What do you imagine when you picture a reef? You’re probably imagining bright colors, thousands of fish, exotic creatures like star fish and corals, a warm sun, and cerulean blue waters. There’s probably also a sparsely populated tropical island nearby full of white sand, palm trees, and a couple of pina coladas with your name on them.
Well, hold on a second. Why don’t you imagine reefs with grey skies, frigid temperatures, and snow covering the nearby shoreline? Believe it or not, coldwater reefs exist. They may not be as visually impressive as their tropical cousins, but coldwater reefs offer a truly unique aesthetic for aquascapers who want something a tad different.
So, what’s the deal with coldwater aquariums? Are they just like tropical reefs but colder? Well, yes and no. You can find similar creatures in both biotopes. There are shrimp, crabs, fish, anemone, eel, and other denizens of the deep. The one major difference, though, is that you won’t be able to create an aquascape dominated by colorful corals. The farther you move away from the equator, the scarcer coral becomes.
But don’t dismiss coldwater reefs too quickly. They may not have a wide variety of coral, but they still have captivating beauty that’s hard to overlook. Replace those bright, neon colors with slightly more subdued hues and you end up with a one-of-a-kind aquascape unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
What I love about coldwater reefs is that all of the creatures in a tank can share the same color palette. For example, take a look at this gorgeous coldwater aquarium. Red, orange, and dull yellow plants dominate the aquascape, with a few dashes of purple to round out the color palette. These subdued colors stand in stark contrast to the bright green colors that break free of the red-brown haze. Altogether, it’s a stunning piece that’s toys with our preconceptions about aquatic beauty.
That, I think, is the key to understanding coldwater aquariums. They’re truly quite beautiful, but you have to know how to appreciate subtle beauty. I’m sure that a lot of people would turn up their noses at this white, pink, and brown aquarium, but I adore the gentle colors and the ghostly scene. It almost looks like something out of a dream — or perhaps even a surreal nightmare.
The other main appeal of these frigid aquariums is that they allow people to create aquascapes of local wildlife. Take me, for example. I don’t live near the equator, so if I wanted to create an aquascape that represents local wildlife then I wouldn’t be able to fill it with lionfish, pink coral, or vibrant tang fish. My only options would be a freshwater aquascape inspired by a local river or a coldwater reef aquascape. For saltwater enthusiasts, this is a no-brainer.
Just remember these pictures the next time you think about getting a saltwater aquarium. Yes, tropical aquariums are absolutely beautiful and incredibly popular, but don’t get trapped into thinking that a coral reef is your only saltwater option. There are millions of beautiful sea creatures out there, and some of them would absolutely love to live in your frosty coldwater aquarium.