By John Clipperton
Originally appeared in issue 76, June 2019
It’s only been a few issues since my last update but given this equates to several months in ‘UltraMarine time’, I thought it would be good to bring you an update on my system which of course also acts as the test tank for lots of the product reviews that feature in the mag. Rather than recap all the material covered in the first two installments, I’ve put these up online on the ultramarine website, so have a read of Parts 1 and 2 if you are just picking up the story.
I’ll give you a brief overview anyway in case you’d rather just read on. Basically, this tank is a Red Sea REEFER 625XXL which is essentially ‘stock’ but I’ve added a floating pelmet to conceal the 2 ceiling hung Philips Coralcare lights, an inner fascia door within the dry side of the cabinet for mounting interface devices, and I’ve incorporated my own bespoke top-up system linked directly to an RO unit. Over the last 20 months or so, I’ve slowly stocked the tank mainly with frags and these are steadily growing. I did suffer a wipe out of fishes back in May 2018 after I added a Powder Blue tang which seemed to contract Ich.
This wipe out left me with a real problem as a small number of fish survived and didn’t exhibit any symptoms, specifically my yellow tang, tomini tang and yellow watchman goby. As such, even if I had quarantined any new additions, they would have eventually been exposed to these surviving fishes, which could have been still carrying disease, on introduction. Capturing all of the surviving fishes and moving them to quarantine wasn’t an option either as the tomini tang had become very shy and there’s no way it would have gone into a trap. I had doubts that my watchman goby would have either. Given that going fallow wasn’t an option, I left the tank alone for 6 months and observed closely for any signs of disease. After seeing no evidence of any symptoms during this period, I went ahead and took the plunge by adding some new fish… a regal tang, a midas blenny, a juvenile red-line wrasse and a red mandarin. My biggest concern was for the regal tang as these are prone to ich and, even though this fish was a bit larger than the resident tangs, I expected some aggression from them. I did have some reef-safe Ich treatment on hand but in the event, the displaying only lasted for a couple of hours before they all started swimming together and interestingly the regal didn’t show a single spot! I found this amazing given the high probability of the parasite being present in the tank and the susceptibility of this species and this certainly made me think long and hard about quarantine in general. Around 4 months on, all new fish are perfectly healthy.
In terms of corals, I’ve got some real oldies in this tank including a number that have been with me from the start of my reef-keeping journey (albeit they are still a modest size due to fragging, occasional recession etc). Most notably I still have my purple and yellow Turbinaria which I’ve now had for not too far off 20 years! This coral has ebbed and flowed throughout a total of around 8 different reef aquaria over the years and I’m happy to say is looking the best it ever has. Beyond certain individual corals, I’ve used mainly frags to populate this tank and these continue to grow steadily, perhaps not as fast as I’d like. I have a range of SPS including all the EuroCorals pieces I reviewed back in issue 73. These all seem fine although I suspect my conditions aren’t bringing out the best colours or fastest growth rate. Having said that, some of my SPS do seem colourful and my regular tests aren’t showing anything obvious other than a period of low alkalinity which took quite a while to resolve. I am sure this must explain the slow growth as my light and flow are fine and I feed my corals a few times a week, often target feeding with Polyplab reef-roids, frozen rotifers and I also add in frozen lobster eggs, red plankton and EasyReefs easybooster phytoplankton gel to this mix. I offer such a mix of particle sizes to cater for the additional soft, LPS and NPS corals I have, for my stunning Porites plume rock, and for my deresa clam. My mobile inverts crew seems OK too. My cleaner shrimps are usually carrying eggs and my sandsifting star has been in the tank for well over a year now and seems to be in good condition. I also recently rediscovered a small blue coral banded shrimp living in the system, and my tiger pistol shrimp is always industriously working away with its goby partner. I have a few conches and snails too and occasionally I suffer the odd unexpected loss… on the positive side my banded trochus snails must have spawned as I recently found a baby in the sump.As well as making a few changes to the content of the tank, I’ve also made a few tweaks on the equipment side of the system. Fairly recently I decided to give mud filtration a go to see if this might assist in achieving enhanced coral health and colouration. I wanted to keep my Tunze 9430DC skimmer running though so went with the ‘Paletta method’ (but using Caribsea Mineral Mud rather than Ecosystem Miracle Mud). Before I could introduce the mud though, I had some rearranging to do and the first thing was to swap my 2x 200watt heater/stats to a single 300w D-D titanium heater which I also moved from the main sump chamber to the tank drain chamber (chamber 1 of the sump essentially). This allowed me to fit in a Nyos Torq 1.0 reactor in (which I reviewed in issue 74) so I can now run Nyos active-carb and phosi-ex actively rather than passively. I also moved my 5l crate of Siporax out of the skimmer section and into the return pump chamber (last chamber). Doing this not only allowed me to fit in the Nyos reactor but also allowed me to move the refugium dividing wall back into the centre position, thus expanding the ‘fuge volume significantly (although it’s still only around 6% of the system volume). I could still fit my skimmer in the rear section but now the ‘fuge was larger I could add the 2 tupperware tubs of mineral mud (each topped with a layer of TMC fine sand to keep the mud in place). I also added a second Tunze LED 8850 light and continued to run ‘fuge lighting 24/7. I have to say that I have had repeated issues with my refugium, firstly with Chaetomorpha dying-off, and then with the replacement Caulerpa becoming smothered with a cotton wool-like red algae, and then a huge slimy mat of bright green algae. Although unsightly, this didn’t seem to have any major effect on the tank although I’ve been struggling to get any reading of either PO4 or NO3 and have resorted to adding 3ml of potassium nitrate solution each day to try to achieve a steady, low reading. So far, I haven’t been successful. It recently got to the point where I felt I had to take action and I completely emptied the refugium to start over. I am now in the process of trying to re-establish Caulerpa this time rooted in the mineral mud trays. Another issue I have had is the ongoing presence of a slimy grey/beige growth that appears on my rockwork if I don’t baste it regularly (yes, the ‘snot’ I mentioned in my last installment is back!). I’ve tried quite a few things but removing the tank cover and basting the rock regularly is the only thing that seems to work consistently. I am hoping that the establishment of a healthier ‘fuge may address this issue though and I notice from my last installment that the use of polyfilter coincided with an improvement, so I may try that again. Oh, before I forget, one other major improvement was the installation of an air extractor fan in the room where the tank is located. This runs on a timer and keeps both condensation and odours under control, venting to the outside.
In terms of future plans, I am of course hoping that the tank will fill-out as my colonies grow. I do plan to add more corals of all kinds plus a few more fishes so I hope the next installment will show the display surpassing some of my previous systems both visually and in terms of the technical stability and ease of maintenance… barring incident of course! I think it will be a couple more years before I’m really happy with it though. Still a work in progress!