Decorating the Aquarium – Beauty and Function

What? You’ve got decorations in your aquarium? That’s unnatural! This is the sort of comment customers tell us they often get from established aquarium fans, when they favour a certain type of decoration. But why do people think like this? Let me share some thoughts with you and let’s have a look at the subject from its various perspectives.

The most important thing for us is the wellbeing of the aquarium dwellers, whether they are fish or vertebrates. Every aquarium guide tells us to make sure the interior is structured so that animals can form territories and have places to withdraw into.

Perception and Beauty

Let’s be honest. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So let’s not be judgemental about differing tastes and decorative choices. We need to remember that the aquarium dwellers and the aquarium owners see the decorative elements differently. We, the aquarium owners find a decorative element attractive and want to create a certain structure in the aquarium with it. The fish and the invertebrates in the aquarium see the decorative elements as hiding places, territorial borders, or as a part of their habitat. It’s good that these differíng demands don’t clash – and they don’t.

Aquarium newbies and children often discover their love of aquariums through a particular decorative element, whether it’s a character from a box office smash or a mysterious treasure chest. Without this their hobby wouldn’t be the same.

We experienced aquarists often aim for a natural looking aquarium, and don’t share this liking for the other style. But don’t we also have artificial flowers in our living room sometimes?

Everyone develops their own aquarium style with time and can decide for themself whether to use natural or artificial decorative elements – the main thing is the creatures inside are loved and cared for. Let’s stop this black and white thinking. Normally what we find is a combination of both styles. In other European countries the use of plastic decorations is completely normal and not at all looked down upon.

What can we use to decorate the aquarium?

The question is whether to use natural or plastic elements, which often look identical.

The natural elements include various types of wood and stone. Coconut shells are also popular for caves. To stay 100% natural you can use leaves, like the popular Catappa leaves. Clay caves and clay spawning cones also count as natural decorative elements.

In the other camp we have the plastic elements. Reproductions of wood and stone, small figures, sunken shipwrecks, or small terrace elements (steps), which conjure up several levels in the underwater world. A further category consists of artificial decorative elements with a practical feature. Divers which blow out air, or treasure chests whose large bubbles enrich the water with oxygen – these are decorations with benefits for the creatures in the aquarium.

Limits and Considerations

So where does this heated discussion about the „right“ type of decoration come from? I’m pretty sure that most of the negative comments are really just a matter of personal taste. It’s a bit like saying „I don’t like that, so it’s daft.“

If you research online forums for plastic decorations, sooner or later you’ll come across such topics as „mysterious death“ or „problems“. Why is this? Because unfortunately there have always been shady merchants selling uncertified products for aquariums. Often dismissed as „cheap decoration“ (though they are not always cheap), these products can come from anywhere in the world and often react with the water, as can household decorative products. Always make sure that the product is intended for use in the aquarium.

All in all there is no cause for alarm. If you use products from reputable German suppliers, bought in a specialist pet shop, you will always be on the safe side – and the choice is huge.

The criticism grows particularly harsh when plastic plants are used. After all, water plants fulfil important functions in the biosystem and are therefore preferable. Yet in some cases plants are destroyed or eaten by the creatures. So called ”cichlid tanks“ and turtle aquariums are cases where only plastic plants are permittable. It’s better to have a look at the aquarium before condemning.

Our Statement

It doesn’t matter whether they are plastic or natural – each piece of decoration serves its purpose and can suit the aquarium owner and animals alike. The decision is yours to make – you decide what is best for your animals and what suits your taste. That is the main thing. It really doesn’t matter whether the substrate is natural or not. Grubbing fish need a fine substrate and not huge lumps – and both types of decoration can meet this need.

Why am I writing this? I would like the loudest critics to think about what I have written and to show acceptance for the other side. I personally only use natural elements in my aquarium, but only because I like the look of them. I can totally understand people wanting figures and shipwrecks in their aquariums. The main thing is we all enjoy our hobby.

© 10.12.2017
Matthias Wiesensee
Matthias Wiesensee
M.Sc. Wirtschaftsinformatik
Matthias Wiesensee

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