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Blog - Algae

Algae - Common Causes and Solutions for Different Types

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In the previous entry, the main underlying cause of nearly all algae issues was discussed. Excess organics, poor Co2 and O2 control, insufficient maintenance and cleaning all create imbalances which trigger algae. Herein we will look at the different types and the secondary conditions which can exacerbate each type of algae, as well as the solutions for eradicating any outbreaks.

The common forms of algae found in most tanks are

GREEN HAIR, FUZZ OR FILAMENTOUS

BLACK BEARD ALGAE (BBA)

GREEN DUST ALGAE (GDA)

GREEN SPOT ALGAE (GSA)

CLADOPHORA

GREEN WATER ALGAE

CYANOBACTERIA (BLUE GREEN ALGAE – BGA)

Although each of these types have similar causes and solutions, beyond the general primary causes listed above and in the last entry, they all present differently in aquariums.

GREEN HAIR, FUZZ OR FILAMENTOUS

Often called Hair/String/Fuzz and Staghorn, these different algae generally share the same appearance, as noted by their common names. Presenting as either wispy or coarse hairs, these algae are most commonly found attached to plants at their outset but can spread to hardscape (rock and wood) as well. In general, when any algae attaches or forms on plants it is due to poor or unstable plant health. The opportunistic algae will feed on the decaying plant matter as it releases carbohydrate sugars during decomposition. Unstable or fluctuating tank parameters, can also cause plants to slough off organic waste matter. When shifts in parameters occur, plants are forced to re-program their enzyme response and transport systems. In doing so, they will eject or release the no longer useful materials, once again feeding the opportunistic algae.

COMMON CAUSES

  • Poor plant health due to suboptimal care (poor nutrients, overcrowding, improper lighting, bad trimming habits)
  • Unstable or improper tank parameters (too high or low of lighting, too long or short of photoperiods, inconsistent lighting schedules, fluctuating nutrients, co2 or o2)
  • Old decaying plant matter (improper plant husbandry, no trimming of struggling or old growth, excessive trimming leading to stress)
  • Excess Organic Waste (poor tank maintenance and cleaning, insufficient or improper circulation, clogged or dirty filters, overfeeding fish)

SOLUTIONS and REMOVAL

  • Stabilize tank parameters. Be consistent in your lighting, nutrient dosing and co2 control.
  • Improve overall plant health. Trim dead or struggling plants matter off and remove. Provide proper nutrient availability. Trim and replant healthy tops and remove old deteriorating stems and leaves.
  • Clean you tank and filters. Regularly ensure that excess organics are moved through vacuuming and unclogging of mechanical filtration media.
  • Manual removal using old tooth brushes before a water change is a common method to remove the longer filamentous types.
  • Less severe outbreaks can often disappear on their own if the above noted causes or solutions are addressed.
  • Severe outbreaks can also be rectified with time but may require more drastic tank cleanup and plant rehabilitation. In extreme cases, chemical solutions such as spot treating with H2O2, or other commercial algaecides can be useful. Avoid tank dosing of these chemicals or Gluteraldehyde solutions where possible as they can further damage your tanks overall health.

BLACK BEARD ALGAE (BBA)

Black Beard or Black Brush algae (BBA) presents in short tufts of pinkish grey to black furry spots. This algae is quite difficult to remove manually and can appear on plants and hardscape materials, as well as filter or circulation pump outputs. When appearing on plants, the same catalysts and solutions, as listed above, for Hair algae apply. Poor plant health, excess organic materials and fluctuating parameters. If presenting on hardscapes, again, excess organic waste and fluctuating parameters are the main culprit.

COMMON CAUSES

  • Poor plant health due to suboptimal care (poor nutrients, overcrowding, improper lighting, bad trimming habits)
  • Unstable or improper tank parameters (too high or low of lighting, too long or short of photoperiods, inconsistent lighting schedules, fluctuating nutrients, co2 or o2)
  • Old decaying plant matter (improper plant husbandry, no trimming of struggling or old growth, excessive trimming leading to stress)
  • Excess Organic Waste (poor tank maintenance and cleaning, insufficient or improper circulation, clogged or dirty filters, overfeeding fish)

SOLUTIONS and REMOVAL

  • Stabilize tank parameters. Be consistent in your lighting, nutrient dosing and co2 control.
  • Stabilize circulation patterns by ensuring no areas of too high or too low of flow. Consistent water movement is key.
  • Improve overall plant health. Trim dead or struggling plants matter off and remove. Provide proper nutrient availability. Trim and replant healthy tops and remove old deteriorating stems and leaves.
  • Clean you tank and filters. Regularly ensure that excess organics are moved through vacuuming and unclogging of mechanical filtration media
  • Less severe outbreaks can often disappear on their own if the above noted causes or solutions are addressed. A cleanup crew of shrimp can also aid in less severe cases but should not be a replacement for good maintenance and care.
  • Severe outbreaks can also be rectified with time but may require more drastic tank cleanup and plant rehabilitation. In extreme cases, chemical solutions such as spot treating with H2O2, or other commercial algaecides can be useful. Avoid tank dosing of these chemicals or Gluteraldehyde solutions where possible as they can further damage your tanks overall health.
  • For hardscape materials, remove from the tank if you can and rinse and rub the algae off under running water (always ensure to dechlorinate before returning to the tank)

GREEN DUST ALGAE (GDA)

Green Dust Algae is one of the more common algae to present itself. So common that many see it as a usual occurrence in all tanks, an inevitability, it is not. GDA will appear on plants, hardscape rock and wood, and most commonly on grass. Many people will be familiar with GDA as the stuff they have to scrape weekly off the walls of their aquariums. As prevalent as GDA is, it has the easiest fix of all common algae. Time and Temperature are the two main factors. GDA is known to be a hotspot algae, it forms in areas of overly high light and increased temperature. It also is most common near the early stages of an aquariums setup. Immature bacterial colonies and imbalanced nutrients also feed GDA as an opportunistic Algae.

COMMON CAUSES

  • Immature bacterial and microbial colonies
  • Low or unadapted plant mass
  • High direct lighting for extended photoperiods causing hotspot locations (common with directed light sources)
  • Higher than necessary water temperatures.

SOLUTIONS and REMOVAL

  • Promote healthy biological filtration early in the Nitrogen Cycle setup of a tank.
  • Begin tank with large, well adapted plant mass. 50-70% minimum of the plantable area.
  • Lower light intensity hotspots by either increasing diffusions of light over wider area through use of a suitable reflector. Lower intensity of controlled lights or raise lights higher from top of tank.
  • Reduce tank temperature (unless restricted due to livestock, if so lower to within bottom safe range)
  • Continue manual removal by scraping off glass and other locations prior to water change until bacterial colonies and plant mass are sufficient.
  • In extreme situations, 3-5 day total blackout of the tank. (NOTE : Blackouts can put plants under stress which may lead to other algae triggers)

GREEN SPOT ALGAE (GSA)

Green Spot Algae can appear to form in many of the same locations as Dust Algae, It is often seen on glass or slow growing plants. Where it differs from GDA, is that the small green spots are quite a bit more difficult to remove manually from glass, often requiring multiple passes with scrapers or razor blades to remove it. And it is near impossible to manually remove it from plants. Slow growing plants like Anubias, Ferns or Cryptocoryne varieties often seem to be the most easily affected. Although difficult to remove manually, GSP can disappear with same treatment methods as Hair Algae as they are usually triggered by the same issues; poor plant health, fluctuating parameters and excess organics.

COMMON CAUSES

  • Poor plant health due to suboptimal care (poor nutrients, overcrowding, improper lighting, bad trimming habits)
  • Unstable or improper tank parameters (too high or low of lighting, too long or short of photoperiods, inconsistent lighting schedules, fluctuating nutrients, co2 or o2)
  • Old decaying plant matter (improper plant husbandry, no trimming of struggling or old growth, excessive trimming leading to stress)
  • Excess Organic Waste (poor tank maintenance and cleaning, insufficient or improper circulation, clogged or dirty filters, overfeeding fish)

SOLUTIONS and REMOVAL

  • Stabilize tank parameters. Be consistent in your lighting, nutrient dosing and co2 control.
  • Improve overall plant health. Trim dead or struggling plants matter off and remove. Provide proper nutrient availability. Trim and replant healthy tops and remove old deteriorating stems and leaves.
  • Clean you tank and filters. Regularly ensure that excess organics are moved through vacuuming and unclogging of mechanical filtration media.
  • Manual removal from glass with scrapers or razor blades.
  • Outbreaks can often disappear on their own if the above noted causes or solutions are addressed. Severe cases on plants require trimming of affected leaves.

CLADOPHORA

Cladophora presents as coarse, thick areas on hardscape and substrate primarily, although appearance on plants is still possible. Cladophora has the appearance of moss, so much so that Cladophora Balls or Marimo are often erroneously called Moss Balls. These collected balls of Cladophora algae are sold as decorative additions to tanks. Oddly, although Cladophora Balls are formed in river systems where the balls shape by being moved through the current. Cladophora in and aquarium is often caused by poor water movement and high direct lighting. It can often be found in overcrowded areas, thicker moss regions and near slower growing plants.

COMMON CAUSES

  • Poorly circulated areas with slower moving waters caused by inadequate circulation or obstructions.
  • High direct lighting hotspots
  • Overcrowded areas causing low flow and increased organic waste accumulation.

SOLUTIONS and REMOVAL

  • Increase proper circulation to the area by removing old decaying growth and repositioning circulation outputs.
  • This out plant groupings to allow more room for healthy growth and increased circulation.
  • Lower light intensity hotspots by either increasing diffusions of light over wider area through use of a suitable reflector. Lower intensity of controlled lights or raise lights higher from top of tank.
  • Stabilize tank parameters. Be consistent in your lighting, nutrient dosing and co2 control.
  • Severe outbreaks can also be rectified with time but may require more drastic tank cleanup and plant rehabilitation. In extreme cases, chemical solutions such as spot treating with H2O2, or other commercial algaecides can be useful. Avoid tank dosing of these chemicals or Gluteraldehyde solutions where possible as they can further damage your tanks overall health.

GREEN WATER ALGAE

Often referred to as Pea Soup because of the presentation of vibrant green water throughout the whole tank is often one of the most panic inducing outbreaks for new tank owners, even though it is the simplest in terms of cause and solutions. Green Water most often appears in new tanks or poorly maintained tanks.

COMMON CAUSES

  • High levels of ammonia from a new tank with an unestablished Nitrogen Cycle or from insufficient Biological filtration or from,
  • Excess Organic Waste due to poor or unadapted plant mass, overfeeding, not removing dead fish or plant matter.
  • Inconsistent and high lighting for too long a photoperiod.
  • High water temperatures caused from unnecessarily high settings on heaters or from heat transfer from high extended photoperiods.

SOLUTIONS and REMOVAL

  • Outbreaks can often disappear on their own if the above noted causes or solutions are addressed.
  • Stabilize tank parameters. Be consistent in your lighting, nutrient dosing and co2 control.
  • Lower intensity of controlled lights or raise lights higher from top of tank.
  • Be consistent with photoperiod and reduce it to 4-5 hours until issue is resolved.
  • A series of 50% water changes over a few days
  • For severe cases, 4-5 day total black out period for lights and possibly the inclusion of a UV Sterilizer as a last resort

CYANOBACTERIA (BLUE GREEN ALGAE – BGA)

Although Blue Green Algae has many varieties, the most common presentations of it are as a slimy coating at the substrate levels. Slightly less common varieties like Nostoc appear as a translucent slime or slime bubbles or balls on substrate, hardscape and filter equipment. A common sign of BGA is drastically lowered Nitrate levels as BGA has a strong tendency to fixate gaseous nitrogen during photosynthesis. Like many of the other green algae, excess organic waste, fluctuating or poor o2 levels and poor plant health are the common triggers.

COMMON CAUSES

  • Poor plant health due to suboptimal care (poor nutrients, overcrowding, improper lighting, bad trimming habits)
  • Unstable or improper tank parameters (too high or low of lighting, too long or short of photoperiods, inconsistent lighting schedules, fluctuating nutrients, co2 or o2)
  • Old decaying plant matter (improper plant husbandry, no trimming of struggling or old growth, excessive trimming leading to stress)
  • Excess Organic Waste (poor tank maintenance and cleaning, insufficient or improper circulation, clogged or dirty filters, overfeeding fish)
  • Low nitrates and low or fluctuating o2 levels

SOLUTIONS and REMOVAL

  • Stabilize tank parameters. Be consistent in your lighting, nutrient dosing and co2 control.
  • Improve overall plant health. Trim dead or struggling plants matter off and remove. Provide proper nutrient availability, especially nitrate levels, reduction of which can adversely affect overall plant health and lead to further algae types as well as exacerbating BGA.
  • Clean you tank and filters. Regularly ensure that excess organics are moved through vacuuming and unclogging of mechanical filtration media.
  • Increase o2 levels by providing proper gaseous exchange through surface agitation and ensuring that proper circulation is reaching any potential dead spots where organic waste can accumulate.
  • Less severe outbreaks can often disappear on their own if the above noted causes or solutions are addressed.
  • Severe outbreaks can also be rectified with time but may require more drastic tank cleanup and plant rehabilitation. In extreme cases, chemical solutions such as spot treating with H2O2, or other commercial algaecides can be useful. Avoid tank dosing of these chemicals or Gluteraldehyde solutions where possible as they can further damage your tanks overall health.

In conclusion, as noted in the previous entry and shown here, the most common causes and solutions to most of the common algae types comes down to keeping your tank clean, well maintained and balanced. Strong healthy plant mass and stable conditions which allows for same, will not only eradicate most algae but will also stop them from becoming a full outbreak or even appearing at all in some cases. Patience, consistency and good establishment of the fundamentals are paramount to supporting a healthy planted tank environment. Lackadaisical tank care will ultimately lead to more work and struggle against opportunistic algae. Seek to establish healthy parameters and a clean tank before rushing off to find a chemical cure at the first sign of algae, as these treatments often put plants and the aquatic system as a whole under even greater stress…quick fixes are never a replacement for solid fundamentals of planted tank care.

Thanks for reading

NilocG

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