» Posted by on Mar 3, 2014 in Blog, Reef Aquariums | Comments Off on Reef Aquariums – A look at Aesthetics, Unwanted Algaes and Parasites Part 1

Reef Aquariums – A look at Aesthetics, Unwanted Algaes and Parasites Part 1

Ultra Acan Lord Howe

Ultra Acan Lord Howe

We have always noted the number one failure or frustration causing reef hobbyists to quit is the “pests”. They lose focus, control, or have not built their systems to battle those pests from the beginning. A wise reef aquarist will fight algae’s at the set-up stage. Making proper choices, sets algaes at a disadvantage before they take shape. Once an aesthetic problem starts, it is much harder to eliminate than prevent it.

Always use RO or purified water (not tap) from the start. It is imperative to use a water source with a low TDS (under 20ppm) and little to no phosphates. Remember phosphates feed algae.

Always use a bonafied-efficient skimmer that produces foam to collect, All of the Time! Many reef keepers own one, although they majorly under-skim. Prices per manufacturer rating may be misleading because cheap skimmers are lacking craftsmanship to produce over the long haul.

Always consider water flow throughout the whole system not just at the surface. Lower level of rock/substrate will be low of oxygen, thus favorable to cyanobacteria. Remember, reef animals are naturally adaptable to high turbidity, thus you will make their closed ecosystems to their liking.

Test your chemistry once a week. If you keep these parameters in a range that live corals love, then they have an advantage. That means they survive, thrive, and leave pests with a lack of nutrients (i.e Competitive Exclusion). In addition, by knowing your ranges weekly, you may be better suited to adjust because digression would be slight. If you find you are way out of range, it is a harder up-hill battle to put the parameters in check.


  • Salinity (1.022-1.025 ppm)
  • PH (8.2-8.4)
  • Ammonia (zero)
  • Nitrite (zero)
  • Nitrate (less than 10 ppm)
  • Phosphate (under .1)
  • Calcium (400-450 ppm)
  • Magnesium (1200-1400 ppm)
  • Alkalinity (7-15° DkH)

In the hobby, the reef tank is the final obstacle the advanced aquarist attempts to conquer. In most aquarist’s view, the reef is the most diverse and the most complex, because we are creating an ecosystem. This ecosystem, as in the wild, has fine lines between success and failure.

Ecology teaches us if a closed ecosystem surpasses (carrying capacity), one or many species will become extinct were a different species favoring the new variables flourishes. The same holds true in our “closed ecosystem.” It is the aquarist’s job to keep all species in check.

In the reef tank, there is limited space for invertebrate “housing.” We need to keep unwanted pests in check. We cannot afford, with the price of live rock, coral, and equipment when our ecosystem fails due to overpopulation of algae, planaria or Aiptasia.

Let us discuss a few of the most commonly encountered pests attacking our closed system. We will discuss the three forms of attack on our ecosystem and explain the effect, cause and cure.

The first form we will discuss is passive encroachment. This is when a species dominates and pushes away a different species causing its demise by either pushing it of its own skeleton or by outright suffocation. This effect occurs with algae species, which can grow much more rapidly than the invertebrate it is battling. Passive encroachment by Ventricaria ventricosa or from her in Valonia happens quickly, and, for example, can push the tissue of a Euphylia coral of its own skeleton causing recession and death. This will leave dead calcareous skeleton where phosphate can “stick” and feed the Valonia, which also has a new area to grow unabated.

Next is the infamous slime algae (Cyanobacteria) which more commonly occurs in poorly lit, or low water flow areas, and marine tanks with high organic loads. It blankets on rock and coral and looks like velvet algae. It is easy to wipe off, although it comes back quickly! We can do a blog on Cyanobacteria alone, because almost everyone has encountered this at one time or another. Cyanobacteria grows at an astounding rate, so once it gets a foothold in your ecosystem, it is tough to beat. There are many products out there to stop it, but you must really attack the root of the problem or it will be an ongoing losing battle. Cyanobacteria is always present in your system. A tiny patch may live in your overflow box unnoticed until conditions in the ecosystem favor its growth.

Causes of passive encroachment by Valonia and Cyanobacteria are:
• Lack of circulation: dead spots, low flow, areas for detritus to accumulate;
• High organic load: high initial T.D.S. (lack of R.O.), lots of fish, overfeeding, weak skimming;
• Lack of herbivores: snails, hermits, echinoderms, herbivorous fish;
• Improper lighting: incorrect spectrum (to red), too much light during initial cycle, improper bulb maintenance; and
• Poor substrate: substrate containing too much calcareous shells where phosphate can “adhere.” Poor live sand (lots die off)-lack of sand sifters.

Cures for the passive encroachment of Valonia and Cyanobacteria in a closed ecosystem:
• High quality water source: reverse osmosis with deionizer (low T.D.S. value); high grade salt (low in phosphate, silicates);
• Lots of circulation: wave maker, multiple power heads, large main pump;
• “Good” live rock: clean (no smell), no plants or sponges, just rock and coralline, no lace or tufa rock should be used;
• High quality skimmer: tall (lots reaction time); downdraft or venturi (high turnover rate);
• Lighting: neutral spectrum (not to red), proper hours, regular change of bulbs (~6-12 Months);
• Lots of herbivores: snails, hermits, tangs, urchins, etc.;
• Remove accumulated detritus: vacuum sand, clean rock periodically; and
• Test your chemicals: calcium, magnesium, nitrates, and phosphates.

D. Patrick Donston/ Glenn Laborda

Please call or email us with any further questions, thoughts, or comments. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.


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