10 Most Bizarre 80s Fish Tank Ornaments: Eye-Catching Oddities

Alison Page

Alison Page


Bizarre 80s Fish Tank Ornaments

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The 1980s marked an era of exuberance and bold experimentation, not just in fashion and music but also in the world of aquarium decor. I remember visiting my college friends’ homes and admiring the outlandish decor in their fish tanks, then catching the bus to my local fish store to buy something even more bizarre for my goldfish tank!

It was quite a competition to see who could find the strangest, most eye-catching ornament out there!

In a nod to those great days, this nostalgic article delves into the eccentric world of 1980s aquarium decor. It explores the most bizarre throwback ornaments that made a splash and discusses their impact on fish behavior and tank health.

Key Takeaways

  • Back to the ’80s Aquarium Aesthetics: The article fondly recalls the wildly popular and outlandish 1980s aquarium decorations, from neon-colored skeletons to rock ‘n’ roll shipwrecks, emphasizing their vibrant appeal but also their potential to cause stress or harm to fish due to their materials or design.
  • Fascination with the Outrageous: With a focus on the distinct visual impact of 1980s tank ornaments like underwater castles and bubble-blowing treasure chests, the article highlights the era’s unique approach to aquarium design while noting the practical challenges of maintenance and fish safety.
  • A Shift in Modern Aquascaping: While recognizing the nostalgia for these retro decorations, which are available from online marketplaces and possibly stowed away in attics, the article advises modern aquarists about the preference for natural-looking habitats that promote the well-being of their pet fish over quirky, novelty items.

Neon-Colored Skeletons

decorative Neon-Colored Skeleton of fish

Today, we love to watch brightly colored Glofish flitting through the aquarium. However, back in the 1980s, you’d be more likely to spot a neon-colored skeleton lurking amid the foliage!

These decorations were all the rage in the 1980s, adding an eerie yet captivating ambiance to tanks. These skeletal decorations came in various shapes and sizes, including fish bones and human skeletons. The bones were painted in fluorescent colors that glowed under blacklight, so you could often see them when the aquarium was in total darkness – creepy!

Many new drivers hung the wobbly skeletons from their rearview mirrors. I must confess to having one myself, although Mr Spooky never found his way into my fish tank!

Although there was no denying the kitschy appeal of these ornaments, their impact on fish behavior was less benign. Many timid fish weren’t fazed by the skeletons themselves but found their brilliant colors rather alarming, sometimes leading to stress and causing the poor fish to hide in horror.

In addition, the paint used on these multipurpose decorations often leached toxins into the water, posing a risk to the fish.

Underwater Castles

aquarium with a stone castle

Long before Game of Thrones was ever thought of, no 1980s aquarium was complete without a grandiose underwater castle. These elaborate resin structures featured multiple turrets, flags, and intricate detailing, creating a fairytale kingdom sunken in the depths.

These castles came in various sizes, from modest ones to fit in small tanks to huge, sprawling citadels that dominated larger setups. Unfortunately, these fabulous chateaux might have looked great but posed practical challenges for fish tank owners.

Their intricate designs, myriad nooks and crannies, and rough-textured surfaces made them difficult to clean. The longer you left your castle without cleaning it, the tougher it was to get rid of algae and debris trapped among the resin brickwork.

In addition, these ornaments often had sharp edges and rough surfaces that could snag trailing fins or damage scales. That often led to injuries and infections, especially in long-finned varieties like betta fish.

Despite these drawbacks, underwater castles remained popular among aquarists seeking to create a whimsical underwater landscape. You can still buy them today, although thankfully, the materials and designs tend to be a lot more fish-friendly than their predecessors.

Bubble-Blowing Treasure Chests

decorative Bubble-Blowing Treasure Chest

No 1980s aquarium was complete without that most iconic ornament of the era, the bubble-blowing treasure chest!

These brightly painted decorations were connected to a length of airline and a pump that pushed a stream of bubbles through the treasure chest, causing the lid to open revealing the pirate’s loot inside.

The treasure chests were typically made of resin or plastic and were usually decorated with faux jewels and gold coins for added realism. You could even get a comedy pirate with a hooked hand to stand guard over his ill-gotten gains!

Although undeniably charming and fun additions to your aquarium, the mechanism responsible for producing bubbles often failed, leaving frustrated hobbyists groping around in the water, trying to fix it. Also, the constant release of bubbles disrupted the water’s surface, which could be annoying to some fish species.

That said, in an aquarium full of ornaments and plastic plants, surface tension disruption did improve the oxygenation of the environment, which was ultimately good for the occupants.

Submarine Hideouts

Submarine Hideout

In the 1980s, we were obsessed with all things oceanic in the wake of the Jaws movies, which was reflected in our fish tank decoration.

Submarine hideouts offered an intriguing glimpse into the fascinating world of underwater exploration and graced many retro aquariums. These ornaments were designed to resemble miniature submarines, complete with periscopes, propellers, and portholes. Some even featured movable parts, such as rotating propellers or retractable periscopes, adding an interactive element to the tank.

Although small fish, such as guppies, tetras, and rasboras, enjoyed the enrichment provided by all those neat hiding spots and loved exploring the sub, its bulky design could overcrowd a small tank, preventing the water from flowing through the filtration system. That eventually compromised water quality and meant you had to clean and replace the filter media more often. Also, these submarine ornaments’ intricate attention to detail made them extremely fiddly and time-consuming to clean. Algae quickly accumulated in the crevices and joints of the model, and detritus settled in the decoration’s bottom, where it was tricky to get at.

Space-Age UFOs

alien aquarium decorations

The late 1970s and early 1980s saw us all obsessed with outer space, time travel, and all things futuristic. Bearing that in mind, it’s little wonder that UFO-themed ornaments would find their way into aquariums.

I recall my best friend’s older brother had a fantastic flying saucer decoration in his fish tank. The Starship Enterprise lookalike was equipped with otherworldly lights, a propulsion system, and even photon torpedo launchers!

However, these UFOs’ odd shape made it awkward to integrate into a tank’s aquascape. In addition, the metallic paints and finishes used on these decorations could sometimes leach toxins into the water, posing a risk to fish health if not properly sealed or coated.

Fake Plants

Little fish in fish tank with plastic plants

1980s fashion was all about jackets with massive shoulder pads, bright colors, and metallic fabrics, which translated to the aquarium as faux foliage. If you had a fish tank during this flamboyant era, fake plants were integral to creating an underwater paradise to rival those iconic scenes from a Jacques Cousteau documentary right at home in your fish tank!

The range of fake aquarium plants at that time was staggering! You could choose garish silk colors that bore no resemblance whatsoever to real aquatic plant species, although they did compliment your decorations and complete the outlandish effect with gravel in matching vibrant shades.

I recall being the proud owner of a purple silk specimen with pointed leaves and unlikely posies of bright white blossom. As a backdrop, I loved my red water hair grass plant. In fairness, this plant did provide depth and fullness, giving dimension and depth to my landscape, but it most likely looked frightful!

And when you went away to university, and your parents took down your fish tank, these faux plants often ended up in vases for display on shelves or tabletops, having first been cleaned and their cargo of algae and fish waste. Nice!

The main issue with these faux plants was that many were cheap imports made with questionable materials that could exude toxins in the water. In addition, most of the plastic versions had sharp points that could injure your fish.


figurine of a shark with an open mouth

One of the most popular movies of all time was Jaws! The original 1970s movie tells the story of a man-eating Great White Shark that terrorized an ocean resort and was a huge worldwide hit. In the 1980s, the movie and its two sequels were still popular, and that was reflected in the hobby by the appearance of model shark decorations in fish tanks. I even recall a shark that had bubbles coming out of its mouthful of vicious teeth!

The main issue with these kitsch models was their sharp dorsal fins and teeth, just waiting to injure a passing fish.

Interestingly, it wasn’t only model sharks that proved popular in the 1980s. Real freshwater sharks became a regular addition to many community tanks, where they prowled ominously among the strange plants.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Shipwrecks


Back in the 1980s, we loved tales of maritime adventure, and rock ‘n’ roll shipwrecks became a staple in 1980s aquariums. Quite why a sunken ship dating from the 1700s would have guitars, drums, and other musical instruments on its deck is a mystery in itself. However, these fun decorations added a unique focal point to any aquarium and certainly made a talking point.

However, as was the case with many 1980s fish tank decorations, the tiny details in the ships’ designs often harbored hidden crevices where debris and detritus could accumulate. That meant removing the decoration and scrubbing it fairly regularly. Again, the sharp edges of these ornaments posed a risk to delicate fish, potentially causing injury or stress.

Lava Lamp Caves

lava lamp cave aquarium decoration

The popularity of lava lamps in the late 1970s persisted into the next decade, and lava lamp caves offered a mesmerizing blend of light and movement to aquariums. These ornaments featured hollow cavities filled with colorful, bubbling liquid just like a lava lamp, creating an otherworldly ambiance in the tank.

Although these decorations looked the business, especially at night with the main tank lights switched off, the liquid’s fluctuating light and constant movement could disturb the fish. More worryingly, the materials used to create the bubbling effect often deteriorated over time, potentially leaking and sometimes wiping out a whole fish population.

Retro Robot Divers

Retro Robot Diver aquarium decoration

Retro robot divers were a quirky conversation piece that was seen in many 1980s fish tanks. These crazy sci-fi-influenced ornaments were outfitted in old-style diving gear, complete with a goldfish bowl helmet. Some later versions were designed to function as a bubbler, but their bulky design meant these fun decorations were only suitable for use in larger tanks.

The strange divers didn’t provide anywhere for fish to hide or explore and were only really there to bring novelty value to the aquascape. Also, the paints used to give the ornaments a futuristic metallic finish tended to leach harmful chemicals into the water, leading to mass fish kills in extreme cases.

Final Thoughts

The 1980s witnessed a veritable cornucopia of bizarre aquarium ornaments that captured the imagination of aquarists with their novelty and eccentricity and reflected the flamboyance of the time. However, their impact on fish behavior and tank health was not always positive.

These days, most hobbyists prefer a natural-looking tank for aesthetic reasons, and we know that fish are far more likely to settle and thrive in a tank that closely replicates their natural habitat.

However, you can still find many of these retro tank decorations on sites like Etsy and eBay. You might even get lucky and find an old aquarium box discarded in your attic like this lucky Reddit contributor.

Just remember that many of these quirky 1980s fish tank decorations are not the best choice for your fish, and some are simply impractical. That said, you could still use them to create a nostalgic display on your fish room shelf.

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