The following article has been reprinted here as I thought it would be good to share since the idea to do another tour has recently been kicked around by other CR members. The original tour occurred in February 2009 when Mike LaPort and I braved the elements to see some superb reef aquariums in Southeast Michigan.
Our first stop of the day was Brian Barton's home in Harrison Township. All I can say is what a way to start a day!
We were welcomed with a warm greeting and handshakes and down the stairs we went. Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, we are presented with Brian's stunning glass 180 gallon mixed reef display. I thought immediately "this day is going to live up to its billing".
The tank was perched on a beautifully finished stand with matching canopy and was trimmed in to the wall and finished off nicely with crown molding. The rockwork was stunning, the tank was spotless, the fish were beautiful and the colonies were huge.
I was impressed already. Near the center was a perfectly shaped Green Slimer colony surrounded by large colonies of Pink Bird's Nest, a Red Table Acropora, an awesome Tri-Color, and up above was the biggest Red Montipora Digitata I have ever seen. We were only getting started.
MAD SCIENTIST'S LABORATORY
After a few moments, Mr. Barton led us into the fish room behind the display. Finished out in wall to wall ceramic tile it was immediately apparent that Brian had spent considerable time and effort on his "Mad Scientist's Laboratory". As you come through the door directly to your left is a 70-gallon softie/lps tank illuminated by four 48-inch ATI bulbs fitted in a Nova Extreme fixture and piped into the main system.
Along with live rock, this tank contained an assortment of Acanstrea, Blastomussa, Zoanthids, Sinularia Micrmussa, Kenya Trees, Plate Coral, and more.
Most reefers would be happy to have such a tank as their main display. Moving to the right I find a Lifereef acrylic sump/refugium complete with cryptic zone containing sponges, tubeworms, algae and other assorted life. Continuing to the right is Brian's latest addition. His new pride and joy was a 48-inch Lifereef VS3 Protein Skimmer driven by a Little Giant pump.
This impressive beast sitting on the wrap-around bench was almost touching the fluorescent light fixture affixed to the ceiling above. Jammed with bubbles it seemed to be doing its job! Ozone was fed through the skimmer via two 100 mg Sanders Ozonizers coupled with a Red Sea air dryer.
Following the overflow hose from the skimmer's collection cup past the Lifereef calcium reactor to the reservoir below you, find a 100-gallon Rubbermade stock tub refugium filled with liverock and a deep sand bed.
Behind the skimmer is an acrylic Lifereef algae tumbler filled with tumbling Cheaetomorph. The whole system is driven by a Sequence Hammerhead external pump driving 5800 GPH through a PVC manifold, which is the main artery of the entire system. Circulation on the main display is produced by three, three by five inch overflows with 1.5" drains returned by a second Sequence Hammerhead pushing an additional 5800 gph through an Ocean Motion 4 way and two penductors.
Lighting for the refugium, the algae tumbler, and the cryptic zone are provided by clip on shop lights fitted with fluorescent bulbs. Lighting for the display is provided by three 250-watt single ended XM 10k metal halides with Lumenarc Reflectors driven by Hamilton ballasts mounted neatly in the ceiling of the fish room. Actinic supplementation is made up of eight 39 watt 36" t5s with ATI bulbs mounted in Spider reflectors and driven by Icecap ballasts. The display is very bright and the colors are fantastic. In a bit of DIY engineering the display canopy is hinged on a powder coated aluminum rack, which pivots out of the way for easy display tank access. Temperature is maintained by a DIY heater utilizing a boiler pump drawing from the house hot water heater and is controlled by a Finnex RC-0800 Thermo Controller. Additional system control is provided by an Oceanic Systems Pro Controller.
Brian's fish list in the main display consisted of 1 Yellow Tang, 1 Sohal tang, I Powder Blue Tang, 1 Sailfin Tang, 1 Purple Tang, 1 Blue Hippo Tang, 2 Mandarin Dragonets, a school of 9 Green Chromis, a pair of Occellaris Clownfish chilling in their anemone, and a rather rambunctious Sand Sifting Orange Diamond Goby who was diligently performing his duties of stirring the deep sand bed.
The rockwork was superb and gave the tank considerable perception of depth. Upon further inspection, one finds many smaller frags and colonies scattered about. Included were Chalices, Cyphastrea, Favias, Favites, Lobophylia, Turbinaria, Pavona, Purple Montipora Digitata, Hydnophora, assorted Zoas and Palys, and a Purple Brush Gorgonian.
There were several Montipora Capricornis varieties including Tyree Flower Petal, Green w/Purple Rim, Strawberry Fields, Olive green, Red, and Bright Green along with assorted encrusting Montiporas including Tyree "True Undata". Acropora pieces included Green Slimer, Tri color Valida, Pink Lemonade, Steve Elias Stag, ORA Chip's Acro and a particular favorite of mine was a "Bushy and Blue" Acropora.
The system also contains two Emerald Crabs, 1 Blue Linkia Starfish, 1 Red Brittle Star, 1 Fancy Brittle Star, 1 Tuxedo Urchin, and a Hawaiian Feather Duster.
IN BRIAN'S WORDS
"Reefing has been a part of my life twice now. " Brian says, " Once in the late 80's through the early 90's and now in the present. Back in the day, reefing was much different. That was before the internet, and the best you could do for information was buy a few books and read. Your other source of information was the local fish store. I eventually got out of the hobby for many reasons. Mostly because I could not justify watching corals die for my own personal satisfaction." "Today is so much different. Our knowledge has grown in leaps and bounds. The internet, science, and hobbyists have each brought key aspects to the reef aquarium hobby's current success. Through a total of 8-10 years of reefing my main goal is bio diversity. A key element in my reef keeping philosophy is many different zones for many different organisms. It sounds fancy but it is quite simple. Offer your species as many different combination's of flows and lighting as you can. If you do, I believe you will have a great success." "The current system has evolved from a 29 gallon tank that my son begged me to take off of his hands. He is a starving college student and found that he did not have the time or resources to maintain a reef tank. I ended up with it in October of 06. It did not take long for the bug to hit and then 29 gallons became 70 gallons. I added a 55 gallon and it became 125 gallons. Therefore, I bought a 125 on ebay. Sold it and found the current 180. I decided it was time to put something in it. All of these changes took place in the span of about 6 months. That was April of 2007. Other than some coral trading and a few DIY projects, the system is intact as it was built in 2007."
"The future holds a few changes for my system. I plan on complete control and internet monitoring. This is more of a want than a need but that is part of it for me."
"I would like to thank everyone that has stopped by and said "Nice tank", or "Wow". "That simple kind gesture means a lot."
THE BIASED REEFER
Ok, I need to preface this section by disclosing that our next featured stop is the home of some very good friends of mine. This is the only featured tank that I had seen prior to the tour. I have spent hours upon hours (sometimes very late hours) staring into JimC's tank as I am sure his most understanding wife can attest to. That being said I must confess a certain bias or, more accurately, familiarity with this tank. However, it lives up to its billing! I should also point out that while the screen name is
, the actual tank is a product of full family participation. "The kids brought home a betta" Jim says, "My wife Nancy and I told them if they took real good care of it that we would get them a fish tank" Well folks, They obviously took GREAT care of it. Jim explains, "We started off with a 120 and upgraded to the 180 last year, so it paid off for them in 330 gallons of saltwater bliss." The Master Angler of the household is Nancy with one Coral beauty and one Sixline Wrasse in her trophy case. Nancy 2 Jim 0. We arrive at the Coakley residence and are immediately welcomed to a smathering of hugs and kisses....Umm wait a minute....OK, handshakes and warm greetings. Already we can see the blue glow from the end of Jim's 180-gallon display and we are invited to the living room for a closer look. High-end SPS freaks should pay extra attention to this one.
DIVERSITY'S MOTHER LOAD
Jim's display is a 180-gallon glass 6-foot tank set upon an oak stand with a matching tall canopy. The tank is lit by 250-watt Radium 20k bulbs on each end and a 400-watt Radium in the center. The bulbs are all coupled with Lumenarc Mini reflectors. Sunlight Supply HQI ballasts drive the 250s and an Icecap ballast drives the 400. A Workhorse ballast drives the Actinic supplementation which is provided by two 60-inch t5 Geismann Pure Actinic bulbs on individual reflectors.
The frag tank is illuminated by a 400 watt Radium bulb mounted in a Lumenarc reflector and driven by a Blueline ballast.
The colors are astounding. Beyond the assortment of beautifully colored fish including 1 Yellow Tang, 1 Kole Tang, one White Cheeked Goldrim Tang, five Blue/Green Chromis, A trio of Talbot's Damselfish, 1 Bangii Cardinal, 1 Sixline Wrasse, 1 Foxface, 1 Sailfin Tang, 1 Neon Goby, 1 Occellaris Clown, 1 Blue Sided Wrasse, 3 Hawaiian Flame Wrasses, A Lubbock's Wrasse, 1 Purple Friedmanis Pseudochromis, a Purple Striped Pseudochromis, and 3 Firefish. I personally have counted over eighty varieties of Tyree, ORA, and Atlantis SPS corals along with numerous "unknown" gems. The kaleidoscope of colors covers the spectrum. From the Montipora Verrucosa on the left a quick scan right reveals Pink Montipora Digitata, Montipora Undata "True Undata", Tyree Sunset Montipora, Sunrise Montipora, Superman Montipora, Montipora Setosa, Orange with red polyp Montipora (danae?),
Montipora Hispida, Tyree Flower Petal Montipora Capricornis, Tyree Idaho Grape Montipora, Orange Montipora Capricornis, Rainbow Montipora, and Pokerstar Montipora.
Believe me when I say that I am certainly missing a few and we have only touched upon the Monties. The Acropora list is extensive and I won't endeavor to get them all here but some highlights include, Atlantis Xmas Mirabillis, Atlantis original Oregon Tort, Atlantis True Blue Acropora Echinata, ORA Hawkin's Echinata, ORA Pearlberry, ORA Aussie Delicate, ORA Red Planet, ORA Blue Voodoo, ORA Turquois Stag, ORA Blue Millepora, Rose Millepora, Atlantis Pink
Tulip, Upscales Microlados, Pink Jade, 20k Leagues Lokani, Ice Fire Echinata, Myagi Tort, Hiller's Aqua Delight, Steve Elias Stag, Pazazz's Blue Krypto Acropora, Reefer Madness Cranberry Limeade, Tyree Purple Monster, Acropora Granulosa, Lemon Yellow Bottle Brush (Tenius?) Atlantis Red Table with Blue Tips (acropora cytherea?) Atlantis Shades of Fall, Atlantis Rosy Rosaria, Atlantis Strawberry Fields, Pink Lemonade, Acropora Deswalii, Blue Acropora Tenius, Chip's Acro, Tyree Jesus Stag, Atlantis Ultimate Stag, Acropora Efflorescens, and Tri-color Valida are to name but a few. Other species readily apparent are assorted Seritapora such as Tub's Purple Polyped Bird's Nest, ORA Green Bird's Nest, and ORA Pink Bird's Nest. A Yellow Porites, and a beautiful Ocean Blue Polyp Stylophora add to the diversity.
ON THE BOTTOM
Decorating the shallow sand bed is a Zoanthid lovers dream. I am guessing at least 50 varieties of Palys and Zoas including the legendary "true" Purple People
Eaters, the incredibly bright Valentine's Day Massacres, Red People Eaters, Atlantis Purple Center Lunar Eclipses, Carlito's Alien Eyes, Everlasting Gobstoppers, Purple Deaths, Nuclear Greens, Tub's Blues, Purple/Blue Hornets, Midas Golds, Green Bay Packers, Mohawks, Atlantis Candy Apple Reds, Atlantis Black Plague, Rose Nebula, Creamsicles, Rasta's, Spidermans, Armageddon's, Armor of Gods, Devil's Armor, Lord of the Rings, Pink Nuclear Explosions, Orange People Eaters, Candy Apple Greens, Tie Dye Rainbows, Tequila Sunrise, Superman Palys, BamBams, Dragon Eyes, Gorilla Nipples, Horizons, and Blow Pops along with many un-named varieties. All corals in this tank were grown from frags with the exception of one Purple Bonsai, which Jim acquired from HatfieldJ as a small colony when he (HatfieldJ) was tearing down. The tank also contains two Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp, two Tiger Conchs, and one Serpent Starfish. An additional 20-gallon tank contains a Peacock Mantis Shrimp.
The Coakley home is a tri-level with the display tank on ground level. To the left of the tank is a stairway leading down to the family room, which contains "The Engine" that drives the splendor upstairs. Jim has built a large cabinet to support the frag tank as well as housing the equipment that drives the system. Flow in the display is provided by two Vortech MP40s with battery back up at opposing ends along with a Sequence Dart external return pump forced through two penductors. The water is delivered to the approximately 55-gallon frag tank via two internal overflows with durso standpipes. The water flows through the overflows and is routed through two 100-micron socks in order to filter any particulate matter prior to entering the frag tank. The socks are mounted securely on opposing ends of the cube shaped tank with clamp on PVC filter sock mounts. The frag tank itself is drilled with a 1 1/2" standpipe that drains through yet another filter sock into the 100-gallon sump hidden in the cabinet below. Two Vortech MP40s provide additional flow in the frag tank. The system in its entirety is remarkably quiet as the water flows nearly unimpeded by angles and bends in the plumbing. Once entering the sump the water is conditioned by an ATI BubbleMaster 250 Protein Skimmer.
The skimmer's dual Sicce pumps have been mesh modded and the water is further conditioned with the injection of Ozone generated by a Red Sea Pro 100 ozone generator. Currently the ozone is injected through the skimmer but Jim has plans for the addition of an ozone reactor in the near future. From the skimmer chamber the water flows through the refugium chamber, which contains a deep sand bed and chaetomorph algae for nutrient uptake. Following the refugium, the water passes into the return chamber where it is further filtered by three media reactors. Two contain GFO and one contains carbon. The water is then returned to the display. The considerable consumption of calcium, alkalinity and magnesium is replenished and maintained by a GEO 618 calcium reactor controlled by a Pinpoint Ph controller. A Milwaukee Ph monitor has been installed to monitor the tank's Ph and a Ranco controller maintains the temperature. Evaporation is replaced with water from a 20-gallon aquarium via an Aqua lifter controlled by a Reef Fanatic auto top off.
FOR THEIR SUPPORT
No success comes without its share of trials and tribulations as Jim explains.
"When we first set up our 120 and were going through all the rookie mistakes. We were actually considering getting out. "Says Jim "We were fortunate enough at that time to see JC5205, Waynesreef and HatfielJ's systems and we were totally hooked! " "Things really turned around for us when we grasped the concept of patience and stability." "Without their inspiration as well as Jason and Kenny at Kee's answering all of our stupid questions along with Andy listening to me complain about a million issues, this tank would not have been possible." "I swear you meet the best people in this hobby."
Our last stop was at the home of
and once again, we were not disappointed. We arrive to the protective greeting of David's two Doberman Pincers. Unsure of our presence they quickly became our hospitable hosts after David provided some dog biscuits to use as bribery.
David's display is apparent as soon as you walk in the door. The display is a 75-gallon glass tank supported by a black wooden stand. The light fixture containing one 250 watt Phoenix 14k and 2-22k Aqua Science T5 bulbs hangs from the ceiling. A Hamilton ballast drives the halide and a Tek retro ballast powers the T5s. Minireef reflectors direct the light into the tank. The colors are fabulous. Dknuckle's setup is elegant in its simplicity yet no less effective than the tanks we have visited throughout the day. With high quality equipment and strong fundamentals, David has achieved astounding results. With an internal overflow returned by a Danner Mag Drive 7 and a single Vortech MP40 the display was very clean and free of clutter leaving no distractions from the contents.
The flow was outstanding as was evidenced by the very happy looking corals and fish that will be described below. From the overflow, the water drops into a 20-gallon sump where it flows through a refugium containing a Miracle Mud substrate and live rock and is then treated by a Phosban reactor containing carbon and GFO. At the heart of a clearly well designed system David has chosen to use a Bubble King Mini 180 as his protein skimmer, which is driven by a Red Dragon pump. Let me tell you the only thing Mini about this fine piece of machinery is its stature. When asked of his opinion regarding the skimmer Mr. Knuckles simply replies, "I love it". A Coralife Calcium Reactor provides calcium and alkalinity supplementation. A Reefkeeper two controls Ph, lighting, and temperature.
LORDY, LORDY, LORDY
Can you say Acanstrea Lordowensis 3 time quickly? Neither can I, but I can say that Mr. Knuckles has a Jaw dropping array of Ultra Grade Australian Acans. Some but not all of the varieties included are Skittles, Highlighters, Rings of Saturn, Hellfires, some sweet Rainbows and many others. I was impressed with the health of his corals from the moment I first gazed into his tank. I had never seen Acan Lords with stalks! The rockwork was excellent leaving ample room on the sand bed for such gems as a Bright Green Trachyphyllia , Rainbow Trachyphyllia, a beautiful Orange Scolymia, Tyree Original Watermelon Chalice,
Two varieties of Yellow Eye Chalice, Living Lava, Aspera, Grape Watermelon, a very cool Red with Pastel Blue Splash Chalice and an awesome Crocea Clam.
The center piece of the tank, a Tyree Flower Petal Capricornis was surrounded by other stunners such as Montipora Setosa, Sunset Montipora, Tyree Montipora Undata "True Undata", Superman Montipora, Seasons Greetings Montipora, Purple Haze Montipora,"ORA German Blue Polyp Acropora, Tyree Purple Monster, Poke Your Eyes Out Bonsai, ORA Red Planet, Pink Lemonade, ORA Oregon Blue Tort, ORA Chip's Acropora, Ponape Bird's Nest, Yellow with Blue Tip Acropora (Tenius?), 30,000 Leagues Lokani, ORA Pearlberry, ORA Green Polyp Bird's Nest, ORA Hawkin's Echinata, ORA Phil's Granulosa, ORA Green Slimer, Purple and Yellow Turbinaria, Limeade, and Candle Light Acropora along with several un-named Australian Acropora.
Additional LPS and Softies include but are not limited to Tyree Peace Coral, Tyree War Coral, Tyree Baby's Breath Favia, Prism Favia, Neon Green with Purple Tip Frogspawn, Some sweet Dendros, along with Florida Ricordia including Rainbow, Peach & Green, Purple & Green, and Blue with Green. Sticking with the mushrooms Mr. Knuckles had the sweetest Purple Tonga Mushrooms I have ever seen and others included Bright Red Discosoma,
Pink Ricordia Yuma, and Orange with Purple Base Halloween Yumas. Zoas and Palys include but are not limited to"true" Purple People Eaters, Orange People Eaters, Everlasting Gobstoppers, Two types of Rainbow Palys, Carlito's Alien Eyes, Mohawks, Pink Zippers, Nuclear Deaths, Purple Deaths, BamBams and Midas Golds. Rounding out the coral list are a Green Polyped Toadstool Leather and a Purple Gorgonian. David's fish choices were awesome as well. The "Peacemaker" as David called him was the Tomini Tang. What a gorgeous fish! Its underlings were quite cool as well. I especially liked the Yellow Coris Wrasse. In addition to these beauties were a Chocolate Ocellaris Clown, a Bangaii Cardinal, and a Watchman Goby. I should also mention that David was one of the Master Anglers of the tour as he had recently caught a Neon Dottyback that refused to play nice with others.
Once again, Dknuckles makes clear that diligent husbandry and substantial experience payoff in terms of success. He has been keeping coral reef aquariums "on and off since 1993." David has endured some difficulties throughout including a couple of check valve driven floods and a broken 120-gallon tank. Through it all David says that he is "Always Learning" which is evident in his current endeavor. Weekly 10-gallon water changes, bulb changes every 6 months and high quality equipment have resulted in a stunning example of why this hobby attracts and amazes so many.
David would like to thank (or blame for getting him into sticks) Todd from Cherry Corals, Wayne (AKA Waynesreef) for their inspiration and sharing of knowledge when he was getting started with SPS, as well as Junior (Smokin Reefs) "For help with those late night tank emergencies."
THE WRAP UP
Mike and I would like to thank Brian Barton, Jim and Nancy Coakley, and David Knuckles for their hospitality and participation in this tour. I would also like to personally thank Mike aka Poseidon for joining me on this adventure and sharing his formidable skills. Each system was impressive in its own way and it was very interesting to observe how different reefers use different methods to achieve the same goal. In the words here, I have tried to describe the individual systems as accurately as I could while putting emphasis on each system's particular strengths. That being said, Mike and I took in a lot in one day. I only hope that I have done a minimal amount of justice in describing the systems that these reefers have worked so hard to create.