John Brancheau's (John Brancheau) Reef Aquarium
I was first contacted about having my tank selected as Tank
of the Month, I was truly surprised. Having seen so many spectacular
systems showcased, I felt that mine could not compare. Of
course I accepted, and now I would like to thank Reef Central
and Reefkeeping Magazine for the honor they have presented
I have been involved with aquariums since I was 12 years
old. It was not until 1985, however, that I decided to try
my hand at a beautiful saltwater aquarium. Here in Michigan,
not many stores were willing to handle corals. Most local
fish stores had very little knowledge about reefkeeping. In
1995, I set up a 180-gallon aquarium, and I am fortunate enough
to have Tropicorium located within 20 minutes of my home.
With such an incredible resource nearby, I was able begin
keeping corals successfully. It has been many years of trial
and error in the making, but with the help of all involved
with Reef Central, I am able to present to you my current
180-gallon SPS dominated reef.
The tank is a standard
72" x 24" x 24" made by All Glass Aquarium.
I set it up in January 2004, after my 90-gallon tank had become
too full to continue my new found addiction: SPS corals. In
fact, the Montipora capricornis is what really piqued my interest
and tempted me to set up an SPS-dominant theme. I have modified
a standard 100-gallon aquarium to create a sump, using 40"
of it for the refugium, and the remaining 32" to house
the skimmer, carbon and return pump. By my calculations the
system contains a total of about 250 gallons of water. There
are approximately 200 pounds of Fiji live rock, and almost
50 pounds of CaribSea reef grade aragonite which makes up
the sand bed; to this I also added 20 pounds of GARF grunge
to stimulate an initial boost in coralline algae growth.
I use a method that has been fairly successful for me when
it comes to substrate and aquascaping. I place eggcrate on
the bottom of the tank and cut it to within two inches of
the front glass. I then add a bottom layer of Fiji live rock,
begin adding water, and then finish up the aquascaping. I
place a substrate about ¾ -1" deep around all
the rocks to cover the eggcrate, but never under the rock
or in the caves. The eggcrate is used as a safety net in case
of falling rocks, but it does add to my maintenance routine;
to prevent the sediment from becoming solidified within the
eggcrate's squares, I use a turkey baster to stir up the sand.
EuroReef skimmers: a CS8-1 and a CS8-3
single chamber 6" calcium reactor
dosing pumps- "The Sentry" with float
titanium heater with temperature controller
Aquascaping, in my opinion, is a very important part of reefkeeping.
After the decision was made to install this aquarium in the
wall, I decided that it must have the visual appeal that I
had seen on some of the systems here on Reef Central. I was
truly impressed with the designs from JB_NY, Steve Weast,
Algaeman and others, so my main concern was to make sure I
had it right the first time. After drawing out a plan and
actually having all of my corals marked on the paper diagram,
I proceeded to build my rockwork. About 16 hours and roughly
30 tubes of superglue later, I was finished. I must say that
I am pleased with the results, and now that the corals are
growing in, my original vision for the tank is starting to
Plumbing and Circulation:
A Dolphin 2000 pump
split two ways, and a Tunze 6100 on a pulse setting of 50-100%
every five seconds, provide the system's circulation. Both
overflows drain into the 100-gallon sump's refugium area.
This proved to be a bit of a problem when I first established
the tank. Microbubbles were everywhere! After adding the live
rock and the macroalgae, though, the bubbles seemed to break
down before entering the skimmer area. After the water flows
through the skimmer area, it enters a small section housing
the carbon pads and Polyfilters, and then flows into a small
area dedicated for the return pump.
pH: 8.10 to 8.30
and NH3: 0
Specific Gravity: ~1.023
Temp: 78 to 79º F
My thoughts about
filtration have changed many times over the years, from undergravel
filters to sand beds. While I currently utilize a portion
of each method, I have become content with my system as it
is now. I believe the main form of filtration is the live
rock, but I do not think the rock alone can handle all of
the things we add to our tanks daily. That said, I have also
made sure that I have good protein skimming. I am running
two Euro-reefs: a CS8-1 and a CS8-3. My reason for using two
is simply to have a back-up in case one was to stop for any
reason. I use carbon and PolyFilters continuously, and I also
have been thinking of implementing a few new ideas in my sump.
My sump contains about three different species of macroalgae,
but also houses a 12-inch Tridacna squamosa, a couple
of scallops, and also an oyster. I am very curious to see
if we could use these mollusks to our benefit in performing
some type of rudimentary water filtration, similar to the
zebra mussels we have here in the Great Lakes.
I originally set up
this system with four 175-watt Hamilton single-ended bulbs
with parabolic reflectors, with additional supplementation
provided by two 72" VHO bulbs. The colors and growth
rates of the corals appeared to be the same as in my 90-gallon
tank which, in my opinion, was excellent. But after countless
conversations with much more experienced reefkeepers, I decided
to upgrade the lighting. I am currently running four 250-watt
HQI bulbs mounted in Sunlight Supply Reef Optic III reflectors.
They are powered by two dual Bluewave HQI ballasts, which
also run Hamilton's 14K bulbs. Two 72" VHO bulbs provide
fluorescent supplementation: one actinic 03 and one daylight
spectrum. An Aqua Medic 250 watt double-ended metal halide
running on a reverse photoperiod lights the refugium.
Main Tank Photoperiod:
8:30am VHOs on
10:45am two end metal halides on
11:45am two center metal halides on
6:00pm two end metal halides off
6:45pm two center metal halides off
8:30pm VHOs off
All top-off water
is provided by a six-stage, 100 gpd RO/DI unit. I then mix
it manually with kalkwasser at the rate of six tablespoons
per five gallons. The system typically evaporates three to
five gallons each day. The continuous addition of kalkwasser
has helped eliminate the pH fluctuations the calcium reactor
With the addition
of the four 250-watt DE bulbs, heat was an early concern,
but I have been able to keep it under control with a 19"
standard box fan and a 5" computer fan. They are on timers
designed to start before, and stop after, the metal halides.
The heater's controller is set at 77 degrees, and to be honest,
between the fans and the heater, the water usually stays between
78 and 79 degrees.
- Top-off reservoir
- One capful
of Kent's A and B daily
- ½ capful
of Kent's strontium daily
- ESV Phytoplankton
every other day
every third day
- Three cubes
of frozen foods daily: one prime reef, one angel
formula and one squid
- ¼ sheet
nori on feed clip daily
One factor in SPS reefkeeping that has been a problem for
me is water flow. As well as I thought I had this system planned
out in the beginning, I had overlooked the importance of providing
good, strong current. I knew how good the Tunze streams were
and figured I would just use those and be all set, but as
this tank matures I am finding that corals grow where they
want, regardless of the consequences. My favorite staghorn
coral has grown into the flow of the 6100 and had its tissue
blown right off. While I am currently rethinking my flow options,
I still believe that if they are properly placed, the Tunzes
are still by far the best bang for the buck. But I am trying
to figure out how to increase flow now that the corals have
grown in, possibly with a modified closed-loop system.
One of the best additions to this tank has been my reef-dosing
pump, along with its built-in float switch. It has enabled
me to add kalkwasser on a worry-free basis. All I have to
do is set the drip rate and keep the six-gallon reservoir
full of fresh kalk mix.
To try to keep the system free of any extra nitrate beds,
I am in the process of removing all sponge filters in the
system. I have recently added a very simple modification to
the skimmers, which of course I found here at Reef Central.
It consists of a PVC Durso pipe that eliminates the need for
the sponge filters on the skimmers' outflows. As inexpensive
and easy as this was to do, I cannot believe that everyone
who owns a Euro-reef hasn't already done it.
I change thirty gallons of water weekly, using Reef Crystals
salt, and I replace the carbon pads and PolyFilters at the
same time. Additionally, I also clean the skimmers as part
of the water change routine. One other thing I do weekly is
to blow off all the rocks using a turkey baster and then stir
up the substrate to help keep the detritus suspended.
The two yellow tangs
came from my 90-gallon tank, mostly for algae control. My
thought was if I added these simultaneously at the initial
time of set-up, they should keep algae problems to a minimum,
but as everyone settled in, the inevitable happened: the two
fought for over a solid month. They have since calmed down,
which is good because their removal would be quite an ordeal.
My purple tang has been with me for about 18 months. I think
these fish are spectacular; while the other two tangs are
useful for algae control, the purple tang seems to take care
of quite a bit on its own. The six-line wrasse is one of my
most comical critters. This fish is forever cruising the reef
looking for food, and since he is also very useful in controlling
parasites, I believe he is beneficial to the system. The bicolor
Pseudochromis is a very aggressive fish, and seems
to pick on/attack almost every other fish in the tank. Now
that the pecking order has been established, all seems to
be fine. My mandarin was a save from the local fish store.
When I first saw it, I thought for sure it would not make
it, but I had to give it a try. Now it regularly eats frozen
Mysis and brine. I originally purchased the Banggai
cardinals as a pair, but not long after their introduction,
one of them was missing, and I have been afraid to add another.
I am still considering another, though, in the near future.
My two percula clowns have been hosted by my M. capricornis,
and have been laying eggs continuously for about two months,
which has proved to be a benefit in itself. The six-line wrasse
has been very fat lately, and I assume it has been making
dinner of most of the fry. My most prized fish is my majestic
angel. It has been in the tank for only about three or four
months. Early on, it grazed on every one of my SPS's. In fact,
it had taken a real liking to my M. digitata, but now
that it has become accustomed to eating nori from a food clip,
and has begun to eat the frozen foods I use, the coral-picking
has been minimal. I added the clown gobies after realizing
that I had the dreaded "red bugs." While I am still
afraid to use the Interceptor treatment for these pests, I
believe these little gobies have helped to reduce or eliminate
the "bugs" on the colonies they frequent, but they
also pose another problem to those colonies; they eat the
flesh from their preferred perches.
1 Six-line wrasse
Scarlet hermit crabs
Scarlet cleaner shrimp
Tridacna squamosa clam
300 to 400 Blue-legged hermit crabs
Green Pocillopora sp.
polyped Montipora digitata
tri-color Acropora sp.
unidentified Acropora spp.
I have spent countless
hours reading about reefkeeping and learning from most of
what I have read. Early in my quest to keep SPS corals, I
had many unanswered questions, as I am sure most of us still
do, but one thing I have found to be true in almost every
case is that it's not about only lighting, filtration, or
even water quality. It is a combination of all three. Reefkeepers
must have patience; while this is a hard thing to teach, it
is critical. No one can rush nature. I once read a discussion
about tank maturity. I honestly believe this is real, but
I also think it has to do with the hobbyist's ability to recognize
his abilities. After getting "in tune" with the
system, the hobbyist can tell at a glance what may not be
right, and if he has the experience, he will know what to
do to fix it. That comes only with time.
I have to send out a special Thank You to all of my friends
at Michigan Reefers, and a very special word of thanks to
my good friend MUCHO REEF. His ability to capture images of
my tank has been a godsend. Without him I may never have been
able to show off my creation. Please post any follow-up questions
that come to mind, because I may not have covered everything,
and I will be glad to reply to all. Again, I would like to
thank everyone involved with Reef Central. Without them, my
dream of re-creating the ocean may never have been achieved.
Feel free to comment or
ask questions about my tank in the Tank of the Month thread
on Reef Central.