Reef Spotlight: Bret Hartman’s 120g

Posted by on November 1, 2015 - zero

Reef Spotlight

November 2015 Reef Spotlight

Bret Hartman (Hart24601)


Hi Everyone!

What an exciting honor to have a tank spotlight! There are so many amazing systems here on Reef2Reef and honestly, I have never felt my tank was anything special to anyone, other than me. It has been fun to document the build here:



My brother, who is 10 years older than me, has had fish tanks since he was little. So, I was essentially raised around aquariums. I grew up in rural Iowa. It was an hour and a half drive to any town with more than 5,000 people. Consequently, we were pretty isolated from any fish stores. We were also pretty financially limited.  So, all the equipment we could get was bought from the classifieds in the newspaper. All my tanks growing up were old school slate bottom and metal frame. Although we had quite a few tanks, access to equipment was limited and what we had was very precious to us! We had a couple of filters that were air pump driven HOB. It was very exciting when we would find a used air-pump, since they were the heart of the tanks and could make them power undergravel filters. I remember reading and re-reading the fish books we owned. Even though they were published in the 50s they still had a lot of good information for a kid. Not exactly modern tech in the late 80’s, but my father was diagnosed with cancer around when I was born and fought until I was 8, so fish tanks and equipment were not exactly priorities. However, my father was a biology teacher and he always enjoyed our interest in nature. We kept all kinds of pets, turtles, frogs, salamanders; pretty much anything we could get our hands on!  The fish were limited to what we could catch, but since we lived on a river there were a lot of different minnow species along with bluegills and sunfish. We tried to keep some bass once… we went up to Mayo for a while and came home to only one fish in the tank, a very fat, happy bass!

In my early teenage years, mid 90’s, I discovered fish stores in larger cities, fish-keeping magazines, and amazing new and improved equipment like impellers! I used my money from my summer job detassling corn to buy new equipment and started keeping discus, a fish species I still love but have not kept since high school. During college I got into saltwater tanks, nothing too crazy, mostly seahorses and soft coral. However, new jobs and frequent moving after college made it hard to consistently keep a healthy tank, so I decided to leave the hobby for some years and get into more portable pets, mainly reptiles. I revived my interest in fish tanks approximately 4 years ago and quickly became addicted to reef keeping and clams!



System Profile:

My amazing fiancée bought me this aquarium as a Birthday/Christmas present! We talked over the styles and sizes we like and chatted with the nice people at Miracles to have it designed. My favorite tank is the 2:1:1 length, width, height ratio of the standard 120 aquariums and my fiancée likes rimless so it wasn’t a hard compromise once we decided on an external overflow. I didn’t want to reduce height from 24 inches, so we had to increase glass size to 3/4” to since there isn’t a size between ½” and ¾” with Starfire glass. Some places quoted us using ½” glass, but Miracles advised against it unless lowering the height a couple inches. Since we want this tank to last decades, I am happy to have it overbuilt!

We transferred the livestock from a 65 gallon around New Year’s 2015. It has been running for 6 months, but most of the animals have been in my care for much longer. I enjoy the look when the colonies start to grow between each other, somewhat tangled up so I spaced the frags (that don’t have sweepers) relatively close around 3” radius from others to give room but fill in but look full when grown out. Coral growth and color have been good! What the system really needs is just a year or two more to really grow out, if I can resist fragging the coral for my friends! I don’t like to sell my frags; I generally just give them away or trade.

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System Details:

  • Display tank: 120 gallon Miracles custom rimless (48”x24”x24”)

¾” Starfire glass, external overflow, blacked out bottom and back glass

  • Marineland black stand with oak plywood and foam for rimless support per Miracles instructions
  • Rock: 2 Vidarock ceramic structures, no calcium based rock or sand
  • Sump: Nextreef NRS-30 sump ~28 gallons total capacity, 30” long 2 chambers
  • Protein Skimmer:Vertex 180i
  • Carbon/phosphate filtration: Bulk Reef Supply high capacity granulated ferric oxide in Bulk Reef Supply reactor. Passive carbon filtration changed every few weeks.
  • Return Pump: Sicce 3.0 (700gph, ~500gph with head loss)
  • Ca/ Alk/ Mg dosing: Bulk Reef Supply soda ash and calcium with Bubble Magus BM-T01 3 channel dosing pump. 30 gallon kalk reservoir with Bulk Reef Supply 50ml/min dosing pump controlled by Apex
  • ATO: Tunze Osmolator with remote socket for Avast Maine diaphragm pump
  • RO/ DI: 5 stage SpectraPure RO/DI
  • Heating/cooling: Finnex digital heater controller with 500w titanium tube
  • System controller: Apex
  • Water Circulation: XF 150 Gyre (100% constant mode), MP40 QD (100% reefcrest mode w/battery backup), MP40 QD – WWD retrofit (100% reefcrest mode)
  • Lighting: 5 AI hydra 26 running 80% at around 20K setting

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Circulation Summary:

I like a lot of flow, 100x turnover per hour or more, but in a mixed reef that is challenging since many of the larger LPS don’t like that much flow. I counter balance the gyre with an mp40 – the gyre overpowers the vortech so there is still gyre total circulation, but it breaks up the strong gyre return flow along the bottom and the random surging of the mp40 vs constant gyre flow gives some more flow to midlevel corals. Coupled with some strategic SPS placement the lower flow corals get a break. Below the gyre is an older mp40 QD retrofit that sits on the bottom to provide more circulation in that area and push detritus into one spot I can easily collect.

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Lighting details:

I start the lights at 7am so I can check out the tank before work, the lights slowly ramp to their max at noon where they continue until 9pm when they ramp down to moon lights at 10pm-midnight before shutting off. AquaIllumination says for a 20k look, run the blue channels at a 2:1 ratio to the white/green/red. I run mine at this ratio; I like the look without being too blue. I experimented with running 8-10k for a couple of hours during the day, but I found no benefit to the coral growth or color. I have always thought, violet and near UV light are important for coral so I would not run LED lights that do not include this part of the spectrum.

Lighting objective:


Having a large rimless tank, we want to show off the tank itself and not hide it with a canopy. There are some good looking MH and T5 light fixtures out there like the Giesemann, but they are not easy to find and carry quite the premium. We think it’s hard to beat the looks of a sleek LED system over a rimless aquarium, plus a foible of mine is I hate to buy bulbs. Yes it’s silly, but luckily I have had great experiences with LEDs on different systems, so LEDs on this tank was an easy choice.

I like LEDs, but currently I feel there some issues. The biggest issue that I have found is shading. A single point LED light works great for frags, but once those start to grow they will self-shade unless there is light coming from another angle with fixture overlap. For coral or anemones that have movement (soft coral/some LPS) this is less of an issue because the light can reach more areas. However, shading can still become a problem as the skeleton grows. Ideally, I would like to have LEDs covering the entire surface of the tank, but that is not very practical for my budget, as well as other concerns including availability, speed of customer service, and expediting of warranty replacements. Using five Hydra 26’s, 30 inches from the bottom of the tank, in a staggered formation, gives great overlap. This design was also able to provide the overhangs with 50-100 PAR, however when using just one point source the overhangs receive 0 PAR. This is indicative of having enough overlap of fixtures to prevent shading of corals. I don’t think manufactures point this out to prospective buyers – but it’s something that people should be aware of if they want large SPS colonies. My other objective was to provide consistent PAR across set depths of the tank (so 12” deep is 400 PAR everywhere in the tank, front to back, side to side).  I think that if a system has extreme “hotspots” or “dead spots” it’s an indication of trying to stretch the lighting too far – there are not enough fixtures and issues like shading will eventually occur.

I have been quite pleased with the arrangement of Hydra 26’s over the tank. Hopefully I will continue to be pleased 5 years down the road!

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Water parameters:

These are what I regularly test for, in order of frequency:

  • Apex continually monitors pH and temperature. I dose kalk to keep the pH up in the 8.2-8.3 range during the day and I am currently keeping the tank at 80 degrees although I don’t worry about pH or temperature unless they strongly deviate from the regular range normally observed in the system.
  • Alkalinity 7dkh-9dkh target of consistent 8dkh but I don’t mind values in the 7 to 9 range if they drift there over a couple of weeks, I just adjust the dosing accordingly to slowly bring it back to the 8dkh range.
  • Nitrate detectable to 1ppm. If nitrate drops to undetectable on the Salifert test I have noticed coral coloration drastically fades.
  • Salintiy 35 ppt (via Milwaukee digital refractometer)
  • Phosphate 0ppb reading with Hanna Checker ULR
  • Calcium ~420ppm (I balance to alkalinity)
  • Magnesium ~1300ppm

Filtration/water quality and objectives:

The overflow/sump is a modified bean style and drains into 2 filter socks. I run Enaly Ozone Generator OZAC-PLUS 100 at 50mg/hr into the Vertex skimmer from midnight to 7am. I also dose vodka with Bulk Reef Supply 1.1ml/min dosing pump. I am a huge fan of carbon dosing – nutrient reduction is not the reason I carbon dose, but it’s a nice side effect. I consider carbon dosing to be feeding the tank; I dose to feed the food chain from the bottom up. I have noticed that if nitrate gets too low corals will lose color. I will dose nitrate to keep levels approximately 1ppm in the system rather than stopping carbon dosing because I feel there is so much benefit to feeding via carbon dosing.

I do 1% daily water changes with ESV salt mix and Neptune DOS pump.

Fish and Coral Feeding:

I feed the fish quite a large combination of food at least twice a day, but what foods I feed vary randomly each day. Here are the foods in my rotation. LRS reef frenzy, frozen blackworms, mysis shrimp, Rod’s Food, Spectrum Pellets, Cobalt Flakes (several types), Apex CD pellets, Eco Eggs Brew and Nori. I have an Apex feeder that contains small size 0.5mm Thera Spectrum Pellets and it feeds a tiny amount 5x per day.

I am a big believer in feeding coral; however it has to be appropriately sized food and fed when the coral are accepting food, generally at night. LPS get Large Pellet Reef Frenzy and SPS get a blend of 5-50 micron Golden Pearls, Reef Frenzy and Goniopower. I also sometimes add Oyster-Feast that is mixed with Ocean Nutrition Instant Baby Brine Shrimp. I feed corals a couple times a week unless I am trying to grow something fast, in which case I will feed more. I generally just put the circulation pumps on feed mode and broadcast feed (LPS always get target fed); other times I get ambitious and spot feed with a pipette.


  • 12 Lyretail Anthias (Pseudanthias squamipinnis)
  • 1 Yellow Pyramid butterflyfish (Hemitaurichthys polylepis)
  • 1 Midas blenny (Ecsenius midas)
  • 1 Longnose Hawkfish (Oxycirrhites typus)
  • 1 Banggai Cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni)
  • 6 Pajama Cardinalfish (Sphaeramia nematoptera)
  • 1 Red Striped Anthias (Pseudanthias fasciatus)
  • 1 Carberryi Anthias (Nemanthias carberryi)
  • 1 Pink Squareback Anthias (Pseudanthias pleurotaenia)
  • 1 Yellow Clown Goby (Gobiodon okinawae)

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  • 1 Hairy Pincushion Urchin(Tripneustes gratilla)
  • 1 White Pincushion Urchin (Lytechinus variegatus)
  • 2 Tuxedo Urchins (Mespilia globulus)
  • 2 Black Shortspine Urchins (Echinometra Lacunter)
  • 1 Longspine Urchin (Diadema setosum)
  • 12 Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni)
  • 4 Skunk Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis)
  • 2 Blood Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata debelius)
  • 1 Derasa Clam(Tridacna derasa)
  • 6 Emerald Crab (Mithraculus sculptus)
  • 1 Coco Worm (Protula bispiralis)
  • Various giant feather dusters (Sabellastarte sp.)
  • Various snails (mostly Trochus and Turbo)
  • 1 Tile Sea Star (Fromia monilis)
  • 1 Blue Linckia (Linckia laevigata)
  • 2 Serpent Sea Star (Ophiolepsis superba)
  • Other sea stars (various species)

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There are many different types of corals in this system, I don’t get all that excited by newest or limited release, but I buy primarily aquacultured coral from small frags or frags that catches my eye at our club’s biannual FragFest. I generally look at the growth form of parent colonies and then the color – although I have looked at color first and growth form second if I feel there was a color I wanted to include more of in my system. The most common aquaculture source I have is ORA from various vendors followed by Unique Corals and Diver’s Den grown stock. I don’t particularly enjoy coral taxonomy or even in depth-identification part of the hobby , not that it’s not important, just not my interest, so I will list coral by names I know them by (leaving out facility names like ORA or UC and others) and this is no means inclusive:

  • Red Branching Cyphastrea
  • Birdsnest – Ponape, Pink, Green, Bird of Paradise, Green Tip Orange
  • Gonipora and Alveopora – A few types
  • Euphyllia – Various hammers, frogspawn and grape coral (Orange, green, purple and mixed)
  • Cali, Oregon and 3D Tort
  • Red and Purple Dragon Acropora
  • Sunset Fungia Plate Coral
  • Mint Pavona
  • Montipora digitata – different shades of green, purple, red, orange, pink
  • Montipora capricornis – supernatural, red, orange, green, purple, Leng Si
  • Various other Montipora sp. – Forrest, Superman, Purple Haze, Rainbow, Setosa, Undata, Sunset, Tubbs Stellata
  • Red Planet Acropora
  • Raspberry Limeade Acropora
  • Pearlberry
  • Tricolor Acropora
  • Mr Sun Millepora
  • Golden Sasquatch Millepora
  • Neon Pink Millepora
  • Golden Orange Millepora
  • Trachyphyllia
  • Bazooka Joe Chalice
  • Fear and Loathing Chalice
  • Bubblegum Monster Chalice
  • Spiny Pectinia
  • Yellow Chalice
  • Neon Merulina
  • Purple Stylophora
  • Green Psammocora
  • Mushroom coral – various ones from red to green elephant ear
  • Zoas and Pallys – all sorts, I never really pay attention to trade names, just whatever caught my eye
  • Radioactive Green Slimer
  • Purple Tip Green Slimer
  • Teal Stag Acropora
  • Strawberry Shortcake Acro
  • Leishmans Acropora
  • Bubble Coral
  • Various Brain Corals including Acans
  • Duncan Coral
  • Gorgonians –Corky Finger, Purple Ribbon, Plexaurella, Antillogorgia
  • Original Purple Monster Acropora
  • Pink Diamonds Acropora
  • Quite a few various other Acropora that either I forgot the name, were bought in a pack without having name attached (thanks Divers Den), listed as Acropora sp, or picked up from a fellow hobbyist that didn’t know the name

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We are at a point in the hobby where we finally are starting to realize there is not one single best way to keep a reef. There are many different designs that have produced stunning tanks and overall, the hobby has started to move away from the “you must” mentality to more of a “you choose”.  Macro refuguims, algae scrubbers, sand beds, mud refugium, no sand, carbon dosing, skimmerless, sumpless, gfo, and many other options and combinations are out there. There are pros and cons to different strategies and some may take a little more work and maintenance, but it really boils down to what the individual likes and doing research on the methods you prefer. Even with equipment such as lighting, “best” is a term I dislike, “different” is a more appropriate term to me. What lighting type is best? None. They are just different. Now what works for an individual is another matter and is based of looking at the pros versus the cons and ultimately deciding by what they like and their goals for the light. If someone loves the look of a particular lighting type or bulb, then that is the “best” for them, provided the livestock’s needs are being met. If you want to keep a deep sand bed in the display because you love watching the animals in the sand, Perfect! You just need to do research on some of the challenges you might face and be ready for them. I think once you adopt a methodology it’s important to still pay attention to relevant information and be accepting of the specific challenges that may emerge.

It’s always tempting to try and make things better and to some extent it’s a good goal, but it can be hard to define “better”. I experiment from time to time with coloring up or bringing out particular colors in the Acropora, is that really better for the coral or just me? I also spot feed some coral to increase growth. But, if the coral was growing without my spot feeding then to who’s benefit is the spot feeding? Something I remind myself to do is appreciate the tank as it is and not get obsessed with things like color and growth. Of course, I still strive for more of both, but I actively remind myself how beautiful any healthy coral is and to sit down and enjoy it.

The only other advice I have to offer, is to not stress out over mistakes. I know that is easier said than done, but we all have made plenty of stupid mistakes and poor decisions that, at best, hurt our pride and at worst, hurt our livestock. These mistakes are not in vain if we learn something from it. Hopefully, doing plenty of research mitigates the largest problems, but they still pop up whether it’s directly our fault or not.

I want to end by thanking my fiancée, buying the tank was amazing, but really it’s the support, tolerance, and her appreciating and learning about his hobby that means the world to me. My thanks also go out to my friend Peter, he took many of these photographs with skill far beyond mine, and he also stops by and checks the tank when I am out of town. Without them there would be no tank at all! ”



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