Safe Rock and Wood Aquascaping
An aquarium without decoration seldom looks good and there are numerous ways to decorate or "aquascape" your aquarium. Some prefer to use unnatural decorations using plastic plants and sunken plastic ships, divers and treasure chests, other prefer a more natural feel. This article will focus on the later but everything you learn in this equally true if you choose to decorate an unnatural aquarium. Especially if you don't buy all the decorations in a pet store but also use decorations you found or made yourself.
Before allowing anything to enter your aquarium, it is very important to make sure that it is safe for aquarium use. Never use anything without knowing for sure that it is safe. There are numerous reasons to why a piece of decoration can be none aquarium safe and that therefore not are to be used in aquascaping and there are some decorations that only are suitable in certain types of aquariums as they affect water values.
To be completely aquarium safe a piece of aquarium decoration should be non toxic and not affect the water chemistry or physics in any way. If a decoration affects the water chemistry or physics it can still be a good in certain aquariums where the effect they have are positive. Lime stone decorations are as an example beneficial in the aquascaping in an Lake Malawi aquarium as it helps buffer the high pH. The same effect would be very damaging in a discus or other low pH soft water aquarium.
Today there are a lot of ways to very exactly measure the existence of just about any chemical compound. These methods are however only seldom available to the aquarist and aquarists have to make sure that the decoration they use are safe in more primitive ways. There are simple ways to check for certain quality in a piece of decoration such as pouring a drop or two of vinegar on a piece of decoration to test for the present of chalk. It will start to bubble if there are chalk present. (Chalk raises pH). These easy methods usually only checks for the presence of certain compound and will therefore not guarantee that the tested decoration is safe. The easiest way to test for "all" possible dangers is test using the decoration in an aquarium with "guinea pig" fish. Make sure to use same type of water that you are going to use in your aquarium in the test aquarium and boil the decoration before putting it in the test setup. If the fish seems healthy and happy after 2-3 weeks in the test setup and the water parameters remain the same during the test period it usually means that the piece of decoration is safe. At least in a setup similar to the test setup. It should however be noted that this method isn't 100% safe unless a considerable longer test period is used. 2-3 weeks are enough to make the findings reasonable reliable. Be sure not to use a too hardy species in the test as it might survive and thrive in conditions that would kill the fish you plan to have in the aquarium in question.
Early in this article I said that I was going to focus on natural ways to decorate your aquarium and this primarily mean aquscaping the aquarium using roots, rocks and plants even if other things such as leaves sometimes are used. I will not say anything about that as that is an entirely different topic but it can be good to know that some plants are toxic and not suitable to be used in aquariums. Even some plants sold in pet stores are can release toxins if broken and should therefore not be used.
There are 3 main sources of the roots and rocks needed for your aquscaping.
- Pet stores
- Other stores
- In the wild
Many people will tell you that the decorations attained in the pet stores are safe and that the risks raises the further down the list you go. I.e. that the risks of getting toxic or otherwise unsuitable is the largest with roots or stones collected in the wild. The truth is however not that simple. You can not be sure that everything you can buy in the pet store is aquarium safe and you should preferable test every piece of decoration you get regardless of where you get them. There is as an example a lot of decoration that affects the pH of your water in your local pet shop. It is worth remembering that even if a product have been sealed to make it non reactive with your water the seal might brake and the decoration start leaking toxins or affect your water.
It is true that roots or rocks collected in the wild are more likely to cause you problem than the counterpart from the zoo regardless of how you treat the roots and rocks. You should however despite this take the same precautions regardless of the source of the decoration as the risk is present regardless of source.
Things and especially wood found under water is often referred to as safer as and more suitable for aquariums than things found on land. This might be true but they are still not guaranteed to be safe and should still be tested. I benefit of wood found under water is that it usually is waterlogged and sinks. Dry wood often has lower density and the water and need to be kept in place artificially to prevent it from floating up.
Some roots, rocks or other decorations can be unsuitable for an aquarium even if they are totally no reactive with the water in your aquarium. This is as example the case with very sharp rocks as sharp rocks can hurt your fish.
When you finally have found your aquarium decorations you need to put together you aquascaping and it is than important to remember that the aquarium decoration shouldn't only be beautiful but also offer the fish an environment they thrive in. The aquascaping should allow the fish the possibility to form territories, to hide and find shelter, to find suitable breeding grounds and to show any other behavior the fish species in question might have.
There are many ways to create a beautiful aquarium but there are some tips that can be good to try and remember. Avoid symmetry. Nature is chaos and a too neatly ordered aquarium will look strange. Try to great a few natural focus points in the aquariums and try to create contrast between areas next to each other in the aquarium, Plant narrow leafed plants next to round leafed plants etc. Think through the aquascaping before getting started and try to stick to the intended plan and the thought behind it as much as possible.
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