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Live Rock and Live Sand

Live Rock and Sand Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Overview 

Live rock and live sand are not technically alive. “Live” refers to the bacteria, algae, sponges, crustaceans and other invertebrates who live on and within the rock and sand. 

Benefits of live rock and sand

Live rock has become one of the most effective biological filters available for marine aquariums. The rock hosts both aerobic and anaerobic nitrifying bacteria required for the nitrogen cycle and aiding in denitrification. Live rock serves as a platform for coral and invertebrates to live. Live sand is brimming with useful bacteria as well as different types of worms and crustaceans eaten by many fish. Live rock and sand are beneficial and aesthetically pleasing additions to your aquatic system. 

When to use live rock and sand

Live rock and live sand are not only for coral reef aquariums. Both live rock and live sand make for a solid foundation and natural ecosystem for a fish-only marine aquarium as well. Their natural filtering capabilities aid the biological filtration requirements of the aquarium. With time, live rock and sand will provide an endless supply of natural foods for marine life.

Curing live rock

Both live rock and live sand need to undergo an acclimation/curing process before being placed in a tank with fish, invertebrates or coral. There are many processes for finishing the curing process for live rock. The following are our recommendations. Be sure to use the appropriate process for your aquatic system. Cultured live rock typically does not need to go through the acclimation/curing process.

Supplies needed to cure live rock

You will need the following to complete the curing process:

  • Nylon bristle brush
  • Large and small buckets
  • A large plastic container to hold the live rock, with or without drains (for option 2) 
  • Power head (for option 2)
  • Measuring equipment
  • Water heater
  • Marine salt
  • Refractometer

Option 1: Curing live rock for a new aquatic system containing no aquatic life

Most aquariums will cycle within a two- to four-week time period with this process.

  • Set up your new aquatic system according to the manufacturer's instructions. Set the specific gravity to 1.020 to 1.025 and temperature to 74 to 80°F
  • Using a small bucket of saltwater, rinse each piece of live rock. Ensure that loose organic matter is rinsed away
  • Arrange the live rock pieces in the new aquarium. It will be helpful to keep the lighting system off during the curing process to reduce algae growth
  • A 50% water change will need to be done on a weekly basis during the process. Ensure that you siphon out organic matter and debris that may gather at the bottom of the tank. You may need to scrub the rock with the nylon brush to remove any buildup of dead material
  • Check the ammonia and nitrite levels weekly until both reach zero. At this time, perform another 50% water change and then wait 24 hours before adding new aquatic life
  • Check the pH and adjust as needed to achieve the appropriate level of 8.1 to 8.4

Option 2: Curing live rock for an aquatic system that contains aquatic life

Most live rock will be fully cured within one to three weeks and can then be safely added to your aquarium. It is very important that you do not place your new live rock into an established tank before completing these steps.

  • Place the live rock in a large plastic container. It will be helpful to have drains added to the bottom of the container for efficient draining and water changes
  • Immerse the live rock in a saltwater mixture with a specific gravity of 1.020 to 1.025. With the use of a submersible heater, keep the temperature near 80°F to aid in die-off. Keep the container in a dark area to prevent algae growth. The use of a powerhead will keep the water circulating and aid in the curing process 
  • A 100% water change should be completed twice a week along with scrubbing the live rock with a nylon brush to remove any buildup of dead material
  • Once the ammonia and nitrites test at zero the live rock can be placed into the aquarium

Acclimating live sand

Supplies needed to acclimate live sand

You will need the following to complete the acclimation process:

  • Large and small buckets
  • Measuring equipment
  • Marine salt
  • Refractometer

How to acclimate live sand

Be patient and don't rush the acclimation process. Stable water quality, water temperature, pH levels and specific gravity are critical to the acclimation/curing process of live rock and sand. It is essential to acclimate live rock and live sand to a specific gravity of 1.020 to 1.025. If you are unsure of your water quality or pH levels, Petco provides free water testing.

  • Fill a bucket halfway with the newly arrived live sand
  • Fill the bucket with saltwater until it is two-thirds full of water and sand. Slowly stir the sand in the bucket
  • Discard dirty water and place the live sand back into the shipping bag
  • Immerse the bag into the bottom of the aquarium and slowly dispense the sand into the aquarium
  • Allow the sand to settle for about an hour and then change/rinse the filter

Live rock and sand care and maintenance

Once the acclimation/curing process is complete, maintenance for your live rock or live sand consists of checking the filter, water temperature and other equipment daily. Test water quality once per week. Change 10 to 25% of the total volume of water every two to four weeks, or as needed; change filter media monthly. Live rock may benefit from the addition of trace elements, strontium, calcium and iodine.

FAQs 

  • What is live aquarium rock? Although implied by the name “live rock,” the rock is not actually alive. The aquarium rock itself is made up of calcium carbonate (aragonite) skeletons from generations of previously living corals and other calcareous organisms. What makes aquarium live rock are the forms of good bacteria and macroscopic life that form inside and on the surface of the rock 
  • How long do live rocks live? Live rock longevity is based on the health of the aquarium. If the aquarium is being properly cared for, the live rock will remain functional
  • What is live sand? Live sand is not technically alive but the “live” refers to the bacteria and crustaceans living on and within the sand