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. Read More »
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Especially for beginners, getting what you need for setting up a saltwater or reef aquarium can be daunting. One of the most confusing aspects of the process may be Live Rock. Here are some common Q & A that may make it a little clearer for anyone, especially those who just starting out.
Do I need Live Rock and what is its purpose?
Live rock is the calcium carbonate skeletons of ancient corals and other calcareous organisms, which forms the base of coral reefs. It is not actually “alive” but is it is usually encrusted with coralline algae and inhabited by microscopic and macroscopic marine organisms. The organisms on the live rock help to establish the biological base of the aquarium. The rock serves as a biological filter hosting nitrifying bacteria that fuel processes like the nitrogen cycle to eliminate organic waste. Live rock also has a stabilizing effect on the water chemistry, especially helping to maintain constant pH by releasing calcium. The other obvious purpose is for decoration. The rock, once established, serves as a shelter for fish and inverts, as a decorative element encrusted with colorful coralline algaes and other organisms (that may appear to spring from its surface from nothing), and as a platform for corals that you introduce to grow onto.
What is the difference between natural and cultured rock?
There are many varieties of live rock. Most are named for the region where they are harvested, and often they have distinctive forms and characteristics. Some are dense, some are lighter and more porous, some are branchy, some are plate-like, ect. They all basically serve the same purpose, and they may be mixed and matched according to your taste and needs. Natural rock is chipped off and collected from specified areas in designated regions. This rock is naturally occurring and highly variable. Cultured rock is man-made from specially mixed concrete that is formed into basic shapes and then placed in the oceans near reefs for a period of 1-5 years where it is seeded with the same micro and macro organisms as natural rock. The rock is then collected and distributed for aquariums. Cultured rock is favorable as it has the same benefits to the aquarium, but less environmental impact and is sustainable. It is typically less variable in shape.
How much rock do I need?
You may hear different opinions on how much rock you need, but it will depend on what your intentions are. Generally, the rule of thumb is 1-2 lbs per gallon. This amount can vary depending on the arrangement you want and the density of the rock. You may choose to purchase all the rock you need when setting up the tank initially, as the rock be used to cycle the tank, and will cure in the process. Otherwise you can buy the rock a few pieces at a time, cure it in a separate vessel then add pieces periodically until the arrangement is where you like it. The other option is to purchase base rock and cover it with fresh live rock. Over time the base rock will be seeded by the live rock. Just be sure your arrangement has spaces where the water can circulate through the rock and dead zones don’t occur.
What is curing and how do I cure rock?
Curing Live Rock means conditioning or cycling it for use in your aquarium. Cured rock has already been conditioned and is stable to use right away in an aquarium with minimal concern of fluctuations in water chemistry. Fresh live rock is not cured and it shouldn’t be placed directly into a main aquarium until you cure it. The collection and shipping process of most rock involves it being out of the water for days at a time, and a lot of the organic matter on the rock dies off. By tanking and curing the rock, you allow the rock to recover from these stresses. The dead matter breaks down and new beneficial organisms have the chance to re-establish and freshen up. If you purchase fresh rock, a saltwater rinse or dip and shake will help to remove loose debris and some of the dead matter to kick start the curing process. You can learn how to cure live rock in this short video.
How long will it take for stuff to start growing on my rock?
Once the rock is in the tank and the rest of your set-up is complete with adequate lighting, skimmer, and circulation, additives such as calcium, iodine and strontium will encourage the growth of colorful coralline algaes, and contribute to the health of other forms of live rock growth. As the tank establishes and becomes more stable, you’ll probably see a variety of organisms from macroalgaes to small corals and other sessile inverts. Each tank and each piece of rock may reveal different surprises, but the important thing is patience. Taking the time for careful set-up and maintenance and a time allowance for the tank to progress at a comfortable pace will result in a healthy and sustainable reef environment.
Cory here. Live rock is an important piece to the reef tank puzzle, without it the aquarium never seems to be complete. It is amazing to see what one can do with some rock and an aquarium. Whether a massive 1000 gallon reef or a 5 gallon nano tank, live rock plays the role of beauty and necessity. When starting a marine aquarium, a quick stop to the local fish store (That Fish Place of course :)) will give a wide selection of live rock types; from the majestic Tonga Fusion to the typical Fiji, live rock is always available in all shapes and sizes.
The luxury of having five or more varieties of live rock any given day may be coming to an end. The creation of cultured live rock in Fiji has led a few to believe that since we can make live rock, we can save the reefs by stopping the collection of “wild” live rock. Cultured Fiji rock is very simply, concrete and sand molded into rocks, placed in the ocean for a couple of years, then harvested as live rock. The idea is to start culturing rock in places like Fiji and Tonga, eliminating the need to harvest rock from the reefs. There are plenty of arguments for and against the creation of cultured rock. The immediate problem is the ban of rock coming into the United States. The rock from Tonga (Fusion, Branch, Slab, etc.) has been banned completely starting this past August 4th. There are no signs of this ban being lifted. On top of this, the number of pounds of Fiji Rock allowed for importation for 2009, has been decreased substantially from this past year.
The idea to phase out the import of wild live rock within the next 5 years is hard to stomach, but might be well on its way to becoming reality. There is still very little known about the situation as a whole, but what everyone must understand is that with each coming year, live rock may be harder to come by, especially the varieties that everyone is used to. My concern is, with the continued demand for fresh live rock and the available supply diminishing, the price per pound of live rock will begin to rise and continue until it becomes unaffordable. The future of the live rock industry is now in the hands of those with legislative power; hopefully a decision is made with the consumer in mind.
Hi, Dave here, I thought that I would do some blogs about some of the things that I have been working on here at TFP. I will start with one of my projects that I have been working on this year, the remodeling of our Custom Design Center in our retail store. The Custom Design Center is our showcase of aquarium displays. We originally set up the displays about four years ago, and it is time to give them some updating and upgrading. The first tank that we decided to give a facelift is the centerpiece of this display, our 700 gallon in-wall aquarium. Originally set up as a FOWLR (Fish Only With Live Rock, for you non reefers) and a few soft corals, we decided that our centerpiece should be a full blown reef. Putting this display together has been a blast, we really took our time with thinking out the design, and the components to the tank, then over a period of a couple months earlier this year we got the tank up and running just prior to our annual anniversary sale this past April. Those of you who made the trip out here this year got to see the tank after it had been running for about two weeks. We had a good starting point, as we tore down the original tank, and several small reef displays in the store, keeping all the cured live rock and some of the corals, fish, and Inverts for the new tank.
The tank itself is a custom 700 gallon Oceanic that measures 120”x 36”x36”. As with all the large custom Oceanic tanks, it has a powder coated stainless steel frame, an ABS, HDPE and glass laminate bottom for extra strength, and ¾” glass panels. Ours has two rear overflow boxes, as well as 4 holes in the bottom panel for a closed loop flow system (I will cover this more in the filtration section) As you can probably guess this is a very heavy tank, I think its dry shipping weight was about 2,200 lbs when crated. Not something that you and your buddies are going to muscle into place, all moving was done with a forklift.
Knowing we wanted to set up an SPS dominated reef tank that was 36” deep, proper lighting was going to be something that we needed to take care of. The guys at Ice Cap, Inc. really stepped up and helped us make sure that our lighting was top notch, and would allow us to keep whatever we wanted. We chose the new Ice Cap 400w HQI pendant lights, the tank has six of these, and the tank also has six 39 watt HO T5 actinics. All these are powered by Ice Cap electronic ballasts.
As you can see in the pictures, there are three openings in the top of the tank, each opening has two 400w halides and two HO T5 actinics. Each set is hinged above the tank on a hinged rack system that I designed, that allows you to flip the lights up a section at a time to work on that area of the tank. This works really well, it allows you to leave the other sets of lights on so that you can see in the section that you are working on. On a tank that is 10’ long, that you need a ladder to look into the tank, this comes in handy.
There are several parts to the filtration system on the aquarium. There is a Custom Trigger systems sump and protein skimmer, a closed loop circulation system, and a 60 gallon refugium/frag/quarantine tank.
The custom Trigger Systems filtration system that we had custom made for the filtration room that is behind the aquarium is a beast. The sump measures 60”x28”x20”, one end has 4 built in filter socks. The protein skimmer recirculates on this section, so it has a constant supply of raw surface water. Then there are a series of baffles, an open center section, another series of baffles, and then a third section where the return pump draws water from. The protein skimmer is also a custom Trigger Systems design that is matched to the sump. It is a dual Beckett injector design that is 10” in diameter, and 44” tall, it works great, lots of thick dense foam. The skimmer is run by a Sequence Marlin pump, and the system return pump is a Sequence Hammerhead.
The Closed Loop system sits underneath the aquarium. There are four holes drilled into the bottom of the aquarium, one serves at the drain that feeds the pump, the other three are returns that circulate the return water throughout the live rock structure in the tank. The closed loop pump is another Sequence Hammerhead pump that puts out about 5,000 gph. Each return in the tank splits into four lock-line modular pipe sections with nozzles, which allowed us to direct flow wherever we want it. This is all hidden inside the rock work in the tank, it is hard to see any of it at all.
There is also a 60 gallon cube plumbed into the system that is used for a refugium and frag tank. This has a deep sand bed with a lot of live rock rubble on the surface, we also use this tank to house new fish before they are introduced into the aquarium.
There is also a one horsepower ESU chiller and an 80watt AQUA UV sterilizer that are plumbed into the system. The chiller, sterilizer, and refugium are all fed water from the main circulation pump.
Live Rock and Livestock
The tank has about 1,000 pounds of live rock, that is a mixture of several types of Tonga and Fiji rock. We tried to use as many really large rocks as possible, several are 70 – 80 lbs each. The live rock was strategically placed to hide as much of the closed loop system as possible, and at the same time leave a lot of open space to give it a more natural appearance. I really wanted to avoid the wall-of-rock look that so many aquariums have.
One of the other things that I really wanted to do with this aquarium was to use as much cultured coral as possible, and limit the amount of wild coral went into the aquarium. This meant sacrificing size for the initial specimens in most cases, but I felt it was important to promote aquacultured and maricultured corals where possible. Of the over 70 corals that are currently in the aquarium, over 50 of them are from a cultured or captive source. Looking at the tank it does not look like there are that many corals in there, mostly because they are all fairly small at this point.
I will try to post some more pictures of the tank as time goes on, so that you can see the corals as they grow and fill in. This was another reason that I left so much open space in the aquarium when we did the rock work, I wanted to make sure that the corals had plenty of space to grow.
There are a few more tanks that we will be reworking in the custom design center here over the next couple months, I will post some blogs about them as they are completed. I hope that you found this interesting, let me know and I can do more blogs of this type in the future.
Until next time,