by John Clipperton
(originally appeared in issue 71, August 2018)
In Part 2 of this set-up series I’ll be detailing some of the key developments with my home system which I started back in October 2017. While Part 1 (in issue 66) covered mainly technical aspects of the system, this installment will delve a little into the biological side as I continue to develop the system.
As it has been several months since I wrote Part 1, I think a brief recap is in order. So basically, this is a Red Sea REEFER XXL 625 aquarium of 625l gross capacity. The display tank is lit by 2x Philips CoralCare pendants (upgraded from V1 to V2 models since part 1, and hidden behind a DIY floating pelmet), and flow is provided by 2x Tunze 6155 stream pumps. The ‘brain’ of this system is a Tunze Smartcontroller 7000 which, as well as controlling the streams, manages temperature (2 x 300 watt Hydor Theo’s and a fan pointed at the display tank surface), monitors pH and controls a Tunze LED refugium light. The system also has a Tunze DOC 9430 DC skimmer running. The return pump is a Sicce SDC 7.0 and mineral supplementation is administered by a Kamoer X4 WIFI dosing unit which draws from a TMC triple dosing container. The tank is topped with a ReefTops bespoke polycarbonate cover and I use a Tunze Care magnet to keep the glass clear. The dry section of the cabinet has been modified to include a fascia/door on which most of my control interfaces are mounted, and this includes a ‘window’ to show dosing container levels. Plug power bars (2x 8 gang) are mounted on the back of the fascia door and both the sump section and both sides of the fascia door are accent lit by hidden multicolour LED strips (blue being the accent light colour currently chosen). The control tablet is a Samsung Galaxy Tab A and through this I can access the Tunze controller, Sicce SDC controller and Kamoer X4. I did consider adding voice control to certain functions but found it was quicker to press a button.
So that covers the basics. Now let’s go into a little more detail and explore the systems further, starting with the display. Beyond the aquascape, stock and substrate, the main component of the display is the two Tunze streams and these have run faultlessly since day 1. I have tweaked the flow occasionally though, adjusting the flow vector and strength in response to visible cues in the tank such as coral behaviour, detritus accumulation, substrate movement etc. I currently have them on about half power with the left hand side unit on a pulsing setting, while the other is just on continuous flow. They are both quite low in the tank and angled towards the middle surface partly to keep them as unobtrusive as possible and partly to stop an air being drawn in from the surface. Also this placement seems to minimise any substrate disruption while allowing a high power setting to be selected. This also seems to keep water well-aerated through surface agitation and keeps detritus in suspension. These pumps are extremely reliable and very quiet and the only problem I’ve had was when I clumsily moved the wet side of the one at the corner end of the tank while cleaning. This resulted in the dry-side magnet dropping off the back panel into a rather inaccessible location. Luckily, a long piece of wooden dowel with a metal hook screwed into the end allowed me to use magnetism to carefully extract the dry side and I now have some thread tied around it to prevent any recurrence of this event.
The modification I made to the Reefer return pipework at the top of the overflow box (I replaced standard elbows with wider 32mm PVC fittings – explained in part 1) is still working well. In terms of the rest of the pipework, I’ve had no issues other than the odd tweak of the control ‘dial’ to keep the overflow quiet (literally one or two adjustments since the last feature). Down below in the sump, I have my Tunze lab grade pH probe in the overflow exhaust chamber and this reads a steady 8.2 – 8.4 generally. I also have the holder for my Kamoer X4 dosing tubes on this chamber given the high flow rate (more on this later). Moving on, the one minor problem I did have with the Reefer was a trickling noise from the filter sock assembly regardless of the return pump power setting. In the end I removed the socks and fitted 4 Crud-catchers from Little Ocean, 2x high flow and 2x low flow. I have the first 2 of these filled with coarse black foam and the second 2 filled with some Tetra balance balls that I had lying around. This has solved the trickling problem finally making the system whisper quiet. I do rinse the foam occasionally but probably not as often as I should! I was originally planning to use the next, main chamber of the sump undivided for 10l of Siporax plus skimmer but I decided to go for a refugium several weeks in, and used the divider provided so that the smallish ‘fuge is right at the front of the sump. It’s perfect for examining the fascinating tiny organisms that inhabit such a zone and I’ll probably be including some interesting small decorative species at some point too… some sexy shrimps, boxing crabs or a small mantis shrimp possibly! It should be quite good for photography also indeed I find myself looking at it just as much as the display! The sump is lit by a Tunze 8850.00 full spectrum LED which is submerged by just a few mm to prevent any light spill into the other areas of the sump. I did have this on a reverse lighting schedule when I had Chaetomorpha but now I have a mixture of Caulerpa also, I light it 24/7 using just the white and red channels. Moving towards the back of the sump, we have the main chamber and this houses a Tunze 9430 DC (see ‘close look’ review in last issue for more detail). I can’t say enough positive things about this skimmer. It’s whisper-quiet and has some great design features such as the anti-overfoaming mechanism. It’s a fantastic piece of kit and I doubt I’ll ever replace it. I have this standing on an acrylic support and I run Red Sea Reef-Spec carbon or ATI Phostop in the output sock occasionally. In addition to the 2x Hydor heaters I also have 5l of Siporax in a DIY egg-crate box just in front of the final baffle to the return pump chamber. The temperature probe for the Tunze Smartcontroller is slotted down into the final baffle so it receives good flow while the Kamoer temperature probe is just under the operational water line in the return section itself. The Kamoer stores temperature for 24hrs and the graph produced shows that this tank consistently stays in the 26.0 to 26.3c range, even in recent hot spells of weather (I think due to the location of the tank near the centre of my house in a converted garage). The small fan I installed up in the canopy has never come on actually. I did recently install an extractor fan in the wall of the room (my mancave/office/studio) partly to get rid of the occasional odour but also in preparation for colder weather and the inherent condensation issues. I hope to give a bit more detail and report on the effects of this in the next instalment.
I described the following system in some detail in part 1 but just to recap, I opted to keep the standard ATU chamber on the Reefer; the 19l glass tank that sits on top of the sump and can be slid sideways. I have my RO unit product pipe feeding directly to this chamber and this is partially managed by a Tunze 8555.00 RO Water Controller. To be fair, I’m not really using this module in the proper manner, instead I manually turn the RO unit (pumped) on and then either turn it off myself, or allow one of the two 8555’s float switches to shut it off when it reaches the high mark in the ATU tank. To be honest this system still isn’t operating completely autonomously as I intended it to for a couple of reasons. The main reason is that my RO unit pump doesn’t stay switched off permanently when the high water float valve is triggered. Instead, it starts and stops every 30 seconds or so indefinitely, albeit without producing any water. It seems almost as though the RO unit is losing pressure from somewhere. This is probably the result of me ‘tinkering’ and adding a second membrane and so far a solution (other than restoring the original configuration of the RO unit, or buying a new one) has eluded me. I’m sure I will solve it though and then I aim to use the second float of the Tunze 8555 to completely automate the production and addition of top up water. I have to say I’m happy with the current ‘partially automated’ system though and, with the addition of a digital timer to turn the RO unit on and off, it worked perfectly while I was on holiday for a week. I’ve been suffering from a pinched nerve in my lower back since November 2017 and without this set-up, there’s no way I could have kept the system going with it using around 5 litres of top up water per day.
I did come close to flooding the house with this system though and funnily (in retrospect) it was the RO unit auto shut-off problem described above that saved me. Basically, I unknowingly detached the flexi-pipe that links the Reefer ATU drain nipple to the float valve in the return section (which controls the addition of top-up water to the sump). I had then (somewhat unusually) turned the RO unit ON to top-up the ATU tank in the morning before rushing to work and, in a ‘perfect storm’ of errors, had forgotten to turn it back OFF. This meant that the RO unit was essentially free to flow into the sump via the now unrestricted ATU chamber nipple all day. Luckily for me, the RO output rate must have been slightly greater than the drain rate of the ATU and as such, the ATU tank slowly filled and activated the 8555 float valve shut-off repeatedly. This constant on/off of the RO unit must have led to a small amount of water seeping out of the RO body over several hours and this was enough to activate the flood alarm I had placed at the bottom of the container that the unit sits in, stopping the unit (via a solenoid on the RO mains feed pipe). This only happened after around 45 litres of RO had been dumped into the tank though and to my horror the salinity had dropped to 30ppt with the water coming to within a few millimetres of the top of the sump. It was a very close call! To remedy the situation, I bailed out enough water to return the sump to the normal operational level and then raised salinity over the course of a few days by using a concentrated salt mix in the ATU chamber. Amazingly I didn’t suffer any obvious losses although one of my two pieces of 15yr old purple Turbinaria paled and died-back half-way while the other piece just a few centimetres away was fine!
On the subject of tank residents, another problem I encountered came in the form of a pale to brownish, slimy, stringy growth that plagued much of the rockwork (Caribsea Life Rock) in the tank for months. Although this was fairly easy to brush off, it was very unsightly and grew back rapidly and repeatedly making the tank look a real mess. It also smothered the Chaetomorpha which was just getting established in the ‘fuge and sucked both my PO4 and NO3 down to zero. I think this also contributed to the demise of a handful of SPS frags I had brought over from the preceding tank as I was also running my KH quite high at the time to try to maximise growth (strangely though, my LPS and softies, which I thought favoured higher nutrient levels, were all fine). It got to the point where I tried Fauna Marin Dino X and a 3 day blackout and this initially appeared to work only for the growth to come back a few days later. I added some livestock including a Tomini tang in the hope that they would disturb it (even if they didn’t eat it), again to no avail. It got to the point where I had to take action so I firstly had an ATI ICP test done to check the results of my regular Red Sea Pro tests (which proved accurate) and to look at other possible causes. One thing that stood out was a high silicate reading so, armed with this information, I took a day to do a major tank clean-up. I first brushed most of ‘the snot’ (as I came to call it) off, then used a net catch as many of the floating ‘globs’ as I could. I then ran the tank with clean filter socks for a few days before changing these out for fresh ones and a strip of Polyfilter (to absorb silicates or any other nasties). I also sourced a decent size clump of macro algae from a local shop and then watched and waited to see if I needed to try Dino X again, or maybe start dosing Nitrates (I suspected this algae may have been Chrysophytes). Several weeks later (at the time I am writing this), the growth has completely disappeared although I now have a couple of clumps of very dark coloured algae which I think could be Bryopsis. These clumps do however seem localised and can be removed or trimmed with relative ease, so I am just monitoring them at the moment.
In terms of mineral dosing, this is the first tank on which I’ve used a dosing pump. I’ve used Kalkwasser and a Calcium reactor on past systems but I’ve always been impressed by the results shown by systems running on Balling (or derivatives). After a lot of research, I plumped for Red Sea’s Reef Care Programme for supplementation as the presentation and support seemed by far the best out there (simple enough for even me to understand!). For a good few months I only dosed the Alkalinity component and then, as I saw coralline algae spots begin to appear, I started to dose Calcium also (as testing showed demand increasing). Magnesium has always been quite high so I’m letting this drop of its own accord while testing every month. I do take the time to check the doser is doing what it is supposed to be once in a while and so far it’s been a fantastic piece of kit… very easy to tweak, particularly with the tablet/phone app. Keeping a log has also been very useful and combined with the Red Sea kits, I’ve been consistent in testing either weekly or once every 2 weeks. I’ve only done a few small water changes on this tank since day 1 and given the results of my ICP test this has had no negative affect
As for livestock, as you can see from the images, the tank is still looking pretty bare and this is partly because of the algae issue. I didn’t want to add anything until I had it under control. Also, a lot of the corals I’ve bought at a small size to save money. In terms of fishes, I had a serious disease outbreak after I added a Powder Blue Tang. At this point, around mid-May 2018, I had around 15 fish in the tank including Ghost Cardinals, Lyretail Anthias all doing well. The Powder Blue, added with a Yellow tang, seemed to settle too, and although it had a slight dusting of whitespot, it was feeding vigorously on Masstick, and nice and fat. Then suddenly, after about 3 weeks, it went downhill over the course of 24hours becoming plastered with spots and swimming erratically before dying the same day. Over the course of the next week I then lost around another 10 fish one-by-one, with them disappearing completely or turning up dead, usually stuck to a pump. None of them showed any spots or other sign of disease. So I am now left with the Yellow tang (which never showed any spots or any sign of distress), a Yellow watchman goby and a Tomini Tang. The Tomini tang was a bold fish until the outbreak but is now extremely timid and won’t come out when I go anywhere near the tank, I assume because of the absence of dither fishes. Coral wise, the tank is slowly filling and growth is picking up but I would love to add more species, particularly some SPS on the tips of the branch rocks to fill out the upper third of the tank a little and to create pockets of shade lower down. I was given some nice SPS frags recently by the owner of stunning tank which I am hoping to feature in the next issue and these already seem to be growing noticeably. My aim for the next installment is to show you a far more grown-in tank with a few interesting character fishes. I’d also like to add some named SPS now that the tank seems to have matured. The addition of more fishes may prove challenging given that there may be some kind of unseen pathogen in the tank so it will need careful thought. Just goes to show that a quarantine tank really can save you a massive headache, even if you are just keeping common species.
Green and red plating Montipora
Orange, purple and green branching Montipora
Pink Acropora millepora
Green Acropora formosa
Purple Acropora sp. unknown
Pink Seriatopora hystrix
Purple Stylophora pistillata
Green Seriatopora guttatus
Purple/green short tentacle plate Fungia
Green branching frogspawn Euphyllia paradivisa
Purple and yellow Turbinaria
Soft Corals and Misc
Purple photosynthetic gorgonian
Brown photosynthetic gorgonian
Red with yellow polyp gorgonian
Green tree coral Sinularia/Nephthea sp?
Pink/purple tree coral Cladiella sp?
Yellow leather coral Sarcophyton sp.
Long tentacle leather coral Sarcophyton sp.
Chilli coral Nephthyigorgia sp.
Orange Ricordea yuma
Tiger pistol shrimp
Sand sifting sea star
3x Strawberry-lipped conches
3 large Mexican turbo snails
Mixture of small Trochus, Turbo, Astrea sea snails
2x skunk cleaner shrimps
Mixture of small hermits