Field Trip to Ryan's Tank
This reef tank field trip features a show-stopping 1000-gallon SPS reef by Ryan Reeves that I saw while visiting Dallas Texas. It’s not every day you get to see an aquarium this size let alone a meticulously curated SPS reef!
This reef tank is a stunning 1000-gallon custom aquarium built by Planet Aquarium. It measures 10’ long x 5’ wide x 32” high. The tank was designed as an in wall tank with 2 viewable sides. The main view obviously is incredible, but even viewing the tank from the side is impressive given the 60” x 32” viewing pane. That is larger than most people’s show tanks.
Let's start with the Foundation
Holding up this tank is a beefy steel powder coated stand. One interesting thing about this stand is the integrated catwalks. You can probably imagine that it would be difficult to get into a tank this high. Having a stable platform to stand on goes a long way. On the front side of the aquarium though is crazy. There are removable stones that reveal steel inputs where a catwalk can be placed into.
We will go over the equipment in greater detail later in the video but first let’s talk about the livestock.
In terms of coral, this reef is an Acropora dominated SPS tank. These colonies are simply massive. The proportions are deceptive. There are two factors at work here. The first thing is the overall scale of the tank. If I didn’t mention how big the tank was, one squint their eyes a little and could imagine it was smaller sized aquarium with modest-sized colonies. Sure, it’s still a big tank but once you realize the true size of the aquarium, you realize how big those colonies must be to fill the space.
The second factor at work is the physics of water. Water does a funny thing optically when viewing through greater distances. Water compresses things visually. Looking through the glass from the front pane it looks like that colony isn’t that far away, but then you see it from the side and it is easily four to five feet away and WAY bigger than you thought.
For example, looking through the front glass I felt like I could reach and touch the back glass. In reality though, there was no way at all without climbing in.
I’m not going to go over every big name coral in this tank, but you can bet that the most highly desirable color morphs are represented in this collection. For example, that one colony that looks like it is going to blow right off the rocks is a giant Homewrecker Acropora colony… and don’t worry, it has since been re epoxy’d down.
As for fish, there is a small group of tangs… a Hippo Tang, a Black Tang, an Achilles Tang, and a Sailfin Tang. There are eight lyre tail anthias, two dragon face pipefish, a helfrichi firefish, a filefish for aiptasia control, two blue throat triggers, and a candy basslet. The idea for the blue throat triggers was to have a mated pair, but they both turned out to be males.
This is a fairly conservative stocking of such a large aquarium, and I’m ok with it. There are enough fish in there to provide benefits to maintaining the tank without overcrowding.
As far as other inverts go, there really aren’t that many. Those blue throat triggers I mentioned earlier? Yeah, they like to eat shrimp so unfortunately there is no easy ich control like skunk cleaners in this tank. I also noticed that there are no snails. An interesting thing Ryan decided to do was to go with urchins. I will be the firs to admit that urchins are better at controlling algae than most snails. They can even clear out coralline algae thus making more room for stony coral growth.
I struggle with urchins because they are massive bulldozers and carry stuff away all the time in my tanks. In this reef however, the corals for the most part are grown onto the rocks or are pretty well secured making urchin bulldozing less of a concern. Urchins as far as algae control are really good, so this was a conscious choice on Ryan’s part to go with the better herbivore and work around the limitations.
Now that we have taken a cursory look at the livestock, let’s get into the inner workings of a tank like this. This system would not be complete without a mechanical room and this one is situated behind the aquarium. The mechanical room is a nice open area with plenty of space to move around and work. Take a look over here! There is a floor drain just in case something goes really wrong is a nice touch.
The other benefit of having the mechanicals located in their own space is that all the noise generated by the equipment and water movement is isolated and doesn’t noise pollute the living space.
Whenever you have all this water in the middle of a house you absolutely have to plan for dealing with humidity. The kind of evaporation that happens on a tank this size is immense and could easily destroy everything if it is not handled. The house itself has a geothermal HVAC system, but in this mechanical room is a separate geothermal HVAC just to handle the aquarium. There is also an HRV air exchanger to continuously swap out air but it is only marginally useful on many days when the humidity is over 50% outside in Dallas. At that point it is all up to the geothermal HVAC.
Looking around in this room you can see a quarantine tank, a frag tank, RO water station, utility sink, and of course the sump.
Let’s talk first about this sump. This sump is a custom design by trigger systems that measures 94.5” long x 32.5” wide x 24.5” tall making this sump roughly 325 gallons. It has a number of separate chambers, one for the filter socks, another to hold bio bricks, and the remainder to hold rock.
I like that the sump is mostly sticking out from under the main display. In most home setups, the sump is located directly under the display tank inside the stand to save floor space. If you have the room though, I would much rather see it offset entirely like Ryan has done here. There is a lot of maintenance work that happens in and around a sump and it is a pain to do all that work squeezing into a tight aquarium cabinet.
The last thing I’ll mention about this sump is that there is a 2.5” drip tray going all the way around it that is plumbed down into a floor drain. It’s not common, but Ryan mentioned there was once a small leak from a bulkhead and another leak from a manifold that was caught by the drip tray before it made a big mess on the floor.
Now that we have taken a cursory look at the livestock, let’s get into the inner workings of a tank like this starting with the flow. Specifically, we can start with the overflow box. This aquarium has an external coast to coast overflow box. If you have seen my field trips to other aquariums, you may have noticed a recurring theme with these overflows. They all incorporate a triple drain system in a bean animal configuration to eliminate sound. One of the loudest things in an aquarium setup is the sound of water rushing down an overflow and this helps quiet that down substantially with minimal cost, it just takes pre-planning to have a triple drain system from the beginning.
An interesting wrinkle to this overflow box is that it has sectional dividers allowing for the installation of Tunze wave boxes and have the output plumbed through the side of the aquarium. This is the first time I’ve seen someone do this. Usually the wave box sits right in the aquarium, but by incorporating them into the overflow they are completely hidden.
Tunze wave boxes produce a pleasant back and forth surge motion. On smaller aquariums the back and frequency of the motion is a little too fast, but in larger aquariums is has a much more pleasing aesthetic. Having said that, there is a lot of other technologies providing flow in this tank, so let’s quickly go over those.
Ryan is using a combination of powerful return pumps and large powerheads inside the aquarium. The powerheads are fairly straight forward. He’s using a combination of Ecotech MP60’s and Maxspect Gyre 280’s. Those represent the largest powerheads those manufacturers offer.
The return system is where the flow gets interesting. There are two return pumps on this sump. Having multiple return pumps has the dual benefit of additional water flow back to the main tank but also some level of redundancy in the case one pump fails or needs maintenance.
The two return pumps in this system are an Abyzz 200 and an Abyzz 400. If you are familiar with the Abyzz brand, it is known for incredible build quality, being very powerful, and very expensive. The smaller of the two pumps, the Abyzz 200 runs a manifold that provides a feed to a number of devices. After that, it then goes up to the tank to feed three 1” sea swirl return oscillators with penductor attachments at their output further increasing the flow they provide. The seaswirls provide a nice randomized flow as they pan back and forth.
I like the manifold on this pump because it allows for some degree of experimentation with new devices. As reef hobbyists it is only natural to try out different things on occasion and having the ability to feed a new device off of an existing return is very convenient. At various times in this tank’s history Ryan experimented with an ozone reactor, a diatomaceous earth filter, a bio pellet reactor, etc. etc. Right now it is feeding a protein skimmer and a calcium reactor.
The larger of the two pumps, the Abyzz 400 powers two return lines that have fixed penductors so you can imagine the flow being generated there. One part of this return system that was not on at the moment is installed into the ceiling above the tank. There is a 100-gallon surge tank up there and you can see the feed from the Abyzz 400 going up there as well as the surge output coming down.
The cool thing about this surge tank is that it is controlled by a motorized ball valve. Most times I’ve seen surge tanks they are either toilet flap designs or a Carlson surge design that has no moving parts. The problem with both the toilet flap and Carlson surge device is that both before and after each surge there are a lot of bubbles introduced into the aquarium as well as a lot of noise. This particular design eliminates most of that by closing the ball valve before any air is sucked down into the surge pipe.
Ryan has been in the hobby since the 90’s so he was very reluctant to try LED’s on this tank. He was originally contemplating going with eight 400W 20k Radium bulbs but decided to take the plunge and go with Gen 4 Ecotech Radion Pros. That decision worked out great because according to Ryan, his corals have never looked better and in the process save a ton in electricity over the metal halides. I have to admit, I am so happy to hear this because I will be going with this exact same fixture and my biggest worry was how they would color up SPS.
The other lighting wrinkle on this system is a set of three sola tubes for supplemental daylight during waking hours. In Dallas I would expect less difference in light going from winter to summer compared to Ohio where I am so the light is probably a lot more consistent from the sola tubes.
To handle chemistry, this tank relies on a combination of water changes, a large calcium reactor, and dosing of trace elements and magnesium. The calcium reactor is a 12” GEO that is fed from the return manifold. The dosing system is a GHL Profilux that dispenses ESV magnesium and trace elements.
Although I can’t really talk about it, he showed me a secret product that he is pilot testing that continuously monitors alkalinity, calcium, magnesium, potassium, carbon dioxide, oxygen, salinity, pH, ammonia, salinity, and temperature every 20 min. and reports all that data to his phone. After I saw that, I was pretty sold on needing on of those when they come available, lol. He verifies all those test results by sending out samples for ICP testing every quarter.
As for the filtration the bulk of the work is handled by the large protein skimmer that was a custom 18” model by trigger systems.
In the sump are a bunch of ceramic biomedia plates that provide a lot of surface area for aerobic bacteria on the outside of the plate for nitrification and anaerobic bacteria in the core of the plate for denitrification. The idea of these ceramic products is to mimic what happens in liverock, but do so in a highly efficient fashion by providing extra ordinary porosity.
As I mentioned, the filtration methodology changes on occasion as Ryan tests out other devices like bio pellets, ozone, or different types of aggressive particle filtering.
Ok, that does it for this tank tour of Ryan’s 1000-gallon SPS monster. Thank you very much Ryan for inviting me over and sharing your beautiful tank with the Tidal Gardens community. Hopefully this tank gave you some ideas that can translate to success in your own reef aquariums.