In Feb. 1995 I had the the great pleasure of taking Tom Frakes from Aquarium Products to one of my favorite places in Mexico for several days research. During this trip we talked about our plans to grow aquaculture live rock. Tom had already planted tons of base rock in Florida. I was marketing 30 types of aquarium rocks from Idaho, Nevada, and several other states to about 1500 pet shops around the country. We both had discovered how hard it was to find good looking reef safe base rock.
As we talked about the best base rock we visited several islands. I collected samples in the mountains while he dove on the reef. I picked up some great aragonite at several sites. It was clear that if you started collecting in volume you would soon remove all of best rock.
We talked about the best way to supply a constant source of base rock at a good price to remote sites. Our guide took us around the island to a bay and we found out that the entire beach was made up of broken branching coralline algae. This sand was made up of 3 mm + round balls of polished coralline. The live sand craze was just heating up and we both wished we could collect some of this sand. You could push your arm into the wet sand to past your elbow.
The sand reminded me of a fossil reef here in Idaho and I finally understood how the pockets of soft coralline fossils were formed. I have been using this fossil coralline since 1969 to filter reef water. In 1973 I started growing live rocks in my fish stores. A great live rock in 1973 consisted of a fist size piece of aragonite covered in green hair algae with a Condolactis anemone stuck to it. We sold all we could grow because all of the newest books talked about algae scrubbers, and our tangs loved the stuff. I still grind up the purest pocket of the fossil coralline to make Sally Jo's famous Magic Reef Dust.
Tom and I spent the next two days talking about making concrete live rocks using sand from different locations. I told him I was going home to get a bunch of equipment and then I could make rocks anywhere I traveled. Tom told me to keep it simple. I decided to develop a way to make all types of live rock using a bucket, a shovel, and sand.
In these articles I will share some of the things we have learned during the last two years. Since that great adventure I have been to Mexico 12 times and Tom was right. I have never had any fancy equipment, and sometimes I get to the reef with out even a bucket. Using this method I have still made some pretty great rocks in some pretty strange places.
I hope you will get some Carib-Sea aragonite sand and a bag of Portland cement and have some fun making rocks. You probably won't have any natives standing around kicking mountains of rock and thinking your loco, but you will have fun anyway.
MATERIALS FOR PROJECT #1 :
Two bags Carib SeaTM aragonite gavel - we use one fine and one course
Styrofoam fish shipping boxes
Carib SeaTM aragonite sand.
#3 portland cement
Mix 6 parts Carib SeaTM aragonite sand with 1 part
Let the aragocreteTM set for 24 hours before you take rocks out.
Soak the rocks in white vinagar for 12 hours and rinse them in fresh water before you use them.
MAKING LIVE ROCKS:
We use styrofoam boxes for making our molds, because all of the finished live rocks will eventually be shipped in styrofoam boxes. We have noticed that the students tend to make the live rocks bigger and bigger if they have a chance.
Styrofoam boxes also hold the heat that is generated as the concrete cures. It is best to keep these boxes at room temperature so that the hardened rocks can be removed in 24 hours. After the rocks are removed from the beach boxes the excess aragonite is brushed off and saved.
The rocks are then placed under water for several days to continue curing. Cement becomes strongest when it is allowed to dry slowly. If the rocks are shipped before they are allowed to cure we experience a lot of breakage.
We have been mixing our batches of concrete in a regular size wheelbarrow and we vary the mixture of araganite and CarbiSea Aruba shells so that our live rocks all look different. You can add many differnet types of CaribSea gravel to your aragacrete mixture.
We always mix the aragacrete with clean fresh water. When you are mixing the water and araganite gravel try to get the mixture as dry as possible, while still getting it wet enough to hold together when you squeeze a hand full. The dryer you can make your aragocreteTM mix the stronger your final product will be.
Plese use the form on this page to report any ideas you have on new ways to produce live rocks from concrete.
MAKING A CAVE ROCK
Fill the fish box 1/2 full of Carib SeaTM aragonite sand and dampen with fresh water - the sand needs to be only moist.
Hollow out a hole in the middle of the rock and pour in some Carib SeaTM aragonite sand. This sand will form the inside of the cave.
Cover the rock with Carib SeaTM aragonite sand and tap on the side of the box about 20 times with your hands -- this will settle the sand into the aragocreteTM
Let the aragacreteTM set for 24 hours before you remove the rock from the sand.
Soak the rock in white vinegar for 12 hours and rinse them in fresh water before you use them.
SAND MOLDING AN ARCH SHAPED LIVE ROCK
This is a simple form to make and it sells very well in several sizes.
STEP 1. Dig out the sand in your box to form the basic shape you want. Be careful not to expose the bottom of the box or your rock will have an unnatural flat spot.
STEP 2. Place the aragocrete mix into the mold hole and insert any sea shells or rocks you want use 1/2 way into wet aragocrete.
STEP 3. Cover the rock with sand - a very natural looking rock is made by using a different sand on the top of the rock. This will look like the rock was formed in the ocean.
STEP 4. Allow the rock to dry 48 hours and wash it in fresh water. Your rocks will be much stronger if you cure them in cold fresh water for 1 week.
CREATING A HAND MADE ARAGOCRETE LIVE ROCK
The sand molded rock is washed in white vinegar and rinsed in fresh water.
The rock is placed in a grow out system with good light and water flow.
STEP 1. Treat the system water with extra SeaChem Reef Builder and Reef Calcium to start the coralline algae.
STEP 2. After the rock starts to grow coralline algae you can glue several small cuttings to the rock with super glue gel.
STEP 3. Allow the live rock to finish growing. Watch for unwanted algae and Aptasia anemones. We use Copper Band Butterfly fish and Reef Janitors in our grow - out systems to control these pests.
That is all there is to it. I hope you make some and then they can leave an extra piece of native live rock in the sea for a while longer so the mantis shrimp and his dinner can hide in it.