Why Would I get Algae in my Tank?
The dreaded algae problem. What hobbyist hasn't encountered it? But you do not have to experience algae in your Nature Aquarium.
Algae usually appears when there is an imbalance in nutrients, water circulation, CO2, oxygen and light. Too many nutrients and too little CO2 will cause algae to appear. On the other hand, too much light but too few nutrients and CO2 will also cause algae. Many hobbyists think that lowering nitrates and phosphates (which are nutrients) will reduce algae outbreaks, when algae actually thrives in a low-nutrient environment.
These are the main reasons why algae appears:
Not enough beneficial bacteria in a new setup
Algae typically appears in the first couple of months of a new setup. This is because a newly established Nature Aquarium does not have enough beneficial bacteria to convert ammonia through the nitrification cycle. The overabundance of ammonia will cause algae blooms. Algae will cover most part of the plants, blocking light and depriving the plants of nutrients. Plants will eventually die.
ADA substrate foundation PowerSand and five essential additives (Bacter 100, Tourmaline BC, Clear Super, Penac P and Penac W) are the main ingredients needed to jumpstart the growth of beneficial bacteria in a Nature Aquarium.
We like to start a new Nature Aquarium using the immerse method. While you do not need to follow this procedure, it will help prevent an early algae bloom, and give your foreground plants optimal conditions to become established.
This is the immerse method:
Build the substrate foundation using ADA PowerSand and add the five essential elements. Then put down a layer of ADA AquaSoil before filling the Nature Aquarium with water up to the top of the soil and planting it with foreground plants. Do not fill the aquarium with water yet; cover the Nature Aquarium with stretch film to retain the moisture inside. Provide enough light for a duration of eight to ten hours a day. Watch the foreground grow for the next two months, and do not add water.
After 2 months, beneficial bacteria will now be living inside the substrate and will be in a sufficient supply to convert excess ammonia to nitrate. At this time, you may now fill the Nature Aquarium with water. Make sure to use tepid water: icy cold water may harm the foreground plants that were planted. Do several full water changes to ensure removal of any trace of nutrients in the water column which may cause an algae bloom.
Insufficient water circulation
To ensure the nutrients and CO2 circulate throughout the aquarium and reach all the plants, it is important to have strong water flow. The flow rate should be five to eight times the Nature Aquarium volume. Choose a filter system with the right flow rate or supplement it with circulation pumps. When plants have sufficient access to the nutrients and CO2, they leave little remaining in the water column for algae to use.
Insufficient surface agitation
Surface agitation will add oxygen to the system and will prevent surface scum from forming. However, too much surface agitation will also offgas the injected CO2. We suggest the use of an air pump to supply surface agitation, but only when the lights are turned off.
Plants breathe in CO2 when the lights are on and begin using oxygen as soon as the lights are turned off. When this happens and there is lack of oxygen in the system, plants, fish and beneficial bacteria fight for the dwindling oxygen. The first to suffer is the beneficial bacteria, which will die off, resulting in increased ammonia and, eventually, algae blooms. Thus the appropriate oxygen level is as important as CO2 supply.
During the summer when temperatures are higher, beneficial bacteria activity increases and demands more oxygen. It is very important to increase surface agitation when temperatures rise.
Imbalanced light levels, CO2 concentration and nutrients
The rate at which plants absorb CO2 and nutrients depends on the amount of light provided. The more light, the more CO2 and nutrients plants need. In most cases, we provide too much light but do not measure the CO2 concentration and nutrient availability, and often, we haven't supplied enough of either. When this happens, algae blooms will appear. Make sure that you measure the water chemistry when the lights are turned on and when they are turned off. This will give you an idea of whether you need to increase or decrease your CO2 and nutrient dosing.
As a rule of thumb, we would like to achieve a pH of 6.4 and kH of 4 to get the maximum CO2 concentration of 30ppm. NO3 and PO4 can be dosed daily to attain an optimum concentration of 30ppm and 2ppm respectively.
Improper aquarium substrate, filter and plant maintenance
When this regular maintenance is ignored, organic matter starts to build up in the substrate and filter media. Regular light substrate vacuuming and cleaning of the filter media will decrease accumulated organic waste, which can clog the system and increase ammonia. Light vacuuming will also aerate the substrate, which helps plant roots get oxygen, and also helps beneficial bacteria convert ammonia to the nitrate that becomes food for the plants.
Decaying leaves generate ammonia. Trimming plants of dead leaves will eliminate the ammonia source and promote new growth.
A regular water change of 10% every week is encouraged.
Not enough shrimp, algae-eating fish or snails
Takashi Amano introduced Japonica shrimp to the Nature Aquarium and thus they have become known as Japonica Amano shrimp. These shrimp are very good at controlling hair algae as well as consuming uneaten fish food and breaking down fish waste into smaller particles that beneficial bacteria can feed on. Shrimp also eat certain bacteria and other micro-organisms, preventing these from overpopulating and creating an unbalanced system. We advise two Amano shrimp per gallon of Nature Aquarium volume.
Trumpet snails are helpful in aerating the substrate. However, they tend to multiply rapidly so make sure you keep their population under control.
So-called "sucker fish" such as otocinclus, small baby plecos or ancistrus are very good at cleaning diatoms and bacteria from plant leaves, decorative stones and driftwood. If you decide to get plecos or ancistrus, make sure to rehome them appropriately when they become too big for the system. See the sequence of Ancistrus cleaning a stone.
True Siamese algae eaters will consume black beard algae and hair algae. However, they can grow to a size of more than 14cm and can become very aggressive towards other fish, so they are not appropriate for all aquarium setups.