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Old 03/18/2003, 01:54 PM   #1
Palmetto
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Talking Beginner's guide to Live Rock

After handling (literally) tons of the stuff (and doing many things wrong along the way), I thought I might take a few moments to write a wordy post on the subject of Live Rock.

Live Rock is the foundation of our reefs, and is where the most significant biological filtration takes place in our tanks. Toxic nitrates and nitrites are processed deep within the rock by many forms of bacteria. Good quality Live Rock will come with more than just bacteria, however. Good rock will be populated with corals, worms, pods, foraminiferans, and many other interesting creatures. Various macroalgaes, snails, crabs, and other inverts often "hitchhike" their way in on the rock also. A few undesirable hitchhikers such as pest anemones, hairy rock crabs, mantis shrimp, and more may also come with the rock- although a 15- minute soaking in high-salinity water (1.030 SG) will run many of these out.

Here are some of the most common types of Live Rock with descriptions (IMO & IME!):

1) Fiji- This is the most commonly available live rock on the market. It is very porous, providing good biological filtration and a lot of rock for the money. (Because it is not very dense!) Fiji rock is also usually rather inexpensive, although the quality varies a LOT from one vendor to the next. (wholesalers included.) Premium Fiji is quite beautiful once cured and encrusted with the purple coralline algae this rock is known for- but if you order the cheapest online Fiji, don't expect much!

2) Tonga Branch- Extremely dense, branched coral skeletons that add a very nice look and natural appearance to a mixed reef structure. It can be very heavy and usually carries less "life" than most types of LR. I like small amount of Tonga Branch for a diverse appearance, but do not use it as the only rock in a tank.

3) Kaileni- WOW! Deep-water Tonga rock that has a wide range of shapes, sizes, and densities. Some Tonga branch-like rock is usually mixed in small amounts, but most pieces are the huge caves and arches that make aquascapers drool. Many foraminiferans, fire corals, and a wide range of wildlife is found throughout the rock. Some of it is porous like Fiji, other pieces are hard, flat shelves or branches. This is my personal favorite Live Rock. The rock was originally named after importer Walt Smith's daughter- pronounced in the tongue of the people who collected the rock. Just a tidbit of LR trivia for ya.....

4) Caribbean- Very cool shelves and big, flat branchy pieces. Has a lot of the characteristics of Tonga branch, but not as dense. The Caribbean rock I have handled has been Haitian(I think), and is absolutely FULL of worms. Spaghetti worms, bristle worms, featherdusters- I don't know why, but there are always dozens of worms in the bag the rock comes in- so I dump them in the Live Sand vats, hehe.

5) Aquacultured rock- There are also many types of "Aquacultured" rock out there that are either man-made or mined rocks that have been kept in the ocean until colonized by marine life. Most of the man-made rock is a mixture of concrete, shells, and aragonite. Mined rock is usually aragonite or Limestone base rock. The aquacultured rock varies greatly in quality and appearance, depending on who is doing the culturing! Depending on where it is cultured, some of this rock may also be more likely to carry unwanted rock crabs and mantis shrimp. Tampa Bay Saltwater and Gulf-View are two companies that have a reputation for providing very high quality aquacultured rock. I have also seen some really bad examples out there- so be sure you are dealing with a reputable company if you are purchasing "Aquacultured" rock!

6) Misc.- There are many other varieties out there that can be hard to pin down. Buna spiny branch is a very nice looking rock that looks to be some kind of ancient acropora skeleton. Marshall Islands rock is very high quality, but is imported in smaller quantities, and is more expensive. I have also seen other Deep-Water Tonga rock that appears to be very similar to the Kaileni- perhaps just coming in through different importer channels.

Personally, I like to mix types of rock. It is my opinion that the wide variety of shapes and sizes looks more natural, and also should provide greater biodiversity from a wider range of fauna from different locations. Several of the types I have listed have specific advantages, and I like to mix the flat shelves of the Caribbean with the Kaileni Caves and Fiji boulders, with a few branches thrown in for something different.

About "Curing"...

Fresh Live rock must be "cured" before adding it to an existing system, basically because there are many dead things in there that did not survive the journey. "Curing" simply means waiting for the dying stuff to die, rot, or be eaten- while in a separate system that will not be damaged by the ammonia spike created by the funky stuff.

I think the most common mistake is not having enough water volume to cure the rock properly. If you pack 150+ lbs. of rock in a 45-gallon rubbermaid (like I did!) you will create a noxious stew that will kill many of the small organisms off that may have survived. (And, your spouse will talk about that reek coming from the basement for YEARS afterwards! ) Get the rock in as much volume as you can, such as a kiddie pool (perfect!) or large Rubbermaid trash can. You need as much circulation as you can get in there- drop a big pump in to churn the water if you can. Keeping the temperature high (80-82 degrees or so) will speed up the decay process and move things along. This is another common mistake: if the water is too cool, it sort of "preserves" the dead stuff, then it rots later- when you put it in your nice, warm tank! Hermits or snails can also help clean the rock up, but snails can only take so much of the ammonia. Frequent water changes are very helpful, especially during the first week- this is also when the smell reaches its peak. Sponges or other things that are rotting should be removed and the rock should be turned over/ blasted with a powerhead or lightly brushed with a soft-bristled brush to remove nasty stuff. I don't like scrubbing, because you remove a lot of worms and things that you might want to keep! I run actinic lighting over the rock as it is curing when possible, and reduce the photoperiod to a few hours a day. (Algae will descend on you if you give it too much light with all that goop in the water!)

After 3-4 weeks of this, the rock should be fully cured. I use my nose to tell me when it is ready, although I am told that test kits work also.

...If it smells like dead fish, put it back. If it smells like a jetty at low tide, it is ready. Be careful- sniffing LiveRock may kill brain cells-- or at least that would explain a lot after the tonnage I have sniffed!

For those of you who enjoy your kits, we are looking for the time when ammonia, nitrate, and nitrate levels are zero (or close to zero).

I do not consider myself an expert (are there any?), but I do know a lot of things I have done wrong when handling Live Rock in the past. If there is anything I can help with concerning the curing or handling or Live Rock (or anything else), please email, post, or message me- I will be glad to share any of my mistakes and experiences.

Darren Walker
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Old 03/18/2003, 02:09 PM   #2
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that's a great thread.

the one thing that stuck out for me that I've heard to the contrary was when you mentioned water changes in the first week. I've read that you should NOT do any water changes during cycling.

However, I'm sure it can be debated like most things in this hobby.

Thanks...


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Old 03/18/2003, 02:17 PM   #3
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Good question-

If you are putting fresh rock in a new tank that you are trying to stimulate the cycle in, I would NOT do a water change during the cycle. Letting it go its course will help get your tank on a stable road in a shorter time.

However, if you are curing outside the tank, your goal is to keep the ammonia spike from peaking too high- and there is nothing to be gained from soaking in the juices.




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Last edited by Palmetto; 03/18/2003 at 02:30 PM.
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Old 03/18/2003, 02:37 PM   #4
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Hi

great post!

I have several questions for you reguarding the Kaileni.

-I have read that it becomes encrusted in several different colors.
is this true?
Is one color more dominant than another?
will these algaes spread to fiji rock for example?

can you explain the difference in 'premium' LR and LR.

What exactly is base rock? is this the rock that is cultured? can you explain a situation where you would use "X" for base rock and aquascape with some "X" and "X" ?

thanx again for the great post!

~j


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Old 03/18/2003, 02:45 PM   #5
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Great information to be used by everyone....!!


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Old 03/18/2003, 02:46 PM   #6
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Thanks!

"Base" rock is cheap, low grade rock- usually mined rock or rock that has been dried completely out for whatever reason. Rock that just doesn't have enough coralline or life on it to make the Premium grade cut may also be sold as "Base" rock.

Basically, it is cheap rock that you can use as a foundation for your reef, putting the higher quality stuff on top.



"Premium" LR simply means it is the good stuff. (Lots of coralline and critters)

Yes, it is true that the Kaileni has multicolored coralline- most of it bleaches white in the curing, then comes back in various shades of pink or purple. I do think the different colored coralline seems to spread to other rock. There are many different types of coralline algae. - white, yellow, pink, purple, and pepto-bismol. (and lots in between!)


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Old 03/18/2003, 02:53 PM   #7
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Curing ?

Is curing neccesary if your putting it in an undeveloped tank, For example can it be cured in a new tank. And should I cycle the water first or can I use the rock to cycle it.


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Old 03/18/2003, 02:53 PM   #8
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Curing ?

Is curing neccesary if your putting it in an undeveloped tank, For example can it be cured in a new tank. And should I cycle the water first or can I use the rock to cycle it.


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How much deeper would the ocean be if it didn't have sponges?
P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way Sid

Current Tank Info: 40 Breeder, 20L Sump, 10G Fuge, JBJ A.T.O, 4" Reef Octopus, DIY Stand & Canopy, RapidLED Dimmable 36 Kit on 3 6" MakersLED Heatsink, MP10es
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Old 03/18/2003, 02:57 PM   #9
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In a new tank, just put the rock right in there and cure it IN the tank. No need to do anything special to the water, other than salt and temperature (and of course start with RO or RO/DI water).

Just keep the circulation up and rotate the rock periodically so something does not get trapped under it to fester.


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Old 03/18/2003, 03:00 PM   #10
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I would strongly encourage you to cycle your tank with live rock vs. using fish or shrimp.


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Old 03/18/2003, 03:02 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by wishmaster
I would strongly encourage you to cycle your tank with live rock vs. using fish or shrimp.
I could not agree more. Why stick something else in your tank to rot and stimulate a cycle when that is what happens with fresh LR anyway?


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Old 03/18/2003, 03:14 PM   #12
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great post. thanks

If the seller says the rock is cured, do you have to cure it again?
I believe the Dr's Kaelini rock is cured. So I would just put it in the tank (new tank)?


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Old 03/18/2003, 03:18 PM   #13
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Fully cured rock from a reliable vendor will still go through a small cycle after being shipped. However, this may be a very slight cycle- and if it was cured well and shipped overnight it can probably be added to an existing tank. You can always keep it in water overnight and test for ammonia if you are not sure.


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Old 03/18/2003, 03:36 PM   #14
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I prefer to err on the side of caution, where my established Reef is concerned, and I'd never add shipped live rock to my tank without curing it myself, externally.
If the rock came from an existing tank that I know, I'd have no problem adding it, but anything shipped is very likely to be a source of problems. These problems could range from fish/invert death to algae blooms, and everything in between.


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Old 03/18/2003, 05:48 PM   #15
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Thanks for the great info. I am about 3 weeks away from ordering live rock so your post was very useful. So, where would you recommend ordering live rock? I have several LFS around here, but they seem to be very over priced. One is as high as $8.99 a pound. Anyone have any recommendations of websites that I should consider ordering from?

Thanks
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Old 03/18/2003, 06:32 PM   #16
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I had the same problem finding live rock, But no one sold it down here.

Just about everywhere sells LR. I went to www.google.com and typed "Live Rock" you will find any number of online shops that sell rock from all over the place. But when ordering LR online you have to buy it in bulk. Not many places will sell you <25-50lbs at a time. The 25-50 is depending on what kind of rock it is. Fiji LR for example ranged from 3.00-5.00 per lb depending on the quality lv "Select" "Premium" etc... when you roder the LR online you have to worry about the shipping more than anything else. Depending on the lbs of LR you order shipping alone can cost as much if not more than the rock its self. In the end I called around my area and found divers that harvest LR to ship to major online stores/retail shops and bought it from them for $3 a lb. After you go though tons of online sites that $5 that the pet shop charges will look better and better.

Good Luck finding your Rock
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Old 03/18/2003, 06:49 PM   #17
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Palmetto,

Great info!!

Thanks for taking the time to type this out.


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Old 03/18/2003, 08:43 PM   #18
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Good post. I'll ask a question that I asked in another post:

If I am starting a new tank (lets say 75g) and purchase cured rock online and have it airshipped.... would it be better to:
1. Put all of it (100 pounds, estimate) shortly after adding sand/water/etc.
2. Split it up (perhaps two 50 pound additions) once at the beginning and the second in a few weeks.
3. other?

The first option worries me that I may loose some of the 'good stuff' during the cycle. The second option will cost more and may not really be of much benfit if the tank has to go thru a second mini-cycle.

Recommendations? Thoughts about water changes throughout this process?


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Old 03/18/2003, 08:46 PM   #19
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You may want to put half in the tank to cure and half in a tub if you will not have room for good water circulation otherwise.

As long as you have room, I would cure it all at once. Extra powerheads will help.



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Old 03/19/2003, 07:09 AM   #20
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OK, what happens if the rock is already "cured" when purchasing it online (sure, there will be some die-off in shipping). Add to a brand new tank all-at-once, or split-up?


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Old 03/19/2003, 07:32 AM   #21
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You don't have to be quite as concerned about "overcrowding" rock that has been cured. I would add it all at once to a new tank.

With "fresh" rock that still has dying things clinging to it, things can get funky if you pack it in too tightly for the surface area to be exposed to good circulation during the curing process. You should see what the bottom rocks looked like after my first attempts! YUK! (Cramming too much rock in a 40-gallon Rubbermaid with too little circulation)

When you get "cured" rock ordered online, there will be some dieoff, of course- but you don't have pieces of rotting stuff that get pinned and trapped the way you do with fresh rock.




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Old 03/19/2003, 07:55 AM   #22
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Palmetto

Have you ever used an amonia 'sorb' product during the curing process to lessen the impact of the amonia spike? If so, was it worth it?


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Old 03/19/2003, 08:16 AM   #23
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I have used Polypads and Carbon, and I am sure both help a bit.

Anything that will reduce the ammonia would certainly be something to consider.


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Old 03/19/2003, 08:17 AM   #24
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This is a fantastic post and should remain near the top as many who are new and not so new to the hobby can benefit from this.

Thanks palmetto!


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Old 03/19/2003, 12:05 PM   #25
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one thing mentioned in this thread about changing water during the curing process...I wish I had made MORE water changes the first week..I also bought "pre-cured" rock from mail order and it still took about 12 days to cure....the first week is the most crucial..that is where ammonia and nitrite are going to max. If you don't make several water changes that first week, that poison is going to kill stuff on your rock. I wish I would have known that prior to. still learning.


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