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In my tank I have 2" of the back cordoned off from the rest of the tank in a temporary yet messy arrangement. I'm using aquasoil, have it pretty well planted, and plan to add livestock once the tank insta-cycles. First I need a better divider to separate the back from the front, to keep substrate, fish, snails, and shrimp out, for a few weeks to a month until the 3d background comes in. From personal experience, it's easiest if I put the background in first but the plants came early and the background is going to take 3-4 weeks, so I had to move forward.

Is there any kind of cheap and stiff material I can pick up from a place like Home Depot? Something big enough that I can cut down to a little less than 30"x12", that won't get waterlogged and damaged, or leak chemicals into the water. I considered the kind of fish divider done with two binder clips and a mesh net, but I don't think it will be sturdy or stiff enough to also keep the substrate back.
 

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I have made dividers for systems using eggcrate, zip ties and plastic canvas mesh. You could get a large sheet of eggcrate and zip tie the plastic canvas mesh sheets to it. Non-toxic materials and will allow good flow. If you don't know what I mean by plastic canvas mesh, just Google it and some images should pop up. I don't know how well it will keep the substrate out, but it does work for fish, snails and shrimp.
 
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