How To Aquascape A Reef Tank | Tips And Tricks

Aquascaping your saltwater tank can be one of the most rewarding things you can do for your tank. Many hobbyists will spend a lot of time and take great pride in aquascaping their tanks.

Aquascaping is the act of designing your aquarium to replicate the natural environment of reefs and oceans. There are many ways to do this. It can be as basic or advanced as you like.

I would suggest that your overall goal with aquascaping is to make it as visually appealing and natural-looking as possible. It truly is an art that you should enjoy and look forward to completing.

There are many questions and concerns that you may have prior to starting your reef masterpiece. This article will explain how to aquascape your tank properly and show you some of the required tools to make it a huge success and something that you will admire and be proud of.


Aquascaping reef tank ideas


The most commonly used item when creating an aquascape is rock. Rock is not only beneficial for maintaining a healthy tank but is the most natural-looking and appealing thing you can use.

Live rock will host a majority of life and beneficial bacteria needed for a thriving reef tank. Whether or not your rock is dry and brand new or old and full of life, there is no doubt that using rock is the best way to create caves, ledges, structures and anything else you want to use it for.

Rock can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Round rock is normally full of holes and crevices and can be piled on top of each other. Flat pieces can be used to create ledges and overhangs. Branch rock is great for creating tree-like structures and shows height in your rock formations.

A great idea is to organize your rock in a way so that it doesn’t look “tossed in”. A bunch of rocks that are just piled in the center of the tank will be unorganized and not planned out, just looks bad and is not creating a natural-looking reef.


How to aquascape live rock




As mentioned above, aquascaping live rock does not mean piling a bunch of rock in the center of the tank. This is something that you carefully want to plan out ahead of time.

You can have the best livestock in the world but placed in a poorly aquascaped tank, they will look bad. A nicely aquascaped tank will show off your livestock even more.

When using rock for aquascaping, the first thing you should do is draw out the plan ahead of time. Use a large piece of cardboard that is the same dimensions as your tank, then draw out your desired plan. Use a large table and build out your plan. You can then take your pieces of rock and place them within the diagram to see how it looks.

It’s important to also plan your design around the livestock you currently have or might have in the future. Certain fish need more open swimming space, hiding places and rely on certain areas for comfort. Also if you plan on keeping corals, you may want to have areas of flat rock to lay larger pieces and leave smaller areas for frags.

Another tip is if you are using a sump tank, go for a minimal look in the display tank by putting some rock into the sump. It’s not necessary to keep all the rock in the display.

An important point when using live rock for aquascaping, is you need to ensure stability. Having rocks fall onto glass is just not an option and you should take steps to prevent that from happening.

Not only that, but falling rocks can crush fish and other livestock including corals. Never place your rocks onto the substrate. This makes them more unstable. Instead, place the sand around the rock formation.

Always test the stability of each rock as you put them in place. Live rock will have plenty of crevices and places for the rock to be stable and secure. Take your time and make sure each rock is safe and secure.



How to attach live rock together

One option you have to help with the stability of rocks and holding them together is to use an aquascaping glue to bond the rocks together. There are certain epoxy and glues that work well.

Also drilling a small hole through the rocks and use acrylic rods to secure in place is a great idea. Some people like to use zip ties, egg crate and styrofoam to secure and hold rocks in place. I find the best thing to use is glue, epoxy, and rods.


Can you use ocean rock in a marine tank?


Yes and no. The problem with using rock from the ocean is most people will boil rock for a long period of time to remove any harmful pollutants and protect against leaching of phosphates, lead, iron, calcium, etc.. into your tank.

The purpose of live rock is for porous areas to host beneficial bacterial to colonize helping maintain a healthy environment. When you take rock from the ocean, not only will it not be porous, but once you boil it, you will lose all beneficial bacteria and it no longer is live. So yes it can be used but is not as effective and it’s not the same as marine tank live rock.


Dry rock vs live rock

There are pros and cons of using both dry rock and live rock for aquascaping. Dry rock has the benefit of being completely fresh and you won’t have to worry about unwanted pests or hitch hikers like aptasia, and leaching anything bad into your tank. The downside of using dry rock is that you are starting with no biological filter and will need to cycle your tank from the start.

A benefit of using live rock is the fact that it comes full of life and hosts a very important biological nitrification base. It also can come with coralline algae. This shows that the rock is well established and live. It will also add nice color to the tank, and most hobbyists love the purple tone it adds.


Floating reef aquascape


A floating reef aquascape is something that is unique and looks amazing in any tank. There are advantages in having a floating reef tank including opening up more swimming space for your fish. This is something that should not be rushed, it requires a lot of planning and you can use the tools mentioned above like epoxy and rods. Here is a video showing how to build a floating reef aquascape.


Essential tools for aquascaping


There are some important tools that will make aquascaping easier and more effective. Here is a list:

  • Glue
  • Epoxy
  • Rods
  • Gloves
  • Zip ties
  • Hammer and/or chisel

Other Important Points


  • Remember that a general rule to follow for the amount of rock to use in your tank is 1 lb per 1 gallon of water.
  • When aquascaping your tank, don’t position your rocks where they will block the water movement.
  • Avoid leaning rocks against the glass.
  • Leave room between the rocks and glass for cleaning.
  • Remember that the cost of live rock will be much more than dry rock.
  • Use a mix of small and large rock pieces together.


Aquascaping a reef tank is one of the most enjoyable parts of saltwater reef keeping. You get to create the design you want, no 2 tanks are the same. Take your time, and plan ahead for the best results. You can always make changes, but it’s nice to have things planned out and have a clear thought in your mind what you want your tank to look like.


Thanks for reading!


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