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JohnnyD44 09-22-2009 07:47 PM

Help with Brown Algae......
Hey Everyone.....A while back, oh maybe 6 or 7 months ago, I set up my new 55G aquarium and added these rocks I found at my LFS called "utah ice". Which look like the coolest thing ever.... Everything has been great in the tank, except now I am starting to develop brown algae in my tank....I'm beginning to blame the utah ice as a culprit due to it's organic's a snippit of I what I was able to pull off the web...

I found out that 'Utah Ice' is actually a type of Gypsum/Selenite. calcium sulfate dihydrate....I read more and I come to find out that it slowly dissolves and increases the hardness of your water......uh oh.....

Mine have not yet begun to really dissolve....but when I was doing my pwc on sunday, i picked one up to move it and it snapped in half, so I'm assuming it's begun the breakdown process....

So I guess I have a few questions because I'm completely stumped.....

1.) Would the hardness and the dissolving rocks lead to my brown algae??
2.) Is the brown algae a source of something else? (gravel vac, picked up a lot of fish waste last clean)
3.) Am I wise to remove the utah ice and find some new rocks to aqua scape with??
4.) How serious is brown algae? do u treat it like regular algae.....

everything checks out great except my nitrates are hovering just about the 40ppm mark, which I'm assuming lead to the nitrates?? i dunno..lights are on for about 6 hours a day....I'm sure this is confusing, but like I said I have two components going on and I'm not sure if they are related or not....if you need more info, please don't hesitate to ask..I would love to figure this out, but I would love not to rescape my tank (which I'm assuming is inevitable, but thats ok too)

Thank you all to the fish thank you....(as does my wife's cat who enjoys watching them)


yippee 09-23-2009 02:07 AM

I actually had this problem too (kind of). I don't have Utah Ice but i do have brown algae. The information i found on it was pretty slim with no real answer of what caused it. I'm lead to believe in my case (at least) it was due to having fairly strong lighting for plants on at least 8 hours a day. I've heard it can also be a sign of a newly set up tank becoming established. However mine didnt go away like they said it would. And when wiped away, it always came back - unlike they said it would. From what i had read there wasn't much to do about it. Most people said that most plecos wouldn't touch it. I bought a rubber lip pleco (as i like them), and put him in one of the tanks that had it. He surprisingly cleaned the algae off of the glass in no time, but didn't touch it on rocks, gravel, or decorations. When i went to the pet store i asked for some of their pest snails and took some home for free. They started working on it slowly but surely, until they had it spotless. They actually did a good job keeping it clean, until i bought a baby whale fish. I'm pretty sure he has picked them all off, as the algae is coming back and the snails have been coming around less and less.

This is my personal experience, yours may vary.

JohnnyD44 09-23-2009 05:25 AM

Thanks for the input yippe....

yeah i couldn't find much on the web either, thats why I posted this.....the tank isn't a new establishment, and the lights are not on for more than 6.5 hours a day....I get home at 4 and leave them on till like 10, maybe 1030.....I'll be interested to see if anybody else has any input.....Thanks again!

Byron 09-23-2009 12:27 PM

I've a couple of observations. First, on the brown algae.

This is actually diatoms, not a true algae, but generally grouped with "algae". It occurs in new tanks chiefly due to ammonia and silicates because the nitrification cycle is not yet established/matured. It also occurs in too weak light; tanks with little or no overhead light frequently have diatoms. Otocinclus will devour it, and snails will work on it. I have set up tanks and after 2-3 months introduced a trio of otos (diatoms being present on the plant leaves) and within days it is gone and with sufficient light never returns. In a matured healthy planted aquarium, it will never be seen. However, otos are sensitive to water parameters and quality and may not be suitable in all tanks.

Algae in general does seem more prevalent in water with a higher hardness and pH value; presumably the minerals are beneficial. Normal algae requires light and nutrients and the latter includes minerals. Rift lake cichlid tanks frequntly have algae, which is good because the fish graze it.

Which brings us to the rocks. JohnnyD, have you tested the tank water's pH and hardness to see if it is increasing from what it previously was? From their composition, I agree with your findings that the rocks will affect the water chemistry. The question is, how much, and will this hinder your intentions for this aquarium. If this is intended as a planted aquarium, I would definitely remove the rocks and either use wood or inert rock. If you want livebearers, or rift lake cichlids, this will not be a problem but a blessing. Both these groups of fish need slightly hard to hard water with a basic (alkaline) pH from the range of 7.0 - 7.8 (livebearers) to 8.0 - 9.0 (Africans).


JohnnyD44 09-23-2009 12:52 PM


Once again a great post....I appreciate the insight....i did more research at work today on these rocks.....the government takes me taxes, darnit, I'll use their internet!!!! haha

Anyways.....I read more about the rocks and i learned that over time they break down and are silicate based, which you mentioned with the "algae"...but this tank is defiently not a new I'm stumped there and still wonder if they are a contribution to the algae or also mentioned low lights in the aquarium...i use a standard aquarium light and it's on for about 6 hours a wife and I have reduced the ceiling lights we use to cut back on electricity.....nitrates were still hanging around 50-60ppm this morning before I left for work.....

I am going to remove the rocks cool looking as they are I can see they are gonna cause me problems (although it has no effected my ph at all)......I plan on keeping mostly community fish.....i have no experience with african lake cichlids and have no other tank to try them in.....although they do sound cool.....

I think i'm gonna do another pwc when I get home, and during that remove the rocks which seems to be crumbling....

anything you reccomend as far as the algae? i wiped it away and it has come back now.....

thanks again everyone!


Byron 09-23-2009 01:08 PM

I've not found any info online concerning the cause of diatoms other than the two points mentioned. If the aquarim light is "standard" I would suspect it falls in the category as "too little light," but I won't argue that the rocks may be contributing as my geological knowledge doesn't go that far. Most rocks are composed of silicate minerals, they form 90% of the earth's crust I'm told. So it would be fairly difficult to find any others.

Here are some links to info on algae that is useful.
James' Planted Tank - Algae Guide
James' Planted Tank - Algae Guide
PG: Algae - An Overview -

I think once you go to a planted tank and have adequate light, diatoms will be a thing of the past.


JohnnyD44 09-23-2009 01:54 PM

I'm going to ditch the rocks when I get home, do a pwc and see how it goes....i'm hesitant to go to a planted experience and I'd hate to disrupt my tank as it is now....

SinCrisis 09-23-2009 02:58 PM

Awww the tank looked awesome with those rocks. Are you gonna replace them with some inert white rocks or something similar like a plastic decoration that looks like ice?

mollies 09-23-2009 03:44 PM

Johnny what watt is your lights. Increas the watage it will go away. I had the same thing happen in my tank. Turn your lights on befor you go to work then shut them off at 10. Thats what all i dd and it worked. The rock shouldnt have much to do with it as it dosnt leach that fast.

JohnnyD44 09-23-2009 05:03 PM

I have two 24" lights.....the wattage on them are 20W each (so 40 total?) seems weird, but I didn't have the problem with the algae till my wife and I started not using the ceiling lights and using two small end table lamps instead (save electricity and they look nicer, lol)...could that have anything to do with it? my lights are on from about 4pm to 10pm....6 that not enough light?

Rocks: I've decided that the rocks have not contributed to the algae growth, but i do know now that they are going to increase the hardness of my water (ph has remained unchanged).....that is a health hazzard to my fish correct? I hate to, but I think tonighit when I do my pwc, I'm going to take them out.....thoughts on hardness hurting my fish????

water parameters before pwc tonight:
ammonia - 0
nitrite - 0
ph 7.4-7.6
nitrate - 40....maybe 50ppm


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