Strategically Decorating your Tank
Decorating your tank is one of great excitement with so many choices. Whether your desire to go with a natural theme mimicking a particular environment or selecting materials to just have some fun are thoughts to consider when designing your aquarium and being successful in the hobby. The considerations are what you want the finished look to be, what is best for the fish, how the materials may affect the water quality, and finally how to maintain and clean your aquarium in the future.
The design of any aquarium should be pleasing to the owner and their environment. Whether we are working with a natural looking ecosystem or bubbling ornaments and colored gravel, or even a certain theme, there is no one way that is best. The enjoyment of an aquarium means different things to different people. The key is to enjoy the look and feel that makes you happy.
When decorating any aquarium besides what you like, you need to think what is best for the fish you desire. You also need to think ahead on the adult size of the fish you are intending to keep and not the size you first get them at. Depending on the type of fish you select will determine how best to decorate.
Certain fish that school or mid water swimmers often do not fully utilize an aquarium if the space is too open. As a consideration when decorating many times fish will only swim within a space if they have an area to retreat to in preparation of predators. Even though you will not have predators in your aquarium many small fish will not know that. A way to decorate your aquarium to keep the fish comfortable is to have to higher decoration on each side of the aquarium. The fish will know that if they are attacked, they can easily dart to them for safety. This allows the fish to utilize the open space in between with comfort, making it more likely for them to swim more freely through the aquarium.
Fish that are territorial do best with many nooks and crannies to call their own. Fish such as African Cichlids are territorial and do best in a rocky structure with multiple grottos or caves. Some African Cichlids may be shell dwellers so decorating with shells would be essential for them. Even fish from other areas such as Raphael catfish from South America do best with a hiding place to rest. Whether you have a piece of driftwood or even a hollow plastic decoration the Raphael catfish can use to rest helps to keep them comfortable in their new home. Always keep in mind your fish will grow, as an example, the Raphael catfish at full size will reach 8 to 9 inches (20 to 24cm). Understanding the needs of the fish type you select will help to guide what type of decoration is best.
When you are selecting materials for your aquarium, think about what affect the decoration selected might have on the water quality. As an example, driftwood and other organic materials overtime will decay, causing your pH to drop. This may be acceptable if you are keeping South American fish, but low pH would be a concern for African Cichlids and brackish water fish. To accommodate fish that are best kept at higher pH levels you want to consider materials such as crushed oyster shells or coral substrates that will naturally dissolve overtime slowly increasing both the pH and KH.
Whatever materials you select they must be safe for the fish and not negatively alter the water quality for the fish we are keeping. Going to the yard or local stream and selecting rocks can often bring along other concerns. If the materials have been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides these materials can transfer to our water and potentially hurt our fish. Whenever selecting any material always make sure it is fish safe before placing them in any aquarium.
Now that you have thought about the type of fish you want and their needs, next is to consider how these materials will affect the water quality, we must think about the long-term maintenance. When keeping any aquarium from time to time it is important to properly clean it. Performing partial water changes every few weeks helps to keep everything is check. Siphoning the gravel when performing a partial water change can remove a large portion of the accumulated organic waste. But remember materials will also collect on and in our decorations. The accumulation of organic materials such as fish waste, excess fish food and decaying plant materials degrades water quality and is a breeding ground for unwanted pathogens. We will also have algae growth overtime on our decorations. When decorating you need to consider how you will be able to clean in and around the decorations for appearance to you and your guest and to reduce organic accumulation for the health of the fish. Some materials such as plastic plants can be removed and cleaned outside of the aquarium others such as rocks and driftwoods can be more difficult. When placing your decoration leaving room to siphon around them is very helpful.
Decorating and aquascaping your tank is fun and enjoyable, but keep in mind strategically selecting and arranging decorations for your fish, water quality and tank maintenance.