Ali "Sunny" Harajly's (SunnyX) Reef Aquarium



To say the least I was quite surprised to learn that my tank was selected as Tank of the Month. Although I have been striving to obtain a tank worthy of the Tank of the Month honor, it still came as a pleasant surprise that mine was selected. This hobby has been quite a journey, and I have learned much. As with past Tanks of the Month I hope my contribution below can serve as somewhat of a guideline to creating a marine reef aquarium. Without many of the previous Tank of the Month articles as guidelines, my aquarium never would have made it to this point.

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The Beginning:

As with many aquarists my journey began with a love of the sea. When I was a child my family would take trips to the Mediterranean Sea. My older relatives would dive into the sea and collect clams, sea stars, urchins and snails - some to eat and some for my little aquarium. As I became a teenager I ventured first into freshwater aquariums. I found that they were nice but that they were lacking somehow. When I was 18, my Biology teacher gave me the task of creating and maintaining a saltwater reef aquarium. Although that was six years ago, I still find myself committed to this wonderful hobby.

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System Profile:
Main Tank: 225-gallon Starphire (60"L x 36"W x 24"H) euro-braced reef tank mounted in-wall
Water Movement: TUNZE 6100 Stream, SEIO 1500, one Aquaclear 270 powerhead
Main Pump: Sequence DART
Skimmer: Deltec AP851
Calcium Reactor: GEO calcium reactor
Lighting: Two XM 10K 400-watt single-ended bulbs - three 140-watt VHO (two URI Actinics, one Actinic White)
Ballasts: Two Hellolights ARO PRO Series Ballasts M58
Sump: 45-gallon sump, four cups of carbon changed monthly; small refugium in the sump
Top-off: Kalkwasser administered via a Deltec KM500 kalk stirrer

Current Reef Aquarium:


My current 225-gallon aquarium was set up in May of 2005. Everything was transferred from a 120-gallon tank that had been running for a little over two years. When I moved from my old home, I decided that I wanted an in-wall tank. I had always wanted the extra room that an in-wall system provides. I now have all the space I need to work, fragment corals and tinker.

When ordering the tank I looked around for awhile and compared many different tanks with various designs. I wanted something a little different from the typical tank. A friend referred me to Derek at Miracles Aquariums. I wanted to have lots of depth to add a sense of dimension to the display so I chose a three feet deep tank. Euro-bracing was a must because I couldn't stand a center brace. The tank's front pane is made of Starphire glass, which is unbelievably clear. After owning a tank with Starphire I will never go back to standard glass. After many considerations I decided that the tank's dimensions would be 60" long x 36" wide x and 24" high.



You really can't overvalue a quality skimmer. Honestly, I believe my current Deltec AP851 is a major reason my tank has thrived. This skimmer really kicks the crap out of the water's dissolved organic matter. I can see no reason that anyone would run an aquarium without a skimmer. Carbon, along with efficient skimming and weekly water changes, is used to keep the water clear.

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Water runs down into the 45-gallon sump from the main aquarium through the overflow, and then onward through two 1.5" return pipes. At 85 times/hour my sump's turnover may seem excessive, but I find it is great at keeping detritus in suspension.

Water changes are performed once a week using 40 gallons of Reef Crystals salt. I have recently switched over to Seachem Reef Salt and am impressed with the results so far.


Main circulation is provided by a Sequence DART pump. I find this pump to be very efficient, quiet and powerful. The main pump's circulation is supplemented by a Tunze Stream 6100 along with a SEIO 1500. The Tunze Stream has been in operation for over two years with no problems. The wide area of flow this pump produces is outstanding. All corals receive ample water motion from the current pump array. There is a fine science to perfecting flow in an aquarium, especially as it ages and its corals grow. I find achieving the proper amount of flow to be among the hardest aspects in all of reefkeeping. Too much flow and you have a sandstorm; too little and algae will soon take over.

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Currently I run two 400-watt XM 20K bulbs in Lumenarc III reflectors on ARO PRO Series ballasts. Given the size of the aquarium it may seem that my lighting is insufficient, but I find it is more than enough light to stimulate the corals’ color and growth. Before running the Lumenarc reflectors I used three Reef Optix III reflectors, but I still didn’t get coverage as good as the Lumenarcs now provide. Prior to the current setup I was running 250-watt 10K XM bulbs for three months. Half of the pictures you find here are 10K, and the other half are 20K. It goes without saying that the difference is obvious to the eye, 10K being slightly yellow, 20K being blue. See the comparison of the two lighting schemes below.

For supplemental lighting I run three 140-watt VHO bulbs (two Super Actinics, one Actinic White). In my opinion the XM 20K with VHO Actinic/Actinic White combo is unbeatable for aesthetic appeal. This combo brings out ALL the corals' colors, unlike lower Kelvin bulbs that tend to dull colors. When I first placed the XM 20K bulbs over my tank I didn't really like their look; it seemed too blue. As the weeks went by my eyes adapted to the bulbs. I noticed the corals began to change and develop a much broader range of colors. I couldn't be happier with the corals' color and growth, and I'll be using this brand of bulbs for a long time. They are tried, tested and get results.

VHO: 10:00AM - 11:30PM
First MH: 1:00PM - 9:00PM
Second MH: 2:30PM - 11:00PM
Moonlights: 8:30AM - 2:00AM
Refugium: 11:00PM - 8:00AM

But please do not focus only on lighting; many other parameters need to be kept in check. No matter what lighting system you have, it all comes down to water quality and clarity. If your water is full of yellowing agents and Phenol, then no amount of light will help. If your water is as clear as possible, then it makes your job a whole lot easier. This is exactly why my tank can thrive with as little as 2.22 watts/gallon of lighting. When the water is extremely clear it takes much less light to maintain and grow a successful reef.

Comparison of the old lighting scheme (top) with the 20K metal halides (bottom).

Calcium and Alkalinity Addition:

    Water Parameters:
Calcium: ~ 400 ppm
Alkalinity: ~ 7.5dKH
Specific Gravity: ~ 1.026
pH: ~ 8.23
Temperature: ~ 77.4°- 79°F
Nitrate: undetectable
Phosphate: undetectable

Calcium and alkalinity supplementation is one of the most important aspects of reefkeeping. Both supplements must be added in a manner such that ionic imbalances are not created. Too much calcium or alkalinity can spell disaster in an aquarium. That is why I chose to use a calcium reactor for Ca and Alk additions. It is basically a "set it and forget it" proposition. Once it's dialed in, you should not have to adjust it for close to six months. The best thing about using a calcium reactor is you no longer have to use those messy powders as often. Although I occasionally use the powders, it's typically only about once a month as needed.


The only problem you may run into with a calcium reactor is a chronically low pH. I tried to remedy this with a simple refugium on a reverse photoperiod, but it was not enough. I found the solution to the low pH problem by using kalkwasser. As many of you may know, kalkwasser has a very high pH, which is exactly why it was needed. I purchased a Deltec KM500 kalk stirrer, and it is doing the job quite well. As well as keeping the pH high, it also converts the extra carbon dioxide that is injected by the calcium reactor into useable carbon ions. I also speculate that with the addition of the kalk stirrer, my skimmer has begun to produce more skimmate. Additionally, I supplement the tank with 10 drops of Lugol's solution/week.


Husbandry can make or break an aquarium. If you do not watch the water's parameters or perform regular maintenance, the aquarium will eventually fail. I feel that it is very important to have daily, weekly and monthly maintenance rituals. Maintenance on my aquarium consists of:


  • Water changes (40 gallons)
  • Fragmenting overgrown corals


  • Replacement of carbon
  • Replacement of kalk powder in kalk stirrer
  • Testing of water parameters


  • Replacement of ROWA®phos media


  • Replacement of sand bed
  • Replacement of calcium reactor media

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Everyone is always asking me about the big orange M. capricornis; it seems to be my most popular coral. I have fragmented it once a week to keep it from taking over the M. digitatas; it is growing at an incredible rate. I attribute this to the huge amount of space it is given. The front of the M. capricornis is at least 12" from the tank's front glass.

I feel the fast growth rates in my tank are, in part, due to the extra space each coral is given. Many people make the mistake of cramming corals together without allowing them room to grow, and I believe this may stunt some of the corals' growth. If a coral has space to grow, it will use all of its energy for growth. If the corals are too close together, they expend more energy competing with each other.

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I try not to get swept up in the "designer corals" craze. I really don't care if the coral is "famous;" if it doesn't appeal to me, it is not going into my tank. When I am out shopping for corals I purchase a coral based on its looks and health, not on its name. I am by no means an expert in coral identification, but here is a list of the animals I currently possess:

Pink Acropora millepora
Lemon-lime Acropora millepora
Multi-color Acropora millepora
Blue Acropora tenuis
Acropora tricolor
Acropora valida
Blue Acropora humilis
Green Acropora yongei
Blue Acropora yongei
Purple Monster
Becker Blue Tort
Yellow Tort
Blue-tipped Staghorn
Purple Staghorn
Sky Blue-tipped Acropora aspera
Purple and blue Acropora rubosta
Teal corallites Acropora nobilis
Purple-tipped Acropora deswali
Glowsticks and sapphire Acropora kimbesis
Orange Montipora capricornis
Green Montipora capricornis
Orange Montipora digitata
Green Montipora digitata
Purple Montipora digitata
Barney purple encrusting Montipora
Blue polyp encrusting Montipora
Orange encrusting Montipora
Green & orange polyp encrusting Montipora
Pink Pocillopora damicornis
Green/pink Pocillopora damicornis
Green Star Polyps
Zoanthids (assorted colonies and colors)

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1 - Naso tang
3 - Yellow tangs
1 - Kole tang
1 - Blue tang
1 - Foxface rabbitfish
1 - Copperband butterfly
4 - Lyretail Anthias (1 male, 3 female)
1 - Blue Devil damsel

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6 - Peppermint shrimp
4 - Astraea snails
10 - Nassarius snails
4 - Blue-leg hermit crabs
2 - Serpent stars
2 - Blue Tridacna maxima clams
1 - Tridacna derasa clam
1 - Blue Tridacna crocea clam
1 - Gold Teardrop Tridacna maxima clam

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The fish are fed Spectrum and Formula 2 pellets. They also receive Cyclop-eeze™ once every two weeks. No special foods are given to the corals.

Concluding Remarks:


If I were to give people words of advice I would tell them to be patient - good things take time to develop. Too many people rush into things and fail to allow their aquariums to reach their full potential. Read as much as you can; books and forums are great tools. This hobby has many great people ready and able to answer almost all questions thrown their way, so if you're unsure about anything, please ask. Hopefully, as the years pass this hobby will become more accessible; with new technologies developing rapidly it's an exciting time to be in this hobby.

I would like to thank my wife for putting up with my obsession, and God for creating all the wonderful creatures in the sea. I also would like to thank my 12th grade AP Bio teacher for sparking my interest in this great hobby. I have met many great people because of this hobby - to him I am forever grateful. I have been in the hobby since I was 18 years old; I now am 24 years old. I have become fully confident in my abilities as a reefkeeper. But let's not kid ourselves here; we never reach perfection. There is always something yet to learn, something new to try out.


For more information go to

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

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