Blog Archives

Sick Pajama Cardinal

I started with 5 Pajama Cardinals (Sphaeramia nematoptera) 5-6 years ago and over the years they slowly died off. The last one looked beautiful for at least a year and then slowly started to deteriorate. Today I noticed she was doing this death spiral. I assume the end is near. ūüė¶







2 Year Saltwater Aquarium Update

Our¬†system has been up and running for 2 years. Here’s a quick video of the tank.




Reeflo Snapper/Dart Hybrid Pump Upgrade

I recently purchased a Reeflo Snapper/Dart Hybrid Pump to replace my Mag Drive 24 return pump. I left the higher flow impeller in the Reeflo pump and I would say it has about the same, or a little more, flow than the Mag Drive 24. I’m sure my funky plumbing drops the flow a little bit but it still allows me to use the Mag 24 as a backup.

It’s unbelievable how quiet this pump is compared to the Mag 24! I can barely tell it’s running. Best of all, the drone from the Mag 24 is gone which seemed to echo through the house. I can only imagine the fish are a lot happier with the quieter pump. I’ll probably save around $10-$12 a month in electricity too. So far I’m a very happy camper!




Fighting Conch (Strombus spp.)

My Saltwater Aquarium Fish Room

300 Gallon Saltwater Reef Tank

Fish room - Refugium, Mixing Tank, Protein Skimmer, ATO, GFO Reactor, Dosing Pumps

The back side of the tank is on the right. The refugium is on the top left. On the bottom left I use a 90 gallon tank to make saltwater for water changes.

Fish room sump area, Skimmer, ATO, GFO Reactor, Dosing Pumps

Fish room sump area, Skimmer, ATO, GFO Reactor

The sump area.

Reef Tank Room Actinic Lighting

Cleaning the Aquarium Chiller

It’s been 6-8 months since I had the chiller (1/3 HP Current USA) hooked up on the system. I figured I better take the case off and visually check it for leaks and other issues. ¬†Turns out there was a small leak in the unit where the temperature probe goes in. Since I’m using an Apex controller now I do not need the temp unit so I pulled it out and sealed it up. Running some H2O through it also flushed out some tube worms that took up residence inside the cooling/UV sterilizing area. Hopefully I won’t have to use the chiller as it has not been needed in the past couple of years.

1/3 HP Saltwater Aquarium Chiller - Current USA

1/3 HP Current USA Aquarium Chiller w/o case.

1/3 Horse Power Saltwater Aquarium Chiller - Current USA

1/3 HP Reef Aquarium Chiller - Current USA

Aquarium Overflow Box Standpipe DIY

At the last house this tank was set up using bio balls in each one of the overflow boxes to limit noise. This time I decided not to use bio balls and boy let me tell you, I had a small Niagara Falls in my basement! I could hear the bassy tones all the way upstairs. So, here’s my attempt at making a 2 inch PVC standpipe to quite the tank.

PVC Elbow for Aquarium Standpipe

2″ PVC Elbow for the standpipe that is in the overflow box.

Inside of an Aquarium Overflow Box

Looking down inside the overflow box. Didn’t have much room to install that stand pipe, especially when half of the overflow box opening is covered by a cross brace.

Tight fit overflow box standpipe

Putting the standpipe together was a tight fit! I had to use an elbow to get around the return line. I also had to cut the sides of the PVC fitting to squeeze them into place.


Rubbermaid Stock Tank Aquarium Sump

I’m using a 100 Gallon Rubbermaid stock tank for this system’s sump. I like that they are very sturdy! I’ve also made a media filter box out of stackable recycling containers. Here are a few photos of the progress:

Rubbermaid Stock Tank Aquarium Sump

A back side shot of the tank.

100 Gallon Rubbermaid Stock Tank Aquarium Sump

I really like the 100 gallon Rubbermaid stock tank so far for the sump. I like that I can drill holes into the sidewalls fairly easily.

DIY Aquarium Filter Media Box

DIY Aquarium Filter Media Box

For now I will use this DIY filter media box made from some plexiglass and a couple stackable recycling containers. I have PVC unions installed in case I want to switch out the box and pump setup.

Rubbermaid Stock Tank Aquarium Sump

A shot from under the tank. Pretty clean so far.

Painting the Aquarium Stand

Painting the stand wasn’t too bad of a process… mostly because my awesome wife did it for me. ūüôā

I told her I didn’t care what color it was, just what was in it. So, we ended up with Knight’s Armor (dark grey) and a couple gel coats of polyurethane on the tank. Here are a ¬†couple update pictures:

Painting the Aquarium Stand Knight's Armor Grey

The stand got a couple coats of polyurethane over the dark grey paint.

Using Dishes to File Up Aquarium

Using our dishes to keep the sand from being blown everywhere on the fill up. They came in very handy!

Filling up the Aquarium

Filling up the freshly painted tank. Really liking the Knight’s Armor color.

Adding Salt to the Aquarium

Adding salt to the aquarium made for quite the whiteout.

Tank Update!!!

It’s time for a tank update, lot of stuff happening! I should have probably broke this up into a couple different posts but I’ve not been on the computer much lately and still have lots of work to do.

Here are a couple update photos of the 300 gallon Rubbermaid stock tank acting as the temporary home for our fish. ¬†We actually really enjoy watching the fish and corals from above. The clams are very neat to look at too! So far the fish and corals haven’t protested the temp setup.

300 Gallon Saltwater Aquarium - Temp with 90 Gallon Refugium

Temp Saltwater Aquarium - 300 Gallon Rubbermaid Stock Tank

Squamosa Clams in Temp Rubbermaid Stock Tank

Squamosa Clam

Squamosa Clam

LPS Coral, Mushrooms, SPS

In the fish room, behind the display tank, I have set up a metal rack to hold the 90 gallon refugium and 90 gallon salt mixing tank. The refugium will go up high and have a drain that drops down into the display tank (to the right). Hopefully the refuge will produce lots of bugs for the fish to eat. ūüôā We’ve also painted everything white in the fish room with Kilz primer, added some can lights, and put in a small sink and hookup for the RO/DI unit.

Metal Rack 90 Gallon Refugium & Salt Mix Stand

Saltwater Aquarium Sink

Just got the ATO (Automatic Top Off) up and running this evening. I used a small pump and a 10 gallon tank for top-off water. I also got my APEX controller back up and running on the temp system.

Auto Top Off (ATO) 10 Gallon Reservoir Tank

While building the stand we ran three new lines to the breaker box, one for lights, one for pumps, and one for the refugium area. I’m really happy to have the aquarium system on its own set of breakers.

Moving the display tank…

6 guys, a trailer, suction cups, straps and an hour of grunting we had the tank moved. We think the tank weighs around 600+ lbs. (.5 inch glass with a bit of re-enforcement glass in the bottom). Luckily everything went well although we did bust off a fitting on the bottom for one of the returns. I think I might actually cut out one overflow (right side), deleting the broken return, and rely on my VorTech MP40s to create the majority of the flow/turnover in the tank. Originally I thought I would get a lot of flow from the return pumps (2 – Mag Drive 24s) but that just didn’t happen.

Moving a Large Aquarium with Suction Cups

Strapping down the tank on the trailer

Moving a Saltwater Aquarium

Moving of the Fish Tank

After a bit more thought and my wife’s “Not to scale” disclaimer drawings (lol) we had the stand figured out. Here’s where we are now.

Saltwater Aquarium Plans/Drawings

300 Gallon Saltwater Display Tank in Progress

Saltwater Tank Canopy Doors

(tops to be installed soon!)

Next time around we should have the tops installed, tank painted and the right side overflow removed… ūüėČ Time for some sleep.

Don’t Overfill Your RO DI Resin Filters!

I was changing my Bulk Reef Supply (BRS) RO DI resin here a bit ago and couldn’t get the filter out of the canister. ¬†Looks like I put too much resin into the filter and is swelled up! I had to take a screw driver to the bottom of the filter to get the resin out. Lesson learned.

Swollen RO DI Resin Canister

Swollen RO DI Resin Canister

Swollen RO DI Resin Canister

Swollen RO DI Resin Canister

Swollen RO DI Resin Canister

Swollen RO DI Resin Canister

Building a New Home for the Tank

Well, over the past couple of weeks we have been doing a lot of moving! ¬†In the new house I’ve setup a temp system (300 gallon Rubbermaid stock tank + 90 gallon) and started on the new stand/room with help from my good friend Cliff. Every part of moving seems slow and painful. ¬†Still living out of boxes and not sure where anything is but the fish project must go on! Here are a few pictures of the progress.

Stormy Weather and Down Power Lines… Do you have a generator for your fish tank?

With all of the bad weather lately it’s a good idea to have a generator or backup power source on hand. One of my friends, who lives in a remote location, had some bad weather the other day that knocked his power out for 9+ hours. Luckily for him he had a generator to run his tank’s pumps and heaters. Lack of water circulation will kill corals in a hurry!

Personally, I have a large UPS (uninterruptible power supply) to protect against power surges and short-term power outages.  I also have backup batteries on my VorTech MP-40 pumps to keep them running for up to 30 hours. My UPS will keep my big return pumps going for 20+ minutes which is longer than most power interruptions in our town.

What is your fish tank plan for a power outage?

Tearing Down the Tank, Planning a New One

Well I just got the news that we need to move houses this summer… So, that means I need to take our system down.¬†

But, it gives me the opportunity to plan another tank build when we find a new house. This time I will put a tank in a wall and give it its own room. 

So, over the next few months I am going to try and sell my coral, livestock, then my tank. If anyone is interested in my livestock or knows someone interested in my 270 display tank (90″ L x 20″ W x 30″ tall)/oak stand/40 sump/.3 HP chiller/ Mag return pumps, please send me a PM. I hope this won’t be a terribly difficult process but something tells me it will be. I plan on keeping my controller, vortechs, refuge, mixing tanks & rock for the next build.

As we all know this is an expensive hobby to get into so please do a little research and shoot me a fair price via private message of the things you are interested in. Everything needs to be picked up (Missoula, MT) as I will not ship.

I would rather remove my coral from the tank first as catching the fish will be an adventure. I have linked to some photos and videos of my corals and fish but more can be found on my reef blog and youtube channel.


Hammer Coral (will break into multiples) –¬†Video
Tree/Stick Polyp –¬†Video
(2) Pagoda Turbinaria Coral –¬†Video
Blue Stag Acro – Top right in video –¬†Video
Purple Stag Acro – Below Blue Stag Acro on right¬†–¬†Video
Green Birdsnest – Top left in video¬†–¬†Video
Orange Birdsnest – Top left in video¬†–¬†Video
Deep water acro – Top middle, left of hammer¬†–¬†Video
Encrusting Monti –¬†Photo
Yellow Scroll Coral – Left of hammer¬†–¬†Video
Green Pavona
Green Red Wellsophyllia¬†Brain –¬†Photo
Montipora Cap (Red, Orange, Green, Puple, etc) – Far right –¬†Picture
Doughnut Coral (Scolymia australia) –¬†Video

My livestock:

Squamosa Clam ~ 15″ –¬†Video
Squamosa Clam ~ 7″ –¬†Video
Radiant Wrasse (prefer he goes with the clams) ~ 4″ –¬†Video
Zebra Eel ~ 3′ –¬†Video
Radiant Wrasse ~ 4″ –¬†Video
Achilles Tang ~ 5″ –¬†Video
Two Bar Rabbitfish ~ 4″ –¬†Video
True Percula Clownfish ~ 3″ –¬†Video
Marine Betta ~ 6″ –¬†Video
Red Hawkfish ~ 4″ –¬†Video
Mantis Shrimp ~ 6″ –¬†Video
Lyretail Anthias 3 females (orange) & 1 male (red). –¬†Video
Orange Spot Shrimp Goby


Serpant Star
Dolabella Sea Hare –¬†Video
Orange Pincushion Urchin ~ 3″ –¬†Video

Any questions? Send me a message 

The Eel is Out!

Got home from working out this evening to see my Zebra Eel completely out of the rocks. Looks like he was very hungry!

Zebra Moray Eel (Gymnomuraena zebra)

Zebra Moray Eel (Gymnomuraena zebra)

Want to Start a Reef Tank? $35 per Gallon

I think a lot of people don’t realize that starting up a reef tank will most likely cost about $35 per gallon. Who would think you could even put $350 into a 10 gallon tank! That kind of money adds up quickly, not to mention the time it takes to do maintenance and “figure it out.”

It seems like most stores try to sell you the tank, maybe some lights, then explain to you that you have to add salt to the water, lol. ¬†The rest is figured on through what feels like frustration and hearsay. You then have to buy a stand, rock, sand, skimmer, RO/DI unit, holding tank(s), testing equipment (pH, alkalinity, calcium, magnesium, nitrates, phosphates, etc), additives (alkalinity, calcium, magnesium, etc), pumps (water movement and mixing salt), heaters, lights (because the ones you got upfront were cheap and didn’t grow the corals you wanted to), additive dosers (optional), controller (optional), Auto Top Off (ATO) for evaporation (optional), chiller (optional), battery backup or UPS (optional),¬†ultraviolet sterilizer (optional), filter pads/media, salt, etc. Granted a lot of the things mentioned above are optional but they save you time, money and give peace of mind for the long-term. I believe all of that “optional” stuff is pretty much a necessity if you plan on having a reef system (past the average 2.5 years) and having a LIFE. It’s nice to be able to leave for the weekend, or longer, and know that most things are automated and if there is a problem you can be notified by text or email from your controller.

Fortunately there are a lot of online forums (Reef Frontiers, Reefland, Reef Central, etc.) ¬†and resources (ex. Wet Web Media) to help newbies figure out and ask themselves a lot of the questions that should have been asked before buying a tank/system and occupants. I’ve been in the hobby for around 8 years and am still using these resources to learn new tips and tricks.

I truly believe that if most people knew the costs and resources involved upfront they would probably not get into the hobby, or they would prepare themselves a bit better.

I’ve met some great people and made great friends while enjoying this hobby but I’ve also seen many people get really upset, toss their money down the drain and kill some very neat creatures. So, the moral of the story is to do your research before starting up a tank. And I mean pick the brain of someone who is not going to be receiving monetary gain from you setting up a system and who has already earned a degree, or two, from Bend Over University. ūüėČ

T5 Light Hanger Change & Mantis Shrimp Cave

Reef Tank Update Photo РFront by devonmorton, on Flickr

Just getting ready to change out my T5 bulbs.

Also changing the way the T5’s sit on the tank. Replacing the blocks of wood for a hanging system as I think it will make it a little easier to clean salt creep.¬†

Old T5 Lighting Stands by devonmorton, on Flickr

Wooden Dowel Hanger by devonmorton, on Flickr

T5 Lights Hung Up РFront by devonmorton, on Flickr

Then Shelby and I went to Lowe’s today to get the mantis shrimp a new cave/maze system. I also found out that our mantis shrimp wasn’t a peacock mantis shrimp but a¬†gonodactylaceus ternatensis, try saying that 3 times fast, or just once…

Gonodactylaceus ternatensis by devonmorton, on Flickr

So I think I am going to move some rock around in the fuge to place his new cave system:

Mantis Shrimp Maze by devonmorton, on Flickr

More pictures later after I install the above in the refugium.

Neptune Systems Energy Bar 8

Apex Energy Bar 8

Installed two more energy bars for my Apex AquaController over the 4th of July break. ¬†After mounting and plugging them in I began to program each outlet starting with lights, chiller & heater then eventually moving on to Cal, Alk & Mag dosing pumps. ¬†I am really happy to get all of these components “online” with each other. I was also able to take a lot of timers and extension cords out of the system, another big plus!

Aquarium Controller – Neptune Apex

Neptune AquaController Apex System Display Unit

A couple of weeks ago I installed a Neptune System Apex AquaController unit and I must say that I am very happy with it, but for $500 I hope I would be. ¬†I haven’t quit started to hook up my pumps and lights to the energy bar yet but the monitoring probes (temp, pH & ORP) have been working well. I also really like the iPhone app that makes my system accessible and controllable from anywhere with a signal. ūüôā The email and text alerts work very well too! I really like the¬†scalability options, should make upgrading to another system fairly easy.

After reading the owner’s manual and doing the math it became clear that I needed two more energy bars to plug all my accessories in. I currently pull power from three different¬†circuits¬†so each would require it’s own energy bar (controllable power strip). I also would like to get the wireless unit to control my Ecotech VorTech MP40 pumps. So about another $500 should take care of my aquarium controlling needs… I hope.

Cleaning my Mag Drive 24 & 12 Pumps

Getting ready to remove and clean Mag Drive 24's

Getting ready to remove and clean Mag Drive 24’s

Just getting around to posting this up. I think it’s useful information that someone might like to know.

On advice of friends in the saltwater aquarium hobby I try to clean my Mag drive pumps (main returns & refuge) every 1.5 – 2 years. In the past I’ve¬†accidentally¬†ran a set of Mag Drive 24 pumps to exhaustion (~3 years and their insides fused together). In this post I will show you how I clean my pumps!

I started this process at 11:00 AM and finished at about 4:00 PM.

  • Start by turning off metal halides (just in case).
  • Turn off Automatic Top Off (ATO).
  • Get buckets & pump ready for display tank’s head water¬†(4 – 5 gallon containers for me).
  • Turn off main return Mag Drive 24 pumps (2).
  • Use small pump (700 gph) to pump out head water from sump into containers (as it drains down from the display).
  • Cover exposed SPS corals with damp paper towel – keep wet for duration of change – Also check to make sure slow moving creatures aren’t left out of the water (ex. cucumber).
  • Remove Mag Drives and place in large cantainer, tote in my case (12:oo PM).
  • Fill with white vinegar – I used 5 gallons.
  • Run for three hours – Be sure to have your pumps some what covered in case they flip over and pump liquid up and out! Also keep in mind the vinegar temp. My large Mag Drive 24’s inside of the closed tote headed the vinegar up after a while so I cracked the top a bit and added a little cold water.
  • Check aquarium temperature to make sure temp is normal. Make adjustments if need be.
  • Rinse pumps in freshwater, clean off any¬†debris¬†and look for any problems.
  • Some people take their pumps apart and check the shafts for wear and tear but I did not. The last Mag 24 I tried this with I was barely able to get the magnet/shaft back in the pump without breaking it (very strong pull and little to hold on to).
  • Re-install pumps on new vibration pad (I use a heavy filter pad).
  • Turn mag pumps on and pump the head water back into sump (so your pumps don’t run dry!)
  • Turn ATO back on
  • Turn metal halides back on, which I would have done earlier if the display tank got cold (finish about 4:00 PM)
  • I then repeated the cleaning process with my Mag Drive 12 refugium feed pump. ¬†(Probably could have done it at the same time in a different container)
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