I have had the same reef tank in my house continuously since ’05. I liked my tank – it was stable and happy, and the denizens all looked good. If the tank had picked up a few scratches along the way, they were at least family mementos – added by one child or the other as they grew up. The stand was well made with no center beam, allowing me easy access to all the kit in the sump/refugium. During the Front Range flood in ’13 it picked up a bit of a list, but we all built a little character then. Changing tanks is a headache I didn’t need, and had no need of.
Then my friend Jake started a sweet set up for Reef Builders’ video blog (check it out here) and ruined everything.
The set up is stunning. Featuring a Red Sea peninsula stocked with a stunning variety of Montipora, AcroOptics Gen 2 lights, and the incredibly tight plumbing/cabling that only a professional reefer has the time for, it got under my skin in an instant. I headed over to the studio to lend a hand hanging the lights, without the slightest inkling of how much work that help would ultimately cost. That first night, I cast a sharper eye at my workhorse. Then I came to my senses and went on with my day.
Fast-forward several weeks and I am headed back to the studio, ostensibly as an extra set of hands to mount a hanging rack. In reality, my motives weren’t purely altruistic – I wanted to see how the peninsula tank was coming. Unfortunately, it was coming along really well. Jake had fired up the lights, and the corals had started to color up and plate out. Some additional colonies had been added (check out this ridiculous A. setosa), and the rimless tank really popped. When I made it home, my long-time friend was really showing its age.
The final straw came during a trip to Aqua Imports, the great LFS here in Boulder. The owners, Tom and Mike, were moving boxes and shelves around preparing for a renovation. In the front entrance, amongst a ramshackle of used tanks and miscellaneous gear, stood a Red Sea XL 525 on a black stand. It was filthy, and had obviously been dry a while. I asked about it and heard a familiar tale. A well-heeled client had caught the reefing bug and gone to town. Once the level of discipline required became apparent, the client’s interest faded, and now a tank whose price tag would normally have me headed for the door was collecting dust. With the renovation entering full swing, Mike made it clear he could work out a price that would get the tank to my house and out of his way. I started putting a list together of what I already had and what I would need.
So all of the big-ticket gear I either already had, or would get as part of the tank. I pulled the trigger.
The tank had been fitted with a mess of high-end electronics which Mike had parted out, leaving the tank, stand, and the return pump. The return was an incredibly quiet Vectra M1, which was a step up from the Sicce 7 I had been using. It had some crazy calc build up, so it went into a vinegar bath immediately.
My prior set up sat over an Eshopps R300 sump/refugium, but the Red Sea had a larger glass sump included. It didn’t have a refugium, but given the generous dimensions it was easy to add some baffling to carve one out. The first step was cleaning the sump out. Vinegar, a hose, a razor, and some more vinegar. I have to say, nothing smells quite like someone else’s fish tank.
While the tank and sump soaked in the acid, I turned my attention to the stand itself. I checked all of the hardware and made a list of anything that needed to be swapped out. I removed the old plumbing, keeping the return piping, as it had been cemented together and was well-fit. I swapped out the oversized ball valves with ones that fit a bit better, and added a handful of plumbing pieces to my list. Then it was back to the vinegar.
Getting the new gear cleaned up is only a part of the process, of course. I needed to relocate all of my coral and fish from the current tank, break it down and get it out of the way. As Mother Nature decided to do her Colorado thing and throw some more snow at us, I switched over to indoor work. I marked out the new footprint on the floor so I would know how much room I had to work with. Using a borrowed fragging flat (thanks to Mario at XXX.com) and an old canister filter and heater from the box o’ junk in the garage, I set up a transfer tank. This would keep my fish and coral alive while I placed, leveled and plumbed the new one.
Once corals start moving from the tank to the transfer flat, it took one long day to move everything and break the old tank down. Making the switch during the NHL play offs was a happy coincidence. With a six pack of local brew as a bribe, it did make it easier to get some friends to help move the old one out. When the bigger colonies started moving to the flat, I mounted one of the new Gen 2 lights to keep them happy.
I knew that I would only be able to get a good level on the stand with some weight in the cabinet, so I needed to finish adding the baffling to make the refugium. Help hint – a right-angle clamp makes placing and securing baffles a lot easier. The silicone was left to cure overnight.
With the corals temporarily relocated, I began the process of leveling the new tank. I used the newly-cleaned sump to add some mass. Long plastic shims make the job faster, and are available from any hardware store for a few bucks The ones I used are Ecoshim Recycled Material, $8 for a pack of 12 at Home Depot. Once the stand is leveled and the tank filled, I just pulled up on the tag end, snapping the material flush with the bottom of the stand.
With the stand in and leveled, I reconnected the RO line to start filling the sump. Mike from Aqua Imports swung by and helped me move the new tank into place. The tank and sump are made with 15mm and 8mm thick glass respectively, so make sure you have some robust helpers if you plan on moving one. I opted for a shallow substrate. I added 30 pounds of large sized aragonite, and started pumping water from the sump into the tank. I set up the 800W heater from the old tank to get the frigid RO water up to room temperature, tossed in a power head, and started adding salt. By mid-morning the next day, the salinity, pH and temperature were spot on. Moving day had arrived. I pulled the protein skimmer off of the transfer flat and put it in the sump, along with the calcium and media reactors. Next came the initial placement of the rock work.
After a few hours of the typical “place/fall/swear/place somewhere else” process, I finished up the reef structure, and moved a few of the larger pieces from the transfer flat into the tank. Before I could go any farther, I needed to check the light levels of the new tank to make sure nothing wound up somewhere it wouldn’t be happy. To do that, I needed the light itself.
I swapped the fixture’s Gen 1 legs for one of the new kits, and mounted it on the tank. With the new measurements in hand, I started placing the coral colonies in likely spots. Within the hour, the tank was up and running.
The last step was to run through the cabling and get everything squared away. Cords were coiled and zip-tied, components and plugs color-coded. (Testor’s model paint is amazing for permanent markings in harsh environments.)
I will spend several more hours over the next week or so fine-tuning the coral placements and securing the rock structure with epoxy and zip ties. The fish are in, and the majority of the snails and crabs made it through the move in good shape. So, for the reveal, here it is!
Stay tuned for future updates, and I will share images of the corals as the color returns to its original vibrancy.