Branching live rock like that which came from Tonga back in the day has always been some of the most highly sought after shape for aquascaping reef tanks and marine aquaria. branching rock from the wild is unpredictable in shape, quality, and most importantly, it can be quite expensive.
The last decade has seen many attempts to recreate the gnarly and fun branching shapes of the best pieces of branching live rock. We’ve seen clumsy aragacrete branch rock, and Real Reef has some pretty good looking branching rock made right in the US of A. But a new generation of hand made branching rock from Walt Smith Fiji is some of the most promising replicas we’ve ever seen.
Walt Smith Fiji has been making artificial rock longer than anyone, their efforts beginning in the late nineties simply to create bases on which to attach their farmed coral colonies from Fiji. In the intervening years, in addition to being a major exporter of wild live rock from Fiji, Walt Smith has been making man made live rock to offset their wild rock exports.
During all this time the enterprise has gotten quite experienced at creating natural looking live rock from sand and cement and they’ve recently turned their attention to making a facsimile of the highly sought after branching live rock. While passing through Fiji last week we stopped by Walt Smith’s fish, coral and live rock operation and we got to see what the next generation of realistic, man-made branching rock will look like.
In the Walt Smith compound in Fiji there is a whole “rock yard” where up to a dozen artisans make and process all kinds of man made rock pieces. In addition to seeing the newest batch of artificial branch rock, we were able to see the evolution of how the branching rock has been put created, but the newest type is looking really, really good.
The new artificial branch rock has a great 3D shape, no two pieces are alike, and the rocks themselves are dense, solid, and not likely to break in shipping. The current batch is only a tiny bit on the thick side but future refinements to the manufacturing process will focus on making the rock itself harder and stronger, so that they can be thinner, and therefore lighter.