Bubble Algae in Reef Tank – Prevention and Removal

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Bubble algae are any reef tank owner’s worst nightmare. They might look pretty to the unsuspecting novice aquarist, but they can be vicious.

These organisms will destroy your corals, clog the tank equipment, and cause discomfort to all lifeforms living in the tank.

You obviously need to get rid of the bubble algae asap before the organism spreads and takes over the entire aquatic environment.

But how do you do that effectively? As you will see, there are several difficulties you will encounter along the way.

But let’s start with the beginning.

What is Bubble Algae?

Bubble algae are algae growing in bubble form. There’s no simpler way to put it. These algae look much like a conglomerate of small, green, and shiny pearls, so they can be quite esthetic in some environments.

But don’t let that fool you. Bubble algae are a plague that can take over the entire tank and suffocate the environment.

The interesting aspect about bubble algae is that each green pearl is a single cell. Another interesting aspect is that popping one cell won’t kill but actually help with the spread. So, destroying the organism is unexpectedly difficult.

Is Bubble Algae a Problem for Reef Tank?

Yes, bubble algae are problematic for any reef tank, whether it has fish life or not. The algae will grow fast and spread even faster until the entire tank becomes its playground.

You can’t ignore it since the problem will grow worse with time, and removing it from the environment is by no means easy.

What Causes Bubble Algae?

Bubble algae don’t show up out of thin air. It always comes from outside since it can’t grow in a tank on its own, out of nothing.

This is an invasive species of algae (aren’t they all?) that will cover every surface in your tank if left unchecked. The pearl-like spores will spread all over the place and, when popped, will multiply even faster.

Bubble algae feed on nitrates and phosphates, so it’s safe to say that keeping the tank water clean is a good way of preventing the problem.

There are several other prevention mechanisms that we will discuss shortly, but first, let’s talk about the removal options.

How do You Remove Bubble Algae?

The key thing here is to act fast. The longer you ignore the problem, the more time the bubble algae have to spread and take over the environment.

So, fast removal is necessary to contain and even eliminate the problem.

Several options are available in this sense:

  • Manual removal – This can work if you have the patience and dexterity for the job. The idea is to remove the pearls, preferably in bulk, since bubble algae forms larger structures around various decorative elements. You can either pull those elements out and clean the algae or pick up individual algae pearls if the infection is in its early phases. You can use any tool for the job, provided you’re careful not to pop the damn things. Otherwise, you will only exacerbate the problem.
  • Bacteria-based tank products – There are several tank products designed to deal with algae overgrowth, which contain algae-eating bacteria. These can be quite effective in handling a variety of algae types, so make sure you choose one that can eliminate bubble algae.
  • Use a siphon – The siphon isn’t effective on its own since the bubble algae usually stick onto rocks and decorations. The siphon won’t be able to suck them from their place. However, you can use the siphon to collect any floating bubbles when removing the algae manually. It’s a good way of speeding up the removal process.
  • Let nature take over – Often, allowing nature to do the work for you is the wiser move. Some aquatic creatures will consume algae, including the bubbly ones we’re discussing today. Emerald crabs are the most noticeable mention, alongside yellow tangs, blennies, rabbitfish, and even turbo snails as means of prevention. These creatures can and will happily eat the algae since they provide them with a constant intake of nutrients. However, they can’t work wonders, and, in some cases, these algae eaters may make things worse. We’ll discuss this issue shortly.

As you can see, there are some tools at your disposal to remove bubble algae. The problem is that the removal process is part of the treatment.

When it comes to a bubble algae infestation, you want prevention to be your first line of defense.

How to Prevent Bubble Algae in Reef Tank?

Prevention is far easier when it comes to bubble algae.

The main prevention methods to consider include:

  • Inspect everything going into the tank – Always check your live rocks or reef you’re planning to add to the tank. These are the most common vehicles that the bubble algae will use to change environments. The tiny bubble algae may be difficult to spot in a larger and more intricate reef structure, so you need to be thorough about it. Apply the same approach to driftwood or any other aquatic structures that may contain bubble algae or other dangerous organisms.
  • Keep the water clean – Regular tank maintenance and weekly water changes should prevent any algae problems altogether. Algae bloom in poor water conditions with a lot of dead matter floating around. Take the time to clean the tank properly, and your fish will thank you for it. This approach is effective at keeping the bubble algae at bay.
  • Control the nitrate level – Bubble algae feed on nitrates first and foremost. Most fish can tolerate some nitrates in their tank water, but they also will be perfectly happy with no nitrates at all. Keep your nitrate levels as close to 0 as possible, and your bubble algae will have difficulties feeding and spreading.
  • Promote healthy competition – Competition is the heart of a balanced environment. In other words, promote and support healthier types of algae to make it more difficult for the bubble ones. Chaetomorpha algae are a good pick in this sense since they are easy to remove if they overgrow their boundaries. Allow these algae to spread, and they will consume the bubble algae’s resources, inhibiting their growth drastically.

What Eats Bubble Algae?

There are quite a few aquatic creatures that will consume bubble algae. These include emerald crabs, angelfish, tangs, rabbitfish, surgeonfish, blennies, sea urchins, etc.

If you can, add some of these animals to the environment and let them get to work. They will graze the algae and control the spread, but there’s a problem.

These animals can also burst a lot of bubbles along the way, actually contributing to the algae’s spread.

So, I wouldn’t rely on their help exclusively but use it in conjunction with other prevention methods.

Conclusion

Bubble algae can be a serious problem since they can quickly take over an established aquatic environment and ruin the setup fast.

They will kill corals, suffocate vegetation, and affect the quality of life for all aquatic creatures. Fortunately, there are ways to handle the infestation effectively.

There are also better ways of preventing the issue altogether.

Refer to this article next time you deal with a bubble algae infestation. Or when aiming to avoid one entirely.

avatar I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.

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