Aquascaping Live Rocks in Your Saltwater Aquarium

Spotted fish swimming opposite a pink spotted rock in saltwater tank

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

The rocks you put into an aquarium are not only decorative, but they provide housing for the fish and other animals in the tank, shelter against aggression that may occur from other tankmates, and are an important part of the biological filtration platform. Here are some helpful tips on what you can do to arrange either non-living or live rocks in a saltwater system for maximum efficiency when you are aquascaping or arranging rocks in your aquarium.

Tips and Tricks

  • Consider raising the rocks off the bottom of the tank. By doing this before the substrate is added to the tank, the rocks will be somewhat suspended above the substrate itself. The benefits here are that it allows for better circulation around the rocks, and when tank janitors and sand sifters are added to the aquarium, they can more easily access the areas at the base of the rocks and underneath them to help prevent detritus or organic matter from building up.
  • Position individual rocks or rock formations somewhat away from the outside areas of the tank walls. This will allow for better water circulation around the rocks, as well as give fish, motile crustaceans and invertebrates room to get by them.
  • Stack the rocks somewhat loosely to allow for good water circulation around the structure, as well as some through it, but not so loose that a formation is unsafe where rocks might easily topple off.
  • Arrange the rocks in a way to create little nooks and crannies that fish, in particular, can go into, and even some holes they can swim through.
  • By NOT stacking the rocks too tightly, it is much easier for you to remove detritus that collects around the base of the rocks and between them. This can be done using either siphoning or blowing it out using a water flow source. A simple turkey baster works well for this task. When various crustacean and invertebrate tank janitors are added to the aquarium, they can move about and crawl into small spaces to help keep organic matter cleaned up as well.
  • When building structures, such as that "perfect arch," build it first outside the tank (on a towel in front of the tank works great) before putting the rocks in the tank. It is much easier to arrange and play with the rocks without being up to your shoulders in tank water. When you have the structure to your liking, take a picture with a cell phone or the like. It makes it much easier to arrange the rocks in the tank quickly by just looking at the picture and putting the rocks back together with the way they were in front of the tank.