How long for dry rock to function like live ocean rock

How long does it take for dry rock to function the same as live rock from the ocean?


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Brandon McHenry

Brandon McHenry

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Yep, a plating red monti cap was growing between two rocks and I really hated how the aquascape looked. When I tore it apart I found this huge sponge.
682983FE-03A7-4803-938C-2E10300EA947.jpeg

My wife and I are moving over the next year. Her job starts in July in the new city, mine later next year... so two houses for a year and I’m wondering how to safely move my reef... so I have some live rock I can split between the old/new tanks, but have been reading on how to accelerate the maturation process. That’s when I started really digging into the cryptic threads, etc.

So I’ll be ordering from reef farmers sometime in the Fall.
Pretty cool find if you ask me! Good luck with the move, that sounds like a huge task. Great find with the cryptic zone information I think that will definitely help with maturing the reef after the move!

I think the question is flawed.

How long until dry rock functions as ocean live rock?

In what context?

Cycle? Weeks
Encrusting algae? Months
Biodiversity? Never

Most people voted from 6 months to 2 years. And yes this is true for cycling and allowing the bacterial population to reach some sort of stability but is it anywhere near live rock from a natural reef in terms of biodiversity and bacterial diversity ? Never.
In my original post I was hoping to get at the time for dry rock to function like the rock that you would get from places like KP Aquatics or Tampa Bay Saltwater (live rock that has been aquacultured for several years in the ocean that comes with all sorts of diverse life). I want to know more than just being able to complete the nitrogen cycle, Im talking more about the diversity. I know that our glass boxes will never be a true replication of an ocean reef but there is a point in a tank's maturation process that it finally hits a stride with not only being able to handle nutrients and not have nuisance algae but it also has all of the sponges, worms, pods etc. that aid in increasing its biological function. I appreciate your thoughts!

Hard question to answer imo. Obviously if its not seeded it can take forever to get a diverse population microfauna in the tank. Especially the way we dip corals. Even then I feel it wouldn’t ever be the same as live rock. But I am no expert. Maybe I have never had a tank set up long enough to see it happen.

My past two tanks were set up with either only live rock, or a mix of dry and live. My recent tank was started with dry because its so much easier to aquascape. Once I was ready, I finished with KP Aquatics live rock and it has really changed my tank for the best. Lots of creatures in that rock. I was lucky enough not to get any bad stuff. I was having issues with dusty diatoms but they disappeared after a few days of adding the live rock. However, even four months in most microfauna prefers the live rock and hasn’t spread much to the dry, besides coraline algae. I don’t see any worms, or even pods on that rock. Maybe it needs more time, idk.

I am a fan of live rock, I have more success with it. But to each their own! There are beautiful tanks with dry rock. But I have always had algae problems with dry.
Glad to hear that the live rock helped your tank! Its an interesting observation that even after several months, the life from the live rock hasn't moved over to the dry rock. This really touches on the point of this thread. Even after seeding the tank, how long will it take for that dry rock to essentially be the same as the live rock that you bought? When will the entire aquascape be live and mature? These are definitely difficult questions and the answers will be anecdotal at best but its always nice to hear the diverse opinions of the reefing community on what works, what doesn't and how long some of these processes take. :)
 
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Copingwithpods

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Pretty cool find if you ask me! Good luck with the move, that sounds like a huge task. Great find with the cryptic zone information I think that will definitely help with maturing the reef after the move!


In my original post I was hoping to get at the time for dry rock to function like the rock that you would get from places like KP Aquatics or Tampa Bay Saltwater (live rock that has been aquacultured for several years in the ocean that comes with all sorts of diverse life). I want to know more than just being able to complete the nitrogen cycle, Im talking more about the diversity. I know that our glass boxes will never be a true replication of an ocean reef but there is a point in a tank's maturation process that it finally hits a stride with not only being able to handle nutrients and not have nuisance algae but it also has all of the sponges, worms, pods etc. that aid in increasing its biological function. I appreciate your thoughts!


Glad to hear that the live rock helped your tank! Its an interesting observation that even after several months, the life from the live rock hasn't moved over to the dry rock. This really touches on the point of this thread. Even after seeding the tank, how long will it take for that dry rock to essentially be the same as the live rock that you bought? When will the entire aquascape be live and mature? These are definitely difficult questions and the answers will be anecdotal at best but its always nice to hear the diverse opinions of the reefing community on what works, what doesn't and how long some of these processes take. :)
In the case of stability 1-2 years is a fair estimate. As for biodiversity, never, never ever will it even come close to even 10% of the biodiversity found on real live rock. It is also important to remember that the real reef rock, that is a rock sitting amongst corals in a natural ocean reef, also gets gha and cyano and diatoms and turf algae, after all that's where all the algaes live, it's a natural process that I think alot of people forget about so age of rock has little to do with it. Or else why would a rock in the GBR have algae when it is hundreds if not thousands of years old.

Like you mentioned, our glass box is just that, a glass box, and it can only grow what we put in it. And the truth is we don't put much in it in terms of biodiversity,specially the bacteria which is the real star of the show. I saw it posted here that our tanks have 5-10% the bacterial biodiversity of a real reef biosphere.

So when will dry rock sitting in a tank have the same diversity as real reef rocks? Never, unless you are proactively seeding the tank with new life. The member here who has a 47 year old tank said he would every now and again scoop up ocean mud and add it to his tank to reintroduce verities of microfauna and bacteria the tank was lacking.
 
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Brandon McHenry

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In the case of stability 1-2 years is a fair estimate. As for biodiversity, never, never ever will it even come close to even 10% of the biodiversity found on real live rock. It is also important to remember that the real reef rock, that is a rock sitting amongst corals in a natural ocean reef, also gets gha and cyano and diatoms and turf algae, after all that's where all the algaes live, it's a natural process that I think alot of people forget about so age of rock has little to do with it. Or else why would a rock in the GBR have algae when it is hundreds if not thousands of years old.

Like you mentioned, our glass box is just that, a glass box, and it can only grow what we put in it. And the truth is we don't put much in it in terms of biodiversity,specially the bacteria which is the real star of the show. I saw it posted here that our tanks have 5-10% the bacterial biodiversity of a real reef biosphere.

So when will dry rock sitting in a tank have the same diversity as real reef rocks? Never, unless you are proactively seeding the tank with new life. The member here who has a 47 year old tank said he would every now and again scoop up ocean mud and add it to his tank to reintroduce verities of microfauna and bacteria the tank was lacking.
Very good points. I particularly agree about the bacterial diversity. I guess it really comes down what is introduced to the tank and how long it’s had to grow. It seems like from a diversity aspect there needs to at least be some live rock introduced to the tank since it clearly has so much to offer our reef tanks. Thank you for your thoughts and explanation!
 

Paul B

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My wife and I are moving over the next year. Her job starts in July in the new city, mine later next year... so two houses for a year and I’m wondering how to safely move my reef.
I moved my reef tank 3 times in the last almost fifty years with no losses.
It was in a 100 gallon tank for 40 years in my last house but it was built into a wall. In that time the glass got scratched and I wanted a little larger tank. The day before I moved here 60 miles away I bought a new 125 gallon tank and brought it to my new home.

Months before I moved I built more, larger pieces of rock, mostly from cement and real rock because the new tank was larger and I always wanted to build my rock up above the gravel so these pieces raised everything up. This is the back bone of my reef.

1590833775890.png


I filled it half way with seawater and left it there.
The next day I removed everything from my reef, including all the fish, corals, rock, gravel and Under gravel filter which was totally filled with mud.
Here my Son N Law is removing the reverse UG filter

1590833298850.png


I put everything in big vats and drove it here to the new house.
I threw heaters in the vats and the tank to heat it all up and it took 3 days to place all the rock, gravel corals and reverse ug filter in. Of course I had broken most of the corals and had to glue them back in. Then a week later I collected more water and completely filled the tank.

I didn't even lose a pod, but it did take a year or two before the corals grew to what they are now. I also did not put back all the mud. I threw most of that out.


As for biodiversity, never, never ever will it even come close to even 10% of the biodiversity found on real live rock. It is also important to remember that the real reef rock, that is a rock sitting amongst corals in a natural ocean reef, also gets gha and cyano and diatoms and turf algae, after all that's where all the algaes live, it's a natural process that I think alot of people forget about so age of rock has little to do with it. Or else why would a rock in the GBR have algae when it is hundreds if not thousands of years old.
This is true and when I started my tank I SCUBA dove for all the rock. In those days (1971) we didn't use live rock so I bleached it all in my hotel room. (The housekeepers were thrilled)
Then I carried it home on my lap on multiple trips to the tropics.

But the tank never had a lot of bio diversity which I wanted and live rock was nor for sale for a couple of decades. So I started to collect rocks and mud from New York water which is loaded with biodiversity.
I found a place that used asphalt to control erosion which was submerged for fifty years. The stuff was very porous and just filled with amphipods, worms and I am sure, bacteria so I added a lot of that to my tank..That stuff continues to multiply to this day and is almost exactly as it is in the sea.

But since temperate New York waters have much more life than any tropical sea,It has much more bio diversity than most captive reefs.
I feel this lack of diversity and people's fear of using natural things from the sea is the cause of most of the problems we see on these forums and the reason we have to have disease forums.

This was maybe 6 months after I moved, before the corals grew in
1590835796863.png 1590835828246.png
 
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Smarkow

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I moved my reef tank 3 times in the last almost fifty years with no losses.
It was in a 100 gallon tank for 40 years in my last house but it was built into a wall. In that time the glass got scratched and I wanted a little larger tank. The day before I moved here 60 miles away I bought a new 125 gallon tank and brought it to my new home.

Months before I moved I built more, larger pieces of rock, mostly from cement and real rock because the new tank was larger and I always wanted to build my rock up above the gravel so these pieces raised everything up. This is the back bone of my reef.

1590833775890.png


I filled it half way with seawater and left it there.
The next day I removed everything from my reef, including all the fish, corals, rock, gravel and Under gravel filter which was totally filled with mud.
Here my Son N Law is removing the reverse UG filter

1590833298850.png


I put everything in big vats and drove it here to the new house.
I threw heaters in the vats and the tank to heat it all up and it took 3 days to place all the rock, gravel corals and reverse ug filter in. Of course I had broken most of the corals and had to glue them back in. Then a week later I collected more water and completely filled the tank.

I didn't even lose a pod, but it did take a year or two before the corals grew to what they are now. I also did not put back all the mud. I threw most of that out.




This is true and when I started my tank I SCUBA dove for all the rock. In those days (1971) we didn't use live rock so I bleached it all in my hotel room. (The housekeepers were thrilled)
Then I carried it home on my lap on multiple trips to the tropics.

But the tank never had a lot of bio diversity which I wanted and live rock was nor for sale for a couple of decades. So I started to collect rocks and mud from New York water which is loaded with biodiversity.
I found a place that used asphalt to control erosion which was submerged for fifty years. The stuff was very porous and just filled with amphipods, worms and I am sure, bacteria so I added a lot of that to my tank..That stuff continues to multiply to this day and is almost exactly as it is in the sea.

But since temperate New York waters have much more life than any tropical sea,It has much more bio diversity than most captive reefs.
I feel this lack of diversity and people's fear of using natural things from the sea is the cause of most of the problems we see on these forums and the reason we have to have disease forums.

This was maybe 6 months after I moved, before the corals grew in
1590835796863.png 1590835828246.png
Thanks, Paul!! Your tank is a real inspiration :)
 

Mickeyt1reef

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Hmmm lots of valid points being made. I would suggest that at some point the die off on real live rock and increased biodiversity on dry rock may, at some point, bring them close to an equilibrium. Back in the day I would get my own rock and harvest critters from the gulf my self. I was amazed at the life and biodiversity! The problem was always pest! Mantis shrimp literally Spearfishing my tang etc. after that I built my own rock via garf recipe. Was very successful. Now going dry Marco. Also successful. Currently cycling rock in trash can it’s going on 4 months with current tank water, pods etc. here are pictures of the garf rock tank back in the day and the dry rock tank now. Dry rock about to be expanded hints the rock curing in the trash can. I think the pictures are reversed but the older looking one is garf homemade rock.

53F4AF4C-9F88-4A02-B3D7-C2A430288098.jpeg FACA0BE4-B750-4562-A0FF-9A8EE62D9484.jpeg
 
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Brandon McHenry

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I moved my reef tank 3 times in the last almost fifty years with no losses.
It was in a 100 gallon tank for 40 years in my last house but it was built into a wall. In that time the glass got scratched and I wanted a little larger tank. The day before I moved here 60 miles away I bought a new 125 gallon tank and brought it to my new home.

Months before I moved I built more, larger pieces of rock, mostly from cement and real rock because the new tank was larger and I always wanted to build my rock up above the gravel so these pieces raised everything up. This is the back bone of my reef.

1590833775890.png


I filled it half way with seawater and left it there.
The next day I removed everything from my reef, including all the fish, corals, rock, gravel and Under gravel filter which was totally filled with mud.
Here my Son N Law is removing the reverse UG filter

1590833298850.png


I put everything in big vats and drove it here to the new house.
I threw heaters in the vats and the tank to heat it all up and it took 3 days to place all the rock, gravel corals and reverse ug filter in. Of course I had broken most of the corals and had to glue them back in. Then a week later I collected more water and completely filled the tank.

I didn't even lose a pod, but it did take a year or two before the corals grew to what they are now. I also did not put back all the mud. I threw most of that out.




This is true and when I started my tank I SCUBA dove for all the rock. In those days (1971) we didn't use live rock so I bleached it all in my hotel room. (The housekeepers were thrilled)
Then I carried it home on my lap on multiple trips to the tropics.

But the tank never had a lot of bio diversity which I wanted and live rock was nor for sale for a couple of decades. So I started to collect rocks and mud from New York water which is loaded with biodiversity.
I found a place that used asphalt to control erosion which was submerged for fifty years. The stuff was very porous and just filled with amphipods, worms and I am sure, bacteria so I added a lot of that to my tank..That stuff continues to multiply to this day and is almost exactly as it is in the sea.

But since temperate New York waters have much more life than any tropical sea,It has much more bio diversity than most captive reefs.
I feel this lack of diversity and people's fear of using natural things from the sea is the cause of most of the problems we see on these forums and the reason we have to have disease forums.

This was maybe 6 months after I moved, before the corals grew in
1590835796863.png 1590835828246.png
Wow it’s sounds stressful to move a tank! Glad it went so well! I agree that there may be a little too much fear of pests. So much so that people might sacrifice diversity to prevent the possibility of a bad hitchhiker. Cool tank BTW!


Hmmm lots of valid points being made. I would suggest that at some point the die off on real live rock and increased biodiversity on dry rock may, at some point, bring them close to an equilibrium. Back in the day I would get my own rock and harvest critters from the gulf my self. I was amazed at the life and biodiversity! The problem was always pest! Mantis shrimp literally Spearfishing my tang etc. after that I built my own rock via garf recipe. Was very successful. Now going dry Marco. Also successful. Currently cycling rock in trash can it’s going on 4 months with current tank water, pods etc. here are pictures of the garf rock tank back in the day and the dry rock tank now. Dry rock about to be expanded hints the rock curing in the trash can. I think the pictures are reversed but the older looking one is garf homemade rock.

53F4AF4C-9F88-4A02-B3D7-C2A430288098.jpeg FACA0BE4-B750-4562-A0FF-9A8EE62D9484.jpeg
That’s a shame about the spear fishing! But neat tank! I think the time you are putting into cycling the dry rock and the things you are seeding it with will add to your success. There is definitely more to using dry rock than using bottled bacteria for a few weeks which is what I feel makes the difference with diversity. Great job!
 
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jda

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I wonder how many people voted a certain way ever had a tank started with true live rock in sufficient quantity - like fresh rock from the ocean?

Is there a way for people to post if they even have had any real experience keeping a tank with real live rock? I feel that if most people had, they would just laugh at anything else...
 
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"Functioning" like live rock is one thing but for me, the purpose of live rock is to get that bio-diversity in my aquarium. I have been doing this for a very long time and always have-and always will-used live rock in my aquaria. There is no substitute!
I appreciate the honesty! The diversity that comes with live rock is a huge plus. So even if you seeded dry rock with some live rock etc, you think it will never be the same?


I wonder how many people voted a certain way ever had a tank started with true live rock in sufficient quantity - like fresh rock from the ocean?

Is there a way for people to post if they even have had any real experience keeping a tank with real live rock? I feel that if most people had, they would just laugh at anything else...
Excellent question! I wonder if I can edit the poll to include two new options for “yes I’ve used live rock” or “no I haven’t”. Either way, if people could comment whether or not they’ve used live rock with their answer to the poll that would be really helpful in understanding the community’s thoughts on this question.
 

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I wonder how many people voted a certain way ever had a tank started with true live rock in sufficient quantity - like fresh rock from the ocean?

Is there a way for people to post if they even have had any real experience keeping a tank with real live rock? I feel that if most people had, they would just laugh at anything else...
Good point. Most of the rock that I have in my 120 mixed reef is from 1992/3 and I remember what it looked like to this day and I don't think many recent-years-hobbyists could imagine such beauty and diversity. I have purchased live rock over the years from Fiji and Tonga and personally brought back samples from a few Islands in The West Indies.
 
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Good point. Most of the rock that I have in my 120 mixed reef is from 1992/3 and I remember what it looked like to this day and I don't think many recent-years-hobbyists could imagine such beauty and diversity. I have purchased live rock over the years from Fiji and Tonga and personally brought back samples from a few Islands in The West Indies.
Would love to see some pictures!
 
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Wow thank you @Paul B very insightful. And I do agree tanks now are very sterile, the difference between my current tank (dry rock) and my first tank (ocean live rock) is huge. I loved the rock it came with so many little critters and had so many color on it. I started my new tank with that same rock and I can still see all the corals that originally came on it.

@Mickeyt1reef I believe you are right about both methods equalizing at some point. There will always be bacterial strains that are more prolific outcompeting the others.
 
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It does not look like it did now, unfortunately. It "was" all shades of purples, reds, oranges and heavily populated with xmas tree worms, macro algaes, feather dusters, brittle stars.
Sounds amazing! I’d love to see all of those things in my tank!


Wow thank you @Paul B very insightful. And I do agree tanks now are very sterile, the difference between my current tank (dry rock) and my first tank (ocean live rock) is huge. I loved the rock it came with so many little critters and had so many color on it. I started my new tank with that same rock and I can still see all the corals that originally came on it.

@Mickeyt1reef I believe you are right about both methods equalizing at some point. There will always be bacterial strains that are more prolific outcompeting the others.
Very true about newer tanks being sterile. And I also agree that various bacterial strains will win out over others as time progresses but I would wager that live rock has the ability to keep a more diverse microbiome.
 

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Sounds amazing! I’d love to see all of those things in my tank!



Very true about newer tanks being sterile. And I also agree that various bacterial strains will win out over others as time progresses but I would wager that live rock has the ability to keep a more diverse microbiome.
I'm sure it does, when I look at my rocks at night I see copepods, some amphipods and not much else, sterile but I guess atleast I know my dips are doing something lol. When I looked at my old tank at night the rocks were crawling with stuff they definitely sustained a higher number of life forms. I assume only because of the higher diversity of food availability in terms of micro prey or vegetation.
 
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I'm sure it does, when I look at my rocks at night I see copepods, some amphipods and not much else, sterile but I guess atleast I know my dips are doing something lol. When I looked at my old tank at night the rocks were crawling with stuff they definitely sustained a higher number of life forms. I assume only because of the higher diversity of food availability in terms of micro prey or vegetation.
I’m sure food availability made a huge difference. There are so many different levels to the food chain and I’m sure the more levels you had the more diverse all the critters on the rocks would be. Sounds really cool!
 

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Wow thank you @Paul B very insightful. And I do agree tanks now are very sterile, the difference between my current tank (dry rock) and my first tank (ocean live rock) is huge. I loved the rock it came with so many little critters and had so many color on it. I started my new tank with that same rock and I can still see all the corals that originally came on it.

@Mickeyt1reef I believe you are right about both methods equalizing at some point. There will always be bacterial strains that are more prolific outcompeting the others.
Oh one thing that I forgot was that the sand bed in the old tank with homemade rock was also seeded with garf grunge. Again just trying to get that biodiversity. So I’m thinking it’s a consensus that biodiversity is key. The question is how do you get the best with out the pest????
 

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