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By Bob Goemans
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Bob Goemans corresponds with Larry Read

Larry Read writes...

Dear Bob,

I don't know if you remember me but you contacted me about 4 years ago in reference to a 1100 gallon reef that we run in our jewelry store. As you know big tanks present big opportunities 'and' big challenges. My latest occurred the weekend after Thanksgiving when I discovered a sheered center support and a two inch crack forming on the center panel of the tank. If you would like to know more about how I held over the livestock from this system while the new one was being built, drop me a line. It may also be of some help to others out there that may have similar 'opportunities.'

Best wishes,

Larry Read

Meridian, ID

Bob replies...

Hi Larry,

Who could forget your 1100-gallon aquarium! In fact, photos of it are still on my website. Tell me more.

Bob

Larry Read writes...

Dear Bob,

It is good to hear from you again. This infamous chapter of the Lee Read Reef began Thanksgiving weekend. I'm out of town (of course) and our Director of Store Operations sends me a message, the recirculation pump on the top of the tank is making a 'bad noise.' Is there any other kind of noise?

Most of the equipment is hidden in the top cabinet because the tank is viewable from 360-degrees, so the hood is packed tight. I've lost things for years up there!

I return on Sunday and remove the pump. The good news was its only salt creep (Blessed be salt creep! Bet you've never said that before) touching the cooling fan and I wipe it away and it's fixed. That is all the good news! To get the pump out I have to remove the lights and the plumbing. When I go to reinstall the lights I notice a crack in the top center support. It's about an eighth of an inch wide and a complete separation through 3 inches of acrylic! It looks a little like the San Andreas Fault! Then I look under the edge of the top wooden cabinet and see a two inch runner extending down the front of the main panel, something similar to what you get on a broken windshield! I rub it to see if I can feel anything and a small drop of water slowly forms, so the crack is all the way through. I rub it again like Aladdin rubbing the magic lamp (no genie, just more drops). At this point I try a different approach, I just stare at it a while, willing it to go away. Then I start to think of the alternatives and stare at it some more. In the back of my mind there is this little tiny voice screaming - "1100 gallons @ 8.5 pound per gallon equals about 9,000 pounds with no center support!" But then again why panic? It hasn't broken yet and maybe it has been like this for a while. The optimist in me wins out and I decide to 'monitor' the crack (remember monitoring Mount St. Helens?) to see if it grows, and besides, it appears to have stopped leaking. That's good, isn't it?

The very next day a friend of mine I have not seen in months and who knows nothing of my dilemma comes in and tells me that his acrylic tank burst in his living room with absolutely no warning. I believe in angels and this one was sent from above to tell me to get going and empty this thing!!!

After two sleepless nights all is ready for the move. Here is the progression of events:

1 - Locate very large corrosion proof containers suitable for multiple thousands of dollars of rare and expensive coral and fish, 'in the middle of an Idaho winter.' That's easy; I purchased two 300-gallon fiberglass horse-watering troughs from a farm supply store. 'You want them delivered where?'

2 - Clean out the storage room next to the sump room in the back of the store. We probably don't need most of these tax records anyway. You have to have priorities.

3 - Run in additional power for all the stuff that goes with 800 gallons of water and live stock. Yes, I forgot to have the electrician install ground fault interrupters but are they that important?

4 - Set the troughs, drill connecting holes, plumb them, and hang some lights. Cut holes in the wall to connect to the existing sump and skimmer, add some pumps and we are good to go.

5 - The Fun Begins! Dressed in chest waders and bright orange rubber cow examination gloves that come up to my shoulders we get started. There is a big Fox Face Rabbitfish lurking in the tank that is just waiting to get even with me! First we drain the water to fill the troughs. So far, not so bad! Next I remove corals; they are a lot easier to catch than fish. Piece of cake! Then the real work begins, pulling out 1,000 pounds of live rock. Did I really put all this stuff in here or has it grown? And what about all those little pieces that welded themselves together into gigantic monolithic clumps? I get into the tank and lift 60 to 100 pound pieces to my helper who is balancing like a circus performer on the ladder as he hands down the pieces to other helpers. They have large towels to carry each piece to the troughs.

6 - After three hours we are ready to wrangle some fish. I worry this is going to be the hard part. In reality, fish swimming in 4 inches of chilly water you can hardly see through want out of the tank real bad! Each fish goes in a bucket with instructions to the helpers on which trough to put them in. Amazingly everyone makes the move, other than a clown wrasse and an anthias that must have had heart attacks (or I may have stepped on them) and a cleaner wrasse that made the wrong choice of holing up in one of the rocks we set outside. We found him frozen the next day. Overall we move 4 fish that are over 12 inches long and another couple dozen big fish including a nice shohol, clown tang, powder blue, orange shoulder and miscellaneous others (can you tell I like tangs?).

7 - Then the fun really starts. It's about 1am and we are beat, but we are staring at three inches of smelly sand and muck. I knew there was a reason 8 years ago I started with a bare bottom setup! Which article did I read that convinced me to put sand in the tank?! And where is the article on how to get it out? I end up using a dustpan and a bucket brigade. It is awful! I also brave near certain electrocution and vacuum out the remaining silt and water with a shop vac. It seems like the right decision at the time, my life insurance is paid up and my wife isn’t here to tell me it is dangerous.

8 - Ok, the tank is empty but it still stinks to high heaven and the store opens for business in just under 4 hours. Time for an executive decision; I ask one helper, "How strong do you think the bleach should be? Answer: Straight out of the bottle, just spray real fast before it eats up the gaskets in the sprayer!" I pull up my gloves, hold my breath and spray like mad! I spray the entire inside of the tank. Breathing is my big concern and take it from me, you don't get high on bleach, but when we were done the stink is gone. The store did smell like a YMCA locker room for a day or two.

Time: 4:37am and we are heading home.

Nothing more to report other than be careful using those ground fault interrupters with multiple outlets that simply plug into an existing outlet.

Having second thoughts about the lack of electrical shock protection (and my wife's repeated reference to double indemnity on my insurance policy), I install said plugs in the new outlets. It seems they don't play well with metal halide lighting. The metal halides trip them when the ballasts first fire up and of course; Mr. Murphy plugged the trough circulation pumps into the same unit (remember they conveniently have multiple outlets). Since the lights are set to come on about 15 minutes before we come to work, the people that show up find the fish swimming or more accurately, laying in 2 inches of water and 500 gallons of saltwater on the floor of the sump/storage/indoor swimming pool room (the water may have been deeper on the floor than in the troughs). A small design flaw allowed for uncontrolled siphoning of both troughs (after watching the political candidates I freely admit, "I made a mistake, but it wasn't my fault!")! We find a new use for the carpet shampooer! It sucks the water up really well and no casualties. I am amazed at how fish die from little things like ick and they can live through treatment like this.

I hope others can learn something useful from my experience. It has led me to something new in the design of my new reef. I say new because I have never seen it or read about anyone doing it. It's probably been done somewhere or maybe I just don't read enough, but it's new to me and has real promise to make a spectacular display. With that I am going to sign off and clean our tank at home. We are having guests over and my wife is in charge of me today.

Bob, have a great day,

Larry

Larry Read writes...

Hi Bob,

When I left off all was well, as well as it can be considering 30 or so fish, mostly large tangs and 600 of the original 1,000 pounds of rock and coral are on life support in a couple of fiberglass horse toughs. Surprisingly everything is doing relatively well! Yes the tangs are beating the tar out of each other, especial the shoal and the clown tangs.

Now for selecting the new tank; the last tank was 1 inch acrylic and I paid extra for a lifetime warranty. I didn't realize that was the "life time of the company that made it" warranty! They no longer answered their phone and are long gone. The new tank is glass, Starfire glass of course. Learning from my mistakes I decide to buy through a local dealer that does a great job in our area. We send the manufacture a template and specifications. The tank holds 1,200 gallons, and is a complicated shape with eight vertically pieces of glass with beveled edges. I receive an estimate and delivery is promised by the end of January. Remember, I found the crack in the old tank and evacuated the residents the first of December, so this delivery date sounds pretty good! Really good!! Actually too good!!! I pay the deposit and we wait. January comes and goes and we wait. February comes and goes and we continue to wait.

It's a little known law in manufacturing that the complexity and time required to produce a product increases exponentially over the original estimate in direct proportion to the size of the deposit. Or said another way, the salesman tells you just about anything to get you to write the check and once you pay the deposit the manufacturing guy has to figure out how to build it. We are now hearing, "Wow, this thing is a lot more complicated and time consuming to make than we originally thought (post deposit of course)."

As we swing into March, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it's not another train. The tank ships and the pieces arrive intact! This is cause for a major celebration as we have at least 40 children a week visit our retail store where the tank is located and every single one wants to know where Nemo is? We tell them Nemo, and his buddies are on vacation but will be back soon.

The tank arrives in mid March and some assembly is required. Being 12' long, 4' wide and 3' high it could not be shipped assembled. The construction team arrives the week after the tank. Oh the sweet smell of silicone, we can't wait to get started! The assembly process is amazing. The glass is 3/4 inch and the side panels weigh about 300 pounds each. These guys are wizards, two strapping lads lift the panels into place, remember the seams are covered in silicone and they slide them together with no air gaps in the sealant. They hold the whole 1,500 pound puzzle together with 1" nylon strapping tape! It is nothing short of amazing. I imagine Michelangelo doing this for a living if he'd had glass and silicone instead of marble for a medium.

Four days and sixteen tubes of silicone later the tank is complete. Our salesman at the manufacturing company told us it would cure in about "two weeks." Just to be sure I ask the assembly team how long until we can get this baby wet. 'Six weeks minimum' they reply. I am stunned. They carefully explain what I already know; 1,200 gallons of water at 8.5 pounds per gallon weighs 10,200 pounds. I reconsider and wait 8 weeks.

Filling the tank is uneventful other than the garden hose we use to run the water from the make-up tank to the aquarium is full of muck from the last time we used it to drain the old tank. It looks awful but I rationalize we simply preseeded some helpful bacteria a little ahead of schedule.

After running the RO nonstop for 10 days the big night arrives. The tank is full and the plumbing complete. We connect the old and new plumbing systems and fire up the new pump in a ceremony that is similar to President Franklin D. Roosevelt switching on Hoover Dam. The pump spring to life and no leeks. Now for some fun; a while back I designed the new interior. I was so traumatized from lifting out huge boulders of live rock from the old system that I designed lightweight coral lattices to use to cover the overflow, and coral trees to support the coral in the rest of the tank. All the auquascaping structures combined weigh less than 120 pounds! The four sheets of lattes slip in just right and the 4 sets, of 2 Eductors each, nestle right up against them. As for the coral trees; I designed structures that support new coral growth at all levels of the tank and still let fish swim though them from the bottom of the tank to the water's surface. I can take them out or move them to different positions and they pull up to make pruning the coral easy.

To make my coral trees, I use old dead branching Fiji coral, and bleach them to get a good epoxy bond. I use 5 minute epoxy from Home Depot and colored the epoxy pink and green to simulate coralline with a single drop of tempera paint. This was easy and a lot of fun. I built 12 coral trees of various heights for the tank. I then super glued various coral frags on them and placed them in the horse troughs to grow out for about five weeks. That was easy, again too easy! But the first prototype I pick up breaks in half. The epoxy simply didn't bond to the coral skeleton. I buy two cans of Z-Spar. I read about Dr. Bruce Carson's success using it and it really works. I reinforce all the glue joints on all the coral trees with Z-Spar, and presto, coral trees are born.

With a team of well-trained professionals, made up of some of my employees, my wife and two friends, we move the coral trees to the new aquarium. In twenty minutes the tank was aquascaped! It was an amazing transformation. Moving the fish was the most fun. I handed out nets to my wife and friends and they went to town. They squealed like little girls every time they caught one. We started at 8am and were done by 11:30pm. Not bad I thought as we headed home.

About 2am I sit straight up in bed and realized I didn't set up any secondary pump system or emergency battery backup. Being this is the first night we had plugged in the new ReeFlo Tiger Shark pump I didn't sleep well. I kept dreaming of dead fish. Morning came and all was well in the world including the tank. The first thing I did was set a powerhead and battery bubblers as backup to the main pump. For anyone wondering if Eductors work, I had 30 very tired fish that will tell you they do. The first day I ran the flow full open the fish swam for their lives. Every 30 minutes two Hayward valves change the direction of the current. Being a circular flow, the tank is like watching a whirlpool change directions. WOW!

So far so good, but things have a way of equalizing. The wooden top cabinet for the tank arrives from storage the following morning. Since the tank is viewed from 360 degrees, the canopy is huge. It weighs about 400 pounds. This will be easy I tell the moving crew as we had room to spare with the old tank. So with 6 men lifting this thing we set it on the tank and it doesn't fit. It’s way too small! That’s when things get interesting. We take it down and I send one of the team to rent the biggest, baddest belt sander he can find. Meanwhile, two of us attack the top with wood chisels. The sander arrives and we carve up the top like a piece of Christmas ham. All this time the mover's cell is going off and their next appointment wants to know when they are going to show up. The head guy looks at me and starts to say something, but I must have looked like Jason out of the movie Halloween, only I had a spinning belt sander in my hand, because he never asked how long it was going to take or if they could leave. Four tries and two hours later the top fits like a fine leather glove and everyone cheers.

The final step is to wire up the lighting. The tank has 8, 400 watt metal halides in Luminarc 3 reflectors. I use a combination of 4 Reef Flo 12,000K and 4 XM 10,000K bulbs. Actually resetting the lights was the simplest part of the project. By the end of the day we flip the switches. It reminds me of the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. No, there were no sunburns but the people in the store just stare at the aquarium with that same expression of awe.

I'm still not sure about putting sand in the bottom! I start twitching every time I think about it, but the months of intense therapy after removing the sand from the old tank seems to be working. Note, FAMA readers can see more photos, see the livestock and learn particulars of how we maintain the system at leereadjewelers.com

Larry Read

Meridian, ID

Bob replies...

Hi Larry,

I'm very sure everyone enjoyed reading your letters and seeing your photos, and we all thank you for your willingness to share your adventure with us.

Bob

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