In all cases of aquascaping, bear in mind how the different materials are found in the sea. The largest pieces will dominate everything else when confined to an aquarium tank, so exercise the greatest care in choosing them, and the greatest amount of restraint in their number. For smaller tanks, limit yourself to three to five larger pieces of rock or dead coral. One large piece usually looks better than several smaller ones. It is often convenient, though certainly not necessary, to place the larger items near the rear of the tank, where they do double duty by hiding unsightly equipment. Large objects should be placed firmly on the tank bottom to avoid the possibility of them toppling. Secure them in place with dabs of silicone aquarium sealant, if necessary. When used, silicone must be allowed to dry and cure for several days before continuing. Move the tank into its permanent position at this point, if it is not already in place. Next, add most of the washed substrate, making sure it fills the crevices between the larger rocks. Sand, when used as a component of the substrate rather than as the sole substrate, should be added last, allowing it to sift naturally into crevices and holes. All this activity will probably leave you with cloudy water. You can start running the filter system at this point. The tank should clear up after a few days, and you can make adjustments to your design. If fine debris settles on top of the rocks, use a turkey baster to direct a jet of water at the debris, resuspending it to be picked up by the filter. You may need to do this several times to remove all the debris. Keep a close check on the filter, and replace or clean the medium when it becomes dirty. Doing all of this first, before you add fish or invertebrates, avoids stressing them needlessly.
On the wild reef, corals adapt their structure to local conditions of water movement, substrate, and light availability. On the turbulent outer reef, the open branching forms of small-polyp corals predominate. In quiet
WARNING Please do me a favor and avoid that brightly colored dyed gravel. Some dyes can leach out and harm fish. They all tend to detract from the natural look of the aquarium and to compete with the bright colors of the tank's inhabitants. Colored glass, while completely inert, creates the same jarring detraction from the aquarium's natural beauty.
lagoons, large-polyp corals tend to outnumber the branched ones. On muddy bottoms, corals may be shaped like inverted cones, with points down in the mud. On hard substrates, individual coral colonies are firmly attached. On sandy bottoms dwell corals that are able to move around to position themselves for catching prey. It's worth paying attention to these proclivities in placing corals in your minireef. Appropriate placement gives the aquarium a natural appearance, and gives the coral the best chances for adapting successfully to captivity.
Place branching corals, such as Pocillopora and Acropora, near the top of the reef structure. Here, they will receive maximum illumination. Provide plenty of water movement by means of auxiliary powerheads directed near, not at, the coral. Corals can be secured to the rock in a variety of ways, depending upon how large the coral is and how precariously you want it perched on the rock. Cements for gluing rocks and corals together that set underwater are sold in aquarium shops and online. Glue joints may need to be reinforced. One way to do this is to drill a hole in both rock and coral with a masonry bit and insert a length of rigid plastic pipe tightly into each hole before applying the cement. For small pieces, use a plastic cocktail toothpick instead of the plastic pipe. Don't worry about having the coral or live rock out of the water. Hold them securely in a towel dampened with seawater, and drill away. They are so soft that the bit will cut quickly. You may want to practice on some pieces of dead coral and coral rock to get the feel before trying this on a valuable specimen.
Large-polyp corals that are shaped like an inverted cone, such as Euphyllia and Trachyphyllia, should ideally be placed on the sand where they can sink in as they normally do. Sometimes these corals grow attached by the tip of the cone to a rock. You can simulate this positioning by drilling and scraping out a small concavity for the coral to sit in. Corals positioned like this may attach themselves and grow onto the rock.
Corals that are able to move about on their own, such as Heliofungia, need to be placed on an unobstructed area of soft sand or fine, shelly gravel under brilliant illumination. If placed on top of a reef structure, they invariably try to relocate themselves and topple to the floor of the tank. Usually, they are damaged by the fall and seldom recover. The need for proper placement and a fairly large area in which to roam may explain why these corals are considered difficult to maintain in a minireef.
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