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Algae – Boon or Curse to your aquarium?

By reefspecialty, June 7, 2016

An alga is an uninvited guest in your clear, lively, colorful aquarium. Every aquarium hobbyist will have trouble dealing with the algae growth. Algae make the tank look messy and give an unpleasant view. It is not that algae are bad to an aquarium. They really help in converting the fish waste into oxygen with the help of light, which provides a healthy environment to your tiny swimming pets. At the same time, it is also necessary to keep them under control to have an odor free clean aquarium. Therefore, it is always good to know the type of algae that has invaded your tank and removing them before it goes out of control.

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This page takes you through the different types of algae, their benefits or hindrance and remedies to get rid of them.

Six common aquarium algae & their characteristics

Below are some of the basic types of algae that can intrude into your aquarium.

#1 Blue – Green Algae

Blue-green algae grow rapidly using light and spreads like a slime or coating over the plants, between the gravels and the decorations in your aquarium. Blue green algae belong to a bacterial type called cyanobacteria.

  • Cause: These algae starts growing due to a bad water quality. An unmaintained aquarium without proper water change or with bad water quality will see the growth of these algae.

  • Benefit: It helps in maintaining low nitrates, which in turn provides a very healthy environment to the fishes.

  • Hindrance: They spread in large quantity and starts killing the live plants in your aquarium.

  • Remedy:  Blackout method helps in killing these algae. As light is the basic need for this algae growth, tighten black plastic bags or blankets around the tanks for four continuous days, thus blocking light from entering into the tank. Blocking their source destroys them quickly. Erythromycin an antibiotic used to remove this bacterial infection from the tanks.

#2 Brown Algae

Diatoms are the common name for brown algae. They form chunky brown patches on the place where there is low light like caves, plants and tank glasses. They commonly occur in new aquarium setups where the nitrogen content is low and phosphate level is high.

  • Cause: Low light is the main reason for this algae growth. Old lights and fluorescent lamps have very week light outputs after 6 to 8 months of usage causing black out areas in the tank. This is a major cause for brown algae growth.

  • Benefit: There is no great use because of the brown algae.

  • Hindrance: Diatoms releases a toxin called domoic acid, which is poisonous to marine life. However, they are not very harmful to freshwater creatures as fresh water diatoms are not harmful.

  • Remedy:  As they are slow and slimy in structure, you can easily wipe it out. Introducing algae eaters like Siamese Algae Eaters, Otos can greatly help in reducing them. You can also increase the lighting in the algae formation areas, which can gradually kill them.

#3 Hair Algae

Hair algae has a rougher structure and grows up to 5cm or more at the bottom of the plants like Echinodorus, rocks and woods. They appear in bright green color.

  • Cause: It comes into an aquarium attaching to a new plant or the shells of an invertebrate. Excess light is also a reason for this algae growth.

  • Benefit: It is a popular food supplement for fish. Angles, Barbs, Cichlids love to feed on hair algae.

  • Hindrance: Once the hair algae get a foothold, it covers everything in your aquarium, making it look extremely messy.

  • Remedy: It is easy to remove by twirling a toothbrush in it. Else, starve it into oblivion by cutting down the light, nitrate and phosphate supply. That is stop feeding your fish for a day, which in turn will reduce the nitrate source.

#4 Red Algae

Red Algae appears like a small patch in your tank in reddish brown color. Due to its appearance it is also known as Brush algae. It can occur in both alkaline and acidic water. It grows on slower growing live plant leaves like Anubias, Echinodorus and in other wide leaf plants.

  • Cause: Like every other algae, excess light and nutrition is the source for these algae growth.

  • Benefit: It helps in maintaining a healthy ecosystem in your aquarium. Red algae formation is beneficial in saltwater aquarium as they help in the growth of coral reefs.

  • Hindrance: They affect the growth of the live plants. It grabs all the nutrition and leaves the plants starve to death.

  • Remedy:  Pre-treat the live plants before adding them to the aquarium by soaking in a 25% bleach solution, and then clean to remove the dead algae. Remove the affected leaves from the live plants to prevent spreading. Also keeping a Siamese Algae Eater can help as they feed on these algae.

#5 Beard Algae

Beard alga is a very common alga that grows in non-planted aquariums. They appear very attractive like a green carpet over the wooden decorative or on the tank bottom.

  • Cause:  It can grow due to unbalanced water pH level or due to low nitrate. Having the aquarium lights on for more than 12 hour, a day could also cause this algae growth.

  • Benefit: Siamese algae eater, cichlids, red-tailed sharks and rosy barbs enjoy eating beard algae, so they are natural fish nourishment.

  • Hindrance: They grow very fast and occupy the entire tank. Once they grow in large range, it is difficult to remove it mechanically. Therefore, it is better to remove them at initial stage.

  • Remedy: The best solution to get rid of beard algae is to use an aquarium medicine or an algae destroyer called Simazine.

#6 Green water algae

Green water algae causes “algae bloom” a scenario in which the water turns completely green in color and makes the fishes invisible. This condition does not cause any harm to fishes except that it makes the tank look rubbish.

  • Cause: Direct sunlight is the major cause for the growth of these algae.

  • Benefit: Green water condition caused due to the rapid growth of these algae is very good for raising daphnia and brine shrimp

  • Hindrance: It is a unicellular alga. Therefore, it reproduces rapidly turning your tank green in color and reduces the visibility of your tank.

  • Remedy: Use scrapers and wipe it out during their initial stage of growth. UV sterilization can also help in preventing the bloom. Other possible prevention methods are Blackout method, Diatom Filtering and introducing Live Daphnia.

There are enormous algae species that can raid an aquarium. They may vary in color and nature but overall, they are not a welcoming guest to an aquarium.

Algae Prevention techniques

Although algae growth indicates that your tank is rich in nutrition, it gives an ugly messy look. You can always keep your tank free from algae by following few easy steps.

  • New incomes:

    Algae usually sticks to the base and leaves of live plant. So when you buy a new live plant to your aquarium make sure to soak them into household bleach for 2 to 3 min. Then wash them with clean water. This act can prevent algae induction to your tank.

  • Excess light:

    Excess light is the main source of algae formation in an aquarium. So make sure that your aquarium does not receive direct sunlight. Also, keep in mind to switch off the aquarium lights minimum 12 to 15 hours a day. Light is one of the major sources of energy for rich algae growth.

  • Water quality:

    Tap water may contain elements that support algae growth naturally. So test your tap water before using it in your aquarium. Tap water will be rich in phosphorous content that is one of the much-needed nutrition for algae growth. Use phosphate-removing chemical filter media to stabilize the water.

  • Water change:

    It is necessary to change 1/3 of your aquarium’s water biweekly. This is very much essential for a healthy aquarium. Proper change will provide lot of benefits like keeping the aquarium clean, increasing the oxygen supply, reducing the algae growth and keeping the aquarium free from odor.

  • Vacuum your tank:

    Remember to remove the fish excretes and left over food from the bottom of the gravel and decorations biweekly using appropriate cleaning kit. This will decrease the nitrate level and keep your tank with balanced nutrition. Remember excess nutrition is one of the major causes for algae growth.

  • Feed Minimal:

    Excess feeding results in enriching your tank with ammonia and phosphate that is the highly required supplement for an algae growth. Fishes keep eating how much ever you feed them, so be strict in feeding them. Do not feed them more than once or twice a day and decide on how much food to offer them. By doing this you can avoid over feeding your fishes.

  • Filter media:

    Use proper filters to balance the aquarium’s nutrition. Filters play a vital role in controlling the algae growth. Always use a phosphate control media and a super-efficient biological filtration system in your aquarium. Keep changing the chemical and mechanical media ones in a month. By doing this, you can increase the filter efficiency and can keep the phosphate and nitrates content under control.

  • Nurture an Algae eater:

    Many of us will not have an algae eater in our tanks. It is always good to have one. Algae eaters not only eats algae, but also feeds on the left over food that settles down at the bottom of your tank. Thus helps you in naturally cleaning the tank. Otocinclus, Black mollies, Plecostomus, Siamese Algae eater, Amano shrimps are some of the best algae eaters.

  • Live Plants:

    Live plants grab all the sunlight and nutrition leaving no room for the algae survival. Floating plants also help in reducing the algae growth by blocking light rays. Live plants increase the oxygen supply in the aquarium in turn provides your fishes a healthier life.

Algae growth is like a spider web in your large home. They start slowly and end up covering everything if left uncaring. Remove the algae as soon as you notice their occurrence. As mentioned above it is very difficult to remove the algae once they spread across your aquarium. If left unnoticed, they can ruin the life of your natural plants followed by causing health issues to your petite fishes. Little algae is always boon to your aquarium, but when they start growing to large extent they completely conquer your aquarium and make it look like an abandoned tank. Regular water change, minimal feeding, minimizing light hours is more than enough to prevent your bouncy lively healthy tank from algae conquer.

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