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. My wife has decided that she likes the Malaysian driftwood better than the original wood. She says it has more character. 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. 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.
So you have a high tech (lights & pressurized CO2) tank setup and you only dosing Flourish ? And not even using EI protocol !?
Thank you for your comment.
I know it is unorthodox in aquascaping to not use an EI dosing method while running a high tech tank. To strike a proper balance, it requires the correct levels of lighting, ferts, and CO2. I initially researched EI dosing while setting up our first scape in 2015, and due to information overload with being new to the hobby, soon lost track.
I would love to explain the science behind why our setups are flourishing so well, but don’t have the research to back any claims. We have had some setbacks as the article points out, and BBA has thus far been one of the biggest issues.
I used to read the Barr Report every night, and I fully agree with Tom Barr’s research. If you have seen his personal tanks, he has very lush (and controlled) setups, and is very well studied in biology. I admire his work and dedication to the hobby.
My wife and I, on the other hand, have 5 aquascapes and work full time. Over the years, the tanks have sometimes been quite laborious, so with our busy lives, the less time it takes to maintain our aquariums, the better. I did at one point dose with Seachem’s line of fertilizers which can be very expensive compared to buying dry nutrients in bulk, and after a period of time did not see much of a change. As one example, our Alternanthera reineckii was lush and red with and without overdosing fertilizers in our tank. Our Micranthemum ‘Monte Carlo’ showed no difference in growth with or without EI dosing. Using these metrics, I stopped spending the time and money on an EI dosing regimen.
We still have bouts of algae here and there, but tend to them quickly to eliminate it. I do believe that with EI dosing, we would be less likely to have any algae issues (hair, dust, diatoms, etc.), but with proper maintenance, trimming, lighting and CO2 level adjustments, we have found the right balance for our scapes without having to purchase and use various fertilizers. Our tanks are stunning right now, demand to be trimmed weekly, and continue to stay that way. If we had continuous setbacks, I would definitely have to do more homework on EI dosing. In my experience, CO2 is the most important nutrient, and combined with a quality substrate under a quality light spectrum, we are rarely disappointed. I’m sure that several of the professional aquascapers in the hobby would scoff at our methods, but it works for us, and I would be proud to show off our scapes to anyone.
We have a video of our process and the results after 6 months that I will post as soon as I figure out how to make a quality video.
I have always suspected that having too many organics are the cause of black beard algae. I have gotten BBA on both low-tech, and high-tech tanks. On one of my low-tech tanks, mulm was building up on the substrate. As the mulm kept becoming brown over time, black beard algae started to grow. So one day, I started to vacuum my substrate to remove the mulm, and then I added a thicker cap of my sand in an attempt to cover the mulm. After a few days, the mulm started to disappear on its own.
For a while, my 10 gallon high-tech tank has been having a bit of BBA on the wood and rocks. I had gone a long time without trimming my java fern. But as I started to trim my java fern last week, I had noticed inside the bush that there were brown plants that were deteriorating due to age and being shaded. All plants in my aquarium grow well, but I wasn’t able to see the dying leaves. Therefore, I started to trim and remove old leaves. Hopefully, the BBA goes away soon, and I have been spraying a bit of Hydrogen Peroxide.
A lot of sources claim that increasing Co2 helps against BBA, but that has never worked for me. I’ve been digging around for more information, and many do agree that high organics lead to BBA.
Thanks for the info Mike.
Keeping a clean tank is a must for heavily planted tanks due to the mulm buildup on the substrate. Not only does it make you susceptible to BBA, but other algae and parasites as well. We do weekly water changes, and with a heavily planted tank, it is important to vacuum all the tight areas. What I can’t seem to figure out is, even though we keep our tanks spotless, we still had a serious issue with BBA. Thankfully our tank is spotless at the moment, but every now and then we have to spot treat with H2O2.
Just please, make sure that you pay careful attention to how much H2O2 you are using because it can be harmful or fatal to the animals.
This is my 2 cents! I started a new set up using pond dirt a substrate, fertilizers under the substrate so the plants feed through the roots. I used exclusively plats in vitro so I watched them grow. I’ve added pressurised co2, I have 2 koralia none wave makers and 3 fluval led lamps. 2 external filter well equipped 1 solely with bio media and the other only with mechanical media.
Everything was running smoothly until, boom! BBA bloomed. I couldn’t find the exact cause, so I was messing around every single day adjusting lights intensity, photoperiod, regulating the co2 you name it, peroxide! Nothing really worked and the BBA was still spreading everywhere killing my beautiful plants. I was about to give up and start all over again from scratch till I read somewhere that OXYGEN kills BBA, so I added air pump connected to a timer that starts exactly when the lights go off and stop when the light turn on. I also started to dosing EI method including 50% weekly water changes but most of all I stopped using co2.
When I stopped using co2 there is nowhere BBA to be found. I am still not quite clear what’s stopped the BBA. I am convinced that it was the co2, I am not sure if it is the 50% water changes, Siamese algae eaters that I added, stopping co2, EI dosage or a combination of all. My plants are ok, but not as green and lush as when I was suing co2. I would like to use my co2 again but I’m dead scare BBA will come back again.
If the cause for BBA was the co2 then I understand that it is the “infamous” imbalance between light, co2 and photoperiod, but to find this so called balance is like mission impossible.
I can concluded that removing co2, 50% weekly water changes and air pump at nights are a key factor eliminating BBA.
The “amount” that you should have used is equal to the dosage amount for the tank. To prevent livestock loss its a ration of 1.5ml /gallon of H202 for the actual water volume in the system (not the rated tank size). For excel use the dosage amounts on the bottle… then do a 50/50 solution of whichever calls for the smallest volume…. also you can just combine the proper excel dose above with the H202 ratio above (not a strict 50/50 mix) and do it that way…. just a note H202 will actually start to oxidize the Excel immediately and break it down from an algaecide to a carbon source really really fast, storing it after its mixed is a bad idea (all your left with is a weaker h202 solution and some carbon). I use both Excel and H202 to treat algae when necessary (i also keep plants,shrimp,snails and fish in those tanks)
Thank you for the feedback, Dale. We appreciate your comment. Our hope is that those visiting this post will learn from our mistake. It has been a couple of years since we did this, and it still makes my stomach turn a little when I think about what it did to the animals in this tank. We had tried so many different methods of removal, and the amount of BBA in the tank was so extreme that we were desperate. We have learned a lot since then. We still use a 50/50 mix of Excel and H202, but these days we spot treat BEFORE the BBA gets out of hand. We limit the amount to 1ml per gallon of water volume per treatment. Based on your information, we could probably use a little more. You are correct in that the mix can’t be stored. We mix it in a small medicine cup and use a syringe to apply it to the algae. I’ve also noticed that the H202 begins to lose its effectiveness once the bottle has been opened. So it’s best to purchase smaller bottles.
I guess the takeaway is that if you have a situation like we did where BBA has grow out of control, this method will eliminate it. But when using this all out method, you MUST remove the livestock.
Great information! Thanks again for sharing.
Great blog. I recently set up a freshwater DSB tank which is about 50% planted with swords and crypts. It has some large manzanita wood covered with petite Anubia. My set up is for R.H. Tapajos, Columbian tetras and orange laser corys. About a week after I planted my swords (ordered online from a reputable small company) I started to see BBA crop up on the edges of the leaves. It has spread unbelievably fast after a couple of weeks.
I thought about ordering some SAEs to eat the algae but by the time I quarantine them and add them to my tank, it will be covered in BBA. So, I’m going to try dosing with Excel first and reducing my lights to 8 hours from 10. If that doesn’t work, I’m going to remove my fish to a holding tub and try your method. Did you notice any impact to your biofilter? How long after treatment did you wait before adding fish? Did you do a large water change after the algae was dead before adding your livestock back into the tank?
Thanks for reading Susan, we are happy that this information was useful.
BBA is no joke when trying to remove it completely from your scape. We fought with it for months before we went to this extreme, and by this time it was everywhere! We thought about purchasing a couple of SAE’s as well, but those were not fish we wanted to keep and weren’t 100% sure that they would do the trick, so after stumbling on a video on YouTube (https://youtu.be/43bvtrORrd4) that showed the process we took (in a milder form, I’m sure), we decided to go this route. To answer your questions:
1. I did not test the water parameters after treatment. I assumed that we killed all the bacteria in the filter and must cycle the tank again.
2. We did not add fish until all the BBA was gone. If needed, we were going to continue to spot treat with Excel and H2O2 until the BBA was eradicated.
3. The first week, we did water changes every other day. After that, we did two a week for the next month. Once the BBA was gone, we were back to weekly water changes and maintenance.
Basically, our setup was a ghost town for a month while the BBA was dying. I did not want to reintroduce animals to the tank because I was not sure we weren’t going to have to spot treat in the following days, and after seeing what happened to the fish, didn’t want to take the chance.
We wish you the best of luck removing this stubborn plague. Please keep in touch and let us know how it went!
So sorry for your loss. I feel your pain. :'(
I see you had the same problem, followed the same video, and had the same results I did. I just dosed my tank 4 hours ago. My 3 zebra loaches were fine right after I did it. They were swimming around and checking out the algae, but they were all dead 2 hours later. I wish that video had been more specific. If I had to do it again, I would move my fish to another tank before I dosed the affected tank. What a terrible and avoidable loss. :'(
Thanks for the comment Wendy, it’s good to know we’re not the only one to make that mistake.
We documented the process on video and need to post it on YouTube to show everyone what not to do when applying this treatment.
Posting your own video would be a great idea, Ben! Also, you might want to comment on that video we saw to warn people about the devastation that could happen.