Algae is a common fear amongst new fishkeepers, fear not! Although unsightly it rarely causes any direct harm to fish but let’s talk about how to control it and keep your aquarium looking fresh and clean!
Why does algae grow in our tanks? Algae grows in our aquariums due to two main reasons: too much light and too many nutrients. There are few types of algae which can be introduced to an aquarium which become hard to remove, more on this later. If your tank is newly setup in the last few weeks and you are experiencing a brown dust of algae this is referred to as a diatom bloom and is completely normal and harmless, this will go on its own accord in a few weeks. Diatoms are caused by silicates which can be in your tap water or are being released from the new gravel and rocks you have added to you tank and are harmless.
Firstly, a small amount of algae in any aquarium is normal, this can usually be easily brushed off surfaces during weekly maintenance and should not impact the overall look of the aquarium. However, if your aquarium is overrun with algae or you are experiencing an algae bloom it is probably due to there being too much light or nutrients within your aquarium. If there is too much light in an aquarium or the room the aquarium is in this will cause more algae, it is not only the intensity of the light but also the duration of the light. Pro tip: Place your tank in an area which receives no direct sunlight and only keep the tank light on for a maximum of 8 hours a day. We strongly suggest the use of a plug timer to ensure the aquarium light is never left on for too long. It is a common myth that the fish need a light in the aquarium, in fact most fish are perfectly happy and healthy in a tank with no light, just ambient light coming from the room, aquariums look more appealing and stand out more with additional lighting. If you have a planted aquarium, you will need the light on every day to ensure good plant growth.
Nutrients in the water are the second cause of algae, by nutrients we mean nitrate and phosphate, which are by products of fish waste within the aquarium. When you do your weekly water changes this brings down your nitrate and phosphate levels meaning that algae in the aquarium have less nutrients to consume and grow. So, letting maintenance slip can cause algae to take hold. The same could also happen in an overstocked aquarium, more fish means more waste which means your nitrate and phosphate levels rise faster, meaning more water changes are needed to keep algae at bay. Pro Tip: Carry out weekly water changes and water tests to ensure your nitrate and phosphates are kept low. Live plants consume nitrate and phosphate so it’s a great idea to include them within your aquarium as they compete with algae! Algae can also bloom in your aquarium due to what is commonly referred to as a ‘tank crash’, this is when something has affected the beneficial bacteria within your tank which increases undesirable levels of nitrate, phosphate and other compounds. Things like over feeding and filters breaking can cause an algae bloom. The best course of action is to identify the problem and fix it as soon as possible and you will be back on track in no time!
Now to the trickier part. Some types of algae such as Black Beard Algae (BBA) can be introduced to your aquarium and once they are in your aquarium, they can become very difficult to remove. Adding things like plants, water from other tanks or old ornaments can all transfer algae into your aquarium through microscopic spores. The best advice is to check items over before adding them to your aquarium and think twice if they are coming from an algae covered aquarium. For those of you who are concerned about algae such as Black Beard Algae, do not reuse ornaments if you are unsure of what tank they came from and note that certain brands sell aquarium plants which have been grown emersed (out of water) to ensure no snails or unwanted algae are present.
The final piece of advice for you if you are battling an algae outbreak, is patience. Think of it as a process which could take weeks even months to complete, enjoy the journey. Making these changes will slowly reduce the amount of algae in your aquarium but not instantly. If you keep on track in a months’ time you should see a big difference in your aquarium, try not to get disheartened, trust me when I say every fishkeeper has had algae trouble at some point in their hobby. Good luck with your aquarium!