Rock: Dry vs Live


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I'm about to receive delivery of a new Cade 1800 and have been going back and forth between these methods to get started:
  • Dry rock and bio accelerators like Microbacter
  • Live rock from KP and/or Gulf Live Rock
  • Hybrid, using mostly dry rock and supplementing with a small amount of live rock
For any of the above choices, I already have about 200lbs of CaribSea aragonite and 120lbs of CaribSea Live Sand inbound from Chewy, for a total of 320lbs of substrate to help things along. Oh, for the good ol' days of Southdown! I also intend to supplement with cleanup crews from sources such as IPSF when the time in the cycle is right.

Random thoughts:
  • Live rock brings the risk of undesirable hitchhikers like aptasia, flatworms or mantis shrimp, but in all the tanks I've had, that's never been an issue and there are methods to deal with them. The benefit is a faster cycle with far more biodiversity.
  • Upside of dry rock is that I can aquascape outside the tank at my leisure, downside is a longer cycle and less biodiversity.
  • The cost of live rock via same-day air freight to a local airport vs dry rock via UPS is very close to the same amount per pound, surprisingly enough.
  • Using a 'hybrid' of dry and live rock defeats the purpose of the dry rock if the concern over nasty critters is the worry, so it seems it's one way or the other.
Would love to hear everyone's thoughts on pros/cons. If you had it to do all over again, what would you choose and why?
For me it’s live ocean rock , you can beat it. Been using live rock since the 80’s and have set up every tank other then my seahorse tank with it and one reef tank with dry. Never found a hitchhiker I couldn’t deal with,
It’s expensive but worth it. You can alway use dry for the foundation and then live rock on top of that.
Definietly use at least some maricultured or wild live rock, I generally use a 50/50 mix with dry rock. (And I'd get ti shipped air freight to get it as quickly as possible.) Bottled bacteria won't hurt anything but less than 2% of the microbial stuff on reef systems can be cultured and stuck in a bottle. Besides beneficial microbial stuff you can't get anywhere else cryptic sponges are essential recyclers, processing DOC 1000X faster than bacterioplankton and the best source is live rock.
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Personally do not like dead rock. Takes along time to cycle and deal with uglies for way to long.
Lets talk pests:
Wouldn't Dino's be considered a pest. I think dinos are the far worse pest than anything I have got on live rock. Most stuff on live rock can be dealt with easily. Seems the biggest issue for most now is dino's

Most people do not quarantine corals, snails or inverts either so they end up with pest anyway worse than if they used live rock. Take vermetid snail for example. All that bare rock to colonize and nothing to compete with them when they spawn. Normally when they land on the rock something eats them before making their protective shell, now on bare rock they just grow like a plague.

Did we have pest when we used live rock? Sure but they rarely rarely reach the proportions they do now. Look at vermited snails, bubble algae, dinos, algae and aiptasia. Allot of these pest breed with planula and when they land would be eaten by something living in the rock. Plus space is limited on live rock and everything is fighting for space. With dead rock all that space is available and usually is colonized by bad things first. I have been keeping reefs almost 35 years and I see more pest nowadays reach far worse densities..

I have set up a ton of tanks both ways and really miss real good quality live rock. Aquaculture rock is ok but shapes lack and are heavy. Tampa bay saltwater Walt Smith rock is better but man made. A mix is good.
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An old post of mine.
I'm going to get into some of what Richard spoke about in his post, but I'm going to take it a little further. Most of you know I've been in the hobby over thirty years now. Back then, live rock was very live. For the really good stuff, we were paying anywhere from 15 to 20 dollars a pound. At that time there were around 6 very good LFS's in this area. Saltwater was taking off here, and the word reef was being thrown around. The mags were showing some pics of tanks and we all started going nuts trying to get tanks going up here. We all had bleached out coral heads in our fish tanks. What happened next was beyond what we ever thought was possible.

The guys at all the LFS and a few of us hobbyists got together every once and a while to have a little talk about things we had heard, (no real club yet, or internet forums, but that happened later). On one of the meets, someone showed off the "new" live rock. There was green stuff, all kinds of strange colors, bi-valves, limpets, worms and all these tiny bugs, (pods)!!! Now mind you, this scared some of us. My wife had dreams about things crawling out the tank and eating her. She also spent hours sitting in front of it watching all the life moving around. This was something quite new.

I'm going to end this part of the story for now anyway. This is where I want some of you as old as me to go back too. I didn't have a skimmer. Had a big hang on , (Aquaclear I think), hanging on the back with carbon in it. That's it. Nothing else. There weren't many corals added. A hammer, a bubble and a few shrooms. Three or four fish. Back in the day, it was a beautiful tank. Hammer and bubble grew, mushrooms multiplied. Things were stable for quite a few years. If you bought any green stripped mushrooms in the area, they probably came from my tank. Thing is, there is something that I don't remember having in that tank, algae outbreaks. I don't ever remember seeing cyano. I can't say it was because of the live rock, but I'm pretty sure it was because of the live rock. That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.
I’d go live. I went all live in my 65 and hybrid in my wife’s 32. The dead is still going through the uglies but the live is getting excellent coralline and other small things.

Yes you do have hitchhikers but I love the hunt. Also you’re not limited to just Florida, you can get Australian live rock if you look around (very pricey though - about $30-35/lb) I haven’t seen anything super recent but within the past month or so
Add some Carib-Sea Life Rock, it’s dead, but looks seasoned, covered with coralline colours, looks “old” in the tank.
Add some bacteria, cycle, maintain your nutrient levels and it’s just as good as live, but, has zero hitchhikers.
Say $9 per pound…..varies,

Also the branching type of the same can make a super looking rock scape in hours.