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You are here: Home Volume X May 2011 Feature Aquarium: The Aquarium of Craig Bagby

Feature Aquarium: The Aquarium of Craig Bagby

By Craig Bagby Posted May 25, 2011 08:00 AM Pomacanthus Publications, Inc.
Craig shares his 335 gallon reef system with us this month. His 247 gallon peninsula-style main display - with elegantly minimalistic aquascaping - and frag tank are home to an impressive assortment of vibrant corals and fishes

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Editor's Note: Advanced Aquarist will be showcasing younger aquariums of experienced aquarists, with follow-up articles in future issues in order to show the progressions of successful aquariums.

My system consists of just over 335 gallons including a 247g SPS dominated display, a 50g chalice frag tank, and a stock 75g sump. I run just about every type of lighting that is offered in this hobby. This includes a Sfiligoi 72" XR6 over my display and an ATI 10 x 39w Powermodule with a 36" ReefBrite LED strip over my chalice frag tank. Calcium / Alkalinity are dosed via a Litermeter III using Bulk Reef Supply's 2-part system. My skimmer is a Royal Exclusiv AlphaCone 300. The sump contains water, a skimmer, a heater, and a powerhead - very clean and simple. While the basis of my system is quite simple, I do really enjoy the technical side of this hobby. I have some equipment that is necessary in this hobby and some that a lot of reefers will consider luxuries. In this article, you will see several examples of both. If there are 100 ways to keep a successful reef ecosystem, I have likely tried 90 of them. And while there is not a perfect method for everyone, there are some fundamental similarities with all of the beautiful systems that we all read about. I'll get to that in a minute. But first, let talk about what got me here...

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Oooooh...what is that called?

March 29, 1997 - I walked into Fishy Business in Columbia, SC and I was hooked within seconds. Like any newbie to saltwater, I asked a thousand questions and walked away with a thousand more. I ended up buying a 75g tank that belonged to one of the LFS employees about 2 weeks later. The system looked amazing to me. Well established live rock, the old school halide pendants with ballasts that weighed about 50 pounds each, and a simple sump setup. Piece of cake right? Yeah! I probably spent at least 2 hours a day at the LFS for the next 3 months asking every question in the book. The guys in the shop were very patient and they taught me quite a bit about the hobby. However, I learned on the go which, in this hobby, is not always the best way. But I learned many valuable lessons that would come in handy years later. I'm not going to waste any time on that first tank. I moved 8 times in 6 years and you can imagine the toll it took on the tank and its inhabitants. I was out of the hobby for a number of years but came back armed with a lot more knowledge.

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Undisputed Champion of "Can't leave well enough alone" - not as prestigious as it sounds

Fast forward almost 10 years - ten years of reading every reef book, every thread on every website I could find, and visiting every LFS in every town I lived in. I felt like I was better educated in proper reef-keeping techniques. My wife and I walked into Fish World in Richmond, VA and I instantly got the bug again. I had met Joe Genero (owner) years before and loved the store that he and his wife Jan had built over the years. They were the first LFS in the nation to go all saltwater over 20 years ago. Joe helped me design a system that I would love. I had a laundry list of things that I wanted and didn't want. We are lucky to have an unfinished basement in our house. Both the main water line and main house drain are down there and there is tons of space that we really don't use. We went with a 150g Tall AGA and decided to place the sump and equipment in the basement - just below the tank which sits on the main floor. The tank came with a blue vinyl background, a nice stand and canopy, 2 14K 400w halides, a stock 75g sump with a refugium, a UV light, some moonlights, and a Reef Octopus skimmer. I spent the next few months stocking up on corals and fish and everything was doing very well. But my A.D.D. and (non-diagnosed) OCD kicked in and I started tweaking here and there to try and make things even better. I'm not proud of this, but here is a list of changes I made over the next 3 years (bear with me):

  • Added 4 T5's to add some extra pop to the corals
  • Started the Prodibio system - stopped after a few months
  • Took off the blue vinyl background and painted the back of the tank black (on the outside of course)
  • Bought a chiller as the halides were heating up the water
  • Got a calcium reactor - got tired of manual dosing
  • Decided to switch to all T5's as the power bill was getting outrageous - removed canopy for open top
  • Sold the chiller since I didn't need it any longer
  • Bought a bigger skimmer
  • Started dosing vodka / Microbacter 7
  • Took the refugium out of my sump - was a nitrate factory with the sandbed
  • Got rid of the calcium reactor as I couldn't keep it dialed in - Alk was all over the place
  • Switched to 2-part dosing (Bulk Reef Supply)
  • Stopped dosing vodka / MB7 as my corals were starving
  • Completely changed aquascape...twice...lol.
  • Added frag tank

As embarrassing as all of those changes are, I feel like it's important to share them. Every time I saw a 'Reef of the Month' that I loved, I wanted to apply some of that success to my tank. Keep in mind, I was NEVER careless with the changes. Lighting changes were made very slowly as to not shock the corals, vodka dosing was done according to plan, etc. Surprisingly, I didn't lose any corals and all of my livestock thrived through all of the changes. My point is...it is VERY easy to get caught up in the latest and greatest thing. However, at the end of the day sometimes simplicity can produce the best results.

What did you just say?

My 150g had been up and running for just over 3 years, SPS was growing very well, fish were getting larger, and the tank was starting to fill in. My wife and I were watching TV one night and she looked over and said "I think we need a bigger tank"! I couldn't believe it. Being the wonderful husband that I am, I immediately called my good friend Andrew and said "I need your help fast - before she changes her mind". I knew the exact tank dimensions I wanted and Andrew had a mockup hand-sketched drawing of the stand within hours...lol. I decided to go with a 247g (72" x 33" x 24") Miracles Rimless - peninsula style tank with ¾" glass - Starphire on 3 sides. When Derek at Miracles told me that it was going to weigh 700lbs empty, I about died. Time to reinforce the floor : ). My goal with this tank build was to design a system that took all of the headaches out of the hobby (or as many as possible). I also wanted a stand that was completely different from anything I had ever seen. I travel 3+ days per week for work so I had to have a system that would be easy to maintain in my absence and easy for my wife to manage while I travel. My LFS (Fish World, Richmond, VA) helped me eliminate many of these headaches. I have 1 pump for the entire system which feeds my display, frag tank, carbon & GFO reactor, and pushes waste water to the house drain for water changes. We installed a 60g fresh water vat for top-off and a 100g vat for saltwater mix up. Water changes take me 5 minutes and I barely have to lift a finger. My LiterMeterIII handles Alkalinity, Calcium, and fresh water top-off. The only equipment in the sump is my skimmer, a heater, and a Tunze to help keep detritus from settling. My old 150g tall was a great tank but I had to use a step ladder to do just about everything. The 24" height of the new tank is great as I can actually reach things in my tank now. My friend Andrew helped me design and build a one-of-a-kind stand to hold the new tank. Okay, so he pretty much built the whole thing. I was just there to lend a hand : ). The bones of the stand are fairly standard (4x4's, cross braces, etc. - it could hold 10 tons I'm sure). We finished the outside of the stand with "Tahitian Pebbles" and a few access panels for storage and maintenance. It turned out even better than I ever imagined and I couldn't have done any of it without Andrew (thanks again my friend). It is truly one of a kind and I love it!

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How do I pick a light for this thing?

I used T5's exclusively for 2 years over my 150g and had excellent results. For the new display, I did a LOT of research! I spoke with just about every lighting manufacturer you can imagine. I ran a Sfiligoi Stealth 12x54w T5 fixture over my 150g and loved the build quality, active cooling, and reflector quality. I have gotten to know Tim Lasiter (NA Distributor for Sfiligoi - Aquatics Elite) well as I bought my original Stealth fixture from him. I discussed my needs with Tim and he was able to get a package together that met every need. I decided to go with a 72" Sfiligoi XR6 (3x250w 20K's with 8 x39w T5's). The fixture itself is a work of art. It is as pleasing to the eye as it is effective for my tank's inhabitants. I really wanted to be able to dim the halides and T5's. Sfiligoi had a great solution for that as well. I have 3 ACLS ballasts (1 Master and 2 Slaves) which allow me to control each halide independently. The functionality of these ballasts is incredible! I can dim each halide, simulate east / west sun patterns, program cloudy days, and it has a "new bulb function" that ramps up new halide bulbs slowly as to not shock the corals (just to name a few of the many amazing features). The T5's are hooked up to my Apex controller which allows me to dim each bank of bulbs as well. I didn't realize just how much I missed the "shimmer" until I started running halides again. The fixture is well vented without fans so I don't have to run a chiller again - which is fine with me. The corals have never been happier.

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Time for the switch...

The 700lb tank took 12 men to get into the house. My wife left town as she was too nervous to watch...lol. The stand was completed a week before the tank arrived so all we had to do was get the tank on the stand and hang the light. Many hobbyists would take the next few weeks / months to get the new tank up and running. I have never been much good at going to bed with a project looming over me, so I stayed up for 3 straight days and nights once the tank arrived. At the end of the 3 days the light was up, the tank was full of salt water, and both the 150g and the 247g were all running online together. I ran both tanks together for 7 days to allow the existing water to circulate through the new tank. I used brand new sand (seeded with existing sand from my 150g), used all rock from my old tank (plus some new live rock), and got the corals transferred over the next week and a half. My SPS did surprisingly well in the move. I was able to keep the same 75g sump in the basement. The only real change I made in the "fish room" was a larger skimmer. I upgraded from the Royal Exclusiv Alpha Cone 250 to the 300. It's more than enough skimmer for my system.

I put a LOT of time, thought, and effort into this new system. Needless to say, I spent just as much time thinking about proper rock and coral placement. The new tank is SPS dominated with a few LPS thrown into the mix as well. I had an idea of how I wanted my aquascape to look - minimalist, with plenty of open room (negative space) for the fish to swim and (most importantly) for the corals to grow. One of the biggest mistakes I see new reefers make when stocking a tank is putting too much in the tank without giving any thought as to what it may look like in a year or two (this includes both rock and coral). Like other successful hobbyists, I now research all new coral purchases to see where to put the specimen in the tank. The aquascape is pleasing to my eye and the fish swim in and out of the "islands" just as they would naturally on the reef.

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - can be a positive in this hobby ; )

While I have never been clinically diagnosed, anyone who knows me well will tell you that I have a problem! I have zero patience for nuisance algae, coralline algae on the glass / powerheads, aptasia, or anything else in my tank that is not supposed to be there. I spend a LOT of time observing my corals. I allow my corals to tell me when something isn't right with my tank. If I observe my corals lightening or if there is a small diatom bloom, I am able to catch it early, diagnose the issue, and respond accordingly. It took me YEARS to get to that point. I used to test my water every day. Since I've gotten better at identifying small issues, my daily testing regimen has decreased to once per month. Other than water testing, here is my basic maintenance schedule:

Daily

  • Check plumbing connections (takes 2 seconds)
  • Syphon any detritus from frag tank
  • Observe each and every coral, fish, and frag in my system
  • Clean glass of display, frag tank, and sump

Weekly

  • Clean powerheads with vinegar bath
  • Clean overflow "teeth"
  • Check all bulbs to ensure everything is "firing" properly

Monthly

  • 10% water change
  • Clean entire skimmer / skimmer pumps
  • Clean powerhead in sump
  • Completely clean out frag tank (razor blades, toothbrushes, whatever it takes)
  • Inspect bulkheads
  • Clean overflow and return plumbing (Loc-line, PVC)

Every 6 months

  • Replace bulbs as needed
  • Clean main system pump

I take a proactive approach to tank maintenance. If I could give just a few pieces of advice to folks looking to take this hobby to the next level, this would be one of them. Of course there are always things in this hobby that you can't plan for (cyano blooms, bryopsis, etc.) but if you are persistent AND consistent in your tank husbandry, you will be rewarded down the road. Set a realistic course and stick to it!

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Tank parameters

  • pH 8.1 - 8.3 (pH probe monitored with Apex - I recalibrate my pH probe monthly)
  • Calcium 475ppm (Salifert)
  • Alkalinity 8.0 dKH (Salifert)
  • Magnesium 1450ppm (Salifert / Elos)
  • Salinity 1.025 (Milwaukee Refractometer)
  • Nitrates 0.5ppm (Salifert)
  • Phosphates Undetectable (Salifert)

Tank Equipment

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  • Display Tank - Miracles Rimless ¾" 3-side Starphire glass Peninsula style tank (72"x33"x24")
  • Display lighting - 72" Sfiligoi XR6 (3x250w 20K SE Radiums & 8x39w T5's Actinic)
  • Display tank powerheads - 2 Vortech MP60ES (wirelessly controlled through Apex WXM Module)
  • Frag Tank - GlassCages 3-side Starphire glass tank (40"x30"x9")
  • Frag Tank lighting - ATI 10x39w Powermodule & 1x36" ReefBrite LED strip
  • Frag Tank powerhead - 1 Vortech MP40 (Gen 2)
  • Main circulation pump - Reeflo Hammerhead
  • Sump - 75g AGA tank
  • Sump powerhead - Tunze 6201
  • Skimmer - Royal Exclusiv Alpha Cone 300 (with Avast Marine Swabbie)
  • Controller - Neptune Systems Aquacontroller Apex (2 DC8's, WXM, VMD, pH / temp probe)
  • RO/DI Unit - Bulk Reef Supply 300gpd TDS Spartan
  • Dosing - LiterMeterIII - Handles Alk, Ca, and Top-off
  • Remote Monitoring - Canon VB Webcam (in basement to monitor guts of system)
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Mineral Supplements

  • Calcium / Alkalinity - Bulk Reef Supply 2 part (Recipe 1)
  • Magnesium - Kent Tech-M (Manually dosed once per week)
  • Carbon - Bulk Reef Supply Rox (changed every 2 weeks)
  • PO4 Remover - Rowaphos (changed every 2-3 weeks)
  • Iodine - Lugol's (3 drops per day)
  • Zeovit Coral Snow - As needed for cyano blooms
  • Salt - Tropic Marin BioActif

Lighting Schedule (Display)

  • 10AM - 12PM: All T5's - 2 hour sunrise - 0%-80% (off 15 minutes after halides come on)
  • 11:45AM-7:45PM: Halides ramp up from 0-100%, full power for 5 hours, and ramp down from 100%-0%
  • 7:30PM - 10:30PM: All T5's - 3 hour sunset - 80%-0%

Lighting Schedule (Frag Tank) - Reverse schedule

  • 9:00PM - 10:00: ReefBrite LED's
  • 10:00PM - 11:00PM: 4 T5's (Super Actinics / Blue +'s)
  • 11:00PM - 4:00AM: All 10 T5's on
  • 4:00AM - 5:00AM: 4 T5's (Super Actinics / Blue+'s)

Livestock

Fish

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  • Tongan Sailfin Tang
  • Yellow Tang (2)
  • Yellow Coris Wrasse (2)
  • Sixline Wrasse
  • Flaming Hawkfish
  • Block Anthias (2 -Mated pair)
  • Chocolate Tang
  • Majestic Angelfish
  • Black Tang
  • Kole Tang
  • Hybrid Powder Blue Tang
  • Mimic Tang (Indian Ocean)

SPS

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  • Tri-Color Prostrata
  • TCN Royal Blue Tenuis
  • ATL Forest Fire Acropora
  • Skittles Granulosa
  • Bubblegum Millie
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  • Blue Hokei
  • Darth Maul Porites
  • Tyree Pink Lemonade
  • Tyree Meteor Show Cyphastrea
  • ORA Chips
  • ORA Hawkins Echinata
  • ORA Red Planet
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  • ORA Borealis
  • Tyree Setosa
  • Tyree Superman Montipora
  • Tyree Sunset Montipora
  • Tyree Season's Greetings Monitopora
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  • Bali Tri-color Acro
  • Garf Bonsai
  • Blue Tort
  • Acropora Millepora (10+ mini colonies)
  • ATL Ultimate Stag
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  • Ultra Blue Tenuis
  • Grape Ape Montipora
  • Oregon Tort
  • Vivid Efflo
  • Steve Elias Stag
  • $500 Efflo
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LPS

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I want to thank a few people that have helped me immensely in this hobby. First, thanks to Advanced Aquarist for the opportunity to feature my tank here. A BIG thanks to Andrew Harrow - this tank would never be up and running without your help! Thanks to my extended family and friends at www.Reef2Reef.com (where I'm proud to spend a LOT of my time). Sonny Harajly (SunnyX @ www.ProCorals.com) and Derek (Miracles in Glass) both helped a great deal with my tank decision. And thanks to Joe and Jan Genero (Fish World - Richmond, VA). If you're ever in Richmond please stop by and have a look at their shop. They are both a wealth of knowledge in this crazy hobby of ours. I'm very fortunate to have a LFS of that caliber in my neighborhood. That's it! I'm excited to see the reef grow in over the next few years. I'm confident there will be some changes...lol! And I certainly hope that my tank can live up to some of the other featured tanks I've read about here.

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Feel free to visit my ongoing build thread at Reef2Reef - http://www.reef2reef.com/forums/large-aquariums-180g/51736-bagbos-dream-miracles-build-powered-sfiligoi.html#post563250

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