A Clean Start: The Benefits of Using Dry Base Rock

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.


Aquarium use

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!


Stepping stones

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!

81 thoughts on “A Clean Start: The Benefits of Using Dry Base Rock”

  1. I used your new tank set up with my 40 Fallon reef. First time I have ever done dry rock and sand. Went great thanks

    1. Benjamin Hosaflook

      I’d only ever use dry rock. I don’t like risking getting pests and nasty critters in my tank!

  2. I should have used dry base rock. I bought live rock from my LFS and it came with vermetid snails that survived the dip. Now I am constantly fighting these things.

  3. I have been thinking about doing this… I do love the idea of pest free!
    I have added dry rock to my existing tank and I know everything colors up and comes alive

  4. After using dry rock Ill probably never go back to live unless its from a well established tank that i know.

  5. Foster L White Jr

    I have done this in the past. I have a friend that is in the midst of getting things together. As with the other I am forwarding this along.

  6. Back in the days we use live rocks to start and landscape our tanks. But all my recently built I been using dry rock. Much safer less hitchhiking pests. And withing few month time, seeding beneficial bacteria, amphipods, coppods, and different types of beneficial worms it will became more than alive. Ready and looking like right out of the ocean.

  7. Dry rock seems like a good idea, but will miss the nice surprises that can come with traditional live rock.

  8. Dry rock is definitely the best way for aquarium set up for your first tank. The biodiversity of wet rock is great but you WILL get unwanted items too. Adding your own small frags and inverts is best. Then just add some loose rock to the back if first tank to begin seeding for next tank.

  9. I’ve always started with responsibly sourced dry rock, and then seed it with rubble from an established tank

  10. Didnt use dry rock, thought it would be nice to get a variety of micro fauna. Ended up getting a gorilla crab, aiptasia, and vermetid snails for no additional cost!

  11. Leslie Pustilnik

    I started one tank with live rock and one with mostly dry. I was happier with the mostly dry rock process.

  12. William Smithee

    I started my current aquarium with dry rock. I’m still going through the ugly phase. Hopefully, things will get better soon.

  13. Elmer Nicomedez

    I still find myself wanting live rock, if I can find a source that does not hurt the reefs. No pest is a great goal but to my reality, all things have their place. I took things slow at the early stages of my tank and have come out successful. I have found the more involved you are with maintaining the tank with minimal interference to the natural order of the tank will produce a tank that will love you back.

  14. Both good and bad, no pests (esp aptasia) but a lot of good tank clean up animals such as small brittle stars, copepods and bacteria can come with. As long as it’s environmentally responsible, either is a good choice

  15. I am new to saltwater/marine tanks. I have used live rock on my first built but I am going to use dry rock on my second built

  16. Judi A Knight-Mitzel

    Its been aprox 10 yrs since i had a SW tank and this time around I started with dry rock to prevent bringing in unwanted “extras”. I am in the process of setting up a refuge and hoping to eventually have lots of copepods naturally reproducing.

    One question I have: With using 1 lb per gal, in a 32 g biocube, we tried building “up” more. But it seems as though so many corals prefer sand bed or lower area…. With limited “floor” space, how do people work around this?

  17. Have started reef tanks with dry rock for my last 4 tanks and have had great success! It takes longer to get a well established tank in my opinion but avoids a lot of unwanted pests.

  18. I love the carib sea shapes plus you don’t have to worry about everything drying out while you spape it the way you want and killing everything that makes it live leaving you with alot of amonia

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