A while back we posted about the tank of Marko Haaga, a beautiful skimmerless reef tank which is truly exceptional in it’s appearance as well as it’s execution. Some of you were excited to learn more about Haga’s reef tank so here it is. Marko Haaga lives in Finland and he was kind enough to share some additional details about his inspiring reef aquarium setup. Keep reading for a short interview and the three year anniversary pictures of sReef.
sReef was setup three years ago on December 8, 2007. The display is a 78” x 26″ x 26″ tank which translates to around 223 gallons. The tank is illuminated by two, 8x39W T5 ATI Powermodules with a bulb combo of 10 ATI Blue plus, four ATI Aquablue special and two Korallenzucht Fiji Purple bulbs. Water movement is provided by two Tunze Streams putting out around 3,200 gallon per hour each. Additional flow is provided by the Ocean Runner return putting out around 900 gallons per hour. There is around a 100 pounds of liverock total in the system and there is a 1-2” layer of 0.1-2mm sand in both the display and refugium. The refugium is 45 gallons and the sump is 24 gallons. For Filtration Marko uses three and a half cups of activated carbon and one cup of coarse iron based phosphate remover in an Eheim prof II 2026 external filter. 600ml of biopellets is also used. As mentioned before no skimmer is utilized.
The tank contains mainly SPS with huge colonies of Acropora, Seriatopora, Pocillopora and Montipora. The tank also contains some LPS including a Catalaphyllia jardinei, an over 10 year old Plerogyra sinuosa, an orange Goniopora, Pavona, Galaxea, Hydnopora, Caulastrea, Trachyphyllia, Euphyllia and three different Fungias. Softies include Sarcophyton, Lobophytum, and Xenia. The tank also contains some gorgonians including a huge Gorgonia ventalina, Rumphella and Pseudopterogorgia.
Fish wise the tank is stocked with a Zebrasoma flavescens, two Paracanthurus hepatus, three Amphiprion ocellaris, two Gobiodon okinawae, 14 Chromis viridis and a juvenile Coris gaimard. Invert wise there are Tridacna crocea, Tridacna squamosa, four Holothuria atra, Enoplometopus reef lobster, and some peppermint shrimps.
How did you get started in this hobby?
I got my first freshwater aquarium when I was ten. I started my first 30 gallon reef aquarium about 17 years ago. The setup including the tank, skimmer and lights where all DIY.
What did you learn from your previous systems?
I tried a lot of different techniques and with a lot of tanks I got great results. The main thing in every successful tank has been near natural water. That means normal values of major elements like Ca, Mg and KH, sufficient amounts of minor and trace elements, low phosphates and regular water changes. I find using activated carbon also very beneficial.
What was your goal setting up this tank?
The main goal was a simple, low maintenance and natural reef aquarium.
Do you own any other aquariums?
No, not at this time. I used to have a small reef tank with my son, but we do not have it anymore. It was one of the most beautiful reef tanks I have ever seen. (pictures of the setup can be found here)
Skimmers are extremely popular and have yielded good results for many. Why go skimmerless?
One of the main goals when setting up the tank was low maintenance and simplicity. That really meant no skimmer. Before this tank I got fed up with cleaning the skimmer at least once or twice a week. I just stopped cleaning it one day and eventually shut it down altogether. Strangely I noticed my reef even looked better without a skimmer than with one. Corals growth exploded and soon I ran out of room, so it was time for an upgrade. The sReef was setup three years ago without a skimmer from the get go.
Do you feel that there are any downsides to running no skimmer?
A skimmer can be helpful as an additional buffer if something suddenly goes really wrong in your tank. I may or may not save your reef, but it may help. In a skimmerless setup that additional backup is not there. But aside from that, no.
Recently LEDs have made a huge progression in lighting aquariums and LEDs are now a days are able to grow SPS corals. With little to no heat and very low power consumption, why are you not running LEDs?
I’m not a big fan of LED lights yet. They are without a doubt very promising technology, especially for aquarium lightning, but they are not there just yet. I think most of them are not powerful enough, although the more expensive units may be. The real life time of LED is also yet to be seen. When T5s first came out they also promised much longer lifetimes than it actually is. Another downside of LED lights is that you are stuck with one color spectrum, with T5 it is easy to change tube colors whenever you feel like it. So for now I’m still a T5 fan.
On your website you noted that you saw a huge increase in growth after switching from two part to the Balling Classic system. Why did you switch and why do you think growth increased? How has growth been recently?
Over a year ago I was not happy about growth rate of my corals. The sReef had been up the nearly two years then. I couldn’t find answers to my problem, thinking that it might be due to lack of food items for the corals I tried increasing my feeding and using BioPellets. That did not help. I noticed that right after water change corals would look better and if I did not do any water changes for two-three weeks they looked worse and worse. I was using Two Part from the beginning and thinking it over I realized that using Two part gradually leads to distorted proportions of major, minor and trace elements even with regular water changes. I had two options, increasing water changes to compensate for the distortion or start using Balling classic, which does not change the proportions, or at least not significantly enough. So I started Balling classic and in very short time saw better polyp extension in my corals and much much more growth tips in Acros and other SPS corals. Also consumption of Balling liquids increased. Growth and the appearance of corals has remained very good thereafter.
You also noted on your website that you had problems with adding coralfoods to your system. Why do you think that is?
Skimmerless systems have limited export capabilities compared to systems with a skimmer. Almost everything that you put in your tank remains there. Nutrients are recycled in the system, incorporated to corals, algae, fish, microfauna etc. when they grow. Only a small portion is exported by water changes and phosphate remover. So feeding your skimmerless system with care is a must. I feed my fishes only, and only once a day with an amount they eat in 5 minutes. I don’t believe there is a benefit to feeding photosynthetic corals in skimmerless systems. You see much more pods, small shrimps and other microfauna in a skimmerless system than in a tank with skimmer. So there is much more natural food for animals. But I do believe that there is not enough food items to grow nonphotosynthetic corals in skimmer less reefs.
In 2008 you wrote on your website that: “High nitrate has no negative effect on corals” do you still believe that’s true?
Yes, I do indeed. With many years of reef keeping with multiple systems I have never witnessed any problem correlated with moderately high nitrate. Problems arise if phosphate also rise or if there is something else wrong in water. I prefer small amount (0,2- 2 mg/l) of nitrate and “zero” phosphate in my reefs water.
Could you explain to us your maintance on this tank?
It really is I a low maintenance reef. I feed the fishes once a day with flake, granular or frozen food. I clean two front glasses twice a week. Top-off canisters are filled once a week, Balling canisters about once a month or two. Filter is cleaned once a month and 30 gallon water change done once a month.
It seems you also have a passion for gardening, how do you incorporate that in your reef tank?
Well here in Finland the summer and gardening season is so short. During that time my tank runs in even lower maintenance mode. The rest of the year my main hobby is reef keeping.
And finally, what do you believe to be your key to success?
As I mentioned earlier the most important thing in successful reef keeping is near natural water.
Thank you Marko for your taking the time to answer the questions! For more pictures of this tank Check out Marko Haga’s website.