Rebecca (reefnroll) was the winner of the Boston Reefers Society Tank Of The Month on March 2005.
Rebecca's interest in keeping aquariums started as a child, and she kept freshwater fish for more than 20 years, eventually moving to a heavily planted freshwater tank. Seeing the saltwater tanks at the LFS — first just fish-only tanks before corals were being successfully kept in aquariums, and later full-blown reef tanks — her curiosity and interest in saltwater animals started to develop, but the often heard "saltwater is very difficult" advice kept her from trying her hand at it for a while.
Eventually, around 5 years ago, she gave in to the beauty and diversity of saltwater life and decided to start her first reef tank using a 65g tall hex tank that she had lying around unused. This first setup consisted mostly of LPS and soft corals, and Rebecca quickly understood the issues with using such a tank: it was difficult to achieve proper water flow and it was hard to provide good lighting on such a tall and narrow tank. She vowed to upgrade to a larger, more suitable tank, but decided to keep the 65g for a year and take that time as an opportunity to learn as much as possible before taking the plunge into a much larger tank.
The current tank, started 3 years ago, is an amazing SPS-dominated 125g tank.
In November 2004, the main tank was connected to a 100g sump, a 40g refugium and a 40g frag tank that are neatly hidden away in the basement, with the display tank remaining the centerpiece of the living room upstairs.
Before this large upgrade in water volume (currently about 300g total volume), the system had a much smaller sump inside the stand of the main tank (about 150g total volume).
Lighting is provided by 3 metal halide 250W SE 10k AB bulbs, supplemented with 2 160W VHO actinic bulbs, enclosed in a wood canopy that has fans to help keep the heat out.
Water flow inside the tank is created by an Ocean's Motions 4-way device, powered by a Velocity T4 pump (1225gph). The return from the sump uses a Iwaky MD100RLT pump (2000gph), powerful enough to deal with the 2-story head pressure.
Filtration is performed by an impressive 7 foot tall ETSS 1000 downdraft skimmer. The skimmer drains to an external collection cup, shutting down automatically when the cup is full. Activated carbon is used continuously for chemical filtration, and is replaced monthly.
A two-stage My Reef Creations calcium reactor helps maintain adequate calcium and alkalinity levels in the system.
The basement tanks — lit by a mix of metal halide (frag tank) and power compact (refugium) bulbs — are on a reverse light period.
After having suffered a few serious setbacks due to equipment failure (more later) Rebecca learned the value of having emergency backup systems, and currently uses a car battery that powers smaller return pumps to keep the water flowing through the system in case of a power outage. There are also two backup bubblers (air pumps that turn on when the power goes off) hidden away inside the display tank to provide additional emergency aeration and flow.
Rebecca keeps to a regular schedule of maintenance activities, centered around a 25-30g water change (20% of display tank volume) done every other week. A lot of thought went into the plumbing of the whole system, and that clearly shows at water change time: performing a water change is a matter of opening and closing a few ball valves to direct waste water to one barrel and freshly mixed saltwater — made using Tropic Marin salt mix — from a second barrel to the sump.
Kalkwasser, which replaces all top-off water, is dripped from a third barrel into the sump by a peristaltic pump on a timer. Magnesium is dosed weekly to maintain a high level of 1450 ppm.
The other two supplements that are regularly added to the tank are Salifert Bio Coral amino acids (dosed according to the directions on the packaging), and iodine (1 drop of Lugol's per day). Rebecca feels that these additives help corals noticeably, namely by improving polyp extension and creating a slightly richer coloration.
Rebecca doesn't test very frequently because the system is mature, but she strives for constant levels of the most important parameters:
Most of Rebecca's fish are kept in mated pairs, which adds even more interest to her collection of hard-to-find, beautifully colored species:
Rebecca feels she feeds her fish heavily, using a variety of foods: home-made "fish goo" that contains a number of different seafood items, which is fed 4 times a week; flake food, which is fed once a day by an autofeeder; and tobiko, which is fed once a week as a special treat.
The "fish goo" used to feed the fish is also sometimes used to direct feed the LPS corals.
The number and diversity of corals in the tank is so large that no attempt will be made to provide a complete list of species. Rebecca humbly doesn't consider herself an expert at identifying corals, but she actively researches their classification and finds it a rewarding challenge to properly identify her corals to the species. Although she has quite a few corals that are or have recently been considered "rare", Rebecca does not seek corals for the sake of their perceived rarity and she does not follow the periodic fads that sweep the hobby. For instance, she acquired blue zoanthids and Acanthastrea lordwoensis much before they were in fashion, because she found them beautiful and interesting in their own right.
Rebecca takes special pride in the fact that all the corals in her tank were originally bought either as frags that have grown out in her tank or as small dying pieces that she brought back to health.
This is a small sample of the corals in the tank:
SPS: dozens of species of SPS corals, including Acropora, Montipora, Pocillopora, Seriatopora, Stylophora, Pachyseris rugosa, Cyphastrea decadia.
LPS: several LPS corals, including Oxypora lacera, Scolymia, Acanthastrea lordwoensis, Goniopora, Fungia.
Soft corals: a few soft corals, namely several color variations of Zoanthids.
The tank contains an array of small invertebrates, including typical clean-up crew critters like snails, hermit crabs, emerald crabs (Mithrax sculptus), and skunk cleaner shrimps (Lysmata amboinensis).
A few beautifully patterned Tridacna maxima giant clams also dot the rockscape.
Stories from the reef front
As any person passionate about her hobby, Rebecca loves to share stories about her tank and its inhabitants. From these stories — a mix of successes and setbacks — two things emerge: the dedication and perseverance that carried her through the harder times, and the amazing environment that she created in her tank, despite those setbacks.
The hardest setback happened a couple of years ago, and it was one of a reefer's worst nightmare come true: a power outage during a vacation. A friend and fellow reefer was checking on Rebecca's tank daily during her absence, but as luck would have it, the power went out — and stayed out for a long 18 hours — the night before Rebecca was coming back home. At this time, the backup battery and bubblers hadn't yet been added to the system, so the drop in oxygen levels due to the lack of flow and aeration caused the death of most fish. The single survivor — a purple tang, found weak and wounded, lying on the corals — still lives in the tank today. The temperature drop also caused damage to corals, but most recovered in time.
More recently, during the January blizzard, the tank suffered another sharp temperature drop, this time caused by a broken window in the basement that allowed quite a bit of snow to be blown into the sump. It's very hard to prepare for an incident as unexpected as this was, but this time the lesson learned was to keep the sump covered and isolated... and obviously, get a new window!
Rebecca feels that her tank was well on the way to recovery, only to be hit again by this winter weather mishap. Although the tank looks absolutely perfect to visitors, her critical and trained eye makes her say that the coral colors are still not what they used to be.
Still, the animals in the tank don't seem to be too upset by these setbacks: besides the awesome diversity and coloration of corals and fish that anyone can acknowledge, Rebecca has witnessed a number of spawnings in her tank, including regular spawnings of the mandarin pair and a rare mass spawning of bristleworms — all signs that the environment in the tank is stable and mature... in one word, successful.
© 2005 Nuno Santos