Bubble Algae - The bane of reef tank owners

Bubble Algae - The bane of reef tank owners

Bubble algae has sent millions of marine reef keepers over the edge, it persistently returns even after being apparently removed and has very few natural predators. Once out of control it becomes increasingly invasive taking up valuable rock space and pushing corals aside until they can no longer survive. So what can you do to win the bubble algae fight?

As with most problems prevention is better than cure. Bubble algae and other nuisance algae has to hitchhike its way into your system somewhere and that means on rocks or on corals, usually it’s pretty easy to see however the only way to be completely sure you’re not importing it into your tank is to quarantine rocks and corals for several weeks and watch for any growth, something that just isn’t practical for many aquarists.

If you’re unable to quarantine every bit of rock that enters your tank the next best thing you can do is add as little rock to your tank after your initial scape. When buying corals remove as much unnecessary rock as possible.

When you do add any rock to your tank keep your eye on it, if you see bubble algae start to appear remove the rock, cut away the rock the algae is on, re-mount the coral – do whatever is necessary to remove the offending piece of rock and quickly.

Make sure nutrient levels are low. The nutrients (phosphate and nitrate) in your tank is basically plant fertiliser, it’s food for algae add some bright light to the equation and you have a recipe for disaster. Often once algae takes a hold reducing the nutrient levels alone will be a slow path to eradicating it, it is likely the algae is able to draw some nutrients directly from the rock it anchors to much like roots of a plant in soil. Keeping nutrients under control at all times makes your tank a much less hospitable place for algae.

Natural predators are few and far between, bubble algae is tuff, hard to remove from rocks and the bubbles due shape and texture are really slippery and can be difficult for clawed inverts or fishes to get a grip on but do not despair, there are a few reef safe inverts that will tackle it for example Halloween hermits and Emerald Green crabs are very effective, they actually enjoy it, if you think about the claws on these two crabs they’re very similar and it is likely that over crabs with similar shaped claws will because they can have a go at bubble algae. Many other crabs and inverts like urchins will help keep it at bay once it is under control but they’re unlikely to tackle properly formed large bubbles. When it comes to fish it seems to be limited to rabbitfish and tangs that will eat bubble algae, however their generally large size makes them unsuitable for many hobbyists.

Check your light levels with a light meter, with the powerful lighting at our disposal now days it is often possible to have too much light, particularly on rocks near the surface, too much light creates a perfect environment for nuisance algae.

Manual removal of bubble algae is also useful in helping your livestock get it under control, try to lever the bubbles off or twist them off the rock rather than popping them. If you do pop them by accident don’t panic it is highly unlikely that it will add to the problem significantly, in my experience it does not lead to an explosion of new bubbles providing your filtration is working and the other steps such as nutrient control are being taken care of.

To summarise…

1 Prevention is better than cure

2 Don’t add unnecessary rock to your tank

3 Quickly remove rock if bubble algae starts to appear

4 Keep nutrient levels under control

5 Introduce natural predators

6 Check your lighting

7 Manual removal