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Aquarium Algae Control; Brown Diatom, Hair, Marine, BBA, Green Spot & Water

 

By Carl Strohmeyer


This Aquarium Answers article (post) is not intended as a complete algae control article, but is intended to address the types of algae that I receive the most questions about which are Brown Diatom Algae, Freshwater Thread/Hair Algae, Black Beard Brush Algae (BBA), and Marine Hair Algae aka Filamentous marine algae (I address other algae as well in this article). I will add to and update this article as well over time.

Updated 10/8/14

Brown/Diatom Algae

Brown Diatom Algae Brown Algae is not considered a true algae as per many biologists, rather a diatom. However under the 5 Kingdom classification system both Brown Diatoms and more common algae fall into the "grab bag" Kingdom; "Proctotista", although Brown Diatom Algae fall into the division Bacillariophyceae.

Diatoms also single-cell organisms but are significantly larger and more complicated than cyanobacteria. They have cell walls containing silica. The individual cells are yellow-green to brown. They contain two types of chlorophyll and at some stage in their life cycles have motile stages which move by the action of one or two tiny beating hairs called flagella.

Most diatoms show very limited mobility and exist primarily as groups of cells growing a film over the surface of objects. In low concentrations they probably don't have any noticeable effect in aquarium systems, and indeed they are probably always present.
These diatom cells are encased within a unique cell wall made of silica (hydrated silicon dioxide). The yellowish-brown chloroplasts within Brown Diatom algae are what give this “algae” its typical appearance.
Brown Diatoms are found in fresh and saltwater as well as soil. Diatoms are a major component of plankton, free-floating microorganisms of marine or freshwater environments.

Not all diatoms float freely though; many may cling to surfaces such as aquatic plants, gravel, décor, molluscs, and crustaceans.
Brown Diatom Algae are dependent upon silicates and high DOC (dissolved organic compounds) in the water and thrive in conditions where the minerals and Redox are out of balance. Brown diatom algae also out compete more desirable green algae in these conditions when light is poor for healthy photosynthesis due to lack adequate amounts of light in the proper PAR.

More about poor lighting: light in the proper PAR

With the above points in mind, I will again emphasize that Brown Diatoms MUST have silicates present to reproduce, although removal of all silicates is often not feasible. In many of the methods (outlined in the removal tips below), the aquarist can lower the available silicates such as by simply adding plants or encouraging green algae to grow which will out compete the Brown diatoms.

From the Aquarium Answers article; “Aquarium Test Kits” here are some silicate parameters:
Natural seawaters contain silicates around 10 ppm however due to differences in a closed system (which an aquarium is) and the ocean it is best to maintain silicates under 1 ppm in an aquarium to prevent diatom blooms and aid in uptake of essential elements such as Strontium by corals.
Reference: Aquarium Test Kits; Information, Review

Product Resource: Salifert Silicate/Silica Test Kit

In freshwater, silicates are generally between 4-20 ppm and should be kept under 4 ppm in an aquarium, although usually this is not a problem in healthy established freshwater aquariums where lighting is good to encourage plants or green algae (both of which will starve also consume silicates limiting diatom growth).

This is a common algae in new aquariums (including marine tanks), especially aquariums that have not fully cycled as this leaves many available nutrients for these diatoms.
If an established aquarium struggles with these diatoms, this is often an indicator of excessive silica, poor mineral/electrolyte balance, an unstable biological aquarium environment, which in turn is often caused by poor filtration, poor cleaning procedures, Redox balance, inadequate aquarium lighting or over medication.

Keeping healthy aquarium resources:
Aquarium Cleaning, Methods, Reasons, Procedures
Aquarium Redox Potential, Reduction, Oxidation
Aquarium Lighting, PAR, lumens, CRI, watts, types and more



Here are a few tips (suggestions) for eradication of Brown Diatom Algae (in no particular order of importance):


Common Green Algae (Sometimes referred to as Dust Algae)

This is the most common algae in established freshwater aquariums with or without plants.
This is the algae that coats the front and side glass. It's generally a good sign if that is the only algae that is noticeable in your tank. Generally simply scraping the glass and rinsing off plastic plants with a 1/25 bleach/water solution (followed by a rinsing with de-chlorinators and water) prior to your water change is all that's needed to control this easy to control.

Green Spot Algae


These are hard circular algae spots that take hard scrubbing too remove from the tank glass.
Moderate to high phosphate limited tanks have more problems with green spot algae on plants.

Green Spot Algae is often eliminated with increasing phosphate levels in your water. Try to maintain at least 0.3 to 0.5 of phosphates throughout the week and more preferable is in the range of 1.0 - 2.0 ppm of phosphates (however this algae is considered normal in small amounts).

Correct lighting has also been reported by many to lower the incidence of Green Spot Algae, although not eliminate it totally.
By "correct" lighting I do NOT mean necessarily more lighting, rather lighting that hits the best possible PUR with as little of yellow, and a more balanced red and green spectrum.
Reference this other article from Aquarium Answers:
PUR vs PAR in Aquarium Lighting

Some Plecostomus such as the Rubbernose may help, however these fish may also damage plants as well.

Reference:
http://fins.actwin.com/aquatic-plants/month.9604/msg00009.html

Thread/Hair Algae


Hair Algae Most Thread/Hair algae grow extremely fast. Most of the time hair algae come into an aquarium attached to the plant you purchased (I have seen it many times attached to the root structure of Java Fern). It can also come in as some floating fragments in the water with newly purchased fish. As well Hair Algae may be attached to snail shells (often in hard to see tiny “hairs”).
Some aquarium keepers believe that hair algae comes into an aquarium in spores and this may be how it spreads (airborne spores are more likely a problem with a pond), however there is no hard evidence to support this idea; likely the Hair Algae was probably there all the time in vegetative form, but there wasn't enough of it to be noticed until it multiplied under the right conditions.

Please click on the picture to enlarge for a better view

You can manually remove handfuls every couple of days. After eliminating this type of algae is it a good idea to add an algae eating crew.

There are many fish that may help with this;
Rosy Barbs, American-Flag Fish, Amano Shrimp, Bristlenose Plecostomus, even Platties.

Other Suggestions for control:

GREEN WATER


Green Water in AquariumGreen water in aquariums is caused by free floating algae.

Common Causes:

Corrective Measures for Green Water:

Marine Hair Algae (Green Filamentous Algae)


green filamentous algae Although not the problem or scourge that red slime (Cyanobacteria), this algae can over take an aquarium in short order and is often an indicator of high nitrates and phosphates.
Although I consider algae growth generally an indicator of a healthy marine aquarium, normally I recommend less problematic algae such as the Macro-Algae as your measure for success.

Macro-algae is the 'plant' and encrusting algae that you see in many experienced saltwater aquarists marine tanks.
Caulerpa spp, encrusting corallines (a group of Red algae resembling corals), Bubble Algae aka; Valonia macroalgae (although bubble algae can become problem algae on occasion as well) are examples here.
Other beneficial algae that do not take over an aquarium include Green Gracillaria algae as these green algae are beneficial for nitrate reduction without the “overbearing problems of Green Filamentous algae which tends to take over an aquarium, often squeezing out your polyps, mushrooms, etc.

 Marine Hair Algae Suggestions for control:

BBA/Black Brush Algae/Black Beard Algae/Red Algae


BBA, Black Beard Algae Technically this is a type of red algae, but that classification does not define its appearance.
This unwanted algae that is often the "scurge" of many planted aquarium keepers grows in feathery black or red tufts 2-3 mm long, and often shows up on older parts of plants and on slower-growing plants like Anubias, Amazon Swords, and some Echinodorus.

Black beard/brush algae is a form of "red algae" in the genus Audouinella that commonly attaches to edges of plant leaves or drift wood and is more common in low CO2 water conditions, that are low in most minerals (although often high in iron), carbonates, and pH, although these algae will also grow in alkaline, high pH waters as well.
(Click on the picture to the left for another view)

This is in my opinion is the most aggravating freshwater algae I know of and I have not found a 100% magic bullet for this as of yet, although of late based on feedback of many other experts in the field, good quality lighting seems to make a big difference. I also have plant keeping friends in hobby and profession that also want to pull their hair out when it comes to this algae, but these are the persons that have told me of late that switching from lighting such as T5 to high quality LEDs has made a big difference

This furry, thread-like flora attaches to various aquarium surfaces including the edges of plant leaves, filter tubes and even gravel. It may have many colors (purple, gray-green, black) and resembles beard hair or fur.
In the aquarium literature, this nuisance is often called beard or brush algae.

Most aquarists consider BBA to come in three forms;
  1. The long thread variety is called beard algae
  2. The shorter thread type is called brush algae
  3. And a third type is described as having very short threads and forms dark semi-round spots.

Physically removing rocks and wood that have these algae on it and then scrubbing it off will also give plants a better chance of utilizing nutrients and over coming these algae.
The use of Sea Chem Flourish Excel often in double or even higher doses has been shown to be occasionally helpful in control of this algae (although not as well as some other algae such as Hair Algae). The reason behind this is that Flourish Excel is formula is Aldehydes based which are effected by oxidation which is another indicator of the importance of VERY regular but often small water changes (as much as 5-10% per day) to bring about a healthy Redox (among other methods of Redox control).
This admittedly is only a theory at this point, however I have observed vastly better algae control (of all sorts of algae) in ponds where I achieved a healthy Redox via flow through water changes, mineralization and a PROPERLY installed TRUE Level One UV Sterilizer (not a UV Clarifier ONLY such as many of the Submariner, AquaTop, etc.).

Reference: Redox in Aquarium

Product Resources:
SeaChem Flourish Excel from American Aquarium
*True Level 1 UV Sterilizers for Aquarium/Pond

A few ideas for removal/control of BBA

(Please see the summary of this article for more general algae control ideas that can apply to BBA as well)

The use of baths/dips for treatment of BBA:

Sea Chem Flourish Excel can be used as a quick dip solution (about 30 seconds) for plants to kill algae.
I recommend diluting with about 5 parts water with 1 part Flourish Excel, however I have not established an exact dilution as of yet (so experimentation may be necessary).

Hydrogen Peroxide can also be used as a dip/bath (or even added directly to the aquarium), this can be especially effective for the control of Black Beard Algae.
When added directly to the tank, this is best at a rate of 2 oz. of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide per 10 gallons.

HOWEVER this is best done WITHOUT shrimp (such as Cherry Shrimp) present, as this will generally kill them. As well many fish are sensitive to Hydrogen Peroxide, such as Cory and Oto Catfish, so my preferred use is as a dip/bath.
Even then some plants are sensitive as well such as Corkscrew Vallisneria, so experiment with Hydrogen Peroxide in small amounts if unsure or simply use my preferred method baths/dips which is Flourish Excel as noted earlier.

For plant baths, I would recommend about 4 oz. of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide for approximately 30 minutes. For a 30 second dip, about a 5 to 1 solution of Hydrogen Peroxide applied by basting the plants with the solution (this solution can be increased if results are not satisfactory).

Please read this article for about the use and risks of Hydrogen Peroxide:
Aquarium Medications Part 3; Hydrogen Peroxide

Finally as I noted earlier about BBA, it can be a frustrating algae, however I have often found it much simpler to control this algae rather than pull my hair out in trying to totally eradicate it.
This is often easily done with some of the suggestions in the summary of this article (please read further), such as trimming of leaves with the BBA, scraping of these leaves as well, correct lighting (meaning 6500 K high PAR lights and no actinic), good mineralization, added CO2 which includes methods such as Flourish Excel in its bio available liquid form, regular water changes, and more.

Cyanobacteria (Blue Green Algae/ Red Slime Algae)


Blue/Green Algae which is more appropriately called Cyanobacteria is more closely related to bacteria than algae. Cyanobacteria can be a difficult problem in both fresh and saltwater.

Cyanobacteria is more common in a tank that is not healthy or that has a high load of dissolved organics.
Cyanobacteria has many species and forms and causes great angst among planted tank beginners and experienced hobbyist alike. Some forms of BGA grow slow and are very difficult to kill, other species grow very quickly and can overwhelm and "smother" all the plants in short order.

For my full discussion of Cyanobacteria, please see my separate article about it:
“Cyanobacteria (Red/Orange Slime, Blue Green Algae) in Aquariums”

PLANTED AQUARIUM ALGAE PROBLEMS (SUMMARY)


Most true algae (not Cyanobacteria) compete with plants for the same nutrients and light, so battling algae is often very difficult.
However from my experience with ponds in particular it is often a “battle” than cannot be totally won but certainly can be checked by keeping nutrients away from algae (such as substrate nutrients) while providing them to plants and understanding that algae are more simple life forms than plants and have less complicated needs, so addressing the more complex needs of higher plants will allow them to out compete.
Sometimes this is as simple as removal of as much algae as possible to give the plants a foot hold, although this can also be a much more difficult task.

When it comes to algae control in a planted tank this is also noteworthy as even though added carbon (CO2) will often help plants out compete algae, thus retarding unwanted algae growth, if algae grows out of control as soon as added carbon is removed, there are likely other problems contributing to this including;

*Unusable/ unavailable nutrients (micronutrients and macronutrients).

Here is a list of important nutrients (listed in recommended added solution, not ppm as stated earlier in the article):
Potassium (often available as Soluble Potash)- .37%, Iron- .32%, Sulfur- .27%, Sodium- .13%, Calcium- .14%, Magnesium- .11%, Nitrogen- .07%, Nitrogen- .07%, Available Phosphate- .01%, Boron- .009%, Cobalt- 0004%, Copper- .0001%, Zinc- .0007% Molybdenum- .0009%,.

Here are a few product sources:
Not all these sources have all the required nutrients many can be mixed as you find your own success.

Much has been published lately about the addition of PO4 (phosphates) to control algae, however I believe this is only partially correct and based on some false assumptions.
PO4 along with NO3 and Potassium are important Macronutrients that need to be in balance.
I have found that simply changing water will (assuming proper mineralization of new water) will control algae by adding all these macronutrients.

What is happening is that algae are much better equipped than higher plants to compete in conditions of low nutrients, however the addition of these nutrients allows much better competition.
Adding only PO4 does not bring these macronutrients into balance and even though many claim this solved their problem, they have not run a control group to see if this was only part of the equation.

*Poor substrate for healthy plant growth (only certain plants!).
Make sure your substrate is rich in Iron (Fe).
Iron is an important trace element; your tank substrate should contain a reasonable amount of Iron.
Liquid iron will, if over dosed, favor Hair algae. It can be added through tablet Iron rich fertilizers and through substrates like SeaChem Fluorite, Laterite and EcoComplete

Product Resource: SeaChem Fluorite

*Important! - Poor lighting; that does not allow plants to compete with algae.
Although when more useful light energy is added more nutrients including CO2 are needed.
I do not agree with the method of darkening a tank for a few days as plants often have higher light requirements than algae (in part due to their complexity), this only gives the algae more time to out compete plants!

Further Reference, a MUST READ:
Aquarium Lighting; Complete Information

*High or too low Nitrates.
Nitrates should be between 10 & 15 ppm for plants; with nitrates above 40 ppm, I have seen excessive algae growth in many aquariums (although high nitrates are rarely a problem in tanks with healthy plant growth).
Too low and plants will starve for this important macronutrient.

Further References:
*Freshwater Aquarium Plant Care
*Nitrates in Aquariums, Ponds

*Aquarium Cleaning Frequency.
Often increasing the frequency (even twice or tree times per week) will improve conditions in the aquarium so as to allow plants to out compete algae.
In part this improves the macronutrient balance as discussed above (as well as improvements in Redox and lowering DOC).
Further Reference: Aquarium Cleaning, Reasons, Frequency, Methods

*Trim plants of dying, decaying, or algae covered leaves, even if this removes much of your plants.
This is much like pruning in your garden. This forces plants to generate new and healthy leaves that will often do better at out competing algae.

*Dip your new plants or even established plants, although this will cause a temporary shock to established plants.

Here are a few dip methods;

*Improper GH and KH levels (or mineralization, especially GH).
Here is an important point:
“The release of carbonate converted from bicarbonate by plant life can cause pH to climb dramatically (above 9) during periods of rapid photosynthesis by dense phytoplankton (algal) blooms. This rise in pH can occur in low alkalinity water (20 to 50 mg/L) or in water with moderate to high bicarbonate alkalinity (75 to 200 mg/L) that has less than 25 mg/L hardness.”

* UV Sterilization;
Despite many claims that a UV Sterilizer can only kill free floating algae, I have found evidence in many tests that a UV Sterilizer can control (not eliminate) the spread of many algae.
I do not have a conclusive answer as to why I have found these positive results with algae control in aquariums (& ponds) with the use of UV Sterilizers/Clarifiers, however I suspect the reason is twofold:
(1) The UV Irradiation kills algae spores, thus slowing the spread (as noted earlier, algae that spread "vegetatively" such as hair algae may see little improvement with the addition of a UV Sterilizer).
(2) Improvement in water conditions such as Redox Balance via TRUE level 1 UVC Sterilization

Further Reference: True UV-C Sterilization for Aquarium or Pond

*A poor Redox Balance/Potential; which is often improved by better and more frequent water changes and proper mineralization such as Calcium, Magnesium and sodium as stated above.

*The use of either all Reverse Osmosis water or blended (such as 1/2 or 1/4 mixed with tap or well water) can aid in many algae control as this allows the aquarium keeper to adjust water chemistry more from a "clean slate" approach especially where tap/well water contains high phosphates, nitrates, iron or similar elements/nutrients that favor algae.

Be aware that it is important to add essential minerals and carbonates back into RO water with products such as SeaChem Replenish or Wonder Shells.

See these articles for more about Reverse Osmosis (RO) water use:
Aquarium Chemistry
Use of Reverse Osmosis Water In Aquariums

Product Resources:
*Reverse Osmosis Water Filter System for Aquarium
*SeaChem Replenish; RO Water Mineral Adjuster
*Wonder Shell; Aquarium, Pond Mineral Blocks (unique AAP)

Further Reading/References:

*The Krib; Control of Red Algae in the Freshwater Aquarium
*The Krib; Hair (thread) Algae
*Introduction to Bacillariophyta (The Diatoms)
*Planted Aquarium Keeping Information
*A Discussion of Algae
*Algae; where they fit into the 5-Kingdom System

Other Recommended Reference & Product Sites

Marine Aquarium Care Basics
Saltwater Aquarium Information; Basic to Advanced


Freshwater Aquarium Care, Basics
Freshwater Aquarium Care


Sponge Filter Use Information
Sponge Filtration; Complete Sponge Filter Use Information


*Aquarium Silicone; USDA 100% Fish Safe
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Ocean Nutrition Seaweed Salad fish food
San Francisco Bay Brand Seaweed Salad


"Seaweed Salad" is much more nutritious than spinach and lettuce. This product is recommended for all freshwater Algae Eaters, African Cichlids, Silver Dollars, Sharks, all saltwater Damsels, Clownfish, and especially Marine Angels and Tangs

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AQUARIUM ANSWERS;
ARTICLES:

In Chronological order of writing with the newest at the top
  1. Aquarium or Pond Bio Load
  2. Tuberculosis in Fish
  3. PUR vs PAR in Aquarium Lighting
  4. Head Pressure in Aquarium and Pond Water Pumps
  5. Betta Fin Rot
  6. Angelfish Virus/Aids
  7. Activated Carbon
  8. Fish Baths/Dips as an aid to treatment
  9. Streptococcus gram positive bacterium in aquariums, Eye Infections
  10. Hydrogen Sulfide
    production in anaerobic De-Nitrification for Aquarium/Ponds
  11. Fish Shipping
  12. Aquarium Size, Fish Stunting
  13. Aquarium Algae,
    BBA & Brown Algae in particular
  14. Aquarium Salt (Sodium chloride) in Freshwater Aquariums
  15. Betta Habitat; Wild Bettas to Domestic Betta environment parameters
  16. HITH; Hole in the Head Disease
  17. Aquarium Protein Skimmers, Ozonizers
  18. Power Head/ Water Pump Review
  19. Molly Disease/ Mollies in an Aquarium
  20. Basic Fish Anatomy, Fin Identification
  21. Aquarium Moving/ Power Failures
  22. Octopus as Aquarium Pets
  23. Aquarium Nitrates
  24. Ichthyophonus protists, fungus in fish
  25. Aquarium and Pond Filter Media
    Types; Mechanical, Bio, Chemical
  26. Aquarium Water Conditioners (also Pond)
  27. Fish Parasites; Trematodes & Monogeneans; Annelids and Nematodes;
    Flukes, internal worms, Detritus Worms (often confused with Planaria), Micro Worms
  28. Aquarium Silicone Application;
    DIY Aquarium Repair & Glass thickness
  29. Pond Veggie Filters; DIY Bog Filter
  30. The difference between Plaster of Paris and Aquarium Products such a Wonder Shells:
  31. NEON TETRA DISEASE
    Identification, prevention & Treatment
  32. AQUARIUM TEST KITS; Use & Importance
  33. SEXING FISH; Basics
  34. Chocolate Chip, Knobby and Fromia Starfish
  35. Freshwater Velvet & Costia
  36. Usnic Acid as a Fish Remedy
  37. Aquarium Heaters; Types, information
  38. The Lateral Line in Fish, Lateral Line Disease
    or Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE)
  39. Tap Water use in Aquarium; Chloramines, Chlorine
  40. Can Black Ghost Knife fish give an electric shock?
  41. Bio Wheel Review; Do Bio-Wheels really work?
  42. How do Fish Drink?
    PROPER OSMOTIC FUNCTION-
    Use of RO Water
  43. Cyclops, and Predatory Damselfly larvae
  44. Betta with Dropsy;
    Treatment and Prevention of DROPSY in all fish
  45. pH and KH problems in African Cichlid Aquarium
  46. Aquarium Gravel, which size?
  47. Blue green algae, Cyanobacteria in Ponds/Aquariums
  48. AQUARIUM ANSWERS DIRECTORY



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Aquarium Chemistry; In Depth Information

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