Reef2Reef FarmerTy Reef Tank of the Month - June 2019

First off, I just wanted to say I'm honored to have been nominated for Reef2Reef Tank of the Month. I've always enjoyed reading up on the monthly winners as I was always curious as to how others have been successful with their reef tanks, and it gave me a level of success to aim for with my own tank journey. To be chosen to be a participant myself is unreal.

I wanted to start off by sharing my approach to my reef tanks over the years. I've always aimed to replicate natural systems as best as I could while giving it a boost with the variety of technologies and methods we have at our disposal in the hobby.

My main goal is heavy import of food and nutrients, with a countering action of aggressive removal of uneaten food and organics before they add to a system-wide nutrient issue. This means I aim to feed massive quantities of food to the tank daily and have systems in place (reactors, skimmers, etc) to combat the breakdown of food and fish/coral waste before it becomes a problem in our volume-limited systems.

This starts with a large fish population to "feed" the corals throughout the day. Multiple feedings a day to the fish via pellets, frozen food, and nori are my inputs for nutrition and energy for the reef, besides lighting of course. The feedings in turn feed the corals and other supporting biosystems in the tank further down the food chain.

To combat this surge of food input daily, I run a carbon reactor, biopellet reactor, GFO reactor, and a giant skimmer rated generally about 2x the total system volume at a heavy load. This allows me to feed heavily and not have nutrient issues down the line. This also allows me to control my nitrate level and phosphate level easily and keep it at the levels I prefer. Combined with my calcium reactor and kalkwasser in my ATO system, which replenishes my foundation elements and some trace elements, I've been able to have my system go years without a systematic water change.

Water does exchange via my skimmer and whenever I sell frags and remove water for the frags, but as a maintenance routine, I do not do any water changes. There are always exceptions, like when I overdosed magnesium or when I run a medication like Chemiclean but the emphasis is no routine water changes are required for me to maintain my tank with the current system.

I run an Acropora-dominated system as I have over 150+ different types of Acropora. It is absolutely an addiction that is only hampered by the space limitations I have in my fishroom, my budget, and the ever present stink eye I get from my wife.

I do also have an affinity toward angels. I keep six varieties of angels in my system, including an emperor, Japanese swallowtail, regal, majestic, flame, and bandit. Generally angels aren't the best companions to reef tanks but I only attempted this because of my Acro-dominant system. If I had LPS or softies, this would have been a no-go for me. I keep a black tang and blonde naso tang with streamers as remnants of my tang-heavy days.

I'll go into more specifics of lighting, flow, water quality, supplementation, and fish/coral stock lists below as you read along.

System Profile:

Display tank: 215 gallon 72 x 24 x 28

Glass or Acrylic: glass

Stand: 2" square steel tubing powder coated red with a removable walkboard

Sump: DIY 90 gallon glass tank with baffles

Grow-out tank: 2 zoomedic Lowboys tied into my main system

Protein skimmer: Reef Octopus 5000

Carbon/phosphate filtration: GFO and Rox Carbon in an Avast Marine Reactor

Return pump: Jaebo 14000

Water circulation: Two Gyre 3500 on display that alternate every minute... Two Vortech MP60s that turn on 4-5x/day for 30 mins to stir things up a bit.

Lighting (display): ATI Sunpower 8 bulb with 2 SBreef actinic bars, B+, C+, B+, actinic, GE 6500K, purple+, C+, B+.

Lighting (grow-out): Aquaticlife Hybrid with 2 Radion XR30 G4 Pros and 2B+ and 2 actinic bulbs.

Lighting (second grow-out): Aquaticlife Hybrid with 3 Radion XR15 G4 Pros and 2B+ and 2 actinic bulbs.

Calcium/alkalinity/magnesium dosing: Kalk and MTC CaRX.

Kalkwasser reactor: kalk in Topoff reservoir.

Auto top-off: Controlled by Apex.

Heating/cooling: Finnex 800-watt heater, portable AC unit for fish room with dehumidifier.

System control: Apex 2016.

Any other details: I run a giant 114-watt TMC UV sterilizer. I also do no systematic water changes to maintain my tank.

Water Circulation and Flow Summary and Objectives:

Water circulation is handled almost entirely by the return and two gyres on opposite sides of the tank. I rotate the gyre flow every minute so it builds up just enough to have a full gyre effect in one direction before the other pump turns on and the active one turns off to reverse the direction... causing the corals to sway back in forth every minute with the crashing wave as it shifts direction to hit every part of the rockscape and knock off detritus and tickle each colony with a blast of random flow. I disrupt this slow back and forth with the intermittent on and off of my Ecotech MPP60s throughout the day to mix things up. The objective is a nice back and forth motion keeping flow moving at all times with changes in direction and intensity to fully circulate the water in the display.

Both frag tanks are run with a gyre to achieve full tank flow in such a shallow tank without blasting any corals directly like standard powerheads can do. The frag tanks are plumbed to the central sump and allows for all 3 tanks to share the same water quality. This was done to keep my sanity as running one acro-dominant system is like having one kid already, I didn't want to have 3 kids to keep up with all the time.

Water Parameters:

Nothing special with my water parameters other than I prefer to keep a higher nitrate level and aim to maintain my phosphate as low as possible... though I have been experimenting with slowly letting my phosphate level rise over the last couple months to see its effects on the system. Time will tell how much I can get away with without detriment to coloration of the acros.

* Temp: 78-81
* pH: 8.1-8.4
* Specific gravity: 1.025-1.026
* NO3: 25 ppm
* Ca: 420 ppm
* Alk: 8.0 dKh
* Mg: 1400 ppm
* PO4: 0.03 ppm

Lighting Summary and Objectives:

My goal is to provide full-spectrum lighting to my corals. Call me old-fashioned but I prefer to enjoy my tank under approximately a 14k spectrum. My sand is a good white with a touch of blue to it. The added warmth in this spectrum allows me to appreciate blues, purples, and shades of red that are lost under heavy blue lighting. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy an all blue view at dawn and dusk but my primary viewing is mainly under full-spectrum lighting.

For my display, I run an 8-bulb ATI Sunpower Fixture combined with two SBreef actinic bars flanking it on either side. I very much enjoy the T5/LED hybrid lighting system, and I feel this captures the perfect balance for my display. The T5's are great an enveloping every inch of the tank in light, which is important for acros as they grow out into large colonies, the shadowing can cause STN and issues with growth as a colony reaches a critical size. I still love the LED pop and the actinic bars provide that to compliment the coverage and color the T5's provide. For my display, I wouldn't have it any other way.

For my frag tanks, I actually prefer a T5/LED hybrid system as well but the emphasis is on the LED's (Radions) supplying the punch while T5's supplement. The Radions are amazing at pulling out color and highlighting subtle nuances of color, especially when you get to enjoy them from a topdown view in a frag tank setup. I love the Radions over a frag tank and enjoy having my frag tanks very much for topdown viewing and propagation.


* Display tank: 8 hrs T5's, 12 hrs of SbReef actinic bars.

* Grow-out tank: 5 hrs of Radions at 100% running AB+, ramp up and ramp down of All blue setting for 8 hrs total. T5's on for 8 hrs.

* Grow-out tank 2: 5 hrs of Radions at 100% running AB+, ramp up and ramp down of All blue setting for 8 hrs total. T5's on for 8 hrs.

Filtration and Water Quality Summary and Objectives:

As I have touched on briefly in the introduction, my objective is no water changes and instead, a series of reactors to maintain water quality.

For nutrients, I use a GFO reactor for phosphate control, biopellet reactor for nitrate control, and activated carbon for chemicals/toxins/DOCs. The oversized skimmer plays a role in reducing the skimmable organic wastes in the system to reduce the load on my GFO/Biopellet reactor. It also plays a heavy role in keeping the water properly oxygenated.

For foundation elements and trace elements, I rely on my calcium reactor to replenish Ca, Alk, Mg, and other trace elements and kalkwasser in my ATO to support the supplementation of Ca and Alk while also assisting in the reduction of phosphate in the system and maintaining a higher pH level to counter the depressing effects on pH due to the CaRX.

As a whole, this allows me to go years without systematic water changes and allows me to fine-tune my parameters without having wild swings with water changes to my parameters.

Any good system starts with the purest water for top-off and water change purposes. I run an 8-stage RO/DI filtering system detailed below:

1) 1 micron filter
2) catalytic carbon cartridge
3) catalytic carbon cartridge
4) BRS Chlorplus Carbon block (my local water treatment system uses chloramines at times)
5) Spectrapure 99% rejection membrane
6) Spectrapure 99% rejection membrane
7) mixed bed DI resin
8) mixed bed DI resin

This is powered with a RO booster pump to maintain appropriate levels of pressure for permeation through the membrane and to also achieve a more efficient waste water/made water ratio. My prefilters are swapped every 6 months, my sediment filter every 3 months, my membranes whenever they dip below 95% rejection rate, and my DI resin whenever TDS output is not 0.

Tank Inhabitants—Fish:

1. Bandit Angelfish
2. Majestic Angelfish
3. Emperor Angelfish
4. Japanese Swallowtail Angelfish
5. Hawaiian Flame Angelfish
6. Red Sea Regal Angelfish
7. Hawaiian Black Tang
8. Blonde Naso Tang male with streamers
9. Flame Hawkfish
10. Hawaiian Terminal Flame Wrasse
11. 2 Pyramid Butterflyfish
12. Midas Benny
13. Mated pair of Subzero Frostbite Clownfish
14. 7 Bimaculatus Anthias
15. 9 Black and White Ocellaris
16. Ocellaris Clownfish
17. Foxface

Other Invertebrates:

1. 5 fighting conch
2. 3 tuxedo urchins
3. Turbo snails

Tank Inhabitants— Corals:

1. Every acro there is... I'm kidding. But I have over 150... Yes... I have a problem. I don't think people really want to read the whole list but think about an acro you like... yes, I have it in grow-out. I'm joking by the way but it really is a comprehensive list. I have collected a lot of the currently popular pieces but also have a long list of hard to find classics as well.

2. Red, red metallic, bright green, and pink gonioporas.

3. Large Aussie gold torch colony.

4. Reefwise Long Tentacle Fungia Plates.

5. WWC Kung Pao monti, Cornbred Flaming Phoenix Monti, BigR Freak Nasty Monti, JF Beach Bum Monti, JF Altered Ego Monti, JF Vino Monti, Watchguy Z's Dream Monti.

6. Anemones: Colorado Sunburst, Reefwise Lemondrop, Mak Inferno, Arizona Sunset, CC Supernova, CC Sunburst.

Fish and Coral Feeding:

I feed a mix of frozen, nightly, and auto-feeder feeds pellets 3x/day. Frozen food consists of Rod's, PE Mysis, bloodworms, krill, and my own frozen mix of tilapia, salmon, shrimp, octopus, squid, oysters, scallops, mussels, and fish eggs. I fill up a large Dixie cup of frozen (frozen capacity) and fill with tank water to thaw and feed the entire amount every 2-3 days. It is a snowstorm of frozen food every night in the tank around 10pm-11pm.

Who was responsible for getting you into the hobby?

My brother. He gave me my first tank... A 12-gallon nanocube.

Tell me about your evolution as an aquarist.

I never kept freshwater tanks. I went straight to saltwater and never looked back. I was even obsessed before I kept a tank. Enough so that I enrolled to study Marine Biology at Texas A&M University but ultimately changed my major to Ocean and Coastal Resources (think environmental science for the marine world).

I kept a saltwater system running straight since 2004, which puts me at 15 years of reefing continuously though I migrated tanks many times over those years. I still have bio-active live rock from 2004 that has never been dry. It's fun to think that I have kept a living saltwater bacterial culture alive for over 15 years!

I started with softies as most do. A common mushroom I was able to keep alive was my first victory. GSP and zoas soon followed which bolstered my confidence as a reefer. My absolute favorite beginner coral had to have been my green fungia plate. I could watch it eat all day!

This slowly transitioned to a love of the many different varieties and colors that zoas came in. I started to heavily collect zoas and got really obsessed with them for a period of reefing. It's funny because fish were really a low priority for me with the reef tank. I even disliked that they distracted non-reefers from my prized corals. Please look past Nemo and look at that awesome Armor of God colony back there!

I remember making friends with a local hobbyist around 2011-2012 who was into acros. I greatly admired his tank and told him I think I might try acros out. He clipped me 6 tester frags for free and told me to give it a try. I proceeded to take them home, mount them, and kill every one of them within a week.

Over a couple discussions with him and some research online, I came back again and bought some more frags from him and managed to not kill them this go-around. From that point I was hooked on the challenge of acros--not only to have them survive for you, but to maximize their growth, to pull the best colors I could from them, to discover their ideal par level and placement, to drench them in the perfect light spectrum...there were so many intricacies to their care and optimal growth/coloration that it became a lifelong love for me to take up the sport of keeping them.

As I grew more successful with acros, I would take deviations from the path and experiment with keeping high end montis, high end anemones, and even maintain an enviable fish population that would compliment each other and the system.

The journey has brought me a long way with many successes and terrible, terrible failures and made me the reefer I am today.

Can you tell us about any special big successes or big mistakes?

It's funny, I can rattle off all my major mistakes since I started reefing since 2004 but it's often difficult to remember the successes. I guess I can start with the failures:

-Not one but two epic fish-population wipeouts due to marine velvet. One was due to not QT'ing my final fish addition, a flame angel in my last tank. The other was more recent, just about 1.5 years ago after I recently moved, I bought a frag from a grow-out tub at a local fish store. I dipped it as I normally do and then added it to the system...within 3-4 days, 3/4 of my fish were dead from velvet. Down the road, the LFS did tell me that he had issues keeping fish alive in that tub. I literally cried when my 7-8" emperor died in my hands in the treatment tank. I had it since it was 2-3" long. :-(

-AEFW infestation in 2013 two tanks ago. This was before I knew how to practice safe QT protocols for new frags. Lost a large amount of acros but was able to save a lot, too, thanks to Bayer.

-Overdosed vodka in my display for carbon dosing and managed to kill some 5-year old fish in my system from the resulting bacterial bloom while I was at work.

-During one tank upgrade, I used an old hydrometer to set the salinity in the new tank. My acros slowly died over a period of 3 months, and I couldn't figure out why. Finally went to a LFS to have them run some tests and they told me my salinity was 1.031. Total rookie move!

-Used Chemiclean to wipe out cyano, and in its place, I got to enjoy a plague of dinos for three months after that.

-After moving, having a baby, and setting up the new tank with a 1-week old and delirious with the lack of sleep, I endured a 4-6 month period of explainable deaths to my acros where all paremeters were on point. To this day I still have no clue what triggered it.

-Was tightening a union on my old ReeFlo Hammerhead pump capable of pushing 5,550 GPH and over-tightened it and the union cracked and all 5,550 GPH hit me in the chest. The resulting scramble to shove my hand into the pipe to stop the flow as I reached around desperately to unplug the pump without electrocuting myself would have been just Hollywood gold if it were caught on video.

-Went fallow for 76 days two times in a 1-year period to rid the tank of ich... and was unsuccessful both times to my dismay.

-Fried my brand new Apex 2016 power strip because of some spilled water.

Okay, now for my successes I guess. I'm already depressed again after having to relive all of the failures above. I guess my one success is being able to learn from my failures and to share this knowledge as best as I can to others to prevent the same missteps I took during my journey.

Any big problems?

Besides my own human errors along the way, nothing too crazy.

How long have you been doing this?

15 years

Who or what in the hobby most influences/inspires you?

Other reefers. A good challenge also revs me up, too.

What are your future plans for improvement/upgrade of the tank?

I hope to be able to get a deeper tank one day... something at least 30" deep though I'm restricted in length at this home to 6', otherwise, I'd get something longer too. I plan to hopefully one day expand the fish room and add more frag tanks while also getting that deeper tank. Current plan though is to upgrade my skimmer to a larger external skimmer and also upgrade my calcium reactor to a larger one as well as it will have issues keeping up I would imagine in the near future with my stock level.

Any advice for beginners?

Read that failure list and make sure you don't do the same things. Really, just start slow, add your fish slowly, add your corals slowly, and allow your system to adjust to the new stock levels before moving further. Research a lot, grab on to a good mentor and basically plagiarize their methodology as best as you can. If it works for them, it can most likely work for you as well if you copy it exactly. Just make sure their tank style is the same you want for yourself. Don't copy me if you want to keep might be a total failure.

Stop listening to internet experts who talk the biggest talk. Look at their tank... if their tank doesn't match their talk, then they are a bad resource for advice and information. Especially the ones who peddle their own books, special dosing supplements, "brew", or try to sell you anything else other than good solid advice. Trust me, you don't need any of those additives or supplements to have a nice tank. So if anybody is selling you something, just keep in mind they may have an ulterior motive to line their wallets at your expense.

Lastly, be patient. Every tank goes through ugly phases. If you don't think so, look up my tank videos on YouTube and you'll see my entire tank covered in a sea of cyano. That's just par for the course for the first year as your system balances out. If you maintain good parameters and keep them stable, in time, your system will rock!

Tell me about anything else you think is important.

It important to be engaged in the community to learn, share, and grow as a reefer. If you make it to the top, don't forget to help those who are just starting out... as someone was as kind to you when you first started out and helped you get to where you are today as a reefer.

No matter what level you feel your tank is at, share it. Relish in the beauty of what you created and the potential it has as the years go by. Don't be afraid to ask questions but also do your own research first. I'm always happy to help others when they start from a place of helping themselves first.

Final Thoughts?

I'll end it with a Price Is Right sendoff (for those old enough to remember)... FarmerTy reminding you, remember folks, help control fish diseases and coral pests, QT your fish and dip your corals... goodbye everybody!