MASA TOTM – March 2014 – Paul Baldassano


Our featured tank for March 2014 belongs to Paul Baldassano.

Also known as the “40 year old tank”

Congratulations on keeping one of the most mature systems we know of.

 

wide angle (Medium)

wide angle

 

It is truly an honor to have my tank featured here.  My tank may be the farthest tank you have ever featured here as I am in New York (USA) as well as the weirdest.
My family owned a sea food business so I grew up with fish, mostly dead fish but since I spent so much time with fish, it was normal that I should keep them alive.  I started my first tank sometime in the 1950s.   I bred freshwater fish until 1969 when I got drafted in the the Army.  When I returned home in 1971 salt water fish started to be imported into the States and that’s when I started my first 30 gallon tank.  In those days there was nothing available for salt water tanks so I collected water in the sea near New York City.  For the substrate I used driveway gravel as there was nothing available except colored fresh water gravel.  Eventually I discovered dolomite and that is what is in my tank today.
In five years I moved into a new home and brought the tank with me but I transferred everything in it to a 6′ long 100 gallon tank. (You have to excuse my American measuring system as we still use a silly measurement system here)  The tank, like all tanks utilized an undergravel filter which was a disaster, and in time I tweaked it to be a reverse undergravel system and that is still the system today.  The tank has never crashed and has never been emptied.
The tank consists of LPS and SPS corals along with about 20 fish.  Some of the corals are over ten years old, maybe older as small pieces break off and grow where ever they fall.
Almost all the fish are spawning including the mandarins and 20 year old fireclowns.
The tank was started like all tanks in those days with dead coral skeletons.  There was no rock or live coral for sale then.  Eventually I filled the tank with live rock that I collected mostly in the Caribbean by SCUBA diving.  Much of that original rock I replaced with hollow rock that I build by putting cement over bent up PVC conduit.  I like the homemade rock better than real rock and it has the advantage of being hollow offering more area for bacterial growth.

 

Description and short history of the tank

The tank consists of LPS and SPS corals along with about 20 fish.  Some of the corals are over ten years old, maybe older as small pieces break off and grow where ever they fall.

Almost all the fish are spawning including the mandarins and 20 year old fireclowns.

The tank was started like all tanks in those days with dead coral skeletons.  There was no rock or live coral for sale then.  Eventually I filled the tank with live rock that I collected mostly in the Caribbean by SCUBA diving.  Much of that original rock I replaced with hollow rock that I build by putting cement over bent up PVC conduit.  I like the homemade rock beter than real rock and it has the advantage of being hollow offering more area for bacterial growth.

 

Filtration

The filtration consists of the reverse UG filter.  The “filter” was built by plumbing the three “uplift” tubes from the UG plates together and bringing them up in the back on one end of the tank.  They all enter the bottom of a container that is just above the water and fed from a submerged powerhead that has a sponge over the intake.  Water is pumped down to the UG plates very slow and I have found this system will last forever with very little maintenance.  You will probably not find another tank filtered this way as I think I devised this system and perfected it many years ago .
In the 42 years this tank has been running the power has gone off many times, sometimes for 3 or 4 days but nothing ever happened to the tank.  Here in New York we experience hurricanes and snow storms that knock down power lines.
The skimmer is five feet tall and is a home made venturi unit that is run by two pumps.  Ozone is injected into the skimmer at 200mg/hr.
Above the water and to the rear of the tank is an algae trough or scrubber that is almost as long as the tank.  Water from the skimmer flows across the trough and back into the tank.  There are LEDs over the trough to light it and there is also a plastic screen in it that can be rolled up, removed and cleaned of algae.  It was designed to provide a place for algae to grow away from the main tank or on the corals.  Unlike many people, I want algae growing and get worried if I don’t see algae.  The trough is made from a PVC downspout that I sliced in half.

Circulation

The circulation consists of two Koralia pumps, one at each side of the tank.  The tank does not use a sump as they were not invented when I set up the tank.
There are two heaters as here in New York it gets well below freezing all winter.  Our temperature in the summer gets up to 100 degrees F.
I have a home made chiller but after I replaced the MH lights with LEDs I have not needed it.

 

Lighting

Lighting has gone from incandescent bulbs in the early days to regular fluorescent lamps to VHO lamps to PC lamps to MH lamps to what I have today which is a home made LED system.  There are 36 3 watt LEDs.  Half are white and half are blue.  The fixture is hung on stainless steel cables and is counter weighted.  Just a touch raises the fixture up and out of the way.  The tank is built into a wall so none of this is visible.
No other equipment is used, no dosers or reactors.  There is a home made surface skimmer that feeds the protein skimmer.  It skims the very top layer of water by the use of floats that keep the top of the surface skimmer just below the surface.
A home made auto fill brings water up over the ceiling from another room where the automatic RO/DI system is.  The RO/DI fills a bucket that is suspended from the ceiling and feeds the tank by gravity to a float switch.  There is a home made shut off switch on the bucket that turns off the water from the RO/DI so it does not over fill.

Food

I try to keep the tank natural and food is live California blackworms and clams.  I buy the clams live and freeze them.  I alternate frozen mysis with the clam but they get the live worms every day.  I also feed live newborn brine shrimp every day that I hatch in a home made hatchery that separates the eggs from the shrimp.  The live shrimp are fed to the fish using a home made baby brine shrimp feeder that I designed.  I also invented and patented an adult brine shrimp feeder that was used to feed seahorses.  The new born shrimp feeder is used to keep my mandarins spawning.  There is also an automatic feeder above the tank that is mainly for the night time eaters. It is filled with sinking pellets that are soaked in fish oil.

Maintenance

Maintenance on this tank is very little.  Besides cleaning the glass, once or twice a week I add some driveway ice melter and baking soda.  Here in NY it gets very cold and we use a cheap type of salt or calcium chloride that we put on our walkways to melt the ice.  I use that for calcium and the baking soda for alk.
That’s my dosing regimen.  I can’t tell you the parameters because I don’t test unless there is a problem and that has not happened in many years.  About five years ago a commercial test company tested the water for free as they wanted to see what the parameters were in such an old tank.  Most of the parameters were fine.
I did recently test the nitrates and they are about 30.  For most of the life of the tank they ran about 10, but last year I went to Germany for vacation and my tank sitter let the water level drop by 1/3rd and all of the corals above that line died as they were above the water.  The nitrates went up and stayed there.  I do not want to lower them because the tank has never looked better and all the corals are growing nicely so I will keep the nitrates where they are.
Because I use a reverse undergravel filter and dolomite gravel, about once a year I stir up the gravel where I can reach and suck out the detritus with a diatom filter (or canister filter).
Three or four times since 1971 I removed most of the rock and did a more thorough cleaning.  In those instances I wanted to remove the rock to re-aquascape anyway so while I was at it, I stirred up the gravel and sucked out the detritus.
Water changes amount to about 20% about 5 times a year, a small portion of that water is NSW that I collect here in the summer. I also collect and add bacteria in the form of mud.  I collect small amounts of mud in a local bay and put it in a container in my tank for a few days, then I remove the mud as I only want the bacteria.  I also collect amphipods that I release in the tank a few times a year.  I feel the bacteria and amphipods help the tank maintain a natural feel and allows natural processes to occur while adding to the food chain for the tiny creatures that provide food for larger creatures and eventually the fish and corals.

IMG_2004 (Medium)

Home made glass cleaner

 

Livestock.

I am not very good with names and most of the animals I acquired a long time ago so I can’t name many of the corals, but I will name the ones I know.
The tank is filled with quite a few different gorgonians.  They grow like weeds and sprout all over the place.
There is also quite a few monitpora’s.  They have a hard time because the other corals, namely the torch corals and sea fans grow faster and kill parts of the montipora so it tries to grow in another direction, then something there stings it and it grows a different direction.  It is intersperced all over the tank due to that and there are also dead dead pieces of it all over the place.  But it is a fast grower and keeps trying to find places to grow.
There is also quite a bit of acropora and as you know that coral is very brittle so many times I stick my hand in the tank and break it.  Due to that I also have pieces of that growing all over the tank.  A large piece of it is having a hard time and much of it died because a pair of clown gobies spawn on it at least once a week.  Wherever they lay eggs, the coral dies and algae grows there.  I would rather have the clown gobies spawning than a healthy acropora because the gobies always stay on that coral and so far have not spawned on other specimens so I just sacrifice that one.  Healthy fish spawn and I want all my fish healthy.
The other corals consist of leathers, mushrooms, hammers, frogspawns, xenia, and a few SPS and LPS that I can’t name and forgot when I got them.  There is also a very large blue sponge that covers almost a quarter of the tank.  I often cut off pieces and give them away.
The fish are
1 copperband butterfly
1 possum wrasse
7 assorted cardinals (4 of them spawning)
2 mandarins  (spawning)
2 fireclowns 20 years old (spawning)
2 watchman gobies (spawning)
1 scooter dragonette
1 sizzortail gobi
3 small unknown gobies
2 clown gobies (spawning)

Crustaceans are
Unknown number of hermit crabs (a pair recently died that was 12 years old)
1 long spine urchin
2 pistol shrimp (I think they are spawning but not sure)
unknown number of local New York mud snails.

I occasionally get some majano anemones that I eliminate with the Majano Wand that I invented and patented.

 

Conclusion

Many people tell me my tank is very old school or just weird.  It is definitely old school as it was started the same week that salt water animals became available in the States, but it is not weird.  It was set up the normal way and the only way a tank could have been set up decades before the internet was invented.  Today virtually all tanks look and are run the same way or very similar. Since this tank was set up, it has gone through all the fads of the era such as wet dry and various lighting of the time.  It has evolved over time to what it is now.
I strive to keep it natural and have as many fish spawning as I can.  Spawning fish are healthy fish and all fish should be spawning or at least making spawning gestures.  Due to the health of the inhabitants that I attribute to the live foods, I do not have to quarantine and have no use for a hospital tank.  There has not been a disease or parasite in over 30 years.
I depend on the healthy immune systems of the fish to protect them and so far, it works well.

 

Click here to discuss and comment on this tank on the forum.

Tank as it sits in the wall

Tank as it sits in the wall

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