Patrick Dunne's (NEWSCHOOL04)
180 gallon SPS Dominated Reef


Thank you Chicago Reefs for the honor of being selected as the first featured tank of the month! I think we are all lucky to live in an area with a healthy population of reef enthusiasts and because of that, I've benefited from the knowledge and experience from so many of you out there. There is nothing like talking to someone who's been there and done that to help you get past the difficult times, and this hobby does serve up some doozies every now and then! Make friends, join CMAS, visit other peoples tanks and spend some time talking with them. Get to know the people around you that have the same passion for this hobby, you will end up a better and smarter reefer for it.

(Click on Image for larger Image)

The Beginning:

My wife bought me a 5 gallon fresh water tank for my home desk in 2004 and it has been down hill since! The LFS I used to buy my food and supplies also sold salt water fish and corals. Every time I went in I seemed to end up in that very cool section, looking at all of the colorful fish, the beautiful corals and getting a funny feeling I was somehow short changing myself! One month later I carried out a 12 gallon nano cube, 12 lbs. of LR and a very big smile. I think my wife knew right then I was hooked. About 6 months later I saw a guy selling his 75 in WI and I bought the whole system. He only had a couple of corals, a couple of fish but he had the live rock, equipment, all the pumps, lights, skimmer and a RO/DI so I jumped at the deal. To this day I think I may be the only person in the hobby to actually buy a full system without the seller having to piece it out. I took the water also :)

The old 75:

Our second baby was on the way and because of that, I gave up my home office and fish room. For some reason my wife thought it was important for the baby to have a room, crazy talk! All joking aside, I didn't care about losing the office but losing my fish room really did sting. We measured and there was absolutely no way we could fit the 75 in our living room so off to the master bedroom it went. My wife is a big time trooper. Time passed, I upgraded the PC lights to T5's in the 75 and things started to really grow. During this time I read everything I could about the hobby, chemistry, husbandry, whatever. It didn't matter to me, if it was about the hobby I was reading it. After a couple of years I started getting the itch again so I bought a 30 cube and plumbed it into the 75. Rod drilled the tank and I made an overflow with smoked glass and silicone, it worked perfectly and I was happy. That feeling didn't last very long, I still didn't have enough room, I needed a bigger tank.

Current Tank, Philosophy and Concepts: The 180

When it comes to this hobby, I stick to the "keep it simple stupid" philosophy. The less moving parts, the easier it is to succeed. Stay with one method, learn and study that method and then perfect it. That's tough to do with all the new gadgets and products on the market but I believe I'm successful because of it. So that means no bacteria, no vodka, no vinegar, no bio pellets, no Ca reactor (although I do have one, I don't use it because it scares me), no zeo and no Vitamin D. There are 100's of other products that are offered, I don't add those either. I believe some of these products probably do work but I believe more that our tanks don't need them.

Chemistry (Alk and Ca), flow, filtration and lighting. Those are the 4 corners I concentrate on and I believe If you have all four working and implemented correctly, then you should be on your way to a successful reef.

My current tank is a AGA 180 with a 40B sump. It's a pretty straight forward set up, with two overflows with 1" drains and 3/4" returns. The sump is divided into three sections, both the returns drain into the skimmer section, then the water flows through a DIY baffle system into the refugium, then into the return section and back to the tank. I copy'd the design from a sketch on wet web media. It's simple and it works perfectly.

I use a Mag 12 for my return and I love this pump, it's reliable and never quits. I've had my current one running 24/7 for over 3 years cleaning it only once. Filtration is of course important and so when I upgraded to the 180 I bought myself a new skimmer. I used to run two small Euro Reef needle wheel skimmers in my 75 that were work horses so I decided to stay the course and just get a bigger Euro Reef.

Skimmer technology in the last couple of years has changed everything, now we are talking about cones, more efficient pumps, air meters, and bubble plates. My ER 180 has none of that but it does do one thing very well, it pulls a lot of gunk out of the water on a daily basis. It's not finicky, it never fails to start up and it doesn't care if the water level in my sump changes or if I feed heavy. I'm sure I'll break down one of these days and get a newer skimmer but for now I'm happy with how my old guy is performing.

As I moved my focus to the more difficult types of corals, I realized that great flow is essential. My two Tunze 6105's on a 7095 Tunze controller provide a nice wall of water that is constantly changing. The Tunze Wavebox digs in between the rocks and creates a pulse that the acros seem to love and also helps move detritus into the water column. I'm a huge fan of the feeding option which turns off the pumps when I feed. More food for the fishes and less for the skimmer and LR.

My lighting is handled by a Tek 8 bulb T5 fixture. When I first set up the 180 I decided to move away from T5's and purchased 3 Lumenarc reflectors with 400W ballasts and bulbs. I loved the look but was constantly dealing with extreme heat issues. Having the tank in our bedroom made installing a chiller impossible so I decided to go back to what I really knew, T5's.

Lighting Schedule:

Dusk bulbs: 11:30am -11:30pm
All bulbs: 12:30pm -10:30pm

Front to back-

ATI Blue +
ATI Purple plus
ATI Blue +
ATI Aquablue
ATI Blue +
ATI Aquablue
ATI Blue +
ATI Blue +

I removed the roof of my canopy and hung the fixture from the ceiling into the canopy. The canopy shelf cuts down on the light pollution and makes it very easy to get into the tank when I need to. I can either raise the lights and reach over the canopy for fast access or slide off the canopy for full access to the tank.

Feeding and Maintenance:

Clean water is the key to success. You can buy all the gadgets you want but if you're not starting out with clean 0 tds water, you're shooting yourself in the foot. I have a 5 stage RO/DI system that I use for both top off and water changes. I try to do a 25 gallon change with Reef Crystals salt every two weeks and I drip Kalk/lime 24/7. I also run a reactor with 2 cups of carbon 24/7 and change that out monthly.

My fish get a mix of Formula 1, 2 and Prime Reef flakes twice a day. I swear by the stuff and my fish don't seem to complain either. The trick is you have to grab a pinch and release the food under water. If you just drop it in the majority of the food will make it down your overflow. I also feed Rod's food 2 - 3 times a week and most of the fish enjoy a sheet of nori two times a week. The corals get fed by light and whatever they can grab from the water column.

Alkalinity and Calcium:

When I started to get interested in SPS corals, I began to read, re-read and then re-read again all of Randy Holmes-Farley's articles dealing with reef chemistry. Some of those articles can be tough to get through and it seems like you need to be a chemistry major to make sense out of it but they helped me immensely. Since Randy used lime I decided that I would also.
I use a 15 gallon reservoir for top off that I fill weekly with RO/DI and 2 tsp. of lime per gallon. This is considered "super saturated", you can't get more lime into the water even if you tried. I mix the concoction with a 3 foot PVC pipe and let it sit for about an hour before dripping. The reservoir sits unmixed until it's empy and the process starts again. If I could fit a 100 gallon or 1000 gallon reservoir in my room, I would do it exactly the same way!

The Nautilus II dosing pump is controllable so I can adjust my drip to keep up with evaporation without ever having to worry about overdosing my tank with lime water. I don't know how many threads I've read about people crashing their tanks because an auto top off went on the fritz or a float valve stuck. I didn't want to be one of the many so I invested in a reliable dosing pump which has been running now for 5 years non stop.

Surprisingly I can keep up with both Alk and Ca with just this method and with my bi-weekly water changes. Every now and then I use baking soda to raise my Alk from 7 dKH (the lowest I've tested) to 9 dKH and the Ca seems to sit around 440. I have a beautiful GEO Ca reactor with Aquarium Plants reactor that collects dust because again . . . it scares me. If I hooked it up then I would be adding another piece to the puzzle and that goes against my mantra! I'm sure I'll get someone to come over and give me a tutorial on it soon but till then, I'll drip lime.


I love my fish but they are definitely not my first focus. A reef tank needs fish and I love to see the colors and movement but when I look at any tank my eyes always wander to the corals. I think it's great that my three kids have their own fish, the youngest has three (and he's very proud about that) but in the end the fish always play second fiddle.

Powder Blue Tang
Naso Blonde Tang
3 Yellow Tangs
Flame Angel
Six Line wrasse
Melanarus wrasse
Onyx clown
4 Blue/Green chromis
Target Mandarin
Blue Throat Trigger
Swallow Tail Angel


Sometimes a tank with gorgeous corals is overshadowed by poor aquascaping. It looks like the typical "fruit stand" which takes something away from the whole experience. That was something I wanted to avoid at all cost. I decided to dedicate a little over 1/3rd of my tank to a three pillar live rock formation that needed to be easy, needed to look natural and needed to be safe. Who wants a 20" pile of rocks and corals crashing into your front pane of glass? Not me for sure.

I came up with a triangle PVC frame that sits underneath the sand that makes each pillar dependent on the other three to stand. If one goes down, they all have to. After looking at the design I was positive that a disaster was almost impossible. Using fiberglass driveway markers to shish kebab the LR, the process with help from a couple of friends was relatively easy. We used a drill to drive holes through the LR and then puzzled together the pieces out of the tank. Once we got what we thought looked like a natural formation, we took the rock off and set them in separate piles. The frame went back into the sand and was buried, then the arranged rocks skewered back onto the fiber glass markers in order. No need for glue or epoxy and three pillars that are nearly impossible to tumble.

Watching the fish swim in and out of the pillars, disappearing and reappearing in different spots gives the tank a very natural feeling. One of my pillars is dedicated to Rose Bubble Tip Anemones, there are probably 7 or 8 on the pillar now. The other two have acros and one a very large Octo Frogspawn coral. With the wavebox rocking, the anemone and the frogspawn flow back and forth while the fish swim through the maze. It's very cool to sit and watch.


Who doesn't love the corals?! Like I said before, corals have always been my first priority in my tanks and acropora being the top dog. Lately I've also started collecting LPS, mostly acans and chalices for the color but acropora is definitely my first love.


Garf Bonsai
Velvet Tricolor Valida
Paletta Plana
ORA Green Scripps
ORA Pearlberry
ORA Hawkins echinata
ORA Turquose stag
ORA Plum Crazy
ORA Purple Plasma
lavender stag
aqua stag
Reefer Madness sarmentosa
Green Slimer
Ice Fire echinata
Australian echinata
Orange millepora
Blue millepora
Sunset millepora
Green turaki
Red Ink table
Cali tort
Chips coral
TCN Tenius
TarDevil (I named this wild colony :)
Pink Lemonade


Purple digitata
Reverse Sunset digitata
Orange digitata
DFS Fire digitata
Idaho Grape
ORA green birdsnest
Tyree undata

LPS, Softies and others:


This hobby brings so much joy and unfortunately it can also bring sorrow. There are ups and there are downs, and without my friends and my fellow reefers I know for certain that I would have quit a long time ago! Thank you to Jeff, Jose, Mike, Drew, Rod, Menard, and of course Randy Holmes-Farley.

A special thank you goes out to Brandon (ataylo13) for taking the majority of the pictures here. If it's good, he took it, if it's a bit blurry and the composition and color are off, I took it. He is a whiz with the camera and a great reefer himself.

And last but not least, a huge thank you to my wonderful wife. I've put her through so much in the last 7 years, I'll never be able to make it up!! Floods, crashes, disasters of all types, equipment always laying around and a 180 gallon tank in our bedroom. Just to give everyone a small example of her sacrifice, she hasn't taken a shower in our master bathroom (my fish room) for over 3 years!! Through all of this she has been 100% supportive and so very helpful in everything I do. Thank you honey, you're the best!!