Landscaping your marine tank

Taking the mayhem out of marine fish keeping

The Marine Tank Environment

Land(Aqua)scaping your marine tank


Aquascaping a marine tank seems to be one of those skills you either have, or don't have! You will hear about 80% of people moaning that their scape nevel looks like how they imagined it. I don't pretend to be an expert in aquascaping myself although I have achieved a scape in my tank that I am finally happy with.


Fortunately the main component in aquascaping happens to be your main component in filtering your marine tank so I would assume you already have your landscaping material to hand.


Sometimes less can be more, more and more people are going down the lines of fewer kilos of rock and much more open swimming space for fish


All you really need to do for aquascaping ideas is type it into google and click on images, that will give you far more ideas than I ever could so all I'll do here is point out a few hints and tips

The first important thing is to make sure you are fussy about the live rock you use for your aquascape, even if you are creating your marine tank on a budget so may be waiting for a suitable advert on the classifieds, choose your pieces carefully. The more variety of shapes and sizes you have the more you can experiment and will inevitably end up with a more diverse scape.


Look around, on forums, at friends tanks or on the internet, ultimately what you like the look of is personal taste and remember it is your tank so ultimately as long as your happy with it nothing else matters.


Ideally do a 'dry' run out of the tank (it it's already full of water) but if your live rock is wet (has recently come out of another tank and is already live and ready to go) don't keep it out of the water too long else you will end up with die off that will lengthen your cycle. Remember to look at your scape from all angles as it may look good from the front but the last thing you want is to hate it everytime you look from an angle.


Which ever design you go for remember to keep the structure open, many people like 'bommies'. These are piles of rock scaped in pillars around the tank. A few years ago the majority of marine fish tanks accommodated a single rock wall leaning against the back glass. This will work as long as you make sure flow can still get around all the rocks but it can be limited in terms of coral placement. It can also compromise your filtration as detritus will build up behind it and you may find your nitrates starting to rise a year down the line. The benefit of bommies is that you can create varied and irregular flows with limited areas for detritus to build up. They often end up looking a lot more natural than a solid rock wall and they allow access to the back glass should you want to clean it. By staggering the bommies throughout your marine tank (ie not having them in a straight line) you can also create depth to the tank which can improve its asthetics massively. If your more adventurous you can even link the bommies using bridges of live rock which can look superb once colonised by corals.


The more interesting and varied your aquascape the more interesting it will be for your inhabitants. Some fish will want to set up territories and if there are many nooks and crannies for them to call their own agression between them may lessen as their territories may be smaller. You also need to remember that if you are going to add corals somewhere down the line they will often come attached to pieces of rock that will need to be slotted in whilst maintaining the look you want to achieve.


Once your actually ready to start with your jigsaw start with the big pieces first and save some of the smaller pieces for adding the finishing touches. It's recommended to put the large base pieces of rock directly onto the glass base of your tank rather than onto any sand. If you decide to stock you tank with any critters in the future and your rock is on the sand they may burrow underneath them and cause an unwanted avalanche.


I can't stress enough that you must make sure your final rockwork is stable, put pressure on it from various angles and imagine a critter or urchin putting pressure on it. live rock in varied shapes will slot together with a bit of patience. To add stability some people use acrylic rods, pushed down the centre of the bommie to help stability. This usually takes a bit of slow and careful drilling of the rock then pushing the acrylic rods through the holes. Failing that you can use reef safe putty or even zip ties to hold everything, what ever you use just make sure its stable. Don't be too worried about being able to see things like putty or ties because if you stock your tank with corals and keep calcium levels up things will soon start to get covered in corraline algae and/or corals.


No matter how adventurous you are with your aquascape always remember coral placement. It's no good going overboard with overhangs and ledges if you end up not being able to put any corals on the bottom part of your tank because too much of it is in the shade. Also think about coral placement towards the top of your marine tank. If the rocks go up all the way to the surface and you put corals on them then every time you partially drain the tank for a water change those corals will be out of water. Even if you think you have left plenty of space remember the corals will grow and the last thing you want it corals suffering from sunburn because they're out of the water under a load of lights.

Helpful tips




Always make sure you leave enough room to clean the glass behind and around the rock work


Try to minimise the amount of dead spots in your tank where detritus can build up, this can lead to nitrate and phosphate problems later on.


Don't stack yor rock too high, you'll end up with corlals or live rock out of the water geting sunburnt whilst you're doing water changes

Aquascaping - in a nutshell

Aquascaping is very personal, what looks good to one person doesn't necessarily please someone else. It's your tank only you need to be pleased with it

Choose your rock carefully, interesting loking shapes will make an interesting aquascape

If you're doing a 'dry run' don't leave your rock out of the water too long otherwise you will extend the life of the cycle.

Stacking the rock in seperate towers can look very pleasing to the eye

Put the live rock directly onto the tank base. not onto sand, you won't then end up with an avalanche when something burrows underneath it


Bring the rock to the front of the tank a bit, try to create a depth of field, not only will it be more pleasing to the eye but it will make it more interesting to your tank inhabitants.

Make sure your structure is secure, one or other of your marine tank inhabitants will make it their duty to try and cause an avalanche if they can

Remember that corals will often come on pieces of live rock so you need to make sure you leave enough room to accommodate them without ruining your scape.

Don't be afraid to use zip ties or reef safe putty to secure your scape but remember that some putty can strip oxygen out of the water so you are better off using putty before any fish go into the tank as this can cause complications afterwards