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"REEF CORNER" by Kirk Masters

This is the first issue of "Reef Corner". I will try to answer members questions and help to steer you towards the best solution. There are a lot of new gimmicks out there which sound good but we must ask ourselves the question; "So what!!" Do I really need this new item. For example, the new filter rage is the fluidized bed filter. Filled with silica which when operated in a system with a pH greater than 8 (a Reef operates 8.2-8.6) you increase the silica level in your water and the brown diatom algae will go wild! In a Reef, you do not need extra filters. Your rocks and gravel bed do it all for you. Bacteria love the dark, warm places, not the open areas like bioballs and fluidized bed filters. We all know bacteria love to grow in our activated carbon. If you do use a F.B.F. then cover it to stop the light. Coral sand must be used for a Reef if these filters for salt water.

I have been keeping fish since the late 50’s. I love watching the various life forms in my Reef tanks. The colors, variations, interactions are outstanding. Having worked as a "Water Doctor" for 15 years, very little gets past me. I will try to give you the basics so that you don’t get stung like I have been (that is products that do not work but should). There are a lot of good products out there and a lot of bad ones. But let me get back to the beginning.

A member of the club asked me how could he start a Reef tank. It all seems so complicated. There are a few things different about salt water. The best place to start is getting your hands on some good books. The Reef Aquarium by Delbeek (from Toronto, now in Hawaii) and Sprung is an excellent start. Read also about the different fish you will want to keep. I prefer to keep mainly algae eating fish to keep my rocks and tanks clean and I don’t have to feed them everyday. (They are fat and well nourished but have to work like we do).

Now that you are starting, the first thing is to select a tank size. Most popular lights come in 4foot sizes. I operate a 90 gal but you can go as low as 5 gal. The minimum that I would suggest is 3 feet long. The larger the tank the more stable you water conditions will remain. Evaporation causes the salt concentration to increase and we try to keep that stable. Please feel free to email me or call about questions. I want your Reef to be a success. I am going to tell you what I did.

I had a 90 gal. tank which I converted to salt water. I use a 30 gal under the tank as an algae tank to grow macro algae and to keep fish not permitted in the Reef. I tried to go cheap on the lights. I got lots of light but the spectrum was too yellow. I decided to add strip lights and quickly saw the output of the bulbs drop in one month. I was very unhappy about that so I bought an IceCap Electronic Ballast VHO (very high output 4ft-110W). The bulb life increased to over 2 years! But lets go back. It is always wise to go slowly. I started with a 30 gal saltwater fish/algae tank to establish a biological filter system and to let my algae grow. I used crushed coral and an under gravel filter. This will help you to get familiar with taking salinity readings(real easy to do). As always, you can monitor your ammonia and nitrite levels. With marine macro algae (large plants), they adsorb ammonia directly from the water when the lights are on. This is a great way to remove ammonia during startup. They also condition the water so that the trouble some algae do not grow well. I used low cost 75W halogens from the local hardware store (2). Then I added my blue damsel. I recorded no more than 0.25 PPM ammonia (max. 1.0 allowed). When I added live rock to my 90 gal. I started to see some ammonia and simply turned the lights on in my algae tank and goodbye ammonia. An engineer will tell you if you drill a hole in anything you will reduce the maximum load it can carry by 300%. I use overflow boxes verse drilling the tank to return the water from the 90 gal tank. Lights should only be on the algae tank for 12h per day.


What equipment must one have for a Reef? You should have a two tier light system (12h actinic and 6 h VHO or Metal Halide). A protein skimmer (large). And at last live rock. You do not need wet dry filters, or other fancy types.

Use the Berlin System with a denitrating sand bed. That is a protein skimmer without a wet dry filter. You should get the biggest one that you can afford. Many manufactures over state their abilities here in a big way. You need a four foot 6 in diameter for up to a 160 gal tank. Look at the retention time of the water and the height of the skimmer. For example a 6 in (6x6) is twice as good as a 4 in (4x4). Use cell cast acrylic not extruded. How easy is it to clean? Be aware of small "Berlin" skimmers. They have no retention time but do product a good quality foam. Some people say they work, others not. I will be putting one to the test shortly and let you know how we made out. I tried to make my own skimmer and it is not my area of expertise. Then I bought a 4ft-6in diameter and it does wonders for the Reef by increasing the water quality. A skimmer is one of the 3 most important things in a reef system so try to get a very good one. Some people in MAST use 8 in diameter 7 foot skimmers but that is for 300 gal tanks. They get excellent results. There are many different designs in skimmers. Some work well others? The problem is that there is no standard to test each unit. The best way is to put both on a tank and see which one stops working. But who can do that!

If you decide to start a small tank first, you will need to get a good quality Reef salt. Do not buy Coral Life as it can be low in magnesium. I use Deep Ocean and have had excellent results. There are other fine salts also. You will need a hygrometer to measure the salinity. Get the one from the Pet shops. They are made for the Reef. Keep you specific gravity between 1.022-24. In the next issue I will talk more on water treatment and Reef Lighting with some guidelines on which type to use.

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