View Full Version : I like algae

07-25-2003, 06:39 PM
Hello to all that read this. I am a first-time poster, but a long time enthusiast-


I have two tanks, a 55 g (~208 l) and 75 g (~284 l), that have been in constant operation for more than three years.

Inhabitants are strictly Malawi cichlids to include:

N. venustus, P. taeniolatus, S. ahli, O. lithobates, C. mloto, Aulonocara sp., L. caeruleus, C. afra, P. zebra, L. trawavasae, P. elongatus among others. All are male.

Each tank has a mixture of the above list. Often there is one of each in both tanks and in a few cases I have female counterparts.
These fishes ages range from 1 to 3+ years and sizes range from less than 2 to 4.5 in (~5 - 11.5 cm) I might be a bit overstocked but this was planned in that I prefer to have more fish at the beginning (when they are small) and weed out the undesirables as they mature. I have been reducing my fish count over the last year or so.

Both tanks have no planted vegetation; I have always avoided it for two reasons. One, obviously it is difficult to have a successful planted aquarium with these fish. I'm not saying it's impossible, but I have always been discouraged by what I hear from people that have tried it and been unsuccessful. Two, to have a planted tank would largely conflict with the type of "aquascaping" and, to some extent, the type of filtration that I have used.

Originally, each tank was set up with undergravel filters powered by two Powerhead 402s in each tank. Until recently, as my fish have really matured, I have never had significant water quality problems. I do regular water changes which include adding stress coat and aquarium salt on each water change. I also perform gravel vacs as often as possible, usually in conjunction with a "complete overhaul," where I remove all the rocks and do an all-surfaces cleaning (I never use anything more than elbow grease and a scrubber on anything in my aquariums). In the last six months or so, I have noticed that if I didn't increase the water change frequency or amount, I would experience an increase in nitrate concentration. I fully expected this, seeing that my fish have grown significantly over the last three years. To alleviate this problem, I have, as suggested above, increased the water changes and have made efforts to reduce the waste load by removing fish that were not cool enough to justify their waste input or their nasty attitude. Recently, I have also added an Aquariums System Millenium 3000 power filter to each tank, with the hope that they will help with the waste load. Although I realize that this will not remove any more nitrates, it will aid in the efficiency at which ammonia and nitrite are removed. Another benefit associated with their acquisition was that before I didn't have any physical or chemical filtration. I hope that the added physical filtration will help me remove the waste before it needs to be degraded.

My "aquascaping" technique is framed by the exclusive use of limestone rock on top of inert epoxy coated gravel. The gravel was purchased, but the rock has been arduously collected by yours truly. I had the fortune of living in an area that has extensive deposits of "honeycomb" limestone. You may or may not be familiar with what I'm referring to, but just know that it is a soft (by that I mean that its less than 4 on the Moe's Hardness scale. It will not scratch glass :^)) porous limestone that in many cases looks very much like Swiss cheese, with huge and often interconnected macro pores. These honeycomb limestone deposits are almost always associated with Karst topography, where water percolates through and reacts with the rock and dissolves the rock to create voids. I was told by a local aquarium store that it was ideal as a buffer and it was very much similar, in chemistry anyway, to the rock types in the east African rift valleys and lakes. Of course, they charged almost 2 dollars a pound for this stuff, so you would imagine that they would say that. But based on what I have garnered from other sources, I believed them; enough so that I began to collect it on my own. Since then, I have moved somewhere that has deposits of really thin, hard limestone layers. These layers yield very nice thin flat rock. I have incorporated them into my setups, as well.

When I got my first aquarium, I had almost all Mbuna, maybe a few Labs, and some haps, but the majority of my fish were rock fish. Based on this, I aquascape my tanks in what I refer to as like a lodge or condo. Basically, with the honeycomb rock and the flat rock I build a bi-level and/or tri-level structure that spans the length of the tank (both are 4 ft (~120cm).) I pay special attention to creating as many potential hiding/living spaces that I can of various sizes. I also try to create various "sieves" that allow a smaller fish to escape a larger one. I have done some crude calculations and I can say that there is always 15 - 25% water displacement associated with my designs. My aim has always been to provide more than enough niches for my tank inhabitants and to this day, I and my fish have been happy with the results. I'm not saying that I can talk to my fish, but they are amazingly non-aggressive towards each other. Except for a few hyperdominant fish that I have had to remove, I would say that my fish are surprisingly benign towards each other. Rarely have there been problems and my fish have never gone to battle where a fish was overwhelmed. I have even been the proud father of baby Red Empress and Red top trawavasae (this does mean they are happy, right? ;^)) Of course, I have had to remove probably no more than six mbuna that were just not going to fit into the social order with out getting a larger tank. But even then, they never thrashed another inhabitant; they were just bullies. They were removed largely because they were too big and/or they were not cool enough to justify their existence in what was otherwise a harmonious atmosphere.

Recently, I tend to not house many mbuna and the ones I have are quite pleasant, I have managed to weed out the aggressive ones and replace them, in the past few years, with (sometimes) less aggressive non-mbuna species.

Last point and then I'll finally address my questions:

Often these condos or lodges that I construct end up being quite tall. Sometimes these structures are with in 5 inches from the top of the aquarium. Usually, I "cap" the structures with the flat rock, such that there is a significant surface area that is virtually parallel to the water surface. This means that I have perfectly oriented surface area, perpendicular to the fluorescent light source, and a lot of it. You can see where this is going.

I have 48" dual-tube fluorescent lighting hoods with a GE Aquarays fresh & saltwater and a GE Spectrarays full-spectrum bulb in each hood. Each has a timer that automatically turns the lights on and off. Neither of my tanks gets hardly any direct sunlight so I provide about ten hours of light per day. And let me tell you I get a lot of algae and I and my fish like it. Surface algae that is and it has grown quite well. Enough algae that I have supplemented my fishes diet with it. I have always wondered, given the right conditions, if I could grow enough algae to sustain the fish in my aquariums. I have been told that you can't and that you would need to grow much more than you could possibly grow in my typical aquarium setting. Ultimately, knowing what I know about their livelihood, they are probably right. However, recently I went on vacation for an extended period of time. I use PennPlax Daily-Double automatic feeders while I'm on vacation. They can be problematic, but if used properly, they can feed for almost three weeks or more. Well, when I returned from a 3-week vacation, I was surprised to find that the feeder on the 75 clogged up and did not hardly feed any food at all...the entire time I was gone. Fish in captivity inevitably get overfed anyway and I know they are pretty hardy. I use the feeders to feed them sparingly, with the idea that a little food will keep them healthy and somewhat less aggressive while I am gone as well as reduce the waste load while they are home alone. Well, they didn't get any fish food while I was gone and believe it or not, they were just fine. In fact, they looked great. Not one fish was reduced to a punching bag, no one died, and hardly any nipped fins. Based on what I observed, they had lived entirely on algae. You could see the rasp marks from their teeth everywhere, but not only did they survive, but the algae showed signs of being capable of keeping up with their feeding demands. Next vacation, I will still install the feeders, but I can at least know that, in the case of a feeder not working, the algae indeed can keep them alive and happy for a while.

I have subscribed to this method of aquascaping and lighting for at least two years now, starting when I replaced both of my hoods with dual tube hoods. When I did this, my intent was to try to grow surface algae. Fortunately, I have never had a problem with algae in the water column, although I did have to reduce the amount of time the lights were on, because I was noticing that my water would take on a slight greenish tint if I didn't perform weekly water changes. This really only applied to the 55 g tank. I just adjusted the amount of time the lights were on and it went away. I have never experienced an opaque algae problem, like I have heard/read of before. Like green stew...seen it once in a buddies' Central American cichlid tank, though. My water has always been completely translucent, crystal clear.

Ok, if you are still reading this then I guess you care enough to know what information I am trying to garner. Sorry about the length, but I thought it would be important to relay all this information to adequately prep you for my questions.

Here we go:

1) What bulbs do you think would grow the most surface algae, but will also bring out the best color in my fish?

The GE bulbs I have use for the last years are listed as being 9325K and 5000K. They seem to do the trick, but I will be replacing them all soon, so I was wondering if anybody can provide suggestions.

2) Is it possible to grow enough algae to actually remove an appreciable amount of Nitrate from the tank?

It seems to me that having it, as long as it is not detrimental to the tank inhabitants, is a good thing. It supplements their diet and it could possibly help the water quality. I actually like it as long as it grows on the rocks. Sometimes it can grow to be quite fascinating, blows in the current not unlike how a grassland environment looks as it blows in the wind. At times it can be a pain to clean all the glass, but with the addition of the magnetic scrubbers, it far less a pain now. Just have to be diligent.

3) Can anyone give me a good reason why I would not want to grow algae in the manner that is described above?

Maybe I am totally missing the obvious here, but I have been quite successful with the overall philosophy.

Thanks in advance for your input. Any information that you could provide would be greatly appreciated.


07-30-2003, 12:15 AM
yes! a fellow algae lover! welcome!

well, for your first question. my answer would be either Metal Halide bulbs, or CF bulbs. i have a quad CF 96watt on my 10gallon nano. the thing is COVERED in green algae. i have to scrape green algae from the front glass on a daily basis. i love the algae look. makes everything nice and green, and i think it looks great. the CF 50/50 bulbs will also bring out mbuna's colors.

2. dunno :)

3. some algae is actually bad for your tank, certian species can cloud your water. and some(in saltwater at least, not sure about fresh) can release toxins that can hurt your life stock. again, i'm not sure if that will have any effect on the africans.

07-30-2003, 06:57 PM
Answer to #2........... Yes, but the addition of fast growing floating plants or rooted plants (water sprite, duckweed, hornwort, etc.) might be make it more efficient.