Sand VS Bare Bottom Aquarium

So you have chosen your dream tank from Reef Casa, picked a perfect stand and found the right location for your tank.  Now it’s time to start imagining what your reef tank will look like when it’s finished.  Many hobbyists will watch YouTube videos, browse Instagram and check out forums for inspiration to help them design that perfect tank.

One of the first questions that a reefer needs to answer is: Am I going to have a sandbed?  This question, like many others in the hobby, really comes down to what are your goals for your reef tank.  Like many other questions this one has no definitive correct answer, it really all comes down to what is important to you.  Reef tanks really are built “from the bottom up” so before you can make many other decisions you need to decide whether “to sand or not to sand”.

Traditionally, reef tanks have included a sandbed of live sand and this setup has a number of advantages, but also a few drawbacks.  Some of the advantages to a sandbed in a reef tank are increased biological filtration, a home for microfauna that act as a food source for other tank residents and the ability to keep a wider variety of tank inhabitants.  A live sand bed provides a home for beneficial bacteria that help to convert harmful ammonia from fish waste into less harmful nitrites and nitrates.  Depending on the amount of rock in a tank, the live sand may provide as much or more filtration than the rockwork.  In addition to their filtration benefits, sandbeds also provide a home for microorganisms that provide a food source for many types of aquarium inhabitants.  This allows hobbyists to keep a wider variety of fish and invertebrates such as gobies, pistol shrimp and many sea stars.  A sandbed will also make it easier to set up your rockwork and can provide some protection for the bottom of your tank if a piece of rock were to fall over. Aesthetically, they mimic the ocean as well and are visually appealing.

So if sandbeds offer so many advantages why do some reefers choose to avoid them and set up a bare bottom tank.  The advantages of bare bottom tanks include easier maintenance, potentially fewer pests and the ability to create higher levels of waterflow in the tank.  Every reefer with a sandbed wants that pristine, white sand look and that can take a fair amount of work.  In a bare bottomed tank, the detritus and fish waste is much easier to see and vacuum up during water changes and this can help to improve water quality.  Sandbeds also can be a breeding ground for undesirable reef tank inhabitants such as bristle worms.  Bare bottom tanks are also much less likely to suffer from cyanobacteria or dinoflagellates, as these tend to reproduce in the sandbed.  For hobbyists considering an SPS dominant tank, bare bottom may be a better option because it allows for higher levels of flow in the tank, since there is no sand to be blown around.

When it comes to aesthetics there really is not a correct answer since every reefer’s vision is different, however a sandbed is often regarded as offering a more “natural” look.  On the other hand, some hobbyists argue that under heavy blue lighting  coral colours “pop” more dramatically in a bare bottom tank.  It really does come down to the goals of each individual reefer.  Like many things in this wonderful hobby there really is no correct answer to the question “should I have a sandbed in my tank”.  We here at Reef Casa want every hobbyist to love their tank and we would be happy to discuss the pros and cons of a sandbed for your individual setup.  Happy Reefing!