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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Yes (IMO), as I look at my wife's plants grown in water near the windowsill. An aquarium is a closed and controlled environment and in theory should be algae free. Algae is introduced into the aquarium via the items we bring in to the aquarium (e.g. substrate, plants, fish, water, snails, etc.). If we are careful in introducing items in to the aquarium, we can avoid the aggravation and headaches downstream. The number one cause of algae is through the addition of new plants - stowaways. Using tissue culture (in vitro) plants, we can eliminate this introduction as the plants are grown in a sterile lab and out of water. If that is not an option, then a plant dip using 3% hydrogen peroxide (h2o2) or bleach dip can be an alternative - but it may not be completely successful. Too long a dip or concentration will kill the plant. Some sensitive plants don't respond well to any dip, nor can we completely be certain that we killed all the algae.

Algae is robust and an opportunist in that any imbalances in light, nitrogen, phosphorus (nutrient pollution) can lead it to quickly overwhelm and outcompete your plants for nutrients. Mechanical removal is futile as it only leads to the algae spreading to other parts of the tank as algae reproduces asexually and through fragmentation (i.e. you scraping the tank glass to remove algae). The key takeaway is not to introduce algae in the first place.

So what happens if it is too late...

You have a number of options - Treat the Tank or Start Again (breakdown the tank).

If we try to live with it, the suggested approach is to reduce the lighting, dial up the co2, control the nutrients, add snails, shrimps, algae eating fish, etc. This IMO is not addressing the root issue which was the introduction of algae. I won't argue if you can be successful but it is akin to walking a tight rope. Should you miss a water change, leave the light on for too long, allow too much nutrients to buildup, etc. it will result in a breakout to occur. This only prolongs your headaches down the road and can lead to other problems through the band aid fixes such as an influx of snails. Think of the cane frog in Australia that was introduced to combat beetles which quickly became pests.

Treat the Tank
Treating the tank needs to be a holistic assault - it can't be a half-baked effort in spot treating with h2o2. IMO, it's best to remove fish and any invertebrates you like to keep (hotel them in another tank) as treatment can prove deadly - especially through my suggestion of an algaecide. Using a combination of an algaecide (Tetra, API, Excel), blacking out the tank, phosphate removal, and UV sterilization you can effectively tackle the algae issue. Algaecide is used at the onset to initially kill most of the algae. Temporarily blacking out the tank and removing phosphate deprives the algae of its food source - light and nutrients. UV sterilization kills any free-floating algae in the water column. UV sterilization has significantly dropped in price over the years from what was once considered a luxury item.

After the initial assault is done, a full clean-up is required which includes removal of rocks/wood (using a toothbrush to remove any trace amounts of algae followed by sterilization with h2o2. A water change is done and the aquarium reassembled/reinstated (perhaps another water change a couple days later for good measure). Once the aquarium is deemed safe as there may be a toll on the existing good bacteria causing a partial cycle, the previous inhabitants are reintroduced. Ensure that no water from the hoteling tank is transferred and that the nets are sterilized in between use with h2o2. The UV sterilizer is used going forward temporarily but shouldn't be required unless you are introducing something new to tank.

Start Again
Probably the easiest and least aggravating approach over the long run is to just tear down the tank. Let everything sit dry and sterilize the tank. Rebuild the tank ensuring that the new plants you source are of high quality to not introduce algae back into the tank. By monitoring what goes in to the tank and tackling any issues aggressively, you can enjoy a peaceful tank for years to come without having to worry about algae.

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To sum this up, algae is the uninvited guest. It is given to other unsuspecting aquarist through the transfer of plants (likely) and arguably through fish and invertebrates (less likely). If we practice good aquatic husbandry (tissue culture, quarantining, dips, etc.) and proper sourcing of our inhabitants from good/reputable places you can avoid the hassle. In nature, algae is unavoidable - I recall a study published where they found trace amounts of algae spores high up in our atmosphere. In a closed environment, you should be able to eliminate it entirely as algae doesn't suddenly appear. It was lying there waiting for the opportunity to announce itself.

Just my thoughts.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I disagree with that point that algae is always there (e.g. thread, bga, bba, bda, etc.). It may have gone unnoticed or lay hidden but it was likely there from the very start. If you use tissue cultured plants then the likelihood of algae would be very low to none. Algae is like a plant, it doesn't spontaneously appear in a closed environment. Case in point, I was looking at the plants my wife grows on the window sill in glass jars. By all accounts it should be covered by algae because it received an unmonitored amount of light. Aside from looking less 'fresh/clear' the water there is no sign of algae and its been sitting there for months if not a year. If you fill a water bottle leave it unchecked for weeks, bacteria will bloom but you won't see algae appear unless your water source is from untreated well water.
 

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Sorry, but your premise is false. My first tank was built with all brand new components and tissue culture plants. I grew almost every form of algae at one point or another.

Feel free to disprove us, though. Start up a tank from scratch, use only tissue culture, and blast it with 400 PAR for 18 hours a day. If you go a month with no algae, I'll stand corrected =).
 

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Algae spores travel through a variety of mediums, one being air. I have dabbled with tissue cultures and you can accomplish a sterile environment in a sealed container. However our tanks are not sealed environments. We introduce new water, air, and nutrients on a regular basis to maintain the system and that alone is enough to introduce algae.

Balance is key in keeping algae populations in check, even an outdoor pond can be kept clear of green algae with the proper set up.

All in all, a bit of algae is good for your system anyway
 

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Sadly I have to agree with the idea that algae travels through the air. Algae can grow on surfaces outside of the aquarium. The first time I was introduced to this concept was when watching videos on bonsai trees. I was surprised to see a number of people talking about cleaning off algae on the trees. But yep, that's literally what it was. If you go looking around your yard you will probably see a number of items that have algae on them (green powdery covering) that you might first think is simply moss until you take a closer look.

Anyway algae is literally a primordial life form that covers the entire planet. There is no escaping it. You can definitely do a LOT to make sure it doesn't get a noticeable foothold in an aquarium but its always going to be a possible situation baring doing some truly zaney like hermetically sealing a tank away.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Well let's see. I'm going to set up an experiment where I have a couple of glass containers. I will blast them with an excessive amount of light, add an excessive amount of nutrients, and let's see what happens. By all accounts I should have some type of algae in a month.

Without trying to stir things up. I would say the chlorine we have in water is to prevent algae in the water supply and while I agree there could be algae (land based) in the air, it is not aquatic algae.
 

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Well let's see. I'm going to set up an experiment where I have a couple of glass containers. I will blast them with an excessive amount of light, add an excessive amount of nutrients, and let's see what happens. By all accounts I should have some type of algae in a month.

Without trying to stir things up. I would say the chlorine we have in water is to prevent algae in the water supply and while I agree there could be algae (land based) in the air, it is not aquatic algae.
Make it 3 or 4 months and its a better test. I usually refer to the first month of a tank as the honeymoon period.
 

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I also agree that algae is always there in the form of spores, but for argument sake lets say there not and are introduced via plants, water, etc. What difference does it make if it can be controlled by not giving algae the correct environment to thrive. I've NEVER dipped a plant to prevent algae from coming into my tank. I readily introduce plants that might have a small amount of visible algae into my tank and nothing spreads. The conditions have to be right.

In a way it's similar to other pests like snails. Without enough food/waste a snail population will control itself and are actually a helpful addition to an aquarium as an over-population would indicate to much waste or feeding. Algae indicates too much organic waste that decomposes and makes ammonia available to algae spores. That's the catalyst.
 

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I disagree with that point that algae is always there (e.g. thread, bga, bba, bda, etc.). It may have gone unnoticed or lay hidden but it was likely there from the very start. If you use tissue cultured plants then the likelihood of algae would be very low to none. Algae is like a plant, it doesn't spontaneously appear in a closed environment. Case in point, I was looking at the plants my wife grows on the window sill in glass jars. By all accounts it should be covered by algae because it received an unmonitored amount of light. Aside from looking less 'fresh/clear' the water there is no sign of algae and its been sitting there for months if not a year. If you fill a water bottle leave it unchecked for weeks, bacteria will bloom but you won't see algae appear unless your water source is from untreated well water.
I have to ask....how much experience do you have with planted aquariums?

These theories pop up every so often, and usually it's from beginners.

Folks who have been around the block a few times know that algae does not need an invitation. Provide the right conditions, and it will take advantage. Why? The answer is blowing in the wind.
 

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Algae spores travel through a variety of mediums, one being air. I have dabbled with tissue cultures and you can accomplish a sterile environment in a sealed container. However our tanks are not sealed environments. We introduce new water, air, and nutrients on a regular basis to maintain the system and that alone is enough to introduce algae.

Balance is key in keeping algae populations in check, even an outdoor pond can be kept clear of green algae with the proper set up.

All in all, a bit of algae is good for your system anyway
I like the little bit about "a bit of algae is good for your system anyway."
I cant argue if this is true or not; but, it puts the pressure off of those of us who have learned to live with it. :)
I know my otos, shrimp, and bristlenose appreciate my leaving some algae to feast on.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
eos on bonsai trees. I was surprised to see a number of people talking about cleaning off algae on the trees. But yep, that's literally what it was. If you go looking around your yard you will probably see a number of items that have algae on them (green powdery covering) that you might first thing is simply moss until you take a closer look.

Anyway algae is lite
Make it 3 or 4 months and its a better test. I usually refer to the first month of a tank as the honeymoon period.
Sure, I'm prepared to eat my words.. I'm setting it up right now. My hypothesis, which I'm pretty confident, is nothing will happen - I don't believe that algae is always there or that you happen to have aquatic algae spores floating around your house in the air that will give you nasty hair algae. Outside sure, but inside no... unless I live next to a lake. This is beginning to sound like a grade 3 experiment.

People might think what's the big deal, I have snails and shrimp to eat that stuff (at least some of it) and a properly maintained aquarium shouldn't have issues... however, we all know that somewhere down the line you will have algae issues. My point is, you need to first recognize where the algae is coming from. Practicing good husbandry saves you time, stress, money, and frustration down the road especially if you are setting up a new tank. Introducing band aid solutions don't always work. I personally hate snails (specifically ramhorn) as they can quickly multiple adding to the bio-load of the tank by creating waste themselves. Like the pandemic, it can hit a saturation/tipping point where the snails contribute to a nutrient imbalance and guess what algae. Easy to manage/control in small tanks < 20 gallons.. harder to manage with bigger tanks.

But I'm a beginner. I set up my first planted aquarium back in early 2005. Back then it was just a small 110 gallon high-tech aquarium with a 30 gallon sump. I use to believe algae was part of the aquatic experience - a right of passage. However with tissue culture plants becoming popular coming from a sterile environment, my old ways of thinking have changed. Algae is a pest like ich. I don't think algae issues needs to happen with lab grown plants but may be it's truly unavoidable.
 

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Probably a better setup for the experiment would be a jar with no plants, a dose of ferts, an open lid and sitting in sunlight with a rock or sand in there to provide surface area. Then see what happens, my estimate is you will get algae on the surfaces as there will be nothing to stop it's growth. Algae being very robust it's not picky about where it grows, aquatic or terrestrial.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Probably a better setup for the experiment would be a jar with no plants, a dose of ferts, an open lid and sitting in sunlight with a rock or sand in there to provide surface area. Then see what happens, my estimate is you will get algae on the surfaces as there will be nothing to stop it's growth. Algae being very robust it's not picky about where it grows, aquatic or terrestrial.
that's exactly what I'm doing with mason jars... but here's the million dollar question what type of algae will it grow (if any)?
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But I'm a beginner. I set up my first planted aquarium back in early 2005. Back then it was just a small 110 gallon high-tech aquarium with a 30 gallon sump. I use to believe algae was part of the aquatic experience - a right of passage. However with tissue culture plants becoming popular coming from a sterile environment, my old ways of thinking have changed. Algae is a pest like ich. I don't think algae issues needs to happen with lab grown plants but may be it's truly unavoidable.
This has been argued many, many times. Since you have experience, you know that there are LOTS of different types of algae. Create the right conditions, and staghorn, cladophora, BBA, hair, fuzz, green dust, green spot, Cyanobacteria, green water algae, and others can pop up out of nowhere.

Based on your theory does each one need to be introduced individually? That would be something, because I have seen tanks with all of them. They would need to be getting a lot of plants from a lot of people with a wide range of algae.

And please take that in the spirit that it is offered. This topic comes up every so often and is a good topic for debate. The thing is it rarely changes many minds.

Any pics of your tank? We love 110 gallons of planted tank around here. Consider starting a journal. It's a great way to share your journey and become involved with the community here.
 

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that's exactly what I'm doing with mason jars... but here's the million dollar question what type of algae will it grow (if any)?
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Nice! As to what type? Its hard to say. There are literally thousands of species. We tend to group them based on how they look to our naked eye, but what will grow? No idea, I'm of the belief that certain areas are more prone to certain types (local spores etc) but that's just me speculating. If you have no organics in there at all and LOTS of light from direct sunlight you have a decent chance of getting green water algae.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
This has been argued many, many times. Since you have experience, you know that there are LOTS of different types of algae. Create the right conditions, and staghorn, cladophora, BBA, hair, fuzz, green dust, green spot, Cyanobacteria, green water algae, and others can pop up out of nowhere.

Based on your theory does each one need to be introduced individually? That would be something, because I have seen tanks with all of them. They would need to be getting a lot of plants from a lot of people with a wide range of algae.

And please take that in the spirit that it is offered. This topic comes up every so often and is a good topic for debate. The thing is it rarely changes many minds.

Any pics of your tank? We love 110 gallons of planted tank around here. Consider starting a journal. It's a great way to share your journey and become involved with the community here.
Sure I had my battles with algae. I had reef tanks for many years prior to a planted aquarium which were quicker to get out of whack then planted aquariums especially with the knowledge back then. No theory here but plants that you purchase at the fish store either have algae spores or become contaminated. There's a huge volume of plants that are turned over at the LFS each week, it shouldn't come as a surprise that spores in the water column can attach to the plant. Personally, I have only experienced GSA and hair algae. Red slime algae (cyanobacteria) in my reef.

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I do have a log here from 2005 but it is inactive as the old photos were stored on imageshack.
 

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... No theory here but plants that you purchase at the fish store either have algae spores or become contaminated. There's a huge volume of plants that are turned over at the LFS each week, it shouldn't come as a surprise that spores in the water column can attach to the plant.
Just so I understand it's your thought that algae isn't there from the getgo, it's transported via plants? What about fish only tanks?
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Referencing my second sentence at the very top, we bring it in to the aquarium via the substrate, plants, fish water, snails, etc.

I don't feel like this is a new idea and I wish I could go to the library to pull out a dusty book from the 60's and 70's on fishkeeping 101 but dipping plants (for example) to prevent the transfer of unwanted pests including algae and the various different types have been going on for eons. What type(s) of algae you end up getting IMO is a smorgasbord of whatever happens to be floating in the holding tanks at the plant wholesaler, distributor, or your LFS.

With the avert of tissue cultured plants which are advertised algae free, I think there is the possibility of having a relatively algae free tank. I wanted to call attention that we are importing a lot of these algae cultures into our tank unbeknownst. What had me thinking along these lines was when I bought two different moss plants from two separate aquarist. I had asked each one, are there any pests that I should be aware of snails, algae, etc. Each one said definitely no. Doing my due diligence and using an alum dip / quarantine for 3 days (which I strongly recommend to everyone).. l discovered detritus worms and at least 12 snails some microscopically small (I use that as an analogy as it is visible to the human eye).

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With FO tanks, that's an excellent question and hence the experiment... I'm thinking there could be the transfer of the spores via the water from the LFS (primary) or on the fish themselves (less likely which I alluded to in my first post). Perhaps algae is always there in some state and is unavoidable. At the end I think a lot can be done by the end user to mitigate the transfer to avoid hardships down the line.
 

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algae is definitely capable of airborne dispersal, whether or not that's a primary vector is another question.


FWIW Dennis Wong did an experiment that's similar to your jars, and did not get any growth unless he used tank water, which would support your argument. These small scale type tests are not robust or conclusive though.


not speaking to anyone specific, just my thoughts on it:
Tanks are open to the atmosphere, running with light and nutrients for years on end...they have constant contact/interactions with your arms and hands, plastic tubes, new flora/fauna when added, whatever else gets put in there either intentionally or accidentally. Frequent introduction of new water which may or may not be sterile. There's just so much continuous interaction with the environment in so many various ways...Even if you're extremely careful about not introducing algae when you first put your plants and fish in, you won't be able to maintain that for the duration of your tanks life and every interaction you have with it.
 
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