WHAT IF I TOLD YOU... Ammonia is causing your algae problems?

An easy-to-follow algae outbreak control strategy that can help you resposibly eliminate your algae outbreak.

  1. After this, there is no turning back.

    You take the blue pill - the story ends, you keep believing that nitrate and phosphate are the cause of your algae problems.

    You take the red pill - I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.



    r2r2hands.jpg
    This image was created by @Fish_Sticks, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

    What if I told you...that ammonia was causing your algae problems?

    Remember that parameter that nobody ever talks about? The one that you checked years ago when you first set up your tank? Well guess what. Ammonia is produced every millisecond your tank is up. Whether it is being used by the bacteria, or the algae, is an entirely different story.

    Why do you have algae? It's plain and simple, don't let anyone fool you.

    Your tank is dirty; maybe not chemically, but physically.

    Nitrate levels around 10-20 are perfectly fine. Phosphates don't even really matter that much. Algae doesn't even really like nitrogen, what they do love, is ammonia!

    For algae to use nitrogen, they must convert it into ammonia.

    Algae love ammonia because it is less work for algae to consume ammonia than nitrogen.

    When detritus (fish crap & uneaten food) breaks down into ammonia, the ammonia is usually taken up by the bacteria in your rock; however, because algae use ammonia very efficiently, algae can use ammonia before the bacteria have a chance. This causes some bacteria to die off and for the algae to get worse over time.

    Can you see how this would create a snowball effect?

    Your algae is essentially taking over your bacteria.

    This gets even worse because the algae also contributes to clogging up your rock and taking up valuable surface area that bacteria need to live. Algae can overtake your bacteria when it comes to using ammonia. Think you can keep reducing your nitrates into oblivion and starving your corals in hopes your algae will magically disappear? Think again. Your tank is dirty.

    But I've written an algae bible. This method will really knock your socks off.

    ___________________________________________________________________

    The algae control strategy as prescribed by fish_sticks.

    The rules of algae management:

    1. Do not make sudden changes, do not use hydrogen peroxide, do not turn off your lights and perform a tank blackout (this is not only bad for your corals, but your fish), or do anything that would be described as a fast fix. These strategies do not work long term. As soon as you stop dosing, as soon as you turn back on the lights, the algae will come back. These are foolish strategies.

    2. Patience. Understand that it will take a few weeks or even a month to fix the problem. This hobby is based on the slowest changing thing in the world, the ocean. Patience is required to achieve success in the hobby.

    3. Algae is not a bad thing. Sure it's ugly, but it's not going to crash your tank in a few weeks. Every single tank on the planet has algae, there is no way to get rid of it. The secret that nobody talks about is that you never get rid of algae, you control algae.

    4. During this process, you should be manually removing algae from the tank when it reaches high levels or when it threatens the well being of your corals and fish.

    5. Do not do too much too fast. Take things slow and focus on changing your habits. The algae will dissipate with time if you perform a responsible maintenance routine. Plus, fish love a little snack of fresh grown algae, they are probably having a ball while they watch you run around like a crazy person changing a hundred things on the tank and ruining the balance of the ecosystem.

    6. This strategy assumes that you aren't running your lights for longer than 14/16 hours. Although algae likes light, it cannot survive on just light. If you have a dirty tank, you can grow algae with lights on for only a few hours a day. Fix the real problem.

    7. Do not add more snails, shrimp, fish or other animals to the system to FIX your algae, initially. You should already be running a tank with these inhabitants, otherwise nicknamed the Clean Up Crew (CUC). These animals will bring your ecosystem full circle, and play an important role in turning algae back into food for bacteria.

    AFTER you've addressed the detritus build up issue, consider readdressing your stock list to include more CUC members, such as snails, shrimps, gobies, and everybody's favorite fish, the lawnmower blenny.

    8. Do not go overboard with detritus removal. Your existing bacteria and corals need decaying detritus to remain healthy. The focus is not to starve your algae into oblivion, but to control the algae so bacteria have a chance to repopulate and take the algae's place. Bacteria repopulation is our main objective, not total detritus removal, not 0-5 nitrates, not 0 phosphates, not low ammonia production, as those are inherently unhealthy and now finally dated practices.

    Why do you have algae? It's plain and simple, don't let anyone fool you.

    Your tank is dirty; maybe not chemically, but physically.

    Nitrate levels around 10-20 are perfectly fine. Phosphates don't even really matter that much. Algae doesn't even really like nitrogen, what they do love, is ammonia!

    For algae to use nitrogen, they must convert it into ammonia.

    Algae love ammonia because it is less work for algae to consume ammonia than nitrogen.

    When detritus (fish crap & uneaten food) breaks down into ammonia, the ammonia is usually taken up by the bacteria in your rock; however, because algae use ammonia very efficiently, algae can use ammonia before the bacteria have a chance. This causes some bacteria to die off and for the algae to get worse over time.

    Can you see how this would create a snowball effect?

    Your algae is essentially taking over your bacteria.

    This gets even worse because the algae also contributes to clogging up your rock and taking up valuable surface area that bacteria need to live. Algae can overtake your bacteria when it comes to using ammonia. Think you can keep reducing your nitrates into oblivion and starving your corals in hopes your algae will magically disappear? Think again. Your tank is dirty.

    So, if you remove the detritus, you solve your algae problems. Don't let anyone fool you otherwise!

    Where is the detritus?

    It can be in the holes and pores of your rock.

    Fix: use a turkey baster to blast out only a few rocks per day, overtime your equipment (skimmer or filter socks) will collect the detritus. You also create more surface area for bacteria to live inside the rocks.

    It can be in your sand bed.

    Fix: Vacuum out your sand bed with a gravel vacuum. This can and should be done on a regular basis during your routine water changes, and you kill two birds with one stone; changing the water, and cleaning detritus! I like to vacuum out with my right hand, hold the end of the hose with my left, and control the flow of water in the siphon hose with my left hand fingers.

    It can be in your equipment.

    Fix: Clean your equipment on a regular basis, check any sponges, filter floss, pumps, wavemaker suction cups. Detritus can get lodged anywhere.

    It can be in your sump.

    Fix: I like to suck it up with a turkey baster. The best part about the baster is you can use it to blow water out, or suck things up.

    It can be in your macroalgae (if you're growing macroalgae).

    Fix: After a small 1G water change, just shake out your chaeto macroalgae in your water-change water.

    Great so now I can go crazy cleaning my tank right?

    Not so fast. Doing too much at one time can cause your tank to crash. Only do a fair amount of maintenance a day. Doing much more than your equipment can handle will cause your ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, phosphate production to rise too much too fast. This is not so much about getting rid of the algae as much as it is improving your maintenance habits. If you fix your habits, the algae will be under control; and stay under control.

    How do I avoid detritus buildup?

    Well if you look around your tank, I'm sure you can find dead spots where water isn't flowing very well. See if you can find some dead spots and fix them.

    If you have a powerhead pointed directly at a rock, it's gonna lodge a bunch of crud into there.

    But I have friends coming over and I want my tank to look nice fast.

    That's just too bad. The algae has be slowly gaining power overtime and getting stronger and stronger though weeks of work because you have detritus build up. If you think you can fix all that in one or two weeks, then you're out of luck.

    But I have super duper deadly bryopsis, cotton candy algae, (insert buzzword terrible evil algae here, AHHHH NITRATES ARE AT 11 PPM IM GONNA DIE, I NEED TO USE PHOSBAN ASAP. IM NEVER GONNA FEED MY FISH AGAIN!!!! MAYBE I NEED TO RIP OUT ALL MY ROCK AND TOSS IN IN BLEACH !!!! OR JUST CHANGE MY T5 BULBS AND IT WILL GO AWAY AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!)

    Calm dowwwwwn. So what. All algae does the same thing. They feed off the ammonia produced by the detritus in your aquarium. You can carefully physically remove the algae just like normal, remain calm, don't do anything too fast, don't result to stupid quick fixes, and follow the algae reaction strategy.

    Lots and lots of people are gonna tell you otherwise, but that's not their fault. They don't know any better.

    This is your tank.

    You've been given the algae reaction strategy. Follow the rules. If you don't use it, your tank will only have you to blame, not the suggestions you followed to try a couple of quick fixes in a hobby based entirely on patience; based around the slowest changing thing in the entire world, the ocean.

    _______________________________________________________

    It's too late to turn back, you've already taken the red pill.

    Good luck...

    ~~~~~~~~~~~

    BONUS 100 Comments summary (You should still go read the comments!)

    Much was discussed, but a key focus of the discussion were different overall tank maintenance strategies.

    This is an algae outbreak reaction strategy. Much different from an overall tank strategy.

    Hopefully this will clear up any uncertainty that this should be a regular weekly tank routine. The last thing I want is for people to go to their tank that is performing well and suck out every last bit of detritus. I practice a hands off as much as possible approach to my overall tank strategy.

    There are plenty of people who do this as a routine every month or every couple of weeks and that is fine if it works for them and helps their tank achieve balance. I believe these are mainly people who have an imbalanced bioload to filtration ratio, do not have a sump, high powered skimmer, or very much live rock to improve their bacterial filter and buffer against an algae epidemic. The ultimate goal is to have a balanced tank without having to occasionally export detritus, at least not every month. And remember, manageable amounts of algae are a good thing! Detritus is also a good thing, it is the life source for your tank!

    From what has been mentioned in the discussions, it sounds like the answer lies in the hands of a balanced stock list, a good clean up crew, a good amount of healthy rock (im sure a little rock basting every now and again is a good thing ;) ), and a balanced bioload/bacteria surface ratio. If you have all these things, you have a foundation for success and shouldn't have a need to export detritus - at least not every other month.

    If by some chance you have all these good things and you're facing a huge algae outbreak, the answer may be to follow the algae outbreak control strategy and wait to see how your tank reacts... Then consider necessary adjustments to your overall tank strategy, your stock list, clean up crew, and re read the steps and other threads for inspiration on what could be altered to help your tank reach balance...

    ~~~~~~~~~~~

    We encourage all our readers to join the Reef2Reef forum. It’s easy to register, free, and reefkeeping is much easier and more fun in a community of fellow aquarists. We pride ourselves on a warm and family-friendly forum where everyone is welcome. You will also find lots of contests and giveaways with our sponsors.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~

    Author Profile: @Fish_Sticks

    With a decade of experience keeping small ponds, arrays of juvenile wild caught freshwater species, freshwater planted aquariums, and reefs, my goal is to spark interesting and productive discussions in hopes that we each learn something new. In addition to patience, getting involved in discussions is the best way to find success with your reef!

    Thank you all for reading this article and contributing to the discussions. For more interesting stuff, check out my build thread and see how I run a low cost 210 gallon reef ;Greedy;Greedy;Greedy:
    BANG 4 UR BUCK [NEW] 210G - The biggest tank I could fit in my office, oh, and they deliver for $50

    Share This Article