Live Rock

What Is Live Rock?

When talking about live rock (LR), it is a misconception that the rock itself is alive. What makes it live are the many forms of micro and macroscopic marine life that live on and inside of it. The rock itself is only made up of the calcium carbonate skeletons of long dead corals, or other calcareous organisms.

There are different types of live rock. In J. Charles Delbeek's article "Your First Reef Aquarium", published in Aquarium USA in 1994, under the Live Rock section he refers to "reef rock" basically as pieces of coral or coral rock from outside the reef that have broken off and fallen to the bottom that then becomes covered with encrusting organisms, such as coraline algae and sponges. "Inshore rock" Delbeek refers to as rock from inside the reef that has a tendency to be more dense and becomes covered with macroalgae, clams, mussels, crabs, shrimps, and other unwanted organisms. In Delbeek's view, reef rock is much more desirable then inshore rock because it cycles more quickly and stabilizes a tank much faster.

There is also dead base rock, meaning it has no live growth on it. This is rock that is devoid of external life that probably won't see much light, so you can put other forms of more advanced live rock and corals on top of it to build your reef system base, once your tank has settled and the base rock is seeded or cured. Beginning a reef tank using seeded base live rock as the center stones of the aquarium is not a bad idea. Once the base rock is established, then you can begin to add, slowly, more advanced types of live rock.

What Is The Purpose of Live Rock?

Live rock becomes the main biological nitrification base or biological filter of a saltwater aquarium, while at the same time enhances the look of the aquarium and provides shelter for the inhabitants. To better understand what purpose live rock serves in an aquarium, Delbeek explains it like this:

    "The use of live rock immediately introduces into the aquarium numerous algae, bacteria and small invertebrates all of which contribute to the overall quality of the aquarium water. Live rock has just as much, if not more, surface area for bacteria than a trickle filter. Since live rock in the aquarium contains various types of bacteria, algae and corals, waste products such as ammonia, nitrate and phosphate can have a number of fates. Ammonia, nitrate and phosphate are readily assimilated by algae and photosynthetic corals growing on and in the rock. Ammonia can also be quickly converted into nitrate by the bacteria on and in the rock. This nitrate can be either absorbed by the algae and corals, or it can be denitrified by bacteria in close proximity to the nitrate producing bacteria."
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