Joseph Weatherson's (weatherson) Reef Aquarium

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Introduction and Background:

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I greatly appreciate the honor bestowed upon my relatively young tank. I'd like to thank Reef Central and especially all those individuals who submitted a nomination in this regard. Reef Central is a great community and has become my "go-to" site for needed information. I feel the success of this tank is, in great part, due to all who participate, graciously and freely sharing their experiences and knowledge toward the betterment of the hobby.

I became interested in reefkeeping more than 10 years ago when my wife and I visited a local fish store with a reef tank display that greatly impressed us. It was from this that we decided to get into the hobby with a 65-gallon Oceanic reef-ready glass tank. Like many others, I experienced minor issues but continued to read and absorb as much information as was available at the time. Much of this was found on CompuServe's Fishnet, with the likes of Larry Jackson, Charles Delbeek, Richard Harker and many other extremely knowledgeable individuals always willing to offer assistance. Being a "newbie" there myself, I greatly appreciated all the information provided and always kept in my mind that if I ever reached a point where I could share as they did for me, I surely would. I've attempted to do this both on Reef Central and in our local reef club, Central Valley Reefers here in California.

The desire to create my current tank began with an aquascaping concept consisting of two rock structures flanking a centrally located and diagonally positioned sand bed valley. This vision demanded a larger and longer tank than my 65. Enter the 240-gallon tank and its eight-foot length and two-foot height and depth. We debated the final location, but an in-wall design with designated fish room won out. I've been pleased with this decision ever since for its noise, temperature and humidity isolation, as well as the overall space it provides for ancillary equipment. The room was previously an extra bedroom that was easily sacrificed for the good of our hobby. It also has an outside window, as well as a bathroom behind one of its walls, which I tapped into for the water supply and sewer drain. This allowed me to install a washbasin for cleaning parts, as well as draining old tank water and RO/DI filter wastewater.

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Main Tank Info:

My current tank is an upgrade from the 65-gallon I started with. It, too, is an Oceanic, but of 240-gallons, reef-ready and special ordered with two holes drilled into its back panel for the two closed-loop inlets. I've since altered the stock prefilter boxes by removing the weirs and installing perforated pipe in their place to increase flow. I converted the in-prefilter box returns to drains to allow for the greater flow, so there are now two drains per box. In retrospect, I should have requested Oceanic drill larger holes to accommodate larger bulkheads and plumbing, but that will have to wait until the next tank.

The returns from the 55-gallon sump are now over-the-top type. The first via a single pipe at the left end of the tank whose output is directed behind the rock structure. This return line passes its water through the Ocean Clear 25-micron canister filter. The second return passes through the sinusoidal valve I created which is located at the tank's center back and rotates its flow between three individual outputs.

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I've created prefilter box lids out of acrylic that prevent light from entering. I had done this on my old tank as well, and decided to carry it over to the new one. One advantage of this is that the boxes become their own little ecosystems with plenty of critters as well as water filtering sponge growth.

I wanted the tank's back glass left clear to help see inside the tank during maintenance and such. For normal viewing, though, I needed a means to block the view through the tank and into the fish room. I accomplished this by creating a panel of black acrylic that fits between the two closed loop bulkheads. There's an anti-drip guard at the top and a slotted channel at the bottom, both to keep this panel in place. It is removed by simply sliding it outward toward the tank's end. Rather than having the background remain black, I decided to paint the front viewing side of this acrylic panel. Instead of the typical single shade of blue, I attempted to use black and three shades of blue to create a gradual transition of color to better simulate a distant ocean view. With a little finesse and color shading, I had what I felt looked best. Prior to the addition of the five metal halide lights, the background had what was a very realistic look. Unfortunately, with the greater amount of light from the halides, this effect was diminished slightly. I may try repainting it some time, but for now, it's adequate as is.

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Back panel


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My refugium is a 20-gallon tank I made myself (photo right). It is fed by the main circulation pump, and drains back to the sump via a built-in prefilter box. It is lit by an IceCap electronic ballast driving an Iwasaki 5600 Kelvin, 150-watt metal halide bulb in a custom-built pendant on a reverse photoperiod lighting cycle. I originally used this tank as a fragment grow-out tank, so it has an Oceans Motion's 4-way Squirt with four individual outlets at each corner. I left this device installed even after converting the tank to a refugium. Specimens of a Chaetomorpha species of macroalga are grown within. I fabricated this tank's stand and the light's wall bracket from aluminum. The light bracket pivots to move the pendant to the side for easy access to the refugium.


The refugium and sump/grow-out tank are both lit by lights powered by IceCap electronic ballasts. The refugium uses a single-ended Iwasaki 6500 Kelvin bulb in a custom built pendant. The sump utilizes the IceCap pendant and a 150-watt 6500 Kelvin Iwasaki metal halide floodlight.

The main tank is also lit with IceCap electronic ballasts powering both VHO and metal halide bulbs. Eight 110-watt Super Actinic VHO bulbs run on two different circuits. The first, driven by a dedicated IceCap 660 ballast, drives four bulbs that span the length of the lightbox. This ballast is controlled by a dimmer device originally from Niche Engineering (now Solar) and controls these bulbs to simulate dawn and dusk lighting. The second set of VHO bulbs are also driven by a dedicated 660 ballast, but are driven straight in either an "on or off" mode. Five 250-watt double-ended metal halide lights in PFO mini-pendants provide the remainder of the daytime lighting. These are driven by… you guessed it, five IceCap electronic ballasts. I started with XM 10K Kelvin bulbs, then replaced those with Hamilton 14K Kelvin and currently run Phoenix 14K Kelvin. The latter have proven to produce a slightly bluer coloration than the Hamiltons, which I hope will improve the colors of the SPS corals. Time will tell, but the initial results look promising. Last of all, I use four 25-watt incandescent blue bulbs to simulate moonlight. These are lit with daily varying intensities that follow the lunar cycle.

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The Neptune AquaController controls all these lights, as well as other electrical devices. Its start/stop timing is based on the seasonal changes according to my geographic location and season. The moon lights do the same but follow the lunar cycle of the same location. The tank's daytime lighting sequence starts with the set of four dimmable VHO bulbs. This process takes one hour from off to full intensity. Next, the second set of four VHO bulbs fires, followed by the center metal halide bulb thirty minutes later. The two metal halide bulbs on either side of the center bulb fire together thirty minutes later followed by the two end metal halides, again, thirty minutes later. The end of daylight cycle is just the reverse, ending with the last set of VHO bulbs dimming down to completely off.

I built the all-aluminum lightbox that is suspended from the ceiling by chains, rope and pulleys (see photo above), thereby allowing it to be raised for tank maintenance and lowered to the tank for maximum lighting. This lightbox is completely enclosed and has exhaust fans at both ends that force heated air out through insulated tubes. During the summer months, this air is routed to the house's attic and outside. During winter months, the air is routed to the main living area to help heat the home in an attempt to recycle some of its energy.

Tank Room:

I find the tank room, often referred to as being on the "ugly side," just as interesting as the front, or "pretty," side of the tank. Having a strong mechanical background has led me to have several, somewhat daunting to some, equipment-intense walls of gadgets. I was always the kid who had to take things apart to understand how they worked and peer into the mind of the people or person who designed them originally. While some aquarists may find my setup elaborate, I don't believe there is any piece of equipment I would be willing to eliminate from my system. Each has a specific purpose in my quest to provide the best possible environment for the living things I keep in this "box of reef." The fact that I am able to design and create much of this equipment myself only adds to the overall entertainment and therapy this tank provides me.

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Rear of tank. For a labeled photo, click here.

The tank room itself was previously a bedroom. I removed the carpet, exposing the cement foundation floor, which I prepared and painted with epoxy garage floor paint. I also installed new, taller baseboards and created a water barrier with a bead of silicone at the floor and wall contact points to keep any potential water leaks from escaping to the adjoining rooms. I painted the walls with several coats of enamel paint. The rear, left hand wall has a bathroom on its opposite side that allowed me to tap into the plumbing for the installation of the very handy tank room sink. Finally, I installed an outdoor ceiling fan to keep the air constantly moving within the room.

Since I recently removed an exercise weight machine from the room, I now have much more space. I'm therefore kicking around the idea of adding a hexagon or octagon shaped tank with a center overflow to the middle of the room. If I do this, I'll most likely plumb it into the main system to benefit from an increase in overall tank water volume. I'm envisioning a lookdown, low profile tank for overhead viewing of clams and SPS corals. I believe I can do this with little or no additional energy required, by utilizing the current equipment. I'll have to give this some more thought, though.

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Left rear of tank
Right rear of tank


The sump is a 55-gallon acrylic tank that I altered by adding baffles to prevent micro-bubbles from making their way to the main return pump. Water from the tank's prefilter boxes is routed to, and enters, the sump at the right side through a 100-micron filter sock. In this same chamber of the sump, the skimmer's pump inlet pulls in this "dirty" water and returns the skimmed water just beyond the first baffle. The chiller's coil is also located here in the high current flow to maximize its efficiency. In addition, the effluent return from the calcium reactor drips into an acrylic cup that I made, which houses the pH probe for monitoring. I added an acrylic tube to this cup that sends the overflow of effluent water down to the skimmer's pump inlet. This aids in the removal of some excess CO2 and prevents the overall system's pH from dropping.

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Diagram of the sump.

Just after this area of the sump is an over-under-over baffle system, followed by the fragment grow-out area where I grow mostly SPS fragments under a 150-watt metal halide lamp. I keep a few pieces of live rock here, and it contains a three-inch deep sand bed. Finally, two 250-watt heaters are located in the return-pump inlet chamber at the far left.

Calcium Addition:

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A Knop HD calcium reactor with a do-it-yourself second chamber as well as a Kalk-reactor I created (right) provide calcium and trace element additions. I also dose ESV magnesium as required. The calcium reactor's second chamber was added to help scrub off some CO2 and keep it from driving the tank's pH too low, as well as to add more calcium. The Kalk-reactor is fed RO/DI water from the reservoir and added to the tank to replace evaporated water through a Kent float valve. This is driven by gravity as the reservoir is located near the room's ceiling. All water added to the tank for evaporation make-up or by saltwater water changes is filtered through a SpectraPure reverse osmosis system with dual stage deionizer filters. A 20-gallon reservoir is mounted to the wall directly above the water filter system and houses a mechanical device I devised to reduce TDS creep. This is the process in which impurities (dissolved solids) are passed through the filters during the RO/DI startup time just after having been in an "off" state. If a RO/DI filter cycles on and off many times in a short period, these impurities can accumulate to undesirable levels. This RO/DI filter anti-cycling device allows the reservoir to fill completely in one cycle and then completely empty prior to the RO/DI starting up again.

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Mixing Saltwater:

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To mix fresh, water-change saltwater, I use a 50-gallon Rubbermaid trash (photo left) can with a heater mounted inside and an Iwaki pump with a venturi on its output. This simultaneously circulates the water within the container, injects air and heats the water to the tank's temperature. I use a second trash container to measure the proper amount of tank water to be removed. With plumbing installed between the two containers, I can mix fresh saltwater, remove the proper amount of water from the tank, then pump the freshly made saltwater into the tank to replace what was removed, and finally pump the old water out of the second container into the sink drain (see photos below). The whole process takes approximately 15 minutes once the new saltwater is properly mixed and ready for use.

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Water Temperature:

The tank's water temperature is monitored and controlled by a Neptune AquaController. The temperature is based on a seasonal table that varies daily. Winter months are lowest at 78°F and summer peaks run as high as 81°F. I run an Aqua Logic 1/3 HP drop-in coil chiller for cooling and four 250-watt EboJager heaters, two in the sump and one in each of the prefilter boxes for heating.

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Cowry (species unknown).

Water Flow:

The water flow in the tank is provided by two different systems. The first is two independent closed-loop systems driven by Iwaki 55 pumps on opposing six-hour rotations. From 6 AM to noon, the left closed-loop is on, which pulls water from the right side of the tank and fires back into the tank through a Penductor at the left side of the tank. Then from 11:45 AM to 6 PM, the right closed-loop comes on and pulls from the left side of the tank and returns through a Penductor at the right side. Finally, from 5:45 PM to midnight, the left closed-loop is turned on once again. They are both off from midnight to 6 AM, so there is calm within the tank, allowing the fish to rest peacefully. I set up this system in an attempt to simulate tides with cross-tank flows.

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The second system is the sinusoidal valve I built (right) to provide random currents, that works in conjunction with the flows provided by the closed-loops. This valve is fed by the main circulation pump, a Sequence 4300, and alternates its output through three separate returns located at the center of the tank's back. Of these outputs, one fires left, one right and the third fires in both right and left directions along the tank's back panel. A one-half RPM motor rotates the diverter drum of the sinusoidal valve.

Water Filtration:

The water from the tank's returns flows into the sump through a 100 micron filter sock. The skimmer pump's inlet pulls this "dirty" water and processes it through the skimmer, which is of my own design and build. The skimmer is a dual Beckett injector unit with a ten-inch cylinder in the main contact area. The overall height of this skimmer is approximately four feet. Ozone, created by an Ozotech ozone generator, is injected through one of the Beckett injectors. Both of the injector's air inlets are connected to a carbon filter I designed and built to remove impurities. A 5-gallon waste container exhausts its air through another carbon filter to remove any unpleasant odors.

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I also built a carbon/phosphate canister filter that receives tank water from the main circulation pump. This then returns the processed water to the sump. A 40-watt Lifegard ultraviolet filter is also located on this same closed-loop that I run continuously.

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Water Parameters:
Specific Gravity: 1.026
pH: 8.2-8.4
Calcium: ~ 450-500 ppm
Alkalinity: ~10.0 dKH
Magnesium: ~1380 ppm
Nitrate, Nitrite & PO4: O ppm

The return at the left side of the tank passes its water through a 25-micron Ocean Clear, in-line canister filter. I have this in place to help clarify the tank water and eliminate almost all of the small particulate matter. I have two pleated filters on hand so that I can quickly switch them when need be and not have any down time while I clean the replaced one. I do this approximately every two weeks.


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1 - Sailfin Tang
(Zebrasoma veliferum)
1 - Purple Tang
(Zebrasoma xanthurum)
1 - Yellow Tang
(Zebrasoma flavescens)
1 - Heniochus Butterflyfish
(Heniochus acuminatus)
1 - Coral Beauty
(Centropyge bispinosus)
3 - Dragonface Pipefish
(Corythoichthys haematopterus)
4 - Pajama Cardinals
(Sphaeramia nematoptera)
4 - Blue/Green Chromis
(Chromis viridis)
2 - Blue Damselfish
(Chrysiptera cyanea)
2 - False Percula Clownfish
(Amphiprion ocellaris)
2 - True Percula Clownfish
(Amphiprion percula)
2 - Clown Gobies
(Gobiodon okinawae)

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I have a relatively large assortment of corals, too many to list them all individually. In general, I have a few soft corals including Finger Leathers, Toadstools, Mushrooms, Zoanthids, Gorgonians and a Brain coral. I also have a Rose Bubble Tip anemone which hosts the two juvenile True Percula Clownfish and a Purple Tip Sebae anemone which hosts the two False Percula Clownfish. As far as LPS corals, there is a large Frogspawn, a Torch coral and some Blastomussa spp. and Acanthastrea spp. Finally, at last count, there were 80 different specimens of SPS corals, mostly of the Acropora species. There are also four varieties of foliose Montipora.

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2 - Cleaner Shrimp
(Lysmata amboinensis)
2 - Peppermint Shrimp
(Lysmata wurdemanni)
1 - Pistol Shrimp
(Alpheus bellulus)
1 - Green Serpent Star
(Ophioderma sp.)
1 - Tiger Striped Serpent Star
(Ophiolepsis superba)
3 - Linckia Sea Stars
(Orange, Burgundy & Blue Patterned)
4 - Tiger Tail Cucumbers
(Holothuria sp.)
2 - Fighting Conchs
9 - Tridacna crocea clams
5 - Tridacna maxima clams
Assorted Hermit Crabs
Assorted Snails
2 - Spiny Oysters

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I rotate daily between frozen foods and Nori (seaweed). On the days when frozen foods are fed, I use the following:
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  • 2 cubes Mysis shrimp

  • 2 cubes Life Line® Herbivore

  • 2 cubes Prime Reef

  • 2 cubes Brine Shrimp Plus

  • DT's Oyster Eggs and Phytoplankton

  • E.S.V.'s Phytoplankton

  • Cyclop-eeze®

  • Soaked in Selcon™

In addition, I spot feed both the anemones and serpent stars some frozen prawns once a week.

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When designing my system, I attempted to keep the design as clean and organized as possible, and to create one that I felt would provide the best environment for the animals I keep. I also tried to design the whole system to be as automated and self-sufficient as possible, so that time spent behind the tank didn't exceed the time enjoying the tank from the front. As the tank matures, it becomes more balanced every day and requires less input from me so that I can enjoy it more and reap the rewards of all the work I put into it.

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My ultimate goal is to provide the best possible habitat for all the living creatures I am responsible for keeping. I don't take this lightly and toward this end, I am willing to spend as much time and effort as is required for achieving this. Neglect is definitely incompatible with reefkeeping. If a day should come when I am no longer bothered by any death or misfortune that occurs while under my care, it will surely be time to find a new hobby. However, I don't see this happening any time in the near future. This "hobby" is a great passion of mine and always will be. Nevertheless, for now, I will be just watching corals grow to maturity. Not a bad way to spend time, in my humble opinion.

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Visit Joseph's website for more information:
The Great In-Wall Reef Project...

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

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Tank of the Month - November 2005 -