How Long Can Live Rock Be Out of Water? And What Will Happen Then?

Sometimes, upgrading a reef tank may require setting the live rock aside for a few hours, days, weeks, or even months. The problem with setting your live rock aside is the possibility of die-offs.

This is why many responsible pet owners often wonder, “How can live rocks be out of water?”

This article answers the question from a practical point of view and the experience of many pet owners.

How Long Can Live Rock Be Out of Water?

This is a question that many newbie aquarists often ask, especially when they want to change the aquascape of their reef tanks.

Frankly, live rock can be out of water for a relatively long time. Many experienced aquarists report that they have had success keeping their live rocks out of water for as long as 24 hours.

Many also report having their live rocks out of water for longer than that, with some success. The problem with having live rocks out of water for a long time is the number of die-offs you will have to deal with.

What Will happen?

Some bacteria on the live rocks can only be exposed to the air for about 48 hours, after which they will die off. Also, many other critters in the live rock will begin to die off after some time.

The die-offs will be the natural consequence of exposing your live rock to the air for too long.

The danger with this is that when you reintroduce the live rock to your tank, you risk exposing your tank’s biodiversity to a waste spike in the tank. A sudden spike in the waste level of the aquarium is dangerous for the critters in your tank.

This will lead to a spike in nitrate levels because an increase in the waste level will mean more food for the bacteria responsible for converting ammonia to nitrite.

You also risk introducing toxic compounds and other pollutants that can compromise your entire biodiversity’s health.

There are two ways to avoid this problem: sustain the live rock in a make-shift arrangement or cure it and keep it until you need it.

How Can I Keep Live Rocks Alive?

Are you thinking hard about how to keep your live rock out of water for a relatively long time without having as many die-offs as possible? Below are some of the few tricks that some experienced aquarists have used to keep their live rocks out of water.

The most important thing to remember when keeping your live rocks out of water is to find a way to keep the rock “alive.” This is the trick that many aquarium and pet stores use when they ship the rock to you. The trick is to keep the rock damp. Prevent the rock from drying out as much as possible.

However, this solution is only advised for a short while, perhaps anywhere between 6-8 hours. You may have some success keeping the rock “alive” for longer by only keeping it damp, but it is not recommended as the number of die-offs will increase as time goes on.

If you plan to carry out some renovations in your tank, perhaps with regard to the aquascaping or something that will necessitate keeping the live rock out of the tank for a longer period, it would be best to store it in a container.

However, there is more to it than just leaving them in a container or tub full of water. First, you want to save some of that water for the tank to soak the live rock in it. Then you want to ensure a few things to keep the live rock alive and prevent any die-offs.

Second, ensure that there is movement in the tub or container you use. Apart from keeping the rock in a tub full of water from the tank, you want to ensure that the tub has some flow. You can ensure that there is movement in the tub by plugging in some external water pumps, as this is a make-shift arrangement to keep the live rock “alive.”

Alternatively, you can use some powerheads if your container or tub is large enough. The goal is to ensure that the water is not stagnant, as this can lead to low oxygen levels for the micro-lives in the live rock and algae bloom in the tank.

The third thing you want to do is fix a filtration system. The filtration system with the powerheads or external water pumps will ensure that there is a steady supply of oxygen to the microbes and other critters in the rock. You do not need to break the bank for this; a small filtration system will be fine.

Finally, if you want to keep the live rock alive, there are two things you want to keep in mind; temperature and salinity. You want to ensure that the temperature of the water in the container is not lower than 70°F but also not higher than 90°F at the same time.

You can achieve this by using a water heater. You also want to ensure that the salinity level of the water in the tank is between 1.018-1.030. As much as you can, avoid any sudden or drastic changes. This will shock the micro-lives in the live rock, put them under stress, and possibly lead to die-offs.

You must regularly test the water to ensure that everything is still within the parameters set out above. Also, keep the tub or container dimly lit to prevent an algae bloom.

Bottom Line

There are reports of live rocks recuperating even after being exposed to the air for more than 48 hours.

This is a testament to the wonders of life and nature. However, remember that the more time your live rock spends out of the water, the drier it gets and the more die-offs you will have.

You can prevent the introduction of any toxic compounds or pollutants from live rocks that have stayed out of water for too long by curing them before reintroducing them back into your aquarium.