Since the days when tropical fish were first put into a glass bowl, aquarists have been trying to find something to add to the system to improve its appearance or make it more natural. Today’s technology allows the hobbyist a chance to actually set up a natural environment and show off their aquascaping talents. Freshwater planted tanks are usually a mix of real aquarium plants, rocks and either real or fake driftwood. The art of creating a lush, natural environment can be done with proper “gardening” of the plants and the right selection of tropical fish. The marine reef aquarium will involve the use of a sandy substrate, porous rock (either base rock or Live Rock) and corals positioned to best utilize the lighting for growth. Care needs to be taken to position the corals to make sure the corals do not engage in physical warfare with “sweeper” tentacles with nematocysts to stop other corals from encroaching on their territory. Once either of these types of systems is set up, growth will have to be managed with pruning.
For those without a “green thumb,” it is still possible to set up a nice, artificial environment that can mimic a natural system and make your fish feel “at home”. Manufacturers have developed very natural looking plastic and silk plants that can be used to aquascape and set up different territories in the aquarium. There are also artificial corals that are so lifelike they will fool the eye. Many of these were developed purposely to control harvesting of corals from the oceans. You also have a choice of real driftwood or resin-based artificial driftwood for an accent piece or base to attach plants. Most stores will offer aquarium safe rocks to make caves and hiding places for the fish. African Cichlids would prefer a tank with lots of rockwork, while Tetras would prefer plants and driftwood to decorate the tank. For those with tastes for the more formal design, you can find many types of resin/plastic ornaments to set up Roman Ruins, Castles, Sunken Treasure or Boats, Volcanoes and a myriad of other options. Only your imagination limits you!
Once you have the basics of the plants, rocks, etc laid out, now you have the option to accent the system with specialized LED lighting systems. Marineland has strip lights of Red or Blue LEDs lights that mount under the trim of the aquarium and can be aimed into the tank. They also have a combo white/blue submersible LED strip that can be placed behind the rocks or plants. There are also bubblewands and rings that have LEDs built into the design offering multiple colors or even one that automatically switches colors over time! The LED shining up through the flow of bubbles can offer a wall of color for the tank. Just be sure that the display does not outshine your tropical fish.