120 Gallon Reef

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I have always wanted a large reef tank. In June of 1997 I began a 20 gallon reef as a kind of experiment. The experiment went very well and I began dreaming of the day I could setup a larger tank. That day has arrived! And none too soon, as I've run out of room for corals in the 20 gallon!

By popular demand this page is now reverse-ordered, with the newest entries at the top of the page.



Full view of tank

December 31, 2001

Wow! It's been a long time since the last update! The reason for this is that the tank became overrun with hair algae. In October 2000 I acquired a sea hare, which I deemed as the miracle cure - and he was - until he died. The hair algae came back with a vengeance and I've battled it ever since. I tried every kind of janitor and fish, water changes, harvesting, upgrading the skimmer, reseeding with more live sand - I finally resorted to trying chemicals all to no avail. I became extremely frustrated and discouraged and even thought of tearing the tank down and giving up. I was spending hours each week battling this green monster and could not even enjoy the tank, as it was impossible to keep corals - they would be overrun by algae in a matter of days.

I use RO/DI water, so I know I am not adding nutrients via top-off water. The only additive being used in the tank was kalkwasser, and I feed lightly, so I was at a loss as to what was feeding this algae. The only explanation I could come up with was the use of Kick-Ich just prior to the hair algae getting out of control. The other weird thing was that all life forms in the sand bed appeared to have disappeared - no worms, nothing. Of course, you couldn't tell what still existed in the rocks, as you could not see them under all the hair algae! Even reseeding the sand bed several times did not help. 

I decided drastic measures were in order, since all methods tried had not resulted in eradication of the algae. In October, with the help of the guys from The Reef Tank, we setup a 44 gallon trashcan with saltwater, a powerhead and a heater and removed all the rock to it after scrubbing the algae off. We then moved the 4 surviving fish to the 20 gallon reef for holding, drained the tank and removed the sand bed (we only found a couple of bristleworms in 200 lbs of sand!). They added 200 lbs. of Southdown sand and I began refilling the tank with RO/DI water. Two days later the water level was sufficient to fire up the powerheads, at which point I added salt. A day later, the tank and sump were completely filled and I turned the pump back on and added 20 lbs of live sand. Within days, the sand bed was crawling with worm track! Mike came and put the rock back in the tank (and did a fine job of arranging as you can see in the pics!) and the tank recycled in about 2 weeks. I started the light cycle with VHO's only for about 4 hours per day, gradually increasing to 10 hours. Once the VHO's were up to 6 hours per day, I started the metal halides at 2 hours per day and currently have them up to 8 hours per day. 

So far (knocking on wood as I type this with the other hand!) there is not a single strand of hair algae in the tank! I was amazed at the life that still survived in the rock, as it had been so strangled in hair algae for so long! The rock is almost completely purple with coralline and has sprouted polyps, tunicates, maroon plating coralline, yellow and orange sponges and at night there are amphipods scurrying everywhere! Various types of caulerpa have also sprouted here and there, including a patch of halimeda. There is just a slight amount of green diatom algae on the glass which the snails are taking care of. As you can see in the photos above, the coralline covering the back glass turned white, but it is slowly starting to come back.

Right after the cycle, I had a wellsophylia in the 20 gallon that was not happy - in fact it was showing skeleton. I put it in the 120 and the following day it was fully expanded and there was no longer any sign of skeleton. I took this as a sign that conditions were right and started gradually adding corals to the tank. Last week I added a Chevron Tang, who loves to have his picture taken, as you can see in the photos - he made it into all 3! So far I have put in 3 SPS frags - a hydnophora, a staghorn, and a pocillopora; 2 acropora colonies - a tri-color and a purple-tipped; favites, branching torch, pearl coral, galaxy, red open brain, trumpet coral, turbinaria, pachyseris, pulsing xenia, a green derasa clam, and a frag of orange button polyps. I'm happy to report that all inhabitants are happy and doing well! It's actually beginning to look like a reef tank! Now if I can just fill it before the Mastercard maxes out!


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A picture of the right side of the tank - a few remnants of hair algae remain, but note the excellent coralline algae growth - in fact, that's why there isn't a picture of the left side - I'm still scraping the front glass! Also note the growth of the colt coral since the last picture - it's loving life under the halides! I will be fragging it soon, as it's getting too large.

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A picture of the tank taken 9/7/99 - there are still remnants of the new tank green algae, but it's dissipating quickly, and coralline algae is now growing on the glass and powerheads.

October 22, 2000

I've found the miracle cure for hair algae! I've continued to battle this problem with small victories and large setbacks. In April I removed all corals from the tank and shut the lights off for a one month period and then performed a large water change. The majority of the algae died off, but once I started bringing the lights back on, it reappeared, although not with the same severity. I have tried various snails and crabs, adding more live sand, just about anything you can think of! I've taken the rocks out and scrubbed them with a toothbrush. The algae goes away and then regrows right back. I've become so discouraged that several times I've considered breaking the tank down. 

Yesterday I stopped by my LFS and they had received an unexpected shipment of sea hares. They were quite large (about 6 - 8" long) and so ugly they were kind of cute! I decided to get one and within 10 minutes of placing him in the tank, he had entirely cleaned a rock of every trace of hair algae! I spent the evening watching him make the rounds of the tank, scarfing this algae down from every surface it was growing on - powerheads, glass, tubing, rocks - you name it! He is even eating the longer tendrils with relish! In less than 24 hours, he has removed the algae from approximately two-thirds of the tank and is still at it! 

See pictures of the sea hare (Dolabella auricularia) in action! If you want more information, visit The Sea Slug Forum.

April 1, 2000

It's been awhile since I've updated! The tank experienced a major outbreak of ich at the end of December, which unfortunately wiped out a large number of fish, including the purple tang I had acquired just weeks before. I treated the tank with Kick-Ich with very good results. I also added a Rainbow Lifeguard UV Sterilizer to prevent future problems. Current residents of the tank are 4 green chromis, a pair of firefish (pictures of the chromis and firefish are available on the Fish Info page), an orchid dottyback, the watchman goby and pistol shrimp, a new purple tang (doing fine!), and a new six-line wrasse (the original one was a victim of the ich outbreak). I've also acquired another derasa clam (green tigerstripe), a brown and gold maximma, and a blue ridge coral. Pictures of all this are coming soon! I've invested in a Canon Elan II SLR camera, which is taking (in my opinion) much better quality pictures - the pictures of the firefish and chromis were taken with it, so check them out.

The tank still has a few areas of very stubborn hair algae growing on two of the rocks. I'm pruning it and hoping that the tang will help eradicate it once and for all!

December 5, 1999

The tank continues to do well - note the growth of coralline algae in the latest picture, compared to the one taken in September. I can't believe that I spent weeks worrying that coralline algae would not develop! It now coats everything - glass, powerheads, overflows, you name it! In fact, I'm having trouble keeping the front glass cleared of it in order to take pictures!

I've added a Tricolor Acropora and Disk Coral and moved a Frogspawn over from the 20 gallon, as well as a cleaner shrimp. Fish that have been added include a Naso Tang and a pair of Rainford Gobys. However, I am sad to report that the Naso Tang died yesterday. I was adding a couple of pieces of rock to better support the large top rock on the left side of the tank and the Naso was injured in the process. I moved him to quarantine and treated him, but he then developed ich (probably from the stress) and succumbed to his injuries.

I have a Purple Tang on hold at The Reef Tank. I want a Red Sea Sailfin Tang (desjardini) to place with it, but we are having difficulty acquiring one. Since Purple Tangs can become territorial, it is being held until we find a desjardini or I decide on another tankmate for it, so they can be placed into the tank at the same time.

October 17, 1999

It's been quite a month! There was a kalkwasser accident in the tank which caused quite a mess. It took about 2 weeks to straighten out and it has led to modifications of the Auto Top-Off System. Basically what happened is that the pump sucked in the kalkwasser residue from the bottom of the bucket and the end result was a snowstorm in the tank and plummeting alkalinity.

I'm happy to report that things seem to be back on track and I've made some new additions to the tank! There are now a watchman goby and mated pistol shrimp, a blue brain coral, a purple acropora, and a peach and lilac acropora residing in the tank and all seem to be doing well.

September 6, 1999

3 new corals were added - a galaxy, a green table acropora and a cup coral. The green algae is almost gone and there are quite a few spots of a lavender coralline algae growing on the glass and powerheads. All corals added so far are doing amazingly well and water tests continue to show 0's for ammonia, nitrite, phosphate and nitrate. The two fish that were added are getting fat! There's been an amphipod explosion within the tank - hundreds of them covering the glass - the scooter blenny thinks he is in heaven!

August 19, 1999

Although the snails and hermits are having a feast on the algae, there just aren't enough of them to keep up with it in such a large tank. I purchased an additional 14 astrea snails, 10 more blue-legged hermits, 2 turbo snails, 10 more nassarius snails, 3 scarlet hermits and a green serpent star. I was at The Reef Tank as a shipment came in and there was a small brown serpent star that came in as a hitchhiker, so they gave me that one also.

As of yet, I do not have any coralline algae growing except on the rocks - I'll be glad when this new tank syndrome algae is over with! Mike scraped some coralline off one of their tanks and sent it home with me - I put it in the tank in hopes of seeding. My first rule in reef-keeping is patience, but I want coralline algae!!

I also put a twinspot goby on hold while I was there - he's a recent arrival and not done with his quarantine yet.

August 14, 1999

I purchased a Purple Sea Plume today. It opened its polyps within minutes of being placed in the tank. I think it's really enjoying the halide lights and wavemaker.

August 10, 1999

I purchased 25 astrea snails and 25 blue-legged hermits from The Reef Tank. They're already starting to work. I also purchased 5 nassarius snails - the July issue of Aquarium Fish Magazine had an article on these snails and they appear to be excellent sandbed scavengers.

August 7, 1999

I am quite amazed with the deep sandbed. My nitrates peaked at about 10 ppm after the cycle of the tank and within a few days, they were down to 0, where they have remained.

I added another 5 lbs of live sand today, along with an 8" Derasa Clam. I also moved a few more corals from the 20 gallon tank over - the bubble coral, green brain, green star polyps and yellow polyps. The Derasa was quite skittish for the first few hours in the tank - any movement made him slam shut and "jump". But he seems to have acclimated to his new home now and is fully opened and appears to be enjoying his new surroundings!

The tank is experiencing its first algae bloom - a light brown coating on the rocks and glass. However, this started turning green within a few days. I moved some hermits and snails over from the 20 gallon and they have cleaned the rocks off pretty well and are now working on the glass. I will be purchasing additional snails and hermits this week. In the meanwhile, I'm limiting the photoperiod for the halides to 3 hours per day. The VHO's are now on for 10 hours per day.

July 31, 1999

The tank has fully cycled - ammonia, nitrite and nitrates are reading 0. I added my first two fish today - a red scooter blenny and a six-line wrasse. I've also moved some corals over from the 20 gallon - a colt, the flower leather and part of the toadstool leather (which I propagated). I placed them at the bottom of the tank in shaded areas to acclimate them to the change in light. Check out the pics of the six-line wrasse and the scooter blenny. Five pounds of live sand was also added to the tank - I will be adding a total of 20 lbs, but will add it 5 lbs at a time to avoid another cycle.

July 23, 1999

Ammonia levels have reached zero and nitrites are climbing. I'm amazed at how quickly the cycle is going. I've also noticed hundreds of amphipods and copepods scurrying around the rock.

July 18, 1999

The auto top-off system is installed, as is the PinPoint PH monitor. The first water tests are performed as a baseline. Ammonia is off the scale as expected.

July 17, 1999

Another 50 lbs of live rock is added to the tank. We thought it might take another 100, but 50 rounded it out well. The additional 2 powerheads were placed in the tank and all 4 were put on the Ocean Motion wavemaker. The skimmer is working overtime and the cycle has begun!

July 16, 1999

100 lbs of live rock is added to the tank. Mike is arranging the rock in a spur and groove design, similar to a design suggested in The Reef Aquarium: A Comprehensive Guide to the Identification and Care of Tropical Marine Invertebrates (Volume 1) by Delbeek and Sprung. I decided on this arrangement, as it not only provides plenty of room on the rock for placement of corals, but it also leaves sandy area in which to place substrate dwellers. As you can see in the picture, the 100 lbs barely made a dent in the tank. I am very pleased with the quality of the rock - it's loaded with different colors of coralline algae and several different macroalgaes. Since I'll be cycling the rock with a shortened photo-period (4-5 hours of VHO light per day), I'm hoping that these organisms will thrive.

After the rock was placed, we topped off the tank and Grim drilled the siphon hole in the return line. This is important when using a sump, since a siphon is formed between the sump and the tank. If the power were to go out or the return pump were to fail, water would drain from the tank to the sump, most likely causing a flood. By drilling a hole in the return line just below the water line, the siphon is broken should either of these events occur.

The heaters were relocated to the sump and the powerheads were placed in their appropriate locations in the tank (no longer stuck to the front glass!). The sump and protein skimmer were started and a power outage was simulated to assure that the siphon hole in the return worked and that the sump was able to accommodate the rise in water level that would occur. I'm happy to report that we have room to spare in the sump! The overflows, return pump and skimmer were fine-tuned and the tank is now officially running!

An additional 100 lbs of rock will be placed into the tank tomorrow night and various odds and ends will be taken care of (getting the metal halide ballast off the floor of the cabinet, putting the powerheads on acrylic mounts, setting up the auto-top off system, placing the PH monitor, straightening out the power strips and cords, etc).

July 13, 1999

A shipment of Samoan rock arrived at The Reef Tank. I hand-picked 50 lbs to go into the tank and placed it in a holding tank at the store. The Fiji shipment is due in on Friday and Grim and Mike will hand-pick 50 lbs of that and deliver it Friday night. Mike loves to do rockwork, so he is going to aquascape the tank.

One of the customers stopped into the store with his latest gadget - a refractometer. They used it to calibrate all of the hydrometers and I was amazed at how off they could be! I did some research on both refractometers and salinity meters and found that they are both significantly more accurate than hydrometers. I decided to go with the meter, since it will give me instantaneous readouts of the salinity of the water.

I had mail-ordered an RO purity monitor for use on my Kent Maximma and it arrived. However, the lowest setting is 50 ppm of TDS. Since my tap water is not that bad, there is no difference in reading between the tap water and the RO water, making it pretty useless. I am returning it and purchasing a conductivity meter which will be much more accurate in monitoring the quality of the RO water.

Some people may think these additional monitors are not necessary. However, I feel it's worth investing the extra money to monitor water quality. If you're going to invest money into a tank and its inhabitants, you should protect that investment by assuring that conditions are kept at optimum levels.

July 10, 1999

The sand is added to the tank - it's a bit cloudy!  I used a combination of grain sizes after reading an article by Ron Shimek in the July 1999 issue of Aquarium Frontiers Online regarding recent insights into sand beds. Although I didn't use the same number of grain sizes he recommends, I did base my percentages on this article.  I used 60 lbs of CaribSea sugar sand (oolite) which has a fine texture, 44 lbs of CaribSea SeaFlor aragonite reef sand which has a medium texture, and 20 lbs of CaribSea Florida Crushed Coral which is a coarse texture.  It's a bit difficult to see what depth was achieved since the water is so clouded, but once it's settled, I will measure it and adjust accordingly.  I am aiming for a minimum depth of 4 inches.  If necessary, I will add additional sand in the same proportions to raise the level.  This will be seeded with a minimum of 20 lbs of live sand after the rock has cured.

July 9, 1999

Water and salt are added to the tank.  It's only filled 3/4 of the way to allow for displacement by sand and rock.  Heaters which will eventually reside in the sump are placed in the tank temporarily to bring the water up to temperature.  Two Aquarium Systems Maxi-Jet, MP1200 pump's are placed to circulate the water and mix the salt.   It took a little over two days to fill the tank to this point.

July 4, 1999

Grim has spliced the VHO wires to reach the ballast and we have tested the lights! The tank was moved into its final position and the stand was shimmed to make it level. We have run RO/DI tubing from the kitchen into the tank and it's ready for water!

July 1, 1999

The canopy is wired!  Mike and Grim delivered it and the only problem we now face is that the IceCap wires won't reach the ballast due to the height of the canopy (I had it made 12" high so it would accommodate the metal halides).  Grim will be back to splice them so we can mount the ballast in an accessible spot.  In the meanwhile, we've left the tank pulled out from the wall until this is done.

Also, did I mention that I determined the circuit I will be plugging all of this into won't handle the load??  The electrician was out this morning and put in a dedicated 20 amp circuit for the tank - something you really don't think about - I was concentrating too much on whether the floor could handle the weight - never thought about the electrical system!

Grim also installed the fans and mounted the power strips inside the cabinet.  There are 2 fans mounted on the back of the canopy blowing air onto the halide bulbs and 2 fans inside the cabinet - one blows air in, the other draws air out.  He also installed a shelf to hold the Ocean Motion wavemaker.

I made the first 24 gallons of water for the tank! I'm using a Rubbermaid trash can and Mike said there's an easier way.  He is bringing me a length of tubing to hook-up to the Maximma RO/DI unit which will reach to the tank, so I can just let it fill directly - it will make life much easier than having to pump it out of the trash can 24 gallons at a time!

June 24-25, 1999

Grim and Mike from The Reef Tank are in the process of setting up and plumbing the tank.  We had to make some minor changes to the plan - mainly, they were not able to obtain a 25 gallon tank for the sump, so we are using a 20 gallon.  This will be tested with a power outage to be sure it will handle the overflow.  Once the sump was in place we also realized the 10 gallon Rubbermaid container for the auto top-off system is going to be very awkward to get in and out of the cabinet.  Since I will be dosing kalkwasser through this system, it will require frequent maintenance.  For now, I'll use a 5 gallon bucket for this purpose.  If I determine the evaporation rate requires more than this, it'll be back to the drawing board for a solution!  I love a challenge anyway! 

June 18, 1999

The stand and tank are here!!  Mike and Grim from The Reef Tank delivered them this evening.  They will be back later this week to plumb the tank - for the time being it's standing on end in the living room.  Our goal is to be putting live rock in the tank in a week!

June 11, 1999

The wavemaker is in, as is the PinPoint PH monitor. The back of the tank has been painted and all we are waiting for now are the lights. The Iwasaki bulbs were backordered, so they probably won't be in until early next week. However, we are still planning a delivery of the stand and tank this weekend. It's going to take me a week to make 120 gallons of RO/DI water anyway! :)

June 8, 1999

The stand and tank have been delivered to The Reef Tank!  Stopped by to visit :)  The stand and canopy look terrific!  The tank is drilled and waiting for the back to be painted. I was able to take home most of the peripherals - pumps, powerheads, bulkhead fittings, heaters, doser, skimmer. We are still waiting for the lights and wavemaker, which should be arriving any day now, so we're hoping for a delivery date later this week!

May 21, 1999

The stand and canopy will be delivered on May 27th or 28th! We've put the order in for the tank, sump, lights, wavemaker, etc. That should all be in by the 1st of June. Now we have a little glitch in that I'm not available for installation the first weekend in June, so it's going to have to wait until June 13th!  Oh well....I think we are going to have the stand delivered next weekend so we can assure it is level and ready to hold the tank.

May 14, 1999

The carpet is installed!  The 55 gallon cichlid tank has been relocated to the foyer and the spot for the 120 gallon is now ready! The last news on the stand and canopy is that it will be delivered the week of 5/24. The carpet installation required that I move the 20 gallon reef out of the way - it wasn't a fun chore!  I removed as much of the rock as possible and most of the water, leaving just enough to keep the corals covered - I had relocated them all to the bottom of the tank. We were able to swing the tank around the corner into the kitchen and I replaced the water, leaving the rock in water in a sealed container. After the installation, I again drained the water and it was moved back into place. I then removed all the corals to a water-filled container, re-arranged the rock and replaced them all. They were pretty unhappy campers for awhile, but the following day they had all recovered and were fully expanded.

April 30, 1999

Carpet update - the ceramic tile was installed in the foyer, so I can now move the existing 55 gallon cichlid tank from the living room (the new reef will reside in it's spot). The carpet installation is scheduled for May 14th.  Grim is checking on the status of the stand/canopy, but we anticipate their delivery shortly after the carpet installation.

April 28, 1999

Purchased a 28 gallon Rubbermaid for the sump and a 10 gallon Rubbermaid for the auto top-off system. However, after looking at all this, I determined we were going to pretty well fill the space inside the cabinet and we hadn't even gotten to ballast placement yet. Grim found a 25 gallon All-Glass aquarium that's only 24x12x20 which will work out much better in the space. The only problem is that the Taam protein skimmer will be difficult to fit on this, so I chose a Red Sea Berlin instead. 

April 20, 1999

I received the Kent Maximma RO/DI unit which I purchased from Marine Depot today. It was very easy to setup and I ran through 10 gallons of water without the DI cartridge in place and discarded it as they recommend. I replaced the DI cartridge and made 5 gallons to use for top-off water for the 20 gallon.  Tested the water and it's 0's across the board. It's currently taking about 2 1/2 hours to produce 5 gallons.

April 17, 1999

Ordered the stand and canopy with a mahogany finish. The back of the stand will be enclosed to keep my cats from swimming in the sump! Holes will be drilled for 4" fans to keep heat from building up. The stand/canopy will take approximately 4-6 weeks to complete. Decided on a Taam skimmer - it's similar to the Tunze.   The Reef Tank uses one for their display tanks and showed it to me in operation - it appears to be very efficient. Discussed return pumps and decided to go with an external Mag 7 to reduce heat and up water flow. I will be using a Rubbermaid container for the sump. Also decided to purchase an additional 10 gallon Rubbermaid which will be used as an auto top-off system.  I will replenish this with kalk mix and it will be plumbed to the sump with a float switch for automatic top-off. The wavemaker will be a Tsunami, utilizing 4 Maxi-Jet 1200's. By the way, The Reef Tank just got some new shipments of corals in and I can't wait to take some of them home!  They're awesome!  Now I just need to get the carpet installed!

April 13, 1999

Stopped by The Reef Tank (LFS) to discuss the new tank. Decided on an All Glass 120 gallon, which they will drill for a direct plumb to a 30 gallon Rubbermaid sump.  They will be painting the back of the tank black.  The stand and canopy will be custom made by a local furniture builder (winds up being cheaper than ordering an already made) in poplar. The canopy will be 12" high to accommodate metal halide lights. Took home the stain chips to determine which stain color will best blend with my furniture. Lighting will consist of two 250W metal halide lights supplemented with VHO actinics. Briefly discussed options for protein skimmers, wavemakers, dosers.......so many decisions!

April 10, 1999

The one thing that has always held me back from installing a large tank is my carpeting. I live in an older condo and the carpet needed to be replaced several years ago. Today I ordered the new carpet.

April 9, 1999

I've been using a Tap Water Purifier on the 20 gallon, but that just isn't going to be adequate for a large tank. I placed an order with Marine Depot for a Kent Marine Maximma 24 gpd RO/DI unit. 


Copyright 1998-2002 Janet L. Brassard. All rights reserved. You may not copy or publish any material from this site without permission. Contact webm...@janetsreef.com with any questions.