Witness the final days of Paul Hughes’ magnificent reef tank on our recent reader visit.
WORDS: NATHAN HILL
Display tanks in stores are the mannequins of high-street boutiques. They should inspire, elicit a desire to copy, and show the customer what can potentially be achieved. They’re also a reflection on a retailer’s competence. After all, would you take advice from a store that ran dishevelled tanks with dying corals and ill-looking livestock?
Advanced Aquarium Consultancy in Essex owns the textbook example of a display tank done right. Its reputation preceded it, warranting several aquarists to contact me and advise that I should get over and see for myself. When I first visited the store some months back, under the auspices of a shoptour, each and every testimony I’d heard was validated. This is a shop display that hits hard enough to wind you when you see it, leaving you with nothing to say but ‘wow’.
In a curious twist, the tank has become a victim of its own success. If aquascapes can be King for a day, then so this tank is peaking right now. As the store has grown and the business has boomed, the premises it calls home are now expanding, meaning that a bigger, newer — dare I say better — display is in the awnings. Within weeks of this magazine hitting press, the tank will be no more. Its prime coral choices will be clipped and fragged, the fish transferred and a whole miniature reef seeded afresh in a new home. Having witnessed the ‘dry’ layout of the new tank, I feel safe in saying it’ll be wonderful.
Its owner, Paul Hughes, is a man with a name rightly associated with quality reefing. After long stints in the industry, including spells of coral farming, he has turned his hand to installations and consultancy, with a long list of successful reef builds under his belt.
I was so impressed after my shoptour that I was soon booking up for a return visit. Here’s a little of what we saw and discussed that day…
Your tank is ostensibly called a display tank, but to what extent is it a self-indulgence? Looking at it, and the pride you have in it, I sense that this set-up is more personal than corporate.
Absolutely! It’s more than just a shop brochure, although of course it does aid the shop in terms of sales. As I practically spend every day of the year at AAC HQ, there’s no longer any time for a personal home aquarium — so why not have a good one here instead? I may be working in an aquatic profession, but I think that it’s essential for customers to feel my genuine enthusiasm for the subject too.
How long has it been up and running for now?
Approximately three years, but it was started from my extensive collection of LPS corals and SPS mother colonies from a previous home coral farm and display tank.
From a hardware perspective, how has the tank evolved? What has stayed, what has gone, and has anything in particular impressed you?
The aquarium’s principal system equipment and engineering has pretty much remained the same throughout my career, since the advent of the Berlin system ideals. The tank’s fundamental ingredients are a protein skimmer, calcium reactor, kalkwasser reactor, phosphate control, high levels of circulation, lots of living rock and strong lighting.
Although nothing has been sacked equipment wise on the current system, what has impressed me during the tank’s development, has been the evolution of the high-powered AI LEDs which have been changed several times to more improved models. The Deltec protein skimming has been uprated too.
Would you class yourself as more of a fish person, or more of a coral person?
Without a doubt, anyone who knows me well understands that I see fish mainly as a pain in the backside in a reef system, apart from those that perform useful jobs, such as wrasse, dragonets and pipefish and the odd grazing tang.
In recent times a customer trend towards fish-only systems has rekindled an old interest in butterfly fish and other possible combinations in a reef aquarium too. I'm meeting more and more aquarists that risk introducing one of their wish-list 'reef-safe' angels or butterflies, or alternatively try to shape their coral garden around those species that won't view everything as a potential meal.
But corals will always be my first fascination, and my specialist subject. I'm focussing more of my spare reading time on studying coral pests, diseases and viruses — there’s so much more to learn than just the chemistry, and nutrient cycles to grow a coral.
It stands to reason a lot of people will be inspired by the looks of this tank. Who inspires you?
Recently on the international scene (and from a design perspective), Youngil Moon from Korea for his Real Reef Rock displays.
Closer to home, reefing gods such as Reef bloke of Ultimate Reef fame and other greats such as David Saxby, Terry Evans and Martin Lakin.
For me, one of the most inspirational aquariums ever was a classic tiny 60cm/2ft SPS reef tank by Julian Sprung, which had a mangrove tree growing out of the top of it! Check it out — I think it was in volume 1 or 2 'The Modern Reef Aquarium' in a thing called a book (Feature eds note: The Modern Reef Aquarium range of books, by Fossa and Nilsen are available from the publisher Birgit Schmettkamp Verlag, and may be the best marine books in existence.)
Did you plan livestock before you started, and did you stick to it? Or was the selection a gradual process?
I never make too many hard and fast rules, or rush things. Any selection of livestock has to constantly evolve in a decent reef aquarium in my opinion.
The phenomenal success of one species in a mixed reef may prove to be detrimental to others, especially as you learn more of the coral’s own personal requirements including growth patterns, lighting and hydrodynamic requirements, and aggression. This may mean forfeiting one species to save another.
What I do have, like many experienced gardeners with their planting schemes, is the ability to visualise the final outcome and how it should turn out. But it's never written
I understand that some of the coral in here comes from frags of colonies that have never been imported since. How did that all come about?
It is true, some of the corals in the display can trace their ancestor’s roots back 15 to 20 years or more. The initial frags and colonies were passed on to me by like-minded stony coral pioneers, including David Saxby and Martin Lakin.
Is there any livestock you regret adding? I heard something about a cantankerous crab that’s been causing you problems…
Well, 'Robert the robbing crab' certainly wasn't added deliberately I can assure you. He recently consumed a £150 Papaya clove polyp, pinching a ‘flower’ from it every night. Other species at times that have brought great annoyance include adult wrasse that have terrorised any new additions to the tank, causing all sorts of dramas.
You use a mixture of LED and T5 lighting — what’s your thinking behind that? Is LED on its own not up to the job yet?
Ooooh that’s a juicy one. Are LEDs up to the job ? By themselves? Yes, they are. The fact is, a photon of light is a photon of light whatever the source. It's how's it's delivered, spread and the number of units used that's very often the issue for sole use of LED lighting.
I could harp on about metal halide lighting and T5 tubes supplementing one another in recent history, for years and years — and why did we do this? I'd say to level out the point sources of light and reduce shadowing. It's either that, or you need to really cover the surface well with LEDs to provide a very even cast, just as you would with metal halide and T5 use. Let’s also remember that many folks doubted the efficiency of T5s as the sole source of light, when they first came out.
I'm particularly interested in the new E5 T5 high powered LEDs that have just entered the market. These are LEDs but are well diffused and will even outshine those PAR monster LEDs from America. I'm sure that E5s will bring further debate to the reefkeeping community and I will certainly experiment on finding the best solution for the system I can create around its needs; no trends, just what works best. Lighting can always be improved, it's tough trying to replicate sunlight and the way it works.
What degree of remote control do you have over the system? What software do you use for things like lighting?
I use the AI platform for the Hydra 52 LEDs, and Apex is fitted for temperature control and monitoring , but very little else. I am more of an 'analogue' man and prefer cranky timer switches for their simplicity and reliability.
Tell us something you do that would make other reefkeepers frown.
You should see me with the food! But it's only PO4 media that’s needed to put the additional phosphates from my heavy feeding right.
Which brands do you trust the most?
Eheim, Tunze, Deltec, Schego, AquaIlluminations, Sera. D-D H2O Ocean, Red Sea.
What would you say has been the best innovation in marine keeping?
The black gold — RowaPhos! Before this, there was nothing like it, and now there are a hundred and one imitations. Some of them are getting close, but Rowa is Rowa and it has helped me grow the huge numbers of coral frags that adorn many reef aquariums around the UK .
You have lots of small pumps running on this system. What’s the benefit of many small pumps over a couple of bigger beasts?
I prefer the idea of micro flow patterns and plenty of surface water movement to disperse the light rays coming from the LEDs, so that I don't get hotspots. I have a couple of big beasts
too, for laminar flow.
I know the set-up is ‘migrating’ to a new home next door, so how long has the tank got left in it? How much of the livestock are you hoping to reclaim?
By the time this article gets published it’s pretty fair to say that I will start chopping it about. The best way to get the new garden growing properly is with 'new shoots' rather than 'trees', as the frags will find their new flow patterns and light. I hope to be able to reclaim pretty much
all of it, but there will also be plenty of frags available for customers, so it has its plus points.
It is getting tired and overgrown and would need a good coppicing to rejuvenate some growth, even if there wasn't a new tank on the horizon.
Meet the aquarist
Name: Paul Hughes.
Profession: LFS owner for my sins.
Time in the hobby: Earliest fishkeeping memories from six years old.
Most tanks kept at any time: Loads — can’t remember but it borders on ridiculous when I think back to my tropical days.
Favourite fish: Too many to mention, but one group that I love includes the following species Anampses lennardi, Anampses meleagrides, Anampses femininus. They always float my boat.
Favourite corals: Cyphastrea sp. and the chalice coral groups.
Purple tang, Zebrasoma xanthurum
Yellow tang, Zebrasoma flavescens
Convict tang, Acanthurus triostegus
Scopas tang, Zebrasoma scopas
Goldrim tang, Acanthurus japonicas
Golden anthias, Pseudanthias aurulentus
Randall’s anthias, Pseudanthias randalli
Yellow-back anthias, Pseudanthias evansi
Purple queen anthias, Mirolabrichthys tuka
Yellow tail tamarin, Anampses meleagrides
Spotted mandarin, Synchiropus picturatus
Silver belly wrasse, Halichoeres trispilus
Hoeven’s wrasse, Halichoeres melanurus
Dusky wrasse, Halichoeres marginatus
Ghost cardinal, Apogon leptacanthus
Common clownfish, Amphiprion ocellaris
Acropora, including A. gomezi, humilis, florida, nana, carduus, horrida and hyacinthus.
Dimensions: 205 x 65 x 80cm/82 x 26 x 32in.
Lighting: A mixture of five AI Hydra 52 LEDs, plus two 39W T5 D-D Razor Lights. System cranks up through a dawn period, and closes in a dusk period, giving 12–13 hours of lighting daily. Evenings involve the use of UV, violet and royal blue light settings to encourage coral fluorescing.
Temperature control: Two 500W titanium heaters keep things warm, while dual fans are on standby for the event of overheating.
Filtration: The tank utilises much of the Berlin method, with heavy reliance on good circulation and live rock to convert pollutants — roughly 140kg of live rock is used in Paul’s set up. Circulation comes from a mixture of eight Tunze stream pumps, combined with a Tunze wave box. Phosphates are controlled with a sump-based PO4 reactor, while occasional carbon use and floating Polyfilters help to extract anything else undesirable. Limited mechanical filtration occurs at the point of exit on the PO4 reactor, where a filter sock is attached.
Maintenance regime: Five daily fish feeds, using a mix of frozen (Mysis, red plankton, brine shrimp) and dry foods. Corals receive a mixture of Polyp Lab Reef Roids and Boost, Goniopower from Two Little Fishes, and Red Sea’s Reef Energy. Inside the tank, the glass is wiped down daily, while a 25% water change occurs fortnightly. RowaPhos is changed every six weeks; Kalkwasser roughly every three-to-four weeks.
Meet Aaron Bowyer, a 6ft 6in tall reader with a beautiful reef tank that’s nearly as long as he is tall...
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY: GEORGE FARMER
Aaron Bowyer is clearly a talented fishkeeper who thrives on a challenge. He started the hobby as an eight-year-old, encouraged by his mum who kept tropical fish. He kept bread and butter community fish, successfully bred many and by the time he was 14, he’d moved onto planted tanks and discus. He could grow plants, aquascape with natural flair and was breeding his discus at the age of 15. I know this because he showed me some very impressive photos taken with a 35mm film camera.
Soon he moved into marines at a time when undergravel filtration was the norm and SPS corals were virtually impossible to keep alive. With a natural gift for all things aquatic, Aaron took the logical step and after A-Levels studied for a BSc degree in Aquaculture and Fisheries Management at Sparsholt College.
After an admittedly unrewarding career managing a well-known arts and crafts outlet, he maintained his hobby and got chatting with the owner of the Reef Dreams shop in Winchester. It wasn’t long before Aaron was offered the job of full-time manager. No surprises that
he made the move and hasn’t looked back since.
Being the manager of a reef retailer had its benefits. Aaron was offered his current six-foot tank and cabinet by the shop’s owner for the princely sum of £100 — if he could take it away himself. That was around 18 months ago and the result now is nothing short of stunning (scroll down to the bottom of the page for video).
I arrived at Aaron’s home in the evening to find him away, still at work in his shop. His girlfriend, Anneke, kindly let me in and the brightly lit tank instantly caught my eye with the familiar bluish ambient glow that’s associated with most reef aquaria. I think my jaw actually fell open involuntarily to allow my brain to compute the heady high-impact mix of bright colours and movement.
Relishing the challenge
With 90–95% of the corals being brightly-coloured SPS I knew I was witnessing something pretty special, even as someone who’s more akin to planted aquascapes. The colours were so vivid and bright that any non-fishkeeper could be left wondering if indeed the corals
Aaron returned home soon after and we quickly entered into a dialogue about his hobbyist roots. When I asked, “why reef?” his answer was remarkably straightforward. “I need to challenge myself”, Aaron replied. To grow relatively demanding corals to such a high standard is indeed a challenge, and one that Aaron has clearly relished.
Consistency is key
He puts much of the success down to consistency in product usage using the balling method — the technique of dosing different solutions to give the corals the minerals they need. Aaron uses the Tropic Marin Pro-Reef range of salt and balling products. The three balling solutions are all dosed automatically using a GHL auto doser and Aaron goes through a total of 1100ml every day. He has calculated that this equates to a mighty total of 74Kg of balling salts every year! In theory this should mean that there’s around 74Kg of added mass to the corals, which is incredibly impressive and leaves me wondering how sustainable such heavy growth can be. Aaron tests the water regularly to ensure the parameters with a variety of high-end test kits to spot any trends in water chemistry fluctuations.
There’s almost 600W of high-output T5 lighting with reflectors, so Aaron runs a cooling fan constantly over the surface of the water. The PAR reaches around 400–600ųmol at the surface and 150ųmol at the substrate. No chiller is employed. Aaron plans on putting even more light over the tank in the form of an eight–T5 ATI unit. I asked if he had considered LEDs but he explained that to get a similar quantity of light would cost over £3,000, using several Radions or Hydra 52 units. Arguably the effect of T5 can be more impressive than LED with its consistency in light spread and lack of glitter lines. It’s largely down to personal taste and budget, as with all aspects of fishkeeping.
Aaron’s fish selection is equally impressive. I’m a fan of seeing more smaller fish versus fewer larger fish, as it gives an improved sense of scale; a principle that he agrees with too.
Dominated by a wonderful collection of wrasses, blennies, damsels and anthias, the mix of colour and movement in the tank, especially after feeding was a sight to behold.
A large Copperband butterfly and Purple tang stood out as feature fish, with the former being Aaron and Anneke’s favourite specimen.
I asked if he had encountered any major issues with his set-up over the 18 months it had been running and was pleased to hear of nothing, except a jumper that triggered the installation of the mesh cover.
Better than the telly!
The tank sits pride of place in the couple’s living room and I can’t see them watching much TV when there’s such a spectacle as this to appreciate. But Aaron suffers a similar problem to many other experienced fishkeepers and aquascapers — he’s never satisfied and is always looking at ways to improve his set-up.
He explained that one of the pink Bird’s nest corals in his system had lost its intensity and he was determined to rectify the problem. He told me that you can lose colour in a coral in a matter of days, but it can take months to get it back again.
It’s this determination to reach the highest of standards that I believe has been the key to Aaron’s success, and I left his home feeling very inspired and motivated. Maybe it’s about time I set up a proper reef tank myself…
Meet the fishkeeper
Name: Aaron Bowyer.
Time in hobby: 26 years.
First fish kept: Platy.
First fish bred: Platy.
Favourite fish: Copperband butterfly.
Fish he'd most like to keep: Achilles tang.
Favourite coral: Any SPS.
Top tip: Stick with a consistent approach.
Aaron’s fish list
Copperband butterfly, Chelmon rostratus
Tile goby, Hoplolatilus purpureus
Purple tang, Zebrasoma xanthurum
Yellow wrasse, Halichoeres chrysus
Yellow hogfish, Bodianus bimaculatus
2 x Yellow tail damsels, Chrysiptera parasema
2 x Orange spot gobies, Valenciennea puellaris
Yellow tail wrasse, Anampses meleagrides
2 x Peacock wrasse, Macropharyngodon bipartitus
Leopard wrasse, Macropharyngodon meleagris
6 x Lyretail anthias, Pseudanthias squamipinnis
Green chromis, Chromis viridis
Multicolour wrasse, Cirrhilabrus lubbocki
Orchid dottyback, Pseudochromis fridmani
2 x Jewel algae blennies, Salarias fasciatus
Red scribble blenny, Cirrhipectes stigmaticus
Molly Miller blenny, Scartella cristata
Tank and cabinet
Custom 180 x 60 x 60cm/6 x 2 x 2ft with 120cm/4ft sump, total volume 1000 l/220 gal.
ATI luminaire 6 x 80W HO T5 lamps, 2 x 54W HO T5 lamps.
8am to 11pm: 2 x 54W T5 White and Blue.
9am to 10.30pm: 2 x 80W T5 Blue and Aqua Blue.
11am to 10pm: 1 x 80W T5 Fiji Purple.
11am to 10pm: 3 x 80W T5 New Gen.
Circulation and flow
90 times per hour turnover; 2 x Jebao WP40, Jebao DC12000 in-line circulation pump, 2 x additional circulation pumps (15,000 and 20,000 lph), Eheim return pump.
- 80Kg live rock (20Kg in sump).
- C9 Bubble Magus protein skimmer.
- 3 x Aqua Medic sulphur nitrate removers.
Water management and additives
- 25 l/5.5 gal water change per week using RO water and Tropic Marin Pro-Reef salt.
- Balling classic nutrient regime using Tropic Marin Balling ABC, total 1.1 litres per day.
- A+, K+ elements daily, 15ml.
- KZ Coral Boost, 5ml per day.
- KZ Coral Vitaliser, 5 drops per day.
- KZ Amino acids 2, drops per day.
- KZ B Balance, 10ml per day.
- KZ Coral Snow, as and when.
- KZ Bio Mate, 2 drops per day.
- GHL Auto Doser.
- Calcium: 450 ppm.
- Magnesium: 1600 ppm (deliberately high to combat Bryopsis algae, extra Mg added to auto top-up).
- KH: 8°.
- Nitrates: 1 to 3ppm.
- Phosphates: 0.01 to 0.05ppm.
When Martin Lakin wanted a bigger reef tank, he didn’t let the size of the front room get in his way — he just moved the walls! We visit the man and his spectacular aquarium.
WORDS: KAREN YOUNGS; PHOTOGRAPHY: NATHAN HILL
If you’re a fan of the tabloids, you might have come across Martin Lakin before. He hit the headlines in the media earlier this year with his ‘£150,000’ marine aquarium and the fact that he sent his apparently unsuspecting wife to Tenerife while he gutted the house to have the tank built.
But the real story behind this glorious saltwater system is rather different. We went to visit Martin and his wife, Kay, to find out more about the set-up that caused such a sensation — and, of course, for an excuse to ogle the tank and everything in it!
Martin has kept marines from the age of 12, back in the days of undergravel filters when knowledge was severely limited, as was the equipment and the choice of livestock. He worked at a garden centre (actually owned by Kay’s dad at the time), which had an aquatic section with a few marines on sale. Martin has an aquarium log that records everything he’s ever bought back to his very first fish (a damsel) and invertebrates, including a Flame scallop, which even now would be considered very difficult and back then practically impossible, as Martin sadly soon discovered.
Despite lots of knock backs in those early days, he persevered, and 37 years on Martin’s enthusiasm for the hobby and the animals he keeps is just as great. The difference is that he’s gained vast amounts of knowledge along the way and, coupled with the advances in technology that has made reefkeeping so much more achievable, this has led to a truly outstanding set-up containing some of the best specimens of both fish and corals that we’ve seen.
The aquarium has actually been running for three years now. But before he decided to set about building the ‘big one’, Martin had a 165cm long x 120cm deep x 60cm high/66 x 48 x 24in set-up in the corner. That would have been large enough for many people, but Martin wanted a tank with more height.
“We did discuss moving house,” he explained. “The front room wasn’t really big enough for all the family at Christmas anyway. But we didn’t really want to move, the location is great. So we decided that it might be an option to extend the front room into the garage.”
On the advice of a structural engineer and a builder, steel columns were built into
the walls of the house and across the ceiling in the front room for reinforcement.
As you might imagine, this was a considerable undertaking.
While the work was underway, Kay did go to Tenerife for three weeks, to visit a sick relative. When she returned, she and their son, James, who was 12 at the time, as planned, stayed with Kay’s mum until the building work was completed. Despite reports to the contrary, she knew exactly what was going on and in fact was overseeing some of the work as Martin was away on business for much of that time, only coming back at weekends.
The builder, Paul Homden, was a longstanding friend of Martin’s and also a very experienced marine fishkeeper. Martin explained: “If it hadn’t been for his valued input I don’t think we would have achieved what we did. I explained what I wanted to do and it was Paul who designed and built the steel frame that the tank sits on, for example.”
A company called Glass Connections (which also built the aquarium at the Natural History Museum), put the tank together in situ, using 19mm thick laminated glass.
All the existing livestock from Martin’s set-up had to be moved into a spare room, housed in the old sump, along with all the essential equipment needed to run it. Unfortunately, there was so much dust about and, with the work taking far longer than estimated, the water conditions deteriorated and some of the hard corals and fish died. “In hindsight, I should have paid someone to look after it all for me whilst I was working abroad and the building work was taking place,” Martin admits.
With the lounge now around 1.5m wider, there’s plenty of room even with the much bigger tank. And while it has an outstanding presence, as you might imagine, it doesn’t overpower the room.
Three rooms with a view
Martin’s 5,000 l aquarium has ten sides — an irregular decagon — but broadly is ‘L’ shaped, with the largest panel being more than 2m in length. It can be viewed from three rooms of the house: the lounge (which is where the main body of the tank sits), the family room, where it can be viewed through a ‘window’ and the incredibly tidy tank maintenance/wet room, which was formerly part of the garage and is now home to most of the stuff that makes the aquarium work — and there’s a lot of it. This last perspective might give you the ‘back’ of the tank, but it’s still definitely a view worth seeing, as this is a set-up that looks amazing from any angle.
The aquarium is a metre tall, giving Martin the height he so desires. Even now, a huge growth of Acropora ‘Bali slimer’ is actually breaking the surface of the water.
While it’s understandably noisy in the maintenance room, those fishkeepers with experience in the tinnitus-like effects produced by running pumps will be astonished at how quiet things are on the other side of the aquarium. To keep the volume down in the lounge — and enabling everyone to get a good night’s sleep in the room above — the tank has been soundproofed using acoustic foam and high density fibre glass underneath the bedroom floor.
The tank is quite heavily stocked with fish for a reef system. There are some superb and highly sought after angels in his collection, including a pair of Regals and a Clarion, alongside a rather lovely adult Emperor angelfish. There are also butterflies and tangs aplenty, with several species swimming around in the decent sized shoals that are so difficult to achieve in more modest sized systems.
Anthias are also present in numbers — and in this set-up they are among the happiest we’ve seen on our reader visits. And then there are damsels, including some of those that would cause territorial issues in smaller tanks, such as Humbugs, all of a good size and looking very fit indeed.
Some of Martin’s choices might be considered a little risky in a reef tank, but this is another benefit of a system with these kinds of proportions — the odd nibble here and there is not going to cause any noticeable damage.
In among the forests of branching corals are some of the biggest Ricordea mushrooms we’ve seen in a home setting, and these are gradually making their way up the side of the tank, while a huge tridachnid clam looks very at home.
Spares of everything…
If there’s one thing that Martin has learned over his many years in the hobby, it’s to keep spare equipment handy — and he has spares of just about everything! “Let’s say that you’re running a tank for ten years — during all that time the water will need to be stable,” he explains. “But some equipment will go wrong over that ten-year period, so making sure you have a back-up is crucial.” There are two sump pumps located in the cupboard, for example. Both of these are running at half speed. “If one stops working, I can isolate it both electric- and water-wise, and I can increase the other to full power until the problem is sorted.”
Martin’s system has two independent sumps connected by a 4in pipe that balances the water between them. “This means I can still keep the tank running if I need to work on one of the sumps,” he explains.
As you might imagine, on a tank this big, the equipment needs to be of a size to match. There are two Bubble King 300 skimmers, two huge phosphate reactors and calcium reactors — plus all the necessary pumps.
When it comes to lighting, Martin reckons he must be the only reefkeeper still using metal halides. He has five Giesemann Series 400s and five double D-D Razor Light fluorescent tube fittings. The tank also gets loads of natural light from the roof, with direct sunlight from April through to September. “It looks unbelievable — you should see the glitter lines it creates on the fish,” Martin tells us. “But on the down side, it does brown out some of the corals.
“If it gets very bright, I have a blind installed in the ceiling, but I haven’t had to use it yet. The windows in the ceiling can be opened and closed automatically — there’s a temperature sensor at the top, so if it gets too warm the windows will open. And I can also open the garage doors, but to be honest it never gets really hot in here.”
The stainless steel lighting rig can be winched out of the way to allow Martin access to maintain the tank — and it’s also useful when new corals are added, as the bulbs can be positioned further away, so they don’t burn the corals. “The weight of the lighting is horrendous,” he explained. “Some of the shackles broke, and now I have a roll of lead as a counterweight, so that all the weight of the lights doesn’t go through the winch. I’ve also installed a safety chain so that if anything were to go wrong, it wouldn’t all come crashing down!
“I’d probably have LEDs if I started again from scratch, but I already had the metal halide lights and I knew they worked, so I decided to stick with them. I might change further down the line.”
During the summer, water flows out of the sump and through a chiller located on the roof, but in winter Martin can divert the flow to avoid it. “At the end of the winter I flush out the chiller lines so that the stagnant water inside them doesn’t go back into the tank when I switch the flow to go through the chiller again,” he says.
All those fish…
Because Martin has a lot of fish in his tank, nitrate can be an issue. “I’ve tried lots of methods of keeping it down and I’ve found that vodka dosing is the only one that works,” he says. “A peristaltic pump takes the Smirnoff at a very slow rate into a reactor, producing sulphur — which reeks, so I’ve set up the system so that what comes out of the nitrate reactor flows through a layer of carbon, and the air is pumped up through the bottom and goes outside.“
There’s been surprisingly little aggression between the fish, due no doubt to the fact that they can get out of one another’s way in a tank of this size.
Just in case there are any problems, Martin has made his own fish trap, which he can lower into the aquarium and leave to do its job. He reckons he can catch any fish with it. “You’ve got to be able to get fish out of a reef tank if it’s necessary and in a tank of this size that isn’t going to be easy.” The trap is a box made of glass and importantly, is of a size to accommodate any of the fish in Martin’s aquarium. The door slots into a panel at the front and is attached to a drawstring tied off in the garage. Once the trap is in place, Martin begins to put the fishes’ food inside it. The more timid species might take a few days to venture inside for food, but as soon as the one he’s after gets inside, he drops the door to keep it there. Any other fish he’s caught alongside it are just returned to the tank.
There’s a Regal angel residing in one of the sumps — the current pair in the main aquarium used to be a trio, but Martin had to remove the ‘spare’, who has now happily lived in the sump for three years.
And more recently, Martin tried to introduce a Blue-faced angel, but the resident Clarion angel had other ideas and launched a full scale assault. The ‘intruder’ was so stunned that Martin didn’t even need to deploy the fish trap — it pretty much surrendered into the net. It was transferred to the other sump tank where it’s since made a full recovery and is soon to be re-homed in a friend’s aquarium.
Martin’s sumps also contain loads of very healthy looking coral frags. When some of his hard corals died during the building work, friends he had previously given frags to were able to provide him with a frag — of a frag — of the corals he’d lost.
Martin says that he has enjoyed helping other fishkeepers with their problems, but adds that his friends, including Paul Homden, Tony Rogers and David Saxby, have provided huge support that has helped his dream to come true.
Martin’s maintenance regime
There’s access to the tank behind panels all the way around it. The pumps are situated in a cupboard where they are easy to get to and the equipment/wet room is designed to be as easy maintenance as possible, with all the electrics positioned well up on the walls out of the way, and a bottom drain in the centre of the floor. After doing any maintenance, everything can be rinsed down using a hose, and this also gets rid of any annoying salt creep.
All the valves on the closed loop and the associated pumps are located above sumps, when means that should there be a leak the water will remain in the system.
Algae is removed from the glass once a week. Martin uses a new razor blade every time he cleans it.
Martin has three sets of four 100 and 200 micron filter socks, using one set at a time in a box with a spray bar. Each week he removes and cleans one set in cheap thin bleach, leaving it a bucket for about a week before they are jet-washed and then left to soak in a bucket of freshwater for another week to ensure there’s no trace of bleach when they are replaced in the tank.
The two phosphate reactors are each filled with Rowaphos and have been covered in black butyl to keep encrusting algae at bay. The Rowaphos is replaced every two months on rotation — 5 l at a time.
There are eight 55W UV tubes on the system. “Unless you only have a couple of fish you need UV,” Martin says. “It’ll catch you out sooner or later if you don’t.” The UV tubes are changed every six months. Once a year he also changes the quartz sleeves, which get calcium build-ups on them.
There’s a tank installed in the garage, which holds 1,170 l of water, supplied by an RO unit. Martin carries out a 20% water change once a month. He pours the best part of two 23kg buckets of H2Ocean salt into the RO water tank and then leaves a pump running to circulate it (and a heater if required). Water from the aquarium flows into this container and then overflows back into the main tank, so the new water is gradually mixed with that already in the aquarium. It takes about 24 hours. Once the water change has finished, Martin is left with a container full of water, which he can choose to either use for topping up after maintenance — such as rinsing and cleaning the phosphate or calcium reactors — or
he can send it to waste via a drain in the garage floor.
For topping up with freshwater to replace that lost through evaporation, there’s a smaller RO unit on a float switch.
Martin and Kay’s 16-year-old son, James, earns his pocket money by helping out with the maintenance.
The tank is run on an IKS Aquatics computer — and yes, there’s a spare computer in the cupboard along with a spare plug bar.
“Having the whole system automated means I can go on holiday knowing everything will be fine. I also have an automatic fish feeder suspended above the tank,” Martin tells us.
The system isn’t so easy on the wallet, however. It costs around £4k a year to run, a great chunk of which is electricity. Martin has recently added 22 solar panels on the roof, and he’s interested to see what difference that makes in the coming year.
One problem Martin has had since the tank was built has been with the galvanised steel frame. He noticed a powder forming on the surface, which was being blown into the air. “I was having problems with coral growth and other issues, and I think it may have been due to fine particles getting into the water,” Martin says. “Even on the top of the tank, which was powder coated on top of the galvanised steel, it had started to break down. The galvanised steel is now enclosed in plastic that was fabricated and then welded on.”
Desert island fish
Martin gets his stock from Swallow Aquatics in Gravesend, H2O Aquatics and Advanced Aquarium Consultancy in Essex and The Abyss in Manchester.
Asked to name his favourite fish, Martin goes for the pair of Regal angels due to the colour. But then he adds that if he could only choose one fish to take with him on a desert island, it would probably be the Common clown: “Colourful, interesting, educational — you can learn a lot from clownfish behaviour — and it just goes to prove that not all the best fish are the expensive ones.”
He feeds New Era marine pellets and TMC frozen foods, which he buys in 250g packs — he reckons on getting through a pack a week. He favours Mysis, brine shrimp and also Krill Pacifica, which he says seems to keep the fish’s colours strong.
So how did the media get hold of the story? “I replied to a post on a forum by a journalist looking for interesting tanks,” Martin said. “I was told I would see a copy of the draft story and understood it was probably going to be published in the Mail. So I was really surprised when, without notice, the story was published in The Sun. Then a couple of days later, it just went mad and was published in the Mail, the Mirror, the Metro, the Times; radio stations wanted interviews and magazines wanted the story too.”
“We were away in Norway when the media frenzy hit,” Kay continues. “There were journalists and TV crews going up and down the street at 6am in the morning, knocking on neighbour’s doors trying to get a story and asking if they could have our mobile number. A producer even asked us if we wanted to appear on The Jeremy Kyle Show — which we politely declined!”
“It wasn’t just a UK thing,” Martin adds.
“A friend of our son even came across a story that had been published in China — we couldn’t understand the words, but we could see it was our tank.”
And just to put the record straight — Martin’s set-up didn’t cost £150,000. That was the total cost of all the building work, including the tank. He reckons it was probably closer to £60,000 — but for that he’s got the tank of his dreams!
Meet the aquarist
Name: Martin Lakin.
Occupation: Estate management consultant.
Location: Rochester, Kent.
Time in the hobby: 37 years.
Favourite fish: Regal angel.
Dream tank: This is it. I can’t think of anything I’d change, although I’m considering LED lights.
Martin's fish list
3 Regal angels, Pygoplites diacanthus (including one in the sump)
2 Emperor angels, Pomacanthus imperator
2 Flame angels, Centropyge loricula
2 Venustus angels, Centropyge venustus
4 Bicolour angels, Centropyge bicolor
1 Clarion angel, Holacanthus clarionensis
1 Scribbled angel, Chaetodontoplus duboulayi
2 Potters angels, Centropyge potteri
1 Blue face angel, Pomacanthus xanthometopon
14 Yellow tangs, Zebrasoma flavescens
1 Tri-colour tang, Zebrasoma scopas
1 Regal tang, Paracanthurus hepatus
1 Powder blue tang, Acanthurus leucosternon
7 Bartlett anthias, Pseudanthias bartlettorum
7 wreckfish, Pseudanthias squamipinnis
2 Percula clownfish, Amphiprion percula
3 Blue damsels, Chrysiptera cyanea
7 Emperor damsels, Chrysiptera parasema
2 Starcki damsels, Chrysiptera starcki
1 Four-stripe damsel, Dascyllus melanurus
15 Blue/Green chromis, Chromis viridis
1 Banana wrasse, Halichoeres chrysus
2 Mystery wrasse, Pseudocheilinus ocellatus
1 Candy cane hogfish, Bodianus opercularis
9 Pyramid butterflies, Hemitaurichthys polylepis
2 Bicolor dottybacks, Pictichromis paccagnellae
3 Macropharyngodon sp. wrasse
1 Symphodus sp. wrasse
Lights, main tank:
2 x 400W Giesemann metal halide Series 400 (16K lamps)
3 x 400W Giesemann metal halide Series 400 (20K lamps)
1 x twin 80W DD Razor T5 (Actinic Plus)
3 x twin 39W DD Razor T5 (Actinic Plus)
1 x twin 58W DD Razor T5 (Actinic Plus)
ATI Sunpower with 6 x T5 mixed.
The rest of the kit:
2 x Bubble King 300 skimmers
Dastaco calcium reactors
Deltec Eco chiller
Teco TC500 chiller
Blue Eco 500 (return pump no. 1)
Abyzz 400 (return pump No. 2)
Closed loops 2 x Abyzz 400 pumps
Nitrate and phosphate removal:
Deltec NO3 containing DLS, Siporax and Bioballs
PO4 with Rowaphos
Martin's top tips
- If you’re setting up a reef tank, understand what you’re letting yourself in for in terms of time and money, particularly with respect to ongoing operational items.
- Never use melamine shelving for your fish room — it just gets wrecked when it gets wet. I use solid plastic shelving now.
- Carry a spare of everything — sooner or later a piece of equipment will go wrong and it will
- never happen at a convenient time.
- If you’re ever intending to take on a project like this, work out exactly what it’s going to cost and take, double check your calculations — then double it!
Check out the video!
Peter Busani has only kept tanks for three and a half years, but he has one of the densest reef set-ups in the land. Nathan Hill finds out how he got off to such a great start.
Meet the aquarist
Name: Peter Busani.
Location: Dunstable, Beds.
Favourite fish: Purple tang.
Most spent on a fish: £100 for the Purple tang.
Most spent on a coral: £120 for a Bleeding apple Scolymia.
Dream tank: Red Sea Reefer 450.
Back in June, a speculative email started a chain of events that culminated with me visiting one of the finest tanks I’ve witnessed this year. "Please see attached images of my tank," it read. "Hope you are interested," it went on.
When I dragged the image down into Photoshop, bleary-eyed and awaiting my morning caffeine to kick in, it was like an invasion from planet chintzy. Colours as brazen as they were varied clawed out of the screen at me, nearly sending my off of the chair in a flurry of palpitations. This tank was, in journalistic parlance, a bit of a goer.
At the first opportunity, I was down at Peter Busani’s pristine Bedfordshire home, admiring the swirling mass of colours first hand, uncensored and unedited. Supping on a daytime beer, and scuttling around his set-up like a ferret in a pipe warehouse, I was duly impressed. Even more so when it transpires that this is Peter’s first ever foray into aquaria. Here’s what we discussed…
Let’s start with the basics — how big is this tank, and exactly how long have you had it running for?
The tank is 4ft long, 2ft high and 1.5ft in depth (120 x 60 x 45cm deep), and it has been running now for three and a half years.
What first attracted you to marine tanks? Did you migrate from freshwater?
This is my first tank. The reason I decided to go full-blown marine was down to my friends who own Deepblue Aquatic in Hemel Hempstead. I used to visit the shop and was fascinated by the fish, but mostly the corals. After several visits I was hooked and became determined to buy an aquarium.
One day, someone returned a system to them because he never had the time for the upkeep. I bought it, which is the tank I have at present and since then I’ve totally fallen in love with and immersed myself in the hobby.
What do you do for a living?
Easy to answer, I now work in the industry with a company called Fintail that distribute the NEWA range of aquatics products — pumps, heaters, aquariums and so on. I was involved in IT for many years but once I became besotted with the hobby I was hell-bent on working in aquatics. So these days I visit all the best shops around the UK promoting our product range — best job ever.
I do stay away from time to time and mostly the system looks after itself. My wife, Margaret, feeds the fish and visually checks things over. If ever there was a problem she would call me. If I go on holiday for two or more weeks I get my friend from my local store to pop in and make sure all is okay and to feed the fish for me.
Talk me through your sump, from one end to the other. If I was the water going through, what would I meet along the way?
The water comes down on the right hand side of the aquarium dropping into the sump. The first chamber contains a filter sock and the return from a chiller that keeps things at the correct temperature.
The water then feeds into the second chamber where a lot of waste gets pulled out by a Bubble Magus NAC 6 skimmer. Also in this chamber is a feed through a reactor running Rowaphos for phosphate control.
In the third chamber water is heated by a NEWA Therm 400W heater and is returned into the aquarium via a NEWA Jet 4500 pump. Also in this chamber the calcium reactor returns effluent back into the aquarium, keeping alkalinity at perfect levels.
What’s the one piece of kit you couldn’t be without?
I’d say my protein skimmer but also my calcium reactor. Both these pieces of equipment have helped in making this aquarium I have today.
With the cupboard open I can see the inside is wood finish and the outside is black. Is that a customisation thing?
I purchased the tank in a wood finish but we decided that the colour did not blend in with the decor. I contacted a friend who wraps cars and asked if he could wrap the hood and cabinet, and he said he could. We wrapped it in Piano black. The finish and quality really boosted the aesthetics of the tank.
What kind of lighting are you using? Does it all come on in one go, or is it staggered through the day? Why did you go for the lights that you’ve chosen?
I use three T5, 54W bulbs, one Marine Blue T5, one hybrid T5 and finally two Aquaray Fiji blue LEDs. They’re staggered on timers that ramp up and down. The cycle runs over an hour and half in the morning and the evening. Lighting is on for around eight hours per day. I looked into my options before deciding on the T5s but at the time there wasn’t much information on long term LED use. So in the event I stuck with lighting that I knew had been tried and tested for many years.
How much live rock have you used, and is it mixed?
I couldn’t really estimate how much rock has been introduced as it is so well stocked. There is some Java rock, Fiji rock and also a few pieces of Tonga branching, and there are also some plating rocks.
I never really had a reason to go for any particular kinds, I just wanted to build the rock up quite high so I purchased additional pieces once a month until I was happy with the ‘scape.
What would you estimate the power consumption up to be?
Very difficult question to answer. Let me just say my electric bill has gone up up dramatically being a reefkeeper.
How much do you think the whole set up has cost you to put together?
The cost of the aquarium to date is probably around the £8,000 mark, but when I spread that over the last three and a half years it’s not too bad.
What order did you add your corals in?
I started by adding soft corals and was very successful with growth. Then I started to look into creating an SPS/LPS tank and started looking for the correct information on water quality required to run a successful reef with very fragile corals.
I started by stripping all the soft corals from the aquarium and over the next three months I made sure the water quality was low nutrient for the introduction of small frags. These started responding well, so I decided to add more and have ended up with a fully stocked, prominently SPS aquarium. Stability is the key with any low nutrient system.
Do you need to trim back growth?
I have trimmed back some of the corals that were getting close but they seem to change direction when they become too near to each other now.
What’s your favourite coral?
My pink Seratiopora hystrix. This was one of my first pieces and I’ve witnessed it growing into an amazing colony. The colour gets better each and every month.
Any other inverts in there?
I have a little clean up crew consisting of one sand-sifting starfish, two Fire shrimps, two Blue legged hermit crabs, two turbo snails and four Nassarius snails.
Have you had any hitchhikers or undesirables turn up?
I had a couple of bristleworms and also a gorilla crab, but I managed to catch them before any damage was done. I’ve been pretty lucky on that front really.
How do you deal with nuisance algae or Aiptasia?
I’ve never really had nuisance algae. I did have a couple of Aiptasia but I always use a Majano wand and it’s been very successful in controlling them.
What fish selection have you gone for?
Fish stock as follows: Sohal tang, Salfin tang, Purple tang, Regal tang, Convict tang, two Tangerine clowns, three Ghost cardinals, Sixline wrasse and a Keyhole angel.
I really love tangs, so I went with as many as I felt I could get away with while keeping the system low nutrient. The other fish came from my LFS after I looked into their reef compatibility.
Have there been any issues between the fish and corals?
I’ve never had any problems between the two, no. The fish were always bought with emphasis on them being reef safe.
Have you had to take anything out because it was troublesome?
Again, no. I’ve had the fish in the system for a long while and corals have never been an issue. The only time I’ve ever taken something out is if I have fragged a piece of coral and then given it away.
What foods are you using for the fish? Do you feed the corals too?
I use New Era marine and aegis flakes. The fish receive it once a day in the morning. Then twice a week they get a mixture of frozen Mysis, lobster eggs and Cyclops. I also put in six bags of sieved copepods once a week.
What are your daily, weekly and monthly chores?
Daily I have to check all equipment is working and visually scan over the corals and fish for any problems.
Weekly, I clean the glass with magnet and change 50 l/11 gal of water using water from an RO unit in my garage. I clean inside of the tank with toothbrush and a sponge, clean the combs on my weir and also toothbrush over my powerheads. I clean the skimmer out about two or three times per week.
Monthly I replace the Rowaphos in the reactor and fill up the Kalk in the calcium reactor. I finish off by cleaning the dosing lines and check dosers are in good working order.
If you could go back and start again, what would you change?
I wouldn’t have changed a thing. With the money and time I have put into this tank, everything has always been essentially straightforward and rewarding.
What’s something you wish you’d known when you started?
I wish I’d known the time required at the beginning to get things right. And the amount that it costs to start and maintain a good system.
What’s your favourite aquarium brand?
At the moment I think the new Red Sea Reefer range looks fab.
Any plans for another tank any time?
Not at present. The only time I would consider one is if we moved.
To finish off – and I know it’s a lot to ask, how about a list of the coral you own?
Bali green slimer, Blastamussa sp., Pink hystrix, Green hystrix, Several zoa colonies, Ricordia florida, Duncanopsammia axifuga, Orange and Green Acanthastrea, Brain coral, Chalice coral, Purple Pocillopora, Pink Pocillopora, Stylophora, Lobophyllia, various mushrooms, Purple Millepora,
Tri colour Acropora and large colonies of Acropora including aussie acros in various colours and a large colony of white Seriatopora. I think this is most of it but there is just so much in there.
Specific gravity: 1.026.
Peter’s supplement regime
- Daily Redsea Reef colors A, B, C, D 6mg dosed thrice daily;
- Redsea Reef energy A & B, 8mg dosed twice daily;
- 4mg of Nopox dosed twice daily.
- These are all dosed through two Jecod dosers.
Peter’s top tips for new reefkeepers
- Always begin with cycling your tank correctly.
- Don’t overstock if you want to achieve a decent reef tank.
- Before stocking any SPS or LPS corals make sure your water quality is the absolute best it can be, and ensure that they can live in the conditions you have created for them.
- Purchase from a trusted store that you know you can get the correct advice from.
- Finally, make sure you have lots of cash on standby if you want to set up a tank like this one, because you’re going to need it!
When it comes to running an aquarium in a conservatory, things can get pretty tricky. Here, Jeremy Gay meets a reefkeeper who has successfully combined the two...and there's a video at the bottom of the page!
While a conservatory may be a seemingly natural place for a fishkeeper to site a tank, the battle against major influences such as excess heat and light is not for the faint-hearted.
So why, with such a large and beautiful house in Hertfordshire, did David Le May decide to do just that? The answer is simple: it’s the only place he could fit an eight-footer! And as conservatory tanks go, it’s a stunning example, full of large, active fish (scroll down for video).
David got into marines late and has only been reefkeeping for eight years. He had tropicals when he was younger and a pond at every house he lived in until this one. Then, having seen a friend’s reef tank he was hooked and soon set up a five-foot reef tank complete with sump and equipment. It was his first tank in 30 years and later led to the eight-foot reef tank you see here.
When it comes to bespoke hole-in-the-wall tank builds, it helps when both your son and son-in-law-to-be are builders. They, in fact, created the tank and the brick-built tank room behind it for David’s 70th birthday. The tank truly is a family affair too, as David’s 17-year-old grandson is also into all things reef and looks after the tank whenever he is away on holiday.
When you descend down the steps into the conservatory during the day, you’re greeted first by the rich purple wall and secondly by a matching purple blind covering it. This is to obscure all daylight.
Without it, Dave says algae would be out of control, especially in the long summer days. As you might expect, he runs a chiller too.
With a push of a button, however, the automated blind raises to reveal the long tank; its length is accentuated by the linear hard coral formations of the Montipora and lots of large fish swimming up and down the tank. "Ahh, an Emperor angel," I exclaimed. "That’s one of my favourite fish, but doesn’t it pick at your LPS corals?"To which Dave replied: “I’ve had two angels before, but this one is a rogue. I can’t have any Elegance corals because of him and he eats all my zoas. I had some beautiful zoas but they just end up as expensive meals.”
Some LPS corals have been strategically placed at the surface, out of the Emperor’s reach, and in among a forest of branching Acropora. There’s a Regal angel in the tank too, but they’re known for being better behaved with corals than Emperors, and Dave’s had no trouble.
Angels are some of Dave’s favourites and he admitted to having many more before a serious wipeout. He also likes tangs and butterflies, but the latter ate his corals, and when he added Copperbands to control Aiptasia they all starved to death. So, when it comes to butterflies and his experience with them, Dave admits that most have had disastrous consequences and that in a perfect world he would have two tanks: one fish-only and one for corals.
To safeguard against future wipeouts David now runs two UV sterilisers and an ozone unit, but the latter just runs for a couple of hours each day. The tank is full of large specimen fish now, so David avoids even looking at fish in the shops and just adds corals instead. His shop of choice is Home Marine in Enfield, a store that is well known for its marine expertise.
All of David’s equipment is labelled and he runs a Seneye Reef and LED lighting — AI Sols are daisy chained together then run on a wireless adapter that goes through to his kitchen. At the time of our visit, he was eagerly awaiting the release of Aqua Illumination’s latest gadget, named the Director.
We didn’t visit at the best time as the strong daylight can wash out some of the rich colours enhanced by the Sol lighting. David said that at night-time the tank is transformed and is incredibly bright, and I believe him. If I ever get to see the tank again I’ll make it a night-time visit for sure.
The tank had been set up for 15 months when we visited, and, when asked, David said there isn’t much he would change if he had the chance to do his current tank again. There’s no equipment on show, adding to the hole-in-the-wall, slice of reef effect and he’s hidden the central glass weir pretty well too. He didn’t fasten his live rock together so admits he would probably revisit that because he does get the odd rock fall, both when maintaining the tank and when coral growth causes the rocks to become top heavy.
He would possibly consider a tank that is wider front to back, upgrading from 60.9-76.2cm/24-30", although that would leave him with less space in the tank room. He’d keep the height the same; his previous 1.5m/5' reef tank was 76.2cm/30" tall and he couldn’t work on it. He does have to work from behind the tank
with this one being hole-in-the wall, although, again, there was a blind at the back of the tank, providing a backdrop.
The blind also raises up completely out of the way, leaving a clear back glass so Dave can see what he’s doing when maintaining the tank and placing corals. The background blind is purple to suit the front blind and surround.
Our camera flashes picked it up as being quite coralline algae in colour, only when you see the tank in the flesh and with limited light spill from the LED lights, the background appears a much darker blue and disappears into infinity.
The marine tank is David’s retirement hobby; he’s invested a lot of money in it already but luckily, he has the time and patience to be able to stick at it and to take the rough with the smooth. He says that lots of people give up with reef tanks because of the costs and not having enough time. His tank needs minimal maintenance and he changes just ten gallons of water per week, which he can do via pumps. He’s got an automatic feeder to regularly dispense dry foods and then hand feeds frozen foods and uses the D-D paste foods.
Stable water parameters and regular feeding has made the care of most species straightforward, including a population of four Scooter blennies. The Maroon clowns spawn every two weeks, the red Bubble-tipped anemone has split into four and many corals have grown large from small frags. The cleaner shrimp do a great job of climbing over the large fish at the cleaning station and one shrimp is five years old.
Despite having a very large Orange shoulder tang and the two angels, David says that it’s the Purple tang that is the boss of the tank, and when the lights go out every night he still asserts his dominance over other fish in a display that Dave terms 'Battle Royal'. Despite the weaponry of both surgeonfish and large angelfish, he is amazed that they never physically touch and hurt themselves.
So what do I think of the tank? I love it, and there is no denying that with the miniaturisation of tanks these days, nothing really does it like a great big reef tank, with room to stock lots of colourful fish and room for them to exercise. It’s never too late to start…
Salinity 1.025 s.g
2.4 x 0.6 x 0.6m/8 x 2 x 2' custom build tank with central weir
1.2 x 0.3 x 0.3m/ 4' x 15" x 15" sump
Tunze stream pumps x 5
Newjet 8000 x 2
TMC V21000 calcium reactor
Deltec APF600 protein skimmer
TMC V2 Vecton 600 UV steriliser
Eheim external filter
D-D RO Unit
TMC V2 ozone unit
Aquamaster auto level control
Arcadia Eco-Aqua marine blue LED x 4
AI Sol LED x 5
AI Sol Mk2 controller
Orange shoulder tang
Powder blue tang
Maroon clowns (breeding pair)
Blue throat trigger
Blennies and scooters
Blue cheek goby
Red banded prawn goby
Oxypora or Echinopora
Check out the video of David's conservatory aquarium in the video below:
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John Ciotti surprised the US marine keeping fraternity with his 'upside down' reef tank. He's never been afraid to try something radical and here tells Jeremy Gay how his creation came about.
A photographer of elite aquatic systems, John Ciotti sees at first hand what excites the aquascaping world. He’d set up before, but this latest project took the hobby to a whole new level.
We’ve tracked John down for an exclusive interview:
What are the dimensions of your tank?
It’s a standard Ecoxotic cube aquarium measuring 45 x 45 x 45cm/18 x 18 x 18".
What equipment is fitted to it?
One of the great things about this particular aquarium is the lack of equipment. Being an all-in-one-type it only contains a small and simple protein skimmer that seems to perform well enough, as well as a small 10w return pump to get water from the sump chamber back to the display.
A single MP10 Vortech creating a nice wave motion is also attached to the side pane of glass.
How long has it been set up?
This layout has been up and running for about 24 months now. It has even gone from my home into the care of others, as I was moving from San Diego to Los Angeles. I wasn't comfortable with the prospect of moving the system, so it stayed in place instead of leaving with me.
What was your inspiration for the set-up and have any previous aquascapes been leading up to this design?
The concept came to me more on an impulse than anything else. I hadn’t any sort of clue or divine indication that this was going to end up this way.
Obviously the thought of creating an aquascape out of the norm was intended, but to how far out I didn’t know until it was finished.
I suppose my mum telling me I needed more overhangs in every aquarium I 'scaped as a child could have had some sort of significant impact on this particular layout, Repressed feelings maybe?
How is the rock structure fixed together?
The 'scape was constructed with the use of a single piece of 1.6cm/0.75″ PVC cut to length and slid through four pieces of carefully drilled live rock.
A base was created by drilling a hole halfway into the bottom chosen rock and a cap by repeating the process for the top. Once everything was together a reef safe epoxy was used to keep everything neat and tidy.
Your sun corals look healthy and as if in a natural setting under that overhang. What tips do you have for growing them and how did you fix them?
I switched from exclusively feeding Cyclop-eeze to a combination of Reed Mariculture products, Phyto-Feast, Tiger-pods, Oyster-Feast, for example. A by-product of this switch has been a pleasant and noticeable increase in how long my non-photosynthetic corals stay out.
Although I've not noticed any significant growth increase just yet, other microfauna and tubeworms seem to be taking advantage of the varied diet.
What fish/corals/inverts are in there?
There’s a few different color morphs of Ricordea florida and Zoanthus, Tubastrea, Dendrophillia, Dendronepthya, Stereonepthya, photosynthetic gorgonians and Trachyphyllia geoffroyi. I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting though.
In there too are two captive-raised Pterapogon kauderni and a single captive-raised Elacatinus figaro (Yellow-line goby). At one point I actually tried out some clownfish, but they were aggressively hosting the corals so I had to remove them.
How do you light the bottom without it casting obvious shadows?
There’s a bit of a shadow, but the amount of LED over the aquarium helps give it a softer look, much like a soft box would with photography. I think that the light bouncing back/reflecting from glass also helps.
Did you encounter any problems with this tank set-up?
Getting the flow to work correctly was initially a challenge. Having so much open space allowed a lot less water movement to go a very long way. It was troublesome keeping the sand down and keeping the corals happy up top.
Is there anything you would change?
Quite simply I’d go bigger!
You’ve recently taken part in a marine hardscape aquascaping competition. Can you tell us about that?
Aquascaping competitions seem a bit funny. I really like the idea of the hobby becoming more forward thinking and progressing as an art form but, as far as I am concerned, judging aquarium layouts is a bit subjective and can be difficult to do so fairly.
I've entered a few live aquascaping contests and, by the luck of the draw, won them all.
This last marine competition wasn't so easy. I was up against a very talented Scott Fellman who tried to create a unique and elaborate approach to a dry reef ‘scape, taking his time to perfectly place each piece of rock over a few hours.
I, on the other hand, simply created an aquarium using ‘nature aquarium’ rules to fresh water plant layout but geared towards marine animals and taking just about half an hour.
The judges ruled in my favour. I don't think they did so because my aquarium was any better. It was just different and wasn't what the audience or the US reef community was prepared for.
What’s your background in fishkeeping and what previous set-ups have you had?
Fishkeeping goes back to my childhood keeping goldfish and Tiger barbs. I worked in the aquarium industry from a very young age, scrubbing tanks at the local fish shop to creating aquatic layouts of all types with the Senske brothers at the Aquarium Design Group in Houston, Texas.
Having had the chance to work with and learn from Takashi Amano at the 2008 AGA awards ceremony, I competed against some of the US's most accomplished aquascapers, such as Jason Baliban, in the second annual Iron Aquascaping Challenge.
I have recently designed some of the most popular LED light fixtures on the market for brands like Ecoxotic and Current USA/TrueLumen.
Having had so many opportunities to work with great people in this industry I can't think of a type of set-up I haven't had. It really has been a dream for as long as I can remember.
What do you do for a day job?
Currently I'm an interior architectural photographer, concentrating on aquarium installations. I spent much of 2011 working with Threshold Interactive, an agency based in Los Angeles doing photographic and some designwork for clients such as Nestle Water, Butterfinger, Universal Pictures, Sony and Pampers. One notable project was a horror film with Rob Lowe called Butterfinger the 13th.
This year is a whole new story though and I might even have something up my sleeve for the aquarium industry by the end of it…
What are your future set-ups or aquascaping plans and what would be your dream set-up if size or money were no object?
My future set-ups are going to be much more focused, both freshwater and marine. I'd like to try more single-species reef tanks and hardscape only, or minimalist freshwater layouts.
As for fantasy and money being no object, any healthy adult would want an indoor saltwater tide pool full of Acropora, clams and anemones - wouldn't they?
Of course my freshwater urges would need to be satisfied too. I'd love a massive minimalist hardscape-only aquarium with a few thousand Rummynoses and a partial leaf litter bottom.
When is a BiUbe marine kit not a BiUbe marine kit? When the guts have been ripped out of it and the revamp looks even better than the original! Nathan Hill explains...
When offered an assignment involving a first-time fishkeeper creating a reef in a BiUbe, I felt pretty shaky. I expected a tank with endless accessories, more equipment than water, struggling inverts and an apologetic owner.
Yet once I’d glanced over the tank, set up by web designer Tigga Reese of Slough in Berkshire, it was my turn to apologise.
This was a tank any reefer could be proud of. As I drooled over bulging Trachyphyllia, intensely coloured zoanthids and two of the healthiest clowns I’d seen, I couldn’t help coveting a BiUbe conversion of my own.
Tigga has only been in the fishkeeping game for ten months. This is his first attempt at keeping any aquatic life and the project stemmed from his children’s desire for clownfish in the home.
He duly bought a BiUbe marine package online and initially set it up as per instructions with central uplift and original media and lighting. Into this he placed some live rock, a long branching rock, and the clownfish — but he wasn’t happy with the end product.
Soon he found himself on thenanoreef.co.uk and daunted by the plethora of potential methods to upgrade his tank. He noted those owners who had drilled tanks and incorporated sumps, added weirs, forced in cumbersome skimmers and many more changes.
Then he learned of natural filtration methods and decided that was the route for him. After reading up on the subject Tigga was sold.
This had been only one month after he’d bought and stocked the original tank…
Since then, Tigga has employed a real back-to-basics approach to fishkeeping. The central uplift was removed, as was the original BiUbe LED lighting. The heater stayed in, but more live rock was added, building up a massive central pillar riddled with caves and hollows for livestock to hide among.
At this point Tigga also moved to premixed water. Originally he’d been using tapwater and making his own, performing a weekly 10% water change. Now, with premix to hand, made from RO water, he changes around one and a half litres daily.
The effects, combined with the sheer abundance of live rock, means that nitrates and phosphates are gloriously low and nuisance algae unseen. He’s had no need yet to get among the original BiUbe filter media to syphon waste from the base – and the media itself now looks like fragmented live rock, covered in encrusting purple and pink algaes.
To create flow he added a Koralia 900 nano pump that sits high in the tank on a constant flow. It used to turn off on a timer for brief periods, but now runs 24/7.
Lighting was replaced by a BoostLED 30 PAR lamp with attaching bracket and it curves elegantly over the tank, looking like a metallic giraffe. This was acquired online for around £120, including delivery.
The effect is of very cold light, a strong blue presence being obvious, creating long, mysterious shadows down the height of the tank.
It is supplemented by an LED light that Tigga bought from eBay, and converted. At a cost of a mere £14, the intense blue strip sits in a ring on the lid of the tank, around the entry point of the Boost. It’s timed to come one around 30 minutes before the main lights, and then the two have a staggered crossover period, with the strip going off another 30 minutes later.
Come evening, the same thing happens again — ensuring that the fish aren’t subjected to a light shock in either direction.
Aside the daily water changes, maintenance involves cleaning the acrylic when needed. Originally, Tigga used a magnetic algae scraper, but soon noticed scratching on the inside of the tank. Now, he uses a combination of an old AA membership card for stubborn algae and piece of foam attached to a chopstick to get to hard-to-reach areas.
Given the inaccessibility at the rear of the aquarium, a critic might spot some encrusting algae tucked away, but it doesn’t detract from a stunning set-up.
Livestock is a combination of attractive zoanthids, mushroom rocks and some encrusting briareum, with a Painted Trachyphyllia catching the eye at the front. Lighting is not an issue for any of these creatures and many polyps have increased in numbers since they were introduced.
Tigga adds nothing for coral food. Neither does he add supplements to the water. No bottles of magnesium, calcium or other lotions sit anywhere in the house and the water changes keep everything in balance.
He frequently has water tested at his local Maidenhead Aquatics store and staff have yet to find a single fault.
He certainly seems to have the fishkeeping touch…
The fish consist of two clownfish who at the time of my visit were going through all the motions of getting ready to spawn. They dominate the highest level of the tank, investigating everything, and are some of the healthiest looking fish I’ve met.
Also in the tank, but more secretive, is a single Royal gramma which only dashes from rockwork crevices to take the daily feed of Gamma brineshrimp with omega 3 enrichment. No other foods are currently offered.
Hidden somewhere is a Turbo snail which occasionally rearranges something, shoving a loosely anchored polyp clump from its mooring. Equally scarce is a Peppermint shrimp which hides in the old filter compartment.
For a first tank project, I’m blown away by what has been achieved.
Tigga has actually taken filtration out of a tank and made it better. He’s left with a near effortless aquarium that even the most long-term of fishkeepers should be proud to show.
The only downside? He now has a stockpile of BiOrb filter media bought with the tank, hoping to save on long-term costs.
…and for his next project
Seeing this set-up makes me even more excited at the prospect of reporting on the 180 x 60 x 60cm/6’ x 2’ x 2’ marine tank Tigga is planning once he’s finished extending his house. I get the gut feeling it’s going to be something pretty special…
Watch the video
Check out our video of Tigga's BiUbe reef tank.
Nathan Hill visits a reader whose tank truly matches his ambitions – illustrating that a gigantic, briny dream could be more of a possibility than we might reasonably expect.
Every so often a project gets us really excited, so when PFK got a phone call hinting at a whopper of a home tank, we had to see it...
Despite reservations at some of the sizes touted to us, once we’d cast eyes on the system we knew it was a stayer!
Most impulse buys these days are for nano tanks or well-priced starter kits, but for Dave Glover, in Coalville, Leicestershire, the tank that caught his eye was a colossus.
At 2.2m long/7’, more than 1m/3.3’ wide and almost 80cm/2.6’ tall, the purchase represented a once in a lifetime opportunity. Dave even had to draft in another four people to move the thing around, but, being acrylic, it was easier to manhandle than the same size in glass.
The first snag was getting it into the house and most doors won’t accommodate anything this size — Dave’s included.
Even if the frames had been taken off the task would still have been near impossible. Windows were pulled out, the tank ‘posted’ into the living room and windows refitted.
Not many of us are prepared to go that far for an aquarium and certainly not in the coldness of January. Dave did!
Building the supports was easier, Dave using contacts in the building industry to find and assemble reclaimed brick plinths, on top of which an old railway sleeper was placed. This blends well with the feel of the house.
Things have to be sturdy here and with a volume of nearly 2,000 l/440 gal the water in the tank alone weighs the best part of two tonnes. Bearing in mind that an empty Transit van weighs around 1,800 kilos, it’s understandable why Dave didn’t opt for a more traditional, wooden cabinet.
He wanted a coral-heavy reef tank and knew lighting was important. Opting for LEDs by Reef Beam UK, Dave went for six 120w units evenly distanced across the top. To keep them in place he designed and commissioned the welding of metal frames suspended from the ceiling.
The lights are timed, coming on at 1.30pm and off at 10pm. Some parts of the tank look brighter than others, where rockwork brings some corals high up in to the water column, but, on the whole, the spread is soft and wide.
The tank came without lid or cover, so Dave created these too. Given the setting and proximity of the light frame, he wanted to risk neither splashing nor salt creep. Glass in runners sits tidily across the tank, ensuring water stays where it should.
Filtration sits in a separate room. Dave has drilled the acrylic and adjoining walls, creating a grotto of canisters, reactors and sumps that sit beneath the stairs, out of sight but easy to access.
Water is drawn out through a weir system at the back before being passed into the sump.
Here, an aquarium brims with live rock and a Flame angel.
From the sump, water is passed through a Deltec TC 3070 skimmer with a drain and flush mechanism, and this hauls out any muck loose in the water. Rated for 4,000 l/880 gal of water, it’s understressed and working comfortably.
Some water is passed through a phosphate reactor, which has been a more recent addition.
Resourceful wherever possible, Dave uses a model constructed by a contact at Dream Reef, and filled with Rowaphos — the device keeping levels in check.
On top of these a Deltec calcium reactor is also in place, but since using it Dave has noticed an imbalance with calcium levels way ahead of the corresponding alkalinity and magnesium levels. This device is therefore currently in limbo, attached but not running.
Water changes take place every third week, with around 5-10% being drained off and refreshed. Dave has installed drainage directly to the tank, so, rather than physically lugging pails of water, he only has to flick a valve and the tank empties itself.
Refills are costly, with about half a bucket of salt used per change. A mixing tank is hidden to the side, connected to an RO unit to fill it. Salt is added and a 3,500 lph pump mixes in advance. Then it’s just a case of turning a couple of ball valves and the mixer refills its 'mother tank' next door.
Add-on tanks don’t end there and a glance under the aquarium, between the brickwork legs, reveals two small refugiums. Each is filled with Miracle Mud and both are heaving with macro algae strains, with Chaetomorpha featuring primarily. As with the main tank, these are also powered by LED units, although each has only a 60w commitment.
Flow is looked after by returning water from the filters, as well as three Ecotech pumps, surging and controlled by Ecosmart drivers. These can be flicked across settings from rapid pulses, to long bursts to plain and continuous flow. Dave tweaks frequently, allowing for flow to diversify regularly.
Dave is still tackling a few problems. Initially he had issues with Caulerpa smothering corals. He introduced a Foxface, which had a slow start — being keener to take the offered, prepared foods — but eventually he worked out what he was there to do.
Another issue has been with tiny Asterina starfish, but adding Harlequin shrimps has so far done little to control this population.
However, the starfish tend to get snagged on the underside of his algae wipers, resulting in scratches across the soft acrylic.
Most obvious problem is the presence of Acoel flatworms, or Red planaria. These threaten to smother the corals and particularly the mushrooms at the base of the tank. A couple of added wrasse have made little impact and the worms are still going strong.
What’s Dave got in his tank?
Some livestock is easier to spot in our photographs than on site, and other fish just outright shunned our cameras.
Obvious is the shoal of Anthias squamipinnis, with the handsome violet male parading his harem. Other out-and-about fish are the Magnificent foxface (Siganus magnificus), a large but lean Pacific sailfin tang (Zebrasoma veliferum) and two classic Yellow tangs (Zebrasoma flavescens).
Appearing in both aquarium and filter sump are bold Coral beauties, and they’re just two of a few deeper-coloured fish present along with two Purple firefish.
On the smaller side, there are two Fiji blue damsels (Chrysyptera taupou) and two Common clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris). They flit about alongside a handful of Green chromis which make the most of this unusually large set-up.
Browsing for strays
In an attempt to control that flatworm outbreak, a Pyjama wrasse, (Pseudocheilinus hexataenia) wanders about. There’s also a small, female Leopard wrasse (Macropharyngodon meleagrus) visible, browsing through the rockwork for stray amphipods.
A solitary Mandarin (Synchiropus splendidus) appears occasionally, taking a break from quaffing copepods produced by Dave’s refugiums.
There’s also a secretive Marine betta (Calloplesiops altivelis). When our cameras were out he didn’t present himself once, but a face did emerge when everything had been packed away!
His presence might be a good reason why we also failed to spot any shrimps, as hidden somewhere are three true Peppermints (Lysmata wurdemanni), three Boxing shrimp (Stenopus hispidus) and a pair of the starfish-gobbling Harlequins (Hymenocera picta).
Twelve boxes of live rock from varying regions make up the base for the corals and there’s much diversity.
Prominent is a Seriatopora which didn’t take long to open for us.
Other hard corals include Acropora sp., all grown from frags, as are the various Montipora sp. Sat high in the tank and catching more than their share of light are several hammerhead Euphilia sp.
Adding a dash of colour are some trumpet corals (Caulastrea sp.) and bright brain corals (Favites sp., and Trachyphillia sp.) adorn the base alongside a handful of small plate corals (Fungia sp.). Many have been sealed in place with adhesive milliput.
On the soft side, mushroom corals of the Actinodiscus and Ricordea varieties are strong in evidence although struggling with the Acoel densities in the tank.
Faring better are large collections of zoanthid anemones, which Dave hopes will eventually form an encrusting carpet over the base of the tank.
Oblivious to the flatworm are thriving encrusting green gorgonians, (Briareum sp.).
Dave doesn’t think he’ll be adding any more fish, although he expects the corals to eventually bed in and become dominant. He’s also hoping that once the flatworms are under control he might get a spurt in coral growth.
Aquarium timeline: How it all came together
1. The old tank sits in a separate room, established, pretty, but nowhere near big enough for Dave’s aspirations. It’s time to upgrade in style and, when the acrylic appears on the scene, all systems are go!
2. Too big for most doorways, the gigantic tank finds its way in via windows. Even sat empty on the floor it dominates the house! Here, Dave provides a sense of scale for his colossal aquarium adventure.
3. Too heavy for a cabinet, a purpose-built brick construction has to be made to support the immensity of the tank. Even empty, the acrylic alone weighs more than many of our home set-ups — and that’s before water’s added!
4. To make things visually appealing, a huge railway sleeper completes the base and makes an unusual trim on the tank. Dave had the sleepers from an earlier project, so they just needed to be cut to length.
5. Dave brings in yet more tanks, one to act as a mixing vat for waterchanges and others to take the role of his live rock sump, as well as his two Miracle Mud refugiums. Now begins the task of drilling walls and plumbing pipes.
6. Lights are added to the tank, sat on Dave’s custom-made metal frame. Evenly spaced, the six 120w units are shielded from splash by home made cover glasses. Underneath the tank another two LED units bring light to refugiums.
7. The tank sat dry, Dave can start to plan his interior layout. He already has the contents of his other tank to move across, but, before that, he needs to get everything filled, flushed, emptied, refilled and brought up to salinity.
8. Having filled up and with his pumps rigged, Dave moves everything across from his existing set-up and starts to increase his live rock. Even with a few extra boxes the tank looks sparse and now he starts the expensive task of stocking up.
You can see a video of Dave's tank below:
We simply had to interview Belgian reefkeeper Luc Loyen about his stunning creation which includes several rare and valuable fish.
This mature system from Luc Loyen is teeming with life and colour. Tanks packed with fish and corals are always the most difficult to maintain because the fish need lots of food, yet the corals need very low nutrient water.
Luc’s system makes the two look easy, even to the point where he has set up another larger tank for a future project.
What are the tank’s dimensions and what is the system’s volume?
The main display tank is 200 x 70 x 70cm/79 x 28 x 28”.
Other tanks are connected to it, including a 140 x 80 x 60cm/55 x 31 x 24” sump, a 120 x 80 x 30cm/47 x 31 x 12” frag tank, a 90 x 80 x 40cm/35 x 31 x 16” equipment tank and a 90 x 80 x 50cm/35 x 31 x 20” tank for holding new fish. Total volume is some 2,300 l/506 gal.
How long have you had it?
The tank has been set up for around four years.
What is the circulation turnover in the main tank and what pumps do you use?
I use two 12,000 lph Tunze Turbelle Stream 6100s controlled by a Tunze multi-controller.
What lighting do you use and for what photoperiod?
I have a Giesemann armature with four 9w PL tubes and three 250w metal halide bulbs. I also use five 80w T5 and four 24w T5 PL tubes. Duration is from 9:00 to 23:00 hours, with the T5s on from 10:00 until 22:00 and the halides from 12:00 to 20:00. Total lighting equates to 1,282w.
What skimmer do you use?
I use a Bubble King Supermarin 300 powered by two Red Dragon pumps that can create up to 3,600 lph of air. Retail price of this skimmer is just over $2,000/£1,190.
How do you add calcium, magnesium and KH buffers?
I used a Dastaco extreme III calcium reactor, with a seven- channel GroTech TEC III NG dosing system. I raise calcium and alkalinity with the Balling method.
With all that lighting do you need a chiller?
I’m lucky. The tanks connected to the main tank, in the basement, act as my chiller because it is around 18°C/64.4°F down there.
What is your water change regime and what are the water parameters?
I change around 200 l/44 gal every three weeks. Temperature is 24-26°C/75-79°F, with salinity held at 35ppt. The pH is 7.7- 7.9, alkalinity 8dKH, calcium 430mg and magnesium 1350mg. Phosphate is undetectable.
How do you remove/control nutrients?
When started I used a phosphate remover called Ultrasil, but for the last three years I haven’t used anything. I put this down to fast growth of the corals.
I also use activated carbon renewed every 14 days for optimum water clarity.
What salt do you use?
A mixture of Tropic Marin, Reef Crystals, and KZ Reefers’ Best.
Was it difficult to start?
This tank had Reef Ceramic background material because we did not want to see glass on the back. It also has a bridge and a pillar of the same material to bring depth. We have about 150kg of living rock, but the first two years were difficult because the materials were not as good as hoped.
A lot of silicate was released, so I had a lot of undesirable algae. Corals were dying in the first six months and the calcium level was very high.
Any rarities of note?
The rarest fish in my tank is the Blue-striped orange tamarin wrasse (Anampses femininus), pictured above. This species can grow quite large to 24cm/9.5” for an adult male, though it is a stunning fish.
What’s your feeding regime?
I have a lot of fish so give them plenty of food, normally three times a day.
The first two meals comprise a mixture of frozen krill, Artemia and Mysis, then a mixture of Cyclops, lobster eggs and red plankton. I offer dry foods for the third.
Do you have any natural pest control?
I have a Bristletail filefish, Acreichthys tomentosus, to control Aiptasia and other small anemones.
How is your new tank better?
My new, bigger tank has OptiWhite glass with a low iron content. I again decided to aquascape with Reef Ceramic but mix it directly with live rock.
I tried to make it more open, so corals can grow and fish have more space. I also switched the Bubble King to an ATB skimmer because the design is very interesting. The new tank is lit with four 400w HQI metal halides and 16 80w T5s.
The coral collection
I guess I’ve got around 100 corals. I love SPS so they dominate, with around 80% of the tank housing these species. LPS numbers are low as the angels may nip them.
Acropora: suharsonoi, millipora, prostrata, granulosa, loripes, humulis, nasuta, carduuz, formosa, panona, solitariensis, efflorescens and gemmifera
Montipora: digitata, danae, stellata, australiensis and confusa
The fish collection
Two Sunset anthias, Pseudanthias parvirostris
Six Bicolor anthias, Pseudanthias bicolor
Six Tiger queen anthias, Pseudanthias lori
Two Bartlett’s anthias, Pseudanthias bartlettorum
Three Checked swallowtails, Odontanthias borbonius
Two Goldflake angels, Apolemichthys xanthopunctatus
One Regal angel, Pygoplites diacanthus
Two Bellus angels, Genicanthus bellus
One Mystery wrasse, Pseudocheilinus ocellatus
Two Red-striped fairy wrasse, Cirrhilabrus roseofasciatus
One New Guinea wrasse, Anampses neoguinaicus
Two Banana wrasse, Halichoeres chrysus
One Blue-striped orange tamarin wrasse, Anampses femininus
One Yellow tang, Zebrasoma flavescens
One Tomini bristletooth tang, Ctenochaetus tominiensis
Dottybacks and grammas
Two Royal grammas, Gramma loreto
Two Springer’s dottybacks, Pseudochromis springeri
Two Janss’ pipefish, Doryrhamphus janssi
Two Maroon clownfish, Premnas biaculeatus
Two Mandarins, Pterosynchiropus splendidus
One Bristletail filefish, Acreichthys tomentosus
One Blue-trigger fish, Xanthichthys auromarginatus
Fish in other tanks
One Yellow tang, Zebrasoma flavescens
One Scopas tang, Zebrasoma scopas
One Two-spot hogfish, Bodianus bimaculatus
Three Pyjama wrasse, Pseudocheilinus hexataenia
Two unidentified blennies
Two unidentified Halichoeres wrasses
How long have you kept marines?
For nine years.
Which are your favourite fish?
Angels and wrasse.
Which are your favourite corals?
SPS and zoanthids.
Have you had any problems along the way?
In the start-up I had some issues with the ceramic in the tank.
What would you change about your existing set-up?
I want a bigger tank for my corals as I have a growing collection.
Is there anything on your wish list?
One day I would like to see some of the outstanding tanks in the United States and England.
What of the future?
The future has already started! I have had a bigger tank running for a few months now. It is 320 x 90 x 80cm/10’6” x 3’ x 2’ 8” and has a volume of 2,304 l/507 gal.
What is your key to success?
Every introduction is made very slowly and the key is to provide a stable environment.
Of course, there are always ground rules to follow — like lots of light, strong water current and good water quality.
What we think
The tank is packed with corals and some 45 fish, giving a lush effect of colour and movement. It also embraces modern trends, using the Ultra Low Nutrient system(ULNS), Balling method, and holds many rare fish and corals, including a pair of Goldflake angels priced at over £300 each, a Mystery wrasse worth over £100 and a whole host of other rare wrasse, anthias and angels.
We can see why Luc has opted for a larger tank for his next project as there is no more room for any more corals in this featured tank.
The lack of phosphate remover is interesting as this illustrates a new trend towards using zeolites and bacteria to tightly cycle nutrients instead of traditional removal resins.
Either way, the results have proved spectacular!
This item was first published in the Christmas 2009 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine. It may not be reproduced without written permission.
John Clipperton takes a critical look at his first reef tank, and explains how it has grown – and what has worked best.
My first reef tank was set up in late 2003 and won several awards within the UK online reef community, including a Tank of the Year award. At the time of writing, it is now a comparatively old system as it enters its fourth year.
It’s a sump-less system contained within a Juwel Panorama 80 tank. This six-sided (or flat back hex) style aquarium measures approx 80 x 40 x 40 cm/32” x 16” x 16” and therefore makes the tank a shade under 136 l/ 30 gal in volume before displacement. Some would call this nano-reef territory, but I prefer to call it a mini-reef, personally. Incidentally, this tank shouldn’t be confused with the nano I set up in recent issues purely for photography purposes.
In terms of life-support systems, I have tried to avoid an over-complicated design, relying on first-hand observation of the fauna in the tank and dedicated maintenance rather than heavy automation and electronic testing.
Light skimming is achieved through use of an Aqua Medic Biostar Flotor skimmer, and filtration is by Polyfilter chemical media (held in the original Juwel filter) and 20 kg of quality live rock in the tank.
Lighting has been upgraded from the standard Juwel tubes to two 55W compact fluorescent bulbs, plus a 24W T5 actinic, which serves as a dawn/dusk light. Needless to say, with all this light a mere couple of inches from the water surface underneath the original Juwel canopy, cooling and ventilation are essential. Both of these factors are therefore controlled by use of two PC fans, which are variable in speed.
This keeps the temperature stable over the short term at about 25ºC/77ºF, although I have noticed that the odd fluctuation, even if quite large, does not appear to have a noticeable negative effect on livestock anyway. Evaporated water (on average 1 l per day) is replaced daily using a weak kalkwasser mix dispensed from a home-made dripper, usually overnight.
Circulation is also simple and provided by modified powerheads, one of which is attached to a surface skimmer. The overall circulation of the tank is approx 30 tank volumes per hour.
For a substrate I have a shallow layer of fairly fine aragonite gravel. I use a Hagen Tronic heater and monitor temperature using a digital alarm thermometer.
My water is produced by a 50 gal four-stage RO/DI unit, and I monitor the performance of this with a TDS meter. I use Reef Crystals to make my salt mix. Overall, this relatively low-cost recipe of equipment and practice has contributed to a stable system with good water parameters... so far!
The electricity costs of the tank are also quite manageable, being an estimated £2 per week at the time of writing. I have found that fragging alone is enough to offset this cost.
Over the last four years, the tank has gone through various phases in terms of stocking, however a slow and steady build-up of fish to the current point has been a consistent underlying rule. Actually, I believe this has proven instrumental in allowing me to stock the system heavily by traditional standards, yet allowing me to attain a nitrate level under 5ppm.
Generally, the first corals I added were mainly false corals and SPS, and then I moved on to hardier LPS. I now find myself, like many others, seeking colourful SPS and rare LPS. Obviously I have had successes and failures and admit that I have lost specimens at times.
Overall though, most of my stock has done well and I have even supplied several local stores with tank raised livestock. I think that adding Xenia early in the tank set-up may have contributed to the success of the system.
Although now rampantly out-of-control, the growth and harvest of this coral has doubtlessly helped to soak up excess nutrients. I have also recouped much of the cost of setting up the system by trading this coral.
Some regard it as a reef weed, but personally I love it – particularly the white Red Sea variant that I have. It doesn’t cause too many problems in my experience; you just have to learn to live with its wild nature and not be too obsessive!
I do believe that more aggressive filtration and skimming may reduce its growth... this isn’t something I have felt the need to try yet.
As far as tankmates, the Flame angel has proven to be fairly well-behaved with most corals in the system, although I find that new introductions are often targeted, despite increased feeding. As such I have moved a number of specimens (mainly substrate-dwelling LPS) into a nano tank that I set-up for a photography project.
Dealing with food!
Feeding a system containing such a diverse array of life forms is an interesting and challenging proposition, and my method has changed in tune with the contents of the tank over time. I now feed one small sheet of green or red dried algae in a clip each morning.
In the evening, I defrost a few small pieces of frozen food such as krill, Mysis, brineshrimp (with Omega 3 or garlic), shredded prawn or emerald entree in a glass with a few drops of tankwater.
Occasionally, I soak this mixture in a vitamin supplement, then strain out the excess juice. I usually add some frozen rotifers or Cyclop-eeze. I also feed phytoplankton sporadically.
Looking to the future
Although I loathe disrupting this system, at the time of writing this, I am in the midst of planning a slightly larger system that would see the current reef structure dismantled, transferred and recreated in a new, similar tank approximately one-third larger in volume. There are plans for more corals and fish and I intend using the contents of my nano reef to make up the rest of the system. Though re-uniting my Flame angel and prized LPS coral is something that will need careful consideration.
Pair of tank-bred False Percula clowns, Amphiprion ocellaris
Tank-bred Orchid dottyback, Pseudochromis fridmani
Azure demoiselle, Chrysiptera hemicyanea
Sulphur watchman goby, Cryptocentrus cinctus
Red Sea mimic blenny, Escenius gravieri
Flame angel, Centropyge loricula
Red-Sea Xenia*, Green Ricordea*, Clavularia*, Green Frogspawn*, Sarcophyton*, Green Caulastrea*, Red/Green/Blue Mushrooms*, Red Lobophyllia, Purple Lobophyllia, Torch Coral*, Favia, Sinularia, Purple Gorgonian*, Orange Ricordea, Slipper Coral, Yellow Turbinaria, Purple Turbinaria, Hammer Coral, Catalaphyllia, Rainbow Acanthastrea echinata, Red Blastomussas, Green Acropora*, Lilac Acropora*, Purple Montipora digitata.
* = captive propagated
Bullseye pistol, Alpheus soror
Cleaner shrimp, Lysmata amboinensis
Red brittlestar, Ophiocoma sp.
Edible sea-cucumber, Holothuria edulis
This is an article from the Practical Fishkeeping archives.
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A childhood fascination with marine fish has culminated in a magnificent reef display full of movement and colour.
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY: GEORGE FARMER
Jack Allen’s reef is a real spectacle and credit to Jack’s passion for all things marine.
Despite being in the kitchen, some 10m or so away from the front door, the tank and its colours are so impressive that its the first thing you notice when you step into Jack’s London home. It takes your eyes a good few seconds to adjust to the visual intensity and almost overwhelming technicolour feast, especially if, like me, you’re used to the calm and mellow green, brown and occasional reds of a planted aquarium aquascape!
This set-up was quite the opposite — much higher impact and perhaps less relaxing for some tastes, but hugely impressive nonetheless.
Jack started off in the hobby as a child, his father owning an aquatics business in the 1980s. He dealt mainly with koi, freshwater tropical fish and aquatic plants, but also dabbled in marines.
It was during a visit to an aquatic shop when Jack, then just eight years old, saw his first marine fish and he soon became hooked on their exquisite colours. From this young age, he kept a few basic marine set-ups, with varying degrees of success.
His dad was also a keen diver and Jack followed suit at as a young teenager. He’s since dived all over the world, which has only served to further his self-confessed obsession with anything marine related.
It wasn’t until 2008 that Jack decided to take the plunge fully as a dedicated reefkeeper. His current aquarium was bought two years ago.
Jack ordered a Seabray custom-built 12mm glass tank through H2O Aquatics and had it built on-site in his kitchen.
Measuring 180 x 90 x 60cm/6 x 3 x 2ft with a black background, black silicone and gloss black cabinet, the whole system complements Jack’s kitchen perfectly.
Bringing the aquarium to life
The fish remain Jack’s favourite part of the reef hobby. He says: "It’s the corals that provide the backdrop to the picture, but it’s the fish that bring the picture to life."
This philosophy is certainly apparent in his reef — the amount of activity is incredible. His aquarium is home to around 30 beautiful fish — wrasse, clownfish, anthias and a mixture of tangs and angelfish, with Jack’s favourite being the latter two.
The fish are fed twice a day with a large variety of flake and Gamma frozen foods including Mysis, brine shrimp, red plankton, mussel and krill. He also feeds New Era and Ocean Nutrition flakes and pellets, as well as nori seaweed.
The corals aren’t fed separately, as Jack hasn’t witnessed any noticeable improvements after trying various types of coral food.
Turnaround in coral health
Jack’s biggest problem with his set-up happened last summer when he was having trouble with his Montipora plating corals turning pale and stripping their outer layers. He also witnessed some Acropora doing the same thing. Fellow reefkeepers mentioned a theory that pollen present in the air during the summer could be poisoning the corals. Jack plodded on until autumn, when he came home one day to see a considerable number of corals stripping.
Advised by a couple of specialist marine retailers that it could be an iodine issue, Jack had his levels tested. Sure enough, they were too low, even though he was supplementing iodine twice a week. He began dosing five drops per day of an iodine supplement and said the turnaround in coral health was incredible.
Jack’s theory was that a switch from a FM Balling Lite system to a calcium reactor, with the consequential increase in demand for iodine, combined with a lack of dosing it, led to the issues.
Jack is such a big fan of his DaStaCo calcium reactor that he recommends it to anyone who is serious about growing small polyp stony (SPS) corals; this maintains ideal calcium and KH levels. He relies on good old regular water changes with RO water and D&D salt to maintain all the other parameters. He confesses to rarely testing the water and is against the principle of constantly testing for individual water parameters and the consequential number chasing.
Jack’s using T5 lamps on his set-up — 12 of them at 80W each. They were clearly doing their job; the colour rendition was amazing but the residual heat was significant. He says he has considered switching to LEDs, using three or four Hydra 52 units.
Not such angels…
Despite an invertebrate selection dominated by small polyp stony (SPS) and large polyp stony (LPS) corals, Jack has experienced little trouble with his angelfish, which are well known for taking a fancy to some LPS species.
The only exception was when his Blueface and Emperor angelfish suddenly decided to eat six large Tridacna maxima clams, despite not previously having shown any interest in them for over two years.
"This hobby constantly tests us and keeps us on our toes," he says. "Anyone with a successful marine aquarium clearly likes a challenge!"
Tank: Seabray custom-built 180 x 90 x 60cm/6 x 3 x 2ft, 1,000 l/222 gal with sump (150 l/33 gal) and remote algae refugium (100 l/22 gal).
Filtration and water movement: 60kg live rock, 4 x Vortech MP40 powerheads, Bubble King Supermarin 250 protein skimmer, Twin D&D 5000 return pumps, filter floss weir in sump, two RowaPhos phosphate reactors, one RowaCarbon reactor, D&D 39W UV and remote algae refugium.
Lighting: Two ATI Sunpower T5 units (6 x 80W each) with 6 x Narva Blue, 2 x ATI Coral Lights, 2 x ATI Aquablue Special and 2 x KZ Fiji Purple. The
algae refugium has 6 x 39W T5 6,500K lamps.
Heating/cooling: AquaMedic 500W titanium heater with Tunze temperature controller and D&D chiller for summer months. Temperature is at 26°C/79°F.
Supplementation: Carbonates and calcium via DaStaCo 1,000 l/222 gal calcium reactor. Iodine dosed daily.
Total cost of system: Approximately £10,000.
Jack’s maintenance plan
Daily: Check over all of the equipment inside the cabinet, feed fish and add five drops of iodine supplement.
Twice per week: Clean the glass and empty any protein skimmer waste.
Weekly: 80 l/18 gal water change with D&D salt. Scrape the back of the aquarium, wipe skimmer cup with filter floss, replace filter floss in filter area and fill auto top-up after water change.
Fortnightly: Replace carbon in the reactor (500ml).
Monthly: Change DI resin in RO unit. Completely clean the skimmer self-clean head, top up the calcium reactor media, harvest excess algae from the remote refugium and algae bed maintenance.
Six weekly: Change RowaPhos in the reactor (1 l).
Six monthly: Clean Vortech pumps, take apart skimmer and thoroughly clean and change RO pre-filters.
Yearly: Service return pumps and calcium reactors, change all T5 lamps and change the UV lamp.
Jack’s fish list
Three Yellow tangs, Zebrasoma flavescens
Achilles tang, Acanthurus achilles
Four Percula clownfish, Amphiprion percula
Blueface angelfish, Pomacanthus xanthometopon
Yellow tail tamarin wrasse, Anampses meleagrides
Starry blenny, Salarias ramosus
Mandarinfish, Synchiropus splendidus
Purple tang, Zebrasoma xanthurum
Blonde Naso tang, Naso lituratus
Red Sea Regal angelfish, Pygoplites diacanthus
Blue spotted tamarin wrasse, Anampses caeruleopunctatus
Royal gramma, Gramma loreto
Spotted mandarinfish, Synchiropus picturatus
Powder blue tang, Acanthurus leucosternon
Regal tang, Paracanthurus hepatus
Emperor angelfish, Pomacanthus imperator
Six Common anthias, Pseudanthias squamipinnis
Leopard wrasse, Macropharyngodon bipartitus
Firefish, Nemateleotris magnifica
Meet the aquarist
Fishkeeper: Jack Allen.
Profession: Self-employed restaurant owner and luxury car dealer.
Time in hobby: 30 years.
First fish: Green tench.
First breeding success: Siamese fighting fish.
Number of tanks: One.
Favourite fish: Emperor angelfish.
Fish he’d most like to keep: Reef shark (in a suitably large aquarium).