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February 2010 Tank of the Month

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Mark Poletti's (mpoletti) Reef Aquarium



Before I get started, I would like to thank my wife Amanda, my daughter Emma, Reef Central and the online community for allowing me to share what has been my dedication to the hobby that we all share a passion for. There are so many beautiful tanks around the world and each system has helped inspire me to where I am today. The marine hobby has always fascinated me, from my early years to my latest tank.

My name is Mark Poletti and I live in Sacramento, California. The reefkeeping community in Northern California is generous, talented and knowledgeable. I have always been grateful to live where I do as our access to beautiful livestock continues to amaze me. I am also grateful to my network of friends that I have made through this hobby. Without these close friends who share the same passion as I do, it would not be the same.


The Beginning

My passion for the ocean has always been there, but my incurable disease started when my wife and I were married and honeymooned in Bora Bora. With my first dive into the water, I knew I was going to be setting up another tank. Through a series of different tanks, all having some failures and successes, I started making plans for a larger tank, applying the knowledge and experience from my previous projects. 

I have been very lucky to have met many experienced and successful reefkeepers. My good friend, Tim, shared with me how he has had many ups and downs over the years and "if its not one thing, it’s another.”  I have learned not to over-react to moments when things are not going as planned, but instead take a step back and respond to the situation after thinking things through. 

 System Profile

• Display tank: 180-gallon Lee Mar Starfire (72” x 24” x 24”)
• Sumps: 42 x 20 x 16 custom sump
• Lighting display: 4 - 250-watt 20K Radiums
    2 - 250-watt SLS Blue Wave 7 HQI ballasts
    4 - Lumenarc mini reflectors
    2 - 160-watt URI Super Actinic VHOs
    1 - IceCap 660 electronic ballast
    LED moonlights
• Chiller: Tradewinds USA 1/4hp
• Water circulation: 2 - 6105 Tunze pumps & 2 - 6055 Tunze Nanostreams on a 7095 Tunze controller,
    2 Vortech MP40w pumps and 2 Wavy Seas
• Return pump:  ATB flowstar 1500
• Skimmer: ATB Deluxe 10.5 Internal 
• Calcium reactor: AquaC RX-1 with course media with an Aquarium Plants electronic regulator
• Others: 57-watt UV sterilizer, carbon and PO4 reactors, Spectarpure auto top-off,
    7 stage RO/DI unit, AC Jr Aquacontroller, 10lb CO2 tank, 1 x 500-watt titanium heater, 1 x 250-watt titanium heater


When setting up the tank, I was more concerned with color than growth. My experience showed me that corals will grow with patience, but selecting a few choice corals and placing them in optimal places really can make a difference. The tank is viewable through Starphire glass on three sides, and I selected a center overflow due to my space limitations. The stand and canopy are handmade of red oak. Building, staining and finishing the tank to match my wife’s taste in furniture has only made me appreciate the system that much more. Since the tank is placed in our front living room, I needed to organize all of the equipment under the stand. This is why I decided to drain feed the skimmer, but still place it in the sump. The ballasts are located on top of the stand and the chiller is located just to the tank's side.



As many of us are well aware, water quality is the key to housing a reef tank that will thrive and prosper. Since the tank has been set, I have installed two different H&S skimmers: the internal 200-1260 and the a200-1260 external. Even though I was satisfied with the results of the tank, I wanted to try something new and with a larger pump.  I recently replaced my skimmer with an ATB Deluxe 10.5 internal. The craftsmanship and production of the ATB generation of cone skimmer continues to impress me. The water level in the sump is controlled by split drians and a Spectrapure auto top-off level controller. The second half of the drain passes through a 57-watt UV steralizer that I still use from time to time. The second stage of my sump also houses the media reactors for carbon and ferric oxide. The tank also contains about 200 pounds of live rock and 5 pounds of sand to help stabilize, balance and aid in the tank's biological filtration.


Water Circulation and Flow

I subscribe to the belief that flow in our tanks is very important. I currently have a Vortech MP40w pump on each side of the tank. I also have a Tunze 6105 Stream pump located in each back corner of the tank. The 6105s are controlled by the 7095 multi-controller that also controls the pair of 6055 Tunze Nanostreams that are located behind the rock structure.

The ATB return pump feeds the calcium reactor, media reactors and chiller and then feeds back into the tank through Wavy Sea rotating devices.


A tank's lighting is a very personal choice and for some it is a very difficult decision. There are so many different options available that have proven to work. I prefer metal halides and VHO’s; it may be a little old school for some, but many of the tanks that have inspired me used metal halides and VHOs. When people come see the tank and view it with the only the VHOs on, I am reminded that I made the right choice.

I have tried many different options of lighting and when it came to this system, I went with four 250-watt Radiums. Some may say that 1000 watts of Radium bulbs are not needed, but I am always interested in trying out something new. I started with 3 lamps and the tank looked great, but I also know that I like to place a lot of corals in a tank, and I had an extra set in the garage, so I tried it out and really liked how it looked.  


Water Parameters:
  • Specific gravity: 1.025 - 1.026
  • pH: 8.2 - 8.4
  • Calcium: 400 - 450 ppm
  • Alkalinity: 8.5 - 9 dKH
  • Magnesium: 1300 - 1400 ppm
  • Nitrate: 5 - 10 ppm
  • Phosphate: .03 - .06 ppm (Hanna) 
  • Temperature: 75 - 79° F


Maintenance, Feeding & Supplements

Everyone wants to have a beautiful and colorful reef tank, but many people are not willing to do the little things to present a quality finished product. This is something I do not understand when it comes to our hobby. I enjoy the opportunity to care for living creatures, and I want to attempt to create the best environment for them. I believe in regular water changes. I strive for weekly 40-gallon water changes. My RO/DI station has seven stages to ensure the water is prepared properly. The new saltwater consists of a mix a few different salt mixes to balance the highs and lows from the various salts. During the weekly water changes, I add three cups of magnesium chloride (mag flake) to keep the tank's magnesium level where I like it.

The media reactors are cleaned and refilled with new media every 3-4 weeks depending on my schedule.

I also use Prodibio bacteria products. I use Bioptim and Biodigest in alternating weekly dosing, and I use the Reefbooster product once a week. I have also tried other products along the way, including amino acids, but I have been using these three core components for a while now.

I like to feed the tank pretty heavily. I feed the fish pre-washed Piscine Energetics Mysis shrimp and enriched brine shrimp twice a day; once in the morning before I leave for work and right after the halides go off at night. I feed the corals by broadcast feeding Oysterfeast and Acrtipods by Reef Nutrition a couple of times a week.


On to my favorite part of our hobby - the livestock.  My problem is that I cannot figure out which I enjoy more - the fish or the corals. I got into this hobby because I enjoyed the diversity and coloration of the fish. The way each fish interacts with each other is just another reason why I enjoy our hobby. I have had up to 35 fish in this tank at one time, but at this time, I have over 20 fish in the tank including:

  • Pair of Centropyge joculator
  • Zebrasoma rostratum
  • Acanthurus dussumier
  • A shoal of six Pseudanthias squamipinnis
  • A shoal of six Apogon leptacanthus
  • Jordani wrasse
  • Pseudocheilinus ocellatus
  • Chelmon rostratus
  • Pair of Chromis viridis
  • Odontanthias borbonius

Today, my tank is stocked by my infatuation with various stony corals. The colors and growth of each coral is what has flourished my love for them. Presently, the tank houses over 200 different variations of coral and each one has its own memory attached. I am not going to mention every species of coral in my tank, but I am proud that 95% of the corals I house are all captive-raised second generation or later and have been grown out from coral fragments.













Our hobby is an amazing hobby. It has enabled me to share my personality and lifestyle with so many. In turn, they have touched me and my family's lives in a way that cannot be described. It has furthered my knowledge for life and my appreciation for all living creatures.

If I could offer any advice, it would be to enjoy whatever you are doing in the hobby. I have felt that the hobby has been a chore at times. I have battled the triad of pests, and I have come out on the other side. I have experienced tank crashes and user errors, and I have come out on the other side. I have had my ups and downs just like the next person, but through it all, the tank has always made me smile.  

There are many other people that have showed me the correct way to be a responsible reefkeeper from the local clubs, fellow reefkeepers, and a few local fish stores. I would like to thank them, the staff at Reef Central and the team members of TeamRC for acknowledging my tank to be amongst the pinnacle of the hobby.


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

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