Considering that it serves as both aquascape material and biofilter medium, it’s safe to say that live rock is pretty important. We want it to look and “behave” as naturally as possible. Really, truly “live” rock can only be as good as the base you build it on. For reef aquaria, the best substructure is the one that corals grow on in the wild: Natural base rock.
Natural base rock is composed primarily of calcium carbonate skeletons that previous stony coral residents left behind. In fact, coral reefs are pretty much made up entirely of base rock, with a relatively thin layer of living corals over the surface. Because of its many little pockets and miniscule pores, freshly deposited material can host many ecologically beneficial organisms ranging from nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria to microcrustaceans such as copepods.
In terms of appearance, ease-of-use and ecological friendliness, it’s hard to beat AlgaeBarn’s dry base rock. This premium natural reef rock is sustainably extracted in Florida. As evident from their composition and their distinctive striations, these deposits were once part of a large ancient coral reef.
For most aquarists, top-notch base rock is irregularly shaped (rather than round cobbles) and low-density (that is, highly porous). The closer you look at it, the more little pits and crannies and tunnels you see. It’s pretty difficult to recreate the real thing. Yet there is good reason to do so, as alternatives to wild-collected reef rock help reduce ecological disturbance in sensitive coral reef habitats.
A very attractive alternative is AlgaeBarn’s dry base rock. It is available in three sizes, with each piece being unique. This stuff looks real, the shapes are cool and it’s extremely easy to work with. You either can add this rock to your existing reef structure or build a totally new hardscape. And its benefits aren’t just functional or aesthetic.
Dry base rock gives you more control over the ecological development of your reef structure. Firstly, it is devoid of organisms that can die and foul the water. This means no stinky, nasty “curing” period to wait out. Base rock develops into beautiful “live” rock as exposed surfaces become colonized by various desirable crustose algae and sessile invertebrates. Just as importantly, because it is dry and sterile, it poses to risk of introducing unwanted hitchhikers (such as Aiptasia or hair algae).
This rock scapes to form intricate structures rather than just boring stacks. Its highly irregular shape is attractive and permits good water circulation. Its high porosity allows for a rich microbial community. In fact, using Fritz TurboStart 900 and an ammonia source, you can turn this product into fully cycled live rock in as little as five days!
Generally, base rock is used to establish a system biologically before more heavily colonized premium rock is added. This allows to system to cycle fully before introducing more sensitive live rock organisms (such as sponges). When starting exclusively with dry base rock, this process can (and should) be carried out in the dark as to halt algal blooms.
How much is enough? Never seems to be enough rock in practice, right? For that reason, we would recommend acquiring slightly more than the estimated required amount. We recommend around 1 pound of rock per 1 gallon of display tank aquarium volume. This will give you some extra options as you scape, and also leave a piece or two to toss in the sump or refugium. Because it is completely chemically inert, it never needs to be replaced.
Finally, this material is incredibly simple to work with. It is amorphous rather than chunky. You can break it up or even drill it as you please. Just rinse it and it’s ready to use! With AlgaeBarn’s dry reef rock, there is no need for curing (thank goodness) nor any need to quarantine for pests or parasites.
The obvious choice
When comparing dry reef rock to other materials, it’s always good to start by pointing out that this rock is extracted in an environmentally responsible manner: from an ancient, dried-up coral reef (AlgaeBarn will not carry any rock that mined from a living reef).
But reef aquarists very often have additional considerations such as cost and appearance. In terms of cost, you can’t go wrong shipping dry! Sure does help that this material is so porous and lightweight. And for those purists who demand authenticity, you may rest assured that it is a totally natural material with a naturally beautiful look.
But talk about a much smoother ride when establishing a new system! With dry rock, you escape the headaches caused by hitchhiking pests or water fouling caused by die-off; it might take nothing more than a single Aiptasia to make you wish that you’d started dry. Using quality bacterial inoculants, you can have the rock and whole system cycled in very short time with no messes. Its many little cracks and crevasses offer refuge to tiny beneficial animals such as copepods. Highly versatile, it can be used effectively to create an awesome frame for your final, mature reef display!