by Chris Maupin
I have known Rich Ross for a long time, let me start by clearing the air with that disclaimer. You also may read this post and feel like it is a bunch of ass-kissing. If that was your conclusion, then apply for a MacArthur Grant, because that’s exactly what it is. Rich is a philosopher who should have been a scientist.
I say that not to belittle his life choices, but to compliment him on the fact that he is independently one of the best and most creative skeptical and scientific minds I have met. He will openly tell you that he killed something or did something wrong, and, more importantly, tell you why it happened, and therefore how you can avoid having the same problem. How scientific, right? Not to mention, uh, productive and helpful. This mindset and attitude has taken him from philosophy major to peer reviewed, published scientist, WITHOUT re-attending undergraduate with a science major, or attending graduate school. How many can claim that?
Despite this introduction, the focus of this post is actually Rich’s home tank. Every year I make a trek to the Bay Area for the largest annual scientific conference in the world, and every year the hospitality of Rich and his family is a highlight of my trip, allowing me to see the progression of an amazing example of home reefkeeping. Rich managed to go from a respectable stay at home dad to rogue professional aquarist, responsible for hundreds of thousands of gallons worth of living coral habitat on display in the largest closed system living reef aquarium in the world. Somehow, he still has not lost the passion for his tank at home. Unfortunately for the eyeballs of reefkeeping community, he is WAY too humble about it. So I’m calling him out.
The tank Rich set up and maintains is what folks these days would call a “fruit stand”. In fact, it goes beyond that. It pretty much could be the reefkeeping definition of a stand of fruit. I’ve come to understand there is a negative connotation in the community to the use of such a term, but I am at a complete loss to understand why. Perhaps it’s a lack of patience in allowing such systems to mature?
Rich’s tank is coral after coral, anemone, clam, etc. set in a highly custom, faux built-in system. The display is a tightly focused 150 gallons, with an additional 250 gallons to provide stability and dilution. The set up is designed to be redundant without being overly technical. The lights, heaters, water motion and returns from the sump are distributed across different electrical circuits. The Vortech has a battery back up, a modified Maxi-Jet is on a UPS and there are multiple battery-operated Penn Plax air pumps. There is a calcium reactor driven by a peristaltic pump and a fail-safe automated top off through a kalkwasser reactor. Lighting consists of 4 x 250watt metal halides bulbs (2 x 14k and 2 x 20 k, with all of them being on at the same time for about 3 hours a day), blue LED supplementation with all lights controlled by different timers. Rich is adamant about this. A true skeptic at heart, he avoids a single point of failure, such as a controller.
Water motion is a fundamental pillar in Rich’s philosophy of the fruit stand. There are two Vortech MP40’s, a 10 port Loc-Line manifold driven by a Sequence 5800, again, on its own timer, a modified Maxi-Jet, a Hagen 801 which pumps water out of an overflow back into a tank, also on its own timer (are you sensing a theme yet?). There is a Poseidon Titanium pump that drives two eductors, both of which reside in the back bottom corners to keep any detritus from settling, and finally, an Ampmaster 3k serves as the sump return.
It’s a mature tank as well, despite a major crash only two years ago (http://www.reefsmagazine.com/forum/reefs-magazine/66910-epic-fail-anatomy-disaster.html), which gets to the crux of my awe for it. Nothing looks muddled with. Corals have been allowed to grow into each other, undergo warfare, and grow over each other. There is depth. Instead of everything being at the forefront where it is easily accessible to the viewer, every available square inch is utilized. You have to crane your neck, peer around corners and squint. You can stare at the tank for hours and still not see everything. The closest thing I can liken it to is diving on a real reef. Photos do it hardly any justice because of its depth and complexity. You could see it today and never know that it had undergone multiple, accidental disasters.
To conclude, when it comes to reef aquariums, ultimately, I haven’t experienced anything close to the “holy expletive” factor of working on reefs of every variety in the Solomon Islands or Vanuatu, especially not with the recently hyped low-ecology systems, but to each their own. That being said, I also haven’t seen anything near the “holy expletive” factor of Rich’s matured “fruit stand”. Why? Well because it’s the closest thing I’ve seen to the real deal. Period. And I say this as a reef scientist who REALLY likes looking at real reefs, and not as a modern art aesthetist. I encourage more reef aquarists to exercise the patience it takes to get there. Do it. And f you make a terrible mistake, learn from it, tell people about it, and do it again.