What are Coralline Algae?
Coralline algae have established themselves as an indispensable component of coral reefs, both for their stunning colour display and their ability to provide structural support. As highly valued as they are in the depths of the ocean, they also are for anyone’s saltwater aquarium. Part of the Corallinales scientific order, they form a subdivision of the red algae species and grow into a variety of shapes and colours. No matter their external appearance, the Coralline algae is actively engaged in the preservation of a healthy marine ecosystem.
Coralline algae produce significant amounts of calcite which gets deposited along their cell walls and gives them their well-known rigid structure. Some might even mistake them for intricately crafted rocks or mistake them for thinly shaped stony corals.
To date, no species of Corallina algae has been found to survive outside of saltwater although they can be readily encountered in both the shallowest and deepest regions of the ocean.
With potentially as many as 10,000 different species of red algae growing on the ocean floor at this moment, it may take years for one to inspect each of their individual characteristics. Luckily, the Corallina algae’s intricate patterns and ragged contours you may be most familiar with maybe resumed into two categories.
The structure they grow into is entirely dependent on their classification, and yet two recognizable types emerge: the geniculate and the non-geniculate coralline algae.
Geniculate Coralline Algae
The first is characterised by a tree-like appearance extending out its vivid colours as branches through the water. Continuing on with the metaphor, these types of algae grow into rocks and reefs with crustose which very much resemble roots in their ability to firmly ground the algae onto any surface.
These tend to retain a considerable amount of flexibility that will allow them to move freely with the ocean currents. This property is attributed to the fact that the geniculate coralline algae retain some non-calcified sections away from their base root.
Non-geniculate Coralline Algae
The rigid structure of the non-geniculate coralline algae retains the same vividness of colour but offers a striking contrast in texture. They grow as flat shell-like layers on the surface of rocks, coral skeletons and even seagrass.
They tend to behave much like mushrooms in their tendency to accumulate in a specific area to build up into larger algae structures. Nevertheless, the non-geniculate coralline algae retain a thinness which is hardened by a completely calcified surface and therefore tend to take a significant amount of time to reach their mature state. Often designated as crusts, their overlay provides a wonderful hiding place for a number of invertebrates.
Despite those notable differences, both the geniculate and non-geniculate Corallina algae remain remarkably similar on a microscopical scale. They retain all of their outside beauty with a honeycomb-like texture which grows and thickens as the algae age.
Coralline Algae Classification
The Coralline algae belongs to the Phylum Rhodophyta since it can be identified as a subgenre of red algae. These red algae are some of the most varied and numerous species across the world, with thousands in the tropics and thousands more in the arctic.
Some red algae have even managed to extend even further into certain dishes as they are considered to hold nutritional value due to their high concentrations of sulphated polygalactans. Their applications also extend to biological research and other forms of food processing.
No matter the usage, their contribution to the maintenance of healthy coral reef systems has made red algae, and the subdivision of Coralline algae, into keystone organisms. The proportional significance of their impact against their relatively low concentrations has made them into heavily dependable and crucial components of any well-balanced aquatic ecosystem.
Coralline Algae for Saltwater Aquariums
It is sometimes easy to take for granted the wonderful display of colours of certain coral reeds and forget that a number of organisms are at work to achieve it. Amongst them, Coralline algae has become a staple in the most rich and healthy saltwater aquariums, filling them with vivid shades of purple and red.
They are also heavily associated with the growth of stony corals since both are structured by an aragonite skeleton that grows in very similar water conditions. The fact that they favour similar environments may make them into direct competitors although in most cases they are able to complement each other in a beautiful manner.
It is remarkable to consider the fact that the bright algae living in your tank at home may in fact date back as far as the Early Cretaceous period. The earliest record of fossils of Coralline algae were indeed found to exist over 100 million years ago. This should certainly make their maintenance and preservation is one’s saltwater aquarium look much more promising.
The Aesthetic Value of Coralline Algae
Anyone who has ever gone diving in the ocean, or browsed through a marine wildlife magazine, will have marvelled at the beautiful play of colours put on display by algae. It therefore comes as no surprise that so many have already wanted to bring this underwater wonder into their own saltwater aquarium.
Coralline algae are certainly the best place to start with if one is hoping to fill their tank with splendid arrays of colour.
There exist almost as many different shades as there are species of Coralline algae. From the most common deep purples and pinks, to darker greens and reds, there is no reason why your aquarium should remain dull.
The Utility of Coralline Algae in Saltwater Aquariums
Not only are Coralline algae a colourful addition to any saltwater aquarium, but they are also remarkably useful in providing a range of benefits.
As if its vivid coloration didn’t allow it to stand out enough already, Coralline algae have a tendency to inhibit the growth of other unwanted algae. They are able to achieve this in two distinct but equally effective ways.
The first relates to their habit of growing across rocks and other coral reeds which essentially takes over any surface on which any undesirable algae grows the best. Their second measure is also their most efficient one as they have the ability to release a variety of chemicals as a defence mechanism. These are toxic to most other species and hence allows Coralline algae to survive for long periods of time in almost any saltwater aquarium.
This ability to adapt themselves to hostile environments is similarly complimented by its capability of stabilizing reefs. No matter the shape and size of your tank, moving one around can be a very delicate procedure. By growing on rocks and reefs, Coralline algae is able to act as glue fastening your aquarium securely against any potential accidents or abrupt shifts.
How to Introduce Coralline Algae into Saltwater Aquariums?
Turning your dull saltwater tank into a breath-taking aquarium full of life is remarkably simple. Although you may have plenty of undesired algae settling in around your rocks and reefs, Coralline algae need to be manually introduced within any saltwater aquarium.
Coralline algae are best introduced using live rocks since these provide the necessary bacteria and microorganisms. It is important to find a high-quality live rock that may already have some algae growing on its surface. Once introduced into clean water and habitable surroundings, the algae will extend to other rocks in close proximity or generate spores to carry itself around to any type of hard surface.
Their ability to spread quickly means that it is not necessary to buy many live rocks already populated by Coralline algae, instead of mixing fewer ones with clean rocks can be just as efficient although much more cost-effective. The Coralline algae will then be free to grow and spread over the rocks and glass to fill up your tank with their bright colouration.
Once you can observe the growth of some Corallina algae, you may wish to carefully cut off some scrapings and allow them to spread throughout the tank. As they get deposited on another surface, they will start growing and quickly expand your Corallina algae population.
You may also consider purchasing such scrapings from a pre-existing saltwater aquarium and disperse them in your own to simulate the aforementioned propagation. Luckily, the external filters and simmers common to most tanks will ensure that the colourful scrapings are well spread over the entire area.
Maintaining Healthy Coralline Algae in Saltwater Aquariums
Managing and monitoring stable parameters
Any saltwater aquarium owner will know that growing healthy aquatic life isn’t resumed to a tank full of water and some salt. Indeed, the actual chemistry of the water needs to be carefully controlled and managed to offer a stable environment of Coralline algae to grow into. This starts with the ideal temperature of the water which should be kept at a constant 75 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit (23 – 27 C).
Here are a range of parameters to monitor and adjust to provide the optimal environment for Coralline algae to grow into.
Nitrate levels tend to be quite low in natural environments and should, therefore, be kept below 5 ppm in your saltwater aquarium. These tend to come from waste and rotting food, hence, you should avoid overfeeding to prevent nitrates from accumulating.
Produced when waste breakdowns, phosphates can quickly deplete the water of oxygen and cause harm to other aquatic life. These should, therefore, be vigilantly kept below 0.26 ppm.
Maintaining a stable 2.8 to 4.3 meq/L is recommended specifically for saltwater aquariums.
A stable pH should be slightly alkaline at 7.9 to 8.4. This is mostly affected by the breakdown of waste and can quickly become toxic if left to build up higher. Regular water changes is the only solution to keep pH levels within a safe range.
Calcium and Magnesium
These metals should be kept at concentrations of 350 to 480 ppm, and 1300 to 1380 ppm, respectively. This is particularly important for Coralline algae since they heavily consume both calcium and magnesium to build up their calcified sections.
Carrying out regular tests of the water is an essential part in the maintenance of any saltwater aquarium especially when one has multiple species interacting within the same environment but not necessarily the same needs. Ultimately, stability is a key factor to the nurturing of any form of aquatic life, Coralline algae included. This means keeping each parameter as stable as possible and readjusting them when necessary.
Keeping the lighting under control
Since Corallina algae are used to growing several hundreds of metres down on the ocean floor, it should come as no surprise that the type and amount of lighting they are given is a crucial part of their healthy development.
Although this makes them into a vary hardy and enduring species of algae, its one principal survival requirement is sunlight. Coralline algae may on average be considered as a slow growing organism, there are certain precautions which can significantly improve its growth speed.
They tend to be highly photosensitive to light, which means that just a few watts can suffice to allow it to grow healthily. In general, Coralline algae appreciate more dim lighting and colder waters.
In addition, it is perhaps just as crucial to respect the natural cycle of light by making use of a timed LED light to replicate the intensity variations during a normal day. It is important to remember that each type of Coralline algae will have an individual preference of lighting so making small gradual adjustments over time is the most effective way to satisfy its unique requirements.
Since an exposure to high light intensities over long periods of time may damage parts of the algae, one should always take care when moving their saltwater aquarium around.
Providing additional nutrients
Even the most carefully regulated saltwater and strategic lighting are sometimes not enough to satisfy your Coralline algae enough to grow at a healthy rate. To remediate this, you may wish to purchase growth supplements specific for Coralline algae (for example, PurpleUp – link to Amazon). These will provide additional nutrients to help their growth along.
Note: Nonetheless, you need to check your current water parameters and make sure that by adding these supplements you will not overdose!
How to Remove Coralline algae
Even though Coralline algae is beneficial we often do not want it to cover such surfaces as a heater, pump, filter, the front glass of the tank, etc. So what can we do to remove it?
- You can remove it manually by using stainless-steel scraper (link to check the price on Amazon) or just a simple razorblade. Warning: Do not use scraper or razorblade in the acrylic tank. They will leave scratches.
- Another way is to remove the necessary components and soak them in white vinegar from time to time. It will dissolve the Coralline algae.
- Introduce Urchins into your tanks. Most of them will eat filamentous algae and Coralline algae as well.
Most marine aquarists welcome Coralline algae in their saltwater tanks. First of all, thriving Coralline algae means that you have optimal water quality. Second, it adds a natural look to your system. Third, Coralline algae competes with the nuisance algae.