Aquascaping is an art form with a function that goes well beyond aesthetics. A beautiful saltwater reef scape starts with well-designed rocks arranged in just the right way to allow for optimal circulation and aesthetically pleasing features like overhangs, caves, platforms, and more.
By using dry rock, modern reef aquarists create gravity-defying aquascapes before adding any water to the tank. Professional aquarists prefer dry rock as it is less expensive to ship than wet live rock, can stay outside of the water making it easier to design, and most importantly there is no risk of introducing hitchhiking aquarium pests.
Careful planning and arrangement is needed to reducing dead zones, and provide a stable place to attach and grow corals. Good aquascape design can allows room for you to manuver and clean around the glass and helps you hide pumps and other equipment. Sarting with purpose made aquascaping rocks makes this an enjoyable artistic process.
Live Wet Rock vs Dry Rock
You may have heard the term ‘live rock‘, or seen a tank full of wet rocks at your local fish store. Live rocks form the basis for all living life in your aquarium, and before the popularity of dry rocks, many aquarists would use live rocks harvested from the ocean and shipped in water as the foundation of their aquarium reef scapes.
You can still buy live wet rocks often from your local fish store or from a friend in the reefing community, but live rocks run the risk of introducing all sorts of nasty pests like bubble algae, bristle worms, aptasia, and more into your tank. Dry rock is a modern alternative to wet live rock.
Once dry rock is cured, and has gone through the biological cycling process for new tanks, dry rock becomes live wet rock. So in terms of aquascaping, you can build with wet live rock or dry aquascaping rocks. Dry rock is just easier to work with, and lighter to ship, with a greater diversity of rock shapes.
A common aquascaping dry rock is limestock rock that has been mined from the land. This type of rock has no environmental impact on the ocean, is easy to shape, and come in unique pieces like stackable flat rocks, foundation rocks with flat bases, or pedestals and platform rocks.
You can also purchase manufactures sculpted dry rocks, which are formed from natural calcium carbonate and aragonite materials. These sculpted rocks come in unique formations like archways, branches, and caves in purple and pink colors to mimic natural coralline algae.
Sculpted rocks often come seeded with bacterias to help speed up the cycling process, and do not typically need the 4-8 weeks of curing time which is recommended for dry limestone rocks.
Here are some of the best dry rocks for aquascaping saltwater aquariums.
Dry Limestone Rock
- CaribSea Moani™ Dry Live Rock
CaribSea Moani™ is a high-porous, aragonitic rock that is infused with living, spored bacteria to provide a fast start-up with compressed cycling time. Moani™ has subtle colors similar to natural live rock but without the pests. No curing is required.
- Two Little Fishies Stax
Stax™ is flat, porous oolitic limestone for building layered aquascapes in marine or freshwater aquariums. Provides a stable structure and limitless creative fun! Avoid introducing pests and create the aquascape of your dreams. Use with AquaSTIX™ cement to make open, gravity-defying structures with lots of horizontal surfaces for attaching live corals.
- Marco Rocks Reef Saver Rocks
Marco Rocks Reef Saver is the top choice for reef aquarists as it comes in many useful shapes and sizes. Mix flat bottom foundation rocks with reef saver rocks or various sizes to create the aquascape of your dreams.
Reef Saver rocks are harvested on land from an ancient reef system buried when the Florida landmass was formed. Because it is not harvested from a marine environment it has no negative impact on reef or marine ecosystems.
Sculpted Dry Rock
- CaribSea LifeRock
CaribSea LifeRock™ is infused with bacteria using AragAlive™ technology which results in a reduction of traditional cycling times. Each piece of LifeRock™ has multiple engineered aragonite coatings that not only maintain the extensive macro-and micro- porosity but yield the soft muted colors of a living reef.
This clean base rock is 97% calcium carbonate with minor and trace elements such as strontium, magnesium, and barium. LifeRock™ is a superior rock of true marine origin without hitchhikers, organics, or algae.
- Real Reef™ Rock
Real Reef™ is a made of 100% natural marine friendly ingredients. The ingredients are not taken from the ocean and as a result there is zero environmental impact to the world’s coral reefs or marine habitat. Real Reef™ is made through a proprietary process of over 13 steps which we have filed method and utility patents on.
Beautiful alternative to wild live rock. No Pests.. double the available alk and calcium to live rock and beautiful red pink and purple coralline colors and ready to burst with nitrifying bacteria!
Start Your Dry Rock Cycle
- MicroBacter Dry Rock Bacteria Starter Kit
The Brightwell Aquatics dry rock starter kit includes everything you need for a fishless cycle with dry rock. This kit is designed to be used with unseeded dry rock or artificial live rock. For optional performance, the kit is designed to be used with dry sand not live sand which may contain nonbeneficial organizms.
- MicroBacter QuikCycl
- MicroBacter Start XLM
- MicroBacter CLEAN
- Red Sea Reef Mature Starter Kit
Red Sea’s Reef Mature Pro Kit provides a complete program for the biological maturation of your reef aquarium. Complete biological maturation program for reef and marine aquariums.
Nitro Bac | Bacto-Start | NO3:PO4-X | KH Coralline Gro
Your Aquascape Is More Than A Pile Of Rocks
Whatever rocks you choose proper aquascaping design sets the stage for a beautiful tank. Stick with porous rocks that provide ample surface area for biological life and remember to soak and clean your rocks before starting a new tank.
Stabilize your design using reef safe epoxy putty and cement to allow for open circulation and cut down on dead space. Incorporate valleys, platforms, caves, and outcroppings for a visually appealing dream reef scape.