Live rock layout recommendations & coral layout

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Wael El-Dasher

Aquarium Advice Activist
Jan 29, 2011
Abu Dhabi, via Connecticut
I know I'm getting a head of myself, given that my new 120 gallon tank is almost cycled and will just about be ready for live rock sometime mid next week, and it will be quite some time before I can put in the corals. But I can't help it. I'm an architect and feel that I must design this layout now so it can go through the usual design phases and refinements before any physical work is done or any purchases made.

According to an online calculator I found, for a 450 liter (120 gallon) tank, I'll need about 80Kg (180 lbs) of live rock. I also read it's advisable not to purchase all the live rock from a single source. As part of my aquarium purchase deal, I paid for 50Kg (110lbs) of live rock which I'm yet to pick and get from the place I bought my tank.

Live rock is aquacultured here because it's considered endangered, so the typical price is much higher than in the US, it's about $28/Kg ($48/lb). I managed to settle on $14/Kg ($30/lb) with the aquarium shop so they're selling it to me at a price a little above their cost.

I plan to purchasing the balance of the live rock from another place, so before getting to that step, I need to have an idea what overall form do I want to give this reef so I know what sort of LR shapes to select. I've seen several designs online of people's tanks and it seems there are 4 general forms followed.

1. A linear ridge looking formation which extends from one end to the other.
2. A heap shape which peaks near the center
3. A central heap with a hole in the middle
4. Something between 1 & 3 but with 2 holes.

I suspect the key here has to do more with the planned corals that will be places on the LR.

Which brings me to my next point. I noticed in description of peoples tanks they tend to place similar species of corals together, what I don't know is what each species prefers in terms of light and current so I can locate them accordingly on the LR, and thus will form the basis of shaping the LR.

Lastly, fish selection seems critical to the well being of the corals. If there are any links to previously discussed threads on the selection of fish (especially those that won't eat the corals) I'd be grateful. I've done some searching online, but I suspect this topic must have been exhaustively discussed here. My searches thus far haven't resulted in useful links on the forum.

I'd appreciate any guidance and references.


You probably should have cured the rock and cycled the tank at the same time. Unless your rock is fully submerged when you get it you`ll have some die off. As far as the layout of the rock I would suggest that look at others tanks to see how they go it. Just check out their images opr visit the gallery.
You probably should have cured the rock and cycled the tank at the same time. Unless your rock is fully submerged when you get it you`ll have some die off. As far as the layout of the rock I would suggest that look at others tanks to see how they go it. Just check out their images opr visit the gallery.


Thanks for the advice. The rock is submerged and already at the LFS. I am just supposed to go and pick whichever pieces I want. We're supposed to weigh it, then put it in containers with water and drive over to install it. Would pulling it out of the water to weigh it briefly and quickly submerge it again, have an affect on the rock? The plan is the LFS would come back to my house to install the rock in the aquarium.

Initially I couldn't put the rock in my aquarium because I had to get rid of the chlorine and condition the water. I used tap water to set up the aquarium and treated it. The LFS told me that's how he set up all his tanks and customers tanks. He guaranteed me it would be OK. Anyway, I've tested for ammonia, chlorine, nitrate, salinity and everything seems just fine. I added JBL's Denitrol live bacteria to the tank the second day and added some more two days later.

So the plan is to pull come water out of the tank and layout the rock. Actually everything seemed to be looking fine until this afternoon when the wavemaker's sucker gave out and it blew the bed all over the place. My tank is cloudy again. I figured its not gonna make any difference since I'll be disturbing the bed anyway when I install the rock. Does that sound reasonable or should I hold off on the rock?

I'll take a look at the gallery for layout ideas. As far as fish, I really like the Picasso fish, anyone successful keep one in a reef tank and not have it eat the corals?


For a reef I would not use tap water. I work for a water municipality so I know what goes in tap water. Good for us humans but not for our reefs. Many compounds that water conditioners cant take care of. Your LFS gave you some bad advice on that one. As far as your rock you will be OK just pulling it out and then putting it back in. Make sure it`s submerged on the way home.
Thanks again Mike, I actually live right off the beach and thought of getting water straight from there, but the LFS didn't recommend it, too many powerboats and jet skis use these waters.

The tap water in town come fro desalination plants, in fact, that's the only source, other than spring water. I plan on installing a RO/DI system under the kitchen sink soon, until then I was gonna use 5 gallon spring water bottles for my weekly water changes. I tested it for chlorine and it had none.


the reason like corals are placed in close proximity is because they all require the same light and flow. if you plan on a mixed reef, your tank will most likely end up the same way.
what is the reason behind purchasing rock from multiple sources, instead of just one? a more varied mix of hitch hikers? this might bring more bad than good.
i have found that there is nothing better than having total control over what goes in the tank. hitch hikers are overrated for the most part. you are better off without 90% of them. believe me, you'll see enough hitch hikers on the corals you buy.
i always liked the twin peaks on either side of the tank and connecting in the middle with some lower placed rock. also, from the top, it might look like a U shape. this way you have some nice sand bed space in the center for LPS or clams.
what i used to do, and still do on occasion, is look up the fish i like and then research them that way. i would go to live aquaria perhaps and browse their marine section (don't forget to check out max sizes and suggested tank sizes)-
Saltwater Fish: Marine Aquarium Fish for Saltwater Aquariums
Thanks Doug,

I had a feeling that's why corals are often grouped together in that way. I like the idea of the twin peaks. I did some sketching this afternoon and if it works out, I'll post photos of the sketches and the installed rock. As far as sourcing the rock from more than one source, I really don't recall where I read that, perhaps it was in a article or something. Anyway, the more I think about the more I believe there is no difference in my case because these rocks are aquacultured from one source. It's an association of all marine aquarium shops in the country that buy into this farm to culture the rock, hence its all from one source, irrespective which LFS you buy from. There might be some small differences I suppose. But you're right, I'll probably get more critters on the corals since those come from various parts of Indonesia, or so I'm told.

I've checkout the link for the fish, looks like a nice site.


actually, live rock comes from many different places. not all of it is aquacultured either.
corals do as well. while many of them come from indo, they are also harvested from australia's waters, the fiji islands, haiti, even florida.
it really is, around me i can only find LR for 5.49 a pound and i still need another 15 pounds or so and i need rounder and flatter stuff. so i'm goign to make a few cave shaped rocks and stuff. prob for half the cost of what i'd pay at my LFS
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