Live Rock A ‘Different’ Way

Live rock is quite rightly highly rated by marine aquarists, particularly by those with a reef, for both its filtration capabilities and its appearance. It is natural, what could be better than that? Well, nothing really, but nevertheless there are drawbacks in its use.

The first negative is that it is expensive and it’s bound to be with the cost of air freight never mind transport to the final destination in the US or Europe. This cost is generated by both weight and bulk.  Nevertheless, aquarists buy it and can reduce their costs by using base rock underneath the reef which is less expensive. Another way is to reduce the amount required by putting face rock on a framework of plastic supports which means less is required, though care has to be taken that there is still an adequate amount for effective bio-filtration.

Some enterprising aquarists manufacture their own live rock though the numbers who do this are low and the result is not usually as good looking as the real stuff (in my opinion).

Other aquarists use dead inert rock as a reef and employ canister filters for the bio-filtration. This is what I did with my current reef. The bio-media is being removed from the canisters as the rocks are now live.

The last paragraph leads me into the reason for this text. My aquarium (over six years old) is now using rocks as its main bio-filtration, as said the rocks were previously ‘dead’. After setting up the aquarium, before the canisters could be used they had to be ‘matured’, that is a bacterial culture had to be started within them. It could have been done another way – I could probably have used maturation fluid to establish a bacteria colony on the rocks in the first place, they are very porous. The rocks when used initially were not very ‘reefy’ looking though they are now.

If only there were rocks that were both porous and ‘reefy’ in appearance many aquarists would be pleased. Well, it seems there are now.

Artificial ceramic reef ‘rocks’ were brought to my attention by a comment on the forum, they are named Vida Rocks. So of course, never having heard of them, I went onto the internet and had a look. I have to say that the appearance of the rocks seems good, they are natural looking taking the shape of ordinary rocks, arches etc. An aquarist would be able to create a good looking aquascape with them.

The rocks are stated to be highly porous. This means that they should present a suitable habitat for those bacteria that protect our livestock. The bacteria culture would have to be kick started in the same way that a canister filter is by the use of maturation fluid, but this is not a problem. With this method nitrate will probably appear in the aquarium but this is easily reduced by a seawater change. As the ceramic article is porous the possibility, or maybe probability, arises that nitrate could be dealt with as with natural live rock. Bacteria could establish inside the rock in low oxygen areas. It would be great if this occurred.

So we have a system that will present an ‘authentic’ reef appearance and provide adequate bio-filtration. Over time the rocks will become more natural looking as organisms take over the surface areas. These organisms could be introduced on rocks with corals attached.

There must be disadvantages though, and there are. The ceramic rock is not loaded with bacteria by Mother Nature as the natural stuff is. Also, the life forms that could appear in the aquarium when using natural live rocks are not there. The life that could appear with natural rocks is a gift, and there is often quite a lot of it even after the transport time and ‘curing’ process. However, natural live rock could also bring undesirables such as aiptasia (glass anemones) etc which will obviously not occur with the ceramic type. Undesirables could appear in the course of time anyway as coral rocks will be introduced to a reef system and so the threat remains.

I am all for the move to ‘natural’ based aquarium husbandry as are most aquarists and this hasn’t changed. Live rock and deep sand beds (DSB’s) are a good example. This ceramic rock has aroused my interest. If the ceramic rock has been ‘matured’ with bacteria and is combined with a DSB it would amount to very nearly the same thing, with a difference.

The difference is that live rock for the most part is taken from the wild reef areas. By using the manufactured rock the demand on the wild resources would be reduced which generally would be good. Local fish shops (LFS’s) would probably state that it would affect their trade, so they could sell the ceramic variety. They could even sell more of it as it would no doubt be cheaper particularly as it does not have to be air freighted, at least in the US where it is manufactured (I do not know the price).

For an aquarist who is considering extending their reef (or fish only aquascape) this ceramic rock could be considered. It will need a little time to mature (bacteria) so if increased stocking is envisaged care would be needed.

For an aquarist who is just setting up a marine system it is a consideration as a particular aquascape design can more or less be achieved. The normal constraints on stocking after maturation would apply, as with a canister filter. Unlike a canister filter, hopefully the industrious bacteria within the ceramic rock would within reason have an effect on nitrate levels.

Have a look and see what you think:

I look forward to comments by aquarists who use it.

( does not have any links, personal or commercial, with the above internet site)

  1. Hi John,

    Great aquarium site you have here! I just stopped by in doing some research on aquarium-related sites and came across aquaristsonline. I help manage a website called Factoidz – we are a place where people come to seek expert advice across a range of topics from health to pet care to parenting. We’ve had a bunch of people come in and ask questions about aquariums and fish care, and we don’t have many aquarium experts on the site, so I’m trying to reach out to some knowledgeable people who like to blog / publish in this topic and see if anyone is up for checking us out. Sorry, if this seems promotional and understood if you take this comment down (we deal with spam all the time, so we know how it feels!) – but thought you might enjoy the site and connect with some new readers. We’re fairly new but are growing quickly, and he aquarium topic (we call it an ‘experttag’) is open and will be filling in with experts soon, we hope you have time to swing by and check us out.

    Thanks for your time if you read this, and best of luck with your blog!

    ps. you can find some of the aquarium discussions here:


    Shelly Chungs last blog post..Any reviews on 100% vegan products?

  2. Hello.

    Thanks for the compliment. Your site sounds interesting and, though I haven’t yet, I’ll certainly visit and have a wander. As far as us lending a hand, I’ll draw Peter’s (my son) attention to this and we will come back to you before long. We are a marine aquarists site of course, I’m sure you noticed.


  3. Hello John and Shelly,

    I totally agree how rocks transform a tank’s appearance. Aside from being an ornament, it also helps in one of the important functions of having an aquarium. At the same time, freshwater aquarium rocks are also must-haves to each tank of a fish hobbyist.:)

  4. nice post. thanks.

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