Prime Cured Live Rock

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 “fully cured live 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.

Let us tell you what these terms mean and how Aquarium Arts cures live rock.

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 depoxsition of many species of living (stony) corals and other invertebrates and algaes, 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).

Parts of the shallow reef are broken to pieces by powerful storms and washed into shallow, tropical waters by the surf. 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, waste discharges into the ocean from coastal cities and ship bilges.
Runoff of coastal waters containing fertilizers, heavy metals, pesticides and naturally-occurring minerals leached out of the soil are also detrimental to the ecosystem. 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 prehistoric limestone reefs themselves, lack any kind of inorganic mineral or renewable building materials.

How Do Suppliers Treat the Rock?
Very few suppliers pack them in styrofoam plastic lined wax coated boxes and air freight them to wholesalers in the U.S and abroad. Since most of the external reef organisms die rapidly from exposure to drying air and high temperatures it is extremely important to minimize travel times from point of collection to wholesaler destination. Thus emphasizing air freight as the preferred mode of transportation.

After arrival at the wholesaler this rock is considered fresh but uncured. Even in this “stressed state” upon arrival 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.

Some wholesalers and retailers “pre-cure” the rock by flushing it in tanks with sea water for short periods of time. This eliminates some undesirable species, and causes less damage to the delicate plants and animals on the rock but it is still considered uncured.

Some wholesalers also forward or ‘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 dies and smells up their warehouse. However, the wholesale/retail product process is not quick and some of the product will likely sit in a wholesale warehouse for long periods of time thus drying out and dying before reaching a retail store. This rock is relatively cheap and is generally sold in boxes of about 45 lb.

The majority of United States wholesalers as of approx. 2008 have also switched to a very economic but extremely detrimental shipping process from the rocks source to the U.S. market. This method involves containerizing, refrigerating and shipping the rock across the ocean on container ships. This process often involves extreme travel times sometimes up to 3 to 4 weeks. During these kinds of durations, almost nothing survives transport. Thus containerized rock arriving in the United States is extremely damaged.

Aquarium Arts’ Curing Process

Aquarium Arts buys only live rock that is shipped via air frieght from our supplier to our wholesaler who is two hours away, in the Los Angeles International Airport area; we generally purchase the rock within 48 hours of its arrival and clearing of customs. We then transport it to our facilities within hours of its arrival. 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 sysknthetic sea water and placed in unlighted holding tanks with a high rates of water flow from a closed circulation system. A biological filtration system supplied by a second pump, along with frequent water changes and constant protein skimming, removes the breakdown materials produced by the decomposing organic matter. At the same time, preserving as much biodiversity in the living rock as possible. This facilitates a rejuvenation of the natural biological filter in the rock.

Once the smell is gone from the rock in Aquarium Arts’ special curing tanks, the rock is transferred to racks in other tanks 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 occasional coral polyps – that have survived the long, but quick, trip from the tropical Pacific Ocean to our facility, 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.

Most would consider this a fully cured product but we give it more time. The rock is then moved into further holding tanks for “polishing.”

We now have a larger facility with bigger curing tanks.

Finally, after 30-60 days this Prime Cured Live Rock is a “fully cured and polished” product.

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.

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

We ship livestock by Fedex Standard Overnight express for PM arrival times in all 48 states. Federal Express Priority Overnight is necessary in some rural areas for PM delivery. This will be based on your zip code at the time of order. Federal Express Priority Overnight can also be used for AM delivery in all 48 states, allowing for faster delivery service at an additional cost. Federal Express Priority can also be used to ship to all FedEx serviced areas of Alaska.

If the shipment is late, the shipping fee is refunded unless the delay is caused by weather (an “act of God”).If this occurs FedEx is not responsible for the delay and Aquarium Arts cannot issue a FedEx refund request; no refund will be issued. If the delay is caused by a 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 shipping into bad weather which may cause delays, 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. You will be contacted on the day of shipment to confirm your order. The shipment can be tracked on the Fedex web page ( from the minute it leaves Bakersfield until it arrives at its destination the next day.

We pack our product based on the possibility of a 48-hour journey.If there are no major 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!

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 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.

Quality Pledge
The live rock reef is your biological filter. What benefits, do you as a customer, realize when purchasing live rock from Aquarium Arts ?
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, but remember that the live rock is your biological filter so it is best not to skimp on the foundation of your entire system. Budget-minded novices have a natural tendency to buy uncured “live rock” for less than half the price of quality material. Don’t make that mistake!

The benefits of Aquarium Arts fully cured rock are:

  • rapid air freight delivery
  • no cycling time/instant reef within 24-hours after arrival
  • no nasty smells from uncured rock in your home or office
  • no further labor after the initial delivery and aqua-scaping
  • no time consuming, costly water changes to cure the rock
  • no starter fish (mollies, damsels, etc.)
  • fish and coral introduction with moderation, within 24-hours of delivery and live rock aqua-scaping
  • very user-friendly for all sizes and shapes of aquariums(Thousands of pounds to choose from)
  • Every order is personally hand selected and custom packed
  • Every order is a custom order; large or small
  • Honest and reliable information before and after your product arrives
  • fully guaranteed to arrive in great condition

By the time you consider all of the qualities listed above it should make sense to purchase a fully cured, natural and guaranteed live rock product from Aquarium Arts.
It’s worth the price!

FYI: 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 there is no need for further curing.

OUR CUSTOMERS WILL TELL YOU – see their comments here.

And don’t think about adding uncured 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 or all of your system. We regularly get distress calls from aquarists who lost valuable animals (and time) due to adding uncured rock to their tanks.

After being in the industry for 30+ years Aquarium Arts also understands that budget and economics come into play when establishing a reef tank. Because of Aquarium Arts fully cured live rock product the reef structure in large aquariums can be built in stages. Adding Aquarium Arts fully Prime Cured Live Rock to an established aquarium will NOT result in ammonia, nitrite or nitrate water quality issues.