Premium Member
Mr. Borneman,
I noticed in your book (Aquarium Corals) on page# 324 that you mentioned that your tank had a deep sand bed good lighting a good circulation. Is this tank considered to be skimmerless? As I have mentioned in my last post I am in the process of setting up a 125 gallon tank and would like to set it up as skimmerless. I have provided the good lighting (2 - 175watt halides and 1 - 250 watt halide. and 2 - 48 inch 03 actinic VHO) the circulation will be the before mentioned surge device. I was going to employ a 2 inch deep sand bed in the tank it's self with about 90 pounds of live rock. In the sump (48x14x16) I have dived half of it into a refugiam that will have a 6 inch deep sand bed with various macro algae and 2- 24 inch standard fluorescent bulbs (daylight or 50/50). Do you think that this set up will be capable of sustaining s.p.s corals? One last question here. How long would you wait before introducing corals into this tank? I have over 35 misc. Acropora frags that I have been making anticipating the move up to the lage tank so that the initial stocking cost would be low. I also made the frags anticipating incidental losses during the move. Thanks again.

Mike K
I can't say if it will sustain "SPS" frags or not. Over time, and as many of you know, I really dislike this term. It means nothing in terms of care or requirements of corals...and vaguely describes only the size of polyps. But, yes, your proposed set-up will certainly be adequate to keep corals alive. Which ones, I can't say. Probably a lot of types. I know what you mean - will running a tank with tis light, water flow, and nutrietn processing as sand and algae be adequate to maintain water quality condusive to the rearing of corals like some Acropora and Montipora spp. without the use of protein skimming. Yes, it will.

And yes, my tank is skimmerless. All of them are and have been for more than five years now. I still have skimmers here and even one in-line in case of accidents, emergencies, etc. I also turn it on when I leave town to have my safety net in place.

My advice on not using skimmers? Know the animals - all of them. Be exceedingly patient, and understand what is happening or will happen in a truly closed no (or almost no) export system. Know the limitations and the additional requirements that may be necessary. Know what animals or plants will feed on what, and how much uptake and decompostion and recycling there will be relative to food inputs. Test water regularly until you are familiar and comfortable with its status. Increase biodiversity at every available turn and make this as close an approximation of the wild as you can. Wait a long time for the system to stabilize before you start adding animals that require large amounts of dead food (like many fish) and allow the popualtions of micro and meio-fauna to develop to high levels before introducing deliberate predators. Make sure your circulation and or/oxygen is high enough to get through the nights with high bioloads. Use water changes, carbon or skimming as necessary - there is no shame in this if it becomes necessary to maintain an ideal environment and no bonus points for doing without. I have found them to be largely unecessary after things are set in and up well, although I use carbon for secondary metabolites produced by the animals and plants in the tank. Oh, and did I say be extremely patient? One last extremely patient.
Thank you for the advise.
I did read in the past that you disliked the acronym sps, but that is what most novice (not you of course) reef keepers relate to when you are referring to Acropora. I will have the refugiam on a reverse daylight cycle to help keep the pH, and the oxygen levels stable. I will be patient, but sometimes I find it hard enough explaining my hobby to my wife without trying to explain to her why I need two reef tanks while I'm in transition of tanks. The good thing is that I may have a shoe-in for keeping both tanks up and running. Thanks again.

Mike K
I'm curious Eric, why do you run skimmerless?

Personally, I run skimmerless to encourage growth of sponges and tubeworms, and I feel the dissolved organics and higher bacteria counts are good for some of the corals. But I would be interested in hearing your reasons, as mine are mostly based on amatuer observations, and reading.

For example, do acropora/montipora type species absorb organics from the water? I have read in some books they prey upon bacteria to some degree as well. I'd be most grateful to hear your take on the subject.
Hi Garbled:

Yes, they absorb organics, and yes they consume a lot of bacteria. Bacterioplankton and that both attached to particulate matter and on the coral surface can be and usually is a major trophic resource for corals...also requires comparatively little energy to acquire, so why not take advantage of it.

But, besides that, I started doing skimmerless pretty much just to see if it could be done. What I found after many months of paranoia and terror was similar to your reasons...I found that the amount of sessile filter feeding animals increased dramatically. My major complaint with reef tanks, even today and even with my tank, is that they just don't look anything like what a reef looks like. We can keep the obvious things alive that make it attractive. With real effort, we can even keep some azooxanthellate corals alive already. But, when I look closely at reef substrate, there isn't a square mm that isn't positively stuffed with life. Its a wonder there is any settlement of anything, so covered it is with algae, tunicates, sponges, bryozoans, worms, barnacles, bivalves, forams, etc. I don't like the "purple rock" look. To me, it characterizes our inability to be "reefkeepers" - we seem to be more fish, algae, coral and rock keepers with a few incidentals here and there. Mostly, I am very fond of tunicates and sponges. I want my corals to be threatened at every opportunity by teeming life trying to get a hold. Skimmers, for me and the way I used them, were a detriment to this. I'm still not close, but its closer, I think.

fwiw, of all the tanks I have seen, the one that strikes me as being closest to a real reef (at least last time I saw it) was the large fiberglass holding vat in the back at Inland Aquatics ( I have heard Tropicorum is like this, too). Its a big square tub right near the dump for the Archimedes screw pumps...has a real big surge to it, and tons of rock and sand just sort of haphazardly thrown in. There are a lot of corals, some that are broodstock, some being held, etc....over the years, many things have come and gone out of that tank, many things broken, left behind, lost, etc. The result is that the sides of that vat are covered in Pocillopora juveniles that have grown or settled, corals growing on the sides, coralline algae in huge 3-D formations, bits of various other algae growing amongst it, sponges and ctneophores, creeping here and there...and it looks like reef. It even smells like reef.

So, there's my answer.

It's great to see someone like yourself experimenting with skimmerless tanks.

Like you, I started experimenting with a skimmerless setup to see if it could be done, just how difficult it is, and what could be kept in such an environment. It started out with just a few skimmerless blurps I read on a BB long ago. But alas, there was great opposition to the train of thought and the discussion degraded and ceased as a result. For that very reason, most of the hobbyists don't talk often about their skimmerless tanks and experiences.

I myself, started out slowly with mostly softies. I have since added stonies after my 90 had been up and running for a year. Here is a list of corals I am currently keeping in my skimmerless tank. (scientific names and spelling are as close as I could get them):

- Green Torch (Euphyllia glabrescens)
- Galaxy Coral
- Moonrock Coral
- Montipora - brown (montipora digita)
- Pagoda Cup Coral (Tubinaria peltata)
- Giant Cup Mushroom Coral
- Neon Green Tree Coral (Nepthea sp.)
- Toadstool (Sarcophytum sp.)
- Colt Coral (Cladiella sp.)
- Purple Gorgonian
- Xenia (Xenia Elongata)
- Green Star Polyps (Briareum abestinum)
- Green Star Polyps (Pachyclavularia sp.)
- misc mushrooms and polyps

Nothing too fancy or difficult. But, as stated, I'm taking precautions in the event of a coral reacting adversely to the environment. (mostly from the paranoia created by so many dergatory remarks about skimmerless tanks) It's sometimes difficult to distinguish between the truth and fiction.

Here on the BB's, it's not uncommon to see folks posting about certain corals, mostly SPS, that cannot be kept in such an evironment. The water is said to be too dirty due to the excess nutrients / organics in the water column, which would usually be removed from the skimmer. This has been said to inhibit certain coral growth, if not lead to their demise. I've seen just the opposite. In a recent thread, Ron Shimek spoke of the photos you shared with him from your dives with coral collectors in Indonesia and how we would be surprised at some of the conditions and water where fields of corals inhabit.

I would be thrilled to hear more about the corals you've kept in your skimmerless setups. What failed and what has succeeded.

Thanks for sharing.

Smitty :)
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Hi Smitty:

Yes, I know what you mean as I have been involved with more than a few of those same type debates over the years. In fact, I recall having a chat on AOL Pet Forum in 1992 where I was saying how I used only a skimmer and live rock and the forum leader and the membership scolded my bizarre experimental notion and the audacity of not using any other filtration. Two years later, The Reef Aqurium was published, and everyone started pulling the plugs on their wet-dry filters. Skimmerless talks are that much more volatile. I don't even care anymore. There's nothing even remotely novel to me about it anymore, and as Jaubert was doing it already in 1989, what's so amazing about it?

Anyway, you can look for some of the pictures of these habitats in an upcoming long article by me. In terms of what my successes and failures have been in terms of corals? Well, I have gotten very leary about wasting lives, and although I should probably be one to experiment, it hurts me to lose anything. So, despite my probably being able to keep some of these bloody azooxanthellate corals alive by now, or with Goniopora, I still haven't had the time or inclination to revisit earlier failures (either skimmed, ATS, Jaubert or any combination thereof). So, barring those obviously difficult corals, I haven't had any problems keeping any corals alive in any system without a protein skimmer. I add them to the tank like anyone else and they live and grow. If anything, they seem healthier and more robust, as would make sense if water quality is good, as it is, and there is light and calcium and carbonate and food. What else is there, really? I can't say whatsoever I have seen any limitations, but I also address the items we discussed above quite well.
Hi John:

Again, I don't know quite what to say. Right now, I'd say my fish bioload is low because it seems like every time I go out of town, the fish try to follow. I have only had a single fish leap out of the tank on me while I have been home, but lately its seems as soon as I board a plane, someone jumps out to come with me. So, I have had a couple 3-yr old Anthias, an 8-year old Pseudochromis, and a 6 year old lizardfish take the dive this year since March. Why all of a sudden they hate being left alone is beyond me. But, they will be replaced and then some. I've had to watch my fish load for lots of years now because the fish are so long term and they are very protective. I haven't bought a fish for my main tank in so long, that I don't know if I remeber how to do it anymore <gg>.

But, to answer the question, the current 320 gallon tank has the same fish that the 120 it replaced had in it...also unskimmed...and most of the same fish that the 75 had in it before then...also unskimmed, and we are going back a lot of years already. My memory is fuzzy. But if you look at the various times, I'd say my fish load is not low at all, has been average to high average prior to this bigger tank, and I never intentionally have keep it that way. I do like small fish, and with the excpetion of a few, most of mine are "hiders", flitters, or stationary...Anthias and Zebrasomas the exceptions. I do this because I like fish to have behavior similar to their territorial patterns in the wild, and I don't like to keep fish that ordinarily have large territories ( I do feel bad for the tangs in only 300 gallons of water for their whole lives, but 2 of the 3 were rescues, and the other is an old man from my younger and stupider years).

I have seen tanks chock full of fish and ones with few fish...mine is probably less than average (by my choice, not by any water quality need), but I also probably put 3-5X the food into that tank that your average reefkeeper of a similar fish load or a similar size tank. I would not even think twice about a greater fish load were in not intrinsically against my philosophy regarding what is and isn't a good quality of life for the inhabitants. If I can't make them as comfortable in their aquarium habitat (barring mating, I guess) as they would be in the wild...or at least seemingly so, I don't keep them.
I'm curious again. ;)

You mentioned that you likely feed 3-5 times the food of the average reefer. I attempt to "overfeed" the tank to some degree, but I would be specifically interested in hearing what your daily tank feeding regiment is. What kinds of foods, how much, how often, and how large a tank? Do you primarily feed the fish and let the fish feed the rest of the tank, or do you feed rotifers, baby brine, yeast, phytoplankton, etc?

I have tried to provide sufficient food for my corals and fish, but it's hard to judge what is sufficient. Everything in books these days is basically along the lines of "good lord don't overfeed".

I also appreciate your response to my last inquiry, as it has validated some of my theories with running skimmerless.

You guys, please understand that I am probably no model to follow. I may know a bit about corals and coral reefs, but I'm really not a leader when it comes to aquariums. I used to be. I used to be diligent with my water quality testing, buy and try products, log their results, use lots of technology, be careful with my calcium additions. Now I slog off buckets of kalkwasser and stir with my bare hands and barely wait for the water to stop swirling before I pour it in the tank. If salt is involved, gawd forbid, the last grain hasn't yet dissolved befoe it gets poured in. I would sleep better at night knowing you all did your own thing the way you do it, rather than follow my advice on these matters.

But, if you are so interested and inclined, my food I think was described in another thread. I use, with the exception of Artemia, Selco, and Vibra Gro (recently having become fond of the Golden Pearls for their size and nutritional analysis (thanks Ron)), foods that people can eat. I use fresh seafoods, fresh or dried algae, frozen or fresh fish roe, shrimp heads, snails that have lots of "juice and blood", sea urchin when available, oysters, squid, and sometimes even health food store supplements like Aquagreens, Spirulina, kelp flakes, dulse, etc. I don't have a regualr feeding time, but if I'm near the fridge, I pull their bag of food and drop in about a couple tablespoons - maybe 2-3x per day? I also have a solution of the Golden Pearls in a bowl and I'll syringe up 10cc at a time and blow 20-30 cc at a time into the tank - maybe 2x a day, maybe 8 x a day. Usually about 4 x day? I like to have this material floating in the tank, but it just gets consumed so quickly. Incredible. I do this at night, too until I go to bed. I like to culture Artemia nauplii and I would like to get my algae cultures going again. Maybe I should order some agar plates.

The system consumes it, its locked up in the biomass, and nothing seems to ever change for the worse. I think one of the things most aquarists fear is the dreaded resultant algae, but it doesn't last...and so much of algae problem people seem to have is insufficient grazing - and not too much food. If you see algae long term, they are sucking up the nutrients for you...Now get something to consume the algae. Then you just have feces, have lost the majority of energy in that intial input, and wind up with nice coral and worm food. The algae become like in the reefs, short turf dominating species that are so highly grazed by amphipods and snails that you can't even hardly see it.

Speaking of algae, anyone read the Science article on Bryopsis?

Absolutely agree 100%. I often read other hobbyists methods, compare them to my own, just to see how close or how far off I might be from others. Maybe that's all these guys are looking for here?

The usual train of thought with algae is, find the source and eliminate it. (at least from what I've observed from all the boards) I myself, was also in that train of thought, until now. Providing more grazers only makes sense.

IMO, The most important contributing factor to changing husbandry as far as I am concerned, should be pics of the tank. If I'm discussing tank husbandry with Joe and Bob, Joe has an imaculate display tank and Bob, well Bob's tank needs some serious attention or is in need of a major overhaul :D, I'd be more apt to check out what Joe is doing to consider changing my current methods, if I felt my tank was lacking. I'd also suggest to Bob he did the same! :D ;)

Reading methods from someone like yourself, can help to serve as a guideline or even a goal, for others to achieve optimal growth in their reefs.

There are many books on marine aquariums and corals on the market. But how many really discuss how to achieve optimal growth from corals other than water current and lighting? This is a great starting point, don't get me wrong. But when it comes to feeding, I think some hobbyists could really use a little more guidance. I realize this could be as controversial as advising whether or not to run a skimmer, as many setups do better with than without.

Although I think your reply to the thread on Feeding corals was right on the mark and answered many a questions I've often pondered, but needed a more thorough explanation to.

Just my thoughts.

Smitty :)
Smitty91 said:
There are many books on marine aquariums and corals on the market. But how many really discuss how to achieve optimal growth from corals other than water current and lighting?
Eric's book does.

EricHugo said:
Now I slog off buckets of kalkwasser and stir with my bare hands and barely wait for the water to stop swirling before I pour it in the tank. If salt is involved, gawd forbid, the last grain hasn't yet dissolved befoe it gets poured in.
First off, thanks again for the response.

Now, to help you sleep better:
I was mostly curious regarding amounts, so I can figure out what my "own thing" really should be. I've been slowly increasing food input over the last few months after reading some articles by Rob Toonen. The problem is, that reading the average aquarium literature, everyone tells you "for god's sake don't feed". So, when someone says "feed alot", it's hard to put it into some kind of actual quantity. (What is alot more than nothing? 1 flake?)

By finding out how much you feed, it gives me a starting point to work around. I'm just trying to get a quantity that I can work around, and play the amounts up from there, kind of a goal for my slow ramping up of feeding. I constantly ignore all the "experts" and do my own thing, but I listen to what they have to say, and pick out the parts that I agree with. I just want to get your ideas, so I can take the parts I like from them. :) I don't think we learn anything by exactly duplicating the procedures of eachother, we learn by doing something new, and sharing the results.

As for aquarium literature, I think I'll be picking up your book to add to my ever-growing library.
Hi garbled:

Take whatever you are feeding and double it. Test your water over several months. If no algae and not real rise in nutrients, double again. Do the same until you start to see some signifcant nutrients and maybe even some algae. Hold at that level or back off a little and then wait. Wait a good six months. See if the system catches up. Do water changes if you have to to keep the water quality high, and figure out the dilution you did, subtracting out that amount of nutrient export. Continue feeding the same amount. If nutrients continue to rise after six months, you're overfeeding your uptake and/or export. If they start to come down, start adding more food. When they stay about level, there's your capacity. But, in so doing, just realize that it takes time for a tank to respond and adjust to the new level of food import.
EricHugo said:
Now I slog off buckets of kalkwasser and stir with my bare hands and barely wait for the water to stop swirling before I pour it in the tank.

Were you serious?

The reason I ask is this: I have two reef tanks. One has a sump tank, which makes it easy to drip in kalk, the other doesn't have a sump, which requires that I remove the light fixture at night, so I can set up my dripping system (a 1 gallon plastic bottle with a pinhole in the bottom containing about 3/4 gallon of kalkwasser)
atop the tank.
It'd be easier to just pour in the kalk every morning, but I always thought that it was dangerous to add it all at once.