Tank Philosophy

Something you have to accept is that people own aquariums for aesthetics.  Unless it’s for an octopus, aquariums are mainly set up to look good.

The easiest way to achieve this is minimalism.

Here are three things I try to achieve every time I set up a tank:

1)   Hiding the Ugly Shit

I see a lot aquariums with expensive, beautiful fish and corals housed in ugly rimmed tanks, on unsightly tank stands with heaters and filters and wires everywhere.  Unless it’s for macro photography, take a holistic approach to your tank’s setup.  Do you want a gigantic black light ballast over your tank?  Is it feasible to use spotlight lighting? Is there an overhang were you can hang a light from, so it doesn’t have to sit on top of the tank?  Can you put the tank somewhere in your house where you can place the sump in an existing cabinet?  I get a hard on thinking about clever ways to hide sumps and wires and such.  I think the best aquariums I’ve seen were constructed by people who have mastered the art of hiding ugly equipment.

Personally, I love rimless tanks and can’t go back.

Spotlight lighting is awesome if you can afford it/it fits your application.  Open top is awesome too if you are willing to deal with evaporation.

If you can hide lights, heaters, filtration and even powerheads you won’t regret it.  And this goes for sound too.  HOB filters are great and cheap but are notorious for racket.  Having one in your bedroom is not a viable option.

2)  Less is More

Which one of these would you want in your house?

I guess this is more minimalism.  You don’t have to fill your tank to the brim with rock.  Empty space is your friend.  It makes your tank look bigger and contrasts well with a busy hardscape.   Sandeep talks about the ‘coral avalanche’ so many people create in their tanks, and I’m with him.  I love the look of an open area of a clean sand bed in tanks.

Just as you don’t want to overcrowd your tank with rock, “less is more” applies to livestock.  When you see enough aquariums, overcrowded fish tanks will bother you.  The recommendations on minimum tank size for a fish will make more sense, as you’ll see how much of an active swimmer your fish is.  As you progress you’ll find yourself putting fewer, smaller fish in bigger and bigger tanks.

If you’re setting up a nano tank and the only available rock is half the size of the tank, don’t be afraid to take a hammer to it!  Of course you don’t want to drop a pile of rubble in a tank because it will look like dog shit, but if the rock is too big, smashing it in half will give you more interesting shapes and tons more options.  Some times it won’t break the way you want it to, but I’ve been very happy with the results of my rock smashing.

3)  Recreate Nature

The dimensions of your tank are important too.  If you’re planning a peninsula style tank, it will have different dimensions from a regular set up.  Think in three dimensions.  Your aquarium isn’t a 2-D Fish TV.  Depth is important too, and if you can make a rock scape with more depth the effect will be more dramatic.

Rocks and substrate make or break a tank.  Spend a lot of time on your rock placement, before you put them in the water.   Find a way to stack them to make them natural, but give tension too.  Sloping your sand can add some really cool effects.

Here’s what not to do:

Strive to make what to pros make:

Things I’ve Learned

This is meant for beginners.

When you start out, you should focus on expensive equipment, and cheap livestock, not the other way around, no matter how tempting it may be.

Substrate (sand/gravel) is a huge part of the aquarium’s success, and looks.

When you are shopping for lights, go to several LFS and see which type of tank lighting you like the most.  I prefer t5.  For water shimmering, I like LEDs, simply because they’re cheaper.  The shimmering effect is basically caused by a light that is high above the aquarium and can cast shadows of the surface water ripples.  LEDs and Metal Halides can do this because they can ‘spotlight’ the tank from far away.

Almost everything can be DIY- protein skimmers, glass tanks, tank stands, sump plumbing, lights, automatic top off, microcontrollers for lighting schedules.

Aquariums will teach you patience.  The unit of time in aquarium time isn’t a day, it’s a week.  You will not notice changes overnight.  It will usually take at least a week to notice anything different.

Don’t neglect sound when you’re planning aquarium.  I can’t stand loud tanks.  Hang on the back filters and sumps can be really loud.

Reef / Saltwater

For reef tanks, I prefer really white, fine sand.  A good place to go for this stuff is Marco Rocks.

Although opinions differ on this, the reef tank really needs a sump.  When drilling holes in glass, use very light pressure and LOTs of water.  Keep spraying water on there.  This will lessen the likelihood of the glass breaking/chipping.  Lots of good advice at Glass Holes.

Planted / Freshwater

For planted tanks nothing beats ADA Aquasoil.  If you plant in cheap substrate, your plants will wither, from lack of nutrients and flow.

Lastly, don’t neglect the outside of the tank.  Your setup should be clean everywhere and complement the room.

What purpose does your aquarium serve?  Note the difference:

Doesn’t the tank make the room look better?

When you master the use of proportion and empty space you can create works of art and your tanks will look much bigger than they are.  How big do you think superwen made this tank?

You’ll be very surprised.

.8 Gallons:

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