As we’ve learned throughout Algae101, microalgae are a natural part of healthy aquatic environments and will almost always be present in small ways– either in the form of spores or by catching rides on incoming tank mates! Microalgae will wait patiently for favorable conditions that open doors to their explosive expression. While we may not be able to completely eliminate algae from our aquariums, we are able to regulate and control their outbursts from taking place.
Now, there are many ways to deal with algae in your tank, but some are far more risky than others. Today, we’re talking about particularly risky methods that we at Green Water Labs have been working hard to dramatically shift: chemical algaecides. While our team works with plants to form a nature-based Algae Control, conventional algaecides are packed full of carcinogens, synthetic chemicals, and other harsh chemistries that affect a wide range of organisms and accumulate in the environment.
Before diving in, here are 3 main reasons why conventional pesticides are inferior to plant based, bio-pesticides:
- Less effective: they require higher dosing which affects non-target organisms, and can cause further issues down the line
- Accumulate in the environment: these chemicals don’t biodegrade easily, leading to contamination of drinking water and accumulation in animals
- Synthesized from Petroleum Feedstocks: these pesticides don’t use natural feedstocks and don’t support circular, renewable economies for people and the planet
Now, lets break this down.
Conventional algaecides utilize intense chemicals that work to kill algae living in your tank. These approaches tend to be seen as a last resort in the aquarium world because of their high levels of risk and impact to your tank community. Even if you do proceed, it cannot be performed too many times. This is how serious they can impact your plants, fish, and invertebrates.
Today, chemical algaecides commonly come as ammonium salts, copper, or a combination of the two enhanced with surfactants. Ammonium based algaecides can be difficult to dose– causing disruptions to your tank's natural nitrogen cycle and leading to toxic levels of ammonia. Copper on the other hand is a metal necessary for living organisms in small doses, but when used in the recommended dosing required to kill algae, it becomes toxic to bacteria, crustaceans, and even fish. Surfactants are another broad class of chemicals that assist with solubility, stability, and delivery of active ingredients like bleach, chlorine, and ammonia. In some cases, surfactants may not pose threats to your aquarium, but can break down into toxic chemicals that lead to long term problems hard to pinpoint. Not to mention, surfactant manufacturers often openly state that their algaecides are toxic to fish, so it’s fairly clear why these strategies are a last resort option for fish keepers.
Brief History & Discussion on Triazine Algaecides
While that was a brief overview of “state of the art” algaecides offered today, unfortunately the history of aquatic algaecide development is not so pretty with other intense chemicals like triazine herbicides that have grown into large players in the pesticide industry.
A chemical in the triazine family known as simazine came out in the late 50s as an aquatic herbicide that people would use in lakes and ponds for algae control. Studies in the 60s showed simazine effective at controlling algae and some aquatic plants with “no apparent harm” to fish, but we all know how much we have learned since the 60s. Since, we now understand that these chemical algaecides in aquariums can kill or thwart growth in your plants and critters, while posing risks to success of egg hatch and fry growth. Not to mention the hassle of needing to quarantine your fish during the treatment process. By then, is all this effort even worth it?
Like other triazine pesticides, simazine is sparingly soluble in water, yet quite so in the fatty tissue of animals. This makes successful delivery of the active ingredient difficult and increases the likelihood that portions of pesticide not taken up by plants or algae will persist in water sources. This is particularly troublesome because animals, including humans, that drink the tainted water end up accumulating simazine in their fat cells which leads to further health complications. Though, plenty of large scale agricultural pesticides also end up in aquatic environments due to run off and accumulate in food chains with health impacts. Ironically, such excess nutrient pollution can also fuel algae blooms in water bodies which have increasingly been turning toxic as they pop-up around the globe due to excess nutrients, chemicals, and warmer temperatures in water bodies.
All in all, conventional chemical algaecides are sketchy and problematic for numerous reasons.
Where We Stand: From Synthetic Chemicals to Plant-Based Wisdom
What’s most shocking about all of this? Well, here we are in the 21st century with more knowledge than ever to deploy nature-based solutions! We don’t need to look back towards harsh chemicals and synthetics as answers to our problems.
This is exactly what our team at Green Water Labs has been working hard to re-direct, and we’re proud to say that we’ve created a plant-based alternative to conventional algaecides with our nature based Algae Control that clears and regulates algae in your tank. With just small weekly dosings, your tank will remain stable and algae-free to prevent future outbreaks, while keeping the whole tank community happy and healthy!
As always – keep it natural and keep it fun!
Fan, A. M. (2014). Triazines. In Encyclopedia of Toxicology: Third Edition (pp. 810–815). Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-386454-3.01066-6