Live rock and live sand

new live rock

Live Rock and live sand for Your Saltwater Aquarium

new live rock

If you are in the process of setting up a saltwater aquarium in your home and wondering about what live rock and sand are, and how to incorporate it into your tank, you will find all the answers below.

What is Live Rock?

Live rock comes from the ocean and is made up of the aragonite skeletons of corals that have long since died, and other calcareous organisms. When live rock comes from the ocean, it is usually inhabited by a variety of marine life, hence the name “live Rock”. Live rock is harvested from the sea for the aquarium trade and is not only necessary, but also adds to the décor of your tank, making it visually appealing.

Live rock needs to be cured before it is placed in your aquarium. Most of the organisms that did live in the rock before being taken out of the ocean, would have already died, which can pose a risk to a new aquarium. To avoid this problem, the rock gets put into water for a few weeks, making sure that all the dead organisms decompose completely. This process is needed so that the rock can no longer be a threat to the water quality.
There are a variety of different kinds of live rock, which get their names from the area where they came from. Each different type has different qualities that work better in certain kinds of aquariums.

uncured live rock
newly introduced uncured live rock

Types of Live Rock Available for Hobbyists

There are many different types of live rock available. Which type you choose to use is a personal choice. Here are the names of the variety of live rock available for your reference:
Fiji live rock, Totoka live rock, Florida rock, Caribbean rock, Vanuatu rock, Tonga rock, Base rock, Pacific rock, Atlantic rock, Reef rock, Cultured rock, Base rock, Artificial rock, Cured rock, Uncured rock, Eco-rock, Tonga rock and Aqua-Cultured Rock

What is Base Rock?

Base rock is a dry rock that never had any organisms living on or in it. Base rock is generally used as a filler for your aquarium and is much cheaper than live rock. It can also be hand-made from concrete called aragocrete. Hand-made base rock tends to be less attractive and heavier than natural rock that was harvested from the ocean.

How to Cure Live Rock

uncured live rock
uncured live rock

There are a number of different ways to cure live rock, but here are two methods that are recommended. Although it is not necessary for you to do this, as already cured live rock can be bought, if you wish to cure it yourself, here is how to go about it.

Method 1

This is the process to follow for aquariums that already contain corals, fish and other marine life.
Rinse each and every piece in a container of saltwater. This is done to remove debris, sand and other loose matter.
Using a new 30-gallon plastic container, put the live rock into the container and add seawater (gravity 1.021-1.025), making sure the rock is completely submerged.

Use a heater to keep the temperature of the water between 76 and 84 degree F. The warmer the water is, the faster the process will be completed.

Use an air stone or power head to create constant movement in the water.
It is important that you keep the area dimly lit because this prevents algae blooms.
You need to change the water every week – 100%of the water!
The rock will need to be scrubbed. Use a toothbrush or other nylon bristled brush. This needs to be done every time you change the water. Scrubbing the rock removes any dead materials.
After a week, you must periodically check the nitrate and ammonia levels. The rock is considered to be cured when the ammonia level tests reveal zero and when the water has stabilized. Once you reach this stage, your rock is ready to be put into your aquarium. It usually takes between 3 and 5 weeks for rock to be fully cured with this method.

Method 2

This is the process used for curing rock for an aquarium that had NO coral, fish or other marine life.
Live rock can be used in new aquariums. Firstly, you need to follow the directions provided by the manufacturer with regards to the installation of the filtration system and all other accessories. Fill your new aquarium with water and enough salt to get the correct water gravity (1.021-1.025). One that has been done, activate all the equipment, check to see if there are any leaks and then set the chiller/heater to between 76 and 84 degrees F.

As with method 1, rinse all the rock in a container to free it from all debris, sand and other organic materials.
Put the rock directly into the aquarium, creating a stable base for decorations and corals.
In order to reduce the possibility of algae grow, it is important to remember to keep the lighting system off during this time.

The rock will need to be scrubbed. Use a toothbrush or other nylon bristled brush. This needs to be done every time you change the water. Scrubbing the rock removes any dead materials.
The water will need to be changed (50%) on a weekly basis. This is done by siphoning out loose debris and other organic matter that has accumulated in the aquarium.

As with method 1, the nitrate and ammonia levels need to be checked on a weekly basis.
When the levels of the ammonia and nitrate are at zero, you need to perform a water change (50%).
Check the pH level of the water after 24 hours and adjust accordingly. The correct level is between 8.1 and 8.4.
With this method, most aquariums will be ready in 3-5 weeks.

How to Control Unwanted Pests

unwanted pests from live rock
unwanted pests from live rock

Place new rock into a container filled with saltwater (gravity 1.035-1.040) for one minute. Any bristle worms, mantis shrimp and crabs will very quickly leave the rock and end up in the water.

After the minute, take the rock out of the container and go through the invertebrates that are left behind. There may be some that you actually want in your system, so sort through them and get rid of the pests that you do not want to add to your aquarium. Bristle worms tend to stay attached to the rock, but you an easily remove them with a tweezers or a needle-nosed pliers. You can use this process before or after your rock is cured.

What is Live Sand?

newly laid live sand

Getting a new saltwater tank ready for the first few animals can be a challenging task. It can take some time to build a solid base for a successful aquarium.

Live Sand Explained

Basically, live sand is sand that a variety of invertebrates and bacteria call home. The sand is like an organ to an aquarium, much like the kidneys are to the human body. The kidneys take away pollutants and replace them with not so toxic chemicals that your body can deal with, which is what the sand does for your tank.

Live sand is a place where your tank’s “clean-up” team grow and live. Copepods, bristle worms, mini starfish and other marine creatures all live in and around the sand. They are all important for the health of your tank. They keep your tank clean.

When you buy live sand from a fish store, it is already inhabited by the invertebrates and bacteria that are needed to keep your aquarium healthy and clean.

Do I Have to Use Live Sand in my Tank?

It is not necessary to use live sand in your tank. Some people opt for not using any sand at all. Any sand that you add to your tank will become live sand after a while. Buying live sand can be a lot more costly than dry sand and comes in smaller bags as well. You do not need to buy live sand, as you are able to add dry sand that has just been washed, but make sure it has not been treated with any chemicals.To the sand you could add a little live sand which will spread into other sand creating a tank full of live sand.

You will need to boost your biological filter in some way, but if you are adding live rock to your tank, that will be the cultural boost that it needs and any sand that is present will become “live sand”.

The “Cheap” Method

It is recommended that you use regular sand in your tank if you are working on a strict budget. Live sand might work faster, but dry sand will work just as well, only it will take a little longer to see results. Adding just a small amount of live sand to regular sand will give it the boost it needs. The bacteria and other living creatures in the live sand will move into the dry sand and eventually make it become live sand.

How to Choose a Product

There are so many different options available, so how do you choose the right one for you. It is pretty simple actually you should choose a product according to how you want your tank to look. CaribSea is a popular choice for many people. You will also need to think about the types of animals that will be in your tank. Are they going to burrow in the sand? If so, you will need a specific type of sand.

The Benefits of Using Live Sand

It starts the cycling process right away.
Helps to maintain the correct pH levels.
It provides shelter for fish who like to bury themselves and a place for invertebrates to hide.
It lowers the levels of harmful nitrate
Essentially, at the end of the day, the live rock and live sand that you choose to use is a personal choice. Consider all your options and speak to the staff at the store for further advice on how to achieve what you are looking to create with your unique aquarium.

Cycling your aquarium

mature cycled aquarium

The first thing you should learn about keeping fish is cycling your aquarium. Once you understand the basic idea it will be the single most important piece of knowledge that helps you keep your fish alive.

Most newbie fish keepers learn about cycling after they have set up an aquarium with fish that have died. Only then will they pick up a book to see why their fish died. That is a lesson they will not make again when they read about cycling.

mature cycled aquarium
mature cycled aquarium

1. What every new fish keeper must learn

Fish live and breathe in water. They urinate and poop in the water they breathe. Only one thing can stop them polluting themselves and that is bacteria that eats fish waste and converts it to the relatively harmless fertiliser, nitrate.

Your job as a fish keeper is to grow and keep alive a colony of bacteria that will clean the fish’s water. That is the secret to keeping fish alive for any length of time.
When you add fish to a new fish tank the water is clean. But day by day the fish’s waste product will build up because there is no colony of bacteria to digest the fish waste.

2. Emergency cycling

This is where there is fish in an aquarium and there isn’t a colony of bacteria that can convert the fish’s waste product into nitrate.
This usually occurs when a new tank has been set up and stocked with fish. It can also happen when chemicals or medications have been added to the aquarium which kill off the beneficial bacteria in the filter. It can also occur when the filter stops working, such as when the pump stops working or the filter gets clogged up with gunge. In these situations the bacteria die off and stop converting the fish waste.
Sometimes even when there is a bacterial colony in your filter, there can be an overload of fish waste or a source of decay such as rotting food or a dead fish. Or you might have an overstocked tank, such as when you have just bought some new additional fish or your fish have outgrown the tank or even when your fish have bred with many new baby fish overcrowding the tank.

The question is: How do you deal with this situation?

You need a nitrite and ammonia kit that measures these chemicals coming from fish waste decay. When the reading for ammonia is above 0.25ppm or nitrite above .5ppm then you will need to do a water change with water that has been dechlorinated with a chemical you can buy from the aquarium shop. The closer this reading is to 0ppm the safer it is for your fish but the longer it will take for your filter to develop enough beneficial bacteria. To reduce the amount of ammonia produced by your fish, you need to reduce how much you feed your fish and even stop feeding them for a day or two.

Adding aquarium plants can also help this process because they can actually eat up the ammonia. And usually plants have beneficial bacteria around their roots that will help speed up the the colony in the filter becoming established.

If you have a fully stocked tank with high ammonia levels then you could also try moving some of the fish to a second aquarium.

If you have another aquarium or a friend with an established aquarium then you can squeeze off the sponge (which is full of the beneficial bacteria) from that filter into the new tank. This will make the water cloudy but the filter will draw in the cloudy water with the beneficial bacteria. You will see clean water after a few hours. And with good luck the filter may mature within a couple of days.

3. What is cycling

Cycling is the process where an aquarium develops beneficial bacteria (unsually inside the filter) that breaks down the fish urine and poop into a fertiliser called nitrate. Fish waste products break down into ammonia. The beneficial bacteria eat the ammonia and convert into nitrite and then nitrate. In a new aquarium there is very little bacteria. When ammonia is created by the fish the bacteria eat it and begin to muliply. This takes a while. During this time there will be an excess of ammonia and nitrite. When the bacteria culture is mature, it will completely eat all of the fish waste. At that point the aquarium is declared ‘cycled’.

4. Fish in cycling

Easiest way to cycle your aquarium is by having a few hardy fish in the aquarium while the bacteria colony in the filter is maturing. The fish do suffer stress during this process which is why many advanced aquarists have turned to fishless cycling.
Recommended fish for a tropical aquarium are zebra danios, barbs, platys, or some of the hardier tetras. For coldwater the common goldfish is a tough cookie. For a marine tank blennies, gobies and perhaps damsels are possible candidates. Even though these fish are quite tough don’t be surprised if you have some fish deaths on the way to getting your filter matured.

You will need to do large daily water changes keeping the ammonia under 0.25ppm and the nitrites under 0.5ppm

A way to by-pass or reduce the risk of fish deaths during cycling is by priming the filter by squeezing the sponge from a mature filter into your new aquarium. The cloudy bacteria laden water will be filtered allowing the filter to have an instant colony of beneficial bacteria. You could also cut the sponge from an established tank in half and placing that in the new tank’s filter. You must also cut the new tank’s sponge in half and put that in the old tank’s filter.

Ideally you should have a low stocking level of fish. You will need to monitor your ammonia and nitrite levels daily. When the ammonia and nitrites levels start to drop off then you should be safe to add a fish or two. Then carry on the water changes and water tests. And when the levels drop off again then add one or two fish again. Repeat this process until the aquarium is cycled and the tank is stocked to your satisfaction.

5. Fishless cycling

This is the best way to cycle your aquarium but few aquarists bother with the extra wait before buying fish and with the hassle of buying ammonia and dosing their aquarium with ammonia every day.

Fishless cycling is a safe way to mature an aquarium without risking any fish deaths. And once the tank is fully cycled you can fully stock the aquarium.

Fishless cycling is also faster the fish in cycling because you can increase the amount of ammonia present in the aquarium which will encourage the beneficial bacteria to grow much faster. You can also have the water temperature higher in the mid 80s Fahrenheit. The higher temperature speeds up the life-cycle of the bacteria giving you a full colony of bacteria much quicker. The ideal level of ammonia is about 4ppm in a fishless tank. Higher levels of ammonia much above 4ppm will actually kill off the bacteria in the filter.

How to do fishless cycling

To do fishless cycling you will need to buy a bottle of pure ammonia without any scents or other additives. You will also need to buy an ammonia, nitrate and nitrite test kit. A few drops of ammonia need to be added every day with the aim of getting the ammonia level to 4ppm by using the test kit. If the reading is too high then reduce the dose and if the reading is too low then increase the amount. Always test after you add the ammonia. If the ammonia level is very high then do a water change to get the level down to close to 4ppm.

As with fish in cycling you can also speed up the process by adding bacteria from a mature filter. You can also add plants to help the process. You will have to do the occasional water change to keep the nitrate levels below 40ppm. And you will have to do a final water change to get the nitrate levels below 20ppm when you add all your fish.

When the bacteria is eliminating the ammonia and nitrite very quickly after you dose your tank with ammonia then you know your tank is mature and ready to cope with fish.

6. Recognising ammonia poisoning

If your fish are gasping at the surface or lethargic or have red blotches or have ragged fins or have laboured breathing or they are not moving much then it is likely they are suffering form ammonia poisoning. This usually happens several days after a tank is newly set up. At first the new tank will be fine but as the fish continue to poop and urinate in their own water, the ammonia from their waste is building up. The fish can cope with small amounts of waste but as it builds up it becomes lethal.

You must take immediate action to save your fish. You need to stop feeding your fish. You need to change 50% of the water with water of the same temperature and with the chlorine removed using a dechlorinator. Then you will need to test the water again. You need to get the ammonia level below .25ppm and the nitrite level below .5ppm. You should also consider spreading out your fish by putting some of them into other aquariums.

How to maintain a clean tank

How to clean your tank

How to keep your water clear

Clean and clear aquarium water

Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal

Clean and clear aquarium water: A guide to water quality and management

Also see: Cure and prevent cloudy or green water

and Why does my aquarium get dirty

Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal
Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal

Water may appear clean and clear but, actually, be absolutely toxic to your fish. You need to be able to create water that is clean and healthy for your fish. Below I will explain how to create clean and clear water and how to maintain this indefinitely by establishing a balanced ecosystem. It can be said that you are not taking care of your fish but rather you are taking care of the water the fish live eat and breathe in.
 
A fully-functioning aquarium is a balanced ecosystem that needs to remain balanced in order to let your fish thrive. Setting up and maintaining this ecosytem is the first and most important step towards taking good care of your fish.

Water composition

In order to understand how to successfully manage your aquarium water, you need to become familiar with the various attributes of water that aquarists generally deal with. The water in your tank will have more in it than simple H20, and frequent testing is the best way to keep all of those additional elements in check. Some of the attributes and chemicals worth paying attention to follow:

  • Temperature – your water needs to have a controlled temperature for your fish to survive. Tropical aquariums are typically heated to a temperature between 23–28° C (74–82° F).
  • pH level – This is the measure of your waters acidity, and is affected by its hardness. Certain fish have pH requirements determined by their natural habitat, but a range somewhere between 6.5–8.2 is the norm.
  • Hardness – The amount of dissolved minerals in your water contribute to its hardness. Soft water generally carries a lower pH level. Most fish are tolerant of moderate hardness between 100–250 mg/l.
  • Chlorine and chloramine – These chemicals are added to municipal reservoirs to keep your tap water clean and safe to drink. They are toxic to fish, however, so you will need to remove them from your water. Chlorine will evaporate on its own if left to sit for a few days, but chloramine requires the use of a water conditioning product to successfully remove.
  • Phosphate and other minerals – These are substances that are usually ignored by most aquarists. But there are times when it is necessary to test for other substances. Such as when algae becomes a persistent problem or plants are not growing.
  • Ammonia – Ammonia is toxic to fish and is caused by decomposing waste, and the point of your aquarium filtration system is to remove harmful ammonia by converting it into nitrite and then nitrate. That takes place during the nitrogen cycle, which will be covered in more detail below. The optimal level of ammonia in your water is zero. Anything above .25 mg/l of ammonia means you need to perform a water change.
  • Nitrite – A secondary element of the nitrogen cycle, nitrite is not as toxic as ammonia, but it reduces the ability of your fish to oxygenate their bloodstream. A normal tank should not have more than .5 mg/l of nitrite. If it does, it is time for a water change.
  • Nitrate – The end product of the nitrogen cycle’s chemical conversion. Not as harmful as nitrite or ammonia but still harmful in high doses. Nitrate can be tolerated at levels up to 40 mg/l.

Cycling your aquarium water

See cycling for more info

Since substances like ammonia and nitrite are toxic for your fish, you need to remove them from your water on a continually. Fortunately, once matured, your filter will automatically remove them for you. Your aquarium’s filtration system is designed to host a range of beneficial bacteria that convert ammonia into nitrite, and nitrite into nitrate; a process called the nitrogen cycle. In order for that to happen, however, you need to set up your aquarium for cycling.

Since fish produce ammonia, they are typically used as the beginning point of the nitrogen cycle. After being added to a tank, very frequent water changes are needed to keep the fish healthy until the bacterial colony which feeds off the ammonia has developed sufficiently. Fishless tank cycling can be achieved using pure ammonia, as well.

Once ammonia is in the tank, bacteria will naturally show up to begin consuming it and converting it into nitrite. This can be speeded up by introducing a working filter from another aquarium, since a colony of bacteria should already be present established there. If this is not an option, then they will develop, on a new filter, slowly over 30-60 days. A secondary layer of bacteria will also appear that will convert the newly created nitrite into nitrate.

The end result of growing these bacterial colonies in your aquarium filter is that your water will essentially be recycling its own waste. However, nitrate still needs to be reduced through partial water changes. Luckily, that is only a weekly task. If you are keeping fish in your tank while cycling, you will need to perform large daily water changes until the ammonia levels fall to near zero.

Setting up a water management routine

Once your tank is properly cycled, you will still need to monitor your tank’s water. Since the nitrogen cycle is taking care of your immediate concerns over waste matter recycling, you can keep your water quality high with minimal effort. The only daily task that is necessary at this point is checking the water temperature.

Weekly tasks include performing a small water change, between 10–25%, as needed according to the nitrate level of the tank. You should also be testing your water every week in order to gauge the nitrate level as well as detect and prevent any possible ammonia, nitrite, or pH problems that may spring up, before they get serious.

Your monthly tasks should include a vacuuming of the tank gravel, a squeezing out of the excess dirt from your filter sponge and a scrubbing to remove any algae present in the tank. Never use tap water on your filter sponge. Squeeze out the sponge using some water from the aquarium. This avoids harming the beneficial bacterial colony growing on it.

Common water quality problems

One of the most evident signs that your aquarium water has a problem is if the smell changes. Aquariums generally have a pleasant lakeside scent to them once they are properly cycled, but excess ammonia and other elements can change that, giving you a warning to test the water and change it quickly.

Most often, bad-smelling water is a sign that there is too much waste in the tank as a result of overfeeding. Your fish should generally eat all of their food in two minutes or less and not leave any to rot. Excess food will rot which releases excess ammonia that will poison your fish. Occasionally your fish will go off their food. Feeding at this time will just result in food being left uneaten and rotting. Remove any uneaten food using a siphon.

A fish that dies in the tank should be removed immediately. A rotting fish will release a lot of ammonia which your filter will not be able to cope with.

Algae is another common result of poor-quality aquarium water. Again, excess nutrients (especially nitrate and phosphate) can allow algae to bloom, turning your water green and presenting problems for your fish. If you are not overfeeding your fish, then algae may bloom because of an excess of yellow light. Also, be sure to keep your aquarium out of direct sunlight.

If you pay attention to your water and follow the guidelines mentioned above, you should have a tank full of clean and clear aquarium water for your fish to enjoy.