cultivating pod populations that when I eventually tore the tank
down, I found fish living down there that I thought I had lost six
months earlier. I suspected that they had leapt from the rimless
tank and were subsequently eaten by my dog while I was away, as
I hadn’t found any bodies anywhere. Instead, they must have made
their way into my overflow and into the sump. They lived out their
days in the refugium fat and happy as ever.
I also used a skimmer and two reactors, one with high-capacity
granular ferric oxide (GFO) and the other with high-quality carbon,
and synthetic adsorbent media pouches in my filter sock. I used so
many things that it’s difficult to say what worked best, but I believe
the high-capacity GFO made an immediate impact.
At the beginning of the life of my tank, I had some algae outbreaks,
and if a sea hare didn’t take care of it, the GFO would have my tank
crystal-clear in three days or less, sometimes overnight. I also used
a doser for calcium and alkalinity, and a controller to monitor pH,
temperature, and oxygen reduction potential (ORP), pH being the
most important for me to monitor. It seemed that if the pH was
okay, all else was okay as far as water chemistry.
I had a good idea of what I wanted for my aquascape, but it became
an evolving natural environment, as I had to work with what the
rocks allowed me to do. First, I built a strong base that rested against
the back-corner overflow from which I built the stack. I built a large
shelf on the base, securing it all using plenty of aquarium putty. I then
built shelves upon that, making each smaller as I approached the top.
I also built a separate “tower” to the side to create more territories
for my fish to claim, to break up lines of sight, and most important,
to create a canyon that I loved watching the fish navigate. The more
intricate and complex your rockwork, the more action you are likely
to get out of your fish. With so many hiding places the fish become
more adventurous and won’t be reluctant to come out and explore
My aquascape was not built in a day. I added, subtracted, and
moved things until the last day I had the tank. Takashi Amano, famed
freshwater planted pioneer and icon (I got my start with freshwater
planted tanks), was right when he once explained that he did not deal
in saltwater because “You cannot control nature.” It’s true, because
every piece of coral in that tank is a living thing, fighting for the best
position for light, flow, and food. You cannot dictate how they will
grow, and adjustments will be necessary as corals develop and begin
to war with one another, encroaching on each other’s turf.
It’s an ever-evolving process. Elements will need to be adjusted and
moved. Corals may require more calcium and magnesium as they
acclimate to the tank and grow. Flow is also extremely important to
a tank’s success. In addition to my return pump and its dual-return
nozzles, I added three separate powerheads to cover all the areas of
my tank, because a complex aquascape requires adequate flow to all
areas of the tank.
When stocking my tank, for the first four to six months I focused
on adding fish that served a purpose rather than fish that I simply
wanted. I used yellow tangs to pick algae from rocks and a pair of
yellow coris wrasses to eat pests. Not a single piece of coral was
added to my tank that wasn’t immediately surrounded by my coris
wrasses, like a pack of raptors searching every centimeter of the new
coral for unwelcome guests.
The coris wrasses pair-bonded, mating every night at sunset. After
a few years, one became sick, and as it was breathing its last breaths,
its healthy mate swam back and forth above, swishing water toward
it, trying to get it to start moving again. When my flame hawk made
80 www.tfhmagazine.com Jul/Aug 2017
A yellow coris wrasse (Halichoeres chrysus) and Potter’s angelfish
(Centropyge potteri) inspect a newly introduced Acropora frag.
A grouping of various Montipora spp. the author grafted together
over an overhang, under which a cleaner shrimp set up its
cleaning station (its antennae can be seen poking out here).