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What is Prime Cured Live Rock™?

When aquarists explore the possibility of moving up to a saltwater reef aquarium, they usually are confused by the terms "live rock", "cured rock," and "reef rock." They read about the virtues of "live rock" and the advantages of having it in a marine aquarium, but they are not sure what it is, and inaccurate retailer descriptions of "live rock" add to the confusion. Suppliers sometimes make false claims about the condition and quality of their live rock. And to make it worse, a search of the internet for "live rock" produces hundreds of leads to musicians, concerts, publishers, and other web sites you really don't want to visit.

Let us tell you what these terms mean and how Aquarium Arts cures live rock.
Use this table to navigate this page.
What is Live Rock?
How Do Suppliers Treat the Rock?
Aquarium Arts' Curing Process
How Does Aquarium Arts Ship Live Rock?
What Determines the Value of Live Rock?
How Can You Tell if You Are Getting a Quality Product?
Is Cured Rock Worth the Price?
How Can You Safely Buy "Sight Unseen?"
How to Order - Pricing

What is Live Rock?
First of all, most of what we normally consider as "rock" is a mineral structure formed by: compounds settling in ancient oceans and lakes (sedimentary), minerals that were once melted and spewed out of the earth by volcanoes (igneous), and sedimentary deposits that were transformed by great pressure created by overlying deposits (metamorphic).

Live rock is a calcareous (limestone) structure that is formed by the deposition of many species of living (stony) corals and other invertebrates, forming either deep ocean or shallow coastal reefs. Some coastal reefs grow toward the surface of the water and form a barrier to the island or continent (Great Barrier Reef of Australia) that may cause ship wrecks.

Parts of the shallow reef are broken to pieces by powerful storms and washed into shallow, tropical waters by the surf, like the sample at left from an island in Fiji. Here the pieces are colonized by a wide variety of marine organisms, including encrustations of coralline algae, sponges, tube worms, soft and hard corals, anemones, and molluscs, as well as more mobile species such as crabs, shrimp, starfish, worms, and snails. Most importantly, the porous rock is inhabited by species of bacteria (decomposers) that live on the waste products and dead tissue of the other reef organisms - converting the wastes to basic chemical elements that either enter the atmosphere or are used by the plants that feed the animals. These rock fragments are collected by "suppliers" , treated in various ways, and shipped to wholesalers all over the world for use in marine reef aquariums.

Although the aquarium industry is frequently blamed for decimating tropical reefs, more reef damage is done by pollution from oil spills, waste discharges into the ocean from coastal cities and ship bilges, and runoff of coastal waters containing fertilizers, heavy metals, pesticides and naturally-occurring minerals leached out of the soil. In some tropical areas huge portions of reefs are mined and the limestone is used for building material (building blocks, cement), since the islands, which are giant limestone reefs themselves, lack any kind of inorganic mineral or renewable building materials.

How Do Suppliers Treat the Rock?
Some suppliers wrap the pieces of coral in wet newspaper, pack them in wax coated cardboard boxes, and air freight them to wholesalers in coastal cities. Since most of the reef organisms die within hours from exposure to drying air and high temperatures, when the product arrives at the wholesaler, it is "dead", and smells like it! The films of algae and invertebrates on the surface of the rock quickly die when exposed to air, wide temperature changes, intense light or total darkness. The effect of the chemicals in the newsprint must also be a contributing factor in the mortality of the rock organisms.

Other suppliers wrap the rock in plastic sheets inside a cardboard box.

Even in this "dead" rock there are surviving crustaceans, molluscs, worms, and reproductive stages (spores, cysts, larvae, etc.) of plants and animals in the crevices and pores of the rock. The porous rock also harbors bacteria which are the major base of biological filtration in the reef system. This is important in "seeding".

Some suppliers "pre-cure" the rock by spreading it on racks in the collecting region and continuously spraying it with sea water for several weeks. During this time many delicate plants and animals die and some undesirable species (such as mantis shrimps, bristle worms, and predatory crabs) abandon the rock. Some of the hardier plants and animals endure the change in conditions and will re-emerge when the rock is placed in good conditions of water quality, circulation, filtration, light, and temperature. This rock usually costs more but it saves time in the building of a reef system. Then the rock is shipped to the wholesaler.

Some suppliers "pre-cure" the rock by flushing it in tanks with sea water for several weeks. This eliminates some undesirable species, and causes less damage to the delicate plants and animals on the rock, which is then shipped to the wholesaler.

Successful transport depends on the packaging, handling, and speed of shipping.

The wholesalers forward ('transship') the boxes to retail stores, usually without even opening the boxes and examining the rock. After all, they want to get rid of the stuff before it smells up their warehouse. This rock is relatively cheap and is sold in boxes of about 40 lb. (20 kg).

The quality of the rock then depends on how quickly it is transferred to an aquarium without exposure to big changes in water quality, temperature, light, etc. Even so, the rock is usually "dead rock" by the time it reaches the retailer, and need weeks of treatment ("cycling" and "seeding") before it is functional in a reef aquarium.

Aquarium Arts' Curing Process
Aquarium Arts buys dead "live rock" from our wholesaler who is two hours away, next door to Los Angeles International Airport; we generally purchase the rock the same day it arrives and we transport it to our facility within a couple of hours. We then proceed to "cure" the rock, a process often referred to as "cycling". This means that the rock inhabitants continue the process of death and decomposition, and the pollutants produced by the decomposition are removed. The rock is rinsed in synthetic sea water and placed in an unlighted tank with a high rate of water flow from a closed circulation system. A biological filtration system supplied by a second pump, along with frequent water changes and a protein skimmer, removes the breakdown materials produced by the decomposing organic matter. At the same time, bacteria living in and on the rock increases and effectively becomes a "biological filter" which breaks down toxic pollutants, especially nitrates.

If you break a piece of rock in half, the broken surface may look like this, with larger holes made by boring organisms. The porous rock has an immense surface area which serves as a substrate for the bacteria living inside.

Once the smell is gone from the rock in Aquarium Arts' curing tank, the rock is transferred to racks in another tank where it is exposed to high intensity light and vigorous water movement. A very efficient protein skimmer cleans the water. Sediment that accumulates in the tank is regularly vacuumed out and frequent water changes are made.

Soon colonies of rich velvety red-purple, coralline algae (often several shades of color) begin to develop on the surface of the rock. Tiny invertebrates - worms, crabs, molluscs, bryozoans, sponges, coelenterates, and tunicates as well as coral polyps - that have survived the long trip from tropical ocean to our aquarium shop, begin to emerge on the surface, adding to the diversity and improving the filtration effect of "live rock". Individuals spread from one rock to another, establishing new colonies or populations. This is known as "seeding". Soon the rock is "cured" and "seeded", that is, there is no dead tissue in the cracks and crevices, and a healthy growth of invertebrates is invading the crevices and surfaces.

But we give it more time. The rock is moved into a third tank for "polishing."

We now have a larger facility with bigger curing tanks.

Finally, after 30-60 days this "live rock" is "cured"!

All the dead material has been removed, new colonies of coralline algae cover the surface, and countless micro-organisms are emerging on the rock. At this point it can be put into an aquarium with no further cycling! If the temperature and salinity of the tank are stable, livestock can be added immediately. The rock will continue to improve in color and variety of plants and animals.

That is what we call "Prime Cured Live Rock™."


How Does
Aquarium Arts Ship Live Rock?
When live rock is ordered, a delivery date is set and the customer is given a tracking number which enables the continuous tracking from dropoff to delivery. On the afternoon before the delivery date the rock is carefully placed in plastic bags with enough water to maintain a saturated atmosphere, packed in styrofoam boxes (with hot or cold packs , as necessary) and packed with crumpled newspaper for padding and added insulation. The styrofoam box is securely sealed and placed in a reinforced cardboard box which is sealed, and delivered to Fedex in the late afternoon. (We could have the packages picked up, but we don't want them being hauled all over town for half a day before they are shipped - we deliver them to the Fedex terminal in less than 5 minutes after we load them in our van.)

To see photographs of our packing procedure - just click here!

We ship livestock by Fedex Standard Overnight express - your order will arrive no later than 3PM in most locations; some rural locations are not delivered until 4:30PM. If the shipment is late, the shipping fee is refunded unless the delay is caused by weather (an "act of God"). If the delay is caused by Fedex error or insufficiency, we will submit a request for a refund. This takes several weeks and requires a lot of our time in filing requests, following up by phone, etc. Consequently, we will retain 25% of the shipping charge to compensate us for our efforts

Before we ship, we check the weather conditions in your area (and enroute). If we feel there is a good possibility that the shipment will be delayed, we let you know by phone and let you decide if you want to risk losing the shipment to bad weather, delay, etc. If you decide to have the rock shipped against our recommendation, all refund policies are null and void. Our weather assessments are based on on-line weather predictions and we will not be responsible for any errors. If you don't hear from us, you can assume the shipment left Bakersfield by 6PM and can track the shipment on the Fedex web page ( from the minute it leaves Bakersfield until it arrives the next day.

If there are no delays or temperature shocks from handling and the rock is placed in the aquarium as soon as it arrives, it suffers no damage. If the aquarium is in good condition, the rock doesn't "skip a beat."
Obviously, a product of this quality costs more!

PLEASE!!! We have seen comments on several aquarium forums that say something like "Even if you buy cured live rock, after it is shipped to you, it has to be cured again, because it 'dies' during shipping." THIS IS NOT TRUE OF Aquarium Arts' PRIME CURED LIVE ROCK ™ because of our complete curing, secure packing, and speedy delivery to your door. OUR CUSTOMERS WILL TELL YOU - see their comments here.


What Determines the Value of Live Rock?
The value of cured live rock comes from its role in a saltwater reef aquarium where the reef is the major filtration system. How so? First, the bacteria in and algae on the rock remove chemical compounds containing nitrogen and phosphorus, which can be toxic to animals, and the algae consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, all of which are advantageous to aquarium animals.

Many reef aquaria have very few macroalgae (which look like green plants!) because there usually are fish or other inhabitants that eat them. Some algae (hair algae) can be a problem that requires special attention to aquarium conditions or requires grazers (fish, shrimp, crabs, snails) to keep them under control. Other microalgae (brown, red, black- actually cyanobacteria) are a result of special water conditions that occur when the nitrate, phosphate, or silicate content is very high.

If the reef is populated with brightly colored corals, the filtration effect is vastly increased. The colors of the corals are not from the usual animal pigments, but from photosynthetic algal cells (zoozanthellae) that live inside the tissues of the corals and other invertebrates in a mutually beneficial arrangement. In this "mutualistic" relationship, the algal cells get protection, a stable living place, and a supply of carbon dioxide and other nutrient chemicals from the host. In return, the photosynthetic process in the zoozanthellae consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen, both beneficial to the corals, and produce sugars, which may be an energy source for the coral host. Zooxanthellae have a major benefit to stony corals by promoting the deposition of calcium carbonate, the backbone of the coral reef. Coral reefs grow only in shallow water and grow faster in sunlight.

Prime Cured Live Rock made this aquarium look like this in 5 months!

Prime Cured Live Rock made this aquarium look like this in only 3 months!

This Prime Cured Live Rock reef is three days old!


Is Cured Rock Worth the Price?
Beginning saltwater aquarists often are not prepared for the costs of a reef system. After getting the necessary equipment - lights, pumps, skimmers, heaters, coolers, etc. there isn't much left for the reef. Budget-minded novices have a natural tendency to buy uncured "cured live rock" for half the price of quality material. Don't make that mistake! And don't think about adding a lot of cheap rock to an established tank - the results would be disastrous! The uncured rock will pollute the system, cause all kinds of changes in water condition, increase the level of pollutants, and seriously damage most of the less hardy species in your system. We regularly get distress calls from aquarists who lost valuable animals (and time) when they put cheap rock in their tanks.

Your local fish store may be a source of cheap rock and you also save a lot on shipping costs.

This is all right, and it may be economically necessary, but the aquarist must be willing to put the rock in a brand new system and endure weeks of smelly "cycling", expensive water changes and lighting, and hard work before you introduce other livestock!

Aquarium Arts sells ONLY cured live rock! We do not sell the other stuff!
We also sell a complete line of
aquarium supplies and equipment and the highest quality
marine fish and invertebrates.


How Can You Tell if You Are Getting a Quality Product?

If you buy it from a store, you can tell by the color, size, shape, and smell - sniff each piece of rock and if it stinks, don't buy it!

If you buy from a catalog or e-tailer, you, the buyer must beware. Here are some things to look for in a bad deal:

1-if the rock is selling for less than $6 per pound, beware! That retailer can not invest the time it takes to properly cure live rock and sell that cheaply!

2-if the retailer includes shipping at the $6 price, stop right there! Shipping costs vary with speed and distance. It costs a lot to ship to "Region 8" - all the way across the U. S. - the highest shipping rate. Does it make sense that a retailer will ship 2500 miles for the same price as to the next county?

3-if the retailer ships by any method that takes more than 24 hours, beware! Live rock can not tolerate that much abuse.

Some suppliers will sell to you cheaply, in 40-50 lb. boxes. This is usually done by "drop shipping" from the importer, so the retailer never sees the material!

Remember the old saying: If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is!


How Can You Safely Buy "Sight Unseen?"
Anytime you buy something you have not seen from someone you do not know, you are taking a chance.
-If you are not too confident about the deal, call the supplier and ask questions. If no one will talk to you, go elsewhere.

-If you do reach a person by phone, ask for names and numbers of satisfied customers. Only the honest, reliable dealers will provide that. Customers pleased with their purchase usually buy repeatedly and are willing to be references. Honest dealers are interested in repeat customers, not one-time buyers.

We pride ourselves on establishing a rapport with our callers and providing the highest quality product and an honest, reliable service. This is why we do not have a "shopping cart" ordering system on our web site. We believe that speaking to each individual customer is a very important step in the educational process that will result in the best possible result in your system. In fact, most of our live rock customers are so impressed with our product and service that they often buy more rock and then order livestock and equipment. If you want to know what our clients have to say about Aquarium Arts' products and performance, read some of their recent comments.

-Finally, if you aren't absolutely sure about the dealer, make a test purchase. Buy 10 or 20 lbs. Shipping costs will be a bit higher, proportionately, but not enough to break you. In most cases the cost per pound of our rock, even with the high shipping cost, is less than prices in the local fish store. When you see the quality of our rock, you will probably elect to order the remaining rock that we recommend for your system. For larger orders the cost per pound goes way down - a 50 lb. shipment to destinations outside California is $9.99 per lb. - delivered to your door, guaranteed!

If you can afford prime rock, you save money and time in the long run because you get an established reef immediately! You can introduce livestock safely within a few days and will have a lower mortality of fish and inverts. You can really enjoy a beautiful, easy-to-maintain system as soon as you set it up.

Another old saying you should remember: In the long run, you get what you pay for!

When Aquarium Arts sells an aquarium system package, we first ship all of the equipment. The client calls as soon as the aquarium is filled, the water temperature is stable, and everything is running. We then ship the rock, for next-day delivery. Once that is in place, we ship livestock for the system. We always follow up by phone to make sure the shipment arrived in good condition and to answer the customer's questions.

When we set up a new system locally, we fill the tank with heated sea water, test for leaks and equipment function, and build the reef in the same visit. We usually add livestock to the system on the next day.



If you have questions about our live rock, or want to order live rock, call us (661-834-8516) or send a number and 'best time to call' and we will call you. We can serve you better by talking to you than by spending a lot of time emailing back and forth. If you do email us, put "Live Rock" in the subject line so we don't delete your message.

Orders of 50 lb. or more of our Prime Cured Live Rock can be shipped to anywhere in the continental U.S., hand-selected, custom packed (insulated box, heat/cold packs, plastic bags, insulating packing), Fedex Standard Overnight, for $9.99 per lb. (Discounts may apply due to promotions and sale pricing). Prices on quantities less than 50 lb. are $10.99 per lb. or more, depending on the total weight.

We also have beautiful Fiji Branched Live Rock. Orders of 50 lb. or more are priced at $10.99 per lb.


Terms of Sale. When we accept an order, we charge the cost to your credit card at that time and set a future shipping date; unless the product is back-ordered. In that case a 50% deposit will be charged and a tentative shipping date will be discussed. The remainder of the cost will be charged to the card on or about the date of the shipment.

Orders that are cancelled on the shipping date (after the rock is packed) will be charged a 50% re-stocking fee and 50% of the total deposit will be refunded to your credit card. If an order is cancelled before the shipment (packing) date, a 25% processing fee will be charged.

If an order is placed and the purchaser does not request shipment within 90 days of the order date, the order is voided and the deposit will not be refunded.

If a purchaser requests a refund of his payment, the request must be made by email or certified USPS letter to Aquarium Arts, 4208 Starling Drive, Bakersfield, CA 93309.

Walk-in customers are welcome, by appointment, and can hand select pieces of fully cured Fiji live rock from a stock of thousands of pounds for $7.99 per lb. You should bring a container (insulated box, ice chest, etc.) to avoid packing/box charges.

LARGE SHOW PIECES are available at no additional cost. Acquiring large pieces to meet your specifications may require additional time and packing materials.
We try our best to accommodate the needs of our reef customers and can supply large pieces of cured live rock for our best customers, at the same price as the smaller rock! Get more information




Read comments from Aquarium Arts customers here.


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