Common Problems

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Algae is one of the most common and frustrating problems encountered in the reef aquarium. The main cause of algae bloom is water quality. If nitrates, phosphates or silicates are high, it can lead to an algae bloom. This is why most new tanks (such as my 120) undergo an algae bloom - the nutrients become high during the tank cycle. The best tactics for dealing with algae are to remove the source of nutrients - test the water you are using for nitrates, phosphates and silicates. Adding reef janitors (snails and hermits) will also help to clear up the problem.

Dcp00270.jpg (34469 bytes) The 120 gallon going through "new tank syndrome". This green algae is normal in a new tank. It usually starts as a brown algae and turns green within a few weeks. It will eventually be overtaken by coralline algae growth.
Dcp00358.jpg (21233 bytes) Valonia sp. (Bubble algae)

This algae is very difficult to eradicate from the aquarium, as the bubble break and release spores into the water which spread the algae. Emerald crabs and Red Sea Sailfin Tangs (desjardini) have been reputed to eat this algae.

Dcp00356.jpg (51490 bytes) Coralline Algae

This is not a problem - well, actually, scraping it off the glass can be a problem, so I guess it belongs here! However, good coralline growth is an indicator that your tank is doing well!

Dcp00377.jpg (43262 bytes) Halimeda sp.

Calcerous algae is not really a problem unless your tank becomes overrun by it, in which case it can deplete calcium levels. Since tangs will not eat it, you must harvest this manually if it becomes a problem.

Hair Algae

Hair algae can quickly take over a tank. Check nutrient levels, use RO/DI water for top-off and water changes, and remove the algae by hand and by using janitors such as snails and hermits. Tangs and algae blennies also eat hair algae. However, as I learned, sometimes all methods fail and drastic measures are called for - read the hair algae saga.


bristle.jpg (43168 bytes) Bristleworms can become a problem in a reef tank. They arrive hidden within the crevices of live rock and certain species can reproduce rapidly. However, not all bristleworms are bad - some are actually beneficial detritus eaters. Bristleworms that are seen bothering tank inhabitants or which grow too large should be removed from the aquarium. My sister Mary removed this worm from her tank - it was 9 3/8" long and 3/8" in diameter. I removed a bright orange worm from my 20 gallon tank which was encasing snails in a mucus and then eating them.

For more information on bristleworms, read Ron Shimek's Without a Backbone article on Aquarium Frontiers.

  Kalkwasser Problems

In September 1999 I experienced a problem with dosing kalkwasser through the auto top-off system. The pump was sitting on the bottom of the bucket and pumped kalkwasser sediment into the sump (you could actually see "piles" of the stuff!). There was a virtual snowstorm in the tank - everything was covered in white - glass, powerheads, sea urchins - you name it! The alkalinity dropped to 3.2 dKH. There has been a subsequent modification to the top-off system to prevent this from occurring again, but in the meanwhile, I had quite a mess on my hands!

I immediately siphoned the piles of sediment out of the sump, which resulted in doing about a 30 gallon water change. I then began dosing CaribSea Aragamight on a daily basis to raise the alkalinity back up. It took about a week to get it back to 8 dKH. However, it took about 3 weeks to be able to see inside the tank again! But I'm happy to report that the currents and snails have managed to clear out the residue of the snowstorm and the tank is now back to normal!

The most important lesson to be learned from this is to always be prepared for an emergency. If I wouldn't have had RO/DI water and extra salt mix on hand to do the water change, the situation could have gotten much worse.


Copyright 1998-2002 Janet L. Brassard. All rights reserved. You may not copy or publish any material from this site without permission. Contact with any questions.