Ryan Baker's (rbaker) Reef Aquarium - Revisited

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I want to thank everyone at Reef Central; I owe most of my success to all of you. It’s been roughly two years and two months since my previous “Tank of the Month” article. I’ve made many small changes, but no major ones. As you’ll see, I’ve really tried hard to leave the tank alone and let nature take its course with minimal intervention.

Aquarium Profile:

180-gallon All Glass aquarium
150-gallon sump
150-gallon refugium
dimensions: 74" x 24" x 24"
DIY stand and canopy
30-gallon SPS propagation tank

Aquarium Profile:

Prior to setting up the tank, I spent several months designing the system. It's a standard 180-gallon All-Glass tank measuring 72" x 24" x 24". I was using the Berlin method (bare bottom), but have since added approximately 1” of sand strictly for aesthetic reasons. It contains roughly 350 lbs. of Fiji and Marshall Island live rock. Recently, I added a 30-gallon Oceanic cube tank (20.5 x 18.5 x 21.5) to the system, which I will use to grow out coral fragments. A Coralife pendant housing an AB 175-watt single-ended metal halide bulb provides the lighting to the cube. I’m still running a 150-gallon refugium to take advantage of the benefits of a deep sand bed, and it contains 450 lbs. of live sand, which brings the sand bed’s depth to around 5". I also have a 150-gallon sump, making the system’s total volume approximately 450 gallons. As you may recall, this tank replaced a former 75-gallon reef that was running for about five years.

Nothing has really changed as far as the stand and canopy go. I built the stand and canopy out of Jatoba (Brazilian Cherry wood). The stand is 38" tall and the canopy is 15" tall, making the system’s total height 76". I used a natural Danish oil finish and three coats of marine grade spar varnish both inside and out to protect the wood from the salt water. Due to the tank’s weight (approx. 2500 lbs.), and the fact that the tank sits parallel to the floor joists, I had to reinforce the floor with extra joists and support posts in the basement directly under the tank.

Plumbing and Circulation:

I have changed the plumbing and circulation system very little. The reef is in the dining room on the second floor with all of the equipment located in my basement fish room. A large overflow box on the main display has two 1 ¼" drains that pass through the floor, then span 40 feet across the house and into the fish room. Overflow from the tank enters the 150-gallon refugium via a do-it-yourself baffle box to minimize salt spray. The refugium overflows into a 150-gallon sump where the protein skimmers process the water, and then an Iwaki MD70RLT pump sends it back up to the main tank. Approximately 1100gph run through the system. For additional circulation within the main tank, I employ a closed-loop recirculating system powered by a Little Giant 4-MDQX-SC that pushes 1325gph. A Supreme Mag 7 buried behind the reef (700gph) and four Maxi-Jet 1200 powerheads, which are controlled by a Tsunami wavemaker, provide additional in-tank circulation. The net effect of all of this is a total turnover of approximately 4300gph in the system.

Main Tank Photoperiod:
9:00 AM PC actinics turn on.
10:00 AM VHO actinics turn on.
1:00 PM metal halides turn on.
9:00 PM metal halides turn off.
10:00PM VHO actinics turn off.
10:30PM PC actinics turn off.


To some extent, the lighting on the tank has changed. Two of the ballasts burned out in the original AB Aquaspacelight. AB replaced the unit under warranty and gave me a newer unit that included four 24-watt actinic power compact bulbs. It still has the three 250-watt 13K double-ended HQI metal halide bulbs, but I added an additional 160-watt actinic VHO bulb to the two existing 160-watt actinic bulbs. An Icecap 660 ballast powers all three 160-watt VHO super actinic 03's. I also upgraded the fans from 65 CFM to models pushing 110 CFM. They are mounted in the canopy and are wired to turn on when the halides power up so heat build-up in the hood doesn't become a problem. I also changed the lighting on the refugium, removing the NO fluorescent fixtures and adding a metal halide fixture, which consists of two 150-watt single-ended 6500K metal halide bulbs. Since making this change, I have noted a huge improvement in the growth of the macroalgae, Xenia and soft coral fragments housed in the refugium.


The only change I have made to my water top-off system is an upgrade to my RO unit from 60GPD to 100 GPD. All make-up water runs through the multi-stage RO/DI unit. The system’s evaporation rate is approximately five gallons per day. A RainBird digital water controller automatically adds approximately 10 gallons of RO/DI water every other day to a 20-gallon acrylic vat. The water is then pumped out of the vat via a "Reef Filler" pump running continuously to maintain a consistent water level in the sump.

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Left side view.
Right side view.

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The refugium is a 150-gallon Rubbermaid stock tank. It has 450 lbs. of Southdown sand reaching a total depth of about 5". I seeded the sand bed from an established sand bed in my old refugium from the previous 75-gallon system. It is very mature now and is teeming with life, including serpent stars, sand-sifting cucumbers, a fighting conch, a queen conch, Nassarius sp., Cerith, and Nerite snails, as well as thousands of amphipods, copepods and worms. I’ve been growing some coral fragments in the refugium for the past year or so. The addition of the metal halide lighting has really increased the growth rate of both the fragments and the macroalgae.

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Protein Skimmers:

Nothing has changed with my skimmers. I’m still running two ETSS-1000 skimmer clones that run continuously. An Iwaki MD70RLT powers one, and a Little Giant 4-MDQX-SC the other. Future plans include having Geo make me a large, custom needle-wheel skimmer to help reduce my system’s electrical costs.


I have made a few changes in this area. I mounted two powerful fans over the refugium. A Ranco digital dual temperature controller turns these fans on when the temperature reaches 82º. Since such a large amount of water is in the basement that stays cool all year long, I really don't have any problems with heat. I think the fans turned on only once or twice over this past summer. Because the fans work so well when needed, I removed the chiller from my system as there was no need for it. I’ve removed the two 350-watt Won titanium heaters, and replaced them with three 150-watt Ebo-Jager heaters located in the sump. The temperature controller turns them on at 80º and shuts them off at 81º.

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In an effort to increase the system’s level of automation, I added two Flexiflo3 peristaltic IV pumps to administer the B-ionic two-part system. These have been a great addition and have afforded me the ability to ignore my system for a week to ten days without any human intervention. I clean the skimmer cups once a week, and perform a 50-gallon water change monthly. A 60-gallon acrylic storage tank that is located over the sump is used to make and store fresh saltwater. I mix the RO/DI water with salt several days before each water change. To perform a water change all I have to do is open a valve on my return pump and the water flows into the stationary tub. When the water reaches a mark I've made in the sump, the valve on the pump is closed and I open the valve from the storage tank, allowing 50 gallons of fresh saltwater to flow into the sump. All of this takes only about five minutes, and the best part is that I don't even get my hands wet!

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I’m still feeding the tank once a day, and I continue to make my own food from recipes gathered from books and from Reef Central. Typically, I use Eric Borneman's recipe as a base. Shrimp, clams, oysters, mussels, squid, brine shrimp, bloodworms, Spirulina, nori and Selcon™ are the primary ingredients. I place these items into a blender and pulse them until they have been broken down into small, bite-sized pieces. I then place this into several small freezer bags, which I lay flat in the freezer. When it's time to feed, I just break off a small piece and soak it in tank water enriched with Selcon™. Additionally, I’ve been adding Cyclop-eeze twice a week to the food. The corals and fish love it. I also feed a half sheet of nori two or three times a week using an acrylic lettuce clip. The tangs love it.

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I have made quite a few changes in this area. I’ve sold off quite a few of the soft corals and added several SPS corals along the way. The SPS corals have really grown fast. You can see how much in the pictures below. This has caused an increase in “chemical warfare,” the biggest casualties of which seem to be a few of the LPS corals. I’ve notice that the Caulastrea really don’t expand the way they used to. The branching torch and hammer coral, however, seem unaffected. For some reason, I lost a couple of pieces of green Nephthea to what I suspect was a strange, fast-moving infection. The coral would literally turn black and die overnight. Another problem I encountered is that I inherited a hitchhiker crab somewhere along the way that has a taste for zoanthids. He has literally eaten almost every zoanthid in the tank. It was kind of a blessing in disguise, because they were overrunning the tank. I’ve tried several times, unsuccessfully, to catch the crab using a trap. I’ve also added a Tridacna derasa and a T. crocea clam. Over the next year I’m going to remove all of the SPS corals and go back to a soft coral, LPS tank. In addition to housing some in the 30-gallon cube, I’ll set up a separate tank just for SPS corals. I’m thinking maybe a 30” x 30” x 24” cube tank is what I’ll end up with.

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As you can see from the pictures, I’ve really tried to let the tank develop naturally with minimal interference by me. I’ve let the Xenia run wild on the right side of the tank. My goal is to get the right side glass completely covered by the Xenia. I also have been selling the Xenia to my local fish store. Soon, I’ll be removing the Xenia from the rocks in an effort to contain it to the glass only.

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I’ve made a few changes to the fish population as well. The purple tang became very dominant and aggressive toward the other fish, so I removed him and sold him to the local fish store. I brought in a yellow tang from another tank and added a Naso tang at the same time. They get along very well. I also removed the coral beauty and replaced him with a juvenile flame angel. He’s been a model citizen so far. All of the other fish are doing well.

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

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Tank of the Month (Revisited) - January 2005 - Reefkeeping.com