Monday, February 11, 2008

Algae Guide


So you have got the dreaded weed in your tank?
Let me start by saying DON’T PANIC. All is not lost.

I turned this disaster

Into this

Algae is the most problematic in all aquariums from the simplest of set ups to the most advanced, every tank either has or will experience algae at some stage of the tanks life, and apart from the fish and plants you have, it is the most natural of things in it. I personally don’t mind some algae in my tanks and have learnt how to control it as the pictures above show, others don’t like any form of algae and go to great lengths to make sure it stays away. Trying to control algae is not as bad as it sounds.
So what is algae? How does it get into the tank? And most of all how do we get rid of it?
Algae is probably the most natural of all things in your tank, weather it is a low light tank, high tech tank, or you have just a few fish in your tank, algae is always present in some way shape or form. Were ever there is water there is always algae.

Algae uses the main 3 things that plants use to grow, algae will be come a problem when the balance is not correct and uses them to its own advantage before the plants do, this could be one of the main 3 things, e.g.: light, nutrients, c02.

For this article algae is a photosynthetic organism that needs light, water and nutrients to prosper, elements which are readily available in any aquarium. Getting rid of it from your aquarium is not very difficult. Knowing that, controlling and algae should be your goal.

There are several different types of algae that can affect an aquarium; the main four you will probably come across are brown, green, black bush & blue green (not truly algae but bacteria)
Other forms of algae include: green spot, staghorn, green water, green bush, green dust, hair thread, cladophora, rhizoclonium(as in the top picture)

There are 4 main types of algae (but more do exist) that aquariums can have.

Brown algae
Green algae
Red/brush algae
Blue green algae (cyanobacteria)

Brown Algae (Diatoms)

This will probably be the first type of algae any one will encounter in the aquarium and could appear from early on and will normally disappear when the tank stabilises and becomes more mature.
Brown algae could be in the form of a fluff like or spot appearance on leaves or décor.
Unless you are aiming for a high tech planted set up, it is important to reduce nutrient levels if possible, not to feed excess and keep up with full tank maintenance. As this algae grows well in low light, reducing light levels doesn’t help and could out do the green algae, so adding more light could help to rid brown algae.
If brown algae appears in an established tank then all tank stats need to be checked and lighting tubes if older than 8/12 mths may need to be replaced as they lose their intensity. Some will even change the tubes every 6mths to maintain good lighting in their tanks.

Green Algae (hair, bushy, dust)

Is probably the most common of all algae you will come across in your aquarium and can take on many forms, from spots, hair, or bushy appearance.
Light green in color and can reach lengths of over 1 inch. If left on its own, it will cause problems.
It tends to grow in clumps that can easily be scraped off although it can return quickly.

Possible causes:
High light
Low c02
Low nitrate

Possible solutions:
Reduce amount of lighting
Increase nitrate levels
Increase c02

Black bush, Black Beard, BBA.

Can be found growing on leaf edges of slow growing plants, bog wood and around filters etc. Grows in clumps or patches of fine black tufts up to about 0.5cm long.

Possible causes:
Low or fluctuating CO2 levels.
Could also indicate a high kH problem.

Possible solutions:
Increase the levels of CO2, levels should ideally be 30ppm.
Improve water circulation around the plants
Good water flow is also important.
In low light tank reduced water changes for a time may help resolve the problem or overdosing excel to keep the c02 stable.

Blue Green Algae (cyanobacteria)

Not truly an algae but bacteria.
Covers everything in a blue/green slimy sheet. Easily peels off but grows back again very quickly. It has a foul smell. It is very commonly found in the substrate and especially along the front where gravel meets glass but also can be found at the back of the tank and on décor.
I have found from around most forums that it mostly affects tanks with bright coloured gravel; this is not always the case as it does also affect darker gravel.

Possible causes:
Very low nitrates or higher levels of other nutrients.
Dirty substrates and filters can also bring it on.
Poor water circulation

Possible solutions:
Check water stats
Improving water circulation can also help to reduce this algae.
If all else fails a black out could be the way to remove it.
As a last resort you could use “erythromycin” but this WIIL affect the bacteria in the filter so great care must be taken.

Green Spot Algae

Forms hard green circular spots on the glass and slow growing plant leaves.

Possible causes:
Low c02 and possible
Low p04 levels
To long a lighting period

Possible solutions:
Check CO2 levels.
Check p04 levels
Reduce lighting period
Can be scraped off the glass using a razor blade or a good magnetic glass scraper. Between 8 and 10 hours should be plenty of lighting time for the plants. If it is more then reducing it may help.

Stag horn Algae

Grows in strands like a stags antlers. Black to grey/green in colour and sometimes a reddish tint.

Possible causes:
Low CO2.
Overfeeding fish and excess mulm.
Dirty filter.
Also disturbing dirty substrates without doing water change afterwards.

Possible solutions:
Check CO2 levels. Reduce feeding,
Vacuum the substrate and remove mulm.
Overdosing Flourish Excel may help.

Green Water:

Possible causes:
High lighting
High ammonia (nh4)
High nutrient levels
Disturbance of dirty substrate
Mass over feeding
Direct light on the tank

Possible solutions:
Reduce lighting
Check ammonia levels
Check water stats
Check no over feeding
Check no outside light source is on the tank

The above causes & solutions are not exhaustive and are only a guide to the possible cause & solution.
At the end of the day if your tank has any form of algae it will be down to the water nutrients balance weather it be a fish only tank or a planted tank. Algae can & is caused by one or more of the nutrients either being to high or to low wrong lighting or lack of c02, trying to find which one can be more difficult than removing the algae its self.

Algae Alert


So you got the algae bug and you want to know why? What to do? And how to get rid of it? I will try and answer the above in one simple answer!


So now you think that all you have to do is add nutrients and fertilizers and all will be fine. Well it’s not quite that simple.What you have to do is get the right nutrients and or fertilizers, and the correct amount (balance) in the tank or you end up with what you don’t want. ALGAE all over your tank.
At the end of the day algae is a plant, and you have the conditions in your tank for growing plants so in stands to reason that algae is going to grow if the conditions are right just as much as any other plant in your tank.When people get algae in the tank they tend to panic and start throwing in all sorts of anti algae drops and anything else they think will kill it, just as I did when I first got my first bloom. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way nor is it that easy.Plants and algae need 4 basic things to live and survive correctly. Light, nitrogen, phosphate and potassium.
Both plants and algae fight to the end to compete for the best of everything in the tank.You have enough light because you may, as I have done have just put in the extra tube, the fish are throwing out all sorts of nitrogen and probably phosphate as well in their waste and the only thing that is not in any large amounts is potassium, one of the most over looked additions. There is no evidence that I have found that potassium invites or encourages algae in any tank.But again if you do as I did and remove all the phosphates from the water then the plants will not flourish and will be weak and leave them then being unable to take up other vital nutrients that they need to survive, (without going into to much detail) plants need a good supply of all nutrients to be able to take onboard other nutrients. Which for example can lead to high nitrate levels if the plants don’t consume enough nitrAte, this is then left in the water.
Again with out going into great detail there is what is considered to be main elements that plants need to survive well, these are broken down into 2 groups:


  • Hydrogen .
  • Oxygen .
  • Carbon .
  • Nitrogen .
  • Calcium .
  • Magnesium .
  • Phosphate .
  • Sulfur

MICROnutrients (trace).

  • Iron.
  • Manganese.
  • Chlorine.
  • Zinc.
  • Baron.
  • Nickel.
  • Copper.
  • Molybdenum

Some of these I have only read about, some I do know about and some that I have first hand experience of, but as with everything, we are learning all the time.Higher plants consume the nutrients faster and easier than the lower ground plants thus leaving very little for the algae to feed on.
That doesn’t mean though you will not get algae, you will because it came in when you started putting plants in the tank and they were not quick enough to get to the nutrients before the algae did.The fewer the plants you have the more likely algae will appear as the plants don’t use up all the nutrients so leaving more for the algae to amass itself.IMO it would probably be easier to rid algae in a fish only tank, for as I was going to attempt a black out period to rid the algae I decided against it, as for the plants need light to thrive, so I still don’t know if a black out of a planted tank works or not.
I must admit I have probably learnt more about algae in my time of fish keeping than I have about fish keeping its self. The latest bloom happened when I tried to put in a new laterite under the gravel, I messed it up and ended up with what you see in the other pictures because of the excess iron in the water instead of under the gravel to feed the roots. Although there are different forms of algae, excess iron is the most common cause of hair algae, which is like threads of very fine green hair growing over the tank which I found to be more prominent in the upper half of the tank and around the filter top where the water outlet is, as this is where algae can also consume vast amounts of oxygen.
It has been stated in another article on a different site that iron is easy to get rid of with water changes, and I do agree to a certain level, but when you do what I did it is NOT that easy.Although I am trying to explain about the nutrients plants need, I have to add that other elements the likes of cleanliness of water, regular water changes (of which too many over a short time can be just as bad as no water changes) all play a part in keeping ALGAE away.So over all, the key to a clean near algae free tank has a lot to do with BALANCE.
I am not going to say there are many ways to rid algae but more reduce it and stunt its growth, as I have tried to explain it is all about NUTRIENT CONTROL, but there are dips and chemicals available to aid this should you need, or should I say WHEN you need.