John Nguyen's (va_reefman) Reef Tank

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The system was started from a 72 gallon bow front about five years ago. We were keeping mostly LPS and softies in that tank. After 8 months we decided to go with a bigger tank. The 180 gallon was setup in the spring of 1998. We transferred all of our corals from the 72 gallon to this tank and added a few hardy SPS to test the system and our ability to keep them. After a year with the new tank, we noticed that it was more suitable for SPS than softies and LPS, so we upgraded the lighting on the tank to 400 watt metal halides and created a full-blown SPS system. Besides a few pieces of LPS in the tank, it is now almost completely stocked with SPS.

Aquarium Profile

  • 180 gallon AGA tank with two corner overflows
  • Tank dimensions are 72" x 24" x 24"
  • 180 gallon AGA manufactured stand
  • 55 gallon AGA sump
  • (2) 30 gallon propagation tanks
  • 20 gallon refugium


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Plumbing and Filtration

I was lucky enough to have a storage room on the other side of the wall where the tank is located, so I use it as a fish/equipment room. All plumbing to and from the tank goes through the wall to the sump, which sits on the other side of the wall. A MAG 12 is used for water turnover from the display tank to the sump. I get approximately 800gph turnover on the system.

From the sump, I use a Little Giant 4 pump to power my skimmer, which is a copycat version of the ETS 600 classic. Two MAG 5 pumps are used for circulation on my two 30 gallon breeder tanks. These are my SPS grow-out tanks, and they are connected to my main display tank. Since the refugium is situated at a three feet height, I use a Hagen 802 powerhead to pump the water into it and from there it is gravity-fed back into the sump. For biological filtration, there is approximately 250lbs.of live rock in the system.

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Lighting Profile

  • Main tank is lighted with six metal halides: 3 x 400-watt 20K radium and 3 x 175-watt 10K
  • Propagation tank #1 is lighted with one 400-watt 20K radium
  • Propagation tank #2 is lighted with one 250-watt 6500K Iwasaki
  • Refugium is lighted with one 65-watt PC
  • Propagation tanks and refugium are on reverse photoperiod with the main tank
  • Four Radioshack 4" fans provide cooling
  • All lights are on timers

Main Tank Photoperiod

  • Total of 12 hours: 20K on for three hours followed by the 20K and 10K on the next six hours with only the 20K on for the remaining three hours.

The Lighting

This is one of the areas that I struggled with the most in order to find an ideal balance. I attempted to find the proper lighting combination that would provide for both good coral growth rates, and yet still offer an aesthetic appeal. For two years the tank was originally lighted with three 250 Iwasaki and two 160 watt VHO. Later, I upgraded to three 400 Iwasakis with the same VHOs. The growth rates were super, but I hated that yellowish look of the tank and decided to try another combination. I tried out the 20k radium and found it a bit too blue for my liking. With the addition of three 175w 10K to balance out the yellowish tint, I found the combination that I was looking for and discontinued using the VHOs.

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  • Fish are fed every two/three days
  • DT's phytoplankton is added three times a week
  • Iodine is added weekly
  • Clean glass viewing panel: once a week
  • Clean skimmer cups and chambers: once a week
  • Water changes: 35 gallons every three weeks


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8.10 - 8.3
Specific Gravity
79º - 81º


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Circulation & Other Equipment

Currently, I have eight Maxijet 1200's running on an Ocean Motion wavemaker. The two corner overflows also provide roughly 800 gph fixed current blowing behind the rockwork. At this point in my tank's development, I believe additional circulation would be beneficial, and I will probably install several SeaSwirls or a closed-loop recirculating system when I move to the new house next month. A K2R Calcium reactor, located in the sump and filled with CaribSea ARM media, is used to maintain calcium levels and also provides supplemental trace elements. CO2 is supplied from a 15 lb. bottle, which usually keeps me supplied for 6 months between refills. For monitoring pH levels, a Pinpoint pH monitor is used. I am using a Kent HI-S 60 gpd RO/DI unit for all make-up water, which runs into a 15 gallon bucket leading to my sump. There is a Kent float valve located in the sump that controls the top off levels. My system evaporates around 10 gallons per day. Instant Ocean salt has been used exclusively since day one of setting up the tank. No chiller is in service, since I keep my house at 72º in the winter and 75º in the summer; this enables my tank, which is located in the basement, to stay in the 78-81º range all year round.


Hard Corals
Red Stylophora
Pink Pocillopora
Red Seriatopora
Various Acropora
Various color Montipora digitata
Various color Montipora capricornis
Various colors of encrusting Montipora
Purple tips Elegant
Red lobo brain
Various colored polyps


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Pigmy angel
Potter's angel
Hippo tang
Yellow tang
Six-line wrasse
Orange-spotted goby
Sunrise dottyback
Black Clown goby
Yellow Clown gobies (6)
Green Clown gobies (3)

Feel free to comment or ask questions.

For more information check out John's website.

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