Balancing nutrients for coral versus algae

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ketchup318

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Hi All

I've had my aquarium for about 3 years and I've always had issues with keeping corals to the point that I've held off buying them cause I don't want them to die in my tank.

I have relatively typical tank parameters; salinity at 1.025, Alk at 9dkh, 450 Ca, 1400 Mg. I run my doser to keep the alkalinity and calcium in check and I test magnesium every water change (20% every 2 weeks). At the same time, I replace my carbon, empty out my skimmer, and refill Alk/Ca bottles. Basically, what seems like a normal routine.

But my corals slowly fade away. I can't keep euphyllia , which I really like. I've lost hammers, torches and frogspawns over the years. The only pieces I have in my tank are a duncan and a couple of small patches of Zoas.

I've gotten ICP tests a couple times over the last 6 months, and the only thing that is really outta whack are the nutrients. I'm near zero on nitrate and phosphate cause I run NoPox. The reason for that is if I don't, the algae in my tank explodes! I mean even at zero, I still have a good number of small patches of algae that just won't go away.

So I think I'm starving my corals. I don't know how to balance giving them enough nutrients to thrive, but without causing the algae to grow uncontrollably. I'm looking for any sort of help or advice.

Thanks in advance...
Marco

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Azedenkae

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Hi All

I've had my aquarium for about 3 years and I've always had issues with keeping corals to the point that I've held off buying them cause I don't want them to die in my tank.

I have relatively typical tank parameters; salinity at 1.025, Alk at 9dkh, 450 Ca, 1400 Mg. I run my doser to keep the alkalinity and calcium in check and I test magnesium every water change (20% every 2 weeks). At the same time, I replace my carbon, empty out my skimmer, and refill Alk/Ca bottles. Basically, what seems like a normal routine.

But my corals slowly fade away. I can't keep euphyllia , which I really like. I've lost hammers, torches and frogspawns over the years. The only pieces I have in my tank are a duncan and a couple of small patches of Zoas.

I've gotten ICP tests a couple times over the last 6 months, and the only thing that is really outta whack are the nutrients. I'm near zero on nitrate and phosphate cause I run NoPox. The reason for that is if I don't, the algae in my tank explodes! I mean even at zero, I still have a good number of small patches of algae that just won't go away.

So I think I'm starving my corals. I don't know how to balance giving them enough nutrients to thrive, but without causing the algae to grow uncontrollably. I'm looking for any sort of help or advice.

Thanks in advance...
Marco

Untitled.png
To preface my advice, my reef is a bit unconventional. I have algae in the tank, and I let it be, only removing what may smother my corals or looks too ugly.

I think it is hard to really balance the nutrient levels for corals vs. algae unless your corals can really outcompete the algae for nutrients in the water, and that does not seem to happen until there are enough corals and/or they are established and growing well enough to consume more than the algae. At the same time, to get to the point of corals being able to outcompete the algae... often needs time for corals establish in an aquarium or gotta get heaps at once, which well, I doubt a lot of people want to risk.

So yeah. Imo bring up nutrient levels by feeding more or whatever, and let the algae grow if they so wish. Manually remove what you can when you can.

That's also why I love algae reactors/scrubbers/etc. contraptions where you can more freely let algae uptake nutrients, in an area you don't mind them growing in.

I used to have hair algae and others growing all over my aquarium, at this point though I only have a bit of issue with red cyano and even then they are really slowing down in growth, while my coral growth is really improving. So yah. :D
 

ScottR

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There’s an acceptable range of nutrients where corals are happy and algae doesn’t tend to grow and there are ways to cheat per say. I’d stop dosing nopox. Elevated nutrients doesn’t exactly grow algae. It can but algae can still grow in low nutrients as well. You could run algae turf scrubbers to keep the bad algae confined to that as well as keep nutrients lower. If you can, you can also get algae eating fish like tangs, foxface, lawnmower blenny etc. My po4 is around .15 at the moment. NO3 maybe 5. My PO4 could be lower but I still don’t see algae in my tank (not much anyway). I think the CUC helps a lot. There’s a balance that you need to find that works for your tank. But there’s a saying: “if you can’t grow algae, you can’t grow corals”
 

ScottR

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To preface my advice, my reef is a bit unconventional. I have algae in the tank, and I let it be, only removing what may smother my corals or looks too ugly.

I think it is hard to really balance the nutrient levels for corals vs. algae unless your corals can really outcompete the algae for nutrients in the water, and that does not seem to happen until there are enough corals and/or they are established and growing well enough to consume more than the algae. At the same time, to get to the point of corals being able to outcompete the algae... often needs time for corals establish in an aquarium or gotta get heaps at once, which well, I doubt a lot of people want to risk.

So yeah. Imo bring up nutrient levels by feeding more or whatever, and let the algae grow if they so wish. Manually remove what you can when you can.

That's also why I love algae reactors/scrubbers/etc. contraptions where you can more freely let algae uptake nutrients, in an area you don't mind them growing in.

I used to have hair algae and others growing all over my aquarium, at this point though I only have a bit of issue with red cyano and even then they are really slowing down in growth, while my coral growth is really improving. So yah. :D
This is good advice and I don’t think it’s unconventional at all.
 

Udest

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True what he said , honestly perhaps you should focus on some macros and get more soft corals since they too don't mind and often thrive in nutrient rich water.
 
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You're starving your reef, and you're too scared of algae.

What is your livestock in your tank? What size tank is it? What kind of clean-up crew do you have?

Generally speaking: Feed more, and increase the size of your CUC.
 

SPR1968

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I would either add more fish and feed them, and/or start feeding the corals with something like reef roids or Red sea reef energy, because at the moment there’s no food for them

These methods will increase the nutrient levels with a general nitrate target of around 5-10, but keep phosphate locked down very low. By doing this you will avoid many unwanted algae problems caused by raised phosphate and a good target is less than 0.03

I have stated a general nitrate as above for newish tanks, but my systems are both run at around 25 nitrate and the corals including SPS glow with life

You could also check they are getting adequate water flow, and light intensity, but it sounds like it’s probably sterile water that’s causing the issues.

I would also stop using Nopox, you only need to use it when nitrate levels are very high, and it has little effect on phosphate
 
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ketchup318

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Here are a couple pictures of my tank. You can see, even with zero nitrates and 0 phosphates, I do have isolated patches of algae.

I've started to ramp down my nopox dosage. I'm hoping to get it down to zero in about two months. At the same time, I'll try increasing my feeding.

I've tried looking for algae eating fish, but my tank doesn't seem like it's big enough. It's a Red Sea reefer 250 and that's 55 gallons with about a 10 gallon sump. It seems like algae eating fishes seem to need tanks bigger than that, so I'm not sure what I can get. And I'll take a look again, and see what options I have
 

homer1475

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To preface my advice, my reef is a bit unconventional. I have algae in the tank, and I let it be, only removing what may smother my corals or looks too ugly.

I think it is hard to really balance the nutrient levels for corals vs. algae unless your corals can really outcompete the algae for nutrients in the water, and that does not seem to happen until there are enough corals and/or they are established and growing well enough to consume more than the algae. At the same time, to get to the point of corals being able to outcompete the algae... often needs time for corals establish in an aquarium or gotta get heaps at once, which well, I doubt a lot of people want to risk.

So yeah. Imo bring up nutrient levels by feeding more or whatever, and let the algae grow if they so wish. Manually remove what you can when you can.

That's also why I love algae reactors/scrubbers/etc. contraptions where you can more freely let algae uptake nutrients, in an area you don't mind them growing in.

I used to have hair algae and others growing all over my aquarium, at this point though I only have a bit of issue with red cyano and even then they are really slowing down in growth, while my coral growth is really improving. So yah. :D
This 100%!

When I stopped worrying about algae, and realized it was essential for life(no nutrients, no algae, no coral) did my tank do so much better. I picked at it when it got unsightly, but didn't really worry about it.

After a few years my coral biomass was enough to out compete the alage. Now I just have small patches here and there, but I still don't worry about it.

You simply cannot have a healthy, thriving marine tank without some algae.
 

Weasel1960

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For starters, I don’t have a tank yet, but I have been doing a lot of studying, mostly here but a lot of the BRS videos as well. I believe in a couple recent videos I have seen they talked about having nutrient levels a little higher in the tank for the corals helps keep/starve the algae. You may want to at least review those videos. Sorry don’t know how to link a you tube video but Ryan from BRS has a couple new as well as a few older ones.
 
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ketchup318

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As for fishes, I have two clownfish, a Firefish, purple Firefish, a yellow watchman goby with a pistol shrimp And a peppermint shrimp. I ordered a 20g clean up crew from reefcleaners about 6 months ago to replenish some snails.
 
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Your tank looks extremely sterile for being 3 years old. I'm assuming you started with all dry rock? It's possible you're missing enough diversity for corals to thrive.

I also agree with others saying you are too worried about algae. Your tank may be too small for algae eating tangs, but that's OK. Urchins are the real kings of algae eating.
 

mdb_talon

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As others have said....stop fearing the algae! Tanks are going to get some algae. You might even go through stage with a lot of algae. The alternatives are running a ulns with proper and frequent dosing or getting some nutrients up there a bit and risking some algae. I find a ULNS system a lot more involved, expensive, and prone to issues(though i know some run this and have amazing tanks).

My advice is either stop nopox or greatly increase nutrients. I actually dont dislike nopox as it can allow for very heavy feeding, but if it taking nutrients to zero that is a problem. Also would point out zero nutrients is not just about directly starving the coral, but starving phyto, pods, etc. Starves the entire ecosystem that you need for a healthy tanks.

We could argue all day about ideal nutrient levels, but i am confident in saying it is certainly not zero unless running a system specifically designed for near zero levels.
 

Jeff Page

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I fought algae for about a year. I bought an established tank. The move put it through a wild cycle and huge algae bloom. I think it was 3 things that helped. Tank matured, corals grew and reducing the intensity and time of my lights. I feel the lighting was the most important step. I would like to hear others opinions.
 

DHill6

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i put Pom Pom algae in my sump, within a week it looked 90% better. I’ve been after gha for a couple years. The little pieces that are left are easily removed and it’s turning lighter. It’s a low nutrient tank, I dose KZ products, slight amounts by drops, alk 7 or a bit less. I’m feeding corals, I bet no3 and po4 are low, I haven’t tested in weeks, I go by what the corals are doing. Seems to be working. It’s definitely out competing the bad, looks very clean, I am surprised. Maybe try Pom Pom in your system.
 

Butcher333

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Dear lord. What algae are you talking about? That’s amazingly clean.
I don’t like the super long hair algae I have in my tank. It grows longer than I can believe. I like the algae the grows in short tufts. You can pull off the whole clumps very easily. I also get little algae balls that start to cover the substrate. This affects my corals and so I focus on that only really.
All the frag plugs from most coral I purchase usually has some algae on them. I have a tank now that’s 10 years old with a algae and colonial hydroid issue and a couple urchins are taking care of this for me and I’m getting close. I think based on the look of your tank now that this is a good option for you. After you grow a little algae first. You’ll have that stripped clean rock you’re looking for based on the photo and won’t need to worry about algae anymore. I don’t want them in my new build though because I like my coralline algae. If you get bubble agar they’ll remove it and eat the rhizome leaving the bubble algae floating around easily removed with a net.
I think you’re right. Dirty that tank up and let the urchins deal with your algae you find unsightly. A couple 2”ers.
 
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