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How I Won My Battle With Algea

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ID:	722Many of us have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with algae breakouts. For some these problems are a minor nuisance, but for others this problem can drive them right out of the hobby. In dealing with my algae problems, I became determined to educate myself with why I was experiencing this outbreak as well as how I could stop it and hopefully prevent it in the future. I hope that the experience that I gained can help others who are plagued by this nuisance.

The first step in solving this problem was to determine the food source for my algae. I tested my water parameters hoping that I would gain some insight to my problem. No Nitrates were around 5,and my phosphates were barely noticeable. How could I have a major algae problem with such good parameters? Through my research I learned that Nitrates and Phosphates can be used up almost immediately by the algae, resulting in a water test that looks really good. I decided to look at my source water to determine if there could be an issue there. In comparing my water filter with others, I quickly realized that almost everyone was using an RO/DI filter and I only had an RO filter. We have well water with a really high iron content, so I wondered if I had been introducing Phosphates or Silicates when I did my weekly water changes. I purchased a dual DI filter as well as a dual TDS meter. Now I was certain that I had good quality water and could monitor my filter performance. Step 1 was complete.

The next thing I considered was my sand bed. It was about 3 inches deep and had not been cleaned in about 2 years. I began to wonder if my sand could be holding impurities that were feeding my algae. I have read various opinions on deep sand beds versus shallow sand beds, and decided to remove much of this sand in an effort to reduce the food source. I carefully scooped out about 5 gallons of sand over the course of a week. I used a measuring cup and did my best not to disturb the sand around my working area.....I did not want to stir up a bunch of pollutants and make my problem worse. I also learned that rock and sand can absorb Phosphates and leach them back into the water at a later time. If I had been introducing Phosphates in my source water for the past 2 1/2 years, surely my sand had absorbed much of it. Step 2 complete.

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ID:	723My next plan of attack was to look at my home made filtration system and determine if I could make some improvements. I came across some articles about Algae Scrubbers that seemed very interesting. They looked really easy to build, and I thought "What have I got to lose?". I purchased the items needed to build it and had it installed in 1 evening. For those of you unfamiliar with an algae scrubber, they are simply a screen or piece of ruffed up plastic that you run water over in your sump. You supply a light source...I used 2 5700k power compact bulbs and reflectors that I bought at Home Depot. As the water and light hit the screen, algae will begin to grow on it. After a few weeks you will have enough algae built up that you will need to scrape it off once a week. The idea is that by getting the algae to grow on this screen, it will compete for nutrients, leaving less for the algae in your tank to consume. I anxiously awaited for something to grow, and low and behold, in about a week I had a nice little algae crop growing. Within 2 weeks I was scraping it off, and have been ever since. I was starting to feel like I was going to beat this menace. Step 3 was a success.

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ID:	724I now began to look at my water chemistry for solutions. I read many articles about the use of Limewater to maintain Alkalinity and Calcium. As it turns out, it is widely accepted that Limewater will also reduce Phosphates. Since I suspected Phosphates were part of my problem from the beginning, I decided to give it a try. I had never used Limewater before and was understandably nervous. I went to the grocery store and picked up a bag of Mrs. Wages Pickling Lime. I mixed 2 Teaspoons of Lime in a 1 gallon milk jug with RO/DI water and let it sit overnight. I rigged up a drip line with some airline hose I had laying around and dripped it into the sump of my 125 tank over the course of about 3 hours. I do this 3 times a week now. I want to emphasize that I don't use an expensive dosing pump or any other equipment....just a milk jug. This is really easy and pretty much eliminates the possibility of over dosing. My coral has never looked so good since I started this. By now I am really starting to see some results.

The 5th element of my plan was the scariest for me to implement. As I had been reading every article I could find about algae, I came across several articles that talked about dosing Vodka into your tank. When I initially heard about guys putting Vodka in their tanks I thought they were nuts! I think I read the articles simply out of curiosity. Fortunately, the more I read the more sense it I reluctantly decided to give it a try. Essentially the Vodka provides a food source for "Good" bacteria in your tank. This bacteria needs nutrients to survive, so it is also competing with the algae for food. As you increase your bacteria load you also increase the amount of competition for food, thus starving the algae out. The key is to start slow and find a balancing point where your algae is gone and everything else in your tank is happy. I have been dosing Vodka now for 2 months and can report no problems whatsoever. Incidentally, the article I would recommend on this subject is called "Vodka Dosing....Distilled", and can be found at

Over the course of this process I have learned to be careful when asking for advice on the various forums that are available. While I'm sure that everyone who responds to the posts has good intentions, the reality is that when someone asks a question they usually get about 25 different answers. This just further confuses an otherwise frustrated hobbyist. Instead, look to articles written by professional reefkeepers,or at the very least, those with many years of experience. This way you know you are getting expert advice by seasoned pros. As an example, when I started asking questions about controlling algae I was told to run a multitude of reactors and various chemical solutions. After reading many articles about algae, I chose not to run any reactors of any kind...I use 2 algae scrubbers to filter my water, I currently run a protein skimmer, and I do regular water changes . That is it, and my results have been remarkable! Sometimes I think we make things a lot more complicated than they really need to be.

This entire process took about 3 months, but I can honestly say that my tank is now completely free of nuisance algae, and I am very confident that it will remain that way. I want to recommend as an invaluable source of articles about reefkeeping....I have learned a ton from the articles there. I hope my experience will help some of those that may be experiencing problems with nuisance algae. The problem won't go away overnight, but with a systematic approach and a little patience, you will persevere.

Rick Wing...Rochester MN

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Updated 02-07-2010 at 07:19 AM by rwing

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  1. melev's Avatar
    Very nice write up. Let's see some "after" pictures.
  2. Michaelangelo's Avatar
    Awesome blog. One of my favorite in the contest. I really wish to see an after picture.
  3. EdGomez's Avatar
    This is a great write up. So well organized and informative .. easy to read and understand.
  4. jessica.wing's Avatar
    I really like the write up, and I like the before pictures but I agree some after pictures would be awesome.
  5. carolgilman's Avatar
    Great article, Rick. It is very well written and helpful. You've done some awesome research on this subject which is very informative.
  6. kmjoen230's Avatar
    Awesome Article! thank you for your insight! I am currently going through some algae issues myself. I like your steps better than most I have been investigating. Again, great job!