Live rock is very effective and efficient when it comes to saltwater aquarium filtration however dependant upon the size of the aquarium can be quite expensive to purchase.
There are, of course other filtration methods you can utilise in the saltwater aquarium. These range from deep sand beds, plenums, canister filters to name just a few.
So if you are put off by cost or are looking to utilise another type of filtration then what else can you use inside the aquarium to provide hiding places for fish and places to attach corals to.
It is probably best if we split this into two sections – one based around cost and the other around using alternative filtration methods.
First let’s have a look at cost. As said to provide enough live rock in the [tag-ice]aquarium[/tag-ice] can become quite expensive if the aquarium is of a large or even medium size. The main reason for this cost is that the majority of the live rock sold is what is called premium quality i.e. it is covered in coralline algae, has lots of life on it etc.
If you think about it the quite a lot of the rock which you place into the aquarium is not going to be seen by you – it is going to be hidden by other rocks. So why pay for the expensive stuff if you are not going to see it.
Why not use base rock. This is exactly the same as live rock and is full of the required bacteria required to perform the filtration but is lacking the coralline etc which makes it look nicer. Base rock is a lot cheaper than premium rock. Quite a lot of people (myself included) purchase about 75% of the required rock as base rock and then the remaining amount as premium quality.
What I do is only use the premium rock on the face – all the other rock in the aquarium is base rock. I have not lost any of my filtration capabilities and over time the base rock will become covered in coralline like the premium rock.
I personally prefer the above method when you are filtering the aquarium via live rock. There are other methods as well which you can use but one thing you must do with these other methods is to ensure that you are providing the required amount of filtration necessary for your aquarium size and bio load.
The second part of this article can cover both areas i.e. saving money and providing filtration via alternative methods.
Personally I believe that there are realistically three options available to the aquarists.
The first one is to use a product which is commonly known as [tag-tec]reef bones[/tag-tec]. Reef bones is basically rock which once used to be live. This is normally removed from places like the top of caves where they are cleaned and prepared ready for home aquarium use. If you are using live rock then they can be used as a base. If you are using another method of filtration then they can be used in the aquarium for decorative purposes as well as providing cover for fish and places to attach your corals to. Over time reef bones starts to look very natural – actually it looks just like live rock. It gets covered in [tag-self]coralline algae[/tag-self] as well as other growth found in the home aquarium. Over time these reef ones may again become live.
The second method is to make your own rock. I personally have never tried this but have been tempted on occasions (just to see if I could do it). A lot of people are reporting success using this method and the good thing is that you can make your own rock to the exact shape and size you want so that you can aquascape your aquarium exactly how you want it. A great place to check out if you are interested in making your own rock is http://www.garf.org.
The third method is to use another type of marine safe rock. When I say reef safe I mean that it does not contain anything in the rock which may leach out into the water and be detrimental to the health of the inhabitants for example metals, pollutants etc. Some aquarium shops sell rocks which have been prepared for the home saltwater aquarium. I would recommend that if you are interested in this method that you check that the rock is reef safe before adding it. I would also recommend that you bathe it in freshwater for a while prior to adding it to the aquarium so that any aspects which may be in the rock have time to leach out.
There are a lot of people who believe that live rock is the only thing available when it comes to decorating the aquarium. The truth is that there are lots of options available. I agree that live rock is very attractive and has fantastic filtration capabilities, however live rock is not for everyone – everyone is different, that is what makes the human race so interesting.