Minecraft - Nether Aquarium

Posted by brilokuloj on Feb 20, 2020

Hello! I’m Will – you might know me from this very website – and this is my new ongoing project where I try to build stuff in Minecraft featuring the latest blocks.

Quite recently (as of the time of me writing this) Mojang has released their ‘snapshot’ preview builds for the upcoming 1.16 Nether Update, which is quite exciting, as they’re finally adding new biomes to the Nether! And boy, does it come with a lot of new blocks!

To keep things simple for you but challenging for me, I’m sticking to ‘one-chunk’ builds, which means they have to fit in a 16x16 square.

And today, I’m making an aquarium!

Nether Wart blocks

Nether Wart Blocks (which I think should get a rename to Crimson Wart at this point) have been around for a long time, and I’ve never used them for anything because I honestly found them ugly, but the recent teal Warped Wart variant adds a new dimension of color to the once-monochrome palette of the Nether.

When I was looking at these two blocks, I got to thinking about how much they could look like coral if they were placed in a tank. That got me thinking “this would be great for an aquarium”!


Minecraft added the beautiful but endangered coral in 1.13 (Update Aquatic), and until 1.14 (Village & Pillage), coral blocks were non-renewable. In a move that frustrates me deeply, they’ve updated it so that the Wandering Trader now sells coral blocks in exchange for emeralds. To me, coral blocks being limited in supply just makes sense: if you want them, you have to take them out of the ocean in order to transplant them into your build, potentially killing them in the process. Coral blocks are the only blocks in Minecraft that can die, and that reflects on their real-life fragility – it’s very likely at this rate that by 2100 we will have no coral reefs left. Even Mojang recognized this, because with the release of Update Aquatic, they donated $100,000 to the largest environmental nonprofit in America in hopes of helping tackle climate change. So, why make them renewable at all?

I’m sure there’s an element of wish-fulfillment and escapism to that decision, and that’s fine. How simple life would be if we could buy our way out of burning our oceans, right? I’m not a party pooper, Minecraft is meant to be fun. My wife likes to dig unending 1x1 tunnels to mine out resources, so don’t take me as a person who judges people’s morality based on how they play video games. I’m just more roleplay-driven, so I like minimizing my player character’s often-destructive role in the environment.

The aquarium build

So here is a waterless, synthetic tank with absolutely no ‘real’ coral in it at all. You can find artificial coral in real life, mostly for use within tacky fish tanks, though that wasn’t the look I was going for here. I decided to make this a fake display that looks relatively convincing from a distance, something you could put in the far wall of your base. Think of it as more like a background piece.

I think some people in the audience would love to inform me this is actually called a terrarium, to which I say: I’m pretty sure it would be an infernarium, which is absolutely nothing and doesn’t exist, and this is supposed to look like aquatic life. So let’s call it an aquarium and get on with our day.

I didn’t want to overthink it too much, so I started with a giant box to show off the new blocks clearly. If you were to make this an installation in your house, I think it would look great with a cylinder shape – maybe around a spiral staircase, or in the middle of an imperial staircase (that cool kind of foyer with the two staircases you can walk underneath).

Since the snapshot was quite fresh when I built this, this was the first time ever I made a large structure without WorldEdit. Gasp! I had to learn the /fill command, which is as simple as writing down the first XYZ location and then the second XYZ location. Did you know that’s way more easy now because it auto-fills the XYZ of the block you’re looking at? Just select it with the arrow keys and hit tab. I still managed to screw it up several times. And boy, that first time I typed /undo and realized it wasn’t going to work… Oops…

The box’s corners are Quartz Pillar, with Quartz Stairs for the moulding, Cyan Stained Glass blocks for the walls, and a rim of Cyan Concrete underneath the glass. The cyan glass is, in my opinion, the most important; it gives the color depth that you’re missing from the lack of water, which can help with some of the weirder-looking blocks.

The interior

Building the coral structures is super easy on Creative, and I’d imagine relatively easy on Survival as long as you have patience and your preferred filler block. I basically just made asymmetric Y shapes, and I think that worked fine. If you’re building something that will mix into pregenerated terrain, I encourage studying the actual coral in the game and trying to match that.

The floor of this build is where all the interesting decoration is, so if you build something like this yourself, I strongly recommend studying the line-of-vision of your viewers. Walk into your build and try to pretend that you have no idea what to expect – how clearly can you see the structures and details? How much of it do you want to be seen? If the viewer will be flush with the floor of the tank and there’s no vertical element to your build, maybe make the coral taller and don’t worry so much about the bottom.

I would have preferred to start the tank on gravel, but you have to place most of these decorations on Soul Soil, so we’ll deal with that – mercifully, the cyan glass mutes the brown tones. The ‘coral fans’ are Crimson Roots and Warped Roots. The block that looks like a smaller version of Warped Roots is actually Nether Sprouts, which is oddly-named and non-renewable, and has no Crimson counterpart; I mixed it in for decoration purposes, but I might leave it out personally if they never become farmable.

Close up of the interior

I still wanted this to look like an actual aquarium and not a psilocybin grow box, so I didn’t limit myself to just Nether blocks. I mixed Podzol in with the soul soil so that I could place down Tall Grass. Sea Pickles are great decoration, but they don’t give off light if they’re not underwater, so I put Sea Lanterns in the floor to light up the base… and to disable monster spawning, because I wasn’t planning on keeping zombies in here.

I might as well acknowledge the Sponge blocks. In my excitement, I had forgotten that sponge is also a non-renewable block. You can acquire it through defeating the Elder Guardian boss that spawns in randomly-generated Ocean Monument structures, which feels much less destructive than literally ripping it out of the ground… but the Elder Guardian does not respawn, meaning you’re only getting 3 per each Monument, unless you do decide to pilfer the structure itself.

Boy, that’s complicated! If Minecraft sustainability is a little too silly for you then go ahead and just use the darn sponges. You can mix them with Wet Sponge for some green tones. I think Lime Glazed Terracotta would be a great substitute depending on if you’re OK with how inorganic it looks (just remember to give yourself a little spin while you’re placing it). If not, maybe the new Honeycomb block?

I thought vines would be a great final touch, and I still stand by that, but they frustrate me whenever I try to use them – they just seem to go everywhere. This was my first time using the new Weeping Vines, which attach directly to the bottom (not the side!) of a block and don’t spread outward. I actually like them a lot for that reason, and would love an overworld vine variant that functions similarly.

Finally, I capped the coral off with Shroomlights for more natural lighting… which I will readily admit breaks the immersion a little. If you don’t like them, maybe you could install some more sea lanterns in the ceiling glass?

Uh, why?

You might be wondering why anyone would want an aquarium without water when Minecraft’s ocean life is so rich, but they were actually a fairly common build before fish mobs were added in 1.13. All we had to work with were squid! (And then Guardians, which aren’t very nice…) The visibility in water was also much lower back then, so elaborate underwater builds were often pointless, especially without Sea Lanterns or Sea Pickles to light them up.

The earliest aquariums were often just glorified water fixtures. Especially before there were any aquatic mobs to speak of, they often just amounted to underwater domes. I still find them quite oddly beautiful, don’t get me wrong!

In late 2011 came a fully-functional fish tank long before the addition of fish mobs. How? Well, you could still catch fish with a fishing rod, they just didn’t exist in the overworld. The initial concept by SnugSites was to throw a Raw Cod item onto a table, then put an ice block over it. The item drop would continue floating charmingly in its ‘tank’… at least until it despawned. This obvious issue inspired a refinement by BrowsOfSteel, which featured a dispenser system that could run for 2 days straight before needing to be refilled. This design is very neat, but no longer viable, as drops are now pushed out by placed blocks.

A fish outside of an ice block

Most designs from that point onward were variations of this, up until 2013 when player heads became a viable option. Map pixel art became an option around this time as well (technically an option since the implementation of maps in 2011, but they were overhauled to be more humanly usable in 2012). Any ocean-life enthusiasts who wanted a truly interactive experience would have to resort to mods, of which there were plenty.


Nowadays, you can just make an aquarium and fill it with water and put fish in it and be happy. But who knows – maybe you don’t want to go through the trouble, maybe you want to put an interactive element inside the tank.

You could install this into a wall, and behind the opposing 3 glass walls of the tank, you could put flowing water. You could even fill this with water anyway if you’re OK with swapping out the floor decoration, especially since coral fans can be grown with bone meal. Or you could double down on it being a terrarium, remove the sponges, and add more Nether blocks, like the new fungi and what-have-you.

The world is your oyster. Uh, your squid. Your raw cod.

Anyways, thanks for reading. If you like these, feel free to support me on Patreon, where I’ll be taking requests and posting previews and all sorts of stuff. Have fun!

Categories: gaming

Tagged: game builds minecraft