Live rock has always been a controversial topic within the aquarium hobby. Rock harvested from oceanic reefs has been a staple for reef enthusiasts for many years. It’s hard to replicate the look of a coral reef in a closed environment without the use of natural live rock. The problem is, it takes a lot longer for the live rock beds to recover than it does for dealers to harvest it. Removing natural rock reduces the amount of locations for new corals to settle and develop, so collection threatens the existing coral reefs as corals have less suitable area to colonize.
Over the past 20 years or so, some companies have been creating and marketing Aquacultured, man-made forms of live rock. The concept is simple; carbonate based rock is mined or manufactured then placed in locations off-shore to be colonized. Within a couple of years, the rock becomes “live” with a ton of organisms including corals, macro algaes, beneficial microorganisms and other invertebrates. This rock can be very fresh, meaning you will receive plenty of live “stuff” on your rock. However, as with any harvested rock, you run the risk of also introducing things like Aiptasia, mantis shrimps, and nuisance algaes.
A few years back, Cultured Fiji Rock appeared on the market. It had some very odd-shaped forms, and could be stacked very well. Unfortunately, the processes and materials being used for this rock may have caused more harm to the environment than good. Apparently, the cement used to produce the Fiji rock was still being mixed with local rock, most likely coming from the reefs around Fiji.
Now a new product, Real Reef (produced by Fish Heads Inc.) has made its debut. The substitute rock is created in the U.S. using a clean calcium carbonate based rock. The rock is shaped into pieces that look and feel just like the real thing (both photos are actual Real Reef pieces). The best part is coral reefs are not being harmed in th production of this product. Not to mention there are no annoying hitch hikers to worry about! No more Mantis shrimp, flatworms, or even unwanted algae on your live rock. The rock is seeded on the FHI Coral Farm where it becomes bio-active. From there, it is packed up and shipped to retail stores for purchase. The shorter transit time allows for fresher rock that hasn’t spent weeks in boxes. This rock doesn’t even need to be cured!
The rock arrived to us for the first time a few weeks ago. The retail price is $8.99 per pound, and it looks great! I would personally recommend it for anyone looking to add to an existing system, or setting up a new aquarium. Hopefully. Real Reef will impress others as it makes its way in the industry. At this point, any help we can give the coral reefs the better off they will be, and this rock is a leap in the right direction.