RSS Reef Tank Aesthetics: A forgotten Aspect of the Viewing Experience

MASA Admin

8 May 2007
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Over the years I have been spoiled in that I have had the good fortune of viewing hundreds of tanks all over the country and the world. I cannot thank the people in this hobby enough in that they bring me into their homes and share their secret joy, I truly appreciate rheir generosity. I have tried to return the favor as well by letting anyone who has asked come into my home and see my tanks and share their thoughts.

Since like most hobbyists I am a perfectionist I ask them to be honest in what they think and also what they like and dislike. Many of them do not come alone, and most often they bring their wife or girlfriend along with them to see my tanks, and as I have sadly noted this hobby is still dominated by men. I bring this up as over time I have noted a significant dichotomy in what each group says they see and what their overall experience of seeing my tanks is.

Most hobbyists, like myself tend to focus almost exclusively on what is going on inside the glass box. We notice the corals, fish and other inverts as well as on the equipment that makes the tank work. And this is pretty much what I have come to expect if the people seeing my tank are only male hobbyists when I ask them what they think.

Great corals like these are why we tend to focus on what is going on inside the box

The response is quite different when I ask the women, that I can only assume they dragged along with them, what their thoughts are. I ask everyone to be honest as my skin is thick enough and I fully acknowledge that I make lots of mistakes that I can handle the truth. They tend to discuss the tank in the context of it being part of the entire room and how it fits into it and what it adds and how some things going on distract or diminish from the entire experience.

Unlike their significant others, they do not focus on just what is going on inside the glass box, but rather they look at the tank as part of a complete experience. Until hearing their comments I had not really focused on this aspect of my tanks, but now thanks to them I no try to take this into account when setting up and working on a tank.

So how does this understanding the aesthetics of a tank manifest itself? We have all seen tanks built into or behind a wall so that all of the related equipment can be hidden. Unfortunately not all of us can do this and as a result most of us take for granted that the equipment is a necessary evil and is just part of the tank.

While having this equipment around a tank is necessary, we do not have to allow it to be disruptive to the overall viewing experience. Obviously the first way we can do this is by hiding as much of the equipment as possible in the tank stand itself. If there is not enough space to do this then we can place a cheap cabinet next to the tank and place the remaining equipment in there. Doing this will take a lot of the unnecessary distracting clutter away from the viewing area of the tank.

Cluttered tank tops take away from the beauty of the tank

Removing this clutter however is just a start as there are a couple of other things that we do that have been pointed out to me that now that I look for, have found that most of us seem to do. The first is that we view any horizontal surface as a storage area for everything. While I firmly believe that making something easy to do and having things close at hand makes us do them more frequently, it is still not the best idea to stick everything we use on the tank hood or sides of the stand.

I know I tend to keep my frequently used test kits as well as food and cups and containers all on the top of the hood of my tank for easy usage. But after it was pointed out several times that this makes the tank look “ugly” I now endeavor to keep them in an area where they are easily accessed but out of view.

Similarly, everything in our tank seems to require at least one electrical cord. As a result the squiggle of wires strewn about can really be an eyesore for someone viewing the tank in its entirety. Unfortunately I do not have an answer for how to reduce the number of electrical lines and need for electrical appliances in our tanks.

A clean tank top is much less distracting

However, I now try to cable tie all of the wires into neat little bundles and hang these bundles of wire inside the stand and hoods so that they are out of sight. This also has reduced the numerous comments about the tank being an electrician’s nightmare and a fire hazard. Which I am also presuming is a comment that has been made more than once to my male visitors.

Making the overall area around the tank look less cluttered and more organized is just one aspect that has been conveyed to me about improving the overall aesthetics of my tanks. I have found that most women have a clearly superior sense of smell and as a result any of the often unpleasant odors that may occur around our tanks is quickly noted by them.

In this regard I have learned to remove and clean my feeding cups daily as well as to quickly remove to the trash any dead animals including the dreaded snail shells rather than placing them in the small garbage cans that I have near my tanks. I have also learned that cleaning my skimmers on a day when visitors will be coming over can also cause a dramatic reduction in the level of enjoyment for some viewing my tanks.

A jumble of wires is bad for a number of reasons

Let’s face it, if we are not careful some of the smells around our tanks can be quite unpleasant and while many of us take it for granted that this is just part of having an aquarium, but for those who are not enthralled by the beauty within our tanks, it is probably a good idea to reduce the smells as quickly as possible and to keep them from becoming overwhelming.

And while my sense of smell is fair at best, I still believe I have pretty good hearing. However, as with the smells of the hobby I take many of the sounds of my tanks for granted. Only when it was pointed out that the high-pitched whine of the return pump was annoying and that the whoosh sound of the overflows needed to be reduced so we could talk, did I realize that these sounds were also distracting to others in terms of the overall enjoyment of my tank.

So to reduce the whine of my pump I switched to the ultra quiet Vectra pump from Ecotech. Only after I replaced my old pump did I realize how annoying and distracting the whine actually was. I then also reduced the sound of my overflows by reducing how far the water dropped in the boxes. These reductions in noise actually increased my enjoyment of my tank in a way I had not anticipated. Without the concomitant noise the silence of the tank actually made watching my tanks more enjoyable.

Quieter pumps can add to the relaxing aspects of watching a tank

I should also throw in the caveat that I like the features that the dc Vectra pump has as it has made doing water changes and feeding the fish significantly less of a chore due to its ability to have its flow reduced without my having to adjust the valves or shut it off, which was the case with the old pump.

Lastly, I have been told that I need to be better at looking at how a tank makes the overall room look. These “designer” friends told me to set up my tanks so that they add to the overall attractiveness of the room and not so the tank is a distraction. In this regard, when I set up my last two tanks in my sunroom and my kitchen I tried to set them up so that they were not overwhelming, ie. too big, and so that their overall design did not look out of place with what was already in the room.

Since I have set them up I have had several female visitors express that they liked how the tanks fit into the overall look of the rooms. To be honest, I really did not care much about this previously as my focus had always been on just having the tanks thrive and look nice inside. However like most of us I do like getting unexpected compliments, which now seem to happen more that I am paying attention to the look of everything both inside and outside of the tank.

Making these changes did not cost anything, which is rare in this hobby, yet they all have enhanced my enjoyment and the enjoyment my visitors have had viewing my tanks. I know this aspect of the hobby may seem trivial, but if having a clean uncluttered area around my tank reduces the grief for one of my fellow hobbyists it is well worth it. More to the point if it makes it more enjoyable it is even more worth it.

I will not be writing a piece next week, as I will be speaking at Reefapalooza in California. If you attend please say stop me and say hi and if there is anything you would like me to write about please let me know and hopefully come and see my talk on the History of Reefkeeping: The Modern Era. I look forward to seeing you there.

hen a tank is set up right it adds to the room and doesn’t detract from it

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