Saltwater Aquarium Algae Control:
The Elimination of Nuisance "Algae"
Aquatic Learning Center, Aquatic Connection
Not only is "algae" unsightly, but it also
increases the amount of time that needs to be spent in managing
the tank and if left unchecked it can reduce the health of the
animals present. In the best-case scenario, it will leach yellowing
compounds into the display tank; in the worst case it will overgrow
and suffocate the corals or damage corals by having the holdfasts
burrow through soft tissue or smother the polyps on stony corals.
It doesn't matter if the "algae" currently only covers
the systems live rock or produces a film on the front glass that
comes back almost daily after cleaning. I put the word algae
in quotes because not everything we aquarists refer to is actually
a true algae.
After being in the saltwater aquarium business for over 25 years,
it is still amazing that the most frequently asked question hands
down, is still how to eliminate problem aquarium "algae"
on the glass, live rock, corals, and substrate. More hobbyists
have probably left reef keeping due to "algae" problems
than for any other reason. For a reef tank or any saltwater tank
to be successful the quantity of nuisance algae must be kept
to a bare minimum otherwise the tank's other inhabitant's will
suffer. The only algae that is considered desirable is the very
hard purple/ red coralline algae that adheres to the glass and
live rock. Coralline algae actually prevents or retards the growth
of the other less desirable algae types.
True algaes are Bryopsis and Derbisia. There are also diatoms,
(problematic of new aquariums), dinoflagellates, (the so-called
snotty looking algae), and finally, there are various strains
of the dreaded cyanobacteria, which are actually a photosynthetic
bacteria, not an algae at all. Cyano looks like a small child
decided to cover the display's sand, and more with sheets of
Strawberry or Rasberry flavored fruity rollups. Even though these
are all very different life forms, the root causes and cures
are very similar. Generally speaking, nuisance "algae"
can be dealt with successfully by being nutrient control officer
for your aquarium system.
It is impossible to prevent algae from being introduced into
our tanks completely, but it is possible to keep the algae from
overgrowing our tanks. Algae require certain nutrients to thrive.
The predominant nutrients are nitrates and phosphates. These
nutrients are the result of the processes of metabolism and decomposition,
but can also be found in some salt mixes as well as tap water
Your Creating Your Own Algae Problem!
Overfeeding a tank is one of the most common faults of newer
aquarists. Excess, rotting food quickly dissolves to become excessive
nutrients in the water, which in turn feed all the nuisance algae.
This doesn't mean do not feed, it just means, make sure what
is fed is eaten! The fish should eat anything provided in a matter
of minutes. For corals, target feeding the corals, while more
tedious, does ensure that the food is not being wasted and is
going to the proper corals. In a nutshell, whatever food is added
to the aquarium has to be eaten and used by the animals or removed
via export methods If it is neither eaten nor removed, your nuisance
algae is being fed via the waste.
Removing the Unwanted from Your Water Supply Through RO/DI
Using a clean source of water is extremely important. There is
no sense is worrying about nutrients in the aquarium water if
every time the aquarist does a water change or tops off the aquarium
for evaporation, they are dosing the system with more nutrients
from the tap. Tap water can have up to 10 ppm nitrate in it and
local water supply authorities add Chlorine and zinc orthophosphate
as additives. This much phosphate, (not to mention the other
additives) can wreak havoc on a closed aquatic system. The easiest
method for removing bad element's from your aquarium water is
to use reverse osmosis water , called RO water, by using an RO
or RO/DI System. These are fairly easy to operate and can produce
high-quality clean water. An RO or RO/DI system will remove unwanted
compounds as well as heavy metals, and other undesirable substances.
These units have become very inexpensive the past few years and
they are simple to use. There cost will be truly offset, since
you will be providing your aquarium pure water for only pennies
a gallon! The best systems contain both components to filter
these nutrients out as well as sediment cartridges and carbon
filters. With the above filters RO systems tend to remove 90-97%
of the contaminants in tap water. Because of this, many manufacturers
offer a RO/DI system that adds a deionization stage after the
reverse osmosis membrane to remove the remainder of the contaminants.
The water that is produced by these units is very pure. RO/DI
systems tend to remove 99-100% of the contaminants in tap water.
This makes an even higher grade of water.
Removing the Unwanted Through Aquarium Synthetic Sea/Marine
Don't go "cheap" on your salt mix. It makes no sense
to utilize a cheaper salt which is full of nutrients only to
later have to filter the saltwater in the tank of those same
nutrients. Synthetic sea salt mixes offer a convenient, do-it-yourself
way of creating saltwater for your aquarium. When mixed with
RO/DI filtered tap water, synthetic sea salts become pure saltwater
with consistent calcium, alkalinity and pH levels. And, thanks
to the purity of the formulations, synthetic sea salts are nitrate
and phosphate-free, minimizing the likelihood of unwanted algae
blooms in your aquarium. Higher-priced salt mixes often contain
higher calcium, alkalinity and trace element levels, which make
them better suited for the reef aquarium environment.
Removing Unwanted Nitrates Through Refugiums Utilizing Vegetation
Filtration (Chaetomorpha, Caulerpa, Ulva, Gracilaria, Sargassum,
Refugiums are becoming very popular in marine aquarium keeping.
While there are many, many different styles of refugiums, they
all work primarily the same. Refugiums offer the ideal natural
solution for enhancing and maintaining healthy conditions in
an existing aquarium. One of the most efficient saltwater aquarium
filtration methods used in saltwater aquariums today, they filter
water naturally (dramatically lowering nitrate levels) , they
also stabilize water conditions (especially oxygen level and
pH). Refugiums work on the principal of placing algae and other
nitrate absorbing plants in the filter and providing adequate
light for them to grow. Water flow through the refugium chamber
is slower than through a normal biological filter. The algae
remove organics, nitrates and other harmful chemicals from the
water. As the algae grows, it is harvested and the harmful chemicals
are removed from the tank permanently. Besides being the most
efficient, natural way to filter your saltwater aquarium tank,
aquarium refugiums provide existing aquarium inhabitants with
natural food sources such as phytoplankton and zooplankton via
the perfect media for the micro-organisms to flourish and reproduce.
It is also a perfect acclimation tank for new inhabitants. When
there is an aquarium refugium on a system, over a few months
you will significantly improve your aquariums water quality.
Refugiums may be set up either as a sump, under the system, or
as a neighboring refugium, which is those set up next to, or
nearby, an existing aquarium. Any way you do it, I highly recommend
a refugium's effectiveness in keeping your Nitrates at a zero
or near zero Level!
Removing the Unwanted Through The Use of a Protein Skimmer
A protein skimmer is one of the most important pieces of filtration
equipment for marine aquariums, regardless of whether they are
full-blown reef aquariums or simple fish systems; indeed, a protein
skimmer can in many cases be considered "life-support"
equipment. Although many beginning hobbyists may scoff at the
cost of a high-quality protein skimmer, they should take into
consideration that the price of the skimmer and pump required
to operate it are small in comparison to the amount of money
they are likely to spend replacing sick and/or dead animals that
died as a result of poor water quality!
A Protein Skimmer is a very important tool in reducing the
amount of dissolved organic material in the aquarium water. Protein
skimming removes these organic pollutants before they break down
into nitrates and phosphates. The improved water quality is beneficial
to fish and corals and may reduce the frequency in which water
changes are necessary. The advantage of Protein Skimming over
other filtering methods, lies in the fact that waste material
is continuously removed, separating it from the water flow. Efficient
removal of organic matter (organic matter is a major source of
the nutrients needed by microalgae ("hair algae") and
cyanobacteria ("slime algae") to grow and reproduce,
covering every non-mobile object and animal in the aquarium in
a sheet of waving hair or oily slime) ,and dissolved waste, helps
to reduce the amount of harmful floating bacteria, reduce the
yellow discoloration of your aquarium water, limit nitrate and
phosphate build up, and prevent the development of algae through
out the aquarium.
Removing Unwanted Nitrates Through Denitrifying Filters
Denitrifying filters have been used for years and can significantly
reduce nitrate levels. Basically these filters employ anaerobic
bacteria to convert nitrate into nitrogen gas. These bacteria
are kept in a chamber void of any oxygen and are provided a food
source in the form of either alcohol or a sugar solution to nourish
their activity. Although these units can be somewhat tricky and
temperamental, they do work quite well in keeping nitrate levels
low when a high bioload is present.
Removing Unwanted Phosphates Through a Phosphate Removal Compound
Unfortunately none of the methods for denitrifying have much
of an impact on phosphate removal. Phosphate is a problematic
compound in that it is not only a nutrient for algae, but it
also acts as an inhibitor for calcification, which inhibits coral
growth. Phosphate is present in the aquarium in two forms: inorganic
(orthophosphate) and organic. The latter form is difficult to
measure with all but the most advanced phosphate test kits. More
frustrating is that it may be absorbed by algae as fast as it
is released so even though a test kit measures a low level there
may still be significant phosphate present. So it is best for
most hobbyists to realize that if they are having problem algae
growth, most likely there are phosphate's present. Fortunately
there have been several new introductions of phosphate removing
compounds that work extremely well. Hobbyists and professional
aquarists seem to agree on a product called RowaPhos. We recommend
this compound exclusively. As a result of the activation process
on this product which is patented and unique to this product,
it can remove more phosphate on an equivalent weight basis and
bring the levels of phosphate lower than can any other product
on the market. It is the only product we have used that has kept
the pest algae Bryopsis in check. It works so well that there
is no evidence of Bryopsis in the tank despite high bioloads
and heavy feeding. It is easy to tell when the media is exhausted.
When tiny clumps of Bryopsis begin to reappear, replace the media
and the Bryopsis will die off within a week or two, long before
it becomes a problem.
Reef Janitors, Algae Control Packages
The last component of a properly designed aquarium system to
minimize nuisance algae growths is the appropriate compliment
of reef janitors, or grazers. Algae eating fish, snails, crabs,
etc. are an important part of reducing algae growth. Maintaining
a mix of these creatures is essential to keeping algae in check
as these all tend to favor a different type of algae as their
Ever drive past a field of cows to see the grass grazed low,
but big tall stands of some sort of weed? That is because the
cows don't like to eat that particular weed. The same sort of
thing will happen in an aquarium. If there is only one type of
grazer, it is likely that one particular type of algae that those
grazers don't eat will flourish unchecked.
Aquatic Connection Live sells Algae Control Packages, that
are well thought out from years of experience and research. Every
package offered provides a natural solution to keeping your tank
clean and healthy. If you are looking for the perfect cleanup
team for your aquarium. These packages were designed to help
hobbyists in their battle against different types of algae problems
that can get way out of hand in the home aquarium. Algae control
packages make sure situations such as; micro algae blooms, hair
algae, decaying food, to name a few are all handled before they
reach a problem for you. If you are already having a problem,
these helpful cleanup packages will be an important component
in fixing your algae control issues and getting your tank back
in balance with nature.
Hopefully, armed with this knowledge, you will be able make sense
of nuisance algae problems and will be able to maintain a beautiful
aquarium. If algae once again starts showing up, be sure to reevaluate
all of your techniques and once again look for the underlying
issue instead of simply masking the problem with quick fix solutions.