Habitat - Indoor :: Algae Control

Turtle tank setups and other indoor configurations.

Post Posted: Fri Feb 04, 2011 2:42 pm   Algae Control

Algae Control


What is Algae?
We should start by understanding what exactly algae is. From Wikipedia: "Algae are a large and diverse group of simple, typically autotrophic organisms, ranging from unicellular to multicellular forms…" What does autotrophic mean? From Wikipedia: "An autotroph[α], or producer, is an organism that produces complex organic compounds (such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) from simple inorganic molecules using energy from light (by photosynthesis) or inorganic chemical reactions (chemosynthesis)."

While there are too many types and sub-types of algae for a single writing, we'll make some generalizations and assumptions in order to focus on nuisance algae most commonly found in freshwater aquariums, single cell photosynthetic algae. This is the brown-green stuff that grows on anything in your aquarium including the aquarium walls. It's also algae that is free floating in the water column making your water turn green. From the definition of autotrophic we learn that the type of algae we as turtle keepers are generally fighting is 1. photosynthetic, and 2. consuming simple inorganic molecules as food.


How do we control Algae?
The algae we are fighting need food and light. Remove either and remove the algae. For us turtle keepers, UVA and UVB light is necessary to maintain our turtle's health. We cannot remove the light source from our turtle habitats without directly impacting the health of our turtle friends. Many of us have basking areas where the light source bleeds into the water providing fuel for the algae's photosynthetic engine.

We are left with controlling the algae's food supply. Algae feeds on nutrients in the water. In the case of the freshwater aquarium we're primarily talking about phosphates (PO4) and nitrogen in the form of Nitrates (NO3) as the food source.

Removal of Nitrogen
Nitrogen in the tank comes in 3 forms... Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate. A proper filtration system with ample bio media will establish a natural bacteria colony. The natural bacteria colony sometimes called "beneficial bacteria" or "nitrifying bacteria" will break down ammonia --> nitrites and nitrites --> nitrates. A well planted tank (good luck with a turtle) can drastically reduce nitrates. For most of us who's turtle can't resist a good aquatic plant meal, this is not an option. Regular water changes and proper filter husbandry will keep the nitrate levels in check which goes a long way in the fight against algae. For information on recommended filter setups see here: Filter Media Thread

What are Phosphates?
From Wikipedia: "A phosphate, an inorganic chemical, is a salt of phosphoric acid." Without getting into a complex chemistry lesson, we'll leave it at that. Phosphates are inorganic chemicals in a very simplistic definition.


So where do phosphates come from?
(some material sourced from http://freshaquarium.about.com/od/water ... phates.htm)

All established aquariums have Phosphates. It's when phosphate levels rise that algae growth is promoted. Phosphates naturally occur as wastes are broken down within the aquarium. In addition to being internally produced, phosphates can enter the aquarium from external sources. Everything from food, to the chemicals used to buffer the water, to the water itself can contain significant amounts of phosphate. Phosphate sources include:
  • uneaten food
  • plant decay
  • dying algae
  • fish feces
  • dead fish
  • carbon filter media
  • aquarium salts
  • pH buffers
  • kH buffers
  • water itself

How do we remove Phosphates?

  • Uneaten food - we can remove from the water.
  • Plant decay - can be removed from the water.
  • Dying algae - catch 22. We kill the algae and it serves as a food source for more algae..well sort of.
  • Fish feces - proper aquarium filtration systems and water changes will take care of this.
  • Dead fish - If your turtle hasn't already consumed the fish, it can be netted and removed.
  • Carbon filter media - Replace it regularly or switch to the eco-friendly reusable synthetic version made by Seachem called "Purigen". It doesn't leech phosphates.
  • Aquarium salts - depending on your setup this might be a necessary evil. (ie shared turtle / cichlid environments)
  • PH buffers - shouldn't really be needed for turtle environments as RES are fairly tolerant to a wider PH range when compared to fish.
  • kH buffers - (kH = Carbonate hardness via alkalinity) same as PH buffers. These however might again be needed in a shared cichlid environment
  • Water itself - see below.


If there's phosphates native to the water we use, how do we ever win the algae battle?
If you're using tap water for your turtle's habitat, chances are it's high in phosphates. Many water treatment facilities artificially add phosphates to the water to protect the pipe systems and prevent mineral build up.
We have two ways to remove phosphates from the water, mechanically or chemically.

The mechanical removal of phosphates from the water is done one of two ways. With an Reverse Osmosis (RO) system or via steam distillation. We can buy RO water or distilled water at the store. This is not the most cost effective solution, but it's certainly an option. Your grocery store will generally sell both distilled and RO water. Distilled water is available in plastic jugs and marked as distilled water. Sometimes in the fine print on the jugs, the distilled water will say something to the effect of "RO process" which means it's really RO purified water being sold as distilled water. Many grocery stores have a machine where for a monetary amount you can refill plastic jugs. This machine is an RO system. RO systems work by forcing water through a membrane that traps very fine impurities in the water. The membrane is flushed and away go the water impurities. Over time RO membranes need to be replaced. Who knows what condition your local store's RO membrane is in or when it was last replaced (if ever). Generally speaking, using store RO water is still better than using your home tap water. Local fish stores that cater to saltwater or reef keeping hobbies will also usually sell RO water. The RO systems at local fish stores are usually maintained well as the fish stores are fighting the same algae we are.

For us turtle keepers to do this ourselves in a practical cost-effective manner, we're talking about RO systems at home. There are many choices available online and at your local hardware stores. RO systems are relatively easy to install and range in price. One of the benefits of having an in-home RO system is that it can be used for more than just your turtle. You can purify your own drinking water, save money on buying bottled water, get almost perfectly clear ice cubes… etc.

Using straight RO water in an aquarium is probably not a good idea as the water is extremely soft and can cause the PH level to drop below the acceptable range for a healthy turtle. If you use RO water or distilled water, you can buffer the water with a phosphate-free product like Kent's "RO right" or Brightwell's "Remineraliz". This will add some minerals and salts back to the water. Now you have water that is free of phosphates, fluoride, lime, and other compounds but is able to sustain a PH for healthy turtles.


The chemical process for removing phosphates involves a filter media made of granular ferric oxide (GFO). GFO can be purchased in generic bulk form or by it's name brand "Phosban". GFO can be added to filter media bags and placed in our aquarium filtration systems or it can be in a separate filtration unit designed specifically for GFO called a reactor or phosban reactor. Over time GFO will become exhausted and need to be replaced.

There are other phosphate absorbing products and chemicals available that we can use. Phosphate absorbing pads have a short useful lifespan. Phosphate pads have another issue… when they are exhausted of their phosphate removing powers… they can actually leech phosphates back into the water column. Liquid phosphate removal chemicals are not recommended for use in your turtle aquarium. Remember your turtle drinks the water he or she lives in.


Now that we've tackled the algae's food source is there anything else we can do?
If all else fails or if proper aquarium maintenance is difficult for your situation, there is one other way we can kill the algae. UV sterilization. UV sterilizers use the UV-C wavelength of light to kill off microorganisms including free floating algae in the water column. There are many options for UV sterilization from a variety of vendors. Some of the newer canister filters also include a UV sterilizer built in. The conceptual functionality of the UV sterilizer is the same regardless of make or model. Water is exposed at a slow flow rate past a UVC light source thus killing the algae.

We can also use other animals that graze on algae for food to keep our tanks clean. The two most common in freshwater environments would be snails and any of the various plecostomus (commonly referred to as "Pleccos"), a type of algae eating fish. The only real issue with either of these solutions is that they may become a meal for your turtle.

Happy algae-free turtle keeping!
-VeipaCray
Last edited by VeipaCray on Tue Apr 10, 2012 8:46 pm, edited 16 times in total.
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Post Posted: Sun Feb 06, 2011 1:14 pm   Re: Algae Control

thanks for the tips :) so far algae free i hope it stays that way
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Post Posted: Thu Feb 10, 2011 9:15 pm   Re: Algae Control

This is quite handy! I'll refer back to this when some Algae starts poppin up in my 55 gallon.
55 Gal(US) tank,
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Post Posted: Sat Jul 30, 2011 8:58 pm   Re: Algae Control

Image
I've noticed this starting to creep up on my artificial rocks but not the real ones. Is it algae or mold or rust? If it's just algae, I suppose I'll just try to combat it using what has been posted here. I just find it weird that it's only in this one area...
Could there be a problem with the paving tiles I used as rocks?
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Post Posted: Sat Jul 30, 2011 11:10 pm   Re: Algae Control

Looks like algae. That it out every few days and wipe it down. Are the tiles abrasive?
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Post Posted: Sun Jul 31, 2011 3:06 pm   Re: Algae Control

They are fairly smooth. Is there something I can treat them with to cut down on the amount of algae? I'm not super keen on rearranging the tank every few days. Also, it's a little odd that this has started since I haven't had this issue with my setup previously and I haven't changed anything.
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Post Posted: Sun Jul 31, 2011 3:07 pm   Re: Algae Control

I guess I should have asked this before, but can it hurt the turtles?
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Post Posted: Sun Jul 31, 2011 4:43 pm   Re: Algae Control

nope, algae should not hurt your turtle(s) :)
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Post Posted: Sun Jul 31, 2011 11:03 pm   Re: Algae Control

You shouldn't have to do it often unless your tank is getting a lot of sunlight (direct or indirect).
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Post Posted: Sun Jul 31, 2011 11:35 pm   Re: Algae Control

Thanks for the responses. The tanks does get a few hours of direct sunlight a day from an open window in the kitchen. I guess I will try to close it and do a little cleaning next weekend. I also have 3 snails in the tank. They are supposed to have an appetite for algae but apparently mine are picky eaters or just lazy bums. Anyways, I'll try to get it under control and then hopefully have some updated pics soon. Thanks again!
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Post Posted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 9:31 pm   Re: Algae Control

Good to hear. Another reason to avoid sunlight is that it can quickly overheat any tank quickly.
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Post Posted: Wed Sep 14, 2011 5:35 pm   Re: Algae Control

Turtles eat snails too, don't they? Since Plecos are a bit more expensive, would it be a good idea to stock up on pest snails?
55 Gal(US) tank,
One Female Red Eared Slider
Name: Brixie
Bought on February 6th, 2011
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Post Posted: Tue Sep 20, 2011 5:14 pm   Re: Algae Control

Well, I've got algae. First it started on the basking area where the "rock" is in the water. Then it started on a fake rock/cave I have. Next it started on the rocks (not gravel) that I have in the bottom of the aquarium. Now it has started on the sides of the aquarium. The original post is helpful, but I have a questions. Does anyone know anything about Marimo? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marimo When I first went to Petsmart to get my turtle stuff they gave me an information sheet on it. If I remember what it said it is an algae that kills off other algae??? Does anyone know if it works? Is it safe for a RES? Will the turtle eat it? I appreciate any and all input.
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Post Posted: Tue Sep 20, 2011 6:35 pm   Re: Algae Control

It'll compete for nutrients. Your RES will probably eat it (I have not heard it being harmful) but it will make a mess in your tank.
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Post Posted: Wed Sep 21, 2011 7:32 am   Re: Algae Control

Also remember to get some cheap bottomfeeder like snails.
55 Gal(US) tank,
One Female Red Eared Slider
Name: Brixie
Bought on February 6th, 2011
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