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Problem Algae Follow-Up

Bonus content from the November 2009 FAMA magazine column Sand Mail.

By Bob Goemans

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This is a follow-up to the November 2009 Sand Mail column.

Freshwater and Marine Aquarium Bonus Content
Yes, thank you as that does help a little, and no, our tank usually is only about 72 to 74 degrees. We keep our house at about 72 degrees all year long so the tank never gets that warm. Once while away the house got warmer and the tank got to about 80 degrees and the algae got worse. The one coral we have seems to like it at 72 degrees and we do have many button polyp corals on the live rock that are doing fine. Should we really up the temperature on the tank? What is the best way to test for phosphate? I don't overfeed our fish; in fact they probably would eat more often if I offered it. I feed them by squirting a little shrimp in the tank almost like feeding them by hand.

The first three years the tank was great! We had one Hawaiian tang, two yellow headed sleeper gobies, two emerald crabs, a few hermit crabs, a bunch of snails, and the damselfish and cardinalfish I mentioned before. We had a few soft corals and all did well. Our tang didn't eat many algae, as he became carnivorous. We were told they only eat plants but he refused to. Our gobies did a great job cleaning our sand, but they would drop sand all over the rocks. Then one day about three years ago one died, then about six months later the other one died. Then our tang died about a year after that.

We think the algae started around the time the gobies died and the tang only did a little bit of picking on it, so it got out of hand. The person who sold us our tank was great to work with and says all his stuff is top quality and that he has done some work for city aquariums and stuff like that, but I think he just wants our money. We now want advice we can trust, and that’s why we contacted you.

As for the bubble algae, I (Amanda) am to blame. I have, out of frustration broken many, many bubbles. I didn't even think about them sending our spores when they break. No wonder there are so many now. My thought now is to remove each piece of live rock and remove the bubbles outside of the tank, rinse with saltwater and place them back into the tank.
— Fred and Amanda

As you may know, I’ve been in this hobby for over 60 years, but I still don’t have a magic wand so to speak; therefore, without a lot of work on your part, this problem isn’t going to get a lot better.

Let me begin by saying the temperature for the creatures coming from tropical reefs near the equator is between 76 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit with almost all marine hobbyists maintaining their systems between 78 and 82 degrees. Can some hardy species live at 72 degree water? Yes, but not comfortably, nor should they be subjected to temperatures they don’t normally experience in the wild.

Does the lower temp slow hair grass growth? Yes, but so do lower temperatures when it comes to the grass in your backyard. I guess you can see where I’m going with this, as my first suggestion would be to slowly increase aquarium temp over the coming week or two and bring it to within a normal range for these tropical species.

Before we enter into actual corrective measures, there’s some very good reasons why hair grass and other unwanted algae flourish in aquariums. Generally algae prosper when caretakers don’t understand water chemistry, do not properly care for their sandbeds, feed inhabitants incorrectly or use improper foods, and get bad advice.

Sandbeds of any depth should be vacuumed occasionally, usually once a month, as detritus continues to accumulate and the bacteria within do not consume all of it. In this situation, animal waste continues to accumulate. When a lot of live rock is placed upon the sandbed, caring for this important biological asset becomes nearly impossible to properly accomplish.

Nutrients from dirty sandbeds enter the water and help spawn algae spores brought into the aquarium from other sources, such as corals and live rock. Furthermore, feeding frozen brine shrimp in anything except an occasional and careful manner is another source of energy for unwanted algae. Then add to this problem a lack of water chemistry knowledge, and one can see why the aquarium environment turns from a healthy looking environment to one that looks more like a polluted bay.

Can you turn things around in your aquarium? Yes, but it will take a lot of cooperation and hard work on your part. I’m willing to explain each aspect, such as vital water chemistry aspects including how and why to test for them, what feeds algae, different foods to consider, ways to get rid of the existing algae, etc. You need to tell me if you want to go further and if you have the time to make it work, as it may take breaking down the aquarium several times and either replacing the rock or thoroughly cleaning it, maybe several times.

Want to read the full story? Pick up the November 2009 issue of Freshwater And Marine Aquarium, or subscribe to get 12 months of articles just like this.

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