The Ugly Tank Period

Today I’m going to discuss the ugly tank period. Many of our Biota customers either call or email in the first 3 months in fear that they’ve done something horribly wrong. Either some red slime algae have plagued the tank or you can’t seem to get green algae off the glass or sand bed for more than 5 minutes. Take a deep breath and understand this is absolutely normal. Everything shows up looking pristine, the fish, the corals, the rock, and the sand but when it’s not it seems to send widespread panic to our new reefers.

There’s no need to fear the tank is just finding a balance. As your tank matures over the first few months there are going to be periods of perfect looking tanks with excellent water quality to algae covered mess where things are out of whack. This is caused mainly by the bacteria growth. There are many different species of bacteria in the tank from nitrobacter and nitrosomonas to vibrio and actinobacteria. In one drop of ocean water there are potentially millions so in your aquarium it could take these mostly sterile areas a few months to get the hang of the environment.

We ask that you follow the 1 gallon a week regiment strictly for the first few months for this reason. As these bacterial colonies are battling it out for food and carbon sources within the water column and liverock there can be spikes of ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, silicates and phosphates. The bad news is these nitrates and phosphates are an amazing food source for every species of algae which causes these major blooms of whatever is the most abundant or fastest growing in your tank prior to this spike.

The good news is as your tank will come to a balance and those excess nutrients will be a thing of the past. The excess phosphates and nitrates will be taken up by your corals, microalgae, and denitrifying bacteria and kept in check with your weekly water changes. The key here is just patience and keeping up with your routine maintenance. This is when most aquarium mistakes happen that can get people to leave the hobby. It is not advised to do larger water changes or take out and scrub pieces of corals or rocks to get them clean. Never use any type of cleaning solution in or near your aquarium to try to take care of these problems.

If you’d like to stay on top of this ugly period one easy helpful maintenance task you could do is add a few chemi-pure blue packets. This absorbs some of the excess phosphates in the water column before the algae gets a chance to use it. It may not completely cut down on the algae in the tank but it can be used as a preventative before anything gets too out of hand. If algae begins to grow heavily on the coral itself then lightly brush it off either with your fingers or a soft maintenance brush (a soft bristled toothbrush works fine too).

This is also why we also recommend not adding any new fish or other live stock to the aquarium for the first 3-6 months. The fish and corals we chose for these kits are perfectly capable to survive these swings but many other fish and corals might not be so lucky. Just like the ugly period for teenagers, think of your tank getting braces, zits, and a regrettable haircut. We all grew out of it with a little help and your tank will too. During this period or after it is also a great idea to begin adding a clean-up crew in the form of small hermit crabs and a few species of hard working snails like trochus and cerith.

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