Thousands upon thousands of potential aquarists make the decision to start a saltwater aquarium, be these fish only or reef aquariums all around the world. Unfortunately a lot of these aquarists ultimately give up in this amazing hobby.
There are many reasons as to why people give up. This could be personal finances, time, knowledge and many more, however a prime candidate unfortunately is algae.
Algae in the aquarium can look nice however in time this once ‘nice looking’ algae can turn into a pest and make the aquarium look unsightly. Before long the algae starts to cover the rocks, the sand, the glass and more. Every effort is made by the aquarist to clean this up perhaps by manually removing it, performing water changes, checking the water parameters, researching the possible causes etc however once one algae bloom is sorted before long another one may appear.
I appreciate that at this time the aquarist may become disheartened. I know I have been through this stage and can honestly say that algae blooms are a pain.
When people look into starting a saltwater aquarium they imagine an aquarium full of corals and fish which are so striking in colour and movement that the appearance of this unsightly algae is new to them. It is not what they wanted and try as they might it simply will not go away.
First to come may be a slight brown dusting of algae initially over the sand, second may come what looks like slime over the sand, perhaps the rock, after this long hair like algae may appear on the rocks and glass. Later algae which look like balls may appear!
It’s no wonder why aquarists consider giving up when the dream of a spotless saltwater aquarium is suddenly flawed with dirty looking algae!
Each of these different aspects of algae feed upon a different type of nutrient in the water. The trick to understanding how to clear the aquarium of the nuisance algae is to understand what it is feeding upon.
This is where the hard part starts. The reason for this is that since the algae is feeding upon a certain nutrient or nutrients in the water then a water test may not how this parameter as being a problem. A good example of this is phosphate. Phosphate is a common food for problematic algae however when a water test is performed the result is ok. This could be because the algae does not feed upon this type of nutrient or it could be that the algae has removed enough from the water for it not to show up on a water test!
The best thing to do if you encounter an algae bloom is determine what type of nutrient the algae is feeding upon and then remove its food source. For example if you have algae which is long and wavy then this is probably hair algae. Hair algae likes to feed upon nitrate and phosphate. In this example the best thing to do is attempt to reduce the nitrate in the aquarium by checking your feeding regime and increasing the amount of water changes performed to dilute the nitrate in the water column. To reduce/remove the phosphate levels it would be beneficial to introduce an element of phosphate remover for example a product like Rowaphos.
If you remove the food that the algae feeds upon then the algae bloom itself will reduce.
At the start of an aquariums life you need to remember that everything in the aquarium is new. All the pumps/powerheads will probably not have been submersed in water before, the sealant is new, the sand will be straight from the bag, the water will be sterile etc etc. From some of these certain elements may become evident in the water. A prime example of this is silicates from the sand – the slight brown dusting you see over the glass and sand is quite often caused by this. This aspect of algae quite often feeds upon silicates and will exist until its food source is exhausted.
I have seen aquariums entirely coated in this type of aquarium simply clear up overnight purely because the food source has gone.
In this example the silicates from the sand becomes exhausted and therefore the brown dusting disappears perhaps never to be seen again. In other areas if the aquarists is not diligent and does not perform the correct care and maintenance post identifying the food source then the algae blood can and perhaps will re-occur. There is no point in locating a problem, resolving it simply to allow it to raise its ugly head again.
The majority of aquariums when started do go through various algae blooms. This is the aquariums ways of becoming settled. Within time if the aquarist is patient and performs the correct care and maintenance then the blooms will slowly subside – hopefully never to appear again.
For all you new aquarists and the aquarists who are currently attempting to deal with an algae bloom I and many other aquarists understand what you are going through right now. The two things I can say is be patient and identify the bloom you are having issues with, identify its food source and eliminate it.