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.

Clownfish

Percula clownfish

Getting to Know the Clownfish

Percula clownfish

A lot of you might already be familiar with the clownfish, especially because of Disney’s Finding Nemo cartoon. These little fish are in high-demand all around the world as they make for colorful additions to any marine aquarium.
If you’re someone who wants to know more about the clownfish or wish to keep one as a pet, below you’ll get to know everything there is to know about this little marine fish.

Clownfish -Description

Clownfish are a small sized fish which is often found near tropical coral reefs. It is also known as anemonefish as it lives inside the fronds of sea anemones. There are different types of clownfish with regards to their color and size, but the most common type has orange and white stripes. Clownfish is considered beautiful due to their features and bright colors.

Size and Body Features of Clownfish

Cinnamon clownfish
Cinnamon clownfish

The most common clownfish is almost 4.3 inches or 11 cm in length. Its body is best described as having an oval shape and chunky in appearance. From the front, it has a somewhat round and compressed look.
In the Northern Australian parts of the world, you might get to see one that’s black and white in color as opposed to the usual orange and white. However, as mentioned above, most clownfish species color ranges from orange to reddish brown with three white vertical stripes lined with black. The body’s patterns cover the fins too.

The Amphiprion ocellaris happens to be different from the Amphiprion percula as it has a thicker black outlining and the former one has a relatively taller dorsal fin. Furthermore, the former has 11 dorsal fin spines while the latter has only 10 dorsal fin spines.

Clownfish Species and Family

clarkes clownfish
clarkes clownfish

The clownfish has a total of 28 recognized species, and they mostly live in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. You can also find them in the northern parts of Australian east coast as well as in the Great Barrier Reef and even in the Red Sea. The red-sea species is called the red clownfish. These fish live together in a large colony, where there will be a dominant female and a single male that mates with her. The rest of the colony will be subordinate males. If the female dies then a male will change gender to replace the lead female.

While they thrive in the ocean, in captivity, in a home aquarium they might die unless properly cared for. When the correct conditions are supplied, such as temperature, salinity, feeding and the right anemone as well as proper biological balance the the fish can thrive in your aquarium. Furthermore, breeding them in captivity is difficult for beginners. But some experts are breeding them regularly.

Clownfish Locomotion

false percula clownfish
false percula clownfish

Clownfish swim with the help of their fins in the water. The fins of a clownfish are used for stabilization, direction, and giving rise to a propelling motion for swimming. Each fin has a particular function.
The dorsal fins assist them in keeping the fish vertically stable. The caudal fin(tail fin) propels the fish forward by being flapped from side to side. The ventral fins like the dorsal fin provide better stability and some steering and are located in the pelvic region. The pectoral fins are located forward of the pectoral fins and are used as brakes and also assist in steering. When clownfish are threatened this little fish will hurry back to the safety of its sea anemone.
Immunity

The sting of a sea anemone is somewhat deadly and poisonous to most fish. However, the clownfish have developed immunity to it because of a mucous-coated skin. There is some debate as to whether the mucous protects from the anemone’s sting or that the mucous fools the anemone into not stinging the clownfish. Clownfish use sea anemones for shelter, protection from predators, as well as for food. Keep in mind that depending on the species of the clownfish, some are innately immune to sea anemone while others have to acclimate (or get used) to the stings by rubbing themselves against the tentacles.

Clownfish Feeding Habits

percula clownfish
percula clownfish

The clownfish is omnivorous and can feed on both small animals as well as plants. They eat a variety of food like plankton, mollusks, algae, and small crustaceans. The diet varies depending on the habitat they have adapted to and the size of the fish. Clownfish are known to eat small organisms that are killed by sea anemones.

Clownfish Predators

Clownfish are often preyed upon by larger fish and other marine life, and they rely on their speed and protection by the sea anemone to survive. Humans are also a threat to clownfish as a lot of their species are captured to be sold off to the aquarium trade and bought by hobbyists some of whom don’t know how to take care of them.

Clownfish Habitat

clownfish living in sea anemone
clownfish living in sea anemone

Clownfish are found in the Western Pacific Ocean and the Eastern Indian Ocean. They are also found in Japan, Northern Australia, and Southeast Asia. The Amphiprion ocellaris lives in a depth of 15 meters in the form of schools in the sheltered lagoons and the outer reef slopes. Species such as Stichodactyla gigantea, Heteractis magnifica, and Stichodactyla mertensii are often found to be in a symbiotic relationship with clownfish.

Clownfish and sea anemone Symbiosis and Mutualism

Clownfish have a symbiotic as well as a mutualistic relationship with the sea anemone. The anemone provides them with food from the dead tentacles and the food scraps left over and also protects them from the clownfish from predators. While on the other hand, clownfish defends the sea anemone from the parasites and predators of anemone. The excrement of the clownfish are also used as a source of nutrients by the sea anemone.

Furthermore, the sea anemone provides a suitable nest for the fish to lay eggs. The clown fish excretes nitrogen compounds which are used by the anemone for the regeneration of its parts and tissue growth. The clownfish have an attractive color, which may attract smaller fishes to their doom. The clownfish swimming between the anemone’s tentacle keeps them aerated because of the water flow.

Clownfish Sexuality and Reproduction

baby clownfish
baby clownfish

You can find clownfish near a single sea anemone. They have a breeding female and male fish with a large amount of young male clown fish. They are hermaphrodites. This means that they’re all born male, but when the breeding season approaches one of them develops into a female. In a situation when a breeding female dies, the large male develops into a female and then breeds with the next active male in the same habitat.

The female lays eggs on the sea anemone on a flat surface. The number of clownfish eggs can vary from hundreds to thousands, depending on the species. On a full moon, the female clownfish lays the eggs while the male protects and guards them until they hatch after a week. They are breed in warm water and can reproduce all year round.
The breeding season begins mostly with the lunar cycle. When the moon is at a high level, the male breeding fish attracts the female breeding fish. They display a courting behavior which includes biting and chasing the female and extending fins. A rapid downward and upward motion is also demonstrated by the male to attract the female. The female normally lays almost 400-1600 eggs in a cycle, and the nest needs to be large enough to ensure the survival of all the eggs.

Each female’s breeding tenure is around 12 years, and it can be more if the size of the breeding female is large. The breeding female has a body larger than the breeding male. The non-breeder males have a size smaller than the two breeders, and the size hierarchy descends progressively.

Clownfish Taxonomy

The clown fish are identified and distinguished on the basis of their morphological features. The scales on their head, body proportions, color, and tooth shape, and size has helped the biologists to recognize them. On the basis of these features, they have been categorized into 6 categories. The skunk complex, maroon complex, clarkii complex, clownfish complex, tomato complex, and saddleback complex. All fish within a complex look almost alike.

Clownfish in the Aquarium

clownfish in the aquarium
clownfish in the aquarium

The clownfish comprises of around 43% of the aquarium trade with regards to fish bought for the home aquarium. Sadly, a majority of aquarium clownfish are captured from the wild. Unchecked capture of clownfish has led to a decrease in the natural population in a lot of areas. While adding clownfish to an aquarium might sound like a good idea, the wild population has to be considered. Buying aquarium bred clownfish is a worthy goal.

There are some members of clownfish like the maroon clownfish which are known to become aggressive when held in captivity. The percula clownfish, on the other hand, are suitable for aquariums as they’re known to adapt and live peacefully. So, make sure that you know which species you’re introducing in your aquarium. Having an aggressive little clownfish won’t sit well with other marine life.

Keeping sea anemones in an aquarium isn’t always easy. However, clownfish are known to adapt to this too. In the absence of a sea anemone, they can make large polyps and soft corals their home. The clownfish is accustomed to defending its habitat, and once they have settled down in a certain coral, they will defend their home.

Make sure that your aquarium has an appropriate reef structure (sand, live rock, and more). Also, allow your aquarium environment to mature before introducing the fish. Furthermore, if you feed the fish on a fixed schedule it’ll learn to anticipate the food. Watching the fish come near the water’s surface for food can be fun to watch.

So, if you’re interested in having clownfish as a pet, make sure it has a suitable environment (add in a few corals) for it to live properly. Once that is all achieved, you will have happy clownfish that will be a joy to watch.

Saltwater aquarium maintenance

aquarium-vacuum

Saltwater aquarium maintenance

List of recommended Saltwater fish for beginners.

Setting up a saltwater tank step by step guide.

The importance of live rock and live sand in maintaining a healthy saltwater aquarium.

Daily tasks in saltwater aquarium maintenance

Once your saltwater aquarium has become properly established with all the fish, corals and invertebrates that you want and the liverock has developed a healthy colony of de-nitrifying bacteria and other micro-organisms then your job should start to get easier. This process may take a few months.

Your daily routines now should include checking the temperature and checking the evaporation level against a pre-marked line against the water surface. Also check to see if all your fish and invertebrates are present. This can be done while feeding, when all the fish will come to eat. But don’t just check to see if they are present but also check to see if they are behaving normally and do not show any signs of injury or illness.

If any of the fish or invertebrates has died then remove it immediately. A dead corpse will quickly rot in the water and start to pollute the water and will eventually cause illness to other fish and invertebrates. After you have removed the corpse then your next job is to investigate the cause.

First check your water parameters, especially ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels. Any unusual readings spells trouble and will require an immediate water change. Syphon off 25% of the water in the aquarium. Syphon in or near the sand where there might be some decaying organic matter. Then replace with clean saltwater to top up your aquarium. Try to maintain pre-mixed saltwater that has been allowed to settle that can be used immediately. If there are no unusual readings then check all the fish for any symptoms of illness. Look for laboured breathing, split or frayed fins, white/grey/brown spots, any slime or fluffy grey/white patches, any red sores. If you see any of these signs or anything similar then your fish have an illness and you will have to diagnose the illness using a checklist.

Once you have determined the illness of your fish then you can obtain the medication or treatment and start medicating your whole aquarium. But be careful in the choice of medications because some corals and invertebrates are susceptible to them. And be careful not to overdose with medication as invertebrates may survive normal doses but high doses may kill them.

However, if you cannot determine the cause of your lone fish death then it may remain a mystery. The cause may be a hidden illness of the dead fish, perhaps an attack from another fish or invertebrate or perhaps from an overcrowded aquarium. When a fish dies from an overcrowded aquarium then the death actually gives breathing space to the rest of the fish.

Invertebrates usually rely on scraps of food that are left over remains of uneaten fish food. If the fish do not leave enough scraps for them they can go hungry. Make sure you feed the invertebrates directly. remove any uneaten food after 15 minutes.

Weekly tasks for saltwater aquarium maintenance

Weekly tasks include checking ph is between 8.1-8.3. If it falls below 8.1 then you may have decaying organic matter in the tank. This causes a drop in ph. If there is a ph drop then check your ammonia and nitrite levels as well. Then syphon around the sand, looking for any decaying bits of food. Open up the filter and remove excess mulm by rinsing in a bucket full of aquarium water.

Another weekly task is to check the salinity level. First off, check the water against the original line you marked on the side of your aquarium when you first filled it. If the water level has fallen then you will have to top up with fresh saltwater (preferably reverse osmosis water) Make sure the water is the same temperature. Check your phosphate levels and calcium levels as well.

After this check the salinity with a hygrometer. Your reading should be 1.025. If the reading is less than this then you will need to do adjust the salinity slowly over many days. Everyday change 5% of the water with a freshly mad batch of seawater with a reading of 1.026. Repeat daily until the aquarium gets back to 1.025. Likewise if the reading was higher than 1.025 then you will need to change 5% water daily and replace with a mix of 1.024. Again repeat until you get the 1.025 reading again. If the reading was correct at 1.025 you should still do a 15% water change with water at 1.025.

Check the output flow from your filters. If the flow feels less than normal then you will have to take apart the filter. Place the filter material in a bucket of aquarium saltwater and rinse out any excess mulm before putting back the filter material into the filter and putting back the filter. Do not use tapwater or cold water to rinse the filter material because you might kill of healthy bacteria in the filter which you must preserve at all costs.

Scrape off any algae that has grown along the front glass. Do not remove any algae off other parts of the aquarium because algae is a natural biological filter that removes nitrates from the water.

Clean out the protein skimmer cup. If there is a lot of waste skimmed out then you might need to do this more often. You also may be feeding your fish too much. So consider reducing your feeding a little.

Lastly do a thorough inspection of all your corals. Check for any infections or lack of growth or bleaching of the corals. If there is excess growth then you need to trim them back. If the corals have become ill then you might be able to frag off a healthy piece to save your coral because ilness usually spreads to the whole coral. Fragging may be the only way to save it. Sick corals are best left undisturbed. The best way to treat them is by fixing water parameters. Usually high phosphates, high nitrates and change of lighting or water flow can be the cause. Sometimes invertebrates or fish may take chunks out of them.

Finally, if you don’t see any of the listed problems then well done! You are doing a good job and everything is running smoothly.