Getting coralline algae in your reef tank may not be one of the first things to cross the mind of a new reefer. But if you knew how important it is, I bet you would have second thoughts about it.
Coralline algae have exotic colors that will develop your tank’s appearance. They also come with structural support, which is essential for the growth of stony corals. Having Corallines exhibits the soundness of your reef tank’s health.
But well, a new reef parent may not be well aware of the things that could significantly and positively impact the well-being of their sea pets. So, here I am, ready to tell you how important coralline algae are in a reef tank.
Hop in with me!
What Is Coralline Algae?
It is a category of Red Algae belonging to the class of Corallinales. Red algae, a highly diverse group, has a variety of marine organisms. The multicellular ones reproduce sexually.
People around the globe often cultivate and harvest some of them i.e. Laver and Dulse. The red color is due to Phycoerythrin, an additional chlorophyll pigment used by Coralline Algae to gather light.
How Coralline Algae Came To Be?
Coralline Algae belong to the intertidal shorelines because they need broad air exposure and alternating immersion around 270 meters deep into the water. It is the maximum zone to penetrate light.
Coralline Algae have been existing in the world since the Cretaceous Period. All species under its category are marine except one freshwater organism.
Only a handful can adjust to brackish water, requiring mineral water to source the essential nutrients to build their aragonite bones.
Every photosynthetic organism requires some light. But how much of that is sufficient relies on the given specie. However, its pigments assist Red Algae in thriving lower water regions where other photosynthetic organisms cannot.
Here is the challenging part of having Coralline Algae in a reef tank. Their light requirement is pretty variable. You will find some demanding bright light when some live only in a low-light environment. Some require ample UV that can cause harm to others.
But Corallines algae are flexible in other areas. They will not fuss much to bond with a substrate. Give them some rocks or stony corals, and they will grow there.
Invertebrates like lobsters and snails, tank glass, and submerged equipment like powerheads and filters can also be their home.
However, here is something you should learn before going to the next section. If you want the algae in your tank, you need to arrange an environment in favor of their growth. Should you fail to do that, they will become a headache for you before you know it.
How Important Is Coralline Algae In A Reef Tank?
They are pivotal to the well-being of natural reef environments and can provide some of the same advantages within your reef tank. If you can maintain them well, it will signify that your entire tank is well-maintained.
Healthiness Of Your Corals
For instance, stony corals need time to grow and mature. They require the same nutrients as Coralline Algae, such as magnesium, carbonate, calcium, and other trace elements. When the algae do well in the water piggybacking on the stony corals, indicating the corals are also happy.
A Binding Agent
The algae work as a binding agent for natural and artificial reefs. They seal and spread cracks in substrates to increase the structural stability of your tank. Think of it like this: if live rock and coral frags are bricks, then coralline acts as the mortar to glue them all together.
Taking Care Of The Nuisances
They harvest free-floating nutrients. If they didn’t do that, the not-so-good algae in your tank would mushroom rapidly by consuming them. Coralline helps you by keeping their population under control.
Other than that, Corallines can also defend against algae colonization by shedding their outer layers periodically to stop the competing ones from blocking light.
Sessile invertebrates like corals prefer attaching to rocks encrusted with Corallines. It is as if they consider it a healthy shelter when it houses the long-lived and sensitive algae. Here is some fun fact. Once your corals attach themselves to those organisms, they will become pals for life.
Finally, corallines are as beautiful as corals. Having two forms, the Geniculate ones look like trees while growing, and the non-Geniculate ones spread like crusts.
The second type is more common. The non-Geniculate algae’s crust-like formation resembles wavy, knobby structures, which should exhibit real coral growth. Algae come in every color, among which purple, pink, red, and green are the most common.
Corallines are a healthy food source for invertebrates such as Hermit Crabs and Sea Urchins. If you have Tangs, Chitons, Limpets, and Parrotfish, they will consume the algae too.
What Are The Challenges Of Having Coralline Algae In A Reef Tank?
You have learned the upsides of having them in your reef tank. It would be wrong if I did not show you the other side of the coin.
While this helpful and attractive creature can be very altruistic, they will not hesitate to give you trouble when given a chance.
The most crucial issue involves its inclination to develop on hard surfaces, making maintenance more hectic for you. It will even grow on your aquarium glass.
Now, you might be optimistic about the thought that an algae layer will only augment your tank’s beauty by creating a natural backdrop. If that is so, you missed the other point. The bed of algae on the glass will block vision when left unattended.
Although corallines bind live rocks and other decorative elements together, they will become burdensome once they begin to attach decor to aquarium glass and other equipment.
How To Remove Unwanted Coralline Algae?
As Corallines have aragonite bones like Corals, you cannot just brush them off the surface. Instead, you will need to get under them by using something thin. Even razor blades or expired credit cards will do.
If they encrust your equipment, you can wash them with vinegar and water to let the skeleton dissolve so that you can remove them without a hitch. You can do the same with your reef aquarium.
You have already read that Corallines are proof of the healthiness of your stony corals. But unfortunately, they can also be their rivals. If you do not monitor both organisms constantly and fulfill their requirements, the growth of your corals will come to a halt.
Given how Corallines prefer moderate to low and indirect lighting, they will rarely compete with corals directly for space.
Where Can I Find Coralline Algae?
It often manifests in a tank spontaneously. However, the spores will not free-float like the freshwater ones.
The algae always come from external sources. You can find them for your aquarium in the following three ways.
The algae often develop on live rock bought for new tanks. Selecting stones already piggybacking Corallines is the simplest way to get them into your aquarium.
They are often visible on the shells of Hermit Crabs and will keep spreading if the tank parameters are stable. They are more like a consequence you will experience if you have a reef aquarium. Today or tomorrow, an addition will develop there.
Donation From A Separate Aquarium
You can always find a pet store or fellow reefer with an aquarium housing Corallines. Ask them to scrap some algae for you from their tank equipment or glass during maintenance.
When you get them but have little time to introduce them to your tank, place them in an area where the lighting is moderate.
This method also needs a donation first. You can mince the donated Corallines to make a smoothie with the free-floating cells. Then, upon getting them into the tank, they will start spreading. Mix it well before adding it to the water columns with the powerhead or filter outflow.
You can also infuse Corallines via some retail outlets that provide Algae infusions in the market. Both Pink Fusion and Purple Helix should be available there.
Every jar has a combination of species establishing a sanctuary of lively Algae. However, the stores sell them online because of the Algae’s shelf life of only 14 days. If you decide to get them, look for products that can seed your tank with nitrifying bacteria and Coralline Algae, which are ideal for a new reef setup.
How To Take Care Of Coralline Algae?
Coralline Algae are not picky about the water parameters of your tank. All you need is a tank with clean water and a plethora of calcium, carbonates, and minerals to enhance their growth. Phosphate is also crucial as it hinders the Algae growth and encourages the good-for-nothing algae species.
Required Water Parameters:
- pH: 8.1 to 8.3
- Calcium: Above 400 mg/l
- Nitrate: Less than 5 ppm
- Phosphate: 0 ppm
- Carbonate Thickness (KH): 7 to 10 dKH
- Temperature: 78 to 82 degree F
Although the parameters are nothing extraordinary for an average reef tank, their stability is mandatory for Corallines. If you fail to keep them from fluctuating, it will deter the Red Algae from spreading. Their spores will keep floating freely until the conditions are steady while the existing ones begin to cease.
Again, when you have well-developed Corallines in your tank, it tells you that the overall water conditions are stable – you are doing a great job as a reefer!
By the way, do not forget that Iodine and Strontium are also significant for your Algae. There are stores that sell boosts, such as CaribSea Purple Up Algae Accelerator. You can use them to source these elements to attach to the rock surface. It will facilitate the uptaking process for the Algae.
Additional Read: How to grow coralline algae in a reef tank
What Are The Lighting Requirements?
This one is tricky – I will admit that. There are so many species of Corallines with different lighting demands that it would be unjust to generalize them.
What I think is best is keeping several types of algae in your tank. Over time, when nature does its thing, the fittest ones will cope with the lighting and flourish.
What about the others that don’t fit? Well, then you will know your lighting is not serving them well. You can either observe and reposition them in a different zone or donate them to a fellow aquarist who might take an interest.
Nevertheless, if you want to nurture them, I can give you an idea regarding what lighting typically suits most of the popular species. A light level below 5 watts for each gallon with a powerful blue spectrum (i.e. blue actinic light) works as a quick instigator of algae growth.
How Do I Nurture Coralline Algae?
The only activities after bringing the algae into your tank are maintaining the tank stability and keeping patience. Many reefers apply growth accelerators that work rapidly within a short time. You can follow them too.
If you do not want to use an accelerator, you have to wait for weeks, even months. The typical timeframe is 5 to 8 weeks for Corallines to gain a noticeable growth.
These algae often appear as tiny green or white patches on live rock and tank glass before developing into a purple- or pink-colored coating. But the growth rate also varies within their species. While some burgeon so fast that you scrap them weekly, others will grow by centimeters per year.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are the Corallines in my tank not growing?
They will not grow if your tank does not have adequate water flow and medium to high lighting arrangement. Given the required environmental stability, the algae will spread on the surface within 4 to 6 weeks.
But if there are oscillations in the surroundings, the Corallines will be as good as dead no matter how many of them you add to your tank.
Why are my Coralline Algae changing their color to white?
Coralline Algae losing color and turning white is a sign that they are dying. Since they have calcium carbonate in their structure, they leave their white exoskeletons during their demise.
Which animal eats Corallines in a reef tank?
If you have urchins in your reef tank, they will eat the Corallines. But the change is barely visible since they take off algae layers instead of eating them off the glass.
For which fish can Corallines be a source of food?
They will be so for every herbivore fish like tangs and angels.
Can Corallines consume alkalinity?
Corallines are significant users of alkalinity and calcium in many tanks while also incorporating a substantial amount of magnesium. 1% to 5% of their skeleton contains magnesium to drive down the demand for calcium.
Can the red algae survive without water?
Yes, but only for 6 hours at max. So, it is better to hurry up and let them inside your tank as early as you can.
Is it possible to overdose the tank water with store-bought Corallines?
Not really. The products you buy from stores have beneficial bacteria with live Coralline spores. They do not have magnesium or calcium. So, it cannot affect the water parameters.
Nonetheless, you should check the components before buying to confirm it will not overdose.
The importance of keeping Coralline Algae in a reef tank is paramount. Having them means you have got a well-running reef tank. And growing them is not even much of a hassle because they are not high maintenance.
The key to maintaining them is stabilizing the water parameters and getting the elements that boost their growth.
But there are challenges too. While the algae surely could add value to your tank, it is not absolutely mandatory to keep them. So, if you are very green at this, you may want to wait and gain experience before accommodating them in your mini aquascape.
That’s that, then! Thanks a lot for reading!