If you’re in the process of planning and setting up a new saltwater aquarium, you’ll need to give some thought to the type of substrate you’d like to use. It may seem counterintuitive, but one of your options in this area is to dispense with any sort of substrate altogether and go bare-bottomed (BB). To help you decide whether the BB approach might be right for you, here are some of the pros and cons to consider:
- Very easy to vacuum up uneaten food, fish waste, and other detritus that has settled to the bottom without siphoning up sand in the process.
- Allows you to aim the effluents of powerheads and other sources of water movement in any direction desired to maximize water flow throughout the system and behind rockwork without creating an underwater “sand storm.”
- Detritus more readily remains suspended in the water column so it can be filtered/skimmed out efficiently.
- Cost savings from going sans substrate can be significant depending on the size of your system.
- Arguably less natural looking, though this is a matter of taste. (Plus, coralline algae and, potentially, various encrusting invertebrates will eventually conceal the bottom, giving the system a more natural look.)
- Can’t keep burrowing fishes as easily. Some BB aficionados get around this by placing a substrate-filled container somewhere in the system.
- Having no sand-dwelling microfauna can mean lower biodiversity.
- Greater risk of cracking the bottom pane in the event of a rockslide (can be circumvented by properly securing/stabilizing the rockwork ahead of time).
What have I missed?
Of course, these are just some of the BB pros and cons off the top of my head. If any of you salties out there have more to contribute, I hope you’ll share them in the comment section below.