Yellow-tail Blue Damselfish. Chrysiptera parasema
Having lost so many animals at once, I was a little disappointed with myself. So I needed to find out what I was doing wrong and how I could prevent the same mistake again. So off to the library I went to see if I could find out some more information on Marine snails and hair algae (since this was still running rampant in the tank!) While researching the Marine snails, I stumbled across an explanation of why it's important to carefully acclimatize all marine inverts. (I wish I could remember the name of the book, but it's been lost, and I can't seem to find the book or passage in the library anymore). There is more going on when you acclimatize then just getting inverts used to the water temperature. They also need to adjust to the pH, and even more importantly the Salinity in the tank. Even the slightest difference will cause a lot of problems with inverts as the salt levels in their bodies match the levels found in the outside environment. If the salt levels change drastically, then their bodies will either gain a lot of excess water or become dehydrated from water being pulled out of them into the surrounding water. This places a lot of stress on the poor animals and some inverts can cope a lot easier then others.
Now that I knew what the problem most likely was with the snails it was time to attack a greater nemesis; the hair algae that was running rampant in my tank! Even with some snails making huge trails through the algae in the tank, I felt like I was fighting a losing battle! The hair algae had taken over the rocks, the substrate and a lot of the glass. I was frantically pulling fistfuls of the stuff out of the tank on a daily basis. The water changes didn't seem to be helping very much, the nitrates were only around 10 to 15 ppm, salinity was 1.024, the calcium levels were staying around 400ppm and the alk levels were around 4.5meq/l. Everything appeared to check out nicely, but the hair alga was getting out of hand!
A month gone by and I noticed that time really does fly when you are interested in what you are doing. The cycle in my tank was very nearly complete and the hair alga was still growing strongly! I got myself about ten more turbo snails and decided to try a slow acclimatization to see if that would help them survive the initial shock. I slowly added tank water to the bag with the snail in and removed some of the old water a little bit at a time. It took me a couple hours to get them into the tank this time and much to my delight most of them survived with only one casualty. I was also getting brave and decided that I wanted some of those little cute hermit crab that I saw roaming around the tanks at the LFS. I got 5 hermits to start with and again I acclimatized them with the same method I used for the snails. All the hermits immediately disappeared in the tank.
I was finally getting life in the tank, small and not exactly easy to find all the time but I knew there was something there! I watched the tanks for hours on end waiting for some neat new thing to appear and fretting about what to do with the hair algae. I still couldn't figure out what the problem was and why I was being plagued with so much hair algae. I couldn't possibly find out what was causing it because all the water readings were within the ranges that the books said they should be in. I went back to Jake to find out if he could figure out what I was doing wrong or any advice that he could give, after all he was willing to help me out before!
So, once again I made my way to the LFS to see what they had in stock and ask Jake about hair algae. Once again a new term popped into the conversation that I hadn't considered in the past! During our conversation, I was asked about the phosphate readings in the tank. Of course, I hadn't been measuring phosphates and didn't even realize that they could play any part in tank maintenance. I was promptly informed that I should be testing the water for any source of phosphates and see if that was the problem. So I bought yet another test kit, adding to my rapidly growing stock of testing supplies! Cool! I still enjoyed testing the water and seeing how things change in the tank! I could handle this one as well.
Back home once again I read the instructions and tested for phosphates! Thinking that finally this could be it! This could be the magic key to all my problems and like magic I would then discover how to get rid of the hair algae that was the sole bane of my existence at the time! With high hopes and full of optimism and impatience, I tested the water parameters once again! Finally the results were in, but wait, this couldn't be! The test must have failed! There was no phosphate reading in the tank! No, this couldn't be happening to me! Everything in the tank was testing fine but I know there was something out of balance! If everything was as fine and dandy as the tests revealed then I shouldn't be having this problem with the algae! Oh what should I do know?
After contemplating the problem I wondered could it be possible that the test kits were at fault? Should I buy a new set of kits to see if I got different results? What else could I do? I went back to the LFS that day and found out the store actually does tests on water samples for customers! Yes! This would solve two potential problems at the same time! It would show weather my test kits were bad and I could see if I was performing the test accurately! I quickly brought in a sample of my tank water for Jake to test for me. I was actually praying at this point that my test kits were faulty and I was making mistakes. I was desperate to know what was going on in the tank. Much to my dismay, all the tests came back with the same readings I had got at home. With a hopeless look in my face, I inquired what else I could do to get rid of the hair algae that I was pulling out of the tank but the fistful on a daily basis! The only advice that Jake could give me was to have patience and keep pulling it out of the tank, perhaps it was because the tank was still maturing and after a couple months it should start to die back.
Downcast and resigned to the fact that I was going to keep battling the hair algae, fearing it would be my demise and push me right back out of the marine hobby, I went home to once again clear out as much algae as possible. I had to content myself with watching the snails make pretty little trails along the glass and keep an eye out for the hermit crabs! The Yellow tailed damsel was still doing well and had become used to me playing in the tank! He would swim around my hand as I was pulling the algae from the tank, and even nipped at my fingers on occasion. I often just sat there and played with him and during one of these ventures I noticed what looked like a fair sized rock get up and move across the bottom of my tank! I pulled my hand out of the tank so fast that water hit the ceiling! What in the world was THAT? It turned out to be another type of hermit crab that must have came in with the rock! The outer shell was about 4 cm in diameter! It had vertical stripes on its legs and one nice size claw, the second claw looked like it had been cut off at one point. I've had the rock in my tank for a over a month, how could I have possibly missed that? After my heart left my throat in started beating at a normal rhythm again I decided this was an awesome addition to the tank! One more piece of diversity and one more interesting creature for me to keep an eye out for!
Days went by and a steady routine started to take hold as each day I pulled as much algae from the tank as I could. I performed the tests to try to find any sort of hint as to why I was having such a problem with the algae and I continued to watch the creatures in the tank! I hadn't seen the small hermits that I added to the tank for a while and didn't think much of it after all this huge hermit was able to hide in my tank for over a month without me knowing! My venture into the marine hobby wasn't going exactly as I planned and it was a lot more work and frustrating then I had possibly imagined, but I still loved my tank! It was still my pride and joy, and the cycle finally showed that it was completed. Soon I would be able to add more fish!
I can't really remember how long I stayed in the same routine cleaning out the algae, playing with the damsel, observing the hermits, watching the snails and performing the water tests on the tank, it could have been a couple weeks to a month without any changes in the tank. I decided that it was time to add something else to the mix! I finally decided that the tank had more then enough time to stabilize and the water chemistry was constant, even if I couldn't figure out what was off! I went to the LFS to see if they had any thing affordable that interested me. During this trip I remembered the reason I decided to set up the tank was to get a purple fish and decided to look to see if they had any in stock I could have. I had no idea what the name of it was, but I know what it looked like. Unfortunately, there weren't any purple fish in any of the tanks, but there was this lovely pastel green fish that really caught my eye! I watched them in the tank for a while and they looked like a peaceful fish that got along well with their own kind! I was sold, I wanted a couple for my tank! I found out the name was a Green Chromis and off to the book section of the store I went. I did a quick search and found out they were a schooling fish and would get along well in a community tank! This was great! I picked up three of them and went home to introduce them to their new home!
Having learned my lesson with the inverts, I slowly acclimatized them and added them to the tank. I turned off the lights so they would have time to settle in and so the damsel didn't have much light to see the new invaders into his territory! The next morning just before I turned the lights on in my tank, I saw that the Green Chromis and the Damsel had decided to bond! I was thrilled. Finally something went right in the tank! My Damsel had some friends to play with now! I spend a bit of time watching them swim together just to make sure it wasn't all show, but I didn't see any aggression from any fish. Now if only I could figure out what to do about the hair algae in the tank I would be all set!