Aquascaping: An Inhabitants Guide... 🐟

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single Clown fish in tank with text saying his name is Steve

Okay, we know what you’re thinking. It’s Nemo, right? 

Errrrrr, no. 

This little fella is not Nemo. Sure, he looks like him, but then again, so do all Clownfish.

This little fella’s called Steve. Yeah, that’s right Steve. Not all Clownfish are lucky enough to have cute names, you know. 

Steve does have one thing in common with Nemo, though. He’s not happy about living in a fish tank.

Nemo wanted to escape his tank because he wanted to get back to his dad and Dory. But Steve, well he’s not so sentimental. 

He just wants to escape his tank because he doesn’t like the decor.

His owners have filled his tank with every decoration they could find. Ceramic fruit, Lego pieces, broken chests, little gnomes and bits and pieces from Bikini Bottom. 

Now, Steve is a pretty chilled warm water fish. But he does have a bit of style and sofishtication and likes his tank to look good. After all, there are always people staring into it. 

Anyhoo, Steve’s asked us to put together a definitive how-to guide for decorating your tank. The do’s and the don’ts. And we reckon it’s worth herring what he has to say. 

So, let’s dive in, shall we?

drawing of wave shapes

3 different versions of fish tank gravel. One pebble, one black glass and one white pebble

Being a fish, it kind of makes sense if we start at the bottom. That’s where a lot of these little guys like to hang out. 

So first up, have a think about what kind of bottom you want to have? Is it sand, gravel, glass pebbles, stones or something else? 

A good starting point can be found in this video on choosing an aquarium substrate.

Whatever you decide to go with, you need to make sure you rinse it several times to get all the dust and debris out. Cause that sort of stuff can pollute the water and make Steve sick as a parrot fish.


orange gold fish swimming in fish tank with green plastic plants

Sorry to say, but there is no right answer here. Both have their pros and cons. But let’s hear what Keith (one of Steve’s mates) has to say on the subject. 

Real plants:
Keith breathes easier knowing there are real plants in his tank. Literally. That’s because they help oxygenate the water. Also, plants create an environment similar to the ones that he would experience in the ocean. In addition, the right plants not only improve the look of the tank, but help keep the water chemistry balanced and provide food for plant-eating animals. 

Keith’s humans, on the other fin, are not so keen on real plants because they can be significantly more expensive up front than their plastic brethren. 

Artificial plants:
Keith’s humans like the fact that artificial plants can be placed in any part of the tank with no mess or fuss. Also, they don’t drop leaves or die, they don’t require any light, fertilizers, or CO2 to grow, and are easy to clean.

Whereas, Keith likes the fact that there are no risks of parasites, and he won’t be tempted to eat them. They also look pretty good.

On the flipper side though, he worries that he could tear his fins on them. There are softer versions though, silk plants are a good option for delicate fins. Silicone plants are also soft, move in the water and have some great neon effects - that's where disco fish get their name from...


fish tank ornaments showing skull and sunken pirate ship with plastic green plants

When it comes to design, Steve is a bit of a minimalist. He likes to have a couple of featured pieces and lots of clear water. 

For instance, at the moment, he is really into this old sunken galleon. 

Unfortunately, his humans definitely belong to the “more is more” shoal of thought and go a bit overboard with the decorations. 

As a result, Steve’s galleon has now been joined by a bubbling coral garden, a space man, a digger, a miniature Korean temple and a fairy castle.

It’s all most unsettling and doesn’t really make sense as a “theme” although, being a fish, Steve does forget about them pretty quickly. 

Which brings us to our point.

How should you decorate your fish tank?

Well, the first thing to consider is space. How much room do you have in your tank? Don’t forget, you are going to be adding plants as well. Is there really going to be room for a wrecked aeroplane, a toy bus, a statue of Buddha and a hobbit house?

Remember, Steve needs to have a bit of room to stretch his fins. 

fish tank decorations with bright colourful painted coral

Although live coral can give your tank a lovely, authentic look, it can also introduce disease and parasites into your ecosystem. Also, FYI, it is illegal to take live coral. 

Apart from that, real coral also dies quite fast and rapidly turns white. Whereas fake coral retains its colour and will keep your tank looking vibrant and colourful.

Create your own underwater garden with safe hand painted decorations. Kazoo has great ones with neon features that can really make a tank pop under black light.

fish tank decoration with logs and stones and bright silk plants

Wood and rocks can definitely hurt Steve if they are not properly sourced. The rock and wood you buy from your fish shop has been properly treated to rid it of contaminants.

But this is not the case with that pretty pebble you picked up on your last hiking trip or that lovely piece of driftwood you found on the beach. Put them in your tank and Steve might end up as...

clown fish floating upside down
Steve’s advice? Best not to risk it. Stick to ornaments that you can buy from a pet supply specialist. These decorations are guaranteed to be non-toxic and are treated for contaminants. 

printed out fish tank backgrounds for decorating a tank

Steve is a big fan of backgrounds. He loves the feeling of depth that they add to a tank, although occasionally he does forget it’s just 2D and bangs his head. 

In terms of what backdrop you use, well that’s entirely up to you. It could be a thriving coral reef, a sunken galleon, a crumbling ruin or a forest of seaweed. 

You can get all sorts of amazing backdrops from pet stores, or you can DIY it by printing an image off Google, laminating it (for obvious reasons) and then putting it inside or outside the tank. 

Steve does have one request though. He asks that you don’t use backdrops like this.  

picture of printed out shark with teeth showing
Yeah, yeah. He gets that it’s hilariously funny for humans, but for him it means living in a constant state of hyper-anxiety and blowing bubbles from both ends.


purple vector bubbles saying "no poison" "no sharps" and "no harm"

Steve had a lot to say on this particular topic. Some of it was very colourful. But basically the gist of it was, don’t put anything in his tank that can eat him, poison him, cut him, infect him, scare him or harm him in any way. Seems fair. 

To find out more about what you shouldn’t put in your tank, go here. 


clown fish swimming in fish tank scene cut out in heart shape
Ultimately, the most important thing you can put into your aquarium is thought.

Because, at the end of the day, while you only have to look at it, we have to live in it.  So try and make it as nice as possible. 

And remember, different species of fish have different needs. So make sure you buy decorations that suit the habits of your tank’s inhabitants. 

signature from Steve the fish with doodle of waves beneath it

1 comment

  • Julian Frost

    Choosing aquarium decor is crucial. But you can do it by yourself so easily and I have written a blog on it. It may help you a lot.

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