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Member's Aquarium Series - Tom O'Toole

Tuesday April 13th, 1999 on #reefs IRC.

Thanks for coming, this talk will go over a variety of individual topics as I don't really specialize in any one thing. I'm sure my ears will be burning with the comments in the peanut gallery =)

I've been in the marine hobby on and off for about 6 years now. My first tank was a 40 gallon breeder, fish-only tank with an UGF that was airstone powered for a few years before I discovered the magical world of powerheads =) I also had a cheap Lee's skimmer and a Penguin 110 as the final filtration setup for that tank. I had relatively good success with this tank, but suffered from total wipeout syndrome once as well because I really didn't know what I was doing and didn't have access to some of the great books out now. Especially "Marine Fish - Recognition and Treatment of Diseases" by Robert R. Clifton, an excellent book, which unfortunately is now out of print, but if you can get your hands on a copy it's a MUST HAVE!

I was out of the hobby for a year or so while I was living on campus (aquariums, frat houses and beer don't mix well). When I moved, Inland Reef Aquaria in Nashua, NH opened almost simultaneously and I decided to start a new tank. I've also been working at Inland Reef Aquaria for about 6 months, so I have some LFS insights as well. I started a reef in May of 1998 in a 40 gallon SeaClear acrylic tank. My desire to go to a slightly bigger tank and a glass one at that, caused me to purchase a 50-gallon Aquarium Industrial in mid June. If I had thought this out a little better I probably would have gone with a 75 gallon, but I already had a stand for the 36" tank.

This past weekend I replaced the 15 gallon AGA sump with a 29 gallon AGA refugium/sump of my own simple design (13" tall black acrylic bulkhead siliconed into the tank giving me a 12 gallon refugium spilling into an 9 gallon sump with extra room for excess system water (approximately 8 gallons) in the event of a power failure). The return pump is a Mag 5 and the skimmer is a Red Sea Berlin powered by a RIO 2500. I modified the 2500 with a RIO venturi kit and plumbed it so that I get some recirculation on the venturi also. I like this modification but it is louder than just the 2500 firing into the Berlin's old venturi.

I went high tech and have a Neptune AquaController running my lights, powerheads and of course the temp and pH probes. I have 2 301s and 2 Maxijet 1000's providing flow for the tank. The sand bed is 56 pounds of Aragonite on top of a Jaubert plenum. I have 45 pounds of Fiji rock and 26 pounds of Floridian Aquacultured. In the refugium is approximately 25 pounds of live sand. Lighting: Originally I had 5x30watt NO fluorescent bulbs on my tank. 3 Tritons and 2 Blue Moons. I really like these bulbs over other bulbs because they are correct color temp and give good color rendering. This combination also provided for OUTSTANDING coralline algae growth. In fact it almost became a pest at one point when I was just scraping with a Kent plastic scraper, I couldn't keep up with the algae and finally resorted to razor blades.

This lighting proved adequate for a time, most things did okay with it, but I had a really unique Trachyphyllia geoffroyi that I bought in July, but looked poor by late November, and finally died in February because the lighting was not sufficient for him long term. I upgraded my lights in January to 4x96 watt Power Compacts and I am very happy with them. My refugium will be lit by 2 or 3x28 watt PC's and I'm planning on adding macroalgae and running the lights for RDP.

I DIY'd my PC's and saved a considerable amount of money. If your LFS sells CustomSeaLife lighting products then they should be able to get you some of the obscure parts i.e. the CF bulb clips and endcaps (I used the plastic non-waterproof endcaps and not the expensive $34 waterproof cords). You also can solder the wires directly to the pins on the bulbs but the plastic endcaps make it look much nicer and are only $7 retail. For 96-watt bulbs I use the REL-2S-110 from Advance.

It was amazing to see the lengths that CustomSeaLife went to try to prevent the Do-it-yourselfer from figuring the PC's out. Last summer Matt Marulla and I spent many a late night at Inland Reef tracking down part numbers and what not to figure out how to cut the costs. We first looked for a source for the bulbs. CSL actually sands off the manufacturer's id from the bulb and then places a CSL sticker over it.

Lots of companies make Compact Fluorescent bulbs but few have the right color temp. We took 96 watt bulbs to local industrial lighting distributors and had them scratching their heads. We then tried peeling off the CSL label on the packing box, we didn't think it would be that easy but yup! Panasonic makes the bulbs, Yippie! So Matt called Panasonic and finally found out they are sold through their OEM division in New Jersey. "Can we buy them?" "Sure" "What's the price?" "Well you have to buy them in quantity since they are OEM" "No problem, how many? 100? 500?" "4,000 per part number" silence..."So if I want to buy these bulbs from Panasonic and stock all 6 bulbs sizes and colors I need to buy 24,000 bulbs?" "Yup, we can only sell them by the pallet, but I can give you the name of our US reseller." "Great who is it?" "CustomSeaLife" So that is it on a source for cheaper bulbs. =)

We then tackled the ballast questions. We took a 2x96 watt retrofit kit ballast and removed the endplate, could see the wiring but couldn't make out the ballast. We then had to drill out 2 rivets to remove the ballast (again great lengths here) and we get the ballast out of the box and there is nothing but a glue mark and a nice flatbladed screwdriver sized scratch from whoever removed the ballast's manufacturer's sticker.

They not only riveted the ballast into the metal box, but still removed the id sticker. With some research we were able to determine that the ballast was indeed an Advance REL-2S-110, the size shape of the ballast and the wiring were identical, good enough for us and they work anyway. For the 55 watt bulbs, I recommend the REL-2P60, it's a 60 watt ballast and should fire them a little brighter than the 50 watt Advance ballast that also works. The 2P32 or 4P32 Advance ballast works fine for the 28 watt bulbs, if you can't get the LOA ballast that Troy Brightbill recommends.

Back to my tank: Makeup water is from a Tap Water Purifier, I recently added a second TWP to the first one. I keep freshwater in a 30 gallon trashcan in my kitchen for kalk and evaporation topoff. I normally top off for evap with Kalkwasser, my other additives are ESV iodide and Kent Strontium & Molybdenum. I like to do biweekly to monthly (I'm not overly consistent with this) water changes and I use Tropic Marin salt. I'm leaning towards just using Kalk and possibly the Sr. supplements in the future with regular water changes for the rest of my trace element replenishment but want to use up the additives I have now.

I feed my tank fairly often, usually at least something everyday, a wide variety of frozen foods or OSI flake when I get lazy. I also add DT's Phytoplankton to the system on a regular basis (3-4 times a week). I subscribe to the "overfeeding" idea floated by Shimek, and that this is necessary to have a healthy critter-packed sandbed. A good efficient skimmer is needed and this method does mean that your input water MUST be pure otherwise you are going to get algae blooms like you wouldn't believe. So while it's a bit more of a challenge than underfed tanks, I do believe it leads to a healthier more biodiverse system in the long haul.

I also believe in NO MECHANICAL FILTRATION, I sometimes run a HOT Magnum on the tank for carbon (about 2-3 days a month) but other than that, there is no filter sponge or any type of mechanical filtration. There is no need for such on a reef tank and unless you want to clean it everyday I think they are detrimental. Mechanical filtration merely traps debris in the water column. It's up to YOU to remove it. This debris is food for filter feeders. Particulate matter that's big enough to be trapped by a mechanical filter is big enough to be eaten by someone in your reef. Why rob them of that food? Sponge, foraminiferan and other filter feeder growth is very healthy in my tank and this was before I started adding DT's Phytoplankton.

Food that is not eaten by fish takes a few trips through powerheads, pumps and is over the course of time broken into smaller and smaller particles which the filter feeders can utilize. I have just about everything in my tank, I prefer to have an even balance, especially since I'm still relatively new to the hobby and want to try my hand at everything. I have everything from anemones (5 different kinds) some SPS, some LPS, soft corals i.e. sarcophyton and nepthea, clams (2 T. maxima's and 1 T. derasa), ball sponge, etc. For fish I have a Purple Tang, Coral Beauty, Red Saddleback clown, one Percula and one Ocellaris which have paired up, one surviving Green Chromis, and my favorite, the elusive, but ultra-cool Swissguard Basslet.

A pretty healthy fish load but I plan on removing the Saddleback and possibly the Green Chromis in the near future to my 15 gallon mini-reef that I'm in the process of setting up right now. There are also numerous members of the cleanup crew. Probably 30 blue leg hermits, 20 Astrea snails, 10 red leg hermits brittle stars, serpent stars, coral banded shrimp and peppermint shrimp. Toss in an Emerald Crab for Irish luck =)

I did recently have an Entacmaea quadricolor asexually reproduce in my tank. He was very happy in a deep hole in some Fiji but one Sunday night he wasn't there. I figured he moved to a place I couldn't see but then when I was going to check on my skimmer's operation I noticed he was in my sump, and I now had 4 tiny anemones. I think this was more due to the stress of the trip though the overflow and down the piping into the sump the anything else but all 4 anemones are now back in the main tank and doing fine after 2 weeks.

Okay, I've bounced all over the place here, but that about covers it, so let the flaming begin =)

Do you recharge you TWP cartridges?
No, I guess I could, but I don't go through them THAT fast, so it's not really worth it to me, to play with acids and bases =)

What anemones do you keep, and how long have you had them?
I have Entacmaea quadricolors(1 is about 6 months old and doing well, the other is the one that just reproduced and I got him in January) I also have a H. Malu, a Haitian Pink tip and I just added a Haddoni this weekend

Is there any one thing you think has made the biggest contribution to your success?
READ! There are some excellent books out there, for the beginner I think Tullocks Natural Reef Aquarium is the best bet, Fenner is goot too. They get expensive but having TRA and MCRA vol 1&2 are essential also. A good knowledgeable LFS is also excellent but those are few and far between =(

How do u know who to rely on for your livestock?
Well I am lucky, I work for Inland Reef Aquaria in Nashua, NH, but I was a customer first! I know the livestock we get are as healthy as possible, we constantly look for new healthier sources of fish and corals, the key is to judge your LFS's attitude, hopefully they are members of AMDA and follow their practices, hopefully the tanks are healthy, tough for many, best bet is to feel out the LFS owner, see if he is knowledgable and up to date on the latest practices

Any problems with the coral beauty eating polyps?
Never, BUT every fish is an individual, and who's to say he won't develop a taste a few years down the line? I wouldn't avoid Centropyge angels because they *might*. We have a Flame Angel at Inland Reef that is 7 years old and has never harmed a coral. My coral beauty is perfectly happy cleaning my glass and rock of algae for now =)

I am interested in the specifics of your sump/refugium, could you please explain what the benefit of having a refuguim is? And how do you have it setup?
I took a 29 gallon AGA aquarium(30Lx12Wx18H) and silconed in some acrylic that is 13" tall dividing the tank into a 17x12 and 13x12 portions. the water flows first into the larger of the two halves which is the refugium, the smaller portion holds my skimmer and return pump The refugium allows for a place to grow macroalgae and for isopods and copepods to reproduce without predation(no fish in the refugium) running the lights on the refugium opposite of the tanks lights is called Reverse Daylight Photosynthesis This will help stabilze the pH in the tank as they will utilize the CO2 given off by the respiration of the main tank

How long have you had the orange sponge? Have you had any trouble with it, and does it require any extra care?
The key to Sponges is in the shipping. They must NEVER be exposed to air. IF your LFS gets some in and it looks good, put it on hold for a few days. IF it has been exposed to air the tissue will become necrotic and turn white and die. IF you have healthy sponge growth on your Live rock you should be able to keep store bought sponge. A little DT's Phyto works wonders also a little necrotic tissue can be trimmed away if you catch it fast enought

What happened to the other green chromis?
HEH, well I added about 6 of them into the tank, 2 were eaten by a Klunzinger Wrasse(he also ate an Oceleris clown which is why I have one Perc and 1 Ocellaris) I removed the Wrasse. I was now down to 4 Chromis, 3 just out and out disappeared, Green Chromis don't seem to do that well in my experience. Cyanide seems to be getting worse from the Indo Pacific, even Blue damsels don't seem to do all that well lately

Seen any noticable improvements after using the phytoplankton?
Nothing dramatic no, though Clam growth seems to be doing very well but I added them at roughly the same time I started using the DT's so it's hard to say. I do plan on some experiments with Dendronepthya sp and DT's to see if long term captivity is now possible. The tank overall is thriving right now so it's hard to say if DT's is playing a role or not

What sort of parasites have you had to deal with? Not just parasites, but pests, like problem critters and such.
Most spectacular was the parasitic isopod my Tang caught. I've seen some things at Inland Reef, flatworms for instance the flatworms at Inland reef didn't seem to be parasitic, I think they just multiply to such numbers that they can overshadow and kill a coral, cuz they never harmed a mushroom, a pair of Golden Headed Sleeper Gobies seemed to solve that problem nicely. Other pests I've had to deal with include Aiptasia, true Peppermint shrimp, Lysmata wurdmani solved that problem.

Does your acropora frag from Greg Hiller do well under the PC's?
YES! I am getting some excellent growth out of that frag, at least excellent for me =) roughly 1/2 inch a month it seems. I need to measure it again soon, and the Montipora which is also from Greg. The Acro was a brilliant green when I first got him back in January and it still is.

Any problems with your condy stinging other organisms?
That condy is huge, I've had to put him in the corner, "Time out" =) and be careful about other placement. I am thinking of moving him and the Red Saddleback into my 15 gallon when I'm ready. The Red Saddleback is a kewl lil fish but he's taken over every anenome in the house. HE swam into the Haddoni while it was still in my hand!

Got a complete serial # for those 28W PC ballasts?
REL-2P32 for 2x28 Watt, and REL-4P32 for 3 or 4x28 watt

What is DT's Phyto? And where can you get it?
Good Question =) DT's Phyto is a live phytoplankton(green water) that you can add to your tank for a plankton substitute. I'm dont' have the contact info handy, you might ask Gary from Harbor, it should be in FAMA I think. It has a 11 month shelf live if refridgerated but you will use it faster than that. IT comes in one gallon jugs. and also quart sizes

Thanks for the great talk, Tom!

Created by liquid
Last modified 2006-11-24 14:05