Minnesota Living Coral Reef

Living Coral Reef

This is a 150 gallon living coral reef in the Aqualogical “Aqua Lab”.  Using mostly second hand equipment the project was done as inexpensively as a reef aquarium can be.  This aquarium is a proving ground for the overall ideology of all of Aqualogical projects.  Synergy means behavior of whole systems unpredicted by behavior of their parts taken separately.  This quote by Buckminster Fuller fully encompasses our approach to the parts acting as a whole ecology. Filling every niche role through the entire food web creates an ecosystem where the waste of one becomes processed or transformed by another.


Aqualogical Resources Aquatic Research Lab – Cambria Minnesota

Slow and Methodical

It takes months to start a reef aquarium the right way. Once we made the transfer of the old livestock into the new tank we began a slow progression of filling as many roles of microfauna as we could.  Keeping stocking low and allowing the chemistry to balance while monitoring feeding we start to introduce phytoplankton as the very bottom of our food chain.  This then cultivates various copepods, brittle stars, worms and establishes a solid foundation for our reef.  Monitoring nutrient levels and keeping low nutrients we then start to add clean up animals like crabs and snails and other inverts. Once we again reach a balance we then go on to add fish and corals at slow intervals from least aggressive and sensitive to most aggressive.

Aquascape / Environment

With a love for stony coral (SPS) this reef was intended to simulate an open water coral wall or mound in the Indo-Pacific Ocean. With high lighting and high flow, softer lagoon type corals would not tolerate this low nutrient environment. With two wavemakers and two return pumps there is a lot of water movement in this display. Under the display a multi chambered sump allows us to process water and cultivate the microfauna in a refuge away from any predation. Mangroves and Chaeto algae soak up any additional nutrients and the cleaned and microfauna rich water is returned to the display.

System Function

This 150 gallon bowfront aquarium is 6 feet wide, 2 feet tall, and two feet front to back at the widest bow. It sits on a bar height stand to make viewing at eye level ideal and make more height for mangroves. Under the stand is a 75 gallon 5 chambered sump that holds about 30 gallons of additional water.  Lighting consists of 2 200 watt LED arrays, 2 Kessel A360, a 6 foot and a 2 foot LED light bar.  2 Controllable DC return pumps allow for different mixing and volumes of water processing through the sump.  2 Vortech controllable wavemakers provide tremendous water movement inside of the display.  “Dirty” water leaves the display through a single 2″ overflow and enters the sump through a 4″ sock into the prefilter of the sump. It then enters the second chamber holding a slightly oversized skimmer. Next a “refugium” holding some small pieces of rubble and a poly raft with 10 Mangroves provide a place for slow nutrient removal but also rearing microfauna.  Water then enters the second to last chamber over a tumbling ball of Chaeto algae, through a large pore filter pad and back to the return pumps for another cycle.  Turning over around 1700 gph filters the entire aquarium around ten times per hour.  


Success!  I could not be happier with the progress this reef tank has made.  It has been almost bulletproof when neglected and as low maintenance as one could possibly achieve.  With a slow approach and a lot of patience a very unique and homeostatic ecosystem has developed.  With weekly filter sponge and sock cleaning and daily feeding being the only routine we have been able to go a few months at a time without water changes (not recommended).

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