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Saltwater aquarium setup – The scape

By King of DIY on

The scape shouldn’t take very long. I want to start off with the ugliest pieces of the boulders, or at least the ones that have the least amount of color in them, and will try to hide them. This is a nice big piece.

Today, we’re going to be scaping the saltwater aquarium. I’ve already have been messing around with things. Let me show you how far we’ve got. Just to gain some inspiration for myself, I already started adding the rocks into the aquarium. Of course, we’re going to start over, but I just want to get some inspiration for myself. I’ve never really scaped a saltwater aquarium before, and I wanted to see what I could do here.

Clearly, there’s a number of things we need to go over in this video, which is, how I’m going to plan the scape, what I’m doing in around, of course, what types of rocks I’m using. Let’s just get started. One of the things I like about these Custom Aquariums is the fact that I can remove the center braze so that I could scape; of course, I got to put that braze back on before we actually fill the aquarium, or we’re going to have an explosive result.

Let me just give you a quick look at the type of rock I’m using. I’ve used this before; you guys will be familiar with it. This is called CaribSea Life Rock. I paid for this, this isn’t a sponsored video, I just like it. I like it for two reasons. One, it comes in some unique shapes as well as it’s already colored to simulate like coralline algae all over the rock so it looks like it’s established, plus it’s mined from old coral beds that used to exist millions of years ago. It’s actually real coral rock, but it’s not taken from the wild.

Another thing I like about it is the fact that it’s not having an impact on the coral reefs, of course, like I mentioned, but it’s said that it’s also coated in dormant bacteria that once it gets wet it can help to cycle your aquarium and turn this coat faster into live rock. Of course, it comes in a multitude of shapes. You can get it in the basic rocks and boulders, but then you can get it in some pretty cool shapes as well. I got 100 pounds of this. One thing I want to note though, is that because this has never touched any sort of system in the past, that means its pest free. There’s no pathogens, no parasites, no hitchhikers. I’m starting off as sterile as I can with the best chances at success.

Again, I’ve used this a few times in the past, and I’ve had success with it largely because it already looks like established rock. Since this is going to be a fish-only system, I want it to look pretty good because there will not be any coral in here. This is a predator tank. To give you an idea of what I’m working with, this is considered the life rock shapes, so it comes like, there’s usually holes in it and whatnot, like this as well, which is kind of interesting.

Then you’ve got pieces like this. This is also considered shapes. Then you just have the basic rock, which is going to be most commonly found and what most reefers start out with. However, I really like the idea of having a bunch of different shapes to work with. Downside to using it is that when I order it online, it just comes in boxes. I never hand-selected them. I have to come up with some sort of scape based on whatever was sent to me, and because I don’t like to waste, I also want to use all of it.

Shipping is never perfect, and because I want to use all of it, I will use all the broken rubble pieces as well to fill in some of the places in the rock to make it look more uniform. We'll show you more on that in a minute. The first thing I do when scaping is categorize all the pieces, meaning I have all the rock or solid boulder-type pieces here, all the shapes up here, so that when I’m stalking or scaping the tank, I know exactly what I have left and what I’m working with. A good idea to practicing your scape is to line out a piece on a table or something like that, the same dimensions as the aquarium itself, giving yourself about a two-inch perimeter all the way around so as you don’t hit the walls and practice scaping like that.

For me, I’m more so of just starting to put things in the aquarium and letting it evolve like that. However, if you’re not into escaping that much my suggestion, of course, would be to practice scaping on a table and see what you can come up with and like, take a few pictures so that you can replicate it when it’s time to go back in the aquarium.

Before we begin, just a quick disclaimer, I’m not a professional aquascaper. I don’t think I’m good at it. I don’t think that I’m the best at it. If you’re here to learn how to aquascape, you’re probably not going to learn a whole lot about all of the rules, and et cetera, et cetera, but I will show you what I do and what I consider. Rules for aquascaping were always silly to me, anyways.

I’m a fish keeper, so my main focus is on the fish. One, how are they going to interact with the scape? Two, what are the effects of scape long-term, and as the fish grows is this scape still going to accommodate their patterns of characteristics on what they do on a day-to-day basis? For me, that’s the number one thing that I focus on is, what are the fish I’m actually putting in here, and what are some of the habitats that they technically or typically prefer. You guys know I’m going to be adding an eel of some sort, hopefully a snowflake eel, so I want to have a lot of open space on the floor of the aquarium so we can zigzag and tie itself up, maybe some caves to hide in XY the rock.

I also want to have a porcupine puffer fish because they’re adorable. Those guys tend to stay out in the open, but will probably venture throughout the scape as well as at a smaller size. Then, of course, a lion fish, and those guys tend to drift in the midsection or upper portion of the aquarium, so I do want to have lots of open space.

Again I’ve about 100 pounds of rock. Usually, a rule of thumb is one pound per gallon of live rock, but I’m not going to be doing that. How I’m going to be filtering and biologically supporting this aquarium will come up in a future video. Of course, the last thing I consider is aesthetics. How does it look? Does it look good? Does it complement the aquarium? Is the scape taking away from the fish or are the fish taking away from the scape? We’ll get into that in a minute.

Before we begin, I want to talk about, since we’re using all rock there’s a chance of it all falling over and smashing the aquarium. There’s a number of things you could do to prevent that. One, you can use an epoxy putty to hold things together, or an epoxy glue to hold things together or you can simply drill through the rock using something like this, which I’ve already done, just to try it out; drilling through it, adding some PVC pipe and drilling through another one, sticking them together like that, making it more permanent.

For me, what I’m going to do is make sure I balance the rocks good enough so that they don’t fall over. Since this is a predator tank, a lot of the fish that are going in there are going to get considerably larger. Long-term I’m not going to be able to keep the scape that I initially put in there. I will want to remove rocks here and there, and I want to keep that open. I’m going to have to do my best at balancing these good, so the fish can’t necessarily knock them over.

The scape shouldn’t take very long. I want to start off with the ugliest pieces of the boulders, or at least the ones that have the least amount of color in them, and we’ll try to hide them. This is a nice, big piece. Last thing I need to consider is the actual flow of the aquarium. Is the flow going to be able to accommodate the scape in terms of, are we going to have dead spots in the tank? I do have an EcoTech MP20. I forget what size this is, but it’s an EcoTech wavemaker over on this side, that’s going to be constantly blowing this way. The return is going to be blowing this way. I want to make sure that I cleverly scape it so that the flow of the aquarium and the circulation, of course, is still efficient.

You guys have ever watched me scape before, there’s really no goals or plans here, I just start tossing in the rocks, or wood, and see what comes of it. I guess my idea here is maybe to create a horseshoe of some sort. I don’t know. We’ll see. That’s about as high up as I want to go on this side because of the output. Over here, we don’t have an output, so we can build it up a little higher, and we’ll see how we could do that. One of the things you’ll notice about these shapes though, is that because they’re shaped like this, circular, they lock together quite easily. So if you get ones that are similar, all these bridges and whatnot, lock together to the point you can’t move them anymore.

Of course, there’s rules of thumbs and all different type of placements of where you can put things, but for me I’m just doing what I think is going to look good and the fish are going to interact well. Right now, I’m just building the base of the scape giving myself solid structures to set other pieces on later. Again, none of this has to be perfect or even permanent, we can move this later on if we need to. You know what I might do instead, is build the scape here and build the scape here. Like I said, I have no clue what I’m doing. See, that’s what I’m talking about. You can stack these up, they’re not going anywhere.

[silence] All of the bottom as you see, flow can get in between the rocks. Of course we still need to substrate but that's going to come in a future video. Why am I adding in the rocks before the sand? Good idea or good question I'm asking myself, is because if I put the sand in now in the rocks on top, depending on how deep that sand bed is, and depending on the types of fish I put in here, they might be able to dig underneath and undermine the rock that I'm putting in here.

The beauty part about this is, if I don't like what I have going on here, I can slowly change it over the next few days and we'll go from there. I'm just going to take some of this rubble and try to fill in a couple of the voids here and there to make pieces connect a little bit better or at least appear like they're connecting better. What would you have done? You've seen the rocks, you've seen the pieces, you know the dimensions of the tank being four feet long, two feet wide, two feet tall, you know the fish I am putting in, you know where the flow is at, what would you have done? Let me know in the comments section below.

It's not as high up as I'd like it to be, but I want that lion fish to have plenty of open swimming space up top. I also want the puffer to be able to swim in between everything and evade the lion or whatever might happen. Of course I want the eel to be able to zigzag through everything and hide and find comfort in the scape. Let's take a closer look. I don't know guys, this is how I see it from my perspective. I don't have a wide angled eyeballs but this is what I see. I like it. This is difficult to create a scape without adding in a bunch of coral. Again, this isn't going to be a coral reef. This is going to be a predator tank. I want it to be as simple as possible and it's going to be easy to take care of the rest of the process is quite simple. We'll get into that here shortly though in a future video. Let's take a look from above. It might look from the front of the tank that all the rock is touching the glass, but it's actually not. Some of it is quite close. If you could see what I was trying to do here, this portion comes out like this. Then this portion comes out like this. This type of rock here, this little area here was almost like a separator between the two. The only part I don't like is this. I'm not sure if I like these rocks like circular like that. It almost looks like they're bought at Walmart. Like not a whole lot of detail to them.

They're still pretty awesome, and they pile up really good. If I had a bunch of small rubble I could definitely fill in all the gaps there. I don't know, I like it. I think I might change this a little bit to come out more and be more of an overhang. Other than that, I think I like it. I don't know. I'd love to know what you guys think. Again, we put this together within 10 minutes. It's not like a whole lot of thought went into it. Did you like this one or the one previously? I think I'm going to keep it like this. Then over time, it'll be fun to switch it up. I know that it does look like the rock wouldn't be that stable, but it certainly is. I wonder if you can see. I got to clean this glass because this used to be quarantine. You could see all of the detail and dimensions that I see. See when I walk into the gallery this is what I will see, right? And I like that. I can easily see all the fish but when I come to the front of it, it changes.

Maybe I used too much rock. Maybe I shouldn't have used all of it. I don't know. I like it though. I'll be honest with you guys, almost any saltwater aquarium looks cool. Of course if this was covered in coral I probably would have did things a lot differently but we're not doing that. My only thing I can do is rely on the shape of the scape and the overall appeal of the rocks. I don't think the video truly captures what I've done here. I like it. I like it a lot. I'm going to go with it but of course I need to know your guys's thoughts. We only have a couple of days before I can't adjust anymore after this. I'm installing the sump system. I have all the equipment I need. You know what I don't have, is salt. I thought I did. I got to go into my local fish store and pick up some salt. Maybe I'll do an updated store tour while there. Probably buy some fish but I also need to order in the fish that I need. Once we get this tank, we're going to be adding in sand like a coral type sand. Not a coral, but a granite type Sand, if that's how you pronounce it. There's about 40 pounds-60 pounds like that that will be putting in. It's a heavier sand. It's not going to be blowing through the aquarium but after that because there's a live bacteria added into that, we'll have to fill the tank up immediately and the cycle can begin.

I'll also be doing a few different things to see if all of this bacteria that's in the sand and that is supposed to be on these rocks is actually going to work. We're going to test this with pure ammonia as if fish were added to the system see how quickly that ammonia dissipates or at least oxidizes through the bacteria turns to nitrate. Then of course, nitrate. That'll be interesting to see. Then of course, getting the fish. I've already told Jeff from one fish, two fish, the fish three fish that I want, and he says no problem. We'll see. It will probably take a few weeks for that to happen, but in the meantime, that's how simple this was.

Ultimately, there's many different scapes out there that you can grasp inspiration from. I'd love for you guys to follow along. If you're thinking about getting a saltwater aquarium, just grab something, toss some rock in there. This is where I'm at. Next, I will show you how to mix the salt and which equipment you really need and what you don't really need. We'll make this easy to take care of as cost effective as we can but planning for the long term as well. Because maybe this will one-day turn into a coral reef. We want to keep that in mind and not restrict ourselves at the same time. Anyways, I hope that you guys enjoy today's video.

I should probably stop talking, but let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Should I have stuck with the original scape, would you like this one better? Clearly, we're probably not going to go back to the original scape, but it only takes me 10 minutes to scape a tank anyways. 20 minutes for a freshwater tank go figure, but if this was yours would these types of rocks, what would you have done? Leave me suggestions in the comment section below. Believe it or not, I read them. I respond to as many as I can. Most importantly you're not helping just me. You're helping other people watching the videos. The comments section I've always said it is the second half of the video, so I look forward to hearing your guys’ thoughts.

About King of DIY

Joey is THE King of DIY, and when he built his gallery of aquariums he chose the Custom Aquariums rack system with 120-gallon tanks...a lot of them!

Joey Mullen is also known as the king of DIY, uarujoey or the DIY fishkeeper on social media. Providing education and inspiration for aquarium enthusiasts on YouTube, he is also the author of The Ultimate DIY Handbook; for the DIY Aquarist. His channel is about educating all levels of fish tank hobbyists who are passionate about caring for fish and keeping an aquarium of their own. Joey's aquarium rack systems were custom made by our professional fish tank engineers, here at Custom Aquariums.

Please watch the King of DIY's videos for some helpful information and great tips on diy aquarium keeping.

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