When it comes to live rock, there is a lot of confusion. At least there was for me the first time I thought about it.
You see, there are two kinds of live rock: wet live rock, and dry live rock.
The thing is, live rock is considered live rock, not because it comes to you “alive”, but because when added to your saltwater aquarium, it will become “alive” with millions, maybe even billions, of live beneficial bacteria.
You can still purchase wet live rock, but all of the top five options in this post will be dry live rock.
Why you might ask? Well, for a couple reasons. Most wet live rock used to be pulled directly from the ocean, and I don’t like destroying our reefs to get some rock. And secondly, wet live rock comes with all sorts of hitchhikers, some good and some bad. It is also harder to properly aquascape the wet stuff!
All five options below will work great in your tank. They are all a sort of “base rock”. As you begin exploring, you can find all sorts of different shapes to fit your needs (shelf rock, branch rock), but all of the options on this list will form a solid base for your tank.
A big question beginners always ask is how much do I need? A lot of that depends on the shape of your tank and what kind of aquascaping style you like. For a more minimal aquascape, I would shoot for 1 lb/gallon of display tank water. If you want a tank full of rock, just double that to 2 lbs/gallon of display water.
5. Nature's Ocean Coral Base Rock ~$60
At the time of writing, you could pick up 40 lbs of this stuff on Amazon for under $60, which is a heck of a deal!
This base rock comes to you dry, and is made of aragonite. It stacks together well, is highly porous, and can be chiseled away if need be to get different sizes and shapes. If you don’t care about having branching or shelf shapes, then I would just go with this.
This will provide great shelter for your livestock, will have ample places to mount corals, and will provide the primary biological filter for your aquarium.
If you want to cement these pieces together to make a more stable aquascape, I recommend buying Stonefix by AquaForest. I’ve used a few different brands, but I keep coming back to this.
4. AquaMaxx Dry Live Rock by Marco Rocks ~$30-$135
I live Marco Rocks. I’ve used them in my own tanks and I appreciate that they are sustainably sourced. AquaMaxx must have purchased the rights to sell the Marco Rock name.
Marco Rocks are mined from a quarry, above ground, in Florida. They are 100% pest free, and sustainably sourced, so you can rest assured you are not destroying our oceans to get these.
From my own experience these rocks not only stack well, but they are lighter weight than others, which means you get more bang for your buck.
They are sold in different size boxes (10 lbs, 25 lbs, and 50 lbs) and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. If need be, you can use a saw to create flat sections, or use a chisel to break a large piece into smaller parts.
It’s more expensive than option one, but I have used these before so I can vouch for them personally.
3. CaribSea Base Shelf Rock ~$90
This rock is actually a pretty good deal. You get 40 lbs for about $90. The only issue with this rock is for most beginners, it will be too much!
But, if you were to mix this shelf style rock with a 25 lb box of the Marco Rocks, you could aquascape to your hearts content!
I’m guessing they get the flat “shelf” shape by just cutting some of their other rocks above! But whatever, it works and is a great shape for mounting corals.
Again, this rock will arrive to you dry, is pest free, and is not pulled from our oceans.
2. CaribSea Life Rock Shapes ~ $110
I really like this rock. I’ve stared at it for quite awhile at my lfs (local fish store). It is aragonite, not pulled from our oceans, colored purple to imitate coralline algae, filled with spored bacteria, and comes in incredibly unique shapes.
It also the most expensive on this list, by quite a bit! Whereas you can get 40 lbs of the Nature’s Ocean Base Rock for $60, with this stuff you get 20 lbs for $110!
But before you dismiss this rock, think long and hard about it. Your aquascape is one aspect of your tank that you will see everyday, and that will influence the overall aesthetic of your tank. It is something you will wish you could change down the line. So if you have the extra money to spend, think about it at least!
This 20 lb box comes with 4-5 uniquely shaped pieces, which would probably be plenty for small aquariums.
1. CaribSea Life Rock ~ $90-$160
Coming in at #1 is the CaribSea Life Rock. Here is why I like it:
- The base rock shapes stack well together.
- It comes with a purple coralline color that looks good in the tank.
- Sustainably sourced.
- And it’s filled with spored bacteria which will help cycle the tank faster.
Yes, this does cost quite a bit more than the white-colored rocks above, but it will look good in your tank from day one. It can take years for coraline algae to cover your rocks, if it ever does. This will give you that established reef tank system look on day one.