I know that patience is a virtue. Unfortunately,
it's not one of mine. As it happens, reef keeping has proven
to be the most effective tool I've found for helping me develop
the patience I lack naturally. I have to admit, though, even
after three and a half years of practice, my impatience can
still get the better of me.
My most recent lesson in the value of patience
has been a four-month long battle with a nuisance red turf
alga. (I would like to give you the name of it, but honestly,
I haven't been able to get a positive species identification
yet.) I've fought all the other algae wars
Bryopsis and cyanobacteria, just to name a few. I've
done countless hours of siphoning, scrubbing and worrying
myself sick that these organisms would take over and ruin
my tank. In the end, it always turned out that with just a
little diligence and a little time and patience, I was able
to win the battle with the alga.
photograph was taken with a flash which increases
the contrast and makes the algae easier to see. Photo
by Sandra Shoup.
When I first discovered the red turf growing
in my refugium, I didn't give it a second thought. After all,
I grow as many types of algae in my refugium as I can, Valonia
and Bryopsis included. A couple of months later, when
I noticed the red turf growing in the main tank, I was proud
of myself for not overreacting. I thought perhaps I just needed
a few more grazers in the tank, so I added a couple of urchins.
As the alga continued to spread, I used the same techniques
I had during my Bryopsis crisis, including diligent
manual removal and larger, more frequent, water changes. Twice
a week I siphoned as much algae as I could and scrubbed the
affected rocks with a toothbrush. My thought was that if I
just waited it out, it would run its course and die off as
the Bryopsis had. When the algal coverage on the rock
reached thirty percent, however, my patience suddenly ran
out. I just knew that I had to do something about this situation
RIGHT NOW! The fact that the red algae was not doing any harm
to any of my animals made no difference; it was unsightly,
growing much too fast, and I had simply had enough!
red algae even grew in between my green star polyps,
zoanthids and xenids.
Photo by Sandra Shoup.
I spent an entire day tearing apart my
reef, scrubbing, siphoning and soaking algae covered rocks
in RO/DI water. It was a sweaty, back-aching, hand-gouging
job and, in the end, a complete failure. The alga grew back
on the freshwater-soaked rocks in less than a week. I watched
in dismay as the algal coverage reached fifty percent with
no signs of slowing. I began wondering if I was going to have
to tear the whole tank down and start over. None of the grazers
I had would touch this algae and even my LFS could not find
an animal that would eat it. Fortunately, help arrived just
in the nick of time. A member of Reef Central (my hero!) directed
me to a critter commonly known as the "Mexican turbo
snail," saying it would eat the red turf algae. My local
fish store was able to get the snails and the day after I
returned home from MACNA XIV, I added a dozen to my 220-gallon
highlighted the algae in this photo in bright red to
make it easier to see how widespread my problem was.
This picture was taken September 24th, 2002.
Photo by Sandra Shoup.
The snails went right to work, but the
amount of algae in the tank at the time seemed inexhaustible.
After a couple of days, I decided that one dozen snails weren't
nearly enough, even with continued manual removal on my part.
After all, before I left for MACNA I had siphoned enough red
algae out of the tank in an hour to make a ball the size of
a softball (and that was AFTER I squeezed all the water out
of it). So, I added another dozen snails. A week later I could
see certain areas of the tank starting to look better, but
I was still concerned that the snails would never be able
to eat the algae fast enough to get ahead of it. After all,
how much algae can one little snail eat in a day? (Don't answer
that Dr. Shimek
I know now!) So, determined to take further
action (patience be damned!), I acquired a good-sized Orange-spot
photo of the red algae.
Photo courtesy of Michael Janes.
The Orange-spot rabbitfish would indeed
eat the algae. However, in the week it took for the rabbitfish
to acclimate to his new home and come out of hiding, the snails
had the algae on the run (if I had only waited!). The algae
started disappearing as if by magic. As I watched the dwindling
numbers of red cotton balls, my elation turned into concern
for the continued health and well-being of both the snails
and rabbitfish. I pulled a dozen of the snails out of the
tank and took them back to the LFS, hoping to leave enough
food for the rabbitfish and remaining snails. A few days later,
as the algae continued to disappear, I removed more snails,
leaving only four in the tank. By this time however, there
was little of the red algae remaining, and what did remain
was not growing nearly as rapidly as it had been. With hardly
any algae available and still too shy to come out and eat
when I fed the tank, the rabbit fish began eating zoanthid
polyps. In less than a week, he wiped out most of my zoanthids
and starting eating the small bright green sponges that dot
my rockwork. Now I faced the dilemma of getting a large and
extremely skittish rabbitfish out of my tank without dissembling
the entire reef structure. Thankfully, fortune smiled on me
and I was able to trap him behind a rock, prod him into the
net, and remove him with minimum disruption to the tank. (Of
course, I'm sure the fish did not appreciate his little adventure
in the least.)
The good news is the red alga is under
control. Four turbo snails remain in the tank to take care
of any tufts that reappear. My local fish store took the rabbitfish
back, and he showed no ill effects from his little adventure.
The bad news is that while I've made significant improvement
in patience over the last several years thanks to reef keeping,
situations such as these still arise and I realize there is
still much work to do. If I had simply allowed the snails
a little time to do their job, I could have saved myself the
expense of purchasing a fish I didn't need, the irritation
of watching my zoanthids disappear, the stress of having to
catch a large fish in a fully stocked 220-gallon reef tank,
and the hassle of driving forty-five miles to the local fish
store to return the fish. Oh well, Rome wasn't built in a