How to Aquascape With Live Rock

Written by nicole galipeau
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How to Aquascape With Live Rock
Aquascaping with live rock can make your saltwater aquarium come alive. (Cozumel coral reef image by aurorapoint from

Aquascaping is often a poorly planned element of setting up a new aquarium. During the initial excitement of preparing and establishing the tank, the actual layout and design can sometimes take a back seat to adding fish or other livestock. Aquascaping a saltwater tank is especially important, as the placement of live rock creates the reef atmosphere so important to seeing natural behaviours in marine fish and invertebrates. With a little forethought, your tank can become a spectacular display of a naturalistic reef setting.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Substrate
  • Live rock

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  1. 1

    Place the substrate into the tank before the live rock is added. The substrate bedding not only prevents detritus from accumulating between the rock and the glass, but allows a sturdier foundation for placing the rest of the tank's rock structure.

  2. 2

    Work on the aquascape before filling the tank with water. This will allow you to stay dry, and it will be easier to determine how sturdy the structure is without worrying about how buoyancy is affecting the rock.

  3. 3

    Observe natural reef pictures online to get a feel for how reef systems appear in the wild. Pay attention to high and low points of the rock structure, as well as ideas for cave locations, archways and shelves. Familiarising yourself with natural reefs will allow you to plan a much more realistic design in your aquarium.

  4. 4

    Begin observing other aquarists' aquascapes to learn what you like and don't like in other tanks. Determining why you feel this way can be a big help in planning your own design: Does the tank look difficult to clean? Is it hard to see some of the coral? Does it look bad from the side? Ask questions and join forums and help pages to get ideas.

  5. 5

    Plan a design that is not symmetrical or centred in the tank. According to Takashi Amano's golden rule of aquascaping (a principal adapted from classic art and translated into aquarium decorating), your tank's centrepiece should actually be approximately 3/5 of the way across the tank floor for optimum visual impact. Also avoid "fruit stand" aquascapes, which cascade in a uniform design from high in the back to low in the front. Variation of the structure will make the tank much more natural in appearance.

  6. 6

    Stack the live rock carefully and adjust your design as needed to ensure the rocks fit snugly in place and are unlikely to fall.

  7. 7

    Fill up the tank and allow your aquascape to sit for a few days before you add coral or fish to make sure you are happy with the design and to allow for final alterations.

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