MY FIRST 55 GALLON REEF AQUARIUM
Sally Jo Headlee
My name is Sally Jo Headlee, I am the Executive Director and President of the Geothermal Aquaculture Research Foundation, Inc. I have been asked to write an article to share the successful and not so successful results of my 55 gallon reef aquarium.
On Feb. 14, 1996 my husband, LeRoy Headlee called me into my office, told me to keep my eyes closed then asked me to open them. What was displayed before me was a glass aquarium, stand with a hood and all the gadgets that go with it. He said "happy valentines day honey", I looked at him with caution and surprise. I had spent years watching his magic with reef animals, the incredible beauty of his aquariums and the many hours spent trying something new or spending money on some new toy,
I would like to express right here that by no means do I want to ever discourage anyone from setting up a reef tank, nor do I want to share my research and methods as the only way to do this. I agreed to share this information more on the basis of making sure that the mistakes I've made won't have to be made again and if I can save someone a step or two that they might be stumbling on then we will all get to where we want to go safer and faster. This is such a fun and educational project, any parent and child should take this up as a bounding opportunity. There are several new things to learn and share with all levels of the hobbist.
LeRoy started setting up my tank days after he presented me with this gift. He started by placing a ecosand filter on the bottom of my tank. Than he brought me in about 80lbs of Garf Grunge TM live sand to eveningly spread on top and told me to make sure that there were no holes and that the ecosand filter was completely covered. I can tell you my tank was so cloudly I never thought that it would clear and it did make it hard to be sure that I coverd all the black plastic mesh. So just to be sure I'd add another handful to the bottom. I could not believe it when I came to work the next day the tank water was crystal clear!!!
LeRoy then put in the lights, we started with 6 - 40 watt lights which gave us about 5 watts per gallon. The next thing we added was some beautiful arches that LeRoy made by hand for me. I than began glue animals to these arches (yes I did this under water). I placed my base rock where I wanted it, then I added my live rock to fill in.
To explain more in detail about how I accomplished the super glue methods under water I will take you through this step by step. I first found the animal I wanted to place in my reef tank. Then I researched were it needed to be placed in my system. I had the animal cut and soaking in salt water resting before moving to my tank. I then put a pretty good dab of glue on the bottom of the animal opened up the reef hood and placed that animal where I decided it would survive and thrive the best.
I held this animal in place for at least 45 seconds to make sure it attached to the rock. We have tested several brands of glue and have found that the Ross gel and Locktite gel are the best glues for giving you time to adjust placement of the animal before soliod attachment. We know that some of you will think that this form of attachment sounds harsh but, believe me when I say that they use these same methods on our service men who where injured in war. My tank is completely covered by placement of animals with glue. Out of 175 different speicmens only about 10 of them came from the ocean. Even my fish, who is like having a cat in the tank. He has to check out everything new that goes into my tank, got his own taste of glue more than once. This method of gluing is faster, more accurate, and definitely much much, more successful. I have seen NO adverse effects on any of my corals either soft or small polyp stony.
I went around the entire lab and picked pieces that had color on them and had unusual shapes to them. It was the second day that I began adding creatures to my reef and to be honest with you I have not stopped even today!
ALL OF MY ATTACHMENTS ARE DONE UNDER WATER WITH SUPER GLUE.
I spent countless hours looking in all of LeRoy's tanks, turning over grunge and live rocks, whatever tiny animals I found I went running into my office and glued these animals were I wanted them. In the very first month I could tell this tank was going to be remarkable and no artist could paint a more perfect picture, yet the one thing we all lack is the patience it takes for these animals to come into their own.
If you enjoy gardening at all you should really try your hands at a reef aquarium. They bring so much pleasure, love, peace, and beauty. Another interesting fact is that for people who have a hard time fighting depression when the light hours decrease this is a wonderful source of light supplement for those who suffer.
I really want to encourage all of you to just make that first attempt. If you are concerned that you will lose something start with the easiest animals and graduate slowly. Some of your loses may not be your fault at all it could be that the animal was very stressed before you placed it in your home aquarium. I would also like to extend to anyone that I will help with any questions or concerns you may have. You have to know who to trust when you ask questions otherwise you may be stuck with a reef that will never work for you.
There are many things that I have accomplished with my tank that I was warned I could not do (I guess everybody loves a challanege) and to everyone's surprise it grew and grew and grew. I would add a handful of GARF's Janitors once a month and throw in a little grunge to my tank when some new stuff came in. I never went through any bad algae stage and my janitors keep the rock and glass so clean that this setup is really maintenance free.
My tank is one year and 5 months old to date and has grown and made several babies which have found homes all round the U.S. As for any environment that man is trying to duplicate the most important factor is trying to find the perfect balance and I know that you need to pay attention to the animals themselves.|
I now have over 165 different species of corals living in my 55 gallon reef. I have to pay close attention that nothing is touching each other or stinging each other, or something hasn't knocked something over, or they get enough light and so on.
It took me forever to be able to keep a Xenia coral alive, but through trail and error I now have 5 different species and I affectionately call them weeds. It takes time to find the best condition for your coral, but you can move them around and I suggest doing so. I have my hand in my tank daily and it never looks the same from one week to the next because I move my animals around in my tank.
We have increased my lighting to 7 watts per gallon and in the next week will be increasing that even more. We now have 2- VHO 4' bulbs and 4 - 4' 40 watt bulbs. We will change this to 4 - 4' VHO and 2 -4' 40 watt because so many sps corals are growing now.
It is my belief that lighting is extremely important for most animals and that you need to provide caves and shading for the animals that don't require so much light, because they can live in the same environment.
I noticed that when I figured out what additives worked best for my system that if I did it on a regular basis, meaning the same time and the same day of the week, I saw the best results. It is so important to keep your system as stable as possible. If your water evaporates then your salt content will increase, temperature increases and so on.
I have a water box on the sump in my system that drops water into my tank when the water level goes down. (SEE FIG.1) This box needs to be filled only once a week, but I believe it is one of the reasons my system remains so stable.
I am also committed to - when something works why change it? It took me a long time to come up with the right additives that would work for my system and believe me I lost a few things along the way trying!
I am very adamant about starting with smaller animals and giving them room to grow and establish themselves. Out of all the species in my system maybe ten of them truly come from the ocean itself. It is also important for you to decide what it is you want to accomplish with your reef aquarium. LeRoy and I have had a quarrel or two about adding too many fish and which ones to add.
Soft corals grows much faster than the small polyp stony corals so placement and space is really important.
After my first year of learning and growing with this aquarium LeRoy gifted me with my second aquarium for this valentines day.
It was time to weed my garden and to give all the animals some extra life. So we started my cutting tank. All the corals put in this tank came from small tiny animals that grew into incredible creatures just in one year. The first cutting of an animal was difficult to do but, to my surprise not only has the baby tripled in size so has the mother it came from.
I had one really bad experience on the propagating side, which I feel is important to share so that perhaps you will not have to encounter this. I was cutting my large colony of red Mexican Palythoas underwater in my tank, removing the polyp down to the stem and then gluing them to the plug and putting the cutting in my new tank. The next day I came into my office the the beautiful 4" peach colored giant calm was dead and had slimed up my whole tank. The only thing I can blame this on is the toxins that came from my Palythoa when cutting inside my aquarium.
When propagating Palythoas, I think one should remove the animal and rock from the aquarium, propagate it, dip it in salt water then place it back in your system where you want it.
THIS IS THE 55 CUTTING TANK
WITH THE PLASTIC RACKS
After the first month of having my second aquarium I made 143 plug cuttings, which had anywhere from 2-3 different animals on each plug. We decided to sell the plugs for $20.00 each. In the second month we had already sold over $1,500.00 (yes you guessed it LeRoy looked at me and said "now we have enough to buy you another aquarium").
The most amazing thing to me was that when I made all these cuttings I found I had a second layer of animals that were being covered up by some of the bigger creatures. It is truly important to trim, prune and cut back these animals.
Even after cutting and glue attachment I have seen the polyps expand the same day. Sometimes it is smart to heal some of the animals by placing them in slower current or less light and then to gradually move them up. Again the best way to tell what is needed is by paying attention to the looks of the animal itself.
I really hope this article is helpful and perhaps encourages more people to try to grow a more diverse group of corals. I would love to share more of this experience and to go in more detail with those who have specific questions. Just send your questions on to GARF and I will answer them as soon as possible.
Dry powders added to fresh water
Liquids added to sump
Liquids added to sump