Are you struggling to remove black beard algae (BBA) from your planted aquarium? Are you at the point of tearing down your aquascape and starting over? Before you tear it down and start over, continue reading to learn how we completely removed this stubborn plague from our tank.
I am happy to say that our Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquascape is clean and algae free, and has been for a few weeks now. If you have followed our journals about how we fought this battle to remove black beard algae, you already know that we used a pretty harsh treatment.
I felt instant remorse afterward because of how our scape looked. You can read about it in the article I wrote right after the treatment. At the time I thought we’d made a huge mistake. Now, I can tell you this method worked, but we did make some costly mistakes in the process.
We documented the process with video and photos along the way, and have created a step by step guide showing the process we used to remove black beard algae. I hope that by sharing our experience, you can learn from our mistakes.
Here’s the recap
We purchased a Mr. Aqua 12 Long rimless aquarium last year and carefully planned the scape for months before finally setting it up. I think the beginning of our Black Beard Algae problem started with the piece of driftwood that we used as the focal point. We soaked the log for about 2 months in a plastic bin on our back patio. We kept forgetting to change the water. At one point we were breeding mosquitoes in that bin. When we were finally ready to take the wood out, it had all kinds funky stuff clinging to it.
Anyway, we scrubbed the wood and set up the tank. We had problems with hair algae for a couple of weeks, but nothing we couldn’t eliminate. Then, out of nowhere, these little black dots starting appearing on the wood. Then on some of the rocks and substrate. Before long, the little black dots started sprouting into tufts of what looked little black bushes. I immediately knew what it was because I’d seen this species of algae in our LFS.
Pretty unmistakable, right? I still did some research to make sure that I had correctly identified it, and started looking for ways to rid ourselves of this eyesore. After hours of reading articles and posts in forums like the Barr Report, UKAPS, etc., we started the battle. We turned down the light, cut back on the hours of lighting, and cranked up the CO2. No improvement.
We tried everything
I spot treated with hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) during water changes. The algae turned purplish for day or so and continued to grow. Obviously that was not enough.
We trimmed away infected plants and scraped the hardscape. That did not work. This stuff smothered our mosses, covered all the plant stems, and started growing on our substrate. As shown in the picture below, the Black Beard Algae would turn gray and die off in spots, but I couldn’t keep up. It spread too fast.
After fighting with this algae for several months, we were considering just tearing down the scape and starting over. Then I stumbled across a video on YouTube (you can view it at the bottom of our post, Black Beard Algae – The Battle Begins) and decided to give this method a shot before starting over.
The process we used to remove black beard algae
We used a 50/50 mixture of 3% hydrogen peroxide and Seachem Flourish Excel. The video instructed to liberally douse everything in the aquarium, plants, rocks, wood, etc. The video did not show the process taking place, so we didn’t know exactly how much to apply. So we went crazy and sprayed everything in amounts equal to our disgust with this algae.
We were a little nervous about doing this with all of our livestock still in the aquarium, but the gentleman in the video said that he liberally treated his tank with his fish in it and then went away for a week. He said that when he returned home, the Black Beard Algae was gone and his fish were fine.
Well, things went differently for us
While we bombed the tank, the fish and shrimp were swimming around frantically. I should have known right away they were suffering. You just cannot dump that much of a foreign substance into their home and it be safe.
When we were done nuking the tank, it was plain to see that we had covered all the algae with this mix because every bit of BBA was covered with bubbles. But all of our Chili Rasboras were huddled at the top of the water in one corner of the tank. It seemed like some the shrimp were trying to climb out of the water while others seemed unaffected.
We scooped the fish out with one catch and put them in another aquarium, hoping that it was not too late. Unfortunately, only one made it through the night.
I was upset with myself for following advice that went against my own common sense, and really upset (and embarrassed) that my fish and shrimp had to suffer. I love my fish like most people love their dogs, so this was really hard to watch and a tough lesson for us to learn.
The next day
We could see that the treatment had an adverse affect on the algae. The BBA had turned a deep purple. We worried that we might lose our mosses. They were starting to mature nicely, especially some of the more expensive and hard-to-get species like our Cameroon Moss.
The Black Beard Algae was dying. Most of it had turned gray. It looked like cotton in our mosses. We tried to pick some of it out of the tank, but it wouldn’t budge. There were still spots that were purple, but clearly suffering. This looked promising!
The black beard algae still looked the same except there was noticeably less of it. We also noticed that there were fewer shrimp in the tank. But we were hopeful that this treatment was working, especially after our losses. It finally started to look like we wouldn’t have to replace our hardscape after all.
We decided to remove the piece of driftwood that was our centerpiece. Even though the algae on it was was dying, the wood was heavily infested. We felt that to remove black beard algae completely, the driftwood had to go. The algae was almost completely gone from the rest of the tank. Only a few spots remained.
The Black Beard Algae is gone! As you can see in the picture above, we replaced the original log with some Malaysian Driftwood. We also purchased a new family of Chile Red Rasboras. The shrimp are swimming around happily and several of them are pregnant, so it shouldn’t be long before we have another population explosion of RCS. My wife has decided that she likes the Malaysian driftwood better than the original wood. She says it has more character. A little of each of the mosses survived, and she attached some to the new wood along with some Hygrophila pinnatifida.
This treatment does work, but it’s pretty extreme. I’m sure there are less invasive ways to remove Black Beard Algae, and if you scour the internet long enough you may be able to find them. I’m sure most aquascaping purists would scoff at what we did, but we are still pretty new to the aquascaping hobby (3 years) and we let this outbreak get out of hand before we could put a reign on things. We were ready to tear down this setup and re-scape the aquarium, but with the countless hours and meticulous details invested in this aquascape, were not looking forward to doing that.
If you decide to remove black beard algae using this method, it will work. I highly recommend that you remove all of your livestock first. Bombing a tank with large amounts of H2O2 and Seachem Flourish Excel is dangerous to the animals.
We lost all but one of our Chili’s, our Nerite snails, and quite a few of our RCS. All of our plants survived, thankfully, but suffered during the treatment.
Plants: Rotala “Indica”, Hydrocotyle leucocephala “Brazilian Pennywort”, Hydrocotyle tripartita sp.”Japan”, Plagiochilaceae sp. Cameroon Moss, Fissidens fontanus “Phoenix Moss”, Riccardia chamedryfolia “Coral Moss”, Hemianthus callitrichoides “Dwarf Baby Tears”, Annubias Nana “Petite”, Cambomba carolinianas, Proserpinaca palustris L.”Mermaid Weed”, and Java Fern Lace “Windelov”, and a couple of other species of plants that I can’t think of right off the top of my head.
Lighting: We have two Kessil A80’s mounted about 15 inches from the top of the substrate with a photo period of 7 hours.
CO2: We run pressurized CO2 that measures approximately 30 ppm that comes on 3 hours before lights on and shuts off an hour before lights out.
Water Maintenance: We raise our Jardli glass jet outflows at night to aerate the water and try and break the biofilm on the surface (See the video here). Water changes are done weekly using a 50/50 mix of RO and dechlorinated tap.
Ferts: Our dosing regimen consists of 1 ml of Seachem Flourish Comprehensive once a week (after water change).
Livestock: At the moment we have 15 Chili Red Rasboras (Boraras brigittae) and half a zillion Red Cherry Shrimp (Neocaridina sp.). We are considering a bottom feeder besides the shrimp, but haven’t decided on what yet.
Good Luck! Please comment below if you have any suggestions on how to remove Black Beard Algae that may be a little less harsh but effective, or how to prevent this from happening in the first place.