Saltwater Aquarium Algae Control: The Elimination of Nuisance "Algae"


 Aquatic Learning Center, Aquatic Connection Live: www.aquacon.com

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.    This is Coraline Algae, the only good Algae for your marine aquarium
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.
This is dinoflagellates (problematic of new aquariums),the so-called snotty looking algae)  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. 
This is Red slime algae, not a 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  

 Green Hair Algae can spread very quickly if not kept under control

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. 
 Over Feed your aquarium and your making algae, just feed enough to satisfy your fish and corals, no extra!
An RO system is one of the best investments you can make for the health of your saltwater aquarium Removing the Unwanted from Your Water Supply Through RO/DI Systems
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 Salt Mix
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.  
 There are a few good salts on the market, we use Tropic Marin in all our aquaculture systems.

For the natural approach to nitrate reduction and elimination nothing beats refugiums utilizing vegetation filtration.
Removing Unwanted Nitrates Through Refugiums Utilizing Vegetation Filtration (Chaetomorpha, Caulerpa, Ulva, Gracilaria, Sargassum, etc.) 
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. 

 Protein skimmers like this All Seas G Simmer do a great job in pulling out the organic polutants in your water.
There are a few different types of denitrifying filters on the market. They work to a varying degree. 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.
 RowaPhos has proven reliable in elliminating phosphates.

 Scarlet Reef Crabs, an important reef friendly component in any algae control package. 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 preferred food. 
 Reef friendly Astrea snails do a wonderful job in cleaning certain types of algae.

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.  

 Nassarius Snails are excellent in cleaning detritus and bacteria from substrate and other areas.
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.  Sandstars will keep substrate clean of uneaten food and broken down organic compounds.