400 Gallon

Aquarium APEX Controller

The easiest way to maintain an aquarium is with some type of controller. Nowadays, you want it web-ready, providing information up to the minute, and it should text you as soon as something is out of range.

For the last decade, I've been using Neptune System's Aquacontroller.  First I had the AC II, then later upgraded to the AC 3.  Near the end of 2011, I gifted myself the Apex controller, the latest available version at that time.  The Apex has been around for a couple of years, and many of my friends swear by it.  

The controller turns the lights on and off, as well as the heaters and fans (or chiller, if you have one).  If the tank runs too hot, the controller can shut off the lights to stop adding further heat to the water.  And if it has been set up with a battery backup, it can notify you via text or email if the power goes out.  


This list varies over time. You can read about the fish, corals and inverts I keep.

I love a mixed reef, and try to make sure the fish I buy are compatible as well as reef-safe.

The current list of reeflings in my Marineland 400g Starphire reef (updated December 2015):

Salt mix

Salt brands are heavily debated...

I've used a number of brands but usually stay with one I like for years at a time.  Two brands I liked: Red Sea's Pro Reef & Kent's Sea Salt.  From 2011 to 2014, I've used Sybon's Reef Formula.

Due to space constraints, I need to buy bagged salt instead of by the bucket. It takes six bags to mix up 250g of saltwater at a time.

The external pump mixes up and keeps the saltwater in circulation until needed.  Since the container is in the fishroom, the water temperature is close enough to the reef's temperature that water changes are easy.  Opening a valve feeds new saltwater into the sump. 

RO/DI system and water storage

A great reef starts with quality water, and I use RO/DI water at all times.

Using a 150gpd system provides 6.25 gallons per hour.  After MACNA 2012, I had a 300gpd system on hand and decided to use it as well.  Running the two systems side by side speeds up water production significantly, at a rate approaching 19 gallons per hour.  

Over the years, it has become a bit of an octopus because I have it feeding water to a bladder tank under the kitchen sink to supply drinking water from a spigot, and cold water / ice cubes from the fridge. My blog explains how I set that up: http://www.reefaddicts.com/entry.php/27701-A-fancy-upgrade-to-my-RO-DI-setup

Deep Sand Bed

A deep sand bed helps with denitrification and overall just looks nicer to me.

I prefer a 'deep sand bed' (DSB) for my reef tank, rather than a shallow one. When the flow moves it around, it doesn't end up with bare spots that way.  From a maintenance perspective, a DSB helps with nitrate reduction and also makes it easier to reach items in a 30" deep aquarium.  I chose to use larger grain (Tropic Eden Reeflakes) specifically because I use Vortech pumps that can move water both with their ebb and their flow.

It's nice and clean, ready to use out of the bag.  That being said, it still doesn't hurt to rinse it out more, or at least install a filter sock to trap what comes out initially during the first couple of days. I saw tiny bits of plastic from the packaging process, which I removed as encountered. 

Plumbing the 400g

Return lines plumbed, drain lines plumbed, manifold explained, penductor assembly documented.

The 400g's plumbing needed to look sleek to match the rest of the system.  For now, all the documentation on ReefAddicts is linked below:

Return line to Penductors (2011): http://www.reefaddicts.com/entry.php/1285-Plumbing-Return-assembly-with-Penductors

Return line to Penductors (2013): http://www.reefaddicts.com/entry.php/28974-The-400g-is-officially-running-(Blog-500!)?bt=45774

Drain lines: http://www.reefaddicts.com/entry.php/1287-Plumbing-Drain-lines-to-the-sump-and-refugium

Equipment at a Glance

To quickly sum up what makes my reef tick, I'm listing the gear that I use and some components of the fishroom.

Here's a simple summation of my 400g reef

Tank: 400g Starphire Reef-ready with external overflow, custom-made by Marineland.  It's 84" x 36" x 30" with double criss-crossed eurobracing. The viewing panes on three sides are Starphire glass. All four walls are 3/4" thick, the bottom panel is 1" thick with perimeter bracing for additional strength to avoid leaking.

Sump & Refugium: 150g custom-made sump, made by Melev's Reef. It's 58" x 31.5" x 17" and runs about 80g during normal operation. The refugium zone is the full length, 6" wide and the water level is 12" tall and is filled with sand and feather caulerpa.  The sump is made of 3/8" cast acrylic.

Water Testing

The benefit of water tests is that you know specifically when something is out of range. Try to avoid the tendency to not test because you might not like the results. Instead, use those test kits frequently, and track the data to watch how the water trends over time. If a kit can be used 50 times, that means it will last you a year. The expiration date is a clue that it won't last forever.

Water tests are performed often. Specific key areas may be checked or tested daily or every few days, but the full battery of tests are done once or twice a month. When those are completed, that is when I update my spreadsheet and post it on the site.

For more information about testing and maintaining stable water parameters, refer to this article: http://www.reefaddicts.com/content.php/302-Maintaining-Good-Water-Quality

Below are the basic parameters within acceptable range limits, but a tighter swing within the high and low range is best.  For example, if pH measures 8.1 to 8.3 daily, that would be better than 7.9 to 8.4 daily.  The more consistent with limited variation, the better.

Steel Stand & The Walkboard

The new tank needed a new stand, and I was determined to get a powder-coated steel stand this time. Lots of room, access from all four sides, and a walkboard to make maintenance a breeze!

The steel stand was an absolute necessity with the new aquarium. For almost six years, the 280g reef was supported with 2x6 boards and two sides were blocked by the wall. This time, full access was my goal, from all four sides. Steel takes less space, is stronger and looks nicer.

The local fish store by my house began using sleek steel stands for his display tanks and when it was time to design the 400g, I knew just whom to call. The welder had quite a bit of experience since he'd already built a number by then. I asked him to meet me at my home to explain what I was trying to accomplish. I also explained that I was going to want a removable walkboard that would slide into place from the front or the back of the tank whenever desired.

The Fish Room

The best plan is a well designed one, and from the point of deciding that I was upgrading to a bigger tank, I spent months planning out the perfect room. Built from the ground up, I poured the concrete, built the walls, ran new circuits, added insulation, ventilation, hot and cold running water as well as a full length french drain in the event of a flood.

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