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The Users' Guide to Green Hair Algae

Posted 03/10/2012 at 07:43 PM by Sk8r

The Users' Guide to Green Hair Algae
[a companion to the cyano thread]

Green Hair is actually tougher to get rid of than cyano---because it pretty well WILL run its course in a tank.

But it's a pretty straightforward algae. It loves phosphate. It grows like mad in a new tank.

A lot of new people, hearing the bit about phosphate, run out and get a phosphate test. This is pretty useless for the green hair algae period of a tank. Of course you have phosphate---it's in that green wavy stuff. The ordinary tests you get can't read the level accurately while it's bound up in the algae, but it's in there. A lot of it.

How does phosphate get into my tank? ("But I used ro/di!!!!") If you DIDN'T use ro/di, you have a WHOLE lot of it. Conditioned tapwater is usually a real prime source. But---if you did use ro/di, it's from an unavoidable source: your sand and rock. It starts leaching out of both as both are exposed to salt water, and it will go on leaching out into your water as long as the phosphate lasts in the sand and rock. So as you get rid of some, the water helpfully dissolves more of it, and round and round you go. It's a new tank. This is life.

How do you get rid of it? A) export it. IE, get a toothbrush, wind, and yank and toss. Watch your outflow: if those teeth clog, your pump goes on working, and your tank can overflow. B) export it via a FUGE. Dedicate part of your sump to setting up a separate sandbed with live rock and a ball of cheatomorpha algae under strong light. (I use a 6500 k CFL) The cheato loves phosphate. At the start, it'll take it up from its own rock and sand. As it doubles in size, cut off half and give it to your friends. You're giving them phosphate, but they'll be grateful... C) get a GFO reactor, aka Phosban reactor, a simple little device that sits in your sump, with a small pump, and cycles water through GFO (granulated ferrous oxide, aka iron pellets). This stuff binds phosphate. There are also phosphate sponges, for little tanks. Like the fuge (and you can set up both) it takes several months to do the job. It is faster than a fuge, however. D) Feed in moderation where it comes to green stuff. Feeding fish green tablets or feeding corals phyto is adding a little bit to the problem. It's necessary, however. Just be aware it is a source, and a gfo reactor may be a recurring feature in your sump. [You can overdo phosphate removal: it is a useful element, and copepods and blennies need the green----in moderation.] E) do your weekly water changes. Every load of used water you throw out is sending some phosphate down the drain, and every load of new ro/di based water you put in dilutes the phosphate load in your tank. [of course more phosphate will leach out of your rock to 'fill' this nice water---but keep at it---you'll win.]

You'll notice that in the list I did NOT include "getting something to eat it." A) hermits and snails are good---but they just poo it back into the water. And they can't eat the 'long' stuff, just the tasty short algae. So you'll be winding and yanking to get down to that. OTOH, they'll be useful as your tank matures and has waste to get rid of. B) other things you get to eat it will either starve once it runs out or you'll end up feeding a lot of green food to keep them alive. This is fine if you LIKE this species-whatever-it-is. But mithrax crabs grow and take nips out of fish, urchins grow big and knock down your rockwork, and as I say, be sure you really love the critter, because it will NOT eat enough algae to clean one rock, let alone all of them. I should also add: C: do NOT use a chemical algae killer. Remember that tricky tank chemistry you lovingly nurtured all through your cycle? Don't mess it up. Chemical fixes may work for a stock pond. Your tank---no. You will find chemical fixes offered for various tank problems you run into. You will notice that my fix for this one is a slower, natural way, which experienced hobbyists use even though we are perfectly aware of those "miracle instant fixes." There is a reason we do it the slower, natural way and avoid things that may suddenly dump a huge dead bioload into a tank (not to mention the 'killer' aspect of the fix)---the result is pretty much that of having a juicy dead begonia chopped up and dropped into your tank: and remember that phosphate? It just keeps leaching out. Or, in the case of other chemical fixes, it's a lot like having a dead mackerel added to your tank. Overnight dead bioloads from a 'miracle fix' (be the problem vegetable or animal) are not good even for a mature tank. For a new and delicate one---they're even worse. Avoid chemical fixes until you are an expert---and by the time you are an expert, you will understand in far greater chemical detail why they're not good.

Once you have gotten the phosphate out of your tank, the hair algae, and the film algae, will slow and stop. You want a little film algae for copepods, blennies, and snails. But if you have a fuge, you'll have plenty of copepods.

RIght now, in my tank, which is mature---I could take a rock with 6 inch long hair algae all over it, drop it in my tank, and a week later, it'd be on its way to bare rock. A mature tank just doesn't grow this stuff.

That's the good news. The bad news is---once you get done with the hair algae, the next plague is vallonia, aka 'bubble algae,' but its actually a pretty texture, and visitors often describe it as "What's that pretty stuff? Is that a coral?"

When I have time, I'll talk about bubble.
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Total Comments 16


  1. New Comment
    jcw's Avatar
    Thanks for the review on hair algae.

    Can't wait for the bubble algae primer!
    Posted 03/15/2012 at 04:50 PM by jcw jcw is offline
  2. New Comment
    whodeydan76's Avatar
    Sk8r, what does it mean that once the tank is full and starts getting brown algea ( filled and refilled with treated tap water, switching to ro/di from my local pet store until I can afford a system of my own) When you get bubbles under and all over the live rock? I can see it under a few of my ledges and on some of my rock. Not really after a water change...but after I added my protien skimmer... I will be putting the skimmer in my sump with baffles once i get the sump tank and refugium with baffles built. Is it just from the skimmer? It seems to disperse them fairly well. idk
    Posted 03/16/2012 at 05:59 AM by whodeydan76 whodeydan76 is offline
  3. New Comment
    Sk8r's Avatar
    That sounds like cyano---a common problem in new tanks. I have another blog entry entitled just plain Algae---and that one explains cyano and how to treat it.
    Posted 03/17/2012 at 04:56 PM by Sk8r Sk8r is offline
  4. New Comment
    sbazain's Avatar

    green algae

    having that problem right now trying to get macro algae I just set up the sump I did a diy overflow and I put it in to quick and I think the gases from the glue crashed my tank two fish died and the ones I saved are always hiding and wont eat did a water change removed the piping and bought a new overflow box water is doing good but they just wont eat can some body help me with this one love my tank want it back
    Posted 03/18/2012 at 10:03 PM by sbazain sbazain is offline
  5. New Comment
    whodeydan76's Avatar
    Thanks sk8er... good luck sbazain :$
    Posted 03/28/2012 at 11:04 PM by whodeydan76 whodeydan76 is offline
  6. New Comment
    Thank you! Now when my tank is in its cycle and it takes on a new hair style I won't freak.. I'll know it's part of the process.
    Posted 04/17/2012 at 03:25 PM by rl225 rl225 is offline
  7. New Comment
    Steve175's Avatar
    Very nice summary. Thank you!!!
    Posted 05/21/2012 at 11:01 AM by Steve175 Steve175 is offline
  8. New Comment
    i guess that explains my tank!! this is so help full and im on my wayyy to fixing the problem. Very help full! thank you
    Posted 05/22/2012 at 05:05 PM by mamafish22 mamafish22 is offline
  9. New Comment
    lindasmith2's Avatar
    Thanks for helping me undersstand my problem, hopefully over the next 6 months I'll see an improvement, just in time for the next outbreak
    Posted 07/27/2012 at 11:35 PM by lindasmith2 lindasmith2 is offline
  10. New Comment
    barriosman's Avatar
    Great read! Going through this right now. Thank you for the information!
    Posted 09/07/2012 at 05:58 PM by barriosman barriosman is offline
  11. New Comment
    DutchLeck's Avatar
    Sk8r, I was trying to find your blog in just Algae. I had no luck. Could you share the link, please?
    Posted 10/29/2012 at 07:09 PM by DutchLeck DutchLeck is offline
  12. New Comment
    Webmanny's Avatar
    This is great information. I am new to the hobby and have been wondering what the hell I am doing wrong that would cause me to get this stuff.

    It never crossed my mind that it could just be that my tank is king of new. My tank has been up and running for 6 months now. I just started to think back to when the green hair algae started and I think it started right after I started feeding phyto to my tank.

    You just gave me back some of my sanity. Thank you!
    Posted 05/27/2014 at 12:07 PM by Webmanny Webmanny is offline
  13. New Comment
    aceofspadeskb's Avatar
    How long does it take for a tank to "mature?"
    Posted 05/29/2014 at 08:56 AM by aceofspadeskb aceofspadeskb is offline
  14. New Comment
    Great info! Thanks!
    Posted 08/26/2015 at 02:41 AM by Harrhugh Harrhugh is offline
  15. New Comment
    I've started feeding LIVE homemade Phyto and added an LED light over the refuge to grow the macro.. My hair algae is ALL gone!!! I even took out the skimmer to go more natural.. I'm keeping. The fish to only a few and gunna concentrate on corals.
    Posted 11/09/2016 at 01:22 AM by Delilah Delilah is offline
  16. New Comment
    I know it's an old thread, but never an old topic. Unfortunately, I'm finally on the winning side of a massive GHA battle. After 25% water changes weekly for three weeks, my parameters are essentially perfect. So, with the remaining hair algae I cannot seem to kill off my rocks, I've stuck 90 percent of them in ever corner of my fuge, and blacked out my fuge. I'm not comfortable blacking out my display, especially with my anemone. Soo, the main tank is somewhat bare, but we will see if this nails it. I purchased Euphotica lights and the GHA went nuts in 3 days!!
    Posted 02/20/2017 at 10:33 AM by RaissiKitten RaissiKitten is offline

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