Technically known as cyanobacteria, red slime algae is one of the most common culprits when it comes to a tank that has been overrun with contaminants.
Unfortunately, if you have a tank with red slime, there’s not a lot you can do to get it back to its new, pristine condition overnight. However, there are plenty of steps that you can take both to prevent red slime algae from appearing – as well as to keep it from destroying your tank the next time it might happen to appear.
What Exactly Is Red Slime Algae?
Interestingly, red slime algae is not in the same family as most algaes at all but is instead a specific type of bacteria. It often starts out in a tiny section of the tank before spreading outward and taking over the entire tank. It can be quite frustrating to deal with an outbreak of cyanobacteria in your tank because it is fast growing and seems to respond slowly to most treatments.
While it might seem like there is nothing you can do to combat a red slime algae outbreak, there are luckily several steps you can take to restore your tank to its immaculate conditions.
How To Identify Red Slime Algae
Think you have red slime algae? Technically, the word cyanobacteria means blue-green algae. But know that only roughly half of all cyanobacteria are blue-green in color, and that the algae found in saltwater can be many other colors, too. Cyanobacteria can be blackish green to blue green, deep purple, fully black, yellowish orange, or reddish black.
Understanding Why You Have Red Slime Algae
The first step in getting rid of red slime algae is to figure out why it has started to flourish in your tank in the first place. This algae is usually linked to two different sources that must be ideal in order for the algae to appear – lighting and nutrients.
In most cases, improper lighting is the cause of cyanobacteria outbreaks. While you can often create your own lighting fixtures while setting up your saltwater or freshwater aquarium, this can backfire in several ways.
Most algae, like red slime algae, thrives in nanometers between 640 and 680. Unfortunately, many fish, plants, and corals need the same nanometer readings as algae in order to thrive. If you use bulbs that are below 10,000 K, you are going to be more likely to have a cyanobacteria outbreak. In addition, as bulbs age, they will lose their intensity -this can cause algae to flourish in your tank.
To prevent red slime algae problems related to lighting, simply change your bulbs every eight to twelve months. This will ensure that they don’t diminish over time. You can also change out your bulbs every now and then, trying different types to increase both the intensity of the light and to optimize the qualities of the spectrum of light in the aquarium.
Too many nutrients can also inspire the growth of algae. Excess nutrients can result from many sources, like a lack of water changes, dead fish, or even poorly cured live rock. Having an algae outbreak doesn’t mean you’re bad at maintaining a fish tank, but it can mean that your tank is overrun with too many nutrients.
Maintaining your reef tank will improve the conditions of your aquarium and will also prevent algae growth – especially the growth of red slime algae. Continue with regular water changes to reduce the build-up of nutrients, and you should notice fewer cyanobacteria in your tank.
How To Get Rid Of Cyanobacteria
The most important step in curbing a red slime algae outbreak is to figure out what’s causing it in the first place. Once you know where the algae came from, then you can begin to fight it.
First, cut down on your lighting. Only use bulbs and light systems that are designed to be used in aquariums, as anything else is apt to cause an outbreak of algae. Try not to run your lights more than nine hours each day. Too much light can cause an influx of algae. If you don’t have coral in your fish tank, you can get by with blacking out your tank for three or four days at a time. This can squash an algae outbreak before it becomes a problem.
Next, try to keep up with regular maintenance and care of your tank. Changing the water regularly – at least as often as is recommended for your individual fish species – will help to both prevent and address an algae outbreak. Even if you don’t have an active algae outbreak or if you don’t see results right away, this is one of the easiest ways to prevent further problems.
You should also reduce potential sources of nitrates in your tank. Try not to use wet/dry filters or bio balls, as these produce large quantities of nitrates. Algae feeds off nitrates and will bloom during spikes, so if you can remove these in your tank, do it.
If you are using live rock in your tank, make sure you cure it properly. Improperly cured live rock can introduce lots of decaying matter into the tank, which will cause a spike in nitrates, nitrites, and phosphates. Once you get rid of them, you will be able to starve out the cyanobacteria.
You can also add a protein skimmer to your tank. Algae often appears in saltwater aquariums because there is too much excess dissolved organics. A protein skimmer can remove harmful organic compounds before they have a chance to do any damage.
Phosphate reactors, too, can help curb algae outbreaks. If you use a phosphate reactor it can help limit the amount of phosphates that are leached into the water.
Finally, increase water flow. Algae can only develop where there is a slow water current. Put some powerheads or filters around your tank to improve the water flow and halt the growth of bacteria. Low water flow will also produce more carbon dioxide, a preferred food source for algae. You can even install a surge or wave maker device to increase the flow.
Using Chemicals For An Algae Outbreak
Many people turn automatically to chemicals to get rid of their algae outbreak. In some regards, chemicals can work when it comes to addressing algae blooms. However, they can often do more harm than good, and you should use them only when you have exhausted all other options.
Chemicals do technically work, but since they tend to be antibiotics, they will kill more than just the cyanobacteria in your tank.. You need some bacteria in your tank in order for your fish and other organisms to remain healthy. After all, that’s why it’s so important to cycle any tank, saltwater or freshwater, before you introduce your fish – this adds healthy bacteria to the tank.
Without healthy, beneficial bacteria in your tank, nitrites and ammonia can spike, killing your entire tank if left unchecked. While lots of red slime algae is dangerous, having a little bit is better than accidentally killing all your fish. In addition, when you introduce antibiotics to the tank, you increase the likelihood that you are going to produce bacteria-resistant species that can later harm your fish.
When in doubt, always test your tank to make sure that you are well-informed regarding the potential problem that is causing the algae to grow. Cyanobacteria are a form of bacteria, so it’s important that you know exactly what is to blame before you attempt to treat the red slime algae in your aquarium.
The Best Way To Get Rid Of Red Slime Algae
Don’t risk the health of your fish, plants, corals, and other organisms by allowing red slime algae to take over your tank. While it’s relatively easy to get rid of red slime algae, it is easier by far to prevent it from ever occurring. Remember, a tank where there is a ton of algae is probably not a healthy tank – there could be other problems at play here, too.
Instead, maintain a healthy fish tank by conducting regular water changes and keeping an eye on the water parameters in your aquarium. If you can eliminate all potential sources of nutrients for the bacteria, you will likely find that your aquarium is healthier – and more attractive! – then ever. And hopefully, it will stay that way for years to come so you can enjoy raising fish to the fullest.