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The 215g Caribbean Inspired Shadowbox Reef -Year 1

Posted 12/25/2011 at 07:39 PM by euromomtx

My 125 gallon tank with an odd assortment of corals gave me a lot of grief and not much joy. My main nemesis was caulerpa racemosa in the main tank. You could never get the roots completely out of the rocks and eventually I gave up. I decided to start over and start over big!
I ordered a 215 gallon aquarium through Gabe's In San Antonio and DSA made my dream tank for me.
While I waited (and it did seem to take forever) I made plans about what to do with it.
Because honestly the wild mumbo jumbo of coral frags in the 125g didn't excite me too much.

I had always loved gorgonians and noticed most photosynthetic gorgonians came from Florida and the Caribbean. So this time I decided to go with a theme: Caribbean!

While I was polling my local fellow Reefers at MAAST (Marine Aquarist Assoc. of South Texas) Ace and Alton mentioned that they had seen a picture of a backlit tank that really impressed them. I did some searches on RC but never could find any info on how to build this.
But I also knew that the painted backs made me feel somewhat boxed and and claustrophobic. To be honest if my tank hadn't taken so long to get here I probably would have thought Ace and Alton were nuts to suggest so much work for a backdrop!

But I had time to kill and so I decided to figure out how to build a shadowbox.
Starting without any instructions or complete builts to learn from I did some small scale testing with scraps
It seemed I'd get the best results with blue acrylic that I sanded myself to get enough diffusion to make the background more believable.

Finished the shadowbox, the tank arrived in the Summer of 2010 and voila:
filled in 7 inches of mixed substrate to accommodate my main attraction: jawfish!!!
The pukani dry rock is held together with nylon rods and preconstructed (again it was so hard to wait for this tank to arrive -I had to do something!)

Made a clear mesh top to keep my new buddies safe:

Then I started the cycle with some ammonium chloride powder and Fritz bacteria.
I decided to use a warm white 3000k GE bulb for the shadowbox because it gave me that greenish glow I loved so much in dive pictures from the Caribbean.
I must say I don't think I will ever have a tank with a solid painted background again.

(and yes I totally realize some of these fish are NOT Caribbean. That's why I call it Caribbean inspired. I just couldn't get rid of my old fish and so they moved into the Caribbean tank regardless.

Then the jawfish arrived and I finally felt really good about my decision to add so much substrate. They made it all worth it

I initially started out with biopellets but since I was feeding the filter feeders and gorgonians round the clock with powdered foods on a timer I got a permanent bacteria bloom in the display.
Not cool. The corals weren't crazy about it either...

I eventually got rid of the biopellets and everything seemed to do better after that.
The jawfish started spawning!

By January 2011 things were going really well:
In January I also replaced my ATI T5 Sunpower with AI SOL Leds. It had a really positive effect on the cyano and I love the glimmer:

From places like Cramers Caribbean Critters and Sealife Inc I got some interesting livestock diver direct for the tank like oysters covered in all kinds of stuff and my tiny anemone shrimp:
I also got more challenging gorgonians like these Orange Tree Gorgos (Swiftia):
which came with cool searod basket stars as hitchhikers
Then I manages to find a legal source for Caribbean stony corals:
Richard with Tampa bay Saltwater got me some coral encrusted aquacultured liverock that included these awesome pieces:
And AquaTouch in Arizona had some Atlantic Rose corals -also aquacultured:

My mandarins were spawing and everything was peachy:


Then in the summer of 2011 at the tank's one year mark problems started to creep up. Things never stay the same do they?
I'll talk about what happened in the next blog post: Year 2...
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  1. New Comment
    Jamie9169's Avatar
    Great job on the build. We lived in Ft. Lauderdale for five years and used to dive regularly. Seeing your set up reminded me of those fun filled trips.
    Posted 12/31/2011 at 08:27 AM by Jamie9169 Jamie9169 is offline

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