Do I need a background for my tank?

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Bob Mehen helps a reader decide whether or not to have a background for an aquascape.

Q: I’ve noticed that a lot of aquascapes don’t have backgrounds. So, what gives — are they really necessary? Are there any benefits in having one?

RICHARD HUDDLESTON, VIA EMAIL

A: Bob says: I think it’s worth bearing in mind that many of the high end aquascapes that feature in magazines and elsewhere, are not intended as long-term habitats for fish. It’s not unusual for them to either only have the fish in them for the final ‘competition’ photograph, or be short term projects, stripped down and re-scaped every few months. As a result, rightly or wrongly, the fish is not always the top priority as they simply won’t be resident for long. It’s no coincidence that photos of particularly stark, spartan designs such as ‘Iwagumi’ usually show tightly grouped, aesthetically pleasing shoals of fish that, when settled into a more natural tank, would disperse out around the aquarium. This being said, many of the more lush, heavily planted aquascapes offer plenty of cover and the required sense of security that means they can be presented without a background. 

Dark backgrounds help ‘set off’ the plants, décor and fish as well as offering a great sense of security to them, but also fulfil the important job of hiding all the ugly cables, pipework and inevitable dust and detritus that sit behind the average aquarium. Having your tank without a background requires an extra level of maintenance. To keep it looking sharp you’ll need to clean the back glass inside and out as well as the front and sides. Top aquascapers spend a lot of time and money on minimalist filters and lights featuring glass pipework and carefully routed cables, while the average aquarist just hides the whole shebang behind a piece of black card or photograph of a coral reef.