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Live Rock: The Foundation of a Healthy Marine Aquarium

Discussion in 'Saltwater General Discussion' started by 1979camaro, Jul 12, 2005.

  1. 1979camaro

    1979camaro Ultimate Fish

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    If you have begun to do even a little amount of research into the setup of a marine aquarium (be it reef or fish only) you will undoubtably have come across some mention of live rock (in webspeak you will often see live rock abbreviated to simply: “LR”).

    The obvious first question which must be answered is “What is live rock?” Contrary to the name, the rock itself is not actually alive, however it is covered with thousands, if not millions, of tiny microorganisms, macroorganisms, and bacteria. The list of organisms frequently imported on or inside live rock is long and distinguished however the most important aspect of this live rock is the beneficial bacteria which is present within every nook and cranny. This bacteria is what converts ammonia in your aquarium into nitrite and that nitrite into nitrate. Coupled with a protein skimmer (especially in larger systems) and appropriate maintenance, live rock will provide all of the necessary biological filtration in a marine system. That means no more bio-balls, bio-wheels, filter pads, filter floss, etc. are necessary. Live rock does have a few special care needs but they are far from difficult to meet.

    Live rock does require a minimum amount of light in order to maintain the health of some of the photosynthetic organisms which live in and on it. Among those organisms are the coveted encrusting coraline algae and other macroalgaes. For a fish only tank the standard flourescent tubes common to most hoods will provide all of the necessary light for maintaining these organisms; obviously in reef tanks more light will be necessary for maintaining corals. Beyond light, live rock requires water flow in order to prevent the development of dead spots. Powerheads and sump return outlets should be arranged to ensure that all areas of the live rock structure receive water flow. It is important that detritus not be allowed to settle on the live rock; if it is impossible to prevent detritus from accumulating in some areas of the rock structure it is important that a vacuum be used to remove that detritus.

    Beyond minimal lighting, it is important that live rock be kept in water which is within standard marine aquarium parameters. This means a specific gravity between 1.022 and 1.026 (note there are no units because this is a ratio of two densities). The pH of the tank should be maintained around 8.2 or 8.3. Temperature is also important; live rock should be kept in water between 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. While many of the inhabitants of live rock will survive at higher and lower specific gravity, pH, and temperatures it is in the best interest of all living organisms on the rock that those ranges be maintained.

    At the local fish store there should be quite a few different types of rock to choose from, but the two major categories are cured rock and uncured rock. When live rock is imported it is teeming with life, much of which dies during shipping or will die in the holding tank at the fish store. When all of that die off has occurred the rock is then considered “cured” because, in theory, it can be placed in your home aquarium and nothing will die on the rock. In practice, stuff is always dying within the rock so what “cured” really means is that the most significant die off will have occurred and any subsequent die off will not be at a level which will affect the stability of the system. Uncured rock is essentially fresh off the airplane. Generally uncured live rock is cheaper and will often look much more rich in terms of algae growth and organisms, however much off that life will die off. When you buy uncured live rock it must then be cured by you, a process which involves a fair amount of work, but can be worthwhile if you are buying a large volume of rock. A good test for the health of rock is its smell. Rock which is cured will smell like the ocean, but it will smell fresh; uncured rock, or rock which is curing, will smell a bit like rotting seafood.

    Beyond the distinction of cured and uncured you will find that the fish store often labels some live rock as base rock. Base rock is generally dense rock which is not particularly attractive, but is significantly cheaper by the pound than other types of rock (Fiji, Tonga, Marshall Island, etc.). This rock is called “base” because in large systems people use it to create the foundational structure for their aquascaping. Base rock is, in fact, dead. There is nothing alive on base rock, though stores may sometimes mislead the consumer into believing there is. The idea is that the aquarist can buy a lot of base rock and a few pieces of live rock and allow the organisms to spread. Base rock is not particularly well suited for small systems because it is important to have adequate beneficial bacteria right away. Base rock can take months, and even years, to seed. Something else to consider when buying live rock is that while base may be cheaper by the pounded it is also quite dense and so a piece of “nicer” rock which weighs the same will generally be considerably larger. As alluded to before, the less dense the rock is the better it is for the growth of beneficial bacteria and organisms. More surface area is good even if that surface area is from tiny pores in the rock. When selecting live rock it is important to consider whether it is cured, the price of the rock, the relative density (pick up a couple different pieces), the observable life present, and the structure. Going to a few stores (if possible) and comparing these traits is an important part of securing the best rock for the best price. Some stores may be willing to bargain a little and many stores offer discounts for bulk purchases.

    The eternal question surrounding live rock may be “How much do I really need?” Live rock is quite expensive and so this is a reasonable question. In all practicality it is, unfortunately, difficult to answer. Many people recommend one pound for every gallon of water; some recommend more and some recommend less. In reality the answer to the question varies depending on the density of the rock, the stocking plans for the tank, the efficiency of the protein skimmer, and the diligence of the aquarist as far as maintenance is concerned. Aesthetics plays an important role in the selection of rock. Generally speaking, aquarists (particularly in the United States) have an excess of live rock in their systems relative to the amount necessary and so the best way to decide how much is enough may come down to what looks best. With dutiful water testing it is easy to determine if more biological filtration is needed; if it is so discovered more rock can easily be added.

    Live rock requires no acclimation. It should, however, be placed into water at the appropriate parameters as soon as possible. Some people recommend quarantining new live rock to help catch unwanted hitchhikers. It is certainly much simpler to remove a mantis shrimp or unwanted crab when the rock is easily removed from the tank than when it has been integrated into the aquascaping. Once the pest is in the main display tank, particularly large tanks, it is often quite difficult to remove. Remember, also, that if uncured live rock is bought (and even cured rock if it is from an unfamiliar source) it should not be added to an aquarium with animals already present. The die off can cause a significant ammonia spike. It is always better to be safe than sorry. The curing process, while not overly complicated, is a subject best covered in a future article.

    Concerns are sometimes risen about the environmental impact of the collection of live rock. Live rock is actually not taken from the reef itself, instead it is pieces of the reef which have broken off the reef naturally. Beyond that wild collection there is a great deal of commercially aquacultured live rock available. This rock tends to be aquacultured in the Carribean whereas most collected rock is imported from the Pacific so mixing the two types can help with the bio-diversity of a system. Diversity is always good.

    In the long run, live rock is the key to a healthy marine system. There is certainly much more to learn about live rock but this provides a good introduction for the new marine aquarist. The internet can be a valuable resource, especially when looking for images of different types of rock. There are also many online vendors from whom large orders of rock (50 pounds or more) will be cheaper than buying locally. It is, however, still important to visit the local fish store, see what they have, and become familiar with the different types of rock up close and personal even if an online order is in the future. Remember, patience is the key to a successful marine aquarium; having a strong theoretical foundation and a good plan will, however, make the process run much more smoothly.
     
    #1 1979camaro, Jul 12, 2005
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2005


  2. 1979camaro

    1979camaro Ultimate Fish

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    Hi all, if you have any suggestions (like: "this makes no sense", or "this is terribly wrong") post it for me and I will fix it
     
  3. KahluaZzZ

    KahluaZzZ Superstar Fish

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    excellent sticky
     
  4. Mushroomman

    Mushroomman MFT Staff

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    Wow man this sums up everything you need to know (or dont really need to ;) ). Very nice article.

    But I do have one question- is it possible to make your own from regular rock(in theory at least, Im not thinking of making it)? Get a piece of rock and seed it and grow bacteria and such on it from real live rock? If its aquacultured I would think so but I dont know.
    EDIT- Oh wait I just noticed that you can spread the organisms to base rock, I missed that part, nevermind.
     
    #4 Mushroomman, Jul 12, 2005
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2005
  5. FroggyFox

    FroggyFox Forum Manager
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    Great job. How about what kind of water quality does live rock need (SG important? what about temperature?)? What are good ways of transporting the stuff from wherever you buy it? Does LR need to be acclimated before plopping it into a tank?
     
  6. 1979camaro

    1979camaro Ultimate Fish

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    good points froggy...ill add that in

    updated
     
    #6 1979camaro, Jul 12, 2005
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2005
  7. 1979camaro

    1979camaro Ultimate Fish

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    mushroomman: there are certain kinds of rock which are suitable for aquaculture/base rock and others which are not so much...i believe kahluazz has done this so if you want to learn more you might talk to him
     
  8. Mushroomman

    Mushroomman MFT Staff

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    Ok thanks, just an idea that came to me during the reading.
     
  9. JustinP

    JustinP Medium Fish

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    I used tufa as base rock. It is very porous which makes for immense surface area and inexpensive. The LFS had many cool shapes and sizes. I got some nice pieces with large (4") holes in the sides that the fish swim through. It is now covered in purple coralline and when I check at night, covered in pods. I hear you can get special "reef safe" tufa. I don't know what is done to make it reef safe (removing minerals or something) but I have had no probs with my tufa and I have corals.
     
  10. 2e0raf

    2e0raf Large Fish

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    hi

    is it possible to get away without live rock and use a bloody good filter. i have buckets of coral that has been given to me but i dont think its live.
     
  11. OCCFan023

    OCCFan023 Superstar Fish

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    its possible, but it will be a huge hassel, will hinder the health and enviorment of your fish, and will not give you a realistic looking aquarium. If its at all possible to get live rock, GET IT!!!
     
  12. zukester

    zukester Small Fish

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    OK. I finally have now one hundred and eighty pounds of one-and-a-half to two week old cured Fiji live rock in my new aquarium. It was $4.25 per pound (reg $4.99-6.99), so it was a rather large purchase.

    Lights are off for now and all smells good. Seems that, since I bought so much from the store, they had to dig into a reef tank to get enough, giving me some extras, like a few small anemones, snails, crabs, plants and the like. Some is in the sump but most is in the tank. Quite a lot.

    I have one question. Good or bad: I have had zero foam in the cup of my EV120 skimmer, and it is set up according to the directions? It makes a swirl like mad and bubbles which break instantly, but no brown foam. Is that just because it is too early to tell? Will the live rock increase proteins soon? Should I not worry and suspect that the tank is just very underpopulated?

    Thanks, Experts. I love the new tank.

    Zukester
     
  13. sharklady09

    sharklady09 Small Fish

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    yeah, wait on the protein skimmer, believe me, it'll come...about the whole seeding live rock, I read an article one time, of course NOW i can't find it, but some guy actually took concrete and got that to seed, it took awhile, but I guess anything is possible...oh p.s. I love Fiji live rock, it's a great base to a SW system!
     
  14. PuNanny

    PuNanny Large Fish

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    Nice sticky helped me pick live rock for a good base of cycling my tank
     
  15. OCCFan023

    OCCFan023 Superstar Fish

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    I just wanted to bump something on this thread in the terms of aquascaping.

    I was told a while back that larger porouse peices of live rock are the way to go over smaller peices for aquascaping and I just want to reaffirm anyone thats new and about to purchase live rock.

    I recently made online orders of live rock and got a couple larger peices (one was around 40 lbs, and all I have to say is that the one large peice made my life alot easier as opposed to balancing numerouse smaller peices

    just had to throw this out there for the new purchasers of rock as it truley will make your life easier (which in this hobby never hurts)
     
  16. ontheroad

    ontheroad Small Fish

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    Agree, nice post!

    /Mats
     
  17. needlepimp

    needlepimp Small Fish

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  18. Verga

    Verga New Fish

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    I was wondering, can too much coraline algae choke out your LR?
     
  19. Dmoney

    Dmoney New Fish

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    Live Rock

    Can Live Rock also be placed in a fresh water auarium.
     
  20. Airborneguy

    Airborneguy Large Fish

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    you could put it in of course, but it would be a waste.. everything would die
     
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