Tank Profile: Joe Garza’s SPS-dominate Reef Savvy Rimless Aquarium

Looking down the length of Joe Garza's 120 gallon reef

Looking down the length of Joe Garza’s 120-gallon reef

The blue thumb behind this beautiful reef, Joe Garza, is a U.S. Navy veteran who spent years traveling the oceans, exploring the globe, and admiring the beauty of the aquatic world. He kept aquariums filled with all sorts of colorful fish for 17 years before deciding it was time for another challenge, which just so happened to be reefkeeping. Perusing forums, books, and videos left him completely confused, so he turned to his good friend Cliff Roberts for some guidance to get started. As goes the story of many an aquarist, he’s had ups and downs, but now successfully maintains this 120-gallon reef as well as a 240-gallon reef. And though life is often hectic, he still makes sure to sit back and enjoy the reefs with his wife and 3 children.

The Reef and Supporting Equipment

Full tank shot of Joe's reefThis 120-gallon custom, rimless Reef Savvy aquarium has been up and running since June of 2014. Stability is a focus Joe indicates as a major contributor to his success, and here’s a look at the water parameters he strives to keep constant:

  • Specific gravity: 1.026 (tested with refractometer)
  • pH: 8.1 (monitored via Apex controller)
  • Calcium: 440 – 455 ppm (tested with Red Sea)
  • Alkalinity: 7.5 – 8.0 dKH (tested with Hanna Checker)
  • Magnesium: 1350 – 1400 ppm (tested with Salifert)
  • Phosphate: 0 ppm (tested with Hanna Checker)
  • Nitrate: 0 ppm (tested with Salifert)
  • Temperature: 26 – 27°C / 79 – 81°F (monitored via Apex controller)

A shot under the hood

A shot under the “hood”

The display measures 48x28x22 inches (with an internal overflow box) and sits atop a contemporary stand with access on the front and sides. Speaking of the stand, it houses a 50-gallon sump with a refugium, Warner Marine K-2 cone protein skimmer, Eheim 1262 return pump, 400-watt titanium heater, NextReef MR1 media reactor (carbon), and a Tunze Osmolator 3155 auto top off system.

The display tank and stand

The display tank and stand

Calcium supplementation is handled by a My Reef Creations dual chamber calcium reactor which is also at home in the sump. In addition, Joe doses a variety of supplements, such as Korallen-Zucht ZEOvit, Pohl’s Xtra Special, Pohl’s Coral Vitalizer, Sponge Power, and Lugol’s Iodine.

Reef illumination comes courtesy of a 48” ATI 8-bulb T5 fixture (3 – Blue Plus, 2 – Coral Plus, 2 – True Actinic, and 1 – Purple Plus). Flow is handled with two EcoTech Marine VorTech pumps (MP40, MP10). The system’s functions are controlled and monitored by a Neptune Systems Apex and Joe keeps an eye of the goings on when he’s away with a Foscam live feed. Finally, water used for top off and mixing new saltwater is the product of a 5-stage RO/DI filtration system.


As you can imagine, with such a wide variety of species housed in his reef, Joe puts a great deal of emphasis on providing proper nutrition. Fish are fed twice daily and corals are fed twice a week after the lights cycle off. His feeding regimen involves a mix of Julian Sprung’s SeaVeggies (green and purple), New Life Spectrum sinking pellets and AlgaeMax, PE Mysis, Ocean Nutrition Pygmy Angel Formula, Limpit’s Reef Buffet (original and coral food blend), Polyp Lab Reef-Roids, Coral Frenzy, and Rod’s Food Fish Eggs.


  • 53 different species of SPS corals (Acropora, Montipora, etc.)
  • Zoanthids (several species)
  • Ricordea florida mushrooms
  • Gorgonians

Corals in Joe Garza's reef tank


  • Premium black snowflake clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
  • Fancy white clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
  • Copperband butterflyfish (Chelmon rostratus)
  • Black tang (Zebrasoma rostratum)
  • Chevron tang (Ctenochaetus hawaiiensis)
  • Moorish idol (Zanclus cornutus)
  • Randall’s anthias (Pseudanthias randalli)
  • Carberryi anthias (Nemanthias carberryi)
  • Smalltail pencil wrasse (Pseudojuloides cerasinus)
  • Carpenter’s flasher wrasse (Paracheilinus carpenteri)
  • Pygmy possum wrasse (Wetmorella triocellata)

Fish of Joe Garza's reef

Other Inverts

  • Watermelon bubble-tip anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)
  • Blue linckia sea star (Linckia laevigata)
  • Sand-sifting sea star (Astropecten polyacanthus)
  • Various sponges
  • Emerald crabs (Mithraculus sculptus)
  • Variety of snails and hermit crabs

Joe’s Advice For Other Hobbyists

The most important thing I have learned to keep these delicate creatures is stability! Keeping excellent water conditions, fish healthy, corals fed can be a balancing act. This hobby is very rewarding when taking it slow and not chasing parameters all over the place. I share my knowledge and keys to success with my local reefers and watch many of them have great success, also.”

Lengthwise view of Joe Garza's reef aquarium

Photo credit: Joe Garza


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About "Caribbean Chris" Aldrich

"Caribbean Chris" Aldrich is co-founder and Director of Saltwater Smarts, an avid SCUBA diver, and contributor to a live rock mariculture project in the Florida Keys. He has been an aquarium hobbyist for 20 years and his current aquarium is a 127-gallon Carib reef biotope.


  1. Kenny Williams says

    Love Joe’s tank! Great guy and always willing to help a fellow reefer out! Great work Joe!

    • Chris Aldrich says

      Completely agree, Kenny!

    • Thanks Kenny!

      • hello Joe..
        very nice to see your aquarium article and very good to know that you have interest to help others too.. well i am planning to start 450 gal reef mix tank. what u prefer how much live rocks will we use in it(formula per gallon or litres) and do u think leds with metal halides can handle the light portion for reef needs.. ?? Also i am using instant ocean reef salt for starting, what will be expected schedule for suplements ( i know it depends on how much stock i use) but i am just asking roughly… what things i need to handle most like (alkalanity, calcium, strontium or any other u suggest).

        • Good evening “Mr Syed”

          Thank you for the kind comments. Wow 450 gallon reef tank that’s awesome!
          What are the dimensions of your tank? Personally I like more live rock for my fish, inverts, and corals. Extra live rock will help maintain a solid core for your tank. I would start with approximately 500 pounds of live rock for your system. It’s always easier to add more rock if necessary. So depending on your layout use the live rock to your advantage to create caves and hiding places.

          For lighting I personally like metal halide’s with T5’s. I really like LEDs for accent lighting. There are many successful reefers out there using LEDs for their primary lights with great success. So depending on cooling, cost, and access to your lights need to be considered what will work best for you. Other supplements can be found in your salt when water changes are done.

          Hope this helps answer some of your questions. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any additional questions.
          I would highly recommend saltwater smarts archived issues for great information.

          I would also recommend running a calcium reactor to maintain proper alkalinity, calcium, and magnesium. Especially if you’re reef will be a SPS dominant tank.

          As far as supplements are concerned I would add supplements very slowly to your tank with careful eye on corals and water parameters. There are many incredible looking reefs that use supplements and others that don’t. Just do some research to determine if your reef could benefit from these.

          Have a good evening,

  2. Sweet tank Joe! I hope my 120 will look almost as good as yours when its up and running.

  3. what a beauty 😮

  4. wow…

    I have seen many great aquarium but your aquarium is the best what I want to…

    however how could you control phosphate lev 0…?

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