Mike L. 500gal SPS Tank
Mike Leonard's (acropora nut) Reef Aquarium
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The aquarium is a custom-built Tenecor tank with 1” acrylic walls on all sides. Measuring 120” x 32” x 30”, it has two 1.5” drains and four ¾” returns. Extensive planning was a must for this system because we had very limited space and everything needed to be housed either underneath or beside the tank. The stand was custom-built with 2” x 4”s and capped everything with ¾” pine to match our existing furnishings. Custom venting was built into the sides of the base and canopy with four built-in variable speed fans.
Lighting has always been a major debate in the reef aquarium hobby. I have been seriously involved in this hobby for 10 years now, and I can honestly say that I have tried every combination of lighting and every brand of metal halide bulb on the market! I had mixed results with all of them until I discovered the ReefLux metal halide bulbs from CoralVue. I started with five 400-watt 10K ReefLux bulbs, but within two weeks I noticed a significant difference in both the growth and coloration of my corals. I then decided to remove my VHO lamps because they were not needed with these 10K lamps. I continued using the 10Ks for six months and noticed that the corals’ growth was out of control. I then decided to try the ReefLux 12K lamps, and I was equally impressed with the noticeable blue hue they produced. I wanted to try these in order to get more “pop” in the corals’ color. I was really surprised that the corals’ growth did not slow down, and the SPS were turning to insane colors! I have to give quite a bit of credit to these lamps for the success I have had with my reef. I run all five metal halides in CoralVue Lumenarc mini reflectors and they’re powered by CoralVue 400-watt electronic ballasts. I found that the correct combination of bulb and ballast is the key to getting the best results out of your lighting.
Water circulation is provided by four Tunze 6200 Stream pumps connected to a 7095 wave-making multi-controller, using a three-second pulse setting on all channels for maximum flow. In the future I intend to add two more 6200 Stream pumps or one 6301 Stream pump for improved flow due to the corals’ continued growth.
When I first set up this tank I decided to go with an MRC dual Beckett skimmer. Although it initially seemed to perform fairly well, I had to do weekly water changes because I noticed the system’s ORP levels were dropping drastically anywhere from four to five days after the weekly water changes. Adding to my disappointment was the extremely large and loud pump that was needed to run this skimmer. I then decided to change to the Octopus TDNW-300 skimmer.
Compared to the Beckett skimmer, the difference was amazing! The Octopus skimmer worked really well and the three pumps that it uses generated very little noise. I thought this would be my final skimmer, but then I started reading about the Reeflo Orca Skimmer and the amazing results people were having with it. I have always used Reeflo pumps and consider them to be the best on the market, so I figured their new skimmer had to be something special. After extensive smooth talking to the wife, I went ahead and purchased the Reeflo Orca model 250.
A custom sump was built to my specifications to fit under the tank and to contain a built-in refugium to help eliminate excess nutrients and house beneficial organisms to help feed the main system. I use a 100 micron filter bag on one of the 1½” returns and a second filter bag, filled with Kent Marin Reef Carbon, is placed onto the skimmer’s output drain and replaced every three weeks. All filter bags are changed weekly. They eliminate small particles in the water and help keep the tank clear to improve light penetration. The main filtration system is driven by a Sequence Hammerhead pump.
I have plumbed many Cichlid, FOWLR and reef systems over the years, and I have chosen to use Spaflex flexible PVC as these systems' main arteries. This material very effectively dampens vibrations, which, in turn, reduces the overall noise produced by the system. The main reason for the flexible PVC is the versatility it allows and the prevention of multiple 45 and 90 degree bends. In effect, the overall head loss is much less than what I would get with rigid PVC. Flexible PVC can be tucked out of the way of anyone’s sump system to allow for easier maintenance of whatever sits under the aquarium. It is not the only way to plumb an aquarium, but for me, it is the most manageable.
Another form of chemical filtration I use as a supplemental maintenance tool involves a 200mg Red Sea Ozone generator. Of course, it also enhances the aquarium's aesthetics, because it is very effective at maintaining water clarity. By using ozone as a maintenance tool, along with Kent Marine Reef Carbon, I can keep crystal clear water that helps to produce more food for my light-loving corals. When dosing ozone, I want to be able to monitor the system as the water becomes progressively clearer, to prevent overdosing. Again, I would like to state that I use ozone only after carefully observing that my aquarium can use a boost. Ozone can be very dangerous to an aquarium if overdosed, which is why I choose to dose it in this manner. On a side note to my reefkeeping philosophy (see below), I feel that ozone is the icing on the cake for enabling deep penetration of the light source for accelerated coral growth.
The refugium contains 4” of sand, Cheatomorpha macroalgae and roughly 200 pounds of live rock. The refugium operates on a photoperiod opposite that of the main display in order to reduce heat generation during the day and to help counter the system’s falling nighttime pH.
A 50-gallon reservoir of fresh RO/DI water, located underneath the tank, is connected to an auto top-off unit that supplies my kalk reactor and is filled with E.S.V. kalkwasser powder. The kalk reactor is usually left running without kalkwasser in the canister. I typically dose kalkwasser only when I need a boost to the system. The system evaporates about five gallons of water per day. A Kent Marine RO/DI unit produces roughly 50 gallons of RO/DI water per day, which is collected in a 100-gallon industrial container located in our utility room.
A 220v Pacific coast C-1000 chiller, supplied by a Magdrive 2400 pump, keeps the system’s temperature within an acceptable range. The chiller is set to come on at 80°F with a 2° variance. Simply stated, the chiller turns off at 80°. I had to build a plenum around the back of the chiller in order to vent it out of the house. We used 8” flexible duct with an 8” duct fan that is controlled by a temperature sensor. The fan is activated by a heat sensor when the chiller comes on and continues to run for 10 minutes after the chiller has turned off.
A custom calcium reactor was built to fit underneath the stand, but still needed the capacity to hold enough media to maintain adequate calcium, alkalinity and magnesium levels. I use a 10 lb. CO2bottle that I fill roughly once each month, controlled by a Milwaukee 122 pH monitor/controller. Three types of media are used in the calcium reactor. The first chamber (27” x 10”) holds Gen-X media and dolomite. The second chamber (6” x 27”) holds CaribSea’s ARM media and Zeovit magnesium chips. I try to maintain a pH level of 6.1 – 6.2 within the reactor. Future plans call for a bigger reactor due to the constant battle to keep calcium at my preferred levels.