How to Aquascape a Saltwater Aquarium

Learn saltwater aquascaping techniques from aquarium expert Joseph Caparatta in this Howcast video.


To aquascape a saltwater aquarium this is very, very critical. This is what you're going to be staring at every time you look at your aquarium. So you want to put a lot of thought into it.

First you need to look at the materials. I like dry reef rock like Marco Rock or Real Reef alternatives to buying live, living reef rock. For one reason, living reef rock, you never know what you're going to get on it. You're going to get a lot of dead organisms. You're also going to get pests and hitchhikers. And it's not sustainable. You're taking a living reef and they're dynamiting it and destroying it to serve as the materials that we use in an aquarium. So if we really want to be environmentally conscious about what we're doing we should try to promote companies like Real Reef or Marco who are good, realistic alternatives to living, real reef rock.

That being said, when you decorate your aquarium the techniques that you want to use are those that complement the shape and design of the aquarium and the relation of the aquarium to the room. If it's a peninsula aquarium, you want to stack the decorations high on the side that's touching the wall and then bring them down slowly, to the point where it's a nice open area for the fish to congregate in the part of the tank that's open. So remember, just like with a lot of things nowadays, less is more. A nice open look for the fish to congregate in the middle I think is better than having a lot of rocks where the fish can hide.

When we first got into this industry it seems everybody would decorate their tanks by sloping the rocks at a steep angle from the front bottom of the tank to the back top of the tank. I'm not talking about the sand bed. It's okay to make the sand bed stacked like that, but the rocks themselves it just looks so purposeful and everything looks the same when you stack the rocks like that.

So you want to have a lot of nooks and crannies and caves. You want the fish to feel secure. But you also want to create as much open space as possible. And the reason for this is to allow the water to move freely through the tank and keep a lot of the waste in suspension so the filter can get at it.

If you have too much decorations in there, it's going to really impede the water flow and have you relying on more pumps, more equipment, more electricity to move that water around and it doesn't really serve much of a purpose. You don't want to put a lot of rocks in there.

There's such a thing called the golden ratio where you have like a 4/3 proportion where the rocks are stacked higher on one side than they are on the other side and that ratio works well for a lot of people. You can actually Google that.

And then the sand or the gravel substrate, I like a nice fine sand but if it's too fine it's going to get blown around by the current. So you want a sand that's got a granular size large enough where it doesn't blow around but not too big where it looks like rocks in a saltwater aquarium. The days of using crushed coral, I think, are gone. It just doesn't look as good as a nice clean sand bottom.

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