Live vs dry rock

Dry rock

Dry rock is exactly what it sounds like; rock that has been left out of water. Dry rock comes from different sources. Some of it is mined rock that is broken up and shipped, some of it is man made rock based on cement. Some were even once in the ocean containing all kinds of life before they were dried out for whatever reason. Most local fish stores will sell dry rock, sometimes even a few types, as it is very easy to store and keep on the shelf! Good dry rock will be really porous and have lots of holes and crevices in it.

-Most likely to not disrupt an active coral reef.
-Easier to build your own rock structures with compared to live.
-Generally cheaper to buy per pound compared to live.

-Usually a very bright white color that stands out in a new tank.
-Can take a while for the rock to look “pretty”.
-Sometimes very dusty and may need rinsed and/or soaked several times before use.
-If man made, some cements leech lime into the tank that can raise the pH too high.

Marco dry rock. Photo from Bulk Reef Supply.

Live rock

Live rock is the opposite of dry rock. It is wet and it contains a variety of life on it; a minimum of having bacteria on the surface. It is important to remember that not all live rock is the same! Some stores may take dry rock and put it into an aquarium and sell it as live rock. As long as the aquarium is cycled and an operating system, bacteria would take hold of the rock. It may look just like dry rock and not have any color. Rock from other hobbyists’ aquariums could have rock with algae on it. Coralline algae is considered by many to be a beneficial calcium-based algae and comes in many shades of red, pink, or purple. Another type comes directly from the ocean. While this was all the rage back in the day, it has become harder over the years to buy rock directly from the ocean. Many sites now have strict restrictions – with good reason! Fear not however, there are still many places that responsibly harvest rock from leased sections of the ocean. A little search on the internet shows a few places but I will be giving a review of one of them soon. Spoiler alert – it was amazing!

-Live rock comes with all sorts of life on it.
-Can make a brand new tank feel like an established tank right away.
-Often has all sorts of algae or color on the rock to make it look nice.
-Sometimes comes with various life that you can’t normally get on it’s own or may be hard to find.

-May come with pests you do not want in your tank.
-Might have types of algae on the rock that are hard to get rid of once introduced.
-Cost is more expensive than dry rock.
-Harder to transport compared to dry – shipping is usually done through air cargo.

Live rock covered with all sorts of life. Photo from Tampa Bay Saltwater.

Which one is the best?

The truth is, like many faucets of this hobby, there is no ‘one size fits all’ method. They both have very big pros and cons. It depends on what kind of a tank you are wanting to set up. Do you want to have complete control over every thing that goes into the tank? Do you want to quarantine all livestock before going in to your tank to make sure you never get a pest you don’t want? Are you alright with your tank taking a long time to get looking really nice? Those would all be great reasons to start your tank with dry rock. Interested in a natural looking aquarium or providing a more calming environment for your livestock? Have no problem with some algae in your tank? Are you the “You can’t control life, life will find a way! Getting a pest is inevitable and you need to be prepared” kind of person? Maybe a little impatient and willing to pay more to have a tank that looks established from the get-go? Those would be great reasons to make an investment into live rock.

There are very few ways to do something “wrong” in this hobby. It just depends on your personal goals for your tank! Many people don’t even have rock, or sand for that matter, in their tanks. To me though, rock is like sand and I can’t imagine my tanks without either. My personal preference for rock is to use live rock. In fact, having used dry and live rocks for new tanks, I loved the ocean collected rock the best. Stay tuned for a post soon about my experience getting ocean collected rock and sand for my newest tank!


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