Elevate Your Reef!

Aquarists aquascaping a reef aquarium, or fish only aquarium with live rock, carefully consider design options, with careful regard for efficiency and visual acceptability.

A properly researched marine aquarium will run very well with just a fairly small input from the aquarist – routine water changes are an example. There are other simple actions that can be taken that will enhance the health of the reef significantly and at the same time reduce dirt accumulation in, and particularly below, the reef.

The rocks of the reef, particularly if live rock, need good water flow through them for oxygenation and cleanliness. This is well known. The aquarist has probably spent quite a lot of money, again particularly if live rock is used, so a little extra effort for little extra outlay and significant advantage is clearly worthwhile.

Whatever rock is used, when the reef is constructed consider placing it on an elevated base. The rocks should be 1″ to 1½” or so above the aquarium base. If a spray bar is to be used (see below) then ensure the gap is sufficient.

To achieve this obtain some 1″ to 1½” diameter seawater safe plastic piping. Cut the pipe into short lengths all equal to the height of the base of the reef rocks. The aquarist will know where the reef is to extend to in relation to the base area of the aquarium. Place the cut pipes 4″ or so apart in a line at the front and end boundaries of the reef. The pipes on the boundaries should be in straight lines, but do not need to be parallel to the aquarium sides if the aquarist does not want this. Then, again the same distance apart, place short pipes vertically over the whole base of the reef within the boundaries. Now obtain aquarium grade silicone sealant, and carefully fill each short pipe right to the top with silicone. This is very easy to do and achieves two objects – when dry the pipes will not move, and dirt will not accumulate within the pipes. Leave the silicone to dry.

The next part is to prepare the base that the rocks will stand on. This base will rest on the short pipes already in place. This base is constructed of a white plastic material commonly called ’egg crate’. It has nothing to do with eggs of course! The plate looks like many joined up squares, with the square sides around ½” or so in length. I believe (rightly or wrongly) that the original purpose was lighting diffusion. This material is well known and well used in the marine hobby, and can often be purchased from the local retailer. Obtain an amount, in one piece if possible, that will cover the whole area of the base of the reef. Allow a small overlap to extend beyond the front support pipes. Cut the ’egg crate’ carefully to shape, and avoid any straight ’bits’ left sticking out. If the material is to be cut at an angle, to keep it neat it is best to stagger the cuts by going along the edges of the small squares so that what is left is a neat continuous edge.

Place the cut base on the pipe supports. There isn’t any need to glue it in place, the rocks will hold it still.

If a decorative sand bed is required in the aquarium, then place plastic r/angled edging of sufficient height in front of the outer pipe supports. Silicone this in place, again a very easy job. This edging will prevent sand entering the under rock space that has been created.

The aquarist could stop there but there is one more move that could be considered and is recommended. Though water can move much more easily under the rocks now, the movement will not be large, and dirt can still accumulate. There is a very simple remedy.

Obtain a standard spray bar. Drill holes in the opposite side to the existing holes and the same distance apart. Temporarily remove the rock base support and place the spray bar in position using the sucker cups provided. The holes should point horizontally in each direction. In a standard smaller aquarium the correct position is with the spray bar laying across from front to back of the aquarium, not down its length. In a larger aquarium spray bars can be laid end to end down the length of the aquarium. The spray bar can effectively deal with about 18″ of void on each side.

Fixing the spray bar in position is where some care is needed – it must not come loose when the reef is in position! To do this, take the silicone sealant and put a good large smear on the underneath of the spray bar suckers (make sure the spray bar holes are correctly aligned). Then press the suckers into position. Next, lay a really good amount of silicone all over the top of the suckers, and extending well beyond them onto the glass. Don’t worry, this is not exactly art but will not be seen. Allow the silicone to thoroughly dry.

The final action is to run tubing from the spray bar(s) to where a powerhead will be positioned. A bend can be used if necessary, but ensure this is what I call a gentle bend as a r/angled one will resist water flow. Again, ensure that the tubing is well fastened to the spray bar – wiping the end of the spray bar with silicone sealant will help achieve this. Remember that the powerhead can be put in as unobtrusive a position as possible, but check accessibility. The spray bar can deal with an area around 18″ on each side, this requires a powerhead of 1000 litres an hour or more (264 US gallons or more). This rating is not an absolute but indicates the general flow requirement.

When using a powerhead the only absolute requirement is to put a filter over the powerhead intake for obvious reasons, or the system could eventually fail. A foam overlay on the intake will suffice as long as it is effective and secure. If an internal filter of sufficient power can be fitted, then filter wool could be placed inside this.

The base support can now be replaced (with a small cut-out for tubing if required) to await the aquarist being ready for a tank fill.

Once the aquarium is running the above actions require no extra maintenance, except that the filter material on the powerhead intake must be kept clean, and replaced if necessary.
Depending on the cleanliness of the seawater, once every two weeks, or even less, could
suffice. A quick and easy job.

The DIY work required is not difficult at all, and should present no problems to anyone.

Elevating the reef from the base of the aquarium is worth while. Pumping water under the reef is even better. The base should remain relatively clean with the pumped version, and oxygenated water will move steadily throughout the reef. The plastics used, if any can be seen when the reef is in place, will soon disappear under a covering of coralline algae or similar. I have a pumped arrangement as above that has been in action for 5+ years, and the base under the reef is generally clean, and the reef thriving.

  1. Our next newsletter is about Live Rock, aquarium decor and aquascaping. Hope you’re signed up cuz we’ll be sending it out tomorrow!

  2. Hey Jeffry,

    I wasn’t signed up to your newsletter but I am now – look forward to reading it.

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