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Green Hair Algae Control

Posted on Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 at 8:57 am by

If it’s green, stringy, and overtaking your tank, chances are it’s Green Hair Algae. Green Hair Algae is the marine equivalent to our lawn’s summertime dandelion explosions. I mean that in the sense that it’s oddly attractive, yet completely a nuisance. Once Green Hair Algae has shown up in your reef tank, it can rapidly spread and create an aesthetic nightmare. Not to worry though, there are a few quick fixes and preventative measures that can keep this green beast at bay.

The first part of any good war strategy is to get to know the enemy. Green Hair Algae is a simple minded opponent that needs very specific things in order to survive and thrive. If you cut it off from its resources it will surely surrender. Green Hair Algae needs Nitrates, Phosphates (PO4), and Light to expand its empire. If you cut off access to these you will have it waving a white flag in no time.

Now that you understand Green Hair Algae, let’s look into ways to eliminate its food sources. The root of all evil in a marine aquarium is generally your water. If one uses anything other than RO/DI (reverse osmosis/deionized) water in their marine aquarium they risk adding numerous potential chemical and mineral nightmares including phosphates and nitrates to the system. It is essential that you use RO/DI water for both top-offs and water changes. Your success is directly affected by the quality of water that you introduce to the system. Other causes of Phosphates and Nitrates include the natural nitrogen cycling process, overfeeding, and waste within the tank. Below are a few ways to knock out these menacing sources.

  • Do water changes. Chances are if you are having Green Hair Algae issues you’re using tap water. I get it, it’s cheaper (in the short-run). Spring for an RO/DI unit or find a commercial source. It will save you hundreds in livestock losses and many headaches.
  • Add mangroves to your sump system. The roots of the mangroves absorb phosphates and are a unique natural solution.
  • Add some form of Macro-Algae to the sump system. Chaeto is an excellent choice. Chaeto will remove a lot of the unwanted excess nutrients out of the system, thus lowering the nitrates
  • Use a chemical weapons! There are several chemical alternatives such as GFO (Granulated Ferric Oxide), Nitrate Sponges, etc. Do your homework and find your own chemical warfare comfort zone. I suggest running GFO in a media reactor.
Ideal Reef Tank Water Parameters
Specific Gravity 1.024 – 1.026
pH 8.0 – 8.4
Alkalinity 8 – 12dKH
Calcium 400 – 450 ppm
Magnesium 1300 – 1350 ppm
Ammonia 0
Nitrites 0
Nitrates 10ppm or less
Phosphate .03 or less

You now know a few different ways to combat Green Hair Algae, but you still need to do some work to understand the most likely cause of your outbreak. Your ideal water parameters are as outlined in the table to the right:

Using your test kits you should be able to see where your problem areas are. However be warned, your Green Hair Algae may be absorbing the nitrates and phosphates giving you a false reading of near zero. If the Algae is there, you can be assured that you water quality is not up to par. Testing your water with quality testing kits is also a huge stepping stone to success.

You have now tested your water, chosen a plan of attack, and have started doing adequate water changes. You are on the right path. You need to do a few more things to eliminate the Green Hair Algae.

  • Remove all access clumps of the Green Hair Algae as carefully as you can to avoid splitting it up and sending fragments of it around to settle on your rock and build new colonies.
  • Clean all of your pumps and skimmers thoroughly. Be certain to eliminate any build up of algae that might be hiding within the sump chambers.
  • Stop over-feeding your tank!
  • Purchase a good cleaning crew. Many snails and crabs will eat the Green Hair Algae. I prefer Turbo Snails due to their demanding appetite.

With these methods you should be able to watch the Green Hair Algae disappear in a matter of a few weeks. You will hear this mantra often: Nothing good ever happens fast in this hobby. Just remember, keeping stable and acceptable water parameters in your marine aquarium is the single most important step in preventative and reactive Green Hair Algae defense. It will be a challenging battle, but a sure victory none-the-less. Good luck.

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