Coralline Algae – What is it?
Coralline Algae is a type of red Algae in the order Corallinales. It is a desirable algae to have in a saltwater aquarium and its growth is an indication of a properly matured marine fish tank. It is commonly introduced into an aquarium by placing live rock into the aquarium. Coralline Algae enters the system as one of the many beneficial “hitchhiker’s” on live rock as well as on the shells of snails. For a full list of aquarium hitchhikers see our article, Live Rock Hitchhikers.
Coralline Algae exists in 2 forms:
- Geniculate or (articulated) corallines – These forms includes branching, tree-like organisms which are flexible by having noncalcified sections.
- Nongeniculate or (nonarticulated) corallines – Nongeniculate corallines are your typical encrusting and plating reef tank variety. They are often very slow growing, and will grow on live rock, coral skeletons, shells, glass, plastics, and other algae. Matured coralline crusts may produce knobby protuberances which provide microhabitats for many invertebrates. Other non-articulated corallines produce chemicals which promote the settlement of the larvae of certain invertebrates. It is a little known fact that sea urchins, chitons, and limpets would not actually exist if it were not for the protection by coralline algae formations.
The Role of Coralline Algae in your Aquarium and in Nature
Coralline Algae is a colorful component to any aquarium and adds to the overall aesthetics of your live rocks, it plays an important part of reef health in a closed system such as your fish tank as well as in the wild.
- Coralline Algae is a crustose type algae due to its hard calcareous deposits contained within its cell walls. It acts as the cement which binds the reef materials into a sturdy structure which will protect the reef and corals from breaking up or dislodging during intense wave action. Coralline algae has even been used in the past for bone graphs and dental implants due to its natural cementing and adhesion properties.
- It out-competes other rapid growth nuisance algae like hair algae, green algae, diatoms, and mat algae (in a normal reef environment with proper water chemistry). Coralline algae takes up real estate on live rock that other nuisance algae might take up. Most coralline algae species are epiphytic and have chemical defenses to fight off other nuisance algae from growing on it.
- It looks attractive and gives coloring to your aquarium. Check out some great looking examples of the vibrant color combinations on ARC Reef Live Rock and even more so on our Premium Live Rock
Coralline Algae Coloring – Not Just Purple
When you hear the term “Coralline Algae”, the first thing that pops into your head is an image of an aquarium covered in purple. But did you know that there are over 1600 known species to date. The colors of these species are most typically purple, violet, lavender, pink, and magenta, but there are hundreds of different color variations, including red, blue, white, yellow, and green. Our team at ARC Reef has a stain of coralline that is bright orange in color and it fosforescentes under UV and actinic lighting. We are actively trying to propagate this very rare stain of algae to all our live rock for sale. It is a very slow growing stain though, but in a years time we expect all our live rock for sale to come with a splash of this particular strain. We are extremely excited about the future possibilities that this stain will have on possibly everyone’s tanks in the not so distant future.
ARC Reef’s “Purple Helix”
ARC Reef (Atlantic Reef Conservation) is an aquaculture facility located in Miami, FL that produces sustainable Live Rock for Sale for aquarium owners. We are currently working on propagating our Live Rock with a highly epiphytic species of coralline algae dubbed “Purple Helix”. It is a vibrant color combination of purple and pink. Most Live Rock that you find in a fish tank will look pale or washed out over time. Purple Helix is bright and strikingly vibrant. ARC Reef isn’t making any claims just yet but we are working on methods to ensure that this select species of coralline algae will continue to out-compete other species on our Live Rock long after you’ve placed it in your aquarium. Currently, ARC Reef is the only distributor that offers such a vibrant strain.
How to get more Coralline Algae in your Aquarium
Coralline Algae will not appear in a tank or closed system on its own like other nuisance algae. It must be introduced into your aquarium, usually from Live Rock or by hitchhiking in on snails and hermit crabs that were collected in the wild. High quality Live Rock will have dozens of different species and varying textures and colors, all which are competing for space on the live rock. In general, Coralline Algae is a very hardy species and it is found in every ocean in the world from inter-tidal zones that are exposed at low tide, all the way to depths as deep as 1,000 ft. It can tolerate a wide range of turbidities and nutrient concentrations. Basically it can survive any marine environment that sunlight can get to. Coralline Algae is a slow and steady type grower, but its growth rate is approximately 10x’s more rapid in tropical waters then in the Arctic. Here are some tips for helping you get the most Coralline possible in your reef tank.
- Aquatic life loves stability and so does coralline algae. Try to keep your water parameters stable through regular monitoring and water testing. Smaller more frequent water changes are preferred over larger less often water changes, this helps eliminate any shock to your system.
- Keep your nitrates <5 ppm.
- Keep your Phosphates <0.25 ppm.
- Keep a stable pH level between 8.1-8.3 (when testing for pH, it is important to always test at the same time of day as pH levels fluctuate with the light cycle)
- Keep a stable KA level of 2.8 meq/L for alkalinity or carbonate hardness (the concentration of carbonate and bicarbonate). Your level can be +/- up to 0.14 meq/L. Having a correct KA level in your tank will also have a stabilizing effect on your pH, which will keep your fish happy (although your crabs may still be crabby).
- If you are doing regular water changes at least 1-2x’s monthly you may not need to dose magnesium and calcium, if not then you may need to test and dose these. Coralline Algae is a calcareous algae so it utilizes both magnesium and calcium in its structure and would not be able to reproduce without them.
- Maintain a stable temperature. The type of fish tank you have and it’s inhabitant’s will determine your optimum tank temperature, but 78-80 degrees Fahrenheit is common. The main goal with temperature is to not allow it to fluctuate. Getting an accurate heater with separate temperature sensor is highly recommended. Visit our Aquarium Equipment Guide to see our top picks for heater controllers and salt mix.
- Lighting is key. The most vibrant colored species of Coralline Algae are much like Goldilocks in regards to lighting. The intensity, or “PAR” level, of your lighting shouldn’t be too high or too low, and the duration of your photo period should be somewhat close to the natural duration of the sun. Your aquarium shouldn’t receive full intensity or “noon” lighting for 7 hours, because that is not natural. Modern LED lighting has come so far that now a days it can replicate sunrise and sunset and even lunar cycles. We recommend LED lighting or Hybrid LED/T5 lighting.
Red Slime Algae – The Wannabe Algae
Red Slime Algae is not actually a red algae, it’s not even an algae at all, but we still thought it best to at least touch on this common algae imitator for the purpose of sorting through the confusion. Red slime algae is actually Cyanobacteria. It is considered to be the evolutionary link between bacteria and algae. Cyanobacteria is one of the oldest forms of life on earth and dates back 3.5 billion years. In the hobby we consider cyanobacteria as just another nuisance algae but did you know that without it we as a species would not exist. Cyanobacteria is responsible for raising the oxygen levels in our atmosphere from 1% to the current level of approximately 20% that we have today. It can be identified by its deep cranberry or red coloring and it has a slimy stringy appearance. It may occasionally have air bubbles on it, as these organisms produce oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. Cyano, is it’s often called, starts out as just a small patch in the sand or on your live rock, but it can quickly reach epidemic plague levels and completely take over your tank. Luckily eradicating it takes very little effort on your part and it can be gone within just a few short days if caught early. Here are the 3 steps to ridding your aquarium of Cyanobacteria: while you can do each step independently, I recommend doing all steps at the same time in order to quickly remove all the bacteria present. You can later reverse these steps one at a time in order to identify what the cause was.
- Reduce or temporarily eliminate your feedings. Cyano feeds on Phosphates (PO4), and nitrates (NO3). Putting a hold on your feedings will put a temporary halt on your fish food being converted to Cyano food.
- Shorten your photo-period. Cyano needs nutrients and light in order to reproduce. The quickest method of ridding your tank is to turn the lights off for 24 hours (48 hours if it’s already at plague status). This should get you a foot hold on the situation, then continue your light cycle reduced by 1 or 2 hours per day.
- Increase the water flow on the area. This step is the most important step to follow. Cyano doesn’t encrust, so by simply re-positioning a power head on the area it should break up the organism and send it into the water column where it will be eliminated by your protein skimmer and filter. Cyanobacteria often grows where there are dead spots in your aquarium. You may need to find a better position for your power head or purchase an additional one to ensure all areas of your tank are receiving proper flow.
If it continues to return after completing these steps I recommend checking your bulbs, if you’re using MH or T5’s, it may be time to replace your bulbs. Test your water for phosphates and nitrates, if they are high, do a water change of 25-50%. Make sure to use RODI water. Tap water may already contain high levels of phosphates. After you have successfully eliminated your Cyano, it’s time to reward yourself with a new fish or coral, hey, you’ve earned it (and we won’t tell the wife).
Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Coralline Algae
Unfortunately, even though Coralline algae is widespread in all of the world’s oceans, and covers close to 100% of rocky substrata, they are still a much understudied species. Little is known to date of its susceptibility to global warming and acidification. What we do know is that corallines deposit calcite in their cell walls which contains magnesium. These species with a higher magnesium content are more vulnerable to ocean acidification, particularly in colder waters.
Coralline Algae not Coraline Algae – Don’t Trust Your Spellcheck
The correct spelling is Coralline Algae, for some unknown reason the dictionary on most computers does not recognize this spelling and wants to correct it to Coraline Algae or even Caroline Algae, which is not the correct spelling. So if you are searching the internet and not coming up with too many good articles (you know, like this one), it’s most likely due to your spell check auto-correcting it to Coraline Algae.
Be sure to check out ARC Reef’s 100% Aquacultured Live Rock, fully encrusted with the most vibrant colored Coralline Algae on the market. Every purchase helps rebuild our reef tract right here in the U.S. For every 1 pound of Live Rock purchased we plant 10lbs of Live Rock in the ocean. To date we have created over 43,500 sq. ft. of new coral reefs where there was none before.