Keeping a thriving coral reef aquarium is challenging. Reef-keeping poses unique challenges and requires patience, discipline, and (periodically) hard work. Those of us who do it as a hobby all have our war stories – corals that succumbed to too much water movement, too little water movement, aggressive neighbors, random hitch-hikers, or just decide one day to give up the ghost. Keeping LARS (lazy-ass reefer’s syndrome) at bay when our aquariums are cruising along happily can be tough; keeping a calm head when things go south even more so. I don’t know of any serious reefer who hasn’t at least once considered walking away, perhaps following a healthy dose of catharsis involving a sledge-hammer.

And yet, we stop by the LFS, or get an email from our favorite frag grower, and we are instantly hooked back in. One picture of that awesome A. valida, a brief glimpse of the trophy tank in the lobby, and we are kids in a candy store. Reefs are beautiful, peaceful, and bring us great joy when they aren’t causing us to pull our hair out. So how do the pros do it? The same way good hobbyists do – with patience, discipline, and responsibility – and it sure doesn’t hurt if you have good gear.

Michael Park is an owner of Aqua Imports, the preferred LFS here in Boulder, Colorado. He is actively involved with ocean and reef protection, despite living in the land-locked mountain state through great organizations such as Teen4Oceans, who bring physical visibility of reef and other marine environments directly into the classroom. By creating such a tangible link between the students and their environment, Teens4Oceans is shaping a new generation of ocean and reef stewards. Park also works with View Into the Blue, who build and install underwater webcams to provide continuous live IP-based streaming video and data for use by researchers, resorts, governmental agencies, educators, non-profits, and the public. One look at this glorious tank and it is easy to tell he is no novice. This isn’t a color-saturated Photoshop job, either – Matt Arvidson took this with his cell phone.

Incredible coral reef under AcroOptics LED lights

Mike Park’s incredible SPS wonderland is a testament to what a reef aquarium can be.

With a store full of the latest technology, Park has his pick of the best available. In 2015, he pulled out three Ecotech Radions and replaced them with one AcroOptics 48″ Reef Slope fixture. The powerful uniform light field keeps his livestock thriving and happy. “We have definitely seen great changes“, says Park, discussing the tank since upgrading the lights, “Coral growth rates and coloration are far superior to the…fixtures previously on the tank. Shading is also greatly improved.

And Park is not alone. On the other side of the country, Harry Hooper, owner of Harry’s Frags, uses a 24″ Reef Flats fixture over one of his SPS propagation tanks. (If you haven’t seen Harry’s stuff, it is definitely worth a look at Harry’ Harry, a retired computer scientist, and his wife Ruth moved from hobbyists to retailers due to the shear success of his reefs.

Acropora Valida GARF Bonsai from, courtesy of Harry.

Beautiful colonies of Acropora valida “GARF Bonsai” from Harry’s Frags, courtesy of Harry.

When his SPS had grown to the point of overcrowding, he opted to sell them online.  Focusing primarily on SPS, the Hoopers are not “chop, stick and ship” operators. Harry allows his corals to mature on the plug, so his “frags” are really more like small colonies – beautiful, well-formed, and vividly colored. That patience, coupled with a desire to promote healthy aquaculture as a way to contribute to reef protection, has earned Harry’s Frags a rabidly loyal clientele. Despite his success, Hooper still strongly identifies as a hobbyist.

Hooper recognized the advantages LEDs offered over metal halides early, and showing the DIY spirit that is so prevalent in this hobby, set about building a custom LED rack for himself in 2012. By 2013, he had fine-tuned his system and expanded the foray from the original 50g tank  to include a 120g and two 180g aquariums, running his fixtures with Arduino boards. In July of 2015, he installed a CRAVE24 Reef Flats over one of his propagation tanks.

He spoke about the AcroOptics fixture in December: “After the last several months…my coral has responded well in displaying color and growth. I am very satisfied with my fixture…no one who buys one will be disappointed!” Hooper really appreciated the evenness of the light field, “without the disco-ball effect” prevalent in other LED fixtures.

So that is how the professionals do it. AcroOptics fixtures are now available to hobbyists too, so that we can provide our corals the strong, uniform light fields that professionals love. You can take a look at them here.

Lights can’t make water changes, monitor calcium and carbonate hardness levels, or apologize to spouses/landlords for the occasional plumbing issues, but they can ensure our corals have the healthiest and most stable food source possible. In return, our corals will continue to bring us the joy that a healthy reef provides to those willing to make the effort.

Don’t forget to support pros, like Mike Park and Harry Hooper, who work hard to bring healthy, vibrant reefs to us, in an ecologically responsible way. Take a look at what Aqua Imports has to offer here. Visit Harry’s Frags here. You will be glad you did.