Dealing with algae is almost a rite of passage in the planted aquarium hobby. Many folks tend to see it as a foregone conclusion, â€œYou will get Algaeâ€. Where this is correct to some extent, it is not a definite feature that all tanks will get Algae or HAVE to get Algae. It is very achievable to have a tank that never experiences any issues with Algae or at the very least nothing approaching what can be considered an outbreak.
This being said, there are a number of related things which can trigger Algae, all manageable if one has a basic knowledge of the fundamentals of tank maintenance. Algae is opportunistic, meaning it will find a hole or imbalance to exploit to attempt to compete with higher level plants. Being very simple organisms to typical aquatic plants, Algae can much more efficiently process all the same factors that plants can. However, healthy plants can easily outcompete Algae if they are maintained in as optimal of health as the system allows.
Prevention is always easier than eradication.
How to prevent Algae
The simplest answer to this, is to maintain a large healthy plant mass. There are very clear fundamental factors which can make this possible.
Adequate Co2, O2 and circulation.
Maintaining good oxygen levels is the easiest thing to do in both Co2 and non-Co2 injected systems. Promoting proper surface agitation to encourage solid gaseous exchange will allow plants access to the key building blocks to their optimal health. In direct relation to this, usually a system set up for proper surface agitation will also encourage proper circulation of these gasses throughout the tank, as well as inhibiting detritus buildup, which can be a leading factor to algae growth.
Tank cleanliness and plant maintenance.
Almost every algae an aquarist will encounter can usually be directly linked to an excess of organic waste. These excesses serve as a feeding ground for nearly every type of algae. Maintaining a clean tank means, regular water changes, combined with vacuuming detritus and waste caused from overfeeding and heavy bio loads. Further to this trimming off dead or decaying plant matter is paramount to maintaining not only healthy plant growth but also a waste free tank.
All plants require adequate lighting to photosynthesize and be healthy. In some situations too high of lighting can cause an imbalance by driving the plants too hard and creating organic slough and unhealthy, tired growth. In other instances, too low of lighting will cause plants to not be able to achieve an optimal level of photosynthesis and will cause decay and organic waste build up. Each of these scenarios can lead to conditions favourable to algae growth. The key is to find the balance between driving the plants too hard and not providing them enough. There are too many factors to have a simple rule of thumb to say X hours of light is needed, but by supplying the proper lighting choices and watching your plantâ€™s response, you can easily find the healthy balance needed. Keeping in mind that, that which the plants do not use, the algae might.
One of the most misunderstood factors in the prevention of algae is nutrient availability. We hear â€œExcess nutrients cause algaeâ€. This statement, taken at face value, is wrong. Nutrients from excess waste, or an overabundance of dosed nutrients given to unhealthy plants can feed opportunistic algae, but excess nutrients alone do not. When dosing a complete ration of necessary nutrients with an all in one fertilizer like Thrive, one can encourage healthy plant mass which will limit organic decay and outcompete algae for nutrients. It may seem counterintuitive, but increasing proper levels of nutrients is one of the more reliable ways to discourage algae by encouraging healthy plant mass. Even to the point that, as fertilizers are dosed to non-limiting factors with amounts left over at the end of the week, the lack of excess waste from not having unhealthy and decaying plants, will not trigger algae thereby putting to rest the idea that excess nutrients WILL cause algae.
Every tank has to go through a process of maturation. Beneficial bacterial colonies must grow as do microbial beds in the substrate and plants must settle in to new environments after planting. During this process of maturation, which can take the first weeks to months, depending on the setup, it is imperative that one finds the balancing points with all the above noted factors. This time is the most, susceptible to algae issues or full blown outbreaks. So making sure that the proper care is taken to not provide too much or too little light or nutrients until healthy, stable growth has been established is the most crucial of factors. The easiest way to gauge this maturity is to watch your plants. Have they established and settled in by putting out new growth? Is older growth being trimmed regularly? Is excess waste being removed? All these fundamentals will control your system and help stave off any onset of algae issues.
How to Eradicate Algae
Although there are chemical algaecides and algae eating livestock that can be used to remove algae, these are usually all but Band-Aid treatments which do not address the underlying cause. The best way to eradicate algae is to follow the steps above to prevent it. If you have algae issues, all one needs to do to successfully deal with any outbreak is to return a tank to the place of balance. This will not only deprive algae of opportunities to spread, but will also prevent future occurrences from happening. If algae does take hold, all it takes is figuring out which of the above factors is out of balance, correcting it, and being patient and vigilant.
Algae does not HAVE to be an ongoing concern or worry. One should always focus on growing healthy plants rather than fighting algae because if one can encourage healthy plant mass, through application of the fundamentals of aquatic gardening combined with proper nutrient dosing with all in one fertilizer solutions like Thrive, then algae will never be a concern.