Is there such a thing as a perfect aquarium set-up? The answer is a clear ‘no’. This is because the system would need hardly any maintenance and the inhabitants would complement each other, as on a wild coral reef. This clearly cannot occur.
However, if the aim is set at what is possible then a great deal can be achieved. The aquarist running the system understands how the equipment functions and is well aware of the priority demands; an example of such a demand is high seawater quality. It’s assumed that the aquarist has an adequately filled wallet as well! So let’s have a look at a reef system with SPS (small polyp stony) corals. The display aquarium could be 3ft x 1.5 x 1.5, or 8ft x 2 x 2, or whatever. This time the system is quite large.
Before purchasing anything the aquarist generally worked out the required electrical support for the chosen system size. This was done by obtaining the total power demand (wattage) of the system’s electrical devices and calculating a guideline future running cost. This was made easier using calculators available on the internet.
The aquarist chose the glass display aquarium with care and before purchase ensured that the glass thickness was correct for the aquarium size and also that the silicone had been well applied. Seawater circulation within the display aquarium was considered and there were several options, in this case the aquarist decided to have wide outlet electronically timed powerheads capable of moving the display aquarium gallonage twenty times or more each hour. It was also decided that a 1″ deep coarse coral decorative sand bed around the base of the reef would be incorporated.
The intention was to have a sump containing a DSB (deep sand bed) and care was also taken in selecting the sump aquarium. The aquarist knew that the area of the DSB should be as large as possible in relation to the base area of the display aquarium so this was born in mind, and that the extra seawater gallonage that a sump provides is good. The sump was three-quarters the length of the display aquarium and nearly as wide, permitting it to sit underneath. Holes were drilled in the display aquarium glass before delivery for the delivery of seawater to the sump. A return pump was selected that moved the total system volume of seawater through the sump about three times an hour.
A protein skimmer is considered by most aquarists as an essential, and the one selected was able to handle quite a bit more than the total system seawater gallonage according to the manufacturer. The protein skimmer is a ‘stand alone’ taking seawater from the sump.
DSB filtration is to be combined with ‘live’ rock which will also provide the material for the reef. After discussing the quantity required with the dealer enough would be obtained to build a reef which looked reasonably natural, with drops and slopes, not one that looks more like a coral shelf one end to the other. The quantity obtained will also ensure efficient bio-filtration.
Heating of course is essential, so two heater/stats were obtained, each one half the heating requirement for the system. The heater/stats would be placed in the sump.
As corals are to be kept lighting would be very important. LED (light emitting diode) systems have evolved considerably and one that was suitable for the length of the aquarium was chosen. It contains both blue (actinic) and marine white bulbs, so that the zooxanthellae within the corals would be healthy and also a ‘dawn’ and ‘dusk’ sequence could be provided. The lighting system will even permit the passage of ‘clouds’ over the reef if desired. The LED array will be less expensive to run than metal halide bulbs, and in addition will not heat up the seawater.
Another device purchased was a calcium reactor. When set-up and adjusted it will provide calcium for the corals and some other livestock. Additives would probably be too expensive for an aquarium of this size.
Stability is important for a successful reef and the aquarist realized that there would be quite considerable evaporation from the open topped aquarium. Therefore an automatic top-up system was incorporated, itself attached to an RO (reverse osmosis) filter to ensure the purity of the top-up water.
Once the system was set up and checked consideration was given to stocking. This would be done very slowly, corals going in first. The corals were first so that once the fish were introduced they could settle without disruption from reef and coral adjustments. The aquarist decided to limit fish stocks to one half of the theoretical maximum. This was because seawater quality would be better and not under as much pressure from feeding and other natural fish functions.
Maintenance is done properly and doesn’t take up that much time. Overall checking of the equipment is simple and observation of the livestock likewise. The initial routine seawater change volume was 10% of the total system gallonage but this was adjusted as the aquarist monitored the seawater quality and learned the traits of the system. Feeding is completed with great care.
A few additions have gone into the aquarium; there are two cleaner shrimps plus quite a few snails and hermit crabs. The latter two went in once the aquarist became aware of the level of need for a clean-up crew, and in addition they increase the interest of the display.
Knowing that the seawater quality is high and the needs of the corals have been met, it is a great pleasure to sit back and just watch. Getting to the aquarium just before ‘dawn’, soon the blue lights come on and fish cautiously appear. As the lighting comes to full intensity it’s another day on the reef.