Most people are confused when they first hear the words “live rock”. Certainly rocks and sand aren’t alive, are they?
But aquarium owners know that live rock is essential for a healthy ecosystem within an aquarium, and without it, their other living aquatic pets and organisms won’t last for long.
“Live rock” is rock that has been harvested from the ocean, and is placed in a saltwater aquarium environment without being sterilized. These rocks are often not rocks at all, but skeletons of long-dead aquatic organisms. They are host and home to various corals, algae, sponges, invertebrates, and bacteria and microorganisms that are required to keep a closed-loop saltwater ecosystem healthy.
Primary Purpose of Live Rock
The primary purpose of using live rock in an aquarium is to create a healthy nitrogen cycle. The nitrogen cycle works like this:
- Fish and marine creatures produce waste in the form of ammonia. If allowed to build up in the water, this ammonia is toxic to life in the aquarium.
- Fortunately, bacteria called nitrosomonas consume ammonia and convert it into nitrite. Unfortunately, nitrite is also toxic to fish if it accumulates in an aquarium.
- If we have the presence of another bacteria called nitrobacter, they will consume nitrite and convert that into nitrate. Nitrate is less toxic than the previous compounds, but is still harmful to fish and will kill corals.
- But, finally, denitrifying bacteria consume nitrate and convert it into nitrogen gas. This harmless gas leaves the aquarium in the form of air bubbles.
This process, in which fish and aquarium pets produce toxic waste, which beneficial bacteria then convert into a harmless gas, is a cycle necessary to sustain life in the aquarium. In this way, due to the presence of a variety of helpful bacteria and microorganisms, live rock acts as a natural biological water filter, helping the aquarium stay clean and healthy.
Other Benefits Live Rock Brings
However, while fixing the nitrogen cycle in a saltwater aquarium is the primary role of live rock, that’s not all it can do. Live rock brings many other healthy and beneficial properties to an aquarium. Live rock also:
- Helps stabilize water chemistry. By slowly releasing calcium carbonate over time, live rocks help to maintain the pH level of the water.
- Adds biological diversity. Because the rock is naturally harvested from the ocean, it may come along with a diverse array of species that will surprise the aquarium owner. It may have algae and small plant life in surprising colors, and it will continue to live, grow, and change over time.
- Adds beauty. Live rock is essential for the natural look of a marine habitat. It adds beauty, texture, and interest to the look of an aquarium.
- Provides habitat. Just like in nature, where fish, crabs, snails, and other marine animals find shelter in and among rocks on the ocean floor, live rock will create small habitats within the home aquarium. Many fish require hiding places to feel safe and reduce stress, and make the aquarium feel more like “home”.
- Differentiates light and water flow. Many species of marine creatures and plants like different amounts of light and current available to them. Live rock creates micro-climates where different species can thrive.
For all these reasons and more, live rock is both necessary and desirable in a saltwater aquarium. Because it is alive and natural, no two specimens are exactly alike, and no two specimens have the exact same composition of micro- and macro-organisms. Each one is unique, and plays a special role in the chemical and visual composition of an aquarium. Contact us to learn more about the special properties of live rock, and how it can make your aquarium healthier and happier.