Hot Tips: Bare Bottom or Sand Bottom and Why

by | Feb 15, 2007 | 0 comments

A selection of useful tidbits of information and tricks for the marine aquarist submitted by Advanced Aquarist’s readership. Readers are encouraged to post them to our Hot Tips sticky in the General Reefkeeping Discussion forum or send their tips to [email protected] for possible publication. Next month’s Hot Tip theme will be “How do you perform your waterchanges?“.


Bare Bottom or Sand Bottom and Why

Considering the pros and cons of sand and no sand, I like the look of sand much better. So, I opted for a ~2″ sandbed mostly for the look (but also, the biodiversity) that I syphon out a thin top layer (any detritus) when doing a water change.

Submitted by bleedingthought

No sand here. I want to be able to remove the waste from the tank. I currently have about 70x circulation and plan on adding a bit more later. To help things get stirred up I have my returns pointing straight down behind my rock structure, with penductors to increse the flow. This helps keep things from setteling in back there, which is something I think helps. I also have a skimmer rated for 250 gallons on my 150 gallon tank. Bi-weekly water changes give me to opportunity to syphon up whatever does not get kicked up, which is not much.

Submitted by Wazzel

I like a substrate bottom not just for the fact that it gives the tank a natural looking appearence but also serves as biological source for the system as well. I usually keep a 3″sand bed composed of 50/50 mix of Aragonite Caribsea and CaribSea Oolitic. A sandbed that is given time to mature benifit’s the system in a number of way’s it hold’s benificial microbes,worms and a host of other life forms not to mention its buffering capacity. I have good water movement to try and keep alot of detritus and other things from settling in the sandbed it usually goes through the overflows down to the sump/fuge were it get’s skimmed out or settles out in the refugium were other organisms attack it and every now and then I vac the sand in sections not all at once because i dont want to upset the sandbed’s inhabitant’s and lose much needed microbes and such. Last but not least by know means I think of my tank’s inhabitant’s they need places to forage for food and among other thing’s some sp. need it for shelter at night so this is why i use a sand bed can’t imagine my tank’s any other way. So think of your live stock when setting up a tank and not of yourself because you don’t live in there it would be like living in your house with no furniture this is all.

Submitted by reefman225gal

I prefer a sand bottom for the above mentioned reasons. Its aesthetically pleasing, its capable of supporting a larger diversity of life (good for detritus cleanup and feeding of the corals), and it does provide some degree of stability.

I recommend for people to siphon out and exchange a portion of their sandbed every year after the first 2-4 years of the tank being in place, depending on the bioload and any debris accumulation. Done in sections, it doesn’t cause any severe chemistry changes and will drastically improve the look and health of a tank.

Submitted by Wade

I removed 90% of my sand as there were too many pockets for the bad stuff to hide. Good water flow I think is the key to a well sustained tank.

Submitted by pcardone

My tank is running bare bottom currently. I like the increased flow that I have that helps remove the detritus or at least pile it up in a corner where I can siphon it out.

One note that I have noticed was I was running the tank very nutrient poor with the bare bottom. Sort of how your would run a SB tank. I was basically NOT feeding the tank so the corals had plenty of light and flow but they started bleaching. I have added a few fish and feed allot more food now knowing that excess has a chance of getting to the skimmer with the increased flow. The corals are now starting to color back up and are showing some signs of growth again.

Submitted by Rob_Reef_Keeper

Bare bottom for me for all the reasons mentioned; easier to maintain a higher flow to keep detritus in suspension, etc. Also, one less ‘component’ to monitor and for me have to worry about. As far as asthetics are concerned, while one certainly can’t deny the beauty of a well kept sandbed in conjunction with an equally well kept reeftank, a bare bottom, given time and proper lighting, will not be bare for long. My substrate is now covered with coralline, zoanthids, and fuzzy mushrooms which surround (and sometimes do pitched battle with) my Acaths, Astreopora, Echinopora, and other bottom loving specimens. Looks natural enough for me.MoyesReef

Submitted by Stonehaven

The bottom of the ocean isn’t starboard! 😉

I like a 2-3″ layer, and syphon some out when doing a waterchange/monthly tank cleaning.

Submitted by Bingo

I like both arguments….I am only a 3 year reefer. My tank has crushed coral for substrate…..I love being able to see all the pods,worms and starfish that live in it. I feel a substrate is more beneficial than a bare bottom,but as Stonehaven has said they dont stay bare forever.This is just my opinion and thoughts I have read on other forums.

Submitted by Leo73173

Personally I prefer BB for a tank that needs to be high flow/low nutrient. For anything else (FO, softie, etc.) some sand looks nice.

Submitted by ChrisRD

I like BB for the reasons mentioned above. The higher flow is the main reason I like it for a SPS system.

Submitted by Louey

I have a faux sand bed on starboard with a couple of cups of loose sand for variety. I also currently run a remote sand bed for denitrification mostly because it is cheap and easy with an under-house sump. I like it for all the reasons mentioned, plus a couple extra.

In the event of a power outage, a sand bed can suck the oxygen out of the water. Someone once unplugged my tank by accident and it was without power for 7 hours. Most of the fish died gasping for breath when I finally got home.

I also like not having the potential danger of a sand bed in the tank. If you mix up a mature sand bed, from a falling power head or something, it can be bad for your tank, so, after experiencing a tank crash after a power head falling into the sand, I don’t run SB anymore. I think of them kind of like sea apples – some people think they are pretty, but they aren’t worth the risk.

I don’t buy the idea that a sand bed in a tank looks more natural. I think its more of a case that people are used to seeing sand beds in tanks. In the wild, I have rarely seen corals near or on the sand, rather, they grow up and away from the sand. With the exception of gargonians, most of the wild reefs I have seen start coral growth feet, if not meters, above the sand bed.

Finally, I mostly love the extra space I have in my tank for corals now that I don’t run a sand bed. The extra two or five inches that used to be devoted to sand (sand that looked like black dirty mess from the outside of the tank) is now devoted to growing corals.

Submitted by Thales

I have a deep sand bed. 4-6 inches. I don’t know if it’s the best thing. I am kinda thinking of what would be best for my tank? I clean bottom may be better. With good flow and easier to maintain.

Submitted by Slayer