Today I want to talk about a subject that really makes or breaks a saltwater aquarium; aquascaping!

A nice clean aquascape.

A nice clean aquascape.

Aquascaping as an art should be the intelligent design and decoration of your saltwater aquarium, which needs to be functional, pleasing to the eye at the same time as creating the habitats your marine pet’s need to thrive.

Aquascaping  is one of the most fun parts of the saltwater aquarium hobby for me.  A good aquascape keeps your aquarium from looking disorganised and thrown together, gives it a theme and visually ties your tank and marine life together.

An aquascape plan…

The first step in creating a stunning aquascape is getting inspired and planning your creation; drawing it on paper (to scale) complete with the environments you intend to create, then once you have decided on all the equipment you need get a sheet of cardboard (the same dimensions as your aquarium base) with a grid pattern drawn onto it and construct your model and see how it works in 3D before it goes in your tank!

What materials do you want to use?

Please, please, please forget the use of artificial corals, treasure chests, ornaments and the like. Your aquarium will be with you for many years so decorating it with gaudy, clichéd trinkets might make you happy now, but what about in 5 years? Your aquascape may be very difficult to change once you have finished and populated your tank with marine life.

Using live rock and inert (non reactive) rocks or even dead coral skeletons (which are also not my thing ;)) as a rockwork base to build up into shapes is your best bet, you can easily create a PVC pipe frame and attach rocks onto it using cable ties and marine epoxy/glue. Avoid using objects found on the beach and made of dubious non-safe materials so as not to introduce any nasties (chemical and/or living) into your delicate system.

After your rockwork is created the rest of the tank base can be decorated with sand and/or substrate if you wish (warning: do not stack rockwork on substrate, it will be unstable and is a t risk of collapsing, instead scatter sand around the base of your rockwork), personally I like to leave the substrate bare so polluting detritus can easily be vacuumed off and the base will soon become grown over by beneficial encrusting organisms such as macro-algae. This said I still think a crushed coral sand bed is quite attractive.

Quality construction is a must!

Quality construction is a must!

Optimising the construction and stability of your aquascape:

Engineering an elegant and functional aquascape will take some time and effort, but will be well worth it in the long run. It really needs to be structurally sound to avoid it collapsing when some boisterous fish (like a Damsel) or crustacean, snail burrows into it or knocks it; if the whole thing goes over this can cause a lot of damage to marine life, your tank and equipment! If you plan to have a loosely stacked aggregation of rocks it can be a good idea to silicone them together. Remember any silicone, cable ties, PVC piping put into your tank will soon be encrusted over and so “disappear” into the background in a short amount of time.

Some other tips and tricks…

  1. A really good idea I have found when constructing your aquascape is to use live rock that has holes drilled into it with wooden doweling plugs glued into the holes, then the rocks with plugs (male) are inserted into other rocks with (female) drill holes to hold the whole structure together, this is a great alternative to the PVC pipe framework with rocks glued and tied onto it with cable ties. This method can easily be disassembled also.
  2. Clever use of aquascaping to conceal pipes, tubes, heaters and other equipment is a good idea and can be easy to achieve.
  3. Think also of ease of cleaning the tank, it is a good idea to leave enough space for easy cleaning between the edges of the rockwork and the glass walls of the aquarium.
  4. Your aquascaping should be such that it prevents any dead spots (areas of no water movement) that can lead to deleterious water conditions. Aquascape in such a way so that there is total water circulation and flow through, this will benefit all your marine life and water quality.

In conclusion there is no sure-fire recipe to success with aquascaping; different things work for different set-ups and people, take all my points into consideration then do your due diligence and finally let your imagination and artistic side take over!

For many people aquascaping is a constantly evolving process, so rockwork should be constructed to be removable and detachable if you want to update the look of your tank with the new seasons fashion…don’t laugh, ive seen a really cool Christmas tree in a reef tank this past festive season!