Aquascaping your Nano Reef

by Albert J. Thiel

Aqua-Scaping your Nano-Reef is one of those tasks that you need to take care of and that seems to be subject to many different viewpoints, in as much as everyone has a different opinion about what looks best, meaning that Aqua-Scaping is a very subjective matter, and also that you find yourself making changes to it from time to time, and probably more so when you add new and additional corals and other life forms to your Nano-Reef. Water flow which will be mentioned throughout this article and of course scaping go hand in hand as if the scaping is not done properly, water will no flow through the aquarium in a non-laminar manner. The scaping also needs to  be such that it does not result in any dead spots, or areas where the flow is real low (and as we shall see later those are areas where cyanobacteria may appear if other conditions are right for them).

What you may find appealing someone else may not like at all, so defining what the ideal “look” of a Nano-Reef is or should be is, therefore, not possible. What can be said however, or recommended at least, is listed below, but again, this may not appeal to every Hobbyist, although these are very general recommendations that are highly suggested and that are all fairly easy to implement: - In general, wider tanks are recommended over narrower ones. Mind you even if you have a narrow tank you can still set the rockwork up in such a manner that all areas of the tank get a good deal of flow. What you may need to do is use more than one power head pump and vary their position in the tank till you get the right kind of waterflow.

Wider aquariums generally allow for the positioning of your rock in such a manner that it is a few inches away from all tank sides, but as noted above if you do not have such a tank you can still fashion the water flow to meet the suggestions made earlier This makes it easier to clean all areas of the Nano-Reef, but also is far better to ensure that the water flow in the tank is not blocked by pieces of live rock that divert it away from certain areas of the tank - Live rock, and any rock for that matter, should not be piled up in such a way that no water can flow through and over its various parts, which could result in some areas becoming too low in oxygen, and possibly some unhealthy types of decomposition starting in some areas, decomposition that are close to anaerobic. That type of decomposition gives rise to the formation of hydrogen sulfide which lowers the water quality substantially and can, in fact, if too much of it enters the water, lead to the loss of life forms, and a tank crash


    All rock should be placed in such a way that it cannot tumble down, and possibly fall on corals that are in lower areas, damaging (wounding) them when that happens, or even hit the tank’s glass and possibly shatter it - Although that is not a common occurrence it is best to make sure that all live rock pieces are held together using an aquarium safe epoxy compound that prevents motile crustaceans that move around the tank from dislodging pieces of it, and make them fall. I said that it is not a common practice but it use is starting to increase and some even go to the extent of drilling through the rock and inserting piece of acrylic rod of PVC through them to prevent them for falling

      Some life forms kept in Nano-Reefs such as large Hermit Crabs, and especially Urchins, can easily make live rock fall down if it is not firmly held in place. Urchins especially can easily push anything that is in their way of out if, and if it happens to be a piece of rock that is loose, it will fall It may not have happened to you but you do not want to take any chances.

      An alternative, as I mentioned, is using epoxy to drill through pieces of live rock that will be stacked on top of each other and inserting an acrylic rod or a PVC through the channel you drilled, and then add a little epoxy to secure them even better.
      Arrange your live rock in such a manner that you will have many areas where you can place corals, Zoanthids, Mushrooms and the like, and anything else you want to keep off the bottom of your Nano-Reef  Depending on how large your Nano-Reef is you could build the rock up in such a way that you have a high area on each side of the tank, and a lower area in the middle. This will usually give it a really nice look. 

      A new type of structure has recently appeared on the market that is made out of reef safe materials and that has shelf-like parts to it, that are great for placing corals and other life forms on. The above are just general recommendations and it is up to you to decide how to best implement your scaping, the look of which will also be affected by the type of live rock you have (e.g. solid pieces versus branched pieces such as some of the Totoka rock).

        To get some ideas of the types of “look” can you may want to consider, do some searches on the Net, or if you are a member of one of the many reef tank forums, look at images that are posted by other Hobbyists and get some inspiration of what you see.

        I can assure you that there are so many ways to set your tank up for look, stability and water flow that you will find one that appeals to you and that you can emulate, or combine with other layouts you see.

        As the saying goes: “The possibilities are endless”, and they “are” endless indeed. One can come up with variations ad infinitum. You will probably also find that as you add more life forms to your tank, and need an area to place them in, that you will more than likely make changes to your tank’s look as time goes by. This is not a guess on my part; I see it happen all the time.

        Happy reef keeping

        Albert J. Thiel

        About the author 
        Albert J. Thiel is the founder of legendary Thiel AquaTech (Active during the 90's) and a pioneer of many of the current reef keeping methods widely used today. Albert has been invited as a guest speaker to may international aquarium conferences and In 1989 he published possibly the first book on what we now call ‘nano reefing’ entitled, Small Reef Aquarium Basics – for smaller tanks and for beginner hobbyists. Other notable works include  The Marine Fish and Invert Reef AquariumAdvanced Reefkeeping IAdvanced Reefkeeping IIThe New Marine Fish and Invert Reef Aquarium.