MASA TOTM – September 2015 – Riaan Pretorius


Thank you very much for this recognition. For a softy-dominated tank, this recognition means a lot to me, and I thank you for the honour.

FTS tank only (Medium)

My journey with aquatic systems started out similar to most, a schoolboy with a freshwater tank. Life happened, and fish tanks along with all the knowledge have long since been forgotten. Then came 2008, when my brother left his 500L marine system in my care, while he was relocating and making plans to sell off the system. I moved the tank to my lapa, without the slightest idea of what I am getting myself into, and even less knowledge of how to maintain a marine system at healthy standards.

The system was initially set up under guidance of an LFS, using tap water and mixing in salt. Top-ups were done with tap water and water changes were a foreign concept. Furthermore the sump was ill-suited for a coral-dominated tank, with an underpowered skimmer to further compliment all that was wrong…

That night, after the move, I sat down and abused a good friend of mine – Google – and found MASA. I signed up, and a whole new world opened up to me. I was the noob posting all the “common-sense” questions, soaking up information like a sponge, just the same as the noobs before me, and the countless others that came after me.

I learnt about RO water, water changes, correctly sized skimmers, algae scrubbers just started to become the in thing back in 2008. The PO4 tests were a nice solid dark blue. After a few weeks, I noticed my nice green algae carpet on the back panel was peeling off, had a panic attack and even posted a question on what’s wrong with my tank. Thinking back today on the posts I made then makes me chuckle a bit and shake my head at myself, also making me appreciate again the invaluable advice and wealth of information I have found on MASA.

My brother’s tank finally got sold about two or three months later, but by then I was hooked on marines, and set up a little 90L (3ft / 900mm) Daro tank, with 60L 60L (2ft / 600mm) Daro sump. A DIY siphon overflow completed the setup, which failed more than once, kept me on my knees, and made me appreciate the value of a simple overflow. A second-hand TS2 skimmer was acquired from the MASA For Sale section. A small ball of highly sought-after cheato which in 2008 was almost impossible to get, got a prime spot in my sump.

My addiction could not be sated, and soon I found myself upgrading to a 220L tank. And still I wanted more… I found a second hand 750L tank at Idol Marine. A 1500mm by 750mm by 750mm. I will admit, even being 1.8m tall, if something dropped down the back in the middle, it was a mission to retrieve.

I moved house shortly thereafter and ended up with everything back in the old 220L tank – completely overcrowded. I knew my system needed some expanding and multiple-tank-syndrome snuck up on me… Another 350L got added to that system and the inhabitants finally got a reprieve from their cramped space. Both the 220L and 350L then ran from the same common sump.

Life took another walk with me, and I ended up buying a place where I could setup the 750L tank again. Yet I could not stop thinking about the next upgrade to house that next beauty which I should be prepared for… Not knowing what that beauty would be, or when it would cross my path. But I know I wanted more, kept telling myself that my fishies would be happier.

My fish must have thought about a new house just as much as I have, when finally, two years ago, I stumbled upon my current tank in the For Sale section. 3200mm long, by 600mm wide by 700mm deep. I would have liked a bit wider tank but realized that 700mm simply does not fit through normal doors. That implied that if I wanted 700mm wide or wider, I had to build the stand and tank in place. The convincing (and best part!) was the price which I simply could not ignore.


The tank is mainly a softy dominated system, with a few LPS corals hidden in between. Being 3200mm in length it gives you a lot of options scaping wise, although I still would not have minded another 100mm width. The tank originally had a central overflow box, big and ugly. I removed that and closed the holes on the bottom pane with a glass panel. The overflow is my version of a Bean Animal overflow; with slimline box inside the display and 3 standpipes in the external box. Instead of the standard Durso setup with PVC pipes, I use soil Vent valves, they take up a lot less space. The return box is my own design I came up with back on the old 750L tank. I had successfully implemented that design on 2 nano tanks and it works great. No need at all for a siphon break.

FTS 5 (Medium)

The tank is placed 10mm from the wall (Yes… it is just 1 cm!). I placed a 60mm strip of PVC plastic on top of the tank lying against the wall, to prevent any snails or wannabe jumpers of going down the back. Another 60mm PVC strip on the front panel at the top and sides makes a nice frame, plus it hides the surface from view and the reflection that goes with it. Most visitors do not even notice the strips.

Fish room

View down the Fishroom (Medium)

I sectioned off a 2m wide partition in my garage, using Shutterply to build the walls and installed insulation for the winter. Luckily it is just the other side of the wall. Must admit, having a fish room does help a lot especially having a rather big system. I got space for a frag setup, remote DSB and refugium, Ro Drums, Mixing Drums, 2 quarantine systems and even a Cryptic tank. Plus shelves for all those white drums we use for powerlifting exercises. If you can ever setup a dedicated fish room, then just do it. Just being able to do water changes without spilling water in the lounge, justifies a room.

I have no electrical points below any of the tanks in the fishroom. All connections are above the tanks, which allows for easy access and prevent issues with water splashes. All connections are marked with bread tags.

FR 1 Frag and Remote DSB (Medium)

First in line is a shallow frag tank. Dimensions are 1000mm by 300mm by 70mm. Water is only 55mm deep. Zoa, mushrooms and ricordia corals grow really well in that shallow water. But I must admit 100mm deep would have been a lot better. Rocks used to get these corals to grow on need to be flat. Being deeper would also allow for small powerheads just for increased flow.

FR 4 shallow frag 3 (Medium)

The shallow frag tank drains down to the next frag tank. Dimensions are 1200mm by 420mm by 250mm deep. Frags like Xenia, pincushions and even Halimedia macro-algae grow nicely due to being so shallow. Both frag tanks have T5 light units over them. Bottom frag tank has two Seio powerheads for flow.

FR 3 frag tank (Medium)

From there the water drains to a standard Daro 1200mm (4ft) 220L tank with slimline overflow. This tank acts as a secondary remote DSB and refugium. Substrate is normal playsand. Lit by two of those 10W LED spotlights. Cheato is kept together in 2 plastic baskets, while the caulerpa grows in a basket made from eggcrate. The overflow drains back to the main sump into the second chamber above the main DSB.

FR 2 DSB refugium (Medium)

I got a 40L tub that act as a cryptic zone. Back in 2008 it was briefly the next in thing to have. Guys quickly realized that they take ages to mature. If you cannot wait up to 6 months for a DSB, then forget it. The tub got a lot of rocks in it covered with feather dusters mostly. Pity you cannot really see from the side what is going on. This tub is fed from a 1000L/h pump that hangs in the remote DSB and it drains back there as well. Mostly the tub is used as an extra worktop.

I do believe in quarantining new fish. First they go through the bucket method and I got a dedicated space for that. From there the fish goes into a 90L Daro tank fitted with overflow, with another 90L tank as sump. Equipment on the QT system consists of 45W LED unit, 2 old SunSun powerheads, TS1 Skimmer, lots of bio-balls, return pump, SAGA ATU and 2 small 100W heaters. The QT can run as a complete system for an extended period of time.

QT 2 (Medium)

A 220L tank with its own sump act as a secondary holding system. Currently housing 2 filefish permanently in there as they are not really completely reef safe. I move rocks with Aiptasia in there for them to feast on. This tank allows me to extend the quarantine facility further. In case the 90L QT got infected and needs to be stripped and cleaned. Equipment on the 220L consists of an old Odyssea dual T5 light unit, 3 Seio powerheads, TS2 skimmer, DSB, Eheim 300W heater, return pump and SAGA ATU. This system does run as a complete standalone system.

Holding 1 (Medium)

My water topup and change station consists of three 220L drums that are placed on a stand. The blue drum is for RO and all three systems draw water from there. I had a problem with the drums being higher than the tanks. The solution is a siphon break design using 50mm PVC pipes behind the drums. Both the green drums are for water changes, one drum for mixing the new salt and the other to drain water to from the main display. This old water is reused for water changes on the two quarantine systems.

Main System


Under the main display I got a 1500mm long sump. First chamber got an ATI Powercone 200i skimmer. 100mm wide chamber filled with 7Kg Seachem Matrix. Double chambers for the main DSB of aragonite. Return pump is a 12000L/h DC pump that splits the flow to the main display and the frag tank in the fish room. Skimmer does have two air intakes and the additional intake is connected to the Ozone unit. Using total of 5 * 300W heaters on the main system, controlled from a STC-1000. Yeah, ouch…

Sump Main (Medium)

A third DSB is on the other side of the cabinet. A 900mm by 420mm tank with aragonite DSB. Fed from return chamber of main sump and it drains back there as well. Still undecided on what exactly I want for this section. Flow is nice and slow and originally wanted it to be an extension with macro algaes other than cheato and caulerpa. But the 10W LED spotlight does not work for Halimedia or red macro algae. I will either need to replace the light unit, or go with seahorses or ribbon eels.

Sump Second DSB (Medium)

In the display I got about 200Kg rocks. At the bottom I got base rock, as they tend to give a lot more stable base to stack other rocks on top. Plus they provide enough little caves without being so closed up that they trap detritus. I got some really big pieces of rock that allows for a solid build. Equipment used is four Vortech MP40 pumps and two 15000L/h Voyager on a controller. The Vortech pumps are at the end points of the tank. MP60 pumps would have been better or 2 MP60 at the back and the 4 MP40 at the front. (Hint for Christmas wish list). Lights are six Radion Gen2 units. Substrate used is about 80L real sea sand.

Left Side

FTS partial left (Medium)


FTS partial middle (Medium)


FTS Partial right (Medium)


My work schedule can be rather hectic. Being away for two weeks at a time is not unusual. That forms the main requirement of what I want out of filtration. Anything simple that does not need any input from a tank sitter is my number one goal. Tank sitter must feed the fish and that is it. That’s why I use a 220L drum for RO. It can go for two weeks before refill.

I rely a lot on biological filtration. System consists of 3 Deep Sand Beds plus 7Kg Seachem Matrix. Other than a monthly siphon of the main DSB, these filtration systems are for me the simplest to maintain. In total the 3 DSB areas are 58% of my display footprint. I can get better parameters most likely using other methods, but for my lifestyle, I’m happy with what I got. After all, softies do like a bit of phosphates.

I try to do a 200L water change at least during the month. Either in one monthly change, otherwise twice a month doing 100L. Other than water changes I dose nothing. No additives are added and no specialized reactors are used.

Weekly maintenance consists of cleaning the skimmer cups and cleaning the glass panels. If I’m gone, the tank sitter does not need to do this either. That ATI skimmer got a very big cup.

Water Station 2 (Medium)


I feed mostly flakes. I buy the full range of Ocean Nutrition. Open all the tubs and empty it into a big pot. Throwing a little bit of each tub until they are all empty, slightly mixing the flakes as you do not want to break them up to finely. Then I refill the tubs. Then the fish gets a nice mix of everything with each meal. The main system also has two autofeeders, feeding the ocean nutrition pellets, one type per feeder. This is released at different intervals during the day (four times), for the smaller fishes needing regular feedings.

They get a nori sheet per day. Once a while I do trim the caulerpa a bit and I feed that back to the fish. The bigger fish gobbles a caulerpa leaf down as if they never get food.

The anemones gets a small piece of hake once every second week. Even the small sand anemones get their small helping. I do throw a few extra pieces of hake into the tank for the numerous hermits to eat.

I do like to give reef paste and reef sticks, but strangely with exception to the Regal, the other bigger fish do not like the reef paste. They go crazy for the sticks.

The corals get no additional food. No coral Snow or other fine filter food is added.


I got 4 LPS corals, the rest are all softies.

The LPS are:
• 2 different Acans, green and purple
• Pipe organ coral
• Open brain

The softies list:
• 3 inferno anemones.
• 2 species colonial anemones
• 3 different species of local rock anemones.
• Sea whip
• Pincushions, 3 different varieties
• Sinularia, various forms. With loads of different common names. Devils hand, Blushing, Finger-lobed.
• Zoa’s
• Button Polyps, 2 species.
• Mushrooms, purple, green, blue
• Hairy mushrooms
• Palythoa
• Various colors of ricordias
• Squat sandy zoanthid (local)


Setting up this list, I realized that a lot of my fish comes from other guys, mostly tank breakdowns.

GroupCommon NameScientific Nameqty
TangBlonde NasoNaso elegans1
ChocolateAcanthurus pyroferus1
SailfinZebrasoma veliferum1
YellowZebrasoma flavescens1
ScopasZebrasoma scopas1
Yellow Belly RegalParacanthurus hepatus var.1
FoxfaceMagnificent FoxfaceSiganus magnificus1
ButterflyDiphreutesHeniochus diphreutes1
AngelsAsfurPomacanthus asfur1
NavarchusPomacanthus navarchus1
LaMarckGenicanthus lamarck2
Coral BeautyCentropyge bispinosa1
ClownsOcellarisAmphiprion ocellaris2
Orange SkunkAmphiprion sandaracinos2
WrasseCleanerLabroides dimidiatus1
Six-LinePseudocheilinus hexataenia1
White Belly YellowHalichoeres leucoxanthus1
GobiesLawnmowerSalarias fasciatus1
Orange-dashed gobyValenciennea puellaris1
Blue Banded Watchman GobyCryptocentrus cyanotaenia1
DamselsBlue Yellow TailChrysiptera parasema4
Similar DamselsPomacentrus similis2
OtherOrchid DottybackPseudochromis fridmani1
MandarinSynchiropus splendidus2
AnthiasPseudanthias squamipinnis1
FilefishAcreichthys tomentosus2


Inverts, where I do not mention how many, is because I do not know how many there are. They are all locally collected.
• 3 Local short spine urchins
• Cypraea annulus (Yellow ring cowries)
• 1 Cypraea caputserpentis (Snake’s head cowrie)
• Turbo Coronatus snails
• Neritas snails
• Yellow tip hermits
• Blue Eyed hermits
• 1 Macro Brittle starfish
• Clam


* Tank Dimensions: 3200mm (L) x 600mm (W) x 700mm (H)
* Main Sump Dimensions: 1500mm (L) x 420mm (W) x 400mm (H)
* Remote DSB Dimensions: 1220mm (L) x 420mm (W) x 400mm (H)
* Third Sump Dimensions: 900mm (L) x 420mm (W) x 400mm (H)
* Shallow Frag Tank: 1000mm (L) x 300mm (W) x 100mm (H)
* Deep Frag Tank: 1200mm (L) x 420mm (W) x 250mm (H)

* Display Tank Volume: 1250L
* Total System Volume: +-2000L

* Temperature: 25
* pH: 8.1
* Salinity: 1.25
* Ammonia: 0
* Nitrite: 0.005
* Nitrate: 0.10-0.12
* Phosphate: 2
* Calcium: 410
* Magnesium:1200


I changed so much on this system that I doubt that there is much room left for improvement, except my next upgrade. I would have liked the tank to be wider, but that would mean a special tank build that would have cost me a lot more. Maybe… One day…
I built up this system over the years. I’m reefing on a budget and yes, I do envy some of the gadgets out there. Yes, I do have Radions but I bought them all from the MASA For Sale section.

If you are on a budget, be realistic to yourself and to your partner. This hobby can be very expensive. I’ve seen so many people come and go in my time at MASA. Reefers get out of this hobby within a year after spending a lot of money on top notch equipment. My first advice would be: Start with something you can afford. First learn how to keep a system stable and keep your fish friends alive before you buy that big dream tank. Even if the tank is smaller that you want, learn the basics while appreciating the smaller things. That will make that next upgrade even more special. You do not need a tank computer. It is nice to have, but you really do not need it.

Start with corals that are easy. That you can see growing and multiplying. If you cannot get them thriving, how can you keep more advanced corals alive?

Lastly, thanks to all the MASA members past and present. To all those who helped me when I was a novice with the general newbie questions, thank you. Even today, I’m still learning new things. That is maybe the most fascinating part of this hobby. That even after 7 years, there are still things for me to learn.

Click here to return to the forums and comment or ask the owner questions about their tank – MASA Forums TOTM

FTS 6 (Medium)

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