Are Live Rocks and Live Sands Essential in a Marine Aquarium Setup?

Yellow fish pecking sand in a fish tank

The internet is swimming with debates surrounding one key question: Do you need live rock and live sand in a marine aquarium?

Marine (saltwater) aquariums are very delicate ecosystems, requiring a great deal of care and maintenance to remain healthy. Live rocks and sands do indeed bring many benefits to these ecosystems, making them well worth considering when setting up a new marine tank. We’re going to share these benefits with you today, but first:

What is live rock and live sand?

Live rock is made up of the calcium carbonate skeletons of dead corals and other organisms, with many forms of microscopic marine life living on and inside it. Live rock is usually home to organisms such as algae, bacteria, crabs, marine worms and small crustaceans that can be beneficial to your aquarium in various ways.

Live sand is natural reef coral sand collected from the ocean, or cultured from non-living coral sand. Like the rock, live sand is packed with microscopic biological bacteria, tiny crustaceans and other organisms.

So why are they so beneficial?

Natural filtration

Live rock and live sand can be used as the primary biological filtration system in a marine tank. Both are teaming with beneficial bacteria and provide a great deal of surface area for effective filtration. This bacteria first helps convert the ammonia generated by fish waste and uneaten food into nitrite, which it then converts into less harmful nitrate before finally converting it to harmless nitrogen gas. You can choose to use an aquarium powerhead in conjunction with your live rock to help replicate an ocean current and assist the development of your corals.

Using live rock can also help speed up the tank cycling process, sometimes cutting the time down by a matter of weeks, which is great if you’re keen to get your tank up and running as quickly as possible.

Corals and rock

Stabilise water chemistry

Marine aquariums rely on the maintenance of a delicate pH balance, with any drastic changes resulting in harm to livestock. This is where live rock and sand once again becomes useful. As the rock and sand are made up of the calcified skeletons of dead corals, they gradually release calcium into the water, which helps to maintain a stable pH. You should continually test your aquarium pH levels using test kits when introducing live rock and sand to ensure it remains stable.

Natural Shelter

Marine fish and other lifeforms take refuge among the coral and rock on the seabed in their natural habitats, so it makes sense to provide them with the same option in an aquarium habitat. Fish and crustaceans often like to flit in and out of rocks or hide themselves in the sand when they feel threatened, so this is the most natural way to replicate their natural environments.

Natural source of food

The algae, bacteria and other organisms that live on the rocks and within the sand are great natural sources of food for the fish and invertebrates in your marine aquarium. This also simulates a much more natural lifestyle for your marine life, who love nothing more than to graze the seabed and rocks looking for tasty morsels.

It looks fantastic

Once fully cured, live rocks will provide you with an ever changing aquarium, with new organisms in a variety of vivid colours springing to life with each passing week. Marine aquariums that are rock-scaped are also the most attractive and natural-looking, and are just as colourful and varied as a heavily planted aquarium.

Any drawbacks?

Of course, there are always downsides to every choice you make with your marine aquarium setup, but these are minimal.

The most obvious drawback of using live rock and sand is the higher cost. Living rocks are

harder to obtain and cure, and so are naturally more expensive to get hold of. The benefits of using them far outweigh this issue, however, so it is worth saving the extra funds.

Another drawback is the risk of critters on your rock that could damage your aquarium ecosystem, but this is easily avoided by thorough cleaning and curing of the rock outside your aquarium prior to adding it to the tank.

All in all, using live rock and sand in your marine aquarium carries far more benefits than drawbacks. We would suggest seeking as much advice and information as possible before you make the leap to live additions to ensure your new tank gets the best start. For a huge range of other essential aquarium equipment, including tanks, pumps, filters and water testing kits, hop on over to our aquarium supplies range. Alternatively, you can give our expert sales team a call on 01642 612419 for more advice on setting up marine aquariums.

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