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Week 13. How To: Aquascaping Reef Rock

Aquascaping your saltwater aquarium is one of the most fun and exciting parts of a new build. Aquascaping allows you a ton of creativity to create something unique and special. But, unless you are an artist or have done some scaping before, it isn’t obvious how to properly aquascape! As with most creative things, there is no singular method, but there are some tips, tricks, and general things to consider while you make your scape. We also go over our own aquascaping method as an example for you to follow! 

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Table of Contents

This Week's Video:

Aquascaping Basics

Tools You Might Need

Now what tools you need depends on how fancy and how secure you want to get. If you aren’t worried about your rocks tipping or moving, you don’t really need any epoxy or cement. You could even just stack the rocks on top of each other, and then you literally need no tools at all. But, if you want to try and do something more creative and intricate, here are some tools you might want to have handy:

  • Saw
  • Sawzall
  • Drill
  • Hammer
  • Chisel
  • Super glue, epoxy, reef cement
  • Tape, cardboard, and paper
  • Solo cups, small boxes, and other objects to prop up rocks while the cement/epoxy hardens. 

Research Other Scapes

Before you begin, its a great idea to look around the internet for ideas. Look at natural scapes you may want to capture the “feeling” of, as well as find other aquariums with aquascapes that you like. It serves as inspiration, but also a little bit of a guide, since you can sort of see what the other hobbyist did, and you can try and follow their methods! A great place to find lots of scapes and pictures will be on Instagram, but forums, Facebook, and just plain old Google Images work too. 

Factors to Consider

  • What is your end goal? are the rocks part of the “art” or just a platform you plan to cover with corals?
  • Rule of Thirds, Applies to art, which includes our scapes! Better explained in this Video.
  • Rocks will alter flow patterns, so keep in mind where your output, input, and wavemakers would go. Intricate structures risk creating “deadspots” where all the waste collects, instead of being caught by your filtration system.
  • Rocks will also affect your lighting distribution, as rocks near the surface will provide higher PAR for corals. Also, you can hide other corals that require shade or lower par under rocks.
  • You might want to create some “islands” (rocks that are surrounded by sand and not touching other rocks) and empty spaces. The Islands for special coral situations, and the spaces for a feeling of depth, as well as swimming room.
  • Remember that corals grow vertically and horizontally. Don’t cram corals on to the same small rocks, and don’t put rocks close to the surface of the water.
  • Try to create some small caves, coves, and shelves as hiding spots so that fish aren’t stressed out. 

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How To Scape-Our Own Aquascaping Procedure!

  1. Create a cardboard model of your aquarium to work on, experimenting in the aquarium could lead to broken glass.
  2. Lay out all of your reef rock on a large blanket for easy access.
  3. Gather your tools!
  4. Look at all the rocks and try to develop an overall vision for the aquascape comparing your inspirations with what rocks you have.
  5. This can be made easier if you purchase human made reef rock that comes in unique shapes!
  6. Start stacking pieces together and look at the scape from all angles, especially the most common viewing angle (usually the front).
  7. For arches and swim throughs, you can either balance the pieces, or have a friend hold them while you look.
  8. For foundation pieces, we like to either choose slightly arched pieces, or glue on three feet to raise it off of the substrate!
  9. Once you are happy with the scape, walk away for a few hours, and then come back and make sure you still like it! If you have the patience, do this a couple of times over a few days.  That way you can make small changes before you cement the pieces into place!
  10. You can use a saw to flatten out portion of rock, or the chisel to remove parts. Sometimes, especially with human made rock, it will often not break where you want it to. No worries though! You can always glue things back together. 
  11. For securing large pieces together, it is better to use either epoxy or cement. 
  12. To use this cement, you need a plastic cup, and some sort of disposable silverware for stirring.  Use gloves. Make small batches at a time, because it hardens quickly. Your goal isn’t to stick pieces together like glue, but to get enough cement around the two pieces so they become sculpted together. Try to use as little as possible, as it is ugly to look at! (but coral will likely cover it eventually).
  13. You can also cover ugly cement seams after they dry, using glue & rubble rock to cover the seams!
  14. Use the cement for larger jobs, and the epoxy for smaller jobs.
  15. Just be aware that even after cementing pieces together and waiting several hours, the seams will not be unbreakable.  Think of cement/epoxy as a brace to help hold up an already stable scape. You will need to be careful moving the pieces into the tank.
  16. If you are unhappy with the aquascape, change it now, because it will bug you for years to come!
  17. When you move the scape into the tank, be careful not to scratch the glass, or drop the rocks.  You could break the bottom of your  aquarium!
  18. Place the rocks directly on the glass, not on top of sand.  You want to make sure it is super stable, because various future sand sifters and snails can cause an unbalanced tank to tumble.
  19. Don’t make it too complicated!

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