As you may know, live rock was in many ways the "silver bullet secret"
to keeping saltwater tanks, especially reef tanks with corals. Though tanks
with lots of high tech gear can be run without it, tanks with it can be
run without lots of high tech and expensive equipment. I like some of both.
Good live rock can be one of the most aesthetically pleasing aspects of a tank full of beautiful,
rare animals. It can also keep them alive! It contains all the bacteria necessary for nitrification
and de-nitrification, key to the success of a reef tank.
The best filter you'll buy will be your live rock ...
it is both literally and figuratively the foundation
of your saltwater aquarium.
Back in the 1960's the famous pioneering aquarist Dr. Herbert R.
Axelrod would visit a guy in Indonesia that had what he called
fantastic beautiful saltwater tanks, run with only an airstone.
There were pictures of it in some of his early books. Yes there
were few fish, but lots of what we'd now call awesome live rock!
That was his secret. Just an airstone, and live rock.
Photo courtesy of our customer Scott of Hammond, Indiana.
(Tonga live rock was used to create this stunning aquascape)
There have been many types of live rock available.
Fiji and Florida produce most of the live rock in the USA.
Florida live rock is all aquacultured now, since harvesting
was banned in the U.S. and its territories.
The up side of FL rock is it can have corals on it, and be
legal. But it's dense, so very heavy, which equals expensive.
You'll need 50% more of it, at least, if not 100% more, than
many types of Pacific live rock. Florida rock also often has
unwanted hitch-hikers, such as mantis shrimp and bristle worms,
which live through shipping because it is shipped in water to
keep the coral and sponge life alive. You will almost surely
have to address the unwanted pest issue with Florida live rock.
Pacific live rock was all air-freighted and the two or three
days in transit usually killed most of the pests, but not all
of them always. Fiji live rock is all boated to the U.S. now.
The pests can't live through the month to two that takes by time
it clears port in L.A, California. Niether does much else.
There is currently as of 2013 only one source shipping the
real deal air-freighted fresh live rock, Manado in Indonesia.
Any identifiable piece of coral on an imported,
wild-harvested piece of live rock is cause for seizure
by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department.
So, Pacific Ocean harvested live rock is
cleaned of these items. Though most of it is
seeded with the eggs, spores or roots from these very same animals.
We've seen hard and soft corals grow out of live rock,
six months to a year after we got it. And it is shipped
in air (called dry - since not in water), so 99.9% of the
time if there are bristle worms or mantis shrimp (very very rare)
they will be dead in the bottom of the box, having gone
looking for water. International air-freight is most of
the cost of the live rock, and why it can not be shipped in water.
For our first decade, our on-line speciality was getting the
customer the fastest, freshest, highest quality air-freghted
Pacific live rock. From Fiji, the Marshall Islands, especially
Tonga, and we were early distributors of the original Vanuatu.
Other areas in which live rock was sometimes available were Bali,
Jakarta, and neighboring islands like Manado and others, and it
has come from Samoa and the Solomon Islands. Areas that don't
produce regularly have greater fluctuations in quality than those
that do. It takes some time to train them, but now they know just
exactly what we want. A show piece and a bunch of cherries in every box.
In general in the Indonesia quadrant for CITES enforcement, a piece
of live rock now counts as a coral. They are limited to the number
of pieces they can ship and don't want to spend a quota piece on a
rock, when they make more profit on a coral. So Bali and Java no
longer ship live rock. Only Manado does because it doesn't
have a facility to ship corals, so it ships live rock.
Manado Live Rock
Manado live rock is five-star, AAA real deal with great piece
selection in every box, lots of different colors of corallines,
sometimes macros, great coral shapes. It is an Indonesia type of
live rock, and you'll see why you've heard "oooh Indo rock"
for so long. It ranges from beautiful to spectacular.
Vanuatu Live Rock
Sorry folks ... Vanuatu remains
off-line at this time!
The Vanuatu rock was sold as Australian rock over a decade ago
since it flew through Oz on the way to the United States.
Many considered it the best live rock they ever saw.
Vanuatu live rock has been available, and the old
consistency issues are no longer a factor; it was coming
in fantastic. For many once they've gotten it, nothing else
will do. Lots of great post-curing growth, especially
many reported colored sponges. It's beautifully shaped coral
pieces encrusted with coralline algae and other great stuff.
It was often the lightest (least dense) live rock available,
so most displacement per pound.
Boxes weighed to 44 lbs. each, so a couple smaller
pieces will be there as they bring weight up.....
Always a big show center-piece, and a couple large A-1's
in every box.
Fiji Live Rock
Fiji live rock has been a popular live rock for many years.
Of the many types that used to be available air-freighted
until a few years ago, we offered the highest grade available.
It's important to distinguish what type of Fiji live rock
is "out there" in the marketplace. It is not
all the same.
After nearly two decades of building a tremedous reputation
for being the best cheapest most fantastic live rock,
around 2005-6, seemingly about 90% of Fiji live rock became
boat rock, that is, it rides a boat from Fiji to America.
So it sits for weeks in a shipping container awaiting
U.S. Fish & Wildlife inspection, Customs, etc. It is probably
picked and packed a couple weeks in advance of shipment as well.
Since about late 2006 it has all been boat rock, with a few
short duration rare exceptions here and there. As of late 2012
it became all boat rock again. There is one air-freighted available,
but it is collected and sits over there just like the boat rock,
until they ship, and so it is not worth the price. If it were picked
right before shipping time and was fresh, real deal, it would be
different, like the great stuff of the good old days.
Most boat rock is gray and cementy looking, but there are a
couple types and grades of it. Most will eventually grow the
purple coralline back on it. It is bacterially active and
is excellent for base or inner parts of large reefs. For the
last 7 years, we refused to carry it, as compared to all the
great Pacific live rock it just wasn't up to our standards
of the fresh air-freighted live rock we specialized in, and
what we think is the best way to build a reef tank.
Interestingly in part, the public demand for cheap-cheap-cheap
is what drove the price war and created the boat rock. Though
the new Fiji (boat rock) does not compare to the old Fiji (air-
freighted) live rock, they are both called the same thing by
marketers. It is far from the same product it was, even though
it is usually sold just as Fiji live rock without full disclosure,
and has been for years since day one. Most places selling Fiji
live rock do not say it is boat rock, as if it is the same
famous-for-a-reason product of yesteryear.
Since so many sources have closed down live rock exports,
in 2012 we began to offer the higher grade of
boat rock, which is chosen for shapes. They charge extra
for it, versus the regular common grade, and it does have the
great shapes of old fashioned Fiji. Coral pieces with nooks
and crannies, outstanding to excellent shapes. You can create
a very natural and realistic aquascape with it. Most of the
boat rock out there is the cheap grade ... boulders, bricks
and bowling balls we call them ... very poor shapes for
building a realistic and attractive reef, or at least the
way we want to see it, with the coral reef feel.
Our Fiji boat rock will have some purple coralline on it,
and much of it may have it, but it's grayish after a month.
It comes back great in a couple to few months. It cures hard
like all boat rock, figure a month at least, maybe more.
Whereas, with the Manado, we've had reports of it curing in a week
to two. If budget is a concern it will work. If you need a
foundation for a large reef, it is a good choice. It just takes
TLC time for it to get there. It won't be mind-boggling out of
the box (except for shapes) or covered in colors when you get it.
It will be good in 3 months, and great in 6 months for the
The following types of live rock are no longer available ...
In some ways this is a museum archive photo section of
various types of live rock that are no longer available....
Bali Live Rock
Bali is currently not
shipping any live rock.
There were several types of live rock available
from Bali. So, the following was written when
they were available. They were all good.
Usually the live rock from Bali or Indonesia
is individually wrapped in wet newspaper, boxes
are lined with a plastic bag for moisture retention,
so lots of cool stuff makes the trip.
There is Alor, which has an excellent reputation, but varies.
Then there is Blue Ridge, which is encursted pieces
of dead Heliopora, and is fragile. Then there is
sometimes what we call Purple Popcorn, which is a very
purple and bumpy rock, but not always available.
Irian Jaya Live Rock
(This was written when this live rock was available.)
Irian Jaya is now not just purple like one of the pictures
on our website, as they are collecting a multicolored
version, with the same great shapes, good varied coral and coral rock
pieces. But now it is more like Vanuatu in that there are
several colors of corallines on each piece, and it is not
just purple, like the pix we had up earlier. Everyone
that has gotten it has loved it.  You'll likely get
critters, its so fresh. We heard one guy ID'd 5 species of
macros on one rock! And he ought to be a botanist!
Java Live Rock
(This was written when this
live rock was available.)
Java live rock comes from the island of that name in
Indonesia. It is quite like the Irian Jaya actually.
We've had reports of starfish and anemones making it alive.
Everyone has been thrilled with it too. It is the
good old fashioned Indo rock you may have heard of.
Covered in lots of different colors, and stuff, good
coral pieces and shapes with lots of different types of
corallines. As of 2012 there were a few shipments earlier
in the year, and there may be some more in the future,
but it is off-line currently. The last few shipments,
it was covered in purple coralline, very nice.
Tonga Live Rock
Prior to Tonga closing for live rock collection in
August '08, there were six distinctly different
types available ... Vava'u (Deepwater), Eva,
Uaniva, shelf, branch, and fusion.
Tonga was first made famous for its red branch
live rock, and then the other types mentioned
above became as or more popular. Each type of
rock had its own unique character and most of
the people who got it thought it was the greatest
live rock they ever saw. We had mastered the
art of getting it from Tonga to our customer
quickly enough to receive regular reports of
everything from purple zooanthids to corals
growing out of it. It really was World Class
live rock and it's a shame that it closed down.
Marshall Islands live rock was lightweight, porous
and colorful. It has lots of shape and was
most open internally of any type of live rock.
It was often old dead porites pieces that fused
together, so very branchy internally, full of
nooks and crannies. It mostly only had this great
beautiful shade of lavender coralline algae on it.
Some reported never getting anything else ever.
Once I got live Porites out of it, and a few zoos
another time. But it was mostly the internal open
space, and the lavender coralline.
There was very little freight space, which
was always the limiting factor in supply.
But, in summer of 2007, it was closed down.
There was hope that it will re-open, as the
harvest was less than 1/20th of Fiji's, but recently
recently much of the Marianas was named a marine reserve,
so it is unlikely now that any rock will again
arrive fresh from the Marshall Islands. One shipment
of boated Marshalls was brought to LA. Bet that
smelled good. :)
Notes from Birdfish ...
Almost all of this Pacific live rock, regardless of source, comes in boxes that
weigh from 44-66 lbs. When you order live rock direct, it is not cured.
The most important things to remember are to
NOT blast it with light when it first comes in,
and to keep LOTS of current on it. WATERFLOW and
PROTEIN SKIMMING (or water changes) are the two very
important things to do. These simple rules will
allow your live rock to cure with very little loss
of coralline and other life on it. Most of which
you can't order. The best stuff on it, is spores
in it you can't see, that will grow in a few months.
IF you keep it clean while curing. The solution
to pollution is dilution, don't fret over throwing
some water away the first week or two. It will make
a big difference in what grows in a month or two.
Please see our article Curing Live Rock.
You may also be interested in our Live Rock FAQ.
An important note ... remember the sun at
high noon on the equator is only 6500 Kelvin.
That means, less at other times of the day, or under
overcast skies, etc. There is no 20,000 Kelvin
in the wild. There is no such animal.
It is often the over-lighting of these new
super bulbs, which can kill corallines, and corals.
They ARE a marvel of technology, but the product
they put out is nothing any animal in the sea is
adapted to, or has ever been exposed to.
I once watched a large wholesaler in L.A.
replace all his 10K's with 20K's when they
came out, and watched 500 beautiful purple and
blue acroporas turn brown in two days!
So, let's be careful with the light out there folks!
Always run a blue light only photoperiod for an hour or
two hours on either side of your white full-light
sun period to simulate sunup and sundown. Start
with just blue light after a week or two of curing.
Then put a couple hours of white light between blue
cycles. Then slowly increase that until you get
to the final daylight photoperiod of 2 hours blue,
8 hrs. white, 2 hrs. blue which is close to what
it is in the real world.
You don't want to light it during curing when
you can't yet get some snails on it to control
any algae bloom. A little blue for an hour or
two is fine to check it out better.... but watch
the nose prints on the glass.
Our rock is fresh ... it doesn't sit around on the
warehouse floor for a week before we ship it to you.
[Note: We put this sentence on our website
in 2000 and it, to this day, is the most
copied sentence off our website, with
many of live rock sellers on the Internet
having lifted it directly from here ...
some of whom sell rock that is stored on the floor.]
All of our live rock is shipped almost immediately
upon landing at LAX. So, often faster than a
wholesaler in the east gets it and before he sells
it to a retail store, you have it. We meet the plane
and are waiting for Fish & Wildlife to clear it.
Therefore, what day we ship to you will be
based on the day the rock arrives at LAX.
Most of it gets to LAX on a Sunday and to you on
a Monday evening or Tuesday morning.
You must order in box lots ... the box approximate weights
are listed on our Live Rock Photos & Pricing page.
We only ship to your local airport. Only in the lower 48
United States and Alaska (illegal to ship it to Hawai'i).
Freight rates vary with airline, and distance across country.
Coast to coast, it is usually about $1.00 per pound.
The first box is high, you pay the minimum charge the
airline has for one box regardless of weight since one
box is only around 50 lbs. Two boxes freight is usually
only 50% more than one box, and three boxes only 25% more
on that. Under a hundred pounds, one box, you pay a
little high for air-freight. Still a fraction of a door
to door service. Pickup is easy as eatin' cream pie.
Please plan ahead so you can place your order
with enough time for us to arrange for the
arrival of your rock into the U.S., in summer
especially shipments may be once per month.
Lately Manado has been shipping once a month or so.
Also so we may have advance notice so we can secure
your freight space, which often requires a booking,
sometimes a week ahead of the shipping day.
You may send us an e-mail
if you wish to
inquire regarding your shipping, or if you have
any other questions. Also, please try to
keep a flexible schedule regarding your
shipping day ... sometimes things run like
clockwork, but sometimes the schedules can
occasionally change ... in other words, please
don't make a solid plan to take the day off from
work or plan your vacation around your shipment.
You can pick it up after work and it will even be
fine the next day. Shipments can not ship from
overseas at the last minute for a bunch of reasons.
The bottom line is you can get the same box
of rock your local store does from the same
exporter and importer, without it going through
as many hands for a lot less by picking it
up at the airport yourself. Remember, freight
terminals are often at different places than
passenger terminals ... usually signed on way
(All airline tracking and contact information will
be sent to you when shipment goes.) We don't recommend
this for everything, but where live rock is concerned,
you're not taking the risk of touchy, sensitive
livestock that might not eat! What you need is the
best freshest island-to-you real deal live rock
to build your reef with.