How To Make A Convincing Artificial Reef Tank In A Freshwater Aquarium (in My Opinion)

Discussion in 'Aquarium Aquascaping' started by Esimm03, Mar 25, 2017.

  1. Esimm03

    Esimm03Well Known MemberMember


    So for the past few months I have been attempting(and falling) to create a convincing reef look in my freshwater aquarium. I did not have the space or money to step up a marine tank so I thought a mimic was the next best thing. I have finally found a design I liked and wanted to show how I made it so anyone who is interested in doing something similar could get some inspiration.

    1 - substrate

    Sand is by far the best substrate for a convincing 'reef' setup. From experience I've found that brown (the colour of beach sand) is the most realistic but white could work too.

    2 - rocks

    By far to make the reef convincing I would use dry live rock. Usually fish stores sell it but you can get dry or dead live rock online.

    Make sure you soak it and wash it thourogly without soap first to make sure there are no more critters living inside.

    3- coral

    In my opinion the best thing to use is dead coral. While this may not have much colour to it It certainly looks nice. The plastic stuff that pet stores do looks fake and the colours could fade.

    The only issue with dead coral is like live rock you need to clean it and soak to get rid of little creatures living in the rock.

    4 - stocking

    What you could put in your tank is massively dependant on sizing.

    Some fish that I think look marine are notho or steel blue killifish, dwarf gouramis and some sort of gobies.

    Many people say that ciclids look marine however if you have a smaller tank you may not be able to get ciclids.

    Also what I think looks marine may not look marine at all to you. My suggestions would be go to a place that sells marine fish and then look in the freshwater section and find some that look convincing to you.

    One final tip is try to get one that is vibrant, at first I got things like albino Cory catfish, glass catfish and celebs halfbeak because they look weard. But in actually fact things like clown killifish, notho killifish and steel blue killifish (possibly other killifish aswell) look very convincing due to there colour.

    5- Clean up crew

    Marine clean up crews usually consist of shrimp, some sort of snail and a crab of some sort(mabey others but I'm not aware of them) so in a freshwater tank you could get something like :

    Ammano shrimp (they have a line down there back like marine ones however they are clear)

    Nerite snail (horned and zebra are good choices)

    Rabbit snail( they look cool and help mix the substrate about)

    There are some crabs like thai micro crabs but I don't know much about them so I'd suggest doing some research before getting them.

    6- Equiptment

    Personally I like overcomplicating things however I'm not sure if this is the best thing to do. In a way it helps make it more convincing as marine tanks have lots of equipment. However you can use a simple HOB or internal filter. (I use a canister)

    7- side notes

    --Live rock and dead coral will increase the tank's pH levels so I would reccomend getting a test kit (API is a good brand) and moniter the Ph. If it gets too high you could get some pH up or down (by API).

    --With nerite snails I would reccomend keeping 1 per every 5 gallons of water.

    --Rabbit snails will mix your substrate around however I would still reccomend mixing it around with a clean chopstick or an unused toothbrush (used only in your tank.) You could also get some khuli loaches but again they depend on tank size.

    --Make sure you put your fish/invertibrate's needs first, this is extreamly important for healthy fish and it will make them live longer and display brighter colours. For example if you get shrimp you may need to put some Java or marimo moss in. you may need to put some plants in aswell but it greatly varies on what fish you get.

    --Lastly make sure you know what you are doing and you can commit to a tank.

    Potentially a tank can last you several years with fish living for long periods of time.

    You also need adiquit filtration and a test kit to make sure the peramiters are good.

    Make sure to cycle the tank and make sure to use tap safe and do regular water changes.

    All of this information I have learned from this forum or my pet store. So if there is any incorrect information or if anyone wants to add to it feel free to comment below

    I really hope this helps,


    P.s for extra inspiration I have added a picture of my tank.


    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 26, 2017
  2. Silister Trench

    Silister TrenchWell Known MemberMember

    Looks neat. I think lighting plays an integral part if you want to go for that Marine-look. The warmer tones we use in freshwater tanks would look completely off in a Marine setup, which uses colder tones and actinic blues.

    You're structure and the pieces you've selected look great. From an aquascaping standpoint the back right point is a bit lacking. I feel like that's the point you'd see the corals that grow like - i dunno - thin fingers into the air. Don't know a thing about corals. :happy:
  3. authorofdarkness

    authorofdarknessValued MemberMember

    I love it, I like the look of reef tanks, but the complexity is too much for me right now. But I may do something like this :)
  4. Silister Trench

    Silister TrenchWell Known MemberMember

    The amount of equipment and cost for setup is what originally took me away from starting with a Marine Tank vs Freshwater. I don't foresee me in the near future trying a setup like this, but it's definitely some great info you found!
  5. grantm91

    grantm91Fishlore VIPMember

    Use a mix of white and blue light too, thats what i always have on my FW tanks because i love the marine look compared to the pinkish warm looking bulbs all tropicals usually have IMG_1140.JPG The lighting in this is a blue tube and a marine white One
  6. RedLoredAmazon

    RedLoredAmazonWell Known MemberMember

    Do you mean a fan coral? I think one of those would look nice in the tank! :)
  7. Silister Trench

    Silister TrenchWell Known MemberMember

    Yeah! That's the one I was thinking of! Should have said it resembled the nervous system, but ya got what I meant.
  8. OP

    Esimm03Well Known MemberMember


    I was thinking of getting a sea fan however most of the ones that look realistic are to wide for my tank.

    I tried getting a blue LED light for my tank however the fish looked grey and the rocks turned blue

  9. RedLoredAmazon

    RedLoredAmazonWell Known MemberMember

    Hmm....I think the thing you need here is some sort of way to hide the wires and tubes that run in the back. I think a fan coral or some sort of background will add to your tank. I feel like the stuff going on behind the tank is distracting to the overall feel of the tank. This is probably because the tank is small (sorry if I'm wrong) and there is a lot going on.
  10. grantm91

    grantm91Fishlore VIPMember

    Go for a blue or black background, that would top this off i think too
  11. OP

    Esimm03Well Known MemberMember


    I totally agree with the wires distracting from the look, never really thought about a blue/black backdrop.


    I agree,

    I'll get some black in the next few days and see how it looks

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 26, 2017