Hair Algae has been the reason a lot of people have left the hobby over the years. This long green flowing algae is often seen as a death sentence by new hobbyists. In this article, I will hopefully address some of the ways of dealing with it within the aquarium.
Hair Algae is one of the most common macro algae’s in the hobby. Thankfully it is also one of the easiest to deal with. Hair algae is usually associated with high phosphates, which can often be found in new systems. Phosphates can come from a variety of sources including food, rock and freshwater. All food contains phosphates so over feeding will noticeably increase phosphates over time. Rock living, dead or man made will contain phosphate (well cured live rock will still contain some phosphate), while the water containing the rock may have no phosphates present, the rock itself will have phosphate bound within its structure. Phosphates can also to be introduced through the addition of freshwater that has not been passed through a reverse osmosis filter.
Prevention is the best solution
Preventing the build of phosphates in a tank is key to keeping algae from taking hold in an aquarium. The easiest way to achieve this is to use a high grade phosphate remover such as AFM Phosphate Remover or RowaPhos both of which are granulate ferric oxide (GFO). These are virgin medias. Meaning they haven’t been used for any other process before being sold, often cheaper phosphate removers are repurposed after being used in water processing plants. This means they will already contain phosphates, which will in turn inhibit the amount they can remove from your aquarium.
It is recommended you run a phosphate remover constantly in your aquarium and that is changed regularly. Phosphate remover has a usable life span of between 3-6 months depending on the quantities of phosphate present in your tank. As I mentioned before all rock will contain some levels of phosphate, for this reason I personally feel it is advisable to run phosphate remover in a tank from the moment you add water. This in theory, should draw out the phosphates bound within the rock while the tank is cycling, hopefully this will help prevent algae issues further down the line.
Over feeding is another way phosphates are added to your tank. Both frozen and dry food will do this, although dry food is seen as a cleaner option. The ability to feed in much smaller quantities means most of the food is consumed by the fish and not left to rot in the aquarium.
Frozen food is usually thawed in a cup and poured into the tank, this means a lot of food gets past the fish and under the rock where it will rot and introduce phosphates into the water. The thawing liquid that comes off frozen food is also very high in phosphates, when this is poured into the tank it is like adding a shot of liquid phosphate to the water column.
Simple ways to reduce the amount of phosphate added to the water by frozen food is to cut the cubes into small pieces so less food is added at a time and to pour the thawed food through a net before adding it to the tank this allows you to dispose of the thawing liquid.
Just by following these simple steps the likelihood of your tank getting hair algae is greatly reduce, although it is still not impossible. However, if your tank does suddenly start growing hair algae it should be a lot easier to deal with as your tank will already have a very low phosphate level.
Dealing with Hair Algae
Now lets say you have a tank that is established, runs none or an infrequently changed phosphate remover and has a hair algae issue. The first thing to do is to test the phosphate levels in the tank, if you get a reading great you have something to work at if you don’t the phosphates are bound in your rock. Hair algae is great at drawing bound phosphates out of rock.
Micheal Paletta wrote an article recently talking about algae covering live rock when no phosphates were detectable in the tank. He suggested breaking a piece off and crushing it in water leaving it to settle then testing the clear water, this will produce an unsettling result.
Once you have tested your water you are going to want to try and remove as much of the algae as possible. Once you have done this place a phosphate remover into either your sump or external filter, this will start drawing the phosphates out the rock and will compete with the algae. Over the next seven days the algae will grow back, it might even look worse than before. This is due to the addition of the phosphate remover, by drawing the phosphates out the rock it is making them more available to the algae. Once again remove as much algae out the tank as possible, again wait another seven days and repeat. After a month of this process you should start seeing a reduction in the rate at which the algae grows back. This time once you have pulled the algae out change your phosphate remover. Due to the amount of phosphate in the water the lifespan of the phosphate remover is greatly reduced, even if it isn’t exhausted this fresh phosphate remover will have a higher capacity and will make the algae’s life that little bit harder. Eventually over the space of a couples of months the hair algae should eventually stop coming back. Once it has gone change your phosphate remover and remember to change it every 3 – 6 months.
While you are battling hair algae it is important to add the right clean up crew, these guys will take the fight to the algae while you wait for the next weekend to come around. Hermit crabs, and snails are great but hair algae requires something with a bit more bite. This is where the urchins come into play, Tuxedo Urchins are the weapon of choice these small urchins do a great job of grazing on the algae. They won’t eat the algae when it is very long, so on their own they aren’t very effective but when used alongside the method mentioned above they work wonders.
Once the algae is cleared out your tank the addition of Tangs and Rabbitfish will help keep it at bay. Tangs particularly those of the Zebrasoma genus are great for keeping on top of macro algae issues. Of course, only add a tang if your tank is big enough so do your research first.
Hope fully this has given you an idea of how to deal with hair algae problems, or if you are currently dealing with one some hope that it is beatable.