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Live rock questions.

Sep 16, 2005
Pittsburgh, PA
I have been thinking (not always a good idea for me :smile: ) about live rock. Is there really a difference in the quality of the rock (Fiji vs. some other place)? Most LFS have different prices based on the origin of the rock (I'm not talking cured vs. uncured).

Also, is there a more environmentally healthy alternative? I know I could get half live rock and then seed the other substrate in my aquarium. I was just thinking about the amount of rubble being removed from the reef ecosystem might impacting the reef in some way. If it is good for our aquarium, it must be helping the reef, right?

Thanks for your thoughts,
cuttlegirl said:
Also, is there a more environmentally healthy alternative? I know I could get half live rock and then seed the other substrate in my aquarium. I was just thinking about the amount of rubble being removed from the reef ecosystem might impacting the reef in some way. If it is good for our aquarium, it must be helping the reef, right?

Thanks for your thoughts,

Thinking is not the best thing for me to do either:lol: I am also looking into live rock harvesting alternatives, and I decided to try to make live rock from agrocrete. I just started the first few batches last weekend, so there is a long way to go. I'm trying to keep good notes, and I'm sure that there'll be quite a few posts from the reef experts. I am not an expert on live rock regions, but I would assume that there is just different micro fauna between the regions. Or it might be economics. Fiji just sounds more exotic, oh well. I'll be glad to know the differences also. Thanks for starting this post!

You're right that taking live rock has an impact on the reef. It's a major home to a lot of pygmies and juveniles. It's also used as a construction material for building house foundations all over the tropical Pacific, so it's over-harvested in many (but not all) places. Pieces head-sized and larger are almost totally absent from the easily-accessable parts of the intertidal reef flat where I did my dissertation. Sometimes dugout-fulls of rotting rubble are piled on the side of the path to the village- sitting in the hot sun to dry and bleach. It stinks for ages because of all the stuff dying inside it, including quite a bit of live coral. It has such a major impact on the reef that NGO's have programs to get home-builders to use cement foundations instead. While the aquarium rock might not add up to the same volume as contrsuction rubble, it's kicking the reef while it's down.

Neogonodactylus and students make artificual cavities out of cement mixed with sand. Animals recruit to it in the wild, and it can work in an aquarium once rinsed well and seeded. Live-rock sellers could just make these, put them on the reef flat for a while to seed them with the right flora, and ship them off guilt-free. They could also make them in fun shapes.

Here are the methods from Kate Schaefer's dissertation:
Schafer, K. 2001. The Ecology of an Assemblage of Gonodactylid Stomatopods and Pygmy Octopus in Shallow Sea Grass Beds in Belize, Central America. In: Integrative Biology, pp. 217. Berkeley: University of California.

"Artificial cavities were constructed using a similar method to Steger (1985). Half-liter plastic containers were oiled with vegetable oil and filled with cement to approximately 45 mm in depth. The cement was mixed from coralline sand, cement, and freshwater. Each container was shaken to remove any air bubbles and to flatten the cement. After setting a few minutes, oiled wooden plugs were pressed halfway into the mortar. Each wooden plug was made of two dowels of different diameter; the smaller diameter formed the entrance to the cavity, while the larger diameter formed the bulk of the cavity space. There were two cavity sizes used. The larger cavities had an entrance diameter of 14 mm and length of 5 mm; the cavity diameter was 19 mm and length was 56 mm. The entrance for the smaller cavities was 12 mm in diameter and 5 mm in length; the cavity was 16 mm in diameter and 56 mm in length. After the cement hardened, the surface of the wooden plug and the cement were coated with oil, and additional cement was poured over the top, to within about 20 mm of the top of the plastic container. After the cement had hardened, the two halves of the
cavity were separated and the wooden dowel removed. Using a saw, a groove was cut into the edges of each cavity, perpendicular to the cavity entrance."
Walt Smith, the primary LR exporter of Fiji, describes the things they do to be more environmentally conscious. This includes having a very large collection area that they circuit over a period of several years to let harvested areas "recharge" before being harvested again. He is also very proud of their facilities to keep the rock live while being held for distribution, and he says he trains their divers not to collect pieces that won't be wanted by distributers.

Given that, I don't know how many of these are valid approaches to sustainability, but he swears up and down that he has extremely little impact on the reef compared to local harvesting for building materials and tourist diveboat anchors.

There is a massive difference in the quality of rock obtained from different locations. I work for a large marine importer and wholesaler and we take in a lot of rock.

Fij is without question the best quality rock in the aquarium market, with around 80% coraline algae cover. They are also packed to the brim with all sorts of coral and macro algae as well as lord knows what else.

It really depends what you want your rock for. If you just want it for theaming a tank then you are as well to go for something which is artificial, there are many man made live rock substitutes avilable which are made from clay, newspaper and some other stuff and left in the sea for around 18 months. The encrusting algae cover isn't as good but the shape is faairly nice and I had a rock coated in cassiopea polyps which are now blibbing around my tank as we speak!

Also it's worth looking for the MAC (Marine Aquarium Council) seal of approval on live rock. This can only be bought from a shop which is already MAC certified itself however so it's worth pecking your LFS to become certified!

Anyway. Walt Smith is MAC certfied, which means that all his staff and collection methods have been vetted to standards set out by MAC. As a result he is allowed to sell MAC certified organisms (Or in this case rock) to MAC certified shops.

If you see the MAC stamp on anything then you can be sure that you are getting an environmentally sound piece of marine stuff!
Thanks for the info, Andy. I had never really looked into detail about MAC and had assumed it was a collector's industry "rubber stamp" organization.

Tampa Bay Saltwater does aquaculture its rocks and has very interesting descriptions about how they're doing this.

But on the other hand, I was told during my session with the Chesapeake Marine Aquaria Society that many of their members raising corals are making their own live rock in their sumps and prefer to have rock without any of the organisms that come with live rock - no worms, no unexpected critters, etc.

I'll post at odds with Andy! :smile:

The MAC doesn't seem to really have any teeth yet. Once collected items hit the exporter, all the items, certified or not, get mixed with items from other collectors, certified or not. Once those items are exported, they hit wholesalers where they are further mixed with other items, certified or not. And once they hit the LFS, even more mixing happens. So, an LFS MAC certification doesn't really say anything about the the livestock/liverock is certified. And just because an exporter is MAC certified doesn't really mean that what you are getting at the end of the supply chain is actually from that certified collector or exporter.
I really wish I could get behind the MAC, but currently the do very much seem like a rubber stamp organization to me. Perhaps in the future they will be. :smile:
If you are interested in more MAC info, the Industry Behind the Hobby forum on reefs.org is chock full of discussion.

Having seen WS's guys collecting live rock in person, I am concerned that their promo doesn't jive with reality - and I really don't buy the idea of a collection 'circuit'. I think all the collectors in the SP say they do it, but I think the reality is very different. From what I heard from locals in Tonga, WS has had just as much negative effect on the environment as any other operation, and that he only cares for promotional value. This is of course, hearsay. :biggrin2:

Live rock in general is getting more and more tricky with a lot of it sitting in shipping containers for weeks or months and then being sold as 'live'.

In reef keeping, there are at least a couple schools of thought on live rock. Some people love it, some are worried about bad hitchhikers, some think its almost useless because most of the stuff on it will be rotting due to poor shipping methods.
The Tampa Bay stuff has mixed reviews as well due to where its left in the ocean. The thought is that its loaded with phosphates.
Live rock and its impact on natural reefs is a constant topic of discussion for reefers. You'll get as many opinions as people.

Mucktopus and Andy covered anything else I would otherwise say.

My opinion: buy the rock that you like the look of. :smile:
If people are selling MAC and non-MAC organisms in the same tanks then thats one of the main problems. MAC and non MAC stuff cannot be mixed whatsoever with other fish unless they are either 1: MAC fish or 2: totally different, ie MAC Green Chromis and non MAC scooter blennies or something.

all tanks must be clearly lablelled with signs which give the MAC certified species, batch number and things, if this is not being donw then the LFS, Importer, Exporter would be at risk of losing their MAC certified status.

Im going through MAC certification at work at the moment and from what i've seen it is very very new and has teething problems and could therefore be described as "Rubber stamp" but surely thats better than actively encouraging the use of dynamite/cyanide??

I'd love to see MAC certified places all over the world, in the UK there are only 2 MAC certified places and they are both importers, we are going to be the third I think and a retailer near us is being done on the same day.

The work that I've had to do has been phenominal, having to monitor practically everything every day so it's meaning that much much more care has to be actively carried out.

While this is only really prominant on fish, the rock situation could be completely different. There is very little you can do to not damage the seas and reefs, but by ensuring that rock isn't cased in hard corals or being ripped directly from the reef then that is surely a good thing. I think that at the moment Walt Smith is the only MAC certified exporter of live rock and i've never had any problems with the quality of the rock at all. You even get that lovely fresh veggie smell for days after importing. It takes very little time to cure and I find the quality to be far better than even the Indonesian rock.

Anyway, it's just my little bit of a rant, but I think that any organisation which intends to work for conservation and helping to improve the quality of fish, inverts and rock being exported is a fantastic thing. As with all organisations it will take time to get sorted, and it may look like it's all rubber stamp but I would ask you all to seriously look for the more ethical route when you are buying your stock.
I agree about the spirit of the MAC (as I did about the organizations that preceded it), but in the last 5-8 years or so of its running, there has been no teeth in its policies. The fear is it is yet another 'feel good' NPO that doesn't actually make a real world difference.

The biggest problem I see for the MAC is there is no test for cyanide in fish, so there is really no way to tell if the fish have been caught with the juice or not. The second biggest problem I see is the lack of follow up, and it seems that collectors often go back to icky methods after the MAC people leave. The third biggest problem I see is the distribution chain and procedural follow up there. Perhaps it will just take more time for more people to get involved, but I remain skeptical. Its tough to know who to believe - the MAC promotional material or reports from non MAC people that paint a very different picture of what has been happening.
I used to think that any organization intending to do good works is a good thing, but I have seen too many of them get more interested in money/politics/publicity than in doing those good works. I am all for what the MAC's promo says, but I don't know how this will be accomplished in reality.

The forum at RDO will do a much better job of explaining the at least perceived problems with the MAC than I will.

I am all for ethical collection, which is why I have been doing the work in Tonga that I have been doing. Since the MAC just went through yet another staff upheaval, perhaps they are on the road to giving their policies teeth.

I join Andy in urging people to look for more ethical routes when it comes to live stock , and sadly add the thought that we must also not trust everything that organizations tell us.
Well said, Righty. When I first heard about MAC I was thrilled that someone would put a halt to the rampant collectors. But then I saw their recommended bubbling method in action and it left recognizable damage to the reef. To their good credit, the broken acropora was far less damage than the pits the cyanide guys leave, and sometimes it was done perfectly and left no apparent trace, but without proper practice it has the chance to leave collectors and consumers with a false sense of doing right. To restate what Righty said we really don’t know what conditions most of these animals are caught under. My opinion for what it's worth, is that a lot of responsibility also falls in the consumer's hands. Think about the size, habitat, and lifestyle of the animal for sale. If it lives in holes, dives into the coral labyrinth to escape, is very small, or isn't likely to see the light of day, then how would we expect a diver to find and collect one from the reef? I can't find anything on mandarin gobies being cultured (please let me know if you know of some)- I'd put money on the fact that every single one on the market today has been caught with cyanide.

As ceph owners though most members of this forum are already making responsible choices, with bimacs being the most popular pet, and Righty culturing bandensis. As much as we all aptly worry about the health of their populations, most octos and cuttles on the market are probably at least not caught by destructive means. They're so delicate they'd die if they were. Of course, by being a responsible choice by any MAC collection standard, some species (such as Metasepia) could become seriously over-collected. Personally, I'm thankful for the dedicated people working hard raising and buying cultured cephs.
Hey All,

Got this in the mail today about MAC. Seemed appropriate to this discussion. If it isn't I will be happy to remove it, or have it removed. :smile:

Why did MarineFauna not seek recertification with MAC?

Some visitors of the MAC website may have noticed that MarineFauna (MF) is not listed as certified exporter since August 2005. MF was approached by MAC for recertification but we feel that in the current situation MAC has to work out substantial aspects of its program in order to raise the certification status to an attractive level. In the following we share a short summary of the reasons why the management of MF decided not to seek recertification at this point of time:

MAC certified fish supply is limited to the following species: Mandarin, Banded sharks and their eggs, Tomato, Maroon, Percula, Chelmon and every two to three months a single blue face angel. According to our export data, the amount of MAC certified fish is by number 2 to 4 % of our total animal sale, despite the fact that we try to satisfy our orders with exclusively MAC certified fish.

We were promised by MAC that the situation will change in favor of higher and more diverse supply by the middle of 2004 which did not.

Currently, we can't comply with the minimum traceability requirement of MAC to identify any supplied MAC certified fish by an individual collector. So far we received from our supplier in Batasan only the number of individuals of a single species, the different collectors' IDs and the entire batch together in a bag (Mandarin), or in individual plastic bags (Chelmon) but without individual identification number of the respective collector.

We do not feel that the individual collectors' identity must be with each fish. We consider it as sufficient enough, to be able to trace any batch of fishes back to a group of collectors at a definite to trace back any problems through the entire chain of custody. However, it's a core requirement and we can't be certified unless this is changed (core requirements have to be met for certification according to the MAC Standards). It is surprising to us that Batasan passed recertification without satisfying this minimum traceability requirement.

Our DOA and DAA reports from importers as well as our own DOA and DAA in the facility reduce the number of MAC certified fish saleable as such to 0.2 to 0.4% of our entire animal sales because of exceeding the cumulative and added DOA mortality allowance for MAC certified fish. Unfortunately, the availability of data from other certified exporters have not been accessible yet, despite several announcements by MAC in the past, so we can't compare our actual standing regarding DOA and DAA with other exporters.

MAC does not differentiate DOA and DAA between species that ship easily (e.g. Mandarin) and species that ship usually with higher DOA (e.g. Wrasses).

The feedback of certified importers does not allow us to record data as required. Feedback is sometimes a single sentence such as "good shipment" or "very few DOA only".

We have experienced, that the transport starting from the moment the shipment is turned over to the cargo section of the airline until such time that the client receives the cargo from the customs in the importing country, must have a major impact on the DOA and DAA of the shipment. We had shipments ranging from 0 DOA up to 40% DOA. The suppliers and our handling and packing standards have been both the same for extremely different shipments. This fact is not considered in the MAC mortality allowance.

In the past we have been asked frequently about the sustainability in the trade mandated by MAC. So far we couldn't answer the questions and we believe that MAC needs urgently to come up with data to prove sustainability of the collection areas. So far all fish ordered will be caught.

In the certification assessment the exporter is asked about how he is ensuring that the MAC label packs are not used by unauthorized users. This is ridiculous because the MAC label packs have been promised for 2 years now, but were never received.

The paper work required for documentation is far too much and we feel it's overdone, particularly considering the lacking availability of MAC certified fish. We strongly propose to trim down the documentation to minimum core documentation and probably a very limited set of docs. Documentation of staff training records, equipment maintenance plans, calibration of measuring devices etc. is in the foremost interest of the exporter and shouldn't need MAC control.

Communication of MAC with certified exporters is unsatisfactory. No direct written information is provided to certified parties about new certifications (except biannual webpage corrections), updates, events etc. The newsletter from the email MAC subscription is more for public information and can't replace the direct communication with certified parties. For instance, MarineFauna learned from the webpage of MAC that it is not listed under the certified exporters anymore.

The number of MAC certified importers is far below the predicted goals of MAC. Feedback from companies who turned down the certification can be grouped into the following criticism: impractical documentation, MAC fish is not healthier than other fish from good exporters, DOA and DAA values are arbitrary figures without scientific basis, few MAC fish available only, expensive certification and no visible market advantage with MAC fish.

Despite the issues above we are still supportive of the initial MAC certification program. Currently, there is a striking mismatch between the required commitment to the MAC certification and the actual advantages of MAC. MF management has decided to wait with the application for recertification until the issues mentioned above are solved.

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