Awesome Bare Bottom Reef Tank : How To Create It? Full Guide

Do you like to see your reef aquarium fabulously? The best answer is a bare bottom reef tank setup. This has the power to make your job easy.

Because if you go bare bottom, you can gather many advantages. Surely, this article will cause you to wonder. So, the choice is yours.

What Is a Bare Bottom Reef Tank?

The bare bottom reef tank is the marine aquatic setup without any form of substrate at the bottom of the tank.

Through this setting, you can create a pristine appearance to your reef aquarium by emphasizing your aquarium rocks and marine life.

Bare Bottom Reef Tank look

Bare Bottom Reef Tank Maintenance

Tools Needed

You need very few tools to maintain your bare bottom reef tank.

  • You need a magnet cleaner to clean fish poops under the rocks.

Ex: bare bottom cleaner made by LPL

  • You should need the best vacuum cleaner to clean your bare bottom reef tank

Ex: COODIA vacuum gravel cleaner Automatic Aquarium Sludge Extractor water changer, 16W

Filter

You can install a bio filter to your bare bottom reef tank. 

Bare Bottom Reef Tank setup
Credits to Léo Carvalho

Advantage of the bare bottom reef tank

Easy To Maintain.

The bare bottom reef tank is easy to clean and siphon. Because the lack of sand prevents fish waste and other contaminants from depositing in the sand or gravel.

Further, Because of the lack of sand in your aquarium, you can easily clean the tank. Especially around the rocks.

The reason is, fish waste, uneaten food and other contaminants do not accumulate in tank substrates. Also, you can easily scrub your tank glasses. 

Do Not Need To Worry About The Cleaning Crew.

Due to the bottom substrates, much waste and algae deposit in your tank. Because of that many aquarium holders try to keep cleaning crew in their tank like stomatella snails.

Here, you do not need to worry much about this, because of the lack of sands and gravels.

Waste control

Substrates do not support filtering the waste materials from the tank. They trap waste. Because of that, tank wastes do not filter out and it starts to decompose in the tank.

The fish waste deterioration process generates the ammonia, nitrates, nitrites and phosphate.

If you maintain a reef aquarium, you should try to control these by-products at zero levels. Because ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites can badly affect your coral and marine creatures.

Also, phosphates and nitrates can slow and prevent the growth of the corals. Moreover, it will de-color corals.

You can reduce these impacts in bare bottom reef aquariums. Because there is no chance to remains any debris in tank and filter out all waste compounds from the water.

No Sandstorms

In a bare bottom reef aquarium, you can place the power heads and blowers anywhere.

Because you do not worry about the blowing sands, gravels, and detritus around the water.

Simply, this bare bottom setup allows you to maintain clear water in your reef tank with little effort.

Also, in this setup, you can increase the water flow without any sandstorms blowing around the aquarium. If you like to rear small polyp stony (SPS) in your reef aquarium, this is good news for you.

Because SPS prefers to live where it has a high flow rate. In addition to that, some coral also likes high flow rates.

Visible Dead Zone

Bare bottom fish tanks allow you to identify the exact places where fish waste and other contaminants build up. This aquarium setup lets you see dead zones too.

No Unwanted Bacteria Or Parasites

Bare bottom reef aquarium setup does not allow the growth of unnecessary guests in the tank-like flatworms, bristle worms, and cyanobacteria.

These critters tend to reproduce in the sand and gravel substrates. Also, these animals are a hassle to remove. But if you have a bare bottom reef aquarium, you do not worry about this.

Lower The Cost.

You do not require sand or gravel substrate in your bare bottom aquarium. Therefore, you can save your money.

Because you do not have to spend money on expensive sands and gravels. Further, it also reduces the cleaner organisms cost, water maintenance cost and disease prevention cost.

Bare Bottom Reef Tank easy way
Credits to Léo Carvalho

How To Keep Coral Species In The Bare Bottom Reef Tank

It is not more different than setting up other reef tanks. Here you should follow the acclimating process before adding reef and fish to the tank.

It helps corals and other saltwater creatures to adjust to the environment.

  • Very first, you should clean your tank
  • Then fill the tank with a prepared saltwater.
  • Clean your live rocks properly and place them in your tank in the proper way
  • Then place your aquarium equipment
  • Let your tank run for 3-4 weeks
  • During this period, you should perform weekly water changes of 50%.
  • Also, during this period, leave the lights off. It helps to grow algae.
  • After 3-4 weeks, you should check the water condition by using an aquarium water test kit. If your water is in the right condition (ammonia and nitrite levels are zero), you can introduce the first inhabitant to your tank. You can choose a snail or crab.
  • Here you should follow a 12 hours cycle for your lighting in the tank (lights on for 12 hrs during the daytime and lights off for 12 hrs at night).
  • Then after two weeks, you should make a 25% water change and introduce the first coral.
  • Here you should choose a basic coral-like polyp. Then you can gradually introduce other corals and give them two weeks to acclimate in your tank before you add fish and invertebrates.
  • After introducing all inhabitants to the tank, you should perform 25% water changes at least once per month.
Credits to Léo Carvalho

Coral Species For Bare Bottom Reef Tank

Montiporas 

Montipora is the second most abundant coral species after Acropora.

Members that belong to the genus Montipora exhibit different growth morphologies including laminar, submassive, foliaceous, branching, and encrusting.

Montipora corals have a variety of colors. Orange, pink, green, brown, purple, yellow, blue, tan, and grey are some of these colors.

Some members of the genus Montipora namely, Montipora spumosa and Montipora verrucosa show mottled appearance.

Montiporas

Favia

Favia belongs to the genus of reef-building stony corals and it is a member of the family Mussidae.

Common names are Brain coral, Pineapple Coral, Moon Coral, and Closed brain coral. The members of this genus are massive or thickly colonial corals.

Some are dome-shaped and some are flat in shape. Further among them, few are foliaceous.

You can find them in the Atlantic Ocean and indoor pacific. They are available in red, green/blue colors. This coral type is easy to rear and recommend for beginners.

Favia

Favia Water Quality Requirements

Alkalinity8-12 dKH
AmmoniaZero
NitratesZero
NitritesZero
PhosphatesZero
Calcium400+ parts per million
pH8.1-8.4
Salinity – Specific gravity1.023- 1.025
Temperature73-84 Fahrenheits (22.8-28.8 Celsius)

Porites

Porites are SPS corals (small polyp stony). They look like fingers. They belong to the Poritidae family. You can find them in the tropical Western Pacific Ocean and Indo-West Pacific Ocean.

Porites

Porites Water Quality Requirements

Alkalinity3.5 meq/1
AmmoniaZero
NitratesZero
NitritesZero
PhosphatesZero
Calcium380 to 430 ppm
pH8.1-8.2
Salinity – Specific gravity1.023-1.025
Temperature74-83 Fahrenheits (23-28 Celsius)

Green Star Polyps

Green star polyp is commonly known as star polyp, daisy polyp, and starburst polyp. This coral type is hardy. Because you can keep them easy.

They are fast-growing. This polyp has green polyps, a white center, and a purple mat or stolon.

Green Star Polyps

Green Star Polyps Water Quality

Alkalinity8-12
AmmoniaZero
NitratesZero
NitritesZero
PhosphatesZero
Calcium400 ppm
pH8.2
Specific gravity1.023-1.025
Temperature78-82 Fahrenheits (25.5-27.8Celsius)

Mushrooms corallimorphs

Their common names are false corals, coral anemone, Disc anemone, Mushroom corals, and mushrooms.

This coral type is also a good choice for your bare bottom reef tanks. They have a range of stunning colors such as green, purple, red, grey, and blue.

This type is not only attractive but also hardy. Therefore, it can be recommended for beginners.

Mushrooms corallimorphs

Leptoseris

Leptoseris coral is known as wrinkle coral. They are small polyp stony coral. They are also easy to care for. Leptoseris are in yellow, orange and red. 

Leptoseris

Leptoseris Water Quality Requirements

Alkalinity8-9.5 dkh
AmmoniaZero
NitratesZero
NitritesZero
PhosphatesZero
Calcium420-440 ppm
pH8.1-8.4
Specific gravity1.023-1.025
Temperature78-82 Fahrenheits (25.5-27.8Celsius)

Fish Species For Bare Bottom Reef Tank

Here, you should consider the corals in your tank. Because some corals do not accept some fish species.

Generally, you can keep these fish species in your reef aquarium. But you should highly consider the coral types in your tank when you select the fish species.

Reef-safe fish species.

  • Japanese swallowtail angelfish
  • Coral beauty angelfish
  • Fisher’s angelfish
  • Flame angelfish
  •  Lemon peel angelfish
  • Masked angelfish
  • Multicolor angelfish
  • Flesh percula clownfish
  • True percula clownfish
  • Tomato clownfish
  • Clarkii clownfish
  • Fire, red and black or cinnamon clownfish
  • Pink skunk clownfish
  • Saddleback clownfish
  • Green mandarin fish
  • Psychedelic mandarin fish
  • Small gobies
  • bass lets
  • Firefish
  • Blennies
  •  Cardinalfish
  • Starfish
  • Larger damselfish.

Here you should consider water conditions and other requirements that fish need to live.

Further, you should have proper knowledge about the fish species before you add them to your reef tank. Because there are so many important factors to fulfill when you rear the fish.

Non-Fish Species For Bare Bottom Reef Tank

Here also you should consider the coral types that you wish to grow in your reef aquarium before selecting the non-fish species.

There are some reef-safe non-fish species. These are;

  • Turban snails
  • Cerith snails
  • Donkey’s ear abalone
  • Fighting conch snail
  • Gold ring money cowrie
  • Banded trochus snail
  • Stomatella snail
  • Nerite snail
  • Turbo snail
  • Nassarius snails
  • Harlequin shrimp
  • Cleaner shrimp
  • Sexy shrimp
  • Boxer shrimp
  • Scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp
  • Peppermint shrimp
  • Marbled shrimp

Here you should consider water conditions and other requirements that non-fish species require to live.

Further, you should have proper knowledge about the non-fish species before you add them to your reef tank.

Because there are many important factors to fulfill when you rear the non-fish species.

You should avoid flowing non-fish species in your reef aquarium. Because they are not safe for the reef. Flamingo tongue.

  • Pyramid snail
  • Vermetid snail
  • Keyhole limpet

Can Plant Grow In Bare Bottom Reef Tank

Yes, you can grow the plant in your bare bottom reef tank. There are aquatic plants that do not need sand substrate to survive in an aquarium. Hence, you can plant saltwater aquarium plants that can grow without sand substrate in your bare bottom reef aquarium.

Plants For This

Dragon’s Tongue Macroalgae (Halymenia dilatata)

Dragon’s Tongue Macroalgae is the most popular aquarium plant for reef aquariums. They are suitable for your bare bottom reef aquarium.

Because they grow without sand substrate. Dragon’s Tongue Macroalgae can grow free-floating or attach to the rock. In their natural habitats, these plants are normally associated with reefs.

This saltwater plant can grow up 1.5 inches in height. And it has the ability to add a stunning and attractive look to your bare bottom reef aquarium.

Because they are pink to deep red in color. You should maintain the following water parameters that allow them to grow happily.

Dragon’s Tongue Macroalgae (Halymenia dilatata)

Dragon’s Tongue Water Quality Requirements

Temperature78-83 Fahrenheits
Water hardness8-12 dKH
Salinity level1.023-1.025 Specific gravity
pH level7.8-8.4

The Green Finger Algae

They have small fingers that poke up in their central area. That’s why they got this name. The green finger algae do not need sand substrate.

They can live on the rock or other hard spaces.  The special thing is this plant provides natural filtration and oxygenation.

It will help to keep your bare bottom aquarium looking fresh and beautiful. If you provide the following conditions properly, this plant will grow fast.

The Green Finger Algae Water Quality Requirements

Temperature72-78 Fahrenheits
Water hardness8-12 dKH
Salinity level1.023-1.024 Specific gravity
pH level8.1-8.4

Tufted Joint Algae (Cymopolia Barbata)

Tufted Joint Algae is a wonderful display algae. This is like a beautiful small tree. In this plant each trunk is made of a segment.

At the end of these trunks, there are small hairs. This plant can rear in bare bottom reef aquariums. Usually, they mount on live rocks. 

Tufted Joint Algae

Tufted Joint Algae Water Quality Requirements

Temperature72-86 Fahrenheits
Water hardness8-11 dKH
Salinity level1.024-1.026 Specific gravity
pH level8.1-8.3

Spaghetti Algae

Spaghetti algae is one of the water quality control plants in marine aquariums. If you introduce Spaghetti algae to your marine tank, they help you to reduce nitrates by absorbing nitrates.

It also releases oxygen to the tank. As a result of this, they support the balance of the ammonia cycle in your marine aquarium.

In addition to that, they cause a buffer pH level in your tank.

The special fact is, Spaghetti algae like to grow freely and float in your tank.

Spaghetti Algae

Spaghetti Algae Water Quality Requirements

Temperature78 Fahrenheits
Water hardness8-12 dKH
Salinity level1.023-1.025 Specific gravity
pH level7.8-8.4

Mermaid’s Fan Plant

Mermaid’s Fan Plant is a most popular plant in marine tanks. It has a unique shape because they grow as a single broad leaf.

They are bright green in color. The happy news is, Mermaid’s Fan Plant also can be kept in your bare bottom reef tank.

Because they can grow on live rocks. Also, they are reef-safe.

Mermaid’s Fan Plant

Mermaid’s Fan Plant Water Quality Requirements

Temperature72-78 Fahrenheits
Water hardness8-12 dKH
Salinity level1.023-1.025 Specific gravity
pH level8.1-8.4

In addition to these plants, you also can choose other saltwater plants for your bare bottom reef tank. But you should consider a few factors.

1.    The particular plant should be reef safe

2.    The particular plant can grow without sand substrate

3.   The particular plant should not badly affect the lives in your aquarium including fish species, non-fish species, and live plants.

Related How Long Can Aquarium Plants Survive In The Mail?

Better Bare Bottom Tank Vs Sand Bottom Tank

Bare Bottom Tanks Pros vs Cons

PROSCONS
The bare bottom reef tank is easy to clean and siphon. Because the lack of sand prevents fish waste and other contaminants from accumulating.No substrate. It reduces natural experience.
No need much worry about the cleaning crewFew beneficial bacteria are available
The bare bottom helps to control the waste. Substrate does not support the filter the waste in the tank, and they trap the wastes. Hence, accumulated waste deteriorates in the tank.  If you create rock structures, there is a risk. Because rock can easily fall or slide in bare bottoms.
In a bare bottom reef aquarium, you can place the power heads and blowers in any place. Because you do not worry about the blowing sands, gravels, and detritus around the water.  Cannot rear the corals that need to survive sand beds.
You can increase the water flow without any sandstorms blow around the aquariumSome marine water aquatic plants need sand or gravel substrate to establish
In bare bottom fish tanks allow you to identify where fish waste and other contaminants build up. 
Bare bottom reef aquarium setup does not allow to grow unnecessary guests in the tank like flatworms, bristle worms and cyanobacteria.
There is no sand or gravel substrate in your bare bottom aquarium. Because you do not have to spend money for the expensive sands and gravels.
Easy to maintain water quality parameters. Hence fish and coral can live happily
Power head and filter system can protect from sand and gravels
Easy to maintain and clean
Can use same water for 2,3 weeks

Sand Bed Aquarium Pros vs Cons

PROSCONS
Sand beds promote the natural experience and natural view to your reef aquarium.Substrates limit the water flow. With substrate you cannot increase the water flow at high level like bare bottom tanks.
Sand beds increase the amount of surface area to live beneficial bacteria. Sand bed can store large bioload in your aquarium. And it causes to increase the ammonia, nitrite, nitrates levels in your aquarium. This is harmful to your corals as well as fish species and non-fish species.
Also, sand beds provide habitat to some like jawfish, sand sifting gobies, wrasses and other small burrowing fish.When you have sand substrate, it is difficult to clean your tank.
Some coral also like to live in sand beds rather than bare bottom. Ex: plate corals (diaseris, herpolitha corals)Sand bottoms allow unnecessary guests to grow in the tank like flatworms, bristle worms and cyanobacteria.
A Sand substrate is better to hide something like equipment.You have to spend money to purchase high quality sands.
Through sands, you can soften the shape edges in your reef tanksand Cleaning is bit difficult

Read More Live Plants For Saltwater Aquariums | 9 plants to know |

About Dr.Chamika

Hello, I'm Dr. Chamika. I am Researcher in water and environmental chemistry. I am passionate fish keeper, with years of experience. My mission is to help other aquarists experience the joy of fish keeping.