After choosing a tank and getting all the required equipment (and maybe some that isn’t entirely necessary) it is time to plan the aquascape. Like everything in the reefing hobby the key is to take your time and not rush anything. Before deciding on the rockwork you need to decide whether the tank will have a sandbed or be bare bottom. While a bare bottom tank might make sense for an acropora dominated tank with very high flow, for the overwhelming majority of tanks a sandbed is recommended. A sandbed will provide a place for beneficial bacteria to grow, habitat for a wide variety of fish and invertebrates and can even help prevent the tank bottom from cracking if the rockwork ever falls over.
The first step in setting up an aquascape is to choose what type of rock to use from the almost endless varieties available. Some reefers choose to use live rock, however, dry rock is far more commonly used. The selection of dry rock available can be overwhelming but a popular choice for hobbyists of all experience levels is Carib Sea Liferock Shapes. These rocks allow for the easy creation of features such as caves and arches and can either be simply stacked or attached with epoxy. Regardless of the type of rock chosen, there are few simple guidelines for creating a stunning aquascape. The aquascape will be the backbone of your reef tank so make sure to take your time and ensure that there are lots of places to attach corals. Many hobbyists will use masking tape to create an outline of the footprint of the tank to allow for experimentation without the risk of chipping the tank. The key is trial and error so take your time and try a variety of different aquascapes until you find one you are happy with. While it is not a hard and fast rule, the general suggestion is to use roughly 1 pound of rock for every gallon of water volume, although many reefers use slightly less. It is important to resist the urge to fill the tank with rock, since the corals will need room to grow and will fill the tank over time. It is also important to consider waterflow and to leave enough room on all four sides to use a scraper to clean the glass. Similarly, the return nozzle and water intake should not be blocked by the rockwork. Once you have created an aquascape that you are happy with there is one final step, which is to wait. Look at your rockwork from all 3 sides, try to envision it covered in corals and, most importantly, sleep on it and take a look again the next day. Once you are completely satisfied with your aquascape, carefully transfer it into the tank, verify there is enough room on all four sides and slowly fill the tank with salt water. At this point your tank is almost ready to go!