Ep.8 - Can you look at this reef tank for 10yrs? Selecting theme, corals and fish that last | BRS360

A reef tank often has a theme that revolves around the animals that go inside the tank. The focus could be fish only (FOWLR), invertebrates, SPS, LPS, soft corals or something else even more concise such as species specific tanks or biotope type aquariums. We often move through the various themes with upgrades or multiple tanks and this progression is simply a part of the reef keeping hobby.

Acan and zoanthid themed reef tank

Sometimes all of that knowledge and experience accumulate into one large tank, a dream tank. In BRS360 Episode 8, Ryan talks about the theme he has pictured for the BRS360, more specifically how he plans to combine multiple themes into a single journey that captures his interest for a decade or more.

The challenge of one big tank

Ryan is a goal-oriented person and this is somewhat common among passionate reefers. We enjoy the seeking of knowledge, challenges and difficulty in mastering reef tank husbandry. The research, system design and constant maintenance would be a deterrent for most people but for a reefer, this is the exact experience we crave.

lagoon style reef tank

That poses a challenge when building a large tank that you want to keep around for more than just a few years. Once you hit the 3-5 year mark and have fine-tuned your tank to the point of no longer requiring much thought, what’s next? The best thing you can do for your tank at this point is to leave it alone and let it thrive, any changes will typically only cause a setback.

Historically, this is when hobbyists start to think about an upgrade or additional aquarium but with the BRS360 the plan is to put in the time to create an impressive system that not only looks sharp but is also a destination for all that creative energy throughout the entire decade long journey.

40 breeder size reef tank

Bigger always seems better

Ryan shares that one of the biggest issues through his experience of reef keeping was ending up with a tank that felt too small. This is inherently not solvable because progressing from a 40-gallon breeder to a 180 through a series of tanks is just a very common and critical path. This progression is more a result of the desire to collect and curate different types of corals and keep a wider variety of fish and invertebrate species.

What happens is hobbyists tend to choose a tank size that we are ready for at the time. Even this 360-gallon tank may not turn out to be the forever tank for Ryan but it is the right size for his current goals and work-family balance.

Public aquarium display tank

“Who knows, once the kids leave and I retire, I may want a tank large enough to dive in and take a swim!” -Ryan Batchellor

Stick to a theme

Another challenge for Ryan has been deciding and sticking to a theme for the tank meaning SPS, LPS, NPS, Softy or some other collection of corals and animals. This is somewhat about what you are interested in at the time but also about conquering the progressive challenges through each new tank setup.

SPS themed reef tank

It seems as though the minute you figure out and master one aspect of the hobby, something new and more challenging is knocking on the door. It is easy to lose that focus and move onto something new. It is also easy to build a collection beyond your tank’s capacity, this is why frag racks in the tank display are such a common site with hobbyists.

Ryan built three tanks in his office in an attempt to quench the thirst for keeping SPS, LPS and Soft Corals but in reality they need to be much larger than 60 gallons to achieve this success long term. The corals will start to outgrow these systems and the need or desire for a larger tank is inevitable.

Euphyllia coral

Choose your coral wisely

Closely related to sticking with a theme, a common hurdle for reefers is not being picky enough about what goes into the tank which can result in some lackluster corals which will overgrow certain areas of the tank. Even within a particular theme, some corals are better suited for YOUR tank than others.

This is related to why hobbyists often build multiple tanks or feel the need to go larger, as you learn about different corals, desires to keep them grow stronger and attempting to pack a small tank with 100’s of different coral species will lead to problems.

ULM Tanks in Ryan's Office

The Ultra Low Maintenance tanks as well as some aspects of the BRS160 are examples of getting lost in the quantity over quality. Some of this comes from being documented on video weekly which creates pressure and often what feels like a race to the finish line.

Nonetheless, it is a common occurrence for a large population of reefers. This is the patience game that does not come naturally to all of us and taking the time to focus on it will only fulfill your desires of overcoming a challenge.

Related to that, don’t forget to stop and smell the roses and appreciate the journey. You will transition from a successful pet owner, keeping simple corals alive to growing large colonies of brilliantly colored SPS corals but not without experience and going through some learning curves.


Through this, it is easy to miss the opportunity to really educate yourself and soak in knowledge around various aspects of the tank. For example, if you run into Dinoflagellates or some other pest, break out a microscope to see what they really look like, positively identify them and then teach yourself why they exist in your tank and ultimately how to overcome them. Go beyond a google search and reading a forum post.

Expanding your knowledge of the finer details will give you a balanced skill set but also a much more fulfilling journey likely to last through the years.

Large tank carefully pruned

The Bonsai discipline

This is a skill set that is developed in time, it is not as simple as mowing your lawn. There is a transition from watching a tank grow into a mature garden of corals and skillfully pruning the corals into formations that compliment the aquascape and each other without overgrowing the tank.

The skill is developed through observation, learning about a coral’s particular growth pattern moreover how that coral grows in your tank’s conditions. Combined with an understanding of how the corals interact with each other you can artfully create a scene that is much more natural and awe inspiring.

BRS360 dimensions

Ryan’s coral theme for the BRS360

The BRS360 will be 5.5 feet wide, 26.5 inches tall and 4 feet deep. This is exactly double the size of the largest display tank Ryan has ever built.

A bigger tank gives you the ability to keep more corals and a wider variety of fish. This also means the corals you have can grow into much larger and more impressive colonies that can continue to grow without running into each other or the surfaces of the tank.

The peninsula style tank means it will have three viewing panes. The front view is 5.5 feet wide and 4 feet deep, the back view which is the same dimension and the third viewing pane is opposite at 4 feet wide and 5.5 feet deep.

Ryan plans to use these three different views and create a unique theme behind each viewing pane that will result in a true mixed reef tank with individualized themes within.

Front View of BRS360

The front view will be the first thing you see and will be an LPS scape. He plans to dominate this view with a variety of Euphyllia corals. The reason is that it will look the nicest the fastest and create a dynamic, flowing layout of corals that tends to be the most impressive.

SPS back view of BRS360

The back pane will be the SPS view, Ryan’s self-proclaimed favorite. The SPS side will take the longest to grow out, even more so because Ryan plans to only choose SPS corals that excite him. Not necessarily expensive, simply corals that speak to him. This is the side that will likely be the most fulfilling to create throughout this entire journey.

LPS and Soft coral side view of BRS360

The third view will largely be populated with Acanthastrea, Micromussa, Zoanthids and a few Ricorda or special Mushrooms. All of which are a favorite of Ryan’s and hold a theme worth collecting.

This is the underlying approach which should prove to help Ryan and all of us for that matter stay in tune and interested in the tank for a long time to come.

Going back to our advice about stopping to smell the roses, Ryan wants to take it slow. Building an insta-tank can be instantly gratifying but you miss the opportunity to really appreciate and learn about the corals and animals individually.

The plan is to stock the front pane first and really slow it down thereafter with only a handful of additions each month. Become a collector or connoisseur and learn as much as possible about each species then share that with others.

Black clownfish with eggs

Fish are companions

For die-hard reef hobbyists, Ryan included, fish are almost secondary to corals but with a large tank like this it presents an opportunity to keep fish you might have never even known existed let alone kept in an aquarium.

Ryan plans to explore the world of fish much more closely and really take the time to stock the BRS360 with fish that excite him and maybe never had the opportunity to keep in the past.

Copperband butterflyfish

The fish and corals are animals we keep in our homes and they rely on us to thrive in captivity. Many of these fish are 20-year pets with distinct personalities and when thought about it that way, the reef tank is more than climbing to the summit and mission achieved, it’s a personal and progressive journey. The fish and corals can last decades and this will be something we really drive home throughout this build.

We are putting in all the right efforts to be confident that gear and water quality will definitely NOT be the reason the tank comes down or fails. The BRS360 is going to be a blended balance between hobby and family pet where joy comes from not just achievements but also companionship with the family.

BRS360 LIVE Episode 8 Nick Manderfeld

For our BRS360 LIVE Episode 8.1 discussion around maintaining a theme for your reef tank, we invited Nick Manderfiled our Wholesale Manager here at BRS. Nick has been reefing for 20 years, has a biology degree and when we don’t know the answer to something salty, we look to Nick for answers.

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