January '08 - Rockscape Aquariums!
"False Marine" Rockscape - A Controversial Option
This is a very popular style, that carries a lot of current issues. The concept itself is already controversial - many people simply can't understand why someone would want to create a "fake" marine tank using African cichlids and "dead rock" (former live rock or reef pieces that have been cleaned in bleach), while others find it the perfect solution for a comparatively inexpensive, low-maintenance setup that looks like the marine tank they've always wanted to own but couldn't afford.
From the aesthetic perspective there's not much to discuss of course, either you like it or you don't, but one thing that's good to be aware of is how the rockscape is going to look in the long term, after the tank matures (first few tanks on this page). Many people are attracted to the nice clean look when the tank is recently set up (last few tanks), and become disappointed with the later algae-covered look that is virtually impossible to clean (without bleaching all over again) because the rocks are so porous. But again, others think it looks great that way.
The most important issue here has nothing to do with aesthetics, but with the environmental concerns over the exploitation of natural reefs for the hobby. A good amount of live rock collected in the sea for the hobby are pieces that have already been broken off naturally and would otherwise just slowly turn into beach sand. But unfortunately there are also collectors who resort to the highly objectionable practice of using dynamite to literally blow up healthy reefs and collect the pieces to sell. So the extra pressure on live rock collecting represented by freshwater hobbyists who will simply kill the rock biology to use the dead structure in their cichlid tanks raises a lot of objections, especially considering that (contrary to marine hobbyists) cichlid hobbyists have many other options as exemplified on the previous page.
On the other hand, there are tons and tons of old bleached corals (from old-style marine tanks, prior to the reef era) and "dead rock" (former live rock from reef tanks that have been dismantled) lying around people's basements and garages, and putting those to use as decoration for a cichlid tank doesn't imply in any immediate environmental issue or questionable practice, so it is still an option to consider. Many people will still argue against it though, claiming that dead rock is too porous and can trap too much waste, or that this type of rock can cause injuries on the cichlids, so the debate is out there...
I hope that you can use this quick overview on all these different aspects of the "rockscaping story" as a starting point to research deeper into the options and issues available, and make an informed decision on what your awesome next rockscape will be like! :-)
If you'd like to submit an aquarium for Tank of the Month, just contact me.
Photos taken by their respective authors and displayed here with their permission.