I have to admit that I was clueless when I set out to design my first aquascape with live rock. The “wall” of rock I put together with that first 90 gallon reef tank seemed like a good idea at the time but the stacked and unstable structure led me to fiddle with it numerous times, trying my patience and upsetting the delicate balance of my reef. At times is looked like a poorly constructed brick wall!
Back then, yes I am considered an “old timer” by reef keeping standards, a popular belief was to use 2 lbs of live rock for every gallon of water. I adhered to this philosophy with my next reef, a 120 gallon tank, and used about 250 lbs of rock. My aquascaping talents improved so I did a better job placing the rock in a much more stable and natural looking reef structure. I put the time in the beginning to get it “right” and resisted the temptation to tinker. This worked great for a couple of years but it became very apparent that I had failed to consider a couple of important things.
Allowing Coral to Grow
One was to allow room for my corals to grow. When the rock was placed I was very satisfied that the tank looked full despite it not having corals. I was trying to accelerate things by seeking some instant gratification, which is something reef keepers should try to keep at bay. Patience is a virtue in this hobby. Anyway, the SPS in this tank grew rather quickly and over time they started to grow together and choke the tank. I realized I should have used much less rock to allow room for corals to fill out the tank.
Impact on Circulation
Another negative byproduct of having a lot of rock in this tank was the impact it had on circulation. Strong flow is vital for a reef tank and the large foundation of rock created dead spots and detritus traps that aided the buildup of nitrates and phosphates. Nuisance algae sprung up and I was constantly fighting it to keep it at bay. It ultimately led me to break down that tank and take a hiatus from the hobby.
My Reef Aquascaping Balance
I finally “got it” with my next reef, a 225 gallon tank. I used approximately 100 lbs of live rock and created two islands that would have plenty of room for corals to grow. To maximize flow in the back I created a large channel between the rock islands and the back panel of the tank
The Channel Behind Live Rock in My 225 Gallon Reef
I placed two Tunze pumps in both back corners and had them facing one another, which created a nice surge and helped minimize the amount of detritus that settled in the back. This helped keep nitrates and phosphates in check. The space between the rock and the back wall also gave me easier access to the back panel to keep it clean and allow the corals to “pop” against a black piece of acrylic siliconed to the back glass. So in my experience “less is better” on many fronts when it comes to creating effective and appealing aquascapes. We are reef keepers, not bricklayers! You can find more reef aquascaping tips in my Blog.
If you would like some help with a new tank build, including help designing a custom aquarium, or help re-configuring your current setup then you can visit this page for more information. And if you are looking to add some equipment, I do sell GHL, Pax Bellum, Reef Octopus Calcium and Kalk Reactors and Royal Exclusiv products, including Dreamboxes, which is the equipment I use and recommend. I also sell Reef Brite metal halide and LED fixtures as well as Maxspect & IceCap Gyres.
As for additional insights and information, please explore my many other reef tank and SPS related articles as well as my YouTube channel. For an even deeper dive into reef tank care you can check out my Reef Keeping Master Class. This online course is an immersive and one of a kind educational tool designed to help reef aquarium hobbyists build and maintain a beautiful SPS reef tank. The course is a series of video presentations with some supplemental video from my YouTube channel. There are also quizzes to help students retain and understand the information presented in the course.
Need some frags…..I can help with that as well 🙂 Please visit my SPS Frag store to see what is available.