The term Live Sand refers to sand that is already prepackaged and ready for an aquarium.  Recently, mini-reef aquariums gained popularity and there are now several options of sandy substrates. Hobbyists choose from mixed size Caribbean sand to super fine Oolite, which is spherical form of calcium carbonate. Oppositely, Aragonite is a more crystalline form of sand. Not to be outdone, there are now many options available for freshwater applications from natural gravel substrates to specialize African Cichlid substrates and other mixes designed for freshwater plants.

Why use live sand?

Live sand is similar to live rock. It gets its name from the live bacteria and micro-organisms that live in it and on it, however the sand itself is not alive. The benefits of live sand in a saltwater aquarium are similar to the benefits of live rock. The sand provides additional biological filtration, while also providing specialized cover for fish. Species like Wrasse and Goby make homes in burrows or hide in the sand when startled!

Furthermore, Live Sand arrives rinsed and moist. Unlike dry sand or gravel, is doesn’t produce a massive cloud of dust when placed in the aquarium. Live sand provides convenience and hassle free application! This makes it a great option for many types of tanks.

Maintaining live sand

The live sand work crew includes various invertebrates, and sometimes a few fish too. Cerith Snails are undoubtedly one of the hardest working sand stirrers that you’ll want in your tank. They are small and very active, but you will rarely ever see them! They spend most of their time buried in the sand. If you have a large tank of 100 gallons or more, consider adding a sand sifting starfish.  Although active and efficient, they may starve if you don’t have enough sand or large enough tank for them to sift through. So only get one for the job! Adding some small sand dwelling and perching type fish would also be a good way to help stir up the sand. Not stirring the sand bed properly and regularly results in trapped toxic gas pockets that can be harmful to the aquarium.

For saltwater aquariums, a live sand bed requires a depth of 2 to 3 inches if you plan to keep any of the tunneling gobies or wrasses. Live sand sometimes needs a bit of a special maintenance for a thriving tank. For a deeper sand bed, the top 2-3 inches needs turned and sifted regularly. This can be done by hiring the right work crew for the job (crabs, gobies and wrasses).

Additionally, we are frequently asked, “Do you vacuum the sand the way you would gravel?”.  The short answer for this is no. Some people create a skimming technique to remove debris from the surface without removing very much sand. Generally, the sand may be manually and lightly turned over from time to time but it does not get vacuumed.

Types of sand

Live sand is a great option because it quickly kicks the tank into an established ecosystem. However, you can add standard non live saltwater sand to the aquarium like aragonite sand, which eventually becomes live sand. Partially established live sand creates a diverse life of micro-organisms in the tank. This occurs naturally in the aquarium without it needed to be seeded. The specialized substrates for fish like African Cichlids includes a mix of aragonite, magnesium and carbonates.  This mix buffers the pH and keep it high. The plant substrates contain iron supplements and other trace elements that promote plant growth. This substrate is very porous and provides good structure to promote root attachment.


About The Author Giselle Rodriguez

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