It used to be that us reefers would visit zoos and public aquariums and have pity on the sorry excuses for a saltwater aquarium that passed as a reef tank. Those days are long since gone and nowadays public aquarists are doing a fantastic job of growing incredible reef tanks, and schooling the hobbyists on how to grow lush and dense stands of aquarium stony corals.
The 5,000 gallon reef tank at the Denver Downtown Aquarium is one such fine example that we love revisiting on an annual basis. First set up in 1998, this reef tank hasn’t always been a shining beacon of excellent coral growth and righteous reef display, but for the past ten years or so this has been a powerhouse garden of coral.
We’ve seen successive generations of coral colonies grow to massive proportions and then outgrow their space, only to be mostly removed and replaced by the next coral in line. Currently the Denver Downtown Aquarium main reef aquarium display houses a great population of small polyped stony corals which have grown over nearly the entire reef structure, with nary a piece of rock visible in the top half of the tank.
The upper half of this huge three-sided display tank is very brightly lit with about a dozen metal halide fixtures, most of them being 1,000 watts but we think there’s a couple 2,000 watters in there as well. The deep aquarium also has plenty of real estate down in the bottom half, and despite the reduced lighting below three feet, there’s an abundance of corals down there as well.
The most note worthy corals of the lower section of the Denver Aquarium reef display is a large colony of Pavona cactus that we’ve witnessed grow from a frag, and a huge, sprawling colony of golden colored birdnest coral which is nearly two feet across. Meanwhile the center of the bottom of this public reef tank is occupied by a large carpet anemone which has resided in this tank since it was first unveiled nearly 18 years ago, so that is one old Stichodactyla anemone.
It’s always a treat to visit the reef display tank at the Denver Downtown Aquarium and to watch it grow successive generations of jumbo coral colonies over the years. If you ever come to Denver, definitely put the Downtown Aquarium on your itinerary. And if you can’t, check out the full gallery of dreamy coral reefscape pictures below.