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Curing Nuisance Green Hair Algae in your Saltwater Aquarium

Simple Cure For Nuisance Green Hair Algae

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Green Hair Algae Image

Green Hair Algae

Photo by Steven Boss
Simply put, if what you are seeing in your tank is a green, feathery looking mass, it is probably Green Hair Algae. Nuisance Green Macroalgae will help you if you want to know the scientific names, descriptions and any of the more technical information.

Once Green Hair Algae gets a foothold in a saltwater aquarium, it can soon cover everything in your tank if prompt measures are not taken. The cure for Green Hair Algae is the same as the prevention: Starve it into oblivion. Green Hair Algae require not only light, but also nitrates and phosphates in order to survive.

Nitrates can be introduced into an aquarium not only as the end product of the Nitrogen Cycling Process (ammonia/nitrite/nitrate), but also via some brands of commercial sea salts and tap water.

Phosphate (PO4) is a part of life on earth. Virtually every living thing contains some phosphates and they can enter the tank in a number of ways. Fish & critter foods, tap water and carbon are some of the phosphate generators in your tank.

What You'll Need:

Test your tank water for nitrates and Phosphates.

If you have Green Hair Algae in your tank, your phosphates should read well above .05 mg/L., which is considered by many to be the lowest level at which Green Hair Algae will grow. Ironically, if you have Green Hair Algae in your tank and your phosphate and nitrate tests read low or near zero, the algae in your tank could be eating and locking up the phosphates and nitrates so they won't show up in a test.

The most common source of phosphates in an aquarium is from the freshwater used for top offs and water changes. In this case, doing water changes to reduce phosphates will only continue the problem unless the water source is changed. There are two basic methods of reducing phosphates in your tank.

  • Use only RO or RO/DI water whether you purchase an RO/DI unit or purchase RO/DI water from a commercial source. (Recommended)
  • Purchase and use a good "nitrate sponge". Many of the nitrate absorbing materials also absorb phosphates.
  • Use Mangrove Plants in your system to reduce phosphates.
  • Consider using the "Vodka Method" for reducing both nitrates and phosphates in your tank.
Nitrates will always be something to contend with in your tank. For fast, immediate reduction, you can do a water change, using the Instant Nitrate Reduction Method. This will reduce your nitrates at the fastest rate, using the least amount of time and water. This will also get your nitrates down to a workable (10 mg/L area) level but it is only a Bandaid and does nothing to remove the source of the nitrates. Siphon out as much of the Green Hair Algae as possible. You will probably find that you will have to use several other methods (many of which are part of a good Aquarium Maintenance Routine to keep your nitrates in check.
  • Use only RO or RO/DI water whether you purchase an RO/DI unit or purchase RO/DI water from a commercial source. (Recommended)
  • Purchase and use Phosphate Removing Products. (Highly Recommended)
  • Purchase and use Mangrove Plants in your tank or sump. (Recommended)
  • Check to see if your commercial sea salts contain high levels of ammonia/nitrogen.
  • Purchase and use a good "Nitrate Sponge".
  • Do not overfeed your tank.
  • Siphon uneaten food and other loose material (detritus) from the substrate.
  • Perform periodic water changes.
You might want to consider the Long Term Nitrate Control method, which actually works to keep you nitrates near zero without any lengthy maintenance procedures. This method uses a specific bacteria, which reacts with the nitrate molecule and a carbon molecule, converting the nitrates into nitrogen gas, which is vented into the atmosphere.

By reducing the nitrate and phosphate levels in your tank, your tank will soon be healthy and free of the Green Hair Algae. Many of your tank occupants (corals and other invertebrates) will also benefit from the reduced levels.

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