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What’s Wrong with Colored Gravel, Plastic Plants, and Bubbling Divers? Nothing!

by TFH Magazine on August 24, 2011 at 6:27 am

A tank with herbivorous fish decorated with artificial plants. Photograph by Jeremy Demas.

By David E. Boruchowitz

There is a bit of snobbery in the hobby regarding action ornaments, plastic plants, and colored gravel. Some seasoned aquarists look down their noses at the use of such artificiality, but many people, particularly but not exclusively beginners and youngsters, love a neon substrate with fluorescent plantings and burping treasure chests.

The snobbery is unwarranted, and even a bit hypocritical. How so? Well, often the aquarist decrying fake plants uses lengths of PVC pipe as refuges in breeding tanks. Or, the disparager of colored gravel relies on bare-bottom tanks for raising fry. Obviously, plastic pipe and glass substrate do not occur in any natural fish habitat any more than purple gravel and silver Amazon swordplants.

So, what’s the explanation?

Some hobbyists entertain that there are two types of tanks: display and utility. Utility setups use only the bare essentials and are not intended to be decorative. Display tanks are ornamental, and they try to replicate a natural fish habitat. This black and white distinction does not hold up, however, and I have seen both lushly planted breeding tanks and bare bottom display tanks. I’ve even seen an entire fish house of a very serious breeder that has at least one ceramic castle in every single aquarium. There are no hard and fast rules. In addition, “natural” setups are mostly anything but.

Plastic plants and driftwood decorate this goldfish setup. Photograph by Jeremy Demas.

Usually display tanks are not really representative of any natural habitat. Most hobbyists only want a pretty aquascape and do not try to create an actual representation, and even many of the biotope systems expressly intended to be accurate replications of a specific habitat fail to really make the mark. There is nothing at all wrong with any aquarium decor that is safe for the fish, whether it pretends to be natural or not, whether it is collected in the wild or created in a factory. Unwarranted snobbery aside, however, there is a basis for the observable fact that the majority of seasoned aquarists prefer gravel that is not dyed over its garish counterpart, live plants over plastic or silk ones, and rocks and driftwood over divers, skulls, and toxic waste barrels.

Most often—but certainly not always—the deeper one gets into fishkeeping, the more one’s primary appreciation is of fish and their natural ecology. We look at our fish as marvels of nature, and we want our aquaria to display them that way. Yes, I am among those who prefer a more natural decor, but I also have bare bottom tanks with PVC tubes. I also use plastic plants as fry refuges in breeding tanks and have no aversion to ceramic or resin decorations if they serve some purpose in one of my setups and I have them on hand.

So, what’s wrong with colored gravel, plastic plants, and bubbling divers? Nothing! Go with whatever floats your sunken, bubbling boat.

Posted in David E. Boruchowitz and From the Editor by TFH Magazine on August 24th, 2011 at 6:27 am.


2 Replies

  1. One of the neatest tanks I have seen had a Las Vegas theme complete with plastic dice and The King. It was totally out there but very well done.

  2. Kailey Jan 8th 2013

    I love the setup in the second one. I would love to know where you purchased your fake plants and/or the brand names of the plants. Now that I’m in college and my parents take care of my fish, there isn’t any time to bother with live plants anymore, so I’m trying to find the most realistic-looking fake ones.

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