Mr. Aqua 12 Long Aquascape – From Conception to Completion

This is a picture of our Mr. Aqua 12 Long Aquascape as it looks to this day

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The Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquarium has become increasingly popular in the aquascaping hobby due to its unique size and shape. Your options are almost limitless when it comes to creating a one of a kind layout. The wide variety of choices of what to do with this tank has not always been a blessing though. We really had to take a step back and weigh out all of our layout options, which took some time.

I am writing this article to share with those that are trying to decide whether or not to purchase the Mr. Aqua 12 Long for their next project, or those that may already have one and are scratching their head on what to do next. Continue reading to learn about the conception and maturity of our setup.

The conception

Here is a quick story about our vacation and how the observation of nature around us became our inspiration to purchase a Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquarium.

A couple of years ago, we were fortunate enough to take a trip to Oregon for a wedding. I had never been to the Pacific Northwest, but have friends and family that had been there. Their side of the conversation is always consistent – the landscape is beautiful and lush, and it always rains.

While we were there, we took a trip to Welches, and it was really beautiful. I have lived in the desert Southwest for a little more than 30 years, so this was like taking a trip to a different world! It had been several years since I have seen a landscape like that. If fairies existed, they would live here.

This is a picture of lots of trees along the Salmon River in Welches OregonWe hiked along the Salmon River, which is pretty close to Mt. Hood. The forest that lined the Salmon River was dense, and there were green trees, bushes, and mosses everywhere. The canopy of the trees was so thick, there were moments we could not see the sky above. While walking through the forest at this majestic location, I couldn’t help but think of Takashi Amano, and some of the stories that he told of nature he photographed and used as inspiration for some of his aquascapes. As I was thinking this, I was careful to observe how nature had arranged itself around us.

This is a picture of Welches, Oregon along the Salmon River. Very beautiful and green.

This area was beautiful!

The scene here reminded me of footage I had seen in documentaries about the forests in the U.K. or Japan. I was amazed at how tranquil this area was. I have never been to a place and been surrounded by the sounds of nature, but yet felt so closed in. The serenity I felt while hiking through this area was something I had never experienced.

This is a picture of a pile of rocks with moss growing all over them along the Salmon River. This was my first inspiration for my Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquascape

As we continued to walk toward the sound of water, I started to visualize our next project. We started to take pictures of the surrounding landscape, and suddenly everything became linear…

This is a picture of the Salmon River in Welches Oregon. This was the epiphany that I had about my Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquascape

We spent the better part of the day enjoying what God had blessed us with, grabbed some food on the way out and took off toward Portland to spend time with family.

The epiphany…

Like most folks reading this post, we spend a considerable amount of time watching YouTube videos that spotlight aquascaping, aquarium plant and animal care, equipment unboxing, and reviews. While binging on this content one evening, I happened to come across a delightful aquarium known as the Mr. Aqua 12 Long.

What I liked about this aquarium was it’s one of a kind shape and size. We are avid keepers of nano aquariums, and this really peaked my interest. At the time, we had an 8 gallon Mr. Aqua rimless, a 5 gallon Fluval Chi, and a 3 gallon JBJ Picotope, all in our living room! Don’t let me forget to mention the 10 gallon Aqueon we have in our office.

Where to put this Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquarium?

I love my fish, and I love to aquascape, but I do not love my house looking like the local fish store. We really had the itch to scape another tank, but could not think of a place in our living room to set one up.

We started looking at the sofa table sitting approximately a foot below the window in the front of our living room. It had some plants, a bunch of knick-knacks, and some other odds and ends sitting on it. I got the table for free a couple of years ago from a client that I did some work for. When he gave it to me, I didn’t really care for it too much. Now looking back, I’m glad I took it. It is very well made, out of birch (if I have my wood species correct), with glass shelves. We thought long and hard about whether or not we could make it work because the glass on the shelves was a little questionable.

After carefully measuring the table and checking the measurements against the specs of the tank, we decided to pull the trigger and purchase the Mr. Aqua 12 Long. We ordered the tank from Phoenix Tropical Fish and picked it up within a day or two.

The size was perfect!

This is a picture of our Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquarium right after we got it home and set it on our sofa tableWhen we got the aquarium home, it looked bigger than 12 gallons, which was pretty cool. We were also thankful that it did not consume our living room. It fit on the table perfectly, just below the direct light coming through the window. The aquarium was just wide enough to set on the wood part of the table with the glass shelf in between. I placed 1/8″ Luaun under the aquarium on the glass, and it was the perfect thickness to evenly distribute the weight.

First off, we purchased a single Kessil A80 Tuna Sun Light (with the Gooseneck) to check it out before we purchased the Spectral Controller and another light to make sure it would fit the setup. Second, we purchased a Jardli Mini Inflow and two Jardli Mini Outflows from Amazon. Most folks would laugh, but we set the tank in place, and admired an empty aquarium for months. The aquarium is placed right next to our Chaise lounge, so while watching T.V. at night, we had plenty of opportunity to discuss how we were going to lay it out.

That was just the beginning

During the months that followed, we searched for more equipment, hardscape supplies, livestock, and plants. We already had the theme, but now came the hard part – scaping this tank to look like what we envisioned. Anytime we had the chance, we were on the lookout for a piece of wood that would run parallel with the length of the aquarium that would give the appearance of a fallen tree. We also contemplated which type of rocks would look appropriate to achieve the desired look.

As you saw above in the photos of the forest along the Salmon River, the rocks were darker in color and rounded. I had an idea. The rocks we saw in Welches were rounded from water current, and we live in an area with a bunch of washes and small rivers. We took the Jeep to a local river, had a picnic, and hunted rocks.

This is a picture of us hunting rocks at a local riverbank

I bought a bottle of hydrochloric acid (as instructed by the King of DIY in this video) to test for carbonate hardness, and a couple of buckets. We had a great time, and found some really cool pieces.

I ordered 5 pounds of sand and a pound of lava rock sold by Substrate Source, and picked up two bags of Flourite Sand (not Flourite Red). We found a piece of driftwood from another LFS, and played with the layout for several weeks while we saved for a filter, another light, a Spectral Controller, cords, another jet glass outflow, and a few other miscellaneous items.

The setup

Because of the design of the table, I really had to think about how I was going to set up the equipment to keep this new environment happy and healthy. The bottom of the table is open, and there are no cabinets or cubbys to hide any gear. To complicate matters more, my wife requested that I not drill holes in the back of this table.  We figured once the equipment was in place, we could hide the wires, heater, etc. hanging on the back of the table and sitting on the bottom shelf with something creative. I spent a couple of hours walking through The Home Depot designing this contraption in my head. Here is the result of my brain storm-

Yes, this is what the inside of my mind looks like. A little messy…

This is all the gear for my Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquarium hanging off the back of my table This is a picture of the filter setup on our Mr. Aqua 12 Long aqurarium

I used a 1 x 2 bolted to a couple of storage hooks to hang the heater, CO2 diffuser and power strip from the back of the table. This was brilliant! I also found a piece of flat aluminum that I cut in two pieces that the two Kessil mini goosenecks clipped to perfectly. I felt like a genius.

How big of a filter did we need?

After careful research, we made the decision to purchase an Eheim 2213 canister filter. At first, I was worried that size filter may seem a little overkill, but I knew I would draw a lot of head pressure from the Ista inline heater and the IDS inline CO2 diffuser. I also wanted to place an outflow at each end of the aquarium with the return in the middle in hopes that we would get decent water circulation. To do this, I had to insert a T-connector evenly between the right and the left outflow. I knew this bend would impede the flow as well.

After I installed all of the equipment, I tested the filter flow and it was pushing 60 gallons per hour. This was about one half of the manufacturers rating. Eheim claims this model will push 440 liters/116 gallons per hour. In any case, the entire volume of water in our empty aquarium was turning over 5 times per hour. I was happy with that.

It was coming together nicely

I have to pat myself on the back because everything worked as planned. As for the equipment still showing under the table, we thought we would make some kind of a miniature Chinese room divider and use one of the pictures of the Salmon River for the screens, then set it on the bottom shelf in front of the filter. I’ll update this article with a new picture if we ever get around to that. At this point, our Mr. Aqua 12 Long was coming along nicely.

This is a picture of our Aquatek 6 way CO2 splitterFor CO2 injection, I was able to find an Aquatek 6 way CO2 splitter on Amazon. We were already injecting CO2 into our 8 gallon, which is placed next to where we were going to set our new Mr. Aqua 12 Long. The splitter was about $65.00, and it took a little maintenance to get it to stop leaking before we could use it. With a little thread tape and Channel Locks, I was able to make it work. After testing all the connections with soap and water, we placed the cylinder between the aquarium stands and hid it behind a curtain. This was the perfect solution.

We were already using an IDS inline diffuser to inject CO2 into our 8 gallon rimless that I was happy with, so it was an easy decision to use the same on this setup.

The scape

Of the two of us, my wife is the one with the ability to take our vision to the next level. I like to build the furniture and set up the equipment, but she is very creative when it comes to layout.

After months of staring at an empty Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquarium, we compiled a decent little plant list. Our idea was to try and replicate the foliage in the pictures that we took while in Welches. As you can see in this image, there is no particular order of plants.

This is a picture of the forest surrounding Multomah Falls in Oregon

We both decided that the layout of the plants should be a scattering of random vegetation, quite opposite of a Dutch style planted aquarium. Our final decision came down to plants that looked like ferns, bushes with small leaves, and ragged patches of bushy foliage.

Finally, down to business

Several months after the purchase of our Mr. Aqua 12 Long, the day came to assemble our project. We finally obtained all the equipment and hardscape materials, and had a firm plan on the layout of the scape. We cleared the living room floor, and carefully laid out all the materials.

This is another picture of our living room while setting up our Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquarium This is a picture of our living room while setting up our Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquarium

While my wife started to lay out the rocks and wood we were going to use, I was in the backyard doing a final rinse on the Flourite Sand.

A side note on Flourite Red Sand…

I would suggest to those who have never used this as a substrate, make sure to rinse thoroughly. And then rinse again. The Flourite Black Sand is dusty, but this particular substrate material is really dusty! I have read in forum posts about people who chose not to rinse this product, or only once. That is a huge mistake. The cloudiness takes days to go away, and once the dust settles, every little movement in the aquarium stirs it back up in a red cloud.

This is a picture of us smoothing out the Flourite Red Sand in our Mr. Aqua 12 Long Aquarium

We used the lava rock that we purchased from Substrate Source under the Flourite Sand because we banked the sand up in the back corners to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. One reason for this was to prevent anaerobic bacteria pockets from forming under the deep compacted sand.

Is anaerobic bacteria really an issue?

This has been a controversial topic in this hobby whether or not this is necessary. I remember reading an article (Barr Report?) that mentioned the fact that lake beds have several feet of mud and silt at the bottom of them and that doesn’t cause anaerobic buildup. I could be remembering only part of the story.

Over the 3 years that we have been in this hobby, I have read a substantial amount of information on everything pertaining aquascaping, so I would suggest you do a little research on this topic. Feel free to comment below if this is not correct.

Whether or not anaerobic bacteria is an issue, Flourite Sand is not cheap, and lava rock is in comparison to the volume it fills.

This is a picture of us adding small rocks and sticks to our Mr. Aqua 12 Long Aquarium to add the natural effect of a river bottom

The finishing touches

When we were done adding the lava rock and Flourite sand, we placed Seachem root tabs under the substrate we had banked up in the corners. Flourite Sand is not organic like ADA or other plant substrates. It is a fracted porous clay that is known to absorb nutrients and never break down, but an inert material in itself.

Lastly, we poured tan sand around the front left side of the aquarium, through the middle, and toward the back to replicate a river bed.

This is a picture of our Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquarium when we were done with the hardscape and before we planted

We (she) continuously worked on the hardscape for about 7 hours and it came out perfectly. In spite of the random chaos we were trying to replicate, each little pile of sticks and stones were strategically placed.

The Plants

We have been in every LFS in town, and the plant choices seem to be the same. Every now and then we will find something unique, but for the most part the selection is pretty mundane. We always try to shop local first, but sometimes have to take our business to an online shop.

I read on the Arizona Aquatic Plants Enthusiasts forum about a place in Tucson called Arizona Nature Aquatics. After I visited their website, I really wanted to pay them a visit. We drove an hour and a half to get there, but it was worth the drive. This store was one of the finest nano aquarium stores I have ever been in. I may have liked it more than Aqua Forest Aquarium in San Francisco. It is clean, nicely laid out, and evident that the owners are experienced in the hobby. They have a great selection of healthy nano fish, hard to find plants, and cool nano tanks. During our visit, we were able to purchase a majority of the plants we had discussed planting in our new scape. Please note: as of 2021 they have moved to online sales only. You can view their online store here.

This is a picture of our Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquarium after the initial planting

We purchased Rotala “Indica”, Hydrocotyle leucocephala “Brazilian Pennywort”, Hydrocotyle tripartita sp.”Japan”, Plagiochilaceae sp. “Cameroon Moss”, Fissidens fontanus “Phoenix Moss”, Riccardia chamedryfolia “Coral Moss”, Hemianthus micranthemoides “Baby Tears”, and Syngonanthus sp. “Belem” (which sadly didn’t make it because our water is too hard).

The Livestock

We are always on the lookout for new and exciting nano fish. While we were in San Francisco a couple of years ago visiting family, we had the opportunity to visit Ocean Aquarium. This place was fascinating! Cory from Aquarium Co-Op made a YouTube video about this place that I recommend watching. Anyway, this was the first time I saw the Chili Red Rasbora (Boraras brigittae). I was intrigued at the size and color of these fish, and fell in love with them immediately. Since that day, I was determined to add these fish to one of our scapes.

There is a local fish store in our area called The Pet Shop that I found to carry the best selection of nano fish in the Valley. The second time we visited this shop they had a great selection of Chili’s. We currently have 15 of these guys swimming around in our tank.

This is a picture of our Neon Blue Rasboras 'Sundadanio axelrodi' and our Chili Red Rasboras 'Boraras brigittae' in our Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquariumWe recently added another species of nano fish called a Neon Blue Rasbora (Sundadanio axelrodi ‘blue’). Sometimes I leap before I look, and that is what I did when I purchased these guys. I thought they would be relatively easy to care for since our Chili’s are super easy, but that was not the case. They are very picky eaters, and the first couple of days I didn’t think I was going to ever get them to eat. They seem to be slowly coming around and taking my offerings as they settle in their new home.

This is a picture of our Scarlet Badis 'Dario dario' in our Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquariumAnother one of my favorite fish is the Scarlet Badis (Dario dario). We were able to locate this species a on several occasions, but finding the perfect color was challenging.

Maybe one more species?

At one point, we were considering adding South American Green Darter Tetras. They are beautiful fish and would make a great addition to any tank, but we have concluded that our tank is starting to look pretty busy and decided to wait. Besides, these fish like to be in groups of 6 or more, and at a max size of 3 inches, we may be overcrowding our small aquarium.

This is a picture of our Red Cherry Shrimp 'Neocaridina sp' in our Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquariumIn my opinion, one of the most important inhabitants living in our Mr. Aqua 12 Long are the Red Cherry Shrimp. These guys (or any Neocaridina sp.) are vital to have for maintaining a healthy environment because of their superb cleaning skills. They make an excellent cleaning crew, and are sure to catch any food that may fall to the substrate. They also pick at decaying plant matter. I’m not 100% sure how much of that stuff they consume, but I think they eat some of it. Due to their prolific breading habits, we never have a shortage of them.

The completion

This is one of the most detailed setups we have created to date. It seems with each scape we do, we pick up on new details that make each endeavor a little more dynamic.

Our Mr. Aqua 12 Long has changed over the year since we started this project. A few of our previous articles explain how we battled with a few different types of algae, the worst being Black Beard Algae. You can read about our battle with BBA and changes to our layout in the article we wrote about “How to Remove Black Beard Algae“.

We still have all the original plants with the exception of the Belem, and have since added a few more species. Our tank now consists of:

Plants and Animals

Plants:  Rotala “Indica”, Hydrocotyle leucocephala “Brazilian Pennywort”, Hydrocotyle tripartita sp.”Japan”, Plagiochilaceae sp. “Cameroon Moss”, Fissidens fontanus “Phoenix Moss”, Riccardia chamedryfolia “Coral Moss”, Hemianthus callitrichoides “Dwarf Baby Tears”, Annubias Nana “Petite”, Cambomba carolinianas, Proserpinaca palustris L.”Mermaid Weed”, Java Fern Lace “Windelov”, and Pogostemon deccanensis.

Livestock: At the moment we have 15 Chili Red Rasboras (Boraras brigittae), 8 Neon Blue Rasboras (Sundadanio axelrodi ‘blue’), 2 Scarlet Badis (Dario dario), and half a zillion Red Cherry Shrimp (Neocaridina sp.).


Lighting: We have two Kessil A80 Tuna Sun lights controlled with a Kessil Spectral Controller, mounted on mini goosenecks about 15 inches from the top of the substrate with a photo period of 7 hours. If you would like to know our programming schedule, let us know in the comments below.

Heater: We are using an Ista 150 watt inline heater set at 74 degrees.

Food and Ferts

Food: We feed the Chili’s a mixture of Bloodworm flakes, Seachem Chlorella flakes and Cyclops. The Neon Blue’s are eating a mix of Daphnia, frozen Bloodworm, Chlorella flakes and Cyclops. The shrimp eat just about everything. The Scarlet Badis eat the shrimp and an occasional Bloodworm or Cyclops that float through the water column.

Ferts: Our dosing regimen consists of 1 ml of Seachem Flourish Comprehensive once a week (after water change), and the Seachem Flourish root tabs we placed under the Flourite sand.

CO2: We inject pressurized CO2 that measures approximately 30 ppm that comes on 3 hours before lights on and shuts off an hour before lights out. It is diffused with an IDS inline diffuser that does a decent job of breaking down the bubbles to a fine mist before entering the water column.

Water Maintenance: We raise our glass jet outflows at night to aerate the water and try and break the biofilm on the surface (See the video here). Water changes are done weekly using a 50/50 mix of RO and dechlorinated tap.

The cost

Mr. Aqua 12 Long Aquarium – $80.00
Eheim 2213 Canister filter – $115.00
Glass Outflows and Inflow – $44.00
Drop Checker – $25.00
Kessil Lights and Spectral Controller – $375.00
Substrate – $50.00
Plants – $175.00
Home Depot parts and supplies – $30.00
Aquatek 6 Way CO2 splitter – $65.00
IDS Inline CO2 diffuser – $15.00
Ista inline heater – $65.00
Livestock – $150.00
Misc. costs – $50.00 (I know there has to be other stuff that I have forgotten such as root tabs, etc.)

The original total – $1239.00

These were our initial setup costs to get our Mr. Aqua 12 Long habitable. There have been residual costs along the way as with any aquarium, but I stop keeping track after all major expenses.


Because of where this hobby has taken us, I am find myself more often than not observing how nature arranges itself. Having the opportunity to replicate this small scale piece of nature in my home will never cease to be a wonder to me.

We purchased our aquarium about 6 months before we set it up which gave us time to plan out every detail. It is really enjoyable looking at the micro-habitat we created, and we had a lot of fun planning it out and building it. We absolutely love our Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquarium. The placement in our living room is perfect, and it is just the right size.

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