Fish only aquariums and reef aquariums are able to maintain high quality seawater nowadays, and this is made easier with the range of efficient equipment available. All things being equal the livestock thrive because of it, and, in a reef, also because of the high quality lighting. Marine aquariums can be really beautiful.
This beauty is of course assisted by the aquascaping. Whatever the kind of system, often live rock is used, or some other decorative kind of rock. Showing off this rock and enhancing the overall scene is the decorative sand.
Some aquarists have a deep sand bed (DSB) in the aquarium. Personally, I prefer them to be in a sump for what is in my opinion good reason, but it is a matter of personal choice. Many other aquarists have a decorative bed which, as the name suggests, is for aesthetic purposes only.
It is necessary to have the decorative bed fairly shallow, around 1″. Also, fine sand (as used in a DSB) can cause problems so a coarse sand is normally used. The problem with coarse sand is that debris can lodge between the grains and eventually the sand becomes dirty. That is why the depth of sand is controlled – it makes stirring the sand easier. Stirring the sand brings out detritus and, if it is not caught by any mechanical filter, it will usually lodge somewhere and can then be siphoned out. Some aquarists are adept at stirring and siphoning at one go.
Other aquarists don’t use sand at all, at least not in the display aquarium. This avoids the work of cleaning of course, and any dirt accumulation can easily be siphoned out.
When I designed and set up my reef, I used coarse sand for decorative purposes. My reef is raised on ‘egg crate,’ and I put plastic barriers on the edges in line with the crate to prevent the ingress of sand under the reef. This worked for a while but was a mistake.
In the process of cleaning the sand, it was impossible not to get sand over the barriers. My reef structure is quite steep and comes within 2 or 3″ of the aquarium glass at the bottom, so there isn’t that much room for manoeuvre.
Realising what was happening, I siphoned out the sand, or as much as possible. It was cleaned and put into a bag for storage.
The tank looked a little strange with the glass showing at the bottom. This didn’t last very long though, as various forms of marine growth, including encrusting algae, soon took hold. It must have been about 6 weeks after the sand was removed that the glass bottom disappeared.
I have a blue damsel in the aquarium, and the fish is very helpful. The sand on one side that got past the barrier has been removed, the fish dumped it back on the outside of the barrier, so I could siphon it out. I assume this is some natural instinct to keep its ‘home’ clear of debris? Whatever the reason, it is a most useful trait. All I have to do now is get the fish to remove the bit of sand at the other end!
It cannot be denied that a decorative sand bed is an enhancement to the aquarium. However, if the bed becomes dirty, it doesn’t take long for those good looks to reduce or disappear. Unwanted algae could also appear on the surface of the sand. It is important to keep it clean, and the best way of doing this is to include cleaning as part of routine maintenance.
If the sand bed is going to present any difficulties because of access for any reason, then consideration can be given to running ‘bare bottom.’ Consideration can be given to running bare bottom anyway as once some time has passed, and particularly in a reef system where calcium and alkalinity are monitored, it won’t be long before the ‘bare’ part is gone. The result is very decorative as well.