I grew up a kid on Long Island (in NY) like many of my friends, filling up a bucket with interesting things when I went down to the bay or across to the ocean. When I was 12 or so around 1988, I saved up some of my lawn mowing money and got a 30 gallon saltwater tank and proceeded to stock it with some clownfish and a snowflake eel as many do. I then tried my hand at keeping some anemones and soon after some of my first corals.
I took a pause from keeping tanks after high school as I moved out to the Midwest to major in Zoology at UW Madison and then found myself working in Chicago after graduating. Having a small amount of disposable income as a poor college graduate living in Wrigleyville in the fall of 1999, I was walking one day by a LFS on Lincoln avenue and saw a tank with some yellow tangs and what turned out to be Xenia in the window and I was hooked. That afternoon, I took home a 75 gallon setup with some power compact 55's, some Fiji live rock, and setup my first true reef in the living room of our apartment. This tank was not only the hit of every party we threw, but also gave me a place to start learning the delicate balance of how a coral reef ecosystem works.
After I met my future wife, we moved into a condo a few miles north in 2001 and I took in a 135 Oceanic that a buddy was breaking down as he moved out to the west coast. That became the tank that was in our kitchen and where I began to really try and get acros growing. It had a true sump and I got my first Hamilton metal halide lights that I mounted along side my power compacts.
One day as I was poking around looking for a reef shop in the area, I met a guy named Menard at a little shop called Reefaholics. He would open his own shop soon after and I have to say was one of the first guys that helped me make sense of all the chemistry that was going on in my system. What was alkalinity, how did it work, how do you dose it, etc etc. Meeting Menard would be a pivotal point in my reefing career as he would let me ask questions sometimes for hours on end at his shop. I also have to give a shout out to Julian Sprung who's Reef Notes books and subsequent text books he wrote with Charles Delbeck really helped me dive in and understand the concepts that I probably had glossed over during a college lecture or two. These texts are still a great resource to me even today and I highly recommend they grace the book shelf of all reefers.
This tank was becoming a successful mixed reef system and I was actually getting acros to encrust. The buddy that I had gotten this system from and I had bought about 350lbs of Tampa Bay Aquatics live rock which had been cured a few miles from shore in the Gulf. In hindsight, this had probably helped get my system off to a successful start. Unfortunately, it also brought a ton of pests into our tanks right from the get go. There were hairy gorilla crabs that liked to eat our acros and snails alike. There were also mantis shrimp and who knows what else lol. One day I was cleaning my sump and happened to look at the underside of the glass where I saw a small worm about 4" making a burrow. Thinking nothing of it, I watched that thing grow from 4" to over 5ft over the next few months, eating fish and snails in its wake. More on that later
In late 2004, we moved from Chicago to the suburbs, having our movers take the 135 in the moving truck and I then setup the 75 as a temporary tank while we figured out where to put the 135 in the new house. "Logically", I explained to my wife, " we should mount the 135 in the wall between our garage and the house and make the house side of that equation into a seating and bar area". She humored me and 6 days into the new house as we held our first Thanksgiving/Friendsgiving, my friend, dad, and I got out the Sawzall mid gathering, and started to cut a hole in the wall. Shortly after we realized that where we were carving out had both hot/cold water, as well as a wasteline running through it. Roh roh! Classic simple project turned into a multiday build, but in the long run it was worth it. On one side of the tank we had a the clean look that kept me in good graces with my wife and on the other I could play reef mad scientist and more or less do what I wanted. The only stipulation my wife and I agreed on was that if we could no longer get 2 cars in the garage, I "had a problem and needed an intervention"!
Fast fwd almost 20 years and the 135 tank was turned into a 300 gallon Marineland which lasted about 10 years before springing a leak the night before I was leaving for business in California in Nov 2023. This tank has subsequently become a 180. In addition to that, we have added an 8ftx 4ftx 20" deep grow out glass tank, a 40 breeder that my son keeps some LPS and monti's in, and a 150 gallon full QT system where we keep all inbound corals we get.