Live rock is rock from the ocean that has been introduced into a saltwater aquarium. Along with live sand, it confers to the closed marine system multiple benefits desired by the saltwater aquarium hobbyist. The name sometimes leads to misunderstandings, as the "live rock" itself is not actually alive, but rather is simply made from the aragonite skeletons of long dead corals, or other calcareous organisms, which in the ocean form the majority of coral reefs. When taken from the ocean it is usually encrusted with coralline algae and inhabited by a multitude of marine organisms. The many forms of micro and macroscopic marine life that live on and inside of the rock, which acts as an ideal habitat, give it the name "live rock".
Live rock is harvested for use in the aquarium trade from collections in the wild near reefs, where parts may become detached from the central body of coral by storms. It may also be "seeded" from small coralline rocks by an aquaculturalist in warm ocean water, to be harvested later. Live rock can also be seeded by adding base rock to an active reef aquarium that already has live rock. Live rock harbors a wide variety of corals, algae, sponges, and other invertebrates, when they are collected. Corals added to the aquarium later will often become attached to the rock.
Live rock is highly valued in the aquarium trade. It introduces a diverse array of bacteria, algae, and invertebrates to the closed marine environment and functions as a superior biological filter that hosts aerobic and anaerobic nitrifying bacteria required for the nitrogen cycle that processes waste. Live rock becomes the main biological nitrification base or biological filter of a saltwater aquarium. Additionally, live rocks have a stabilizing effect on the water chemistry, in particular on helping to maintain constant pH by release of calcium carbonate. Lastly, live rock, especially when encrusted with multiple colors of coralline algae, becomes a major decorative element of the aquarium and provides shelter for the inhabitants. It is often used to build caves, arches, overhangs, or other structures in the tank, a practice known as aquascaping.
Live rock must however be cured prior to aquarium installation. Many of the organisms that previously lived in the rock would have died off during the harvesting and transportation process posing a risk to an immature aquarium of rapid ammonia production due to the dead organisms decomposing. To combat this a curing process must be carried out involving leaving the rock to sit in water for up to several weeks to ensure all dead organisms have decomposed and no longer pose a threat to water quality.
There are many different types of live rock. Each is named after the area from which it originated. A large amount of live rock comes from the Southern Pacific region, in areas such as Fiji, Tonga, and the Marshall Islands, as well as from the Caribbean. Each has its own distinct qualities that make it preferable to certain reef aquarists. For instance, live rock from the Fiji region is often porous and large, and rock from the Tonga region is often dense and elongated.
Base rock, or dry rock, is a generic term for aragonite rock that has no organisms growing in or on the rock. Base rock is often used as filler rock in the aquarium as it is much cheaper to purchase than live rock. In time, base rock will become colonized by living organisms.
Recently base rock that is mined from inland ancient reefs has become a popular way to keep the aquarium trade going sustainably. This rock is either maricultured and sold as live rock, or can be purchased and grown in the home aquarium.
Base rock can also be made from artificial rock called aragocrete, which is a hand made concrete from combining crushed aragonite, sand, and Portland cement. After allowing the cement to dry, the pieces are sometimes acid washed to counteract the high pH of the materials, and then allowed to soak in clean water for one or more months. They generally tend to be heavier and less attractive when compared to natural base rock.
As of August 4, 2008 CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) banned the collection of live rock from Tonga, the Marshall Islands, and the Cook Islands. This is due to the over-collecting of rock in these areas. This ban remains in effect as of 2014.
- published in Aquarium USA in 1994, under the Live Rock section
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- Steven Caller. "What is live rock?". Aquaristmagazine.com. Retrieved 2012-10-09.
- What is Live Rock in About.com
- Valemei, Ropate (14 May 2013). "Coral export". The Fiji Times Online. Fiji Times Limited. Archived from the original on 9 December 2014. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
- About Live Rock and its purpose