Chris Ward's (cward) Reef Aquarium


My passion for reefkeeping started almost five years ago when a friend from work talked me into setting up my 65-gallon as a mixed reef tank. From there my excitement for the hobby grew, and I soon started planning a 120-gallon stony coral reef tank that would be located in the basement with an equipment room behind the tank. This tank was really doing great, and I never imagined I would run out of room, but then I brought home an A. millepora that kept growing, and growing and growing. Finally, I decided to build a bigger tank so I wouldn't have to chop up the Millepora.

Current System:


After seeing Steve Weast's beautiful reef tank, I knew that I wanted a tank with a lot of front-to-back depth. My good friend George Weber helped with the planning and construction of my current tank, which is made of acrylic and measures 51" x 49.5" x 25" (273 gallons). I wanted as much inside tank space as possible, so we decided on the 32" x 6" x 16" external overflow that has two 2" drains and a 1" feed for my skimmer. When laying out my aquascaping, I really wanted to showcase the tank's depth, so I decided to create a valley similar to Steve's. I used most of the live rock from my 120-gallon system, with the addition of a couple larger 35+ pound pieces that I used to create the valley's foundation. I also wanted to give the corals as much room as possible to grow, so I placed them far enough apart that they could mature into large colonies. I also knew that I wanted to give the corals a lot of flow, so I decided on a shallow sand bed for my goby and Heliofungia. My display tank is connected to a 115-gallon sump, a 100-gallon refugium and a 60-gallon remote deep sand bed, which gives my system a fair amount of surface area to dissipate heat. The extra water volume also keeps the system more stable.


Equipment Room:

I have to admit that I am an equipment junkie, and it's really one of the first things I look for when I see a "Tank of the Month." My equipment room measures 13' x 12' and really gives me the space I need to do routine maintenance and for water storage. I have an air conditioning duct in the ceiling as well as an exhaust fan that turns on every two hours for 45 minutes. A dehumidifier is also installed to reduce the moisture level in the basement, which is really necessary to keep everything from becoming rusty and molded. I decided to keep the refrigerator outside the equipment room to cut down on heat. For electricity, I decided to go with three dedicated circuits that give me plenty of options for wiring configurations. I also added DSL for internet access on my computer to provide the option of remotely monitoring the tank via an Aqua Controller III.

equipmentroom023.jpg equipmentroom026.jpg
equipmentroom014.jpg equipmentroom008.jpg


I am a firm believer that good random flow is needed to keep small-polyped stony corals, so I decided on a Sequence Hammerhead, rated for a maximum flow rate of 5800gph, running into an Oceans Motions 4-way wavemaker as a closed loop. I also have three 1" returns that are fed from a Dolphin Ampmaster 3600 (3600gph), which also feeds the remote sand bed and the refugium. I ran this setup for a while, but found that I could never really get rid of some dead spots so I added two Tunze Stream pumps (a 6100 & a 6200) controlled by a Tunze 7095 multi-controller. The multi-controller gives me the option of adding more Stream pumps in the future if I decide later that more flow is needed.




The system's filtration starts with the strong flow that I have in the display tank, which keeps the detritus and dissolved organic compounds suspended in the water column, thereby allowing them to be exported from the main tank via the large external overflow. I have a 1" drain from the overflow that feeds the 12" GEO external needle wheel protein skimmer. Two 2" drains feed into the 115-gallon sump, where the water flows over carbon and filter pads. The return pump feeds the display tank, as well as a 60-gallon remote deep sand bed and a 100-gallon refugium that is filled with 100 lbs. of live rock and Chaetomorpha.



I wanted a lighting system on the display tank that would allow easy access to clean it and change the bulbs, so George and I built an aluminum frame made out of 2" x 2" square tubing that is hung from a track system originally designed for barn doors. The system works great, and the rack slides back into the equipment room effortlessly. The lighting consists of two 400-watt 20K Radium bulbs and two 400-watt 14K Hamilton bulbs that are mounted in Luminarc III reflectors. The Radiums are powered by a 400-watt PFO HQI ballast which burns the bulbs brighter than a standard ballast and make them look more like 14Ks. The Hamiltons are powered by a standard 400-watt PFO ballast. Both ballasts are mounted out of the way on top of the light rack. I also use two 110-watt and two 75-watt actinic VHO bulbs to give the tank a dusk and dawn effect. Both the refugium and remote deep sand bed have one 250-watt HQI pendant with an IceCap ballast that is on a reverse lighting schedule. The only reason I light the sand bed is because I have some small Acropora colonies that I just don't have room for in the display tank. All of the lights are controlled by commercial timers except for the actinic VHOs, which are controlled by the Aqua Controller III.

Lighting Schedule:
9:30am -
Actinics on (display tank)
12:00pm -
Halides on (display tank)
8:30pm -
Halides off (display tank)
9:30pm -
Actinics off (display tank)
12:00am -
Halidess on (refugium & DSB)
8:00am -
Halides off (refugium & DSB)

equipmentroom032.jpg equipmentroom035.jpg
equipmentroom036.jpg fequipmentroom018.jpg


Water Parameters:
Ca: 400ppm (Salifert)
Alk: 9dKH (Salifert)
Mg: 1260ppm (Salifert)
SG: 1.025 (refractometer)
Temp: 78-79°F (AquaController III)
pH: 7.90-8.05 (AquaController III)
ORP: 335mv (AquaController III)
PO4: 0.02 mg/l (Hach spectrometer)
NO3: 2.2 mg/l (Hach spectrometer)

I really feel that I wouldn't have had the success that I've enjoyed if it wasn't for my GEO calcium reactor. At the rate at which the corals deplete the calcium and alkalinity it would be a real chore to manually add the supplementation needed to keep the system balanced. I've also added a GEO kalkwasser reactor to help maintain the system's pH, and the kalkwasser has the additional benefit of adding more calcium. While the calcium reactor runs continuously, I use the kalk reactor to replace all evaporated water between the hours of midnight and noon. Other supplementation comes from 50-gallon water changes, which I do every two weeks. Other than testing calcium and alkalinity levels, I check the system's magnesium every month and supplement if needed.

DSC04754.jpg DSC04849.jpg



My daily routine usually consists of cleaning the display tank's front viewing panel. Because my tank is acrylic I have to be diligent about preventing coralline algae buildup or risk the chance of scratching the inside, which is a pain to buff out. I also check the equipment daily to make sure everything is functioning properly. My weekend chores consist of cleaning the skimmer's cup (which my wife really loves!) and adding kalkwasser to the reactor. I do a 50-gallon water change every two weeks, which I've simplified by using a saltwater reservoir with a valve on the bottom that drains directly into the sump. I also have a mixing pump and a heater connected to the reservoir so the water is mixed, aerated and heated to the proper temperature. A drain on the sump is connected to the floor drain outside the equipment room. This makes it easy to drain the correct amount of water from my system when performing water changes. On a monthly basis I siphon any detritus that builds up in the sump and change/clean the filter pads, as well as changing the carbon bag that hangs in the sump. I replace the filters in my six-stage RO/DI unit as necessary and test its output on a weekly basis. About every six months I do the usual pump cleaning, probe calibration and bulb/reflector cleaning.



The fish are fed a mixture of brine shrimp, squid, Mysis shrimp, Cyclop-Eeze® and nori every other day, and I feed Spectrum pellet food on the alternate days. I also feed the corals a mixture of ZoPlan™, Golden Pearls and DT's oyster eggs three times a week.

DSC04764.jpg IMG_2306.jpg



When I started this tank I really wanted to give the corals plenty of room to grow, so I decided to keep the stocking level to a minimum. All of the corals you see are from the 120-gallon tank that I previously set up, which were started mostly from 1"-2" fragments donated from local club members. It really didn't take long for the corals to fill this tank and I occasionally fragment them out of necessity, but I'm trying not to interfere with their growth too much. My plan is to let the table Millepora grow as big as possible (it's currently 37" L x 27" W), which will likely doom some of my favorite corals resting underneath it that are struggling for light.

IMG_2159.jpg IMG_2166.jpg IMG_2167.jpg
IMG_2182.jpg IMG_2185.jpg IMG_2241.jpg
IMG_2246.jpg IMG_2253.jpg IMG_2274.jpg

Current Species:
  • 1-Seriatopora hystrix
  • 1-Pavona sp.
  • 1-Acropora tenuis
  • 2-Acropora yongei
  • 5-Acropora spp.
  • 6-Acropora millepora (various colors)
  • 1-Acropora tortuosa
  • 1-Acropora valida
  • 4-Montipora capricornis
  • 2-Montipora digitata
  • 1-Heliofungia actiniformis
  • Green Star polyps
  • Zoanthids
  • 1-Pocillopora damicornis (spawning has created dozens of babies growing everywhere in the system)
DSC04760.jpg DSC04773.jpg DSC04810.jpg
DSC04815.jpg DSC04825.jpg DSC04836.jpg
DSC04838.jpg IMG_2268.jpg IMG_2272.jpg

  • 1-Blue tang
  • 1-Sailfin tang
  • 1-Yellowheaded Sleeper goby
  • 4-Blue-green Chromis
  • 1-Yellow tang
  • 1-Sixline wrasse
  • 1-Copperbanded butterflyfish
  • 1-Striped mandarinfish
IMG_2196.jpg IMG_2207.jpg
IMG_2217.jpg IMG_2227.jpg

  • Nassarius spp. snails
  • Cerith spp. snails
  • Astraea spp. snails
  • Scarlet hermit crabs
  • Emerald Mythrax crabs
  • Blue leg hermit crabs
  • 1- Fighting conch
  • 1-Blue Linckia seastar
1IMG_2296.jpg IMG_2251.jpg


I would first like to thank my wonderful wife, Julie, who allows me the time I need to work in the fish room and for tolerating my obsession. I would also like to thank my good friend, George Weber, for all he has done to help me in this hobby. Also, thanks to Skipper and his crew for picking my tank to be "Tank of the Month" for October's Reefkeeping Magazine. It is truly an honor that I will never forget, and I can't thank everyone at Reef Central enough. Additionally, I've been very fortunate to be in a great local club (CORA) whose members bend over backward to help one another, so thank you, CORA.


Photography courtesy of Jason Hollback

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

If you'd like to nominate a tank for Tank of the Month, click here or use the button to the right.

Reefkeeping Magazine™ Reef Central, LLC-Copyright © 2008

Tank of the Month - October 2006 -