If you’re interested in growing coral, it’s crucial to consider the environment of the aquarium. Coral and other livestock create waste, including ammonia and nitrite. These substances harm the health of coral and fish, so you’ll need to introduce a filtration system into the tank to keep the livestock healthy. Live rock has been a staple of reef-keeping for many years.

Comprised of calcium carbonate and other minerals, live rock is basically coral and shell rubble that has been aggregated and compressed over time. Why “live?” This rock is very porous, and plays host to countless microbes that metabolize ammonia and nitrite. It can also become the home for any number of reef creatures, from copepods to nudibranch, including coral. Most aquarists consider live rock a must-have for a thriving marine ecosystem. Here, we share more information about choosing live rock for your aquarium.

Farmed Live Rock

Today, there are many ways to introduce live rock into your tank. In the past, collecting live rock from the ocean was the most common way to do this. Responsibly collected reef rubble makes excellent live rock. There is still concern that wild collection is still an intrusive practice, and the hobby has responded. Reef enthusiasts have moved toward sustainable farming of live rock. Farming is accomplished by collecting the appropriate type of material, and placing it into the ocean to be colonized by microbes and other organisms. Coraline algae, copepods, and polychaetes will all happily move in.

Introducing farmed live rock into your aquarium is a great option if you’re interested in biodiversity. However, using live rock comes with some risks, including the possibility of accidentally allowing pest species that could harm coral into the tank. As there will be die off of some of the residents during shipping, this type of live rock needs to be cured. Curing allows the organisms to repopulate the rock, and run through the normal nitrogen cycling process. This process takes about six weeks, but it’s the safest option for your reef, and will prevent a giant algae bloom from taking over your aquarium.

“Building” Live Rock

If you’re interested in exploring other avenues with regards to live rock, “building” this material is an option. This isn’t the simplest method, as it requires an extensive and messy process. However, some may find that it’s an interesting project to try. To create your own rock, you’ll need to mix aragonite (which consists of crushed coral and shells) with Portland cement. While this method isn’t ideal for all reef builders, some enjoy the process because it’s possible to form the rock into shapes that you like. The rock, once created, also needs to cure, but in this case, that is to allow the escape of lime and other substances from the concrete that cause lots of pH issues.

building live rock

When you’re on the search for the fastest and easiest way to introduce “live” rock into your aquarium, you may find it convenient to purchase live rock alternatives. This option can range from slightly to significantly more expensive than farming or building, but can offer some incredibly beautiful shapes and design flexibility into a reef.

Several options for live rock alternatives are available, such as the product lines from Real Reef Solutions and CeramEco. Some are white, while some come colored as if coraline algae was already present. The most advanced can even be made to shape, to sit flush against walls or form amazing spires and pads. Ceramic live rock, such as the options from CeramEco, are the more expensive versions of live rock alternative. These structures are less dense than farmed live rock, and look beautiful in any tank. However, it’s important to be aware that live rock alternatives also need to be soaked before placing them in an aquarium in order to allow the microbe population to regulate. Never fear – there are plenty of vendors out there that will seed these products in their own tanks for you before you buy them.

Additional Considerations

Regardless of which method you choose for obtaining live rock, it’s vital to properly secure the structures. Corals are fragile, and the leading cause of coral death is injury by falling objects. Falling rockwork is usually caused by migration of tank denizens like snails or starfish, so be sure to carefully stack and cement all rockwork.

Live rock or live rock alternatives play a crucial role in regulating the cleanliness of a reef. Whether you opt for farmed live rock, build your own rock, or purchase an alternative, you’ll need a high-quality reef lighting system to achieve best results. We take pride in our reef lighting system, and two generations are available for your consideration. To learn more about our durable and user-friendly products, please browse our collection online.