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Algae - Knockdown, Nuke, or Adjust?

PostPosted: Thu Jul 20, 2017 4:14 am
by PVT-Kanaka
Aloha!

Been busy, traveling, and otherwise off-line! But now it is time to turn to some fish business...

My 55 gal. display tank has been in more or less continuous operation for about 14 years. The main decoration is driftwood. I have always had little tufts of beard algae here and there, but never anything distracting until recently. Now, it covers every exposed piece of wood, any equipment (occasionally blocking my filter inlet), and has finally beaten back the java fern, java moss, and anubius that have sparred with each other for dominance over a decade. Only a patch of Crypt and a few strands of java fern are holding out.

The photo-period is about 10 hours (noon to 10:00 pm), and I have used an LED strip for the last 2-3 years. The room is bright, but it gets no direct sunlight. Temperatures in the summer get into the mid-80s, but this has not been an issue before. I have ruled out "old tank syndrome" based on no observable drift in parameters between my water changes (90%-95% every other week). I have two power heads taking a draw from a network of PVC that terminates into pond filters on the opposite side of the tank and a massive HOB filter. With a few exceptions The fish are all 3 or more years old and show no problems (stocking is moderate by my standards, perhaps moderate/high by others), but the set-up has held more with no issues.

Currently, I have underutilized tanks that could house the inhabitants, so I have the flexibility to knock the tank down, compost the plants, chlorinate the wood, pumps, gravel, etc. and start again. This would be a pain, and it would be an admission of defeat. I really want to keep enjoying this tank's evolution over the next several years, something that I had never had the opportunity to do.

I have considered algaecides ("nuke" it), but philosophically I am opposed to success through chemicals, especially if I cannot diagnose the underlying issue and thus just leave the tank dependent upon dousing with expensive and, in my opinion, often dubious elixirs. If, however, I have to put philosophy aside for practicality, I will bite the ego bullet and commence "nuking" the algae.

I am leaning towards my preferred option, which is dicker with the environment. I am curious if I should try one or more of the following or something else?

1. Dicker with the photoperiod. I can always have the LED come on later.
2. Attack algae with plants. OK, in 30 years, I have never had a stem plant that liked me. That being said, if there is a nutrient grubbing plant that will live in old gravel, I am in. I was thinking a good old sword plant, though these have not been successful for me in this tank before.
3. Increase the number of water changes. A bit of a pain, but I can do it. I can take water right out of the tap, so time, not water supply, is the issue.

With the fish healthy, I can take my time with any of these options.

All is otherwise well (OK, got skunked recently on a six pack of tiger barbs, but that is what quarantine tanks are for!), and I hope everyone is enjoying their summers!

- Eric

Re: Algae - Knockdown, Nuke, or Adjust?

PostPosted: Thu Jul 20, 2017 8:34 pm
by Diana
A few options:
1) Spot treat with hydrogen peroxide. This will kill the algae.
a) Do a bit of research to figure out the maximum amount of H2O2 for your tank volume.
b) Put this much H2O2 in a syringe barrel (no needle) or eye dropper.
c) Turn off the water movement.
d) Squirt a little bit of H2O2 at the algae, keep moving to different patches until you are out of H2O2.
e) Allow it to sit for a few minutes (perhaps 15 minutes), then turn on the equipment.
f) Next day, do a water change and treat again, different patches of algae, repeat until all the patches have been treated.
Same treatment concept, but use Excel.

2) Adjust one element at a time until the algae seems to slow down. More light or less? More fertilizer or less? (one fert at a time), adjust CO2 (Carefully!)

3) A good, deep vacuum and water changes can help.

4) Algaecide may help. Follow directions carefully.

5) If you decide to tear down the tank and sterilize everything, remember to add new beneficial bacteria to the holding tanks, then to the main tank when you are ready to set it up again. Something like Dr. Tim's One and Only, or Tetra Safe Start have the correct species of organisms. Look for Nitrospira species in the ingredients.
My sister tried to sterilize a tank like you are suggesting, and killed the beneficial microorganisms, had to re-introduce the organisms.
Algae spores are drifting around all over, and even a sterile tank will start growing more algae if the conditions are right.

Re: Algae - Knockdown, Nuke, or Adjust?

PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2017 1:18 am
by PVT-Kanaka
Diana,

Mahalo (Thanks). I am going with Option #2, starting with light. This week is water change week (which always includes a deep vacuum, part of Option #3), so, after I "shave" the wood, I will have a good baseline from which to start my observations. With the entire back wall of the tank more or less drift wood, I think I need to get the algae into retreat before I start spot treating with H202 per option #1. It may take a couple weeks before I can determine effects, but I will keep you and anyone reading along posted.

I'll hold off on Options #4 and #5 at least until the end of the summer. No point in going through that work if I only reestablish conditions for this to happened again!

Aloha,
Eric

Re: Algae - Knockdown, Nuke, or Adjust?

PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2017 7:19 pm
by Diana
Another way to treat with hydrogen peroxide or excel is to figure out the maximum amount (as above) but spray it onto algae exposed to the air during a water change.

Good to see what may be triggering it, or encouraging the growth. Figure that out first, then treat to kill the algae.

Re: Algae - Knockdown, Nuke, or Adjust?

PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2017 10:53 pm
by PVT-Kanaka
Thanks again, Diana. I just finished a 90% water change with deep gravel vacuuming. I took out all the wood, and my daughter scoured them with a wire brush in exchange for full decorating rights. I then dialed the light back 90 minutes. Now we wait...
Enjoy your weekend!
-Eric

Re: Algae - Knockdown, Nuke, or Adjust?

PostPosted: Sun Jul 23, 2017 12:25 am
by Diana
Monitor the ammonia and nitrite. There were probably a pretty good population of beneficial organisms on the wood. Be ready to do another few water changes if needed.

Re: Algae - Knockdown, Nuke, or Adjust?

PostPosted: Sun Jul 23, 2017 9:08 pm
by PVT-Kanaka
OK, will do. Hadn't thought of the ammonia and nitrite issue that shaving the wood might present! Good catch, and thanks again!

Re: Algae - Knockdown, Nuke, or Adjust?

PostPosted: Mon Jul 24, 2017 7:09 am
by ScottFish
Thanks for keeping us in the loop. We have all been there.

Re: Algae - Knockdown, Nuke, or Adjust?

PostPosted: Tue Jul 25, 2017 2:58 am
by PVT-Kanaka
Mahalo for the support. Hard to watch an old tank go through this. Looks very bare right now...

Anyway, three days after the massive water change, gravel vacuuming, filter backflushing, and shaving of the drift wood, both ammonia and nitrites are at or near 0 ppm. I'll keep watching to see if it stays this way, and initiate the water changes if required.

As to the problem at hand, the algae is making a slow, creeping return. If the pace seems limited between now and the next scheduled water change in about 10 days (typical 90% change with back flush and vacuum cleaning) , I will try to go with some higher order plants and fertilizer to outcompete it.

I did lose one of my ancient tetras, a "rescue fish" that was a white strain of a black skirt, I think, that I got when friends moved a few years back. I suspect old age, and not tank conditions. Still, given everything else, it is a data point.

Updates to follow as conditions merit.

Aloha,
Eric

Re: Algae - Knockdown, Nuke, or Adjust?

PostPosted: Tue Jul 25, 2017 7:21 am
by ScottFish
How is the water flow? Any dead spots?

Re: Algae - Knockdown, Nuke, or Adjust?

PostPosted: Tue Jul 25, 2017 11:23 pm
by PVT-Kanaka
Scottfish,

Two powerheads and a large HOB on one side that blow down and along the tank over the drift wood. Both powerheads draw from a network of PVC that runs under the gravel to foam blocks on the intake side. This sets up a nice circular current that rips counterclockwise the long way across the tank. If there are dead spots, they are on the side of the wood that faces inside towards the back glass of the aquarium. I have a submersible pump in my box-o-bits I could try to place such that it blows along the back wall. Do you think that would help?

- Eric

Re: Algae - Knockdown, Nuke, or Adjust?

PostPosted: Fri Jul 28, 2017 2:40 am
by PVT-Kanaka
OK,

Nitrites and Ammonia holding fast, but the algae is starting to reappear. I'd put it at about 10% coverage of the visible side of the wood. I am sure some survived in the nooks and crannies, and I know I didn't get it all out of the foam filter blocks that are at the inlet for my filter system. I have yet to plug in that submersible pump, but I want a week's worth of observation before I tinker.

Besides the pump, I am inclined to let this go for another week to see how bad it gets before making the next adjustment. Of course, that'll mean another shaving of the wood!

- Eric

Re: Algae - Knockdown, Nuke, or Adjust?

PostPosted: Sat Jul 29, 2017 8:47 am
by Diana
If the first shaving of the wood did not help (algae is coming back) then I would try something else.

Water circulation sounds fine. Does debris collect behind the wood in that one spot you think might have lower water flow?

What are the most recent test results for:
NO3
KH
GH
pH
TDS (if you have a meter)
any other tests- Fe, PO4 and others. Whatever tests you have.
...and how do these test results compare to prior results (when algae was not a problem)

Are you adding any fertilizers? If so, which?
or, are you allowing the fish food to serve as fertilizer?

Re: Algae - Knockdown, Nuke, or Adjust?

PostPosted: Mon Jul 31, 2017 2:04 am
by PVT-Kanaka
Diana,

Just ran a test strip...not the most accurate thing, I know, but good enough as a barometer of trouble/

Nitrate - <20ppm
Nitrite - <.5 ppm
Total Hardness (GH) - 75 ppm
Chlorides - 0
Alkalinity - (KH) 40
pH - 6.8-7.2

This is pretty much what comes out of our tap. Been using it for years. The big difference with this tank relative to the others is the quantity of driftwood.

I do not fertilize; I tend to overfeed, and my stocking level is debatably "high" (or was...we are in a generational shift in the tank right now).

I frankly do not think flow is an issue. Water rips through this tank, and schooling fish tend to point "upstream." I just had a pump ready to hand (Or did; it needed a repair.), so I thought I might employ it after the glue re-sticks the impeller blades to the magnet.

I am gathering a "nuking" may be in order...I have an algaecide ready to hand, as well, but it is years old. The shorter photo-period seems to have slowed the growth of algae, but it seems that I need to give the system a kick to knock the algae back to tolerable levels.

Thanks as always, and have a great week!

Aloha,
Eric

Re: Algae - Knockdown, Nuke, or Adjust?

PostPosted: Wed Aug 02, 2017 8:45 am
by Diana
It often happens that after you have found something that slows the growth of the algae you then need to do something more just as you suggest to knock it back a lot more. Then recovery will be much slower, and perhaps the plants will become dominant so the algae does not recover.