How to Get Rid of Black Beard Algae in the Fish Tank
Written by: Tammy (@aquarist_tl) and Team Buce Plant
Have you ever encountered this ugly black fuzz growing on the tips of plant leaves or on your aquarium’s hardscape? If so, it's most likely Black Beard Algae (BBA), also known as Black Brush Algae. Out of the many types of algae that we see in freshwater fishkeeping, black algae in the fish tank is arguably one of the most stubborn to remove...but don't get discouraged!
Although it can be somewhat troublesome to get rid of, it is not impossible. In this article, we’ll cover what exactly this black algae is, how to prevent it, and how to remove it from the aquarium.
What Exactly is BBA?
Audouinella is the scientific name for black algae. It’s a genus of red algae that exists in both freshwater and saltwater environments. The form of Audouinella that we encounter in the aquarist hobby is commonly referred to as “black beard algae,” “black brush algae,” "black algae," or “BBA” for short.
They look like dark patches of hair and typically grow on the edges of leaves, driftwood, stones, or other types of decoration. Contrary to its given name, black algae can either be black, dark green, or dark red in color. BBA likes to grow in areas of high flow, but can also be found in areas with low circulation.
What Causes Black Beard Algae?
Like all other algae, the main reason BBA grows is because of an imbalance in the aquarium. This imbalance is most likely due to an abundance of nutrients. The black algae will take advantage of the surplus of nutrients and utilize them to grow and spread throughout the tank. Black Beard Algae can be a result of poor water quality, poor maintenance, overdosing fertilizers, low levels or fluctuating levels of CO2, too much light, or a combination of all of these.
A tank that hasn’t been routinely cleaned can have a lot of waste and organics built up. These organics decompose and add nitrates into the water, which both live plants and algae use to grow. It's important to note that overfeeding fish or having an overstocked aquarium will lead to a larger amount of waste in the tank.
Most often, there is no CO2 or fluctuating CO2 levels in a tank with BBA. If there is a CO2 deficiency, BBA can take the carbon they require from hydrogen carbonate much easier than any aquatic plant in the tank. To explain further, black algae can separate the carbon from the hydrogen carbonate ion, which in turn creates hydroxide ions that elevates the pH. During this process, biogenic decalcification takes place, and calcium carbonate precipitates, which is then used by the algae to fortify their cell walls. Unfortunately, this causes the algae itself to become more difficult to remove, and more difficult for algae eaters to consume.
Consequently, low levels of CO2 mean the aquatic plants grow slower, so they aren’t able to take up as much of the nutrients. This leaves the black algae with the potential to use the excess nutrients to grow.
Is Black Beard Algae Harmful?
Black algae poses no threat at all to your aquatic creatures. However, the one thing it could harm is your aquarium plants. If BBA spreads enough to completely cover the leaves of a plant, the plant could essentially "suffocate" and die from the lack of lighting and nutrients.
3 Ways to Get Rid of Black Beard Algae
There are multiple methods of removing Black Beard Algae in the aquarium. Just note that these strategies are a temporary fix, as the algae are likely to keep popping back up until the underlying cause is addressed. We highly recommend reviewing your fertilizer dosing regimen, lighting schedule, maintenance routine, etc. Try to figure out where the imbalance in your tank is coming from.
Here are 10 tips to get rid of Black Beard Algae in the aquarium:
1. Liquid Carbon (Glutaraldehyde-based) Additives
Dosing liquid carbon products will help inhibit the growth of black algae, but it can also be used to eradicate it from plants or other objects contaminated by it. Flourish Excel by Seachem is a very popular liquid carbon product. There are two methods you can try with liquid carbon: spot treating or double-dosing in a separate container.
If you cannot remove the plants or items with BBA from the tank, then spot treating the BBA is the best way to treat your tank. To do this, simply use a pipette or dropper to directly drip the liquid carbon onto the black algae. Be careful not to overdose the aquarium with the additive.
If you’re able to remove the contaminated plants and hardscape from the tank, then follow these steps:
- Add double the amount of the recommended dose based on the amount of water in the container and let them sit in there for 24 hours.
- After the 24 hours, change all of the water and let the plants sit in the clean water for 24 hours again.
- Repeat the whole process one more time before placing everything back into your aquarium.
This should kill off the BBA. If you’re using this method on plants, make sure to research that plant’s vulnerability to liquid carbon. There are some plants that are sensitive to these types of products and may be harmed, like Crypts and Vallisneria.
2. Dose Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) or Liquid Carbon
Hydrogen Peroxide (the 3% solution) is a common household item you can use to remove many forms of algae in the aquarium. Keep in mind that the recommended dosing is approximately 1.5 ml per gallon of water.
Similar to the liquid carbon, you can spot treat tough patches of Black Beard Algae by using a dropper or syringe to disperse it onto the affected areas. However, it's important to turn off your filter before and keep it off for 15 min - 1 hour after spot treating your tank.
- This process should not harm your plants or fauna as long as you dose directly on the problem areas. However, it can harm the beneficial bacteria in your filter if you have your filter running during the process. Because of this, it's always a good idea to dose beneficial bacteria like SL-Aqua's Beneficial Bacteria for at least a few days after treatment.
For larger tanks or a for a more widespread BBA problem, you can also put it into a spray bottle before spraying it directly onto any BBA infested areas. Do this during a water change when the water level is low enough to expose the algae out of the water. Allow to sit for at least 5 minutes before flooding the tank again.
Another option is to place the affected plants and objects in a hydrogen peroxide bath for 3 minutes. You should notice the H2O2 causing the black algae to bubble up and turn red/pink. That is a sign that the hydrogen peroxide is killing the algae. Afterwards, you can attempt to gently remove the dead algae by lightly brushing with a toothbrush. If you'd rather not risk damaging your plants, simply place them back into the aquarium. Allow algae eaters like Amano Shrimp or Siamese Algae Eaters to remove the algae for you.
3. Add Algae-Eaters to Your Tank
There are a few aquatic specimens that are known to eat BBA. Arguably, the best fish for the job is the Siamese Algae Eater. They are known for eating black algae as well as other types of algae. The only concern you may have for these fish is that they get a bit large when they’re older, potentially up to 6 inches. Other black beard algae-eaters include Florida Flagfish, Amano Shrimp, and Nerite Snails.
Additional Tips: How to Prevent Black Beard Algae
If you've already struggled with BBA and don't want to repeat the process, review these tips and tricks to prevent Black Beard Algae from appearing in your planted aquarium. Here are 6 tips to prevent black beard algae in the aquarium:
4. Never Introduce It Into Your Aquarium
Cliché, we know, but this is one of the best ways to prevent ANY type of algae is to never let it enter your aquarium in the first place. If you're ever setting up a brand new tank, always make sure all of the items going in are sterilized. If you're reusing old hardscape, substrate, etc., thoroughly clean everything first. Most importantly, always quarantine and/or perform a bleach dip on all of the plants going in your planted aquarium or use all tissue culture plants.
5. Add More Fast-Growing Plants
Plants are the number one competition against BBA for nutrients in the aquarium. It helps to have fast-growing plants like stem plants or floating plants because they use up more nutrients than the slow-growers like Buce or Anubias.
A major way to boost the growth rate of your aquarium plants is with steady CO2 injection. Plants grow much faster when CO2 is diffused into the water, and if all of the conditions are met, then the BBA won’t stand a chance against the plants.
6. Stabilize Your Lighting & CO2 Levels
Like many algae, BBA loves an abundance of light. A high-intensity light or a long duration of light can be feeding the Black Beard Algae in your aquarium, causing it to spread quicker. Try decreasing your aquarium's lighting schedule (we recommend no more than 6-8 hours a day), and/or decreasing light intensity by using a dimmer.
As mentioned previously, low CO2 or fluctuating CO2 levels can cause Black Beard Algae. Not only can increasing your already low levels of CO2 be important, but It's crucial to stabilize the CO2 levels in the tank so that it runs consistently for the same amount of time and at the same BPS. Make sure to use a drop checker to easily monitor CO2 levels in your aquarium.
For more information, click here for a guide on how to add CO2 to the aquarium (and keep it running properly).
7. Keep Up with Maintenance
We cannot stress this enough, but regular water changes are always important! From the moment you set up your tank, we recommend weekly water changes (or twice a week if you are experiencing high ammonia levels) to keep a happy balance in the tank. This will help lower the number of nitrates and other nutrients in the water by essentially replacing the “old” water that may be full of nitrates with clean water.
Most importantly, performing maintenance such as physically removing the BBA is important. You can take out/trim off infected leaves in order to prevent them from decomposing and releasing both ammonia and more algae spores into the water. In addition, regularly gravel vacuuming fish waste and uneaten food also prevent an overload of nitrogen from entering the system.
The Qanvee Siphon makes for easy water changes
8. Feed Your Fauna Less
Overfeeding is a common occurrence amongst hobbyists in the aquarium hobby. If you’re keeping up with maintenance and still see a lot of black algae blooming, it may be because you are feeding too heavily.
The amount of waste produced may be greater than the amount that you remove during water changes, so the BBA is still able to thrive. Try feeding less food to your fish and see if that helps with the issue. Keep in mind that your fish will be perfectly happy with only being fed no more than once a day.
9. Always Clean Your Tools After Maintenance
Thoroughly cleaning your aquascaping tools is especially important for those who have multiple tanks. If you're experiencing this stubborn algae in one aquarium, always clean your tools after performing any sort of maintenance before using the same tools in another tank. This is the easiest way for Black Beard Algae, or any algae at all, to spread and suddenly appear in a tank that wasn't experiencing any algae problems.
I hope this information helps you win the battle against black algae. If you have further questions about this article, make sure to reach out to us at email@example.com or DM us on Instagram (@buceplant). Happy fishkeeping!