As a reef geek who is more than just casually interested in creating great looking aquariums, I’ve made it my personal mission over the past few years to rid the reef aquarium world of dull and mediocre aquascaping. To this end, I’ve decided to wax poetic on a few of the many lessons I have learned during years of failure (and some success, too!) with the subject. I share with you a few thoughts on things that helped myself and others create unique displays, in no particular order. If you don’t run my out of town on a rail for this piece, I’ve got dozens more that we can discuss in future columns!
1) TEAR DOWN THE WALL!:’For God’s sake, there are so many other rock configurations that you can use: Islands of rock, small aggregations scattered throughout the tank, a single mound of rock away from the aquarium walls, a peninsula of rock, a rock structure offset to one side, etc. Look at some marine biology web sites for inspiration. Think about natural rock structures and how corals grow on them. Rather than just filling your tank with an end-to-end wall of rock, use your creativity and try something altogether different! And, yes- I will NEVER shut up about this (unless you are doing a steep reef wall on purpose and with style)!
2) RESPECT THE WHITE SPACE: I stole this concept from graphic design. Essentially, leave some open, or œnegative space in your aquarium. Rather than fill every available square inch of your tank with rock, leave a little open area. Not only does it create a more aesthetically pleasing look, but also it’s a hell of a lot easier to get into the aquarium for routine maintenance duties, etc. Just because you HAVE room for lots of rock does not mean you HAVE to fill your tank with lots of rock! That’s part of the mindset that spawned the wretched rock wall back in the day, so please do your part to make it go AWAY!!!
3) USE CABLE TIES: Wanna create rock structures that seem to defy gravity?Â Tired of trying to secure rockwork with those aquatic epoxy putties that have the holding power of old waterlogged Scotch tape? Use cable ties. You know, those plastic ties that your electrician uses to hold electrical cables together, and that the Marines use to hog-tie captured Al Queda idiots? They work awesome for rockwork, too. They are available in a wide variety of widths and lengths, and thicknesses (Tip- get the black ones, as they are UV- resistant.). You can either exploit the natural holes in your rock to slip the ties through, or you can use a slow drill with a masonry bit and make a few of your own. Then, you just work the ties through the holes to secure your rocks together. You can create some really cool arches, overhangs, and other â€œbonsaiâ€ type structures by using cable ties.
4) GO GREEN AND REDAND BROWN:Â Why not break up the endless monotony of coral-dominated aquariums by utilizing macroalgae or seagrasses in your next system? I’m not talking about Caulerpa here, either. There are literally dozens of different macroalgae available in the hobby, with new species being introduced all the time. Check out Ochtodes, Halymenia, etc. if you need more proof about how cool macroalgae can be! Remember, just because it doesnâ€™t have polyps does not mean that itâ€™s not interesting, attractive, or sexy.Â Having a healthy reef system with a nice growth of say, Halophila seagrass, will put you on par with just about anyoneâ€™s awesome â€œSPSâ€-dominated reef tank. Free your mind from the preconceived notions that we seem to have about œnoxious macroalgae taking over your tank and smothering your precious corals. Macroalgae and seagrasses ROCK!!!
5) RETHINK THE BOTTOM: It seems like almost every reef aquarium that I see has the usual rock, corals, and fine white oolithic aragonite substrate. That’s all well and good- but YOU want something more unique! Trust me, there are lots of other substrate materials out there, of different sizes, textures, and colors. I’ve actually written on this before on Reef Builders, because I’m obsessed with obscure things like substrate materialsActually, I’m obsessed with inspiring and motivating you to try different ideas.Â Iâ€™m particularly enamored with darker substrate materials of late. There are a number of interesting darker substrate products available from manufacturer’s like Carib-Sea, Nature’s Ocean, and Seachem, all of which can add a new dimension of color and texture to an otherwise â€œpedestrianâ€ white-bottomed reef tank.Â Not only are different substrates aesthetically pleasing- they can be very functional, as well, providing your fishes interesting foraging opportunities, protection, and, as in the case of Jawfishes-building materials.
6) BECOME A â€œSOFTYâ€: OMG!!! How many times am I going to have to geek out over soft corals? Not as much as I used to, apparentlyâ€¦the corals of our reef childhood are coming back into vogue! Iâ€™ve seen a bunch of really cool soft coral-dominated tanks starting to emerge over the past year or so, and itâ€™s really cool to see. Beautiful, more colorful- and healthy- soft corals are coming into the hobby with greater regularity than ever before. Thanks to careful propagation and selection, higher quality, low-reef-impact soft corals abound. Â Sarcophyton, Sinularia,Â Capnella, and all of the â€œold standbysâ€- as well as some newer, more exotic soft corals (yes- there are â€œexoticâ€ soft corals, you wise guys) make for amazing displays, complete with color and motion (yeah- really- they MOVE!!) Does your Chalice do that? I think NOT! Â And there are actually â€œSteve Tyree LEâ€ soft corals, so now you name-dropping trend-mongers out there have no excuses. So, join â€œThe Movementâ€ and set up a modern soft coral system today!
7) SHALLOW, RIMLESS AND OPEN- No, Iâ€™m not talking about my home town of Los Angeles- Iâ€™m referring to some of the great new trends in aquarium design that are coming to the forefront. You can now get high quality rimless aquariums in a variety of sizes and configurations. Shallow, rimless tanks give you tons of new aquascaping possibilities, and a chance to take in a â€œtop downâ€ view of your beautiful coral collection. And options for ultraclean glass and high quality acrylic work, these tanks ROCK! With the amazing number of suspended lighting systems coming out, itâ€™s easier than ever before to set up a totally unique aquarium that is not only beautiful inside- it compliments your homeâ€™s dÃ©cor as well! Consider a shallow, wide rimless, open-topped aquarium for your next build.
Ok, enough for now. The ideas expressed here just scratch the surface of what you can do to create unique displaysâ€¦I literally have notebooks full of ideas- some great, some absurd, and some entirely impractical. Some are so geeky, that even I wonâ€™t try them (I know thatâ€™s hard to believe, but Iâ€™m serious!)! Iâ€™ll bet that you have some cool ideas, too- some that you have tried, or some that you have just dreamed aboutâ€¦The beauty of Reefbuilders is that you can share these ideas with the cutting edge reef community- and maybe inspire someone else out there to build the next great reef tank!
Till next time…
Photographs above by FlickR users Denise Lamby, ScottDavis and Telephema respectively.