Fighting the Algae Annoyance
All of us with a fish tank, fresh or saltwater, know the battle that is fought with algae. Many beautiful aquaria have fallen victim of algae overgrowth. Dense algae on walls and structures can be one of the quickest turn offs in an otherwise tranquil aquarium. So how do we eliminate this nautical nuisance? Before we can talk about algae prevention, first we must know thy enemy!
The Low Down on the Green and Brown...
Algae can be found throughout the world relying on water resources from either fresh, brackish or saltwater systems. They can range from microscopic individuals to larger specimen such as seaweeds. Most common types of algae found within our aquariums rely upon photosynthesis to grow. Key elements to their growth include utilizing light, water & carbon dioxide to generate their own food; classifying them as autotrophs. Other nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are also necessary for their survival. Algae can be found in a wide diversity of colors, from black and green to browns and violet.
Though many of our fellow hobbyists view algae as primarily an annoyance, it is important to recognize that many of the aquatic ecosystems that we cherish wouldn’t be possible if not for algae. It forms the basis of freshwater and oceanic food chains supporting the continuing survival of fish and larger aquatic lifeforms. In fact, it is believed that as much as 70% or more of the oxygen we breath was produced by photosynthetic algae. Talk about a breath of fresh air! So let's give some recognition to these autotrophic wonders.
While we do acknowledge the significance of algae within our ecosystems, that still doesn’t diminish the fact that you can have too much of a good thing! Besides being aesthetically unpleasing; in a competition of resources, algae can kill freshwater plants and marine corals if their levels go unchecked. It would be nice to completely eliminate algae from our enclosed systems; but the fact is, algae is a perfectly natural part of aquatic systems and cannot be completely eliminated. However, there are many strategies and methods to limit its presence. Let’s explore a few options...
1.) Limit Light
One factor which greatly influences algae growth is the duration of time lights are on over the aquarium. Light is one of the primary ingredients which algae needs in order to produce their food. The proper length of time for lights to be on will be determined based on the aquarium’s type and inhabitants. We recommend anywhere between 8 - 10 hours of light per day. Finding your perfect light timing solution will take a bit of trial and error. This time frame is more of a guideline. Some aquariums, such as heavily planted tanks or reef tanks, may require lights to be on for a greater periods of time. Please conduct additional research if you have specialty plants or animals to insure you are fulfilling their needs.
It is also preferable to keep aquariums away from windows. Even indirect lighting can lead to algae growth. Our discus aquarium is located opposite of a window and there is noticeable algae growth on the sides of the tank that receives indirect lighting compared to the side that is out of the window’s range. If you desire to keep your aquarium near a window, simply use blinds or curtains during the day to limit indirect lighting.
2.) Don't Overfeed
Arguably, one of the most exciting events within this hobby is feeding time. Who doesn’t love watching as all of our aquatic inhabitants suddenly give us their undivided attention until they greedily munch on their chow? However, overfeeding does no good for the fish or their watery residence.
Only feed enough food that your fish can consume in a couple of minutes. Even if your fish are giving you those “hungry eyes”, you must resist! Uneaten food adds additional phosphate and ammonia into the aquarium. Both of which are key components that algae needs to flourish. Speaking of ammonia and phosphates……..
5.) Add a Little Competition
Algae thrive on the nitrates and phosphates in our tanks, so make them work for it! In other words, add a few competitors for those resources! In freshwater aquariums, plants can be added which will also uptake nitrates and phosphates. This does not leave many nutrients behind for algae to utilize. Additionally, plants can become a stunning component to the aquascape. Saltwater enthusiasts rely on this same methodology within the refugium section of their sumps. Many choose to grow chaeto algae or mangroves as a means to compete with nuisance algae.
What if it Isn't Working!
If you have tried the previous 6 tips and are still experiencing algae issues, here are a few other things to consider:
Ultimately if you are having issues with extreme algae overgrowth, this is a sign of a nutrient imbalance. You will need to determine what is the source of excess nutrients to eliminate the problem. Solving the problem of algae comes down to process of elimination. With our 12 gallon nano saltwater tank, we experienced an algae issue when we introduced an AI Prime. It took us a little tweaking with the light duration and intensity before we were able to overcome the issue. Don’t get discouraged! Persistence and patience pay off in this hobby!