05-07-2008, 01:36 PM
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well, I guess technically you don't HAVE to have liverock... now having said that, let me elaborate on the various reasons why you SHOULD have liverock.
First and foremost, depending on what kinds of fish you plan to have in the tank, they need places to hide and surroundings which they feel at-home in. If you have a barren tank with fish swimming in it, that will likely be very unhealthy and stressful for them.
Second, liverock is a great method of biological filtration for your tank, I think most experienced aquarists use liverock as the main source of filtration (in addition to complementary filtration in the form of protein skimmers, refugiums with macro algae, MAYBE some mechanical or chemical filtration via socks/sponges in the sump, etc...).
And finally, using liverock to start the cycle in a new tank is the safest (and least-cruel) way of doing so. Some people actually put fish in a new tank and let their wastes and uneaten food kick off the cycle, but that it cruel to the fish as it is exposed to dangerous toxins as the tank goes through the spikes of ammonia and nitrite.
But yes, you will always have to cycle a new tank, "cycling" refers to the development of bacteria colonies which will break down wastes and other organic material and consume the ammonia and nitrites, which are dangerous to fish and corals. Its simply a matter of how you do so, and liverock is a very safe and accepted method.
Liverock can certainly be expensive, but "cheap" and "saltwater aquarium" are two terms that don't belong in the same sentence :)