Wildness versus Control

A simplistic example of wildness versus control is the separation of predators and prey. Although the lionfish may feed on blue damselfish on the reef, we avoid combining them in the aquarium. Similarly, some invertebrates, such as soft corals, need regular pruning and thinning. We don't usually allow them to grow rampantly. Another, more subtle kind of control has to do with manipulating the viewer's perception of space. By the controlled placement of natural objects, fooling the eye into thinking a space is larger or smaller than it is in reality becomes possible. This technique, forced perspective, proves invaluable time and again.

For example, to make the aquarium look deeper, place an especially interesting, tall soft coral with bright coloration near the front glass, slightly to one side of center. A good choice might be Gorgonia ventalina, the common Caribbean sea fan. Use a spreading soft coral, such as Pachyclavularia, the green star polyp, to create a monotonous layer of color along the rear wall of the tank. In between, place a large piece of branching coral skeleton to obscure the middle ground. This arrangement distorts perspective and fools the eye into thinking that the space is larger than it is. The trick is to keep the view toward the back less well defined than the one in front. The eye will be drawn first to the more interesting object. When the forward object is taller than those in the rear, we tend to perceive the distance between them as greater than it actually is. This arrangement reverses the usual aquascaping advice to keep tall things toward the back.

Conversely, if your intention is to allow the viewer an imagined glimpse into an enclosed space, place a few specimens of the boldly colored Tubastrea, the orange polyp stony coral, toward the back of the tank. Frame the view with several tall, bushy gorgonians, such as Eunicea, the knobby sea rod, placed in each corner. The eye will again be drawn to the bright colors in back, and in effect bring them forward. In combination with the frame at the front, the arrangement gives the impression of a window into a secluded corner of the reef.

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