How to beat your algae problem

Discussion in 'Reef Aquarium Articles and How To's' started by Covey, Nov 9, 2008.

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  1. Covey

    Covey Scooter Blennie

    Aug 6, 2004
    Davenport IA
    Hello I battled nuisance algae for over 8 months and I am hoping to share what I have learned in the process to help you beat your own algae problems. The algae board here (Algae - 3reef Forums) is a great resource but often the answer given are often small pieces of what is a large complex problem. I am hoping to give more of a framework to work off of. So you can make real progress against your algae.

    1. Reduce your inputs.
    2. Increase your outputs.
    3. Get rid of the algae you have.
    4. Get something that eats your algae.

    Reducing your inputs. Most often the first thing someone does when their algae starts to get away from them is test the water. That leads to the “My water perfect and my tank is full of algae” post. Trust your eyes. The thing is that once a certain threshold is reached you will never find any nitrogen or phosphate in your water. Short of a large dead fish or something of that nature at some point the phosphate and nitrogen will become limiting factors for algae growth. The algae will use it as fast as you can produce it and your test kits will never show anything. With that out of the way you can move on to actually reducing your inputs. You need to look at what you are adding to the tank that is driving the algae growth. How is your make up water? What is your TDS? If you are using contaminated water to start with you have very little chance of making any progress. How old are your light bulbs and what spectrum are you using? Next, how much and how often are you feeding your tank. Most people over feed their tank again ask the forum if you feeding too much. Just take a hard look at what goes into your tank everyday and try to figure out where you are giving the algae more help than it needs.

    Increasing your outputs. There are many way to reduce nutrient levels in your system. Many of them seem to contrast each other so I will just put them out there. Fell feel to debate their usefulness in the forum but this was not the focus of the article so I will just put them out there. The methods include Deep Sand Beds, Refugium, Mud filters, Zeovit systems, Bare bottom systems, among other available that all claim to lower nutrient levels in your reef. These are system available but there are many equipment upgrades you lower your nutrient levels as well. Possible the best is the protein skimmer I have going through 3 skimmer upgrades on my current reef and the one thing I have learned is that there is always more skim out there. My current skimmer can make in a few hours what my first skimmer could make in a month. Another useful tool is chemical filtration. Phosphate removing media are an excellent tool to help choke that algae out. As are some of the newer nitrogen removing media. Finally water changes. What is old hat to someone with a freshwater tank seems to be avoided like the plague by saltwater water keepers. Few things are more a of a “reset button” than water changes are and should be a normal part of your maintenance routine. Again just take a hard at what you are pulling out of your system and how to improve it.

    Next getting rid of the algae you already have. The fun thing about algae is that it is the gift that keeps on giving. In that most algae are a detritus traps in that the end trapping detritus that would have otherwise made it to your filtration systems and out of your tank. If you have control of what is causing it you can now start to get rid of it. You can in 10-15 minute remove what an army of fish and inverts could do in months. Here are a few of the methods I came up with or found.
    1. The Algae Vac ( mild, quick, and easy.
    2. The Rock Scrub ( involved, an hours work but fairly complete.
    3. Rock Cooking (Reef Central Online Community - The "How to go Barebottom thread."): the nuclear option, very effective but time consuming, and comes at the cost of your coraline.
    You can remove a lot if not almost all of your algae using these methods just remember to have the first two steps done first. Or it will just come roaring back.

    Lastly getting something to eat the algae you have. No matter how much algae you get rid of in step 3 there will be some of it left hiding somewhere and it will come charging back if there is nothing in the tank to eat it. It is like an introduced exotic in our little under water gardens. Like Gambusa, Kudzu, or Japanese beetles your algae will run rampant without anything eating it. Oddly enough even in the perfect unattainable levels of nitrate found in the open ocean things can get out of whack. In researching my own algae I found that it had overran some parts of the coast of Hawaii covering it with this evil green monster. If reason given by the scientist researching the problem, overfishing, too many of the Tangs where being removed from area to show up in our tanks. The lesson learned from this beside the need for responsible fishing is that you can’t eliminate algae purely through improving water quality something has to eat it. Here is where you need to do some homework. Again try the algae board (Algae - 3reef Forums). Give as detailed description as possible including the color, texture, growth rate, what it feels like, and if at all possible a good picture. There are thousand of species of algae out there and it is in your best interest to find out as much about your enemy as possible. There is around a dozen algae species out there that normally plague aquariums so there should be someone out there that can suggest useful herbivores. Using my own problem as an example. I asked for what would eat my green hair algae one of the suggestions was Lettuce nudibraches. I went out spent $40 and got three only to find out that they didn’t touch my hair algae. A total waste only after more research did I discover that the nudis where pointless for me. Some algae are nuisances because nothing eats it. The best example is bubble algae, it doesn’t grow all that fast but it can become a pest because nothing eats it. You find the select group of herbivores that eat it and it is not a problem at all.

    If you follow the steps above you CAN beat your algae. A serious algae problem usually involves a little more of a frame work than ”add a few snails” and I hope you have found mine useful.
    Good Luck,
    5 people like this.
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  3. Afterdark230

    Afterdark230 Flamingo Tongue

    Apr 23, 2008
    Inlet, NY
    very well put!!!!! I just added a better clean up crew now I am getting ready to add a phos reactor and a carbon reactor, and a tds meter for my ro/di system!

    but thanks for the help
  4. inwall75

    inwall75 Giant Squid

    Sep 10, 2003
    WELCOME BACK STRANGER!!! Great article too.
  5. geekdafied

    geekdafied 3reef Sponsor

    Oct 25, 2006

    Where you been stranger?
  6. Camilsky

    Camilsky Montipora Capricornis

    Oct 28, 2007
    Groningen, The Netherlands
    Thanks Sir! Good stuff!
  7. 1st time

    1st time Purple Spiny Lobster

    Jul 3, 2008
    I live on the Nature coast of Fl
    Great article--I had various algae problems and each kind involved a different but similar solution. Thanks for giving us an intelligent overview.
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  9. Otty

    Otty Giant Squid

    Nov 20, 2006
    Elizabethtown, IN
    Nice to see you back, and good article.
  10. Matt Rogers

    Matt Rogers Kingfish Staff Member

    Dec 31, 2000
    Berkeley, CA
    I wish Covey were around, he was great. Perhaps we should all knock on his door. :)

    Please read this.
  11. infamous

    infamous Corkscrew Tentacle Anemone

    Sep 4, 2008
    i Just setup a new tank 120g with 120lb live sand and 80 lb's live starting to see brown algae forming on the top so i cut the lights off for now and see where it goes from hermit crab seem to help since they move sand around a bit.....

    anyone know what critter are good for brown algae on sand?
  12. Av8Bluewater

    Av8Bluewater Giant Squid

    Aug 27, 2008
    It will probably go away by itself.. part of a new tank algae cycle.