Setting Up a Reef Tank – Build The Aquatic / Marine Environment

Facts About Coral Reefs
Marine Kuannis

One summer day I said to my wife, it’s time to expand to a bigger tank- and she said, it’s time for new carpeting, and behold, there was compromise. Since I wanted the new tank in the same location as the old tank, this would require a little more planning than I expected The 55-gallon tank would have to be torn down one day, have the carpeting replaced the next day, and then set up the new tank the following day. Rather than go through the details of the actual move again. Marine environment is the most …

First off, I purchased a new 125-gallon tank and a deluxe wooden stand (my wife wanted to make sure the stand would match with the rest of the furniture). A stand to me is something to support the tank, not a piece of furniture, but again there is compromise. A friend of mine just so happened to be selling his 75-gallon set-up, so I purchased it for a very reasonable price and planned to combine the contents of that tank with the 55-gallon tank I already had set up. This would pretty much fill the new 125-gallon tank, so I would not need to buy anymore accessories at this time. His set-up included another Fluval 303 canister filter, a Sea Clear protein skimmer with Whisper 800 air pump, a larger wet-dry trickle filter system, an ultra-violet sterilizer, a two 175 watt metal halide lamp and two 40 watt actinic fluorescent bulb in a handmade wooden canopy, and a lot more live rock The only thing that I would need is additional coral, which I would spread out over the next two years.

Believe it or not, I accomplished the move with no casualties by the wee-hours of the morning of the fourth day. Setting up from existing systems does make for a faster transition to a mature tank.

I had decided against using any substrate in this tank after reading several articles in the aquarium magazines of this period, which I later regretted. Placing all this rock was quite overwhelming as I found myself constantly re-arranging the rock to get the desired effect. This was probably the most time-consuming part of the set-up. I tried to create as many caves and ledges as I could with the rock that I had. Again, I regretted not epoxying some of the rockwork together, as later on I would have several accidental rockslides, which resulted in the loss of several corals.

I decided to hang the light canopy from the ceiling rather than set it on top of the tank. This is a good idea, as it greatly aids in air circulation, heat dissipation, and gas exchange, as well as make it easier to access the contents of the tank. The canopy was suspended approximately 6 inches from the top edge of the tank with two sections of decorative chain link, which can be purchased from any hardware store or home improvement center. Just be sure it is rated for the weight of the canopy you are using, The hanging hooks were firmly mounted to the ceiling joists. The metal halide bulbs are actually 9 inches from the surface of the water. This can be adjusted from time to time, raising the canopy higher when the bulbs are new, and then periodically lowering the canopy as the bulbs age.

The 4-foot long canopy is centered over the 6-foot long tank. Because of the suspended canopy, light from the metal halides is still able to penetrate to both ends of the tank, although is reduced as it reaches the bottom ends of the tank Corals requiring high-intensity lighting would be kept in the middle 4 feet of the tank and on the upper level of the rock structure, while corals requiring lower-intensity lighting could be put in the lower levels or toward the ends of the tank.

The photo period (the period of time the lights are on) was set for 6 hours with the metal halides on and 10 hours with the actinic blue fluorescents on, coming on two hours before the metal halides and going off two hours after the metal halides. This has seemed to work well for me, and although I have adjusted it from time to time, I have ended up going back to this lighting period and kept it there the past two years. As far as changing the bulbs, I generally replace one metal halide bulb after the first 12 months, and then replace the second bulb 3 months later. I raise the canopy after the first bulb replacement so the bulb is approximately 10-12 inches from the surface of the water, and then start lowering the canopy, one link at a time, about every three months after I replace the second bulb. This helps reduce the possibility of shocking the corals from the sudden change in light intensity. The actinic blue fluorescent tubes are replaced every two years.

I used a glass cover for the top of the tank to keep stuff in the tank, to keep stuff out of the tank and to reduce evaporation. Later, I started removing the glass cover during the peak lighting periods (metal halides on) to allow higher light penetration in the tank. Even with the glass cover off for only 6 hours a day more than doubled the amount of water evaporation.

I went with the larger wet-dry trickle filter that came with the 75-gallon tank and used an Eheim 1250 water pump for the return to the tank from the sump. The overflow was placed in the center of the back of the tank A hang-on ultra-violet sterilizer was installed and an Eheim water pump was used to draw water from the sump. The Sea Clear protein skimmer with the Whisper 800 air pump driving two wooden airstones was placed next to the sump and water was drawn from the sump with a small powerhead, and then returned to the sump. I would later upgrade this to a Red Sea Berlin venturi skimmer driven by a Supreme Mag-Drive Model 5-water pump drawing water from outside the sump.

Two 200-watt submersible heaters are used to keep the tank at around 76 degrees F., at each end of the tank. I do not use a chiller, but the house has central air conditioning and is kept at 76 degrees during the summer months. Even so, during the summer months, the tank temperature can rise by a few degrees, especially during the photo period. So I later added a small fan that clamps onto the one end of the tank, which was purchased at a local discount store for $8, to blow air across the surface of the water under the light canopy. This fan is hooked to the light timer and helps reduce the temperature by a couple of degrees. I found that this works well. At first, I ran the fan all the time, but it reduced the temperature too much during the night. The water evaporation does increase, but is manageable now that the fan is only on during the photo period

For next month’s article, I shall write about the fish and corals, which populated this tank, and their care. As is the case with most everything, new technology as well as new theories on reef keeping, have evolved over the last several years. The resulting changes and how they affected this tank, as well as future plans, will be explored in future articles.

by Marty Ziegler
First published in Gravel Gossip, Diamond State Aquarium Society

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