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Old 06-20-2012, 11:38 PM   #1
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Bio Balls versus Live Rock

Am still fairly new to this forum, but have many years of salt and fresh water experience. I recently got an acrylic aquarium with a built in, three chamber filtration system in the back. The middle has bio balls, but there is a sponge that the water passes through before entering that chamber. That gets cleaned regularly. I have been reading up on filtration and keep hearing how bio balls are nitrate factories. I get the basic idea in some cases, but have also seen people suggest putting rock in place of the balls. Maybe I am missing something, but why would that be any different than the bio balls as far as producing nitrates? I had a larger saltwater tank for years with this same basic system and never had fluctuations in my nitrate/nitrite levels. Fish thrived, everything seemed fine.
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Old 06-21-2012, 12:55 AM   #2
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Sounds like you have a similar set up to my clear for life "uniaquarium"

I have rinsed the bio balls about a quarter or so each water change in old tank water and have had no problem.
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Old 06-21-2012, 02:15 AM   #3
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Same results whether you use LR or bioballs. LR is supposedly more effective though. I believe the pores of the rocks do get clogged over time and makes it difficult for anaerobic bacteria to survive. I think live rocks should be rinsed with tank water or RO water.
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Old 06-21-2012, 03:18 AM   #4
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Live Rock has anoxic areas in the centers where water passes through very slowly. In these areas, anaerobic nitrification can occur, in which nitrates are converted back into gaseous nitrogen and diffused back into the air.
One bit of clarification here. Bio-Balls are "nitrate factories" because they work. They provide highly aerobic surface area for bacteria to colonize. But you'll never get more nitrates than you're putting other forms of nitrogen (fish food, fish poop) in. In short, you gotta clean things from time to time and do water changes.
LR simply has other benefits beyond surface area.
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Old 06-23-2012, 09:53 AM   #5
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Fish only tank or a future reef tank? For me, if it's fish-only, bio-balls are fine and sometimes get too much of a bad rap. But if you're tank is going to be a reef tank, I would use LR. I think that LR is truly the best way to go.
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Old 06-23-2012, 02:09 PM   #6
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It will be a FOWLR from start to finish. I currently have the bio balls in back and about 60 lbs of black lava rock in the tank. Also have a few of the white corrals (that I had from years ago and are apparently not legal to sell anymore?) Kind of a different look but I have always liked it. Had the same kind of setup before, but that was before all the info was available on the Internet. I figured it was okay before, but wanted to be sure this would not have any negative impact.

I've got a small acrylic hex tank that has cichlids now, but am considering converting to a reef. Probably not anytime soon though.
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Old 06-28-2012, 02:39 AM   #7
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For a Fish Only tank, Live Rock is less essential. It's worth pointing out, however, that your lava rock will become Live Rock after a while in the tank.
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Old 06-28-2012, 01:00 PM   #8
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Exactly. That is why I have always liked this setup. The balls in the back do their thing, the lava rock eventually becomes live and does its thing. To me, lava is a fraction of the cost of typical live rock and is still light and porous. I like the look of both, just don't see paying so much more for typical live rock. I've probably spent under five bucks for over 65 lbs of black lava rock and that would have been close to $400 at the LFS. I can almost stock my tank with the savings.
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Old 06-28-2012, 11:25 PM   #9
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According to my research so far, seeding live rocks to base rocks or other types of rocks won't give as much "life" into the other rocks as buying ALL live rocks. The regular rocks will get some of the "life", but not to the same degree as the original "live" rocks.
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Old 06-28-2012, 11:40 PM   #10
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I've heard that there is die off from buying live rock too. All I know is a lot of people seed base rock and it ends up providing good filtration. Probably depends on an individuals needs and may mot work as well for reefs. This is my second FOWLR tank with this kind of setup and for me, it has always worked fine. Keeps everything at zeros with occasional water changes.

I started this just to see if there was something horribly wrong with my setup. It worked in the past, but there was not as much info out there several years ago. I wanted to be sure that i was not way off in the past. I am excited to have found this site and it seems that there is a good knowledge base here.
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