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Here we discuss live rock and reef tank aquascapes. Arranging your live rock or rock aquascape can be easier than you think. Your live rock or rock aquascape is literally the very foundation of your reef tank.

Of course, much of what looks good will be determined by the shapes of your particular pieces of rocks. Check each piece of rock for special features you may want to show off to make sure they are exposed when you design your aquascape ... a hole, or cranny you may want facing the viewer.

From a construction standpoint, I have never used putty to hold rocks together, but instead am very precise and careful about wedging rocks together in a way to withstand an earthquake, since I am originally a California aquarist. I have considered drilling and pegging together pieces, but in reality, with nothing but your hands, and careful secure wedging you can build a spectacular aquascape with no special tools or materials, save your imagination.

Most folks want to have a live rock reef tank aquascape that in some way resembles a natural environment. Except for the occasional 8-ball wingnut that likes a tire, boot, beer can, a handgun and a sunken duck decoy to make it exactly realistic for some places, the most important thing to remember is to not get in a tizzy over it. After you put corals in a tank, and they grow, it completely changes the look you created anyway, and then you'll want to change it again!   (smile)

Try to do as much rearranging as possible BEFORE you start putting animals in. Design an aquascape and study it for a couple of days, imagining which corals will go where. Change the layout, make improvements and watch it for a couple of more days. Repeat. Try hard to settle on an aquascape you really like before you put any livestock in. Take your time and try several arrangements, as you get better with practice.

Remember, there is every kind of rock and rock pile imaginable out there somewhere. And some you would swear couldn't be real. And then a storm comes along and rearranges it all. There is no right or wrong.

There are several very important functions the aquascape performs for us that are worth considering. First, our concern is in making an aesthetic background, which also importantly consists of hiding the equipment. Then we must provide a substrate to place corals on if it is a reef tank. And, the arrangement needs to present our animals well and properly with a good habitat.

The most important function of the aquascape is habitat, the environment. The creation of places for corals, and nooks, crannies, caves, and holes that the fish will use as territory borders and "escape" hatches. The more of them you have, the more the fish are out.

Part of the choice for what type of aquascape will work best is determined by what you intend to keep. If you want a whole bunch of little, tiny reef fish with inverts and corals, then what I call a wall, a terrace, or a mound is excellent. If you are mostly keeping fish, leaving a large open swimming area with a column or two may be best.

Another important aspect to consider is how the tank is going to be viewed. From three or four sides or one or two? From close or far, from above or below eye-level? And, if a coral tank, there has to be 6" to a foot or more of space above the top of the rockwork for room for the high-light corals.

Remember, whatever you do, everyone that doesn't keep a tank will be blown away by anything you come up with, while all you will see is that new spot of algae.   (smile)

Remember too, water flow is very important and a wall of live rock breaks it up quite a bit. You may need an additional power head blowing into or through your terrace or mound to ensure good full and complete circulation. You don't want debris collecting in a place you can't see or get to.

Below are some basic 101 ideas in pictures to give you enough of an idea to make a better one yourself. Just enough to tickle your creative neurons. Remember, one person's rock pile is another person's monument.   (smile)

These aquascapes are all made with the same pile of 12 pieces of select dry base rock, weighing in at 43 pounds. We've done it dry to hopefully show them better on a sand covered board for illustrative purposes. Most of the full width arrangements are about 24" across and a foot tall.

Dry Base Rock
43 pounds of select dry base rock

I call the basic types the wall, the mound, the terrace, the column, and the ampitheatre. Engineers will of course go for the bridge and arch, which is extremely dangerous but do-able, for those who like to live on the edge and are not in earthquake country.

The mound and terrace are great for lots of places to put corals. They give lots of surface area for placing things, while creating lots of holes, nooks and crannies. They take up floor space and leave only a little around the edges.

The mound is great for tanks viewed from 3 or 4 sides. It gives a tremendous bunch of fish hiding places in its base, and tons of places on which to put things.

mound mound
mound - above & front

The Terrace is a series of steps, each one higher toward the rear. Place short things up front and taller items at back. Allow an area of sand at front for sand level corals and clams, etc.

terrace or steps

terrace or steps terrace or steps
terrace - top & front

The wall and ampitheatre are taller and narrower, with places for placing corals on top, and if carefully done, on the wall itself. They leave a good amount of open floor space for bottom type corals like tongue, plate, or elegance, and clams and such.


wall - top

If careful while building it, you can place a thin shelf type piece that projects out enough to put a coral on as long as there is enough weight on the part in the wall to hold it down. Then you can put a less light-loving coral under it too.

ampitheatre - front & from above

The ampitheatre is really just sort of a semi-circle, this version is centered, but it can be started at the front and go to half way across the back for a completely different look.

A column is a pile of rocks built upward. The column is best for a larger fish display as it gives the most open swimming area. Build it so there are lots of flattish places to use as shelves that you can place things on.


column - from above

I wasn't going to even show it lest anyone get any wild ideas, but here is a lightweight minor bridge or two. Even the weakest looking one, such as this, has a certain visual appeal that is hard to resist.

Just remember how strong a snail or anemone is and use big heavy rocks. We take no responsibility for any damages you may incur with such a crazy design.

Wedge everything together triple good. This is no time for a house of cards. This is rocks on glass. I'm pretty sure a 3" sand floor once saved a tank.

bridge or arch

I once combined several of the above ideas in a 7 foot long tank with a section of terrace, a piece of wall, and a column, with yes, bridges, to what I thought was good effect.   (smile)

Be creative and have fun, and make sure it is wedged together very well. An anemone, starfish, or snail can be amazingly strong.

And now the piece d'resistance you've all been waiting for. Again, if you take your time and are careful you can be as elaborate as you like.

I call this one The Alamo ...

The Alamo

Sometimes it can help to make a model first.

The following design is excellent for a display of prehistoric fish, I call it Stonehenge ...


Some of the best examples of live rock aquascapes in reef tanks that I can recommend are on our customer photos page. There you can find some beautiful stunning, gorgeous aquascapes that some fine folks have designed with our live rock. The creativity shown there should get your mind wandering in the right direction. Some of them just plain amaze me with their beauty, and resulting original natural look and feel.

We hope you've enjoyed these ideas about rock aquascapes and hopefully they will help you come up with something better yourself, which shouldn't be hard to do.   (smile)


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