by Sam Weston
Saltwater aquarium plants add color and interest to your marine tanks and form part of any well thought out marine tank. But that’s not all they do. Macroalgae and marine plants will also make the ecosystem in your tank healthier. Macroalgae are particularly beneficial as they provide a natural form of filtration in the saltwater tank.
Saltwater aquarium plants take in nutrients from the water in order to carry out their biological functions and growth. This action reduces the accumulation of toxic nitrates and phosphates and other impurities in the water. When you use plants in your marine tank the idea is to reproduce your fish and other organism’s natural habitat. A tank that contains saltwater aquarium plants is likely to be a healthy one.
Here are some examples of saltwater aquarium plants that you can choose for your marine tank:
Halimeda or cactus algae are hardy saltwater aquarium plants and won’t be fed on vigorously by most marine fish. It is also non-invasive so it won’t damage nearby corals or invertebrates. It does need good light to grow in however as well as enough calcium for growth. Halimeda are sensitive to high nitrate and phosphate levels and don’t like to be pruned.
Penicillus or “shaving brush” are saltwater aquarium plants that do a great job at absorbing excess nutrients like nitrates and phosphates from the water. They are usually not fed on by most fish and invertebrates except sea urchins. Plant the pencillus in the substrate and make sure the area is well-lit. If you add an iron supplement and trace elements regularly your pencillus should thrive. Pencillus has a hard calcium carbonate skeleton like halimeda an coralline algae and will do well across a range of conditions.
What about macroalgae? Macroalgae are saltwater aquarium plants that come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. They are to be found in a range of colors – red, green, brown and blue. These saltwater aquarium plants are able to photosynthesize. This means they use a pigment called chlorophyll to make their own food for growth and other functions.
In general these saltwater aquarium plants get most of the nutrients they need from the water in the marine tank. These include nitrates and phosphates. This makes them good allies in keeping your tank clean. You will need moderate to strong light for the growth of macroalgae. The way to avoid macroalgae growing out of control is to control the environment in which it lives. This means the water chemistry and amount of available light.
So are there ‘bad’ saltwater aquarium plants? Certain kinds of algae can become problematic in a marine tank.
Bubble algae is one of the most common pest saltwater aquarium plants. Bubble algae forms green bubbles on any hard surface, for example live rock. It can occur in masses of bubbles or single or in small groups of big bubbles. The bubbles might be smooth or rough. Bubble algae look nice, BUT they aren’t!
These saltwater aquarium plants grow fast and can take over your tank. Once you discover it the best thing to do is remove it and keep it under control. It can damage other plant species. You can usually remove it by hand. When you do, try not to break the bubbles as this might cause it to spread.
You can try to introduce certain types of fish like the Sohal Tang or Red Sea/Indian Ocean Sailfin Tang (Acanthurus sohal) to eat bubble algae. The best means of control, however, seems to be the “Emerald Crab”. These crabs won’t damage your corals but will eat the bubble algae. It is a good idea to learn about other such interactions between saltwater aquarium plants and herbivores as they might save you time and trouble in the future.
The emerald crabs are a great idea for the reef aquarium where they won’t fight with other inhabitants. There are even coral farmers who use emerald crabs to control algae around their hard corals! So you can protect your saltwater aquarium plants by stocking some of these little helpers.
So what’s your next step? Now that you know a little bit about the good and the bad kinds of saltwater aquarium plants, it’s your job to make sure you learn more. Your local aquarist will be able to tell you more about which saltwater aquarium plants are most suitable for your tank, level of expertise and the other species you want to stock.
You can also do more research on the Word Wide Web, visit your local library or buy books on the subject. Don’t ever buy your saltwater aquarium plants on a whim because you like the way they look. Always make sure you know as much about their nutrient, environment and lighting needs as possible. That way you can avoid making mistakes that cost time and money or even threaten the health of your tank in the long term.
Do choose saltwater aquarium plants that you find attractive as this is part and parcel of keeping a marine tank but never let your desires cloud your common sense. Once you have all you plants set up you will be able to enjoy the animal plant interactions that are so much a part of the marine ecosystem. The purpose of any aquarium is to provide both the fish and you with hours of pleasure and enjoyment. A healthy tank is a happy tank so do take the time to do your research.
Saltwater aquarium plants are very beautiful to look at and interesting to grow so make sure that you take the time to enjoy the plants in your tank. Find out if it is possible to propagate any of these plants from, how to increase or decrease their growth and what nutrients they need to stay healthy. Never share plants between aquariums unless you know they are 100% disease free and always put the health of your tank at the top of your list of priorities! Have fun and enjoy your saltwater aquarium plants!
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