A well thought out, well put together aquascape can really make a saltwater tank shine


But with a crappy, dis-organised ‘scape…no matter how cool the marine life you’ve got inside, that tank’s never going to look as good as it deserves to.

Aquascaping is the intelligent design and decoration of your saltwater aquarium, the best aquascapes are pleasing to the eye, look like they could be found in a tropical ocean somewhere and are functional.

An awesome aquascape should be sexy and provide all sorts of micro-cosms for your marine life to make their habitats in.

The right aquascape keeps your aquarium from looking confused and thrown together, gives it a theme and visually ties your tank and marine life together.

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Here are some of my top aquascaping tips:


1. Draw and build before you install. You are creating art, you need to at least draw what you want to scale.

Even better is to build it: use a cardboard sheet the same dimensions as your tank base, then mark it out with a grid pattern, construct it and see how it looks in 3D. before you start building, this will help refine your ideas and see if you concept really works.

aquarium aquascape design

Do you think Minimini’s ZEOvit tank’s amazing aquascape happened by chance? No way, it was carefully planned.


2. Stand out, go minimalist: these days there are some truly stunning reef tank ‘scapes with loads of negative space that draws the eye into the center enhancing the final effect.

Because skimmers are so effective these days there is less need for loads of live rock purifying water in a reef tank, leading to a trend of some really hot minimalist aquascapes mostly using dry rock.

Aquarium aquascaping ideas

Med Red’s 60 gallon is a living work of art!


3. Aquascape for the pets you want, now and in the future: A good aquascape will have regions of high, medium and low lighting and water movement to create a variety of habitats for your different pets (especially different corals) now and in the future.

What are the ideal habitats of your “showcase species”? – If you have your heart set on Royal Gramma’s for example, create an aquascape that includes a cave and make it a feature.

If you are primarily focused on SPS corals ensure you have plenty of flat rock near to the top of the tank so they can build and branch off that.

creating an aquascape

Aquascape with your current or future pets in mind. Love Royal Grammas? Consider a cave formation. (image credit: Geoffrey Gilmour-Taylor)


4. Focus on stability: First of all never stack rock formations onto substrate, this will make them unstable, instead sprinkle substrate around your rockwork.

Your aquascape really needs to be structurally sound to avoid it collapsing when some boisterous fish like a Damsel or crustacean 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.

how to aquascape an aquarium

A good aquascape is stable and functional as well as beautiful Just like Thorly’s (aka crazy4acros) tank here


5. Drill your rock and plug them together: A good idea when constructing your aquascape is to use live rock/dry 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 hole and plug system is a great alternative to the PVC pipe framework with rocks glued and tied onto it with cable ties. This method is very structurally strong and can easily be disassembled also.


6. Think about how your ‘scape could  benefit the running of your tank: Clever use of aquascaping to conceal pipes, tubes, heaters and other equipment is a bloody good idea and can be easy to achieve.

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.

aquarium aquascapes

This stunning 120 gallon tank by XTM is a clever use of 2 small islands, but still plenty of swimming room for fish, space to clean and awesome water circulation


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 especially in a reef tank.


Hopefully you found this post helpful, if you have any great tips please share them in the comments so others benefit from your insight.

Don’t forget, if you would like access to my free ebook “9 Saltwater Aquarium Success Tools” to minimize mistakes and get your tank thriving simply click the button below.

Saltwater aquarium advice