Notes from the Trenches with Howard Haris Olbama (H2O)

The Polyurethane Reef:
A New Advancement in Reefkeeping

Lately, we have seen the development of many new reefkeeping methodologies. All of these methods claim to produce better coral coloration and a healthier reef tank. Yet, as most of us long-term hobbyists know all too well, time eventually takes its toll. Either we become lazy and fail to keep up with our aquariums or we simply lose the required time to our family and career. I have found a reefkeeping method that guarantees a successful and beautiful reef aquarium with no upkeep - the polyurethane reef.

The method is quite simple. A reef aquarium is set up in the same manner as usual. If you are a DSB fanatic, feel free to install a deep sand bed. You can do a Starboard™ reef or even a plenum. Keep whatever corals you like, but Acropora spp. and other SPS lend themselves particularly well to this treatment; be sure to pick only the most brightly colored specimens as this is definitely WYSIWYG. Once you have your basic reef scene set up with a substrate, live rock, and corals, it is time to add the polyurethane resin. You will need one gallon of resin for every gallon of tank volume. It is advisable to thin it substantially with lacquer thinner and to carry out the mixing and addition of the resin in a well-ventilated area away from open flame. The resin will cure to the point at which it is unworkable within about 30 minutes, so if you want fish, now is the time to add them.

A diver at the St. Louis Bay Aquarium cleans the glass in preparation for the application of the polyurethane. It's critical to have the glass well-cleaned as any dirt/algae will become permanent. Photo courtesy of Marc Levenson.

Here is another great advantage to this method. You can probably get your fish for free from the trash at the LFS. The key is to use a small needle and a very lightweight monofilament; you will thread the line through the dorsal fin and tie it to a dowel laid across the top of the tank to suspend the fish in the position you want. Overcrowding is absolutely not an issue and I expect this method to be a huge hit with the Nemo crowd. Some of us gadget nuts have to have technical apparatus visible in the aquarium. Once again, this is the perfect reef for the technologically inclined. Whatever hardware you add will be entombed forever in resin, it cannot catch fire or fail… ever! Your pumps never need cleaning and everything will look like it did the day you bought it, even 1000 years later when an archaeologist is digging it up from a ruin. Best of all, some equipment with awkward mounts like that god-awful hardware included with Tunze equipment can be forever eliminated; you just use the same method we did for the fish. If you want to get fancy, then buy the magnet holders, but odds are pretty good they will be there in time for when the hardware store finally is able to get you your 180 gallons of resin.

A word of caution... some inhabitants will resist being removed from the tank prior to the application of the polyurethane. This Linckia sp. did not want to part with his favorite Caulastrea, and had to be physically pried off the coral. Photo courtesy of Pete (prafferty).

So, once you have all of your hardware installed and your fish positioned, just sit back and wait for the resin to cure. In about 24 hours you will have the reef of your dreams. No algae, no worrying about the results of the latest salt study, no need to ever buy new equipment and best of all you only need the most basic fluorescent lighting. You can totally ignore Sanjay's latest work. Welcome to the 21st century and the polyurethane reef; let's see if Bomber can pick this one apart!

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The Polyurethane Reef: A New Advancement in Reefkeeping by Howard Haris Olbama (H2O) -