Live Rock Vs. Dry Base Rock

Discussion in 'Live Rock' started by lambo125, Apr 9, 2009.

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  1. lambo125

    lambo125 Plankton

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    I am setting up a reef tank and am almost ready to buy rock. For the most part everyone I've talked to has said that it is best to start out using live rock (harvested from the ocean) instead of using dry base rock(which will become live). They had me pretty much convinced until recently. It seems that the more I read about live rock on this site, the more i find where many people (some w/ many years of saltwater experience) are recommending the use of dry base rock over live rock.

    This has led to start asking several questions over againg that I thought were had been answered already. I would appreciate it if you guys could elaborate on some of the question below.

    1) What are the advantages and disadvantages of using live rock?

    2) What are the advantages and disadvantages of using dry rock?

    3) Why (or why not) is it worth paying 2 or 3 times more for live rock over dry rock? Especially since dry rock becomes live. If it's worth

    The usual answers i get to this one often lead to more questions. I have listed some of them below.

    "Because it's better." This tell's me nothing except that whoever is answering doesn't really know what they are talking about. Why is it better?

    "So you can watch all the SUPRISES that start to grow". This is tempting. We all like surprises. But only when they're good. I don't want bad surprises. In my mind this is kind of like going Trick or Treating and having the possibility of getting tricks instead of treats. Depending to the tricks (and the treats I guess), it makes you think twice about going trick or treating altogether. This usually leads me back to question 3 and also takes me to question 4.

    "Don't do it, you don't want to introduce pests and problems into your new tank". From my point of view, this is a pretty strong argument for using dry rock, since i am a big believer in using a little prevention to save a lot pain and frustration down the road. This again takes back to question 3 and on to question 4.

    "It's faster". I'm not sure I'm convinced here. See question 5.

    4) What commonly survives on quality live rock that is recieved fresh and is properly cured?

    It seems that much of the debate over whether to use live or dry rock is over the "hitch hikers" or "goodies" that come w/ live rock.

    I know coraline is one of the main things, but that seems easy and cheap to come by. So coraline can't be the main justification. What else is there, and is it easy/inexpensive to purchase these things individually instead of trying to aquire them on the rock?

    Are most of these creatures good or bad? If bad how hard/expensive is it to rid your tank of these pests?


    5) Is one faster than the other?

    From what I have been able to gather, in both instances you have to allow your tank to through the nitrogen cycle before you can start adding fish (or anything else). This is to allow the good bacteria to establish itself in the tank. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but i have heard that this can take anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks for live rock. Would't this take about the same amount of time.

    Do you have to add fish more slowly when starting out with dry rock? My thinking behind this one is that since live rock has more organic debri on it to decompose during the nitrogen cycle, there will be more bacteria in the tank to handle the bio load from new fish. Or does the bacteria react fast enough to changes in bio load that the initial population would be an insignificant factor when first adding fish? Either way you still have to go slowly, don't you?

    I can see how coraline would establish itself faster in the tank faster, since there would be surviving coraline all on all the rocks. Is this what people are talking about when they say it's faster?


    Please correct me if I'm wrong anywhere, and I apologize for being long winded.
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  3. sostoudt

    sostoudt Giant Squid

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    ill let other people go more indepth im about to go running, but the recommendation i would give is
    buy a few pieces of live rock(either from a trusted source, or the pieces should be small so know big hitchhikers could hide) the the rest should be base rock.
  4. coldshot

    coldshot Blue Ringed Angel

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    If the base rock has alot of good surface area then I would go mostly base rock with a little live rock as stated by sostoudt. If the base rock has alot of holes and not much suraface then I would go all live, and get pre-cured. If I ever set up another tank I will go all pre-cured live rock. If you can go to a local LFS and pick and choose your live rock and can afford the prices then that is the way I would go, it would cost a good bit more but you would know what you are getting, as with online base rock it is you get what they send you. I prefer the pick and choose as it is sometihing you will have to look at for year's to come.
    Danny
  5. szrazzt

    szrazzt Purple Spiny Lobster

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    Your thinking things out very well and most of your thoughts seem right on track.

    Here is my oppinion on live versus dry rock (called base rock a lot)

    Live rock does have more organic debri and organisms that didnt survive being ripped out of the ocean. These tend to die off and can generate quite a bit of ammonia which is usefull in starting the nitrogen cycle. Live rock also comes with other critters that are helpfull, harmfull and neutral.

    Harmfull would be things like mantis shrimp (not likely), aiptasia anemonies (likely and annoying), neudibranchs that eat corals and things like that.

    Helpfull would be other anemonies, feather dusters, snales, sponges, corals, pods as well as already having some of the bacteria involved in the nitrogen cycle already present.

    The neutral ones dont have an impact on your tank but look interesting and can include shrimp and other critters.

    My oppinion is do a mix. This is based on compromising between cost and bio diversity. I want my tank to always surprise me. I like turning on my red lights at night and seeing a stomatella varia snale or noticing an algae eating sea star mowing down my algae. I think any good tank has to have a good mix of inhabitants to really make a reef tank.

    Liverock, if it is from an established tank, will cut the time of your cycle down quite a lot. Mine was done in about 3 weeks but I was patient and didnt add anything else to the tank for a while after it finished. Base rock will take longer as all of the bacteria has to establish it self in the tank. This can take up to a couple months to fully cycle.

    Base rock also has two major advantages. The first is cost as I got mine for 2.00 a pound and it is much easier to get large structural pieces of baserock than to find just that right piece of large live rock. It also isnt taken from the ocean in most cases so it doesn't contribute to the destruction of the reefs.


    If you go all base rock you will need to add a couple pieces of live rock to your tank before any coraline algae starts to grow or scrape some coraline off of someone elses rock and dump that in your tank.
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  6. GuitarMan89

    GuitarMan89 Giant Squid

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    1. Live rock will allow you in general a faster cycle. This is because there is already bacteria colonizing the rock whereas with dry rock, you need to start from scratch. I started with pre-cured live rock and my cycle only took about a week. I never even measured ammonia, only nitrite. I cured dry base rock and that took about 3 weeks to cycle.

    You should add fish slowly no matter what type of rock you use. After a cycle of dry or pre-cured rock, the bacteria population will be at a minimum. The more organic waste on the rock, the more bacteria will grow, but that will cause the cycle to take more time because you will have more ammonia and more nitrite than if there was less organic material.
    2. Dry rock is lighter, so you get more for your money, you don't get any unwanted hitchhikers or nuisance algae. It is significantly cheaper, even if you need to buy off line and pay shipping.
    3. I don't feel it is worth it to pay more for live rock. If you only need a little bit, it is easier to go with live rock, you can pick it out at the lfs and get a piece you may need. However, I don't like paying for extra for something that isn't necessary.

    4. Usually some macro algae, GHA, bryopsis. Occassionaly you will see some nice, beneficial macro algae such as dragon's breath, but this is rare. You may also get some critter such as stomatella, bristle worms, sponges, turnicates, isopods, copepods, aptaisia, mantis shrimp etc. Corals are a very rare find.

    If you get GHA, it's not too bad, but if you get bryopsis, it will be very difficult to rid your tank. Isopods are bad, and hard to eradicate because they will reproduce. Stomatella are good as are copepods. Sponges aren't bad, but in my experience usually die, although I do have a bunch of pineapple sponges in my sump and under my rocks. You may also get some nudibranches which can eat certain corals, zoas or monitpora, or some aren't so bad, it's the luck of the draw. Aptasia can get out of control quickly, but can be killed. Some like mantis shrimp, others don't. You may also get asterina starfish too.

    The good news, you seem to have a good idea of what your talking about. I would go with dry base rock for the above mentioned benefits. I started with pre-cured and suffered a bryopsis outbreak, which nearly made me take my tank down, I have had monti eating nudibranches, I also got stomatella. I wish I would have just used base rock. That way you know exactly what is going into your tank. Check out bulkreefsupply.com, they have a good deal on base rock. I had a very bad experience with Marco Rocks, but others have had good. I would go with fiji rock or other rock from the Pacific. Florida rock is more dense and doesn't look as nice in my opinion, but it is dirt cheap. Good luck and hopefully I have answered some of your questions.

    Also, don't base your decision on coraline algae. It will grow. If you get corals, most of the time it comes in on the rock or plug. So don't worry about it. It actually becomes a nuisance itself.
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  7. sostoudt

    sostoudt Giant Squid

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    im back and tired

    1) What are the advantages and disadvantages of using live rock?
    advantages:has bacteria already established for the most part.
    comes with cool hitch-hikers.
    may look better more natural(some may look crappy though).
    has organism or dead stuff to start a cycle.
    more porous usually, with deep wholes that support both aerobic and anerobic bacteria
    disadvantages: comes with uncool hitch-hikers.
    expensive.
    has dead stuff to spike parameters.


    2) What are the advantages and disadvantages of using dry rock?
    advantages:
    cheaper.
    no uncool hitch hikers.
    disadvantages: may not look as good
    no cool hitch hikers
    may take bacteria alot longer to colonize, and you may not get the same types.
    may be less porous.
    3) Why (or why not) is it worth paying 2 or 3 times more for live rock over dry rock? Especially since dry rock becomes live. If it's worth
    see disadvatages and advantages and you decide

    The usual answers i get to this one often lead to more questions. I have listed some of them below.

    "Because it's better." This tell's me nothing except that whoever is answering doesn't really know what they are talking about. Why is it better?
    see dis/advantages

    4) What commonly survives on quality live rock that is recieved fresh and is properly cured?
    coraline, types of soft coral, hardy anemones, shrimps or copepods, crabs algaes. sorry you wont find a tang in your liverock(atleast not a live one).

    I know coraline is one of the main things, but that seems easy and cheap to come by. So coraline can't be the main justification. What else is there, and is it easy/inexpensive to purchase these things individually instead of trying to aquire them on the rock?
    copepods would be the other important thing besides bacteria. but copepods are too hard to buy and introduce. the bacteria is really the most important thing.

    Are most of these creatures good or bad? If bad how hard/expensive is it to rid your tank of these pests?
    most are probably benign, its just you always notice the bad ones since most bad ones tend to be bad. depending upon the type and the specific individual it can go from very easy to very hard.


    5) Is one faster than the other?
    i would say live rock is alot faster, it would take alot longer to build all the bacteria from scratch, i am unsure as of how long it would take to build a anerobic bacteria.

    From what I have been able to gather, in both instances you have to allow your tank to through the nitrogen cycle before you can start adding fish (or anything else). This is to allow the good bacteria to establish itself in the tank. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but i have heard that this can take anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks for live rock. Would't this take about the same amount of time.
    most of time with good live rock, the nitrogen cycle will almost complete in a week, but i would not add corals and most fish, becuase theres likely to be swings in ph, alk, etc. i would only add very hardy fish at this point, it would be better to wait though. so the nitrogen cycle would take care of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate almost immediatenly with live rock, provided there isnt much die off(which is really what will slow it down.)

    Do you have to add fish more slowly when starting out with dry rock? My thinking behind this one is that since live rock has more organic debri on it to decompose during the nitrogen cycle, there will be more bacteria in the tank to handle the bio load from new fish. Or does the bacteria react fast enough to changes in bio load that the initial population would be an insignificant factor when first adding fish? Either way you still have to go slowly, don't you?
    there will always be parameter spikes when adding animals. bacteria doesnt get put on hold, its population grows and shrinks to meet the avialable ammonia, nitrite etc. but the larger population of live rock can grow faster to meet the bioload since there more to replicate.

    I can see how coraline would establish itself faster in the tank faster, since there would be surviving coraline all on all the rocks. Is this what people are talking about when they say it's faster?
    maybe im not people so i cant say, but most of the coralline will probably die in the cycle.
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  9. stepho

    stepho Panda Puffer

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    There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

    If you go live you can get rock from tampabaysaltwater.com, I got some for my mantis tank. It is cured in the ocean so it has a ton of life on it. The pieces I got have barnacles, sponges, macro algae, mini feather dusters, worms with little tentacles for cleaning debris off the sand.

    If I had my reef tank to do again, I would use all base rock with zero live. I don't think I would want coraline algae in my next tank. It can be a pain cleaning it off the glass, and I heard on here it can clog pumps. I would rather just cover my rocks in corals to "color them up"
  10. marlinman

    marlinman Zoanthid

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    I hate to disagree with many of you as this hobby is about live rock and live sand and creating an atmosphere similar to the oceans floor. I think a mix of base rock and live rock is a thrifty way of keeping the reef alive. I put base rock on the bottom of the tank and in the back of the tank under the live rock. That is the way I've been told to do it. The end result is a cost effective beautiful looking reef. I have base rock, fuji rock, tonga rock and florida aquacultured rock. It works for me but you can start with base rock and add live cured rock as you can afford it. Just leave yourself the room for the good stuff. My tank is about half base and half live rock.

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  11. steve wright

    steve wright Super Moderator Staff Member

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    My two cents worth

    Live rock - any rock that has beneficial bacteria colonising on and in the nooks and crannies ( forget the higher life forms and hitchhikers as they are not as important as the bacteria)

    dead/ base rock - rock thats sold dry and has none of the above

    base rock placed in an aquarium, will eventually be colonised by the bacteria and thus base rock , becomes live rock over a period of time


    use live rock - you get what marlinman describes above reasonably fast
    use base rock - you get what marlinman describes above - just takes longer

    some live rock to seed base rock with coralline etc for aesthetics is something I also like to do

    Steve
  12. lambo125

    lambo125 Plankton

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    Thanks for all of the great replies. Right now, I am leaning toward getting all dry rock. This is kind of odd because a week ago i was sold on completely getting all live rock. My main reason for this is pest control. I want my tank to be as maintenance free, hassle free, annoyance free, etc as possible. The "surprise" aspect is pretty tempting though.

    I have just a few more questions.

    sosdoudt, please you elaborate on this. Why?

    I have been considering the following dry rock.

    Reefcleaners.org
    ReefCleaners.org | Clean Up Crews and Macro Algae - Rock

    marcorocks.com Key Largo (Deco) rock
    Marco Rocks The finest aquarium rock available, base rock, live rock, reef rock, marco rock, reef tank saltwater fish, live corals, Marco rocks, Fiji live rock, Tonga Live rock

    Bulkreefsupply.com BRS Reef Saver Eco RoX
    http://www.bulkreefsupply.com/Eco-RoX-(-Fiji-Rock-)/c7/p798/BRS-%E2%80%9CReef-Saver%E2%80%9D-Eco-Rocks/product_info.html

    I would like to hear comments from anyone who has had experience with these. Especially from anyone who has experience with more than one of these types of rock. Which one is better? How porous/dense is it? What is it shaped? etc.