Review: Real Reef Rock (Generation 4)

When it comes to aquascaping, we’ve used quite a few different solutions over the years and our experiences, both in terms of handling the product and the end results, have been pretty variable. In this review we’ll be taking a look at a particular product that has been available for a little while now (indeed we first spotted it at Aqua2013) but which so far, we hadn’t had the opportunity to evaluate directly. Setting-up our new Red Sea Reefer 170 gave us the perfect chance to try out a batch of the latest ‘4th generation’ version of Real Reef Rock.

So what is Real Reef Rock anyway? Well, if you haven’t already seen it, this product occupies the mid-ground between completely artificial offerings like ceramics or resins, and genuine live rock that has been harvested from the ocean. Dry-formed from mined, ‘eco-friendly materials’ (specifically, several different types of mineral aggregates and sand which render it high in Calcium Carbonate, plus a variety of essential trace elements and minerals such as Magnesium, Strontium and Iron), Real Reef Rock is then seeded in saltwater in a controlled, artifical setting. The colouration is also artificial, coming from a water-based non-toxic natural pigments which are injected and applied through several techniques and processes. Every piece of Real Reef is therefore essentially hand-made (in San Diego, USA) and undergoes a pre grow-out freshwater curing process that lasts for a minimum of 12 weeks. Once the rock has completed this curing process, it is then transferred to saltwater grow-out for a minimum of 12-16 weeks. The marine grow-out facility consists of large 3,000 and 10,000 gallon fiberglass raceways in climate-controlled greenhouses and it is in these filtered, closed-system raceways that Real Reef becomes biologically active. In terms of the various types of rock, firstly we have the standard rock which is boulder like in appearance yet is very light, porous and convoluted with holes and projections… ideal for forming the foundations of your reef structure. Next we have ‘shelf rock’ that is modelled on the renowned plating ocean rock which used to be imported from the Tonga. This product is great for providing a platform for certain types of organisms, forming shaded overhangs and for giving a natural look to an aquascape. Finally Real Reef branch rock is based on Tonga branch rock and offers realistic colours and forms that give both impact to an aquascape, and provide useful mounting points for corals away for the main rockwork.

All-in-all, a combination of the three offers fabulous aquascaping opportunites and let’s just remind ourselves that this rock isn’t being trawled from the ocean either. As such, as well as looking great, Real Reef offers a truly sustainable and ethical alternative to ‘wild taken’ live rock and, in our opinion, the product deserves special praise and attention as it both sidesteps the destruction of habitat caused by wild collection, and avoids the increasing limitations emplaced by CITES on wild rock collection (indeed, Tongan imports of live rock have been banned since 2008 due to over-collection).

In terms of our own experience, we have to say we are most impressed with this product. Firstly, the appearance is great and you’d be hard pressed to distinguish this from ocean rock. Actually it’s far better looking than the vast majority of ‘container rock’ we see on a regular basis, and more in line with what most places are offering as ultra or AAA grade. Then there’s the different types which open-up the possibility of creating some really interesting aquascapes. The plating rock in particular was something we don’t think you’d be able to match with any other product and the branches looked good too (although are perhaps prone to breakage).

In short, we really think they’ve nailed the appearance with this 4th generation product. Aesthetics aside, live rock is also one of the cornerstones (excuse the pun!) of a healthy reef tank of course, with the denitrifying bacteria deep inside the rock performing an invaluable role by converting Nitrate into Nitrogen (given good flow etc). Given this, we kept a close eye on the performance of the rock in our test system and ran frequent Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate tests immediately after we had introduced it into our Red Sea Reefer 170 test system which was held at 25degC and 35ppt Salinity. Without going into exact readings, we noticed a small Ammonia spike occurred 2 days after the rock had been introduced, IMG_6606then Nitrite and then Nitrate. As it stands four weeks later with no water change or water treatment (we have no skimmer or algae scrubber running on this tank yet), Nitrate levels are below 5ppm and furthermore, there has been absolutely no nuisance algae growth in this tank so far. To be honest, even though there is no livestock in the tank yet, this has been a genuine revelation and really the only thing we could conjure-up to remotely criticise is that the rock seems ‘sterile’ in terms of the lack of macrofauna. Of course that issue is easily solved given the availability of Copepod/Amphipod/Mysid cultures plus reasonably wide availability of other beneficial critters through fellow hobbyists or stores. So, although the magic of seeing things ‘crawl out’ of the rockwork perhaps isn’t there, the guaranteed absence of the myriad of nuisance organisms that can plague a tank outweighs this massively. In short, this rock allows you to get straight on with stocking decorative organisms almost immediately, without the need for the traditional hair algae bloom and large clean-up crew (some of which can go on to cause issues when the tank is stocked with more delicate organisms). Really, the use of this product requires a subtle change in mind-set if you are used to doing it the ‘traditional way’ but we really think this is a change for the better and don’t forget this product also has that ethical and sustainable pedigree too.

Distributed in the UK by ITC aquatics, Real Reef retails for £10 – 15 per kilo which puts it right up against regular live rock in price. Of course the price per Kilo should be towards the lower end of the scale if you are ordering significant amounts and its worth bearing in mind that you get a lot of rock for the weight as it is genuinely very light and porous. In short, we’d highly recommend this product and we think it will be very hard to go back to using ocean rock now we’ve experienced it’s benefits.

Check out the real reef website for more information or click on the infographic below!

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