A: One first needs to understand what algae is. Algae, put
simply, is a form of plant life. Like all plants, algae need water, light
and food to survive. If all are present, there will always be some
algae and this is not, necessarily, undesirable. If one or more of these
elements are in excess, the amount and type of algae may become undesirable.
The water and light are obvious, but what constitutes
algae "food?" Fish waste, uneaten fish food, and decomposing dead
plants (or fish), eventually are converted to a high level of the chemical nitrate
as well as another chemical, phosphate. Nitrate and phosphate, as
most gardeners know, are primary plant fertilizers.
Unacceptable growth of algae, therefore, usually results
from an excess of light and/or food. Most tanks do not need 10 to 12
hours of light per day. If we overstock fish, overfeed them, or fail to do
regular water changes (to lower the nitrate and phosphate levels, among
other things) we can have an algae "problem."
In addition to keeping "excesses" of light and
"plant food" under control, there are some useful creatures that
may control undesirable alga growth in the aquarium.
Most popular in freshwater is the fish commonly called a
"pleco." Other useful fish include the "Chinese algae
eater," otolincus catfish ("O" Cat), and the "Flying
In Saltwater tanks, assuming there are no predatory fish
(such as triggerfish), algae control may be aided by various snails, hermit
crabs, urchins, and certain fish such as the Kole (or
"Yellow-eye"), tang, and the sailfin (AKA "Lawnmower")
Q: I'm new to saltwater fishkeeping. Wouldn't it be better for me to see
if I can be successful with a small tank before I invest in a large
A: Usually the only advantage to a smaller tank is a lower
initial cost. One of the "secrets" to successful fishkeeping is a
stable environment. Smaller tanks are normally more difficult to keep stable
and, therefore, more difficult to keep fish in, successfully. Additionally,
most hobbyists are eventually tempted to add one more life form to a tank
than is appropriate. In a small tank the chance of overstocking is far
greater. The old adage thus holds true: to purchase the largest tank that
space and budget can accommodate. If space and budget are too much of a
problem, avoid the aggravation and don't get a tank at this time.
So, you might ask, "what's a small tank for
saltwater?" Generally the smallest you should start with is a 20 or 30
gallon. Again, larger, such as a 50 or 75 gallon, or larger, is better.
Q: My aquarium is always "cloudy". What can I do to make it
There are several possible reasons for
"cloudy" water, and most can easily be controlled. If the aquarium
is relatively new, the cloudy water may be what is known as "new tank
syndrome." During the first few weeks, biological changes are
occurring, involving the growth of nitrifying bacteria, which will
ultimately benefit the aquarium by removing toxic ammonia and nitrite
produced by the fish. Although microscopic, a large initial
"bloom" of these bacteria may give the tank a slightly
"milky" appearance. Assuming the fish do not appear stressed
(indicating an overabundance of ammonia and/or nitrite), the best course of
action is to do nothing and let this cycle complete itself. The water will
normally clear up given a little time. If the tank is past its
"new" phase, other factors may be contributing to the problem:
is the most common cause of cloudy water. Aquarium filters can only do so
much and the water can only absorb so much waste. If feeding is such that
there is uneaten food left, or large amount if fish waste, the water will
not be clear. It is better to feed only one or two light (what the
fish will completely consume in ~ one minute) feedings per day and
stock 10% less than the tank capacity.
You have to understand that fish will naturally consume
more food than they need. This is because in nature there is much
competition for food and fish never know when their next "meal"
will come. As such a normal healthy fish can go 3 days without food with
little or no ill effects. The trick in the controlled environment of the
aquarium is to feed them only what they need and that need is less than most
High Phosphate in tap water: In some parts of the
country, tap water contains high levels of the chemical phosphate, either as
a natural occurrence, or as a breakdown of certain water treatment chemicals
(called polyphosphonates). Tiny particles of phosphate can be suspended in
the water and are so light, they do not sink nor can they be removed with
most particle filters. The water takes on a white, hazy appearance. The
standard treatment here is the use of commercial products containing
aluminum sulfate (such as "Brite-n-Clear" or
"Pro-Clear"), which will clump the particles together (flocculate
them) so that they sink to the bottom and/or are trapped by mechanical
Green water (algae bloom): This is one of the more
frustrating problems. While often precipitated by too much feeding or light
(more than 10-12 hours/day), it can happen even to properly
maintained aquaria. The culprit is a microscopic algae whose spores float
through the air until they find a hospitable place to "have a
family," (such as your tank!). Then, almost overnight, billions
of these tiny cells turn your tank into "pea soup." Most filters
won't remove them (remember, they're microscopic). The first possible remedy
could be to try a commercial algaecide. This usually works, although
slowly. Do not use this if you keep live plants. Also, you must discontinue
the use of carbon filtration during the algaecide treatment. A partial (up
to 50%) water change prior to the treatment, plus a cutback in feeding and
lighting may increase your chance of success.
Another approach is the use of commercial products that
"clump" the algae cells together (such as Kent Marine Green
Water controller) with a polymeric chemical, allowing the particles to
be trapped by most mechanical filters. Although a more expensive approach,
good results can also be had with the use of a fine-particle micron
filter, such as the Magnum TM filter from Marineland Products. If necessary,
this can be used with "clumping" chemical product additions for
more efficient particle removal. A third and very effective approach is to
utilize flocculating compounds in combination with a commercial algaecide.
Treatment chemical overdose. This last category of
cloudy water problems is a case of "if a little is good, more must be
better." This is sometimes seen with various "tap water
treatments," especially those with a "slime coat"
replacement, such as aloe vera. If the instructions call for a cap full, and
you add a cup full, cloudy water may result.
Q: Help, my fish is sick! Why?
A: If you expect a short answer to this question, you need
to better understand the basics of fish disease. There are many books
written on the subject, but understanding a few basic principles will get
you focused on the correct response to problems that occur.
First of all, fish do not normally get sick "for
no reason at all." Secondly, nature has given them defense against,
and possible cure for, most problems. This, as with humans, is their immune
system. The immune system, when working properly, provides a host
of chemical and physiological Reponses to repel many invading organisms,
including parasites, bacteria, fungus, and viruses.
Quite often, a diseased fish is lacking in a properly
working functioning immune system. This normally occurs due to some current,
or recent, stress situation. Stress in fish, as in humans, causes the
excretion of a hormone called adrenaline. In fish, and probably in
humans, adrenaline can cause a temporary malfunction of the immune system.
As such, the fish is a position analogous to a human with an immune
deficiency (such as AIDS). The deficiency itself doesn't sicken you, but you
have no natural defense against disease causing organisms in your
environment. Furthermore, it is important to understand that any possible
cure will probably not work without a functioning immune system.
So what does this all mean? If I have a sick fish, I need
to first evaluate possible stress factors. Is there an environmental
problem (ammonia or nitrite in the water, a temperature problem, rough
handling or fighting with other fish, etc.)? If I can pin the stress problem
down and correct it, my chances of saving the fish are better. Once past
that, it is important to determine the type of disease. Many fish
keepers call everything "ich" and dump in treatments that
rarely work. Aside from physical trauma (injury) we can categorize most fish
disease into three general categories
we find the ever-popular "ich" as well as a host of other tiny bad
guys that usually attack the skin of fish and "suck the life" out
of them. In their adult stage (when it's almost too late for cure),
they are usually visible to the eye, perhaps as tiny salt-size dots or
"velvety" coating. Depending on the parasite and the severity,
there are several commercial preparations that may afford relief. Don't guess
which one - always consult your professional aquarium store personnel! Like
most medicines, there can be side effects and complications.
Bacteria & Fungus: These organisms are similar,
often hard to differentiate to the novice' eye, and are similarly treated.
The normal treatment is some sort of antibiotic or anti-fungal agent. At
best, which medication to use is an educated guess. Please consult a
qualified, knowledgeable, aquarium store person for the proper treatment.
There are some variables with respect to fish type, location of infection,
pH, temperature, etc. that will determine the best treatment for individual
cases. In some advanced cases, it may be best to not treat, as the
fish is beyond hope. In this situation the fish is only going to suffer
through treatment prior to death. In some cases euthanasia, although often
unpalatable, is the best option.
Indiscriminate treatment with antibiotics can at the least negatively upset
good bacteria in the tank, and at the worst contribute to
antibiotic-resistant mutations of bacteria for which there will be no cure.
All too often, an unknowing hobbyist will dump antibiotics
into the tank for every imagined problem. This indiscriminate use of
medications can, and will, make treating future problems more, if not
impossible, to treat.
Viruses: This final category of pathogen is usually
untreatable and the fish will either recover on its own, or not. It is,
fortunately, not all that common. All you can do is to provide the fish with
the cleanest, most stable environment and hope nature does the rest. It is
important to consult with your fish professional to ensure you are not
needlessly, and dangerously, "treating" an untreatable condition.
Other: Finally, fish can be afflicted
with a wide range of other ailments, including benign and malignant tumors,
aneurisms, and a host of other maladies that other life forms
encounter. While these conditions are untreatable, they are fairly