We chose to use a combination of what was then called the Berlin (Natural) method using live sand and live rock (rocks taken from living reefs) to help with the filtration. In addition, we had a smaller aquarium below the large one (called the sump) that had the mechanical filtration units that another group believed in using. Mr. C built our stand and the lights which were not only expensive to buy (they had to be replaced every 6 months as the light would degrade as the bulbs burned down and corals need certain strength of lighting to survive) they were also very expensive to run. There was an even more expensive option, but we chose to go with the slightly less expensive and less hot method.
We then discovered a group called G.A.R.F. which stands for Geothermal Aquaculture Research Facility run by Leroy Headlee. GARF had come up with a very simple method of reef keeping that could be done by anyone and was less expensive than other more technical methods. As always, some people feel that the GARF methods are bunk, but they had the pictures to prove their theories. Their main aim was to "Save the Reef a piece at a time". They were doing research on ways to basically FARM coral (Aquaculture) in home aquarium set ups. They wanted Reef keeping to be available to anyone, not just the very wealthy. They were dividing/fragmenting and regrowing corals before anybody else even knew you could do so. So we used a combination of these methods that seemed to meet our wants and needs. We really enjoyed that Reef Tank for several years. I also had a small sea horse aquarium (actually 2 of them, one for dwarf sea horses and one for full sized). We often brought things back from our ocean going trips to add to our tank. Obviously when we flew this was not possible, but for the trips where we drove, we sometimes planned trips to get things for our tanks. More memories, we've sure had fun during our 24 years together, LOL. But finally life got in the way and we took the tank apart and sold it off.
Recently I've decided I want to have another tank. We've had to compromise due to our extended vacations by only having a small tank and I am very fortunate that my sister G is willing to come out weekly to be sure everything is running correctly. The other compromise we made was in not getting any fish or anything that has to be feed daily. Many corals are photosynthetic so that is what we are aiming for.
This time instead of being mostly Mr. C's tank, it is my tank and I'm responsible for being sure it gets cared for properly. He helps with heavy stuff and as an advisor, but otherwise it's my tank. So once again, the books came out and research began. BIG surprise, though, things have changed drastically in the 15 or so years since we set up our first one. For one thing, lights have changed. Many people are using LED lighting now. It is very bright and it doesn't get as hot, they are less expensive to run, and the bulbs don't have to be changed every 6 months either. As LED lighting has caught on, the companies have picked it up and are creating special LED light fixtures that mimic daylight and moonlight on a shallow reef. We found one we really liked by FluvalSea. It is not the most expensive, nor the highest in watts, but from their literature, they have done their homework, it catches all the wavelengths of light color to as closely mimic daylight on the reef as possible.
As I began to research, I remembered Leroy and SallyJo Headlee and GARF and wondered if they were still around. Good old Google to the rescue, there they were. Some of their old research and newsletters were hard to find, but they were still there, although sadly, Leroy had a stroke and has since passed away. SallyJo is carrying on though trying to carry out GARF's mission. I decided I wanted to just use GARF's Bullet Proof Reef method, which is one of the simplest of simple. No extra filtration, just the tank, the live rock and live gravel for starters. So I began. It was kind of a rush thing, because although I've been thinking of this for about 6 months I had just decided I wanted to do this before we left on our last vacation. Setting up a reef tank takes time to cycle it properly and it goes through several ugly spells before it is pretty.
MarcoRocks (Key Largo Rock is the one I chose) and it arrived quickly, well packed and wonderfully sized pieces and the rock itself is great, very porous and with lots of little nooks and crannies. I started playing with it out of the tank first to see how it would fit together. The pieces kind of "interlock" together like a building set of some kind, just because of how the various protrusions and nooks and crannies fit together. This is how it was set up at first:
Then I needed a couple of small pieces of rock with Coralline Algae on it to start seeding the entire tank with Coralline Algae (if your tank grows coralline algae, you have a healthy start, but it needs to have some somewhere to start).
I joined several FaceBook reef tank groups in Central Illinois and found Reefs R Us which is just 45 minutes away was having a pre opening sale. I asked if I could possibly purchase some used gravel from one of Aaron's tanks and some coralline scrapings from his tank or rock. He said sure, but he would give me that. So we did that. Aaron Derment and his family are true gems. He not only gave me the gravel, but also gave me two small pieces of "rock" that were coralline covered. They also happened to have some soft corals on them. One had a small Waving Hand Anthelia Colony and the other had 2 Green Hairy Mushrooms growing on them.
We got one more small piece of rock from Sailfin Pet Shop in Champaign for additional coralline algae and it happened to have 2 small striped mushroom corals on it as well as a larger flower leather coral which was just hanging on by a thread. I removed the leather coral and placed it into a cup like area in my favorite piece of dry rock. I am hoping to "confine" it there as from what I read, it is a fairly aggressive coral. It seems quite happy where I placed it. The striped mushroom corals are also happy, so happy in fact that one of them has produced a little baby (just above and to the right in the dip of the mushroom in the picture).
As a final aid to getting the tank cycled quickly and as painlessly as possible, I ordered some GARF (Geothermal Aquaculture Research Foundation) Grunge (which is very well used gravel from their long established tanks with lots of coralline algae and other various little critters etc. in it. This time I was a bit disappointed in the Grunge. It was much muddier than what I remember purchasing for our original large tank). In addition I ordered some "Reef Janitors" (various types of snails and hermit crabs to help with the algaes that crop up during the cycling process). Because the GARF Grunge was so incredibly grungy, I took every piece of rock out, stirred the
Grunge lightly into my new gravel/sand bed, let it all settle and then replaced the rocks and small corals. With all these additions, I found I was out of room and had too much rock, so we placed a smaller (20 gallon long) tank on the stand below the 29 gallon tank and started a second tank. It is primarily going to be a grow out tank when my corals get large enough for me to start dividing them (this is called Fragging which is cutting a small piece off or dividing a colony to made a new small start, much like you do for many house plants). In this picture, it looks a bit cloudy, but it was clear when we left. It has 2 small live rocks in it as well as one piece of rock covered with coralline algae and both tanks have GARF Grunge, as well as Janitors.
This is what the main tank looked like the day we left (3rd revision or rearrangement). It has an automatic top off unit that makes it not need to be checked more than once a week, which my great sister, G, and my Mom do when they come to pick mail up from the post office for us. It did what it was supposed to while we were gone and was nearly ready to start stocking when we got home.
The tank has gone through several revisions in the past several weeks although I can't change it again, which I'll explain.
We got home from our trip and the tank was clear and the few pieces of soft coral in it were alive and acting happy (which simply means they were expanded and laying the right way).
On Saturday, September 21, the Decatur Reef Tank group held a Frag Swap. That sounds kind of bad, doesn't it, LOL. It isn't, though. It is a get together where people can either swap, buy, or sell coral fragments (frags) that they have created. Some people deliberately purchase a large piece or quantity of a coral and divide it into pieces which then are glued onto some type of frag plug. Other people let their own corals grow out and when they start to outgrow their tank, they divide it and again glue it onto a frag plug. Some people really compromise and make frags that are barely even big enough to see, let alone be viable fragments from which a new coral will grow and others are quite scrupulous about either the size or the length of time they allow it to heal and start growing before selling. I've discovered this last group is the group I prefer to deal with. So my sister and went down to Decatur (an hour drive for me and about an hour and a half for her since she came to pick me up first). There were about 7 people selling there, about half were vendors with stores and the other half were hobbyists selling their own coral frags.
several small colonies of Zoanthids which look like buttons with fringe around them and are in various wonderful colors (unfortunately, the more colorful the more expensive, LOL),
I also received a nice sized Kenya Tree Coral for change from a vendor without change, LOL. It is a soft coral that looks like a tree and is a great indicator of when something is out of whack in water parameters.
In addition there was a very nice frag of a pinkish pulsing Xenia.
A really interesting Toadstool Leather Coral that looks like a little green football with long smooth polyps poking out from his football body.
I got a very nice serpent starfish and a brittle starfish to help keep the tank clean and a couple more snails and hermit crabs for the same purpose. We purchased some raffle tickets that a school was there selling raffle tickets, for a school reef tank, with prizes being donated by the vendors and the club members. They said we didn't have to be there for the drawing. It was such a small, but fun and interesting, swap that we finished our shopping and decided to head back home. We figured we never win anything anyway, so no big deal. We arrived home and started taking the items purchased out of their bags to start acclimating them (after dipping them to guard against pests that might hitch hike on the coral or the coral plug) and my phone rang. I won some coral at the raffle. I asked the guy how long he would be there and he said until 4. That gave us an hour and 20 minutes to get there. I told him we were on our way back (remember, this is an hour drive each way. . .). I should have just told him to pass it on to somebody else and considered it a donation to the school. But we were so excited we actually won for once that we jumped in the car and drove back down there. We got there about 3:40 and the raffle people were gone as well as the prize I had won. So we explained the situation to the people still there and sighed and turned to go back home.
They were upset that we had made a second trip down there to get the coral raffle prize that 2 guys quickly grabbed frags from their own and gave them to me instead. That was really thoughtful and much appreciated. These were three small SPS (small polyp stony) corals, which I really didn't want to get because I was trying to stay with things that didn't need fed, LOL. But it was still so nice and the SPS corals are cute. So we headed back home. G had to go on home to let her dogs out so I started getting the frags put away. I did find a couple hitch hikers, but apparently did something wrong in my dipping because everything in the tank got very upset and I thought the brittle star was going to die. I managed to grab him out (gently, of course) and moved him into the smaller tank's refugium to see if he would survive with the clean water. Two items/critters, I didn't know what they were, also came up out of the gravel like they were trying to get away from something (I'm assuming the same thing that was bothering everybody else).
I grabbed them out because there are some things that will kill your corals and others that are good helpers in the reef tank and I didn't know what these were. They looked a lot like a couple little tiny pickles. I posted pictures on the various groups FaceBook pages asking for identification and whether they were reef safe or not and finally wrote to Sally Jo at GARF to see if she had any idea.