Help! My tank looks terrible!

I receive messages every day of every week that start out like this from reefers.    Usually it’s some combination of various types of nuisance algaes, cyanobacteria, or a combo punch of the two.    On the other end of the message is a defeated hobbyist frantic for a switch they can flip to right the capsizing ship.

The only way to help is to gather as much data as possible about the afflicted aquarium.   Unfortunately, more often than not, the questions that are critical to determining a course of action are answered as vaguely as possible helping absolutely no one.   Here are some prime examples:

What are your parameters?

“They’re good”
How much do you feed?
“A little”

I’m sorry but this just isn’t going to cut it.   In order to get to the solution we need to know what is causing the problem.  The only way to do that is with as many specifics about the aquarium as possible.   The following are the minimum questions that need to have answers before a reasonable course of action can be chosen to fix a problem tank:

Tank Size?

Age of aquarium?

Parameters?
Ph
Ammonia
Nitrite
Salinity
Nitrate
Alkalinity
Calcium
Phosphate 
Temperature

What type of lighting?
Light Spectrum?
Light Schedule?
Filtration type?
Flow type?
Maintenance schedule?
Feeding schedule?
Amount fed and type of food?
Does the tank get sunlight?
Does the temperature fluctuate?
Where do you get your water?

This may at first seem like a lot, but I can assure anyone reading this that 90% of the algae and cyano problems in today’s reefs are caused by the answers to one or more of those questions.   By being ready with those answers when seeking guidance from an experienced reefkeeper you increase chances of success immensely.

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