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Thread: Understanding String Algae

  1. #41
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Glad you've enjoyed it, Ray. I've been off to NYC for my daughter's graduation, so slow to respond.

    I have considered posting some thoughts on controlling string algae. I purposefully avoided the 'how to cure string algae' subject line. I do not believe there is a 'cure' that is practical for a koi pond. I think there may be bacterial additives that are helpful without adverse effects. I have posted before about finding that use of sludge remover type products seemed to have an impact. However, for purposes of this thread, I think I need learn more before saying much.

  2. #42
    Sansai almostgeorgia's Avatar
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    I, too, have enjoyed your thoroughly exhaustive treatise on string algae here, Mike. Mil Gracias for taking the time to write it all up, not to mention the many hours spent on the research beforehand.

    Though you prefaced your epic thread here with the admonition that it was not meant as a 'how-to-control-string-algae' conversation, I believe many in your captive audience here would fervently wish that some words of wisdom on this vexing subject were included at this point. I also understand it is ground that has been thoroughly 'plowed' in other threads on this board, however.

    I personally have little to offer on controlling the annual outbreak so many ponds incur, and your information early on that even low nutrient loads don't seem to deter it was particularly disconcerting. It appears this plant has the means of literally 'manufacturing' its own nutritional needs, at least partly, from the organisms it exists with in a symbiotic relationship. That flies in the face of about the only personal observation I've been able to make regarding string algae. The few really bad cases I have observed always seemed to be in ponds with insufficient bio-filtration coupled with a high to over-stocked fish load. I know a few old timers who claim significant string algae problems are an indicator of these two factors as well. I want to stress the words significant string algae, because just about everyone I know of who maintains a pond in this very temperate to subtropical climate (southeast USA) seems to see a bit of an algae 'break-out' of some sort or species every Spring.

    It would be interesting to hear from the West Coast as I get the impression algae in general is not quite the issue out in the So Cal area that we see elsewhere in the country. Just wondering if that includes string algae as well.

  3. #43
    Honmei ricshaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by almostgeorgia View Post
    It would be interesting to hear from the West Coast as I get the impression algae in general is not quite the issue out in the So Cal area that we see elsewhere in the country. Just wondering if that includes string algae as well.
    Yes, the West Coast has its share of string algae.

    For control... one method for yearly spring seasonal string algae is to sprinkle rock salt crystals directly on the string algae.

  4. #44
    Sansai
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    sring algae problem ponds in the northwest they use rock salt sprinked in on algea pp dose after dose and the problems seem to reappear it really seems to be a mess.im sure glad ive never had it bad .it seems come back year after year in some of these ponds ive seenhappy ponding sure hope somone has a solution to this.

  5. #45
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Controlling String Algae

    I have hesitated to get into the subject of controlling string algae in a direct fashion. There are a variety of actions that can be taken, each of which has its adherents. As soon as one method is criticized, somebody will speak up about how it always works for them. One thing that can be said without drawing rational objection is that there is no cure for string algae that is consistent with longterm koikeeping. The most that can be done is to control it so that it does not detract as much from enjoyment of the pond. So, I will review some of the approaches and my thoughts about them for whatever it is worth.

    A second thing I am comfortable saying about all the approaches in use is that they all work... for some people, in some ponds on some occasions. And, that nearly all do not work for some people in their ponds on some occasions. The methods that can work for everyone all the time in any pond are the ones which most risk the well-being of our koi.

    I will group the methods and discuss each in separate posts:

    1. Limiting Light & Nutrient
    2. Chemical Treatments: Hydrogen Peroxide
    3. Chemical Treatments: Copper
    4. Chemical Treatments: PP
    5. Chemical Treatments: Others
    6. Barley Straw
    7. Clay & Kitty Litter
    8. High Tech Gizmos
    9. Plecostomus
    10. Bacterial Additives
    11. Bog Gardens
    Last edited by MikeM; 06-03-2013 at 01:37 PM. Reason: Adding a future topic

  6. #46
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Limiting Light & Nutrient

    It should be obvious that string algae will not grow in complete darkness in distilled water. It should also be obvious that koi will not survive in distilled water and that there is not much about koikeeping that can be enjoyed in total darkesss. All we can do is try to find a balance point.

    Shading the koi pond is a good start for keeping string algae within tolerable limits. It is not a complete solution for all ponds. String algae can thrive in shaded conditions, but will have less growth than if in high light conditions. Shading the pond does no harm to the koi. Indeed, many recommend shading from direct sun to obtain the best color and healthy skin. Sunburn has been known to occur on occasion.

    Shading can be provided by having a cover over the pond. These can be structures with a solid roof where light comes in only from the sides, or a support structure for shadecloth (which comes in a variety of densities), or a latticework structure. How dense can the shade be made? Personal preferences come into play on this question. I think koi look fine under 80% shadecloth used for ferneries. For me, 90% shade becomes a bit much.

    Another way to provide shading is to use one of the pond dyes that make the water a dark blue or black. These dyes can really work if dosed heavily, but the effect is temporary. Unless you do not care about the actual color of the koi you keep, dyeing the water a deep midnight blue is as unappealing as the string algae. The dyes marketed are supposedly 'fish safe', but that only means the fish do not die from the immediate exposure. Many dyes are known carcinogens and others are of concern. I do not think it is a good idea to use the dyes on a regular basis, even if the color does not bother you.

    There are numerous posts on koi boards all around the world about how string algae was gotten under control after a shade structure was installed. And, there are numerous reports of how ponds were shaded and the string algae seemed as robust as ever. And, reports from those who initially reported that shading solved their problem, but the next season or some months later experience an overgrowth of string algae. As explained above, there are reasons disparate results will occur, since light, temperature and nutrient availability all work together. And, with all methods used, there is always the possibility that the supposed solution implemented had little to do with the algae dying back. It may simply have reached that point in its life cycle, or the pond temperature may have risen too high (or declined too low) for the algae to thrive.

    Limiting nutrient in a koi pond seems the least likely method to get much noticeable results. There is always going to be excess nutrient. Still, we know ammonia is the much preferred nitrogen source compared to nitrate. So, being sure that bio-filters are appropriately sized and that turnover rates minimize the ambient ammonia level are good things to do. Remember, there is always ammonia in the pond water even if it is below the detectable limits of your test kit. Increasing currents to obtain higher turnover rates, however, may prove counter-productive. The nutrient level may decrease, say 50%, but faster currents are exposing the algal filaments to the remaining nutrient at a faster rate. The algae is not consuming nutrient from the water as a whole. It is grabbing what comes into contact with cell walls. You might think of it as counting the number of nutrient units coming into contact with the cell wall per second. The count will be higher in currents than in still water. Nonetheless, I would not recommend eliminating currents. Our ponds rely on current to move waste to the bottom drains, to exercise the fish and oxygenate the water. Our first concern is maximizing our koi. We should not compromise that goal. Having moderate stocking and avoiding excessive feeding is all for the good. Perhaps the koi will consume a bit more algae while grazing the pond walls. These are things we should do in any event.

    There are plenty of well-maintained high-end koi ponds with low nitrate levels and no detectable ammonia that suffer string algae over growth to the point of clogging filters and drains. So, it is understandable that folks turn to chemical additives, my next topic.


    ADDENDUM [April 2, ]: Phosphate Removers

    As indicated early in this thread, phosphate has been shown to be the more important limiting factor in string algae blooms in natural waterbodies. There are now a number of phosphate removal additives with the marketing aimed at pondkeepers. Typically, the ingredients are a proprietary secret. This is most likely because the ingredients are available inexpensively if purchased as generic chemicals. Since string algae can store a luxury amount of phosphorous for future use, and koi ponds typically have an abundance available from all the food fed, use of a phosphate remover to control string algae is not something that would be a quick solution to a bloom. If applied continuously, it would be an expensive endeavor. I can imagine, however, a potential benefit if used at the very beginning of a bloom as a means to limit how excessive the bloom would become. But, given the continual addition of phosphates through the food fed to our koi, is it practical? Over the past month I have sought out actual experience by koikeepers in using a phosphate remover. Thus far, no useful information information has been forthcoming. Perhaps in time useful experience will develop. If so, I hope it is shared in this thread.

    There are three main groups of chemicals used to remove phosphate from water in various wastewater and industrial applications. An old common one is aluminium oxide, which can have very unwanted pH impacts.

    The most safely used chemical in aquaria is ferric hydroxide, which will bind not only phosphate but also various organics and metals. It also can contribute to carbonates precipitating and a lowering of pH. In aquaria these impacts on water are generally mild. In a koi pond there could be a greater impact on alkalinity than desired. However, ferric hydroxide involves considerable expense when looking at the water volume and amount of phosphate in a koi pond.

    A third group are salts of Lanthanum, a so-called rare earth metal that is not particularly rare at all. The one commonly used in the swimming pool industry is lanthanum chloride, which is comparatively cheap and extremely effective at removing phosphate. It has been used with reef aquaria for a decade or so, but with users being urgently told that they must avoid lanthanum precipitates (which cloud the water) from getting into the aquarium. The clouding of the water occurs as the lanthanum binds with phosphate, creating a very fine particulate. It eventually settles out. However, there are many reports of mass die-offs of fish (as well as corals and other filter feeders) when lanthanum chloride is directly added to a tank. It is not clear whether the deaths are caused by free lanthanum in the water poisoning the fish, the precipitates blocking gill filaments or other means. In any event, those successfully using in it reef aquaria confine it to treating water in a separate container or using a system that captures precipitates in 10-micron or 5-micron filter cloth prior to water returning to the aquarium. This is a wholly impractical level of filtration in a koi pond. There are other lanthanum salts that could be used, but I have no reason to think that any are less dangerous than lanthanum chloride.

    So, altogether, there could be 'who knows what' in those phosphate remover bottles now being sold under nearly a dozen labels. If there is one that works and is truly safe for koi, with no dramatic effects on water parameters (other than lowering phosphate), it could be a useful tool when string algae strikes. But, until actual experience by koikeepers establishes that one is truly effective and safe, I would not recommend any of them.
    Last edited by MikeM; 04-02- at 02:19 PM.

  7. #47
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Hydrogen Peroxide

    Hydrogen peroxide will work, temporarily.

    I do not know if Hydrogen Peroxide is the most frequently used chemical agent for treating string algae, but it does seem to be the most recommended on koi boards over the past 10 years. I avoid using chemicals in the pond and have no personal experience using HP. I have read a goodly number of postings about the experiences of others. There are a number of different recommended doses. The one I most frequently see is one pint of 3% HP per 1,000 gallons of pond water (roughly 3.5ppm concentration in the pond). Many report that this dosage did little good, while some report it was 'good enough'. One contributor to a watergardening site reports using 3% HP at a rate of one pint per 100 gallons [10 times the usual recommended dose... approx. 35ppm, which will kill fish over a couple of days]. Another reports sucess using 3% HP at a dosage of one pint per 1,000 gallons, repeating the treatment every 5 days until the algae was gone. Another reports that it kept coming back, so they treat with 3% HP at a rate of one pint per 1,000 gallons every week or two to keep it away. HP comes in different strengths, so any recommendation has to be considered in that light. The 3% HP is what is most commonly found on drugstore shelves in the U.S., but sometimes there will be 5% HP on the shelf. Read the label. For large ponds or to reduce costs, some recommend Baquacil, which is 27% HP. Sometimes sodium percarbonate is also recommended. It converts into HP when added to water.

    There are many reports of fish being killed by use of HP. A few years ago Roddy Conrad discussed the kill ratios and variable experiences reported on koi and watergardening boards. The aquatic toxicity of HP is established: 50% of fish exposed to a concentration of HP of 100ppm would be dead within 24 hours. If the concentration was reduced to 22ppm, the fish would get along for 4 days before half were dead. At lesser concentrations, the kill ratio will decrease. These concentrations confuse some folks because they have read that HP can be used at a concentration of 100ppm to kill parasites. This is true, but it is deadly to the fish as well unless pond conditions are such that the HP is exhausted quickly. That's why we typically do not see HP being recommended for parasite treatment. Roddy explained that a heavy dose of HP might prove safe in a pond with a heavy growth of algae to consume the HP, but repeating the dose could be deadly to the fish. He had a friend who copied what Roddy did to rid a pond of a heavy infestation, but the friend's pond was not as full of algae. There was a massive fish kill. I am not aware of any koi specific studies concerning the safe concentration level for HP over time. It does seem that concentrations around 5ppm are generally considered 'safe'. In case of an overdose, the recommended neutralizer for HP is potassium permanganate. Add it a little at a time until the water just starts to become pinkish. Then add sodium thiosulphate to neutralize the PP.

    When HP is used, as with other chemical killing agents, there will be masses of dead algae to deal with. One can expect filters to become clogged. The water will deteriorate from cell contents being released into the water. Plan on maintaining aeration and doing water changes.

    I recommend against the use of any chemicals in a koi pond unless essential, such as using dechlor to neutralize chlorine introduced when performing water changes. While HP will kill string algae, it is indiscriminate. It will be killing beneficial organisms in the pond, and eating away at the fish. Just because they do not die does not mean that no harm was done.

    The circumstances under which I might consider using HP would have to be rather extreme, such as algae blocking filters and drains at so rapid a pace that I could not deal with it through cleaning skimmers and such on a frequent basis. However, I know a lot of folks are not as rabidly opposed to use of chemicals as I am. If you are going to use HP, then I recommend following the one pint of 3% HP per 1,000 gallons dosage. If it does not sufficiently retard growth, wait a few days and then dose again. Keep in mind that there will not be an immediate elimination of the algae. There will be a reduction in growth. It may take a couple of days for the degree of damage done to the algae to be visible to you. And, do not get the idea that all of your algae problems will be solved. HP is a temporary treatment. If it happens you are treating just as the string algae is about to have a natural population collapse, it may seem it was the HP that cleared it away quickly.

  8. #48
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Copper

    This will be a short post.

    I find it amazing that anyone would ever recommend use of copper in a koi pond for any purpose, but I come across such recommendations on various boards. Koi are especially sensitive to copper, more sensitive than many other types of fish. Copper can be added in a variety of formulations to kill algae, but never, never add it to a koi pond. Read the label of any concoction sold to get rid of algae. If copper appears on the label, do not use it.

    And, BTW, there are gizmos on the market that cost big bucks that are designed to continually release small quantities of copper into the water. These gizmos are actually marketed for use with koi ponds, even if the real target market is composed of watergardeners. Just because a manufacturer says something is for use with koi ponds does not mean it is. UGH!!!

  9. #49
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Potassium Permanganate

    As with HP, PP will kill string algae, as well as everything else that lives in a pond. The most frequently recommended method for using PP to treat string algae is that espoused by Roddy Conrad some years back. He has been recommending HP over PP for string algae control for quite a number of years now, but since his approach to using PP is still repeated around on the boards, here it is:

    "When I dose, I put in between 1.5 to 2.5 PPM of potassium permanganate, and add it slowly, depending on how I am adding it, which depends on the filtration system of my pond. I dropped the dosage to this level after repeatedly getting in trouble with fish stress at the recommended 4 PPM dosage. I am sure about the dosage, since I have confirmed my pond volume four different ways, and can weigh the potassium permanganate dose accurately when I choose to do so. Usually I add one heaping teaspoon per 1000 gallons for the practice of this dose. One heaping teaspoon of PP powder weighs 18 grams. 1000 gallons of water weighs 8,500 pounds. There are 454 grams to a pound, so 1000 gallons of water weighs 8,500 times 454 = 3.9 million grams. 2 PPM for 3.9 million grams would be 8 grams. One heaping teaspoon of the PP powder weighs 8 to 10 grams, depending on how high I heap the teaspoon, so the one heaping teaspoon dose per 1000 gallons is 2.0 to 2.5 PPM dose level.

    On the day I dose, it is usually my schedule to do the following:

    1. I bypass the biological filter, and I keep the mechanical filter in use. I design my system so this is accomplished in less than a minute. This means turn off pump flows to my trickle tower biological filters, and take the net bags of plastic scrub pads from the tank in my indoor pond outside to lay on the concrete patio in the air while the PP treatment is done on the pond. I usually start the treatment at about 9 AM. I start a good air pump through air stones into the pond to make sure oxygen stays high and mixing stays excellent.

    2. I add the first dose; how I add it depends on filtration system of the pond. In my outside pond, I mix it in a bucket and slowly pour it all
    around the pond, taking probably 10 minutes to accomplish the dose. In my indoor
    pond, I have a 800 gallon settling tank into which I just add all the powder all at once since before any fish see the dose it becomes slowly and well mixed. I also keep a large air pump mixing the water in the indoor pond to avoid concentrated spots of PP in the water where the fish live. My indoor pond is a 4000-gallon system currently, set up in an unused room in the basement of our rather large house.

    3. I come back in an hour or two to see if the water has any residual pink color. If the pink color is gone, I add the second 2 PPM dose the same way the first one was added.

    4. I come back in two to three hours to see whether there is any residual pink, if there is, I wait longer, if there is not and residual pink color, I may add a third dose.

    5. After doing this for a few years, I never add more than 3 doses in a given day, because the water gets too brown to tell if there is any residual pink color left.

    6. After the pink is gone either the second or third time, I add one pint of 3% hydrogen peroxide per 1000 gallons of water to get rid of the brown manganese dioxide. The peroxide will both oxidize the brown ugly manganese dioxide (the spent form of the permanganate) to a colorless higher oxidation state of the manganese, and it will also react with the active pink permanganate to make non-toxic forms of manganese.

    7. I leave the biological filter bypassed until the next morning, that way neither the potassium permanganate nor the hydrogen peroxide will kill the good bacteria. The peroxide can kill the biological filter as fast as the permanganate, but the lifetime of the peroxide is probably only a few hours in a pond environment.

    8. I change whatever is required for the specific filter system to use biological filter again the next morning. "


    That is the Conrad method. I DO NOT recommend it. I DO NOT recommend use of PP. It is dangerous stuff. Based on all I have read, HP is preferable as a chemical treatment for string algae. Even Roddy Conrad, who has been an active proponent of PP for all sorts of purposes, does not recommend PP for treating string algae. He recommends HP.

    As with HP, PP is a temporary method. There are many reports of the algae returning (as well as reports of it not returning... at least not right away). The downside risks and negative impact on the pond bio-community are similar to those of HP, but more so. While Conrad's method avoids treating the bio-media in the filters, there is more to the beneficial bio-community than what is in the media. If properly done, a single treatment with PP should not cause permanent harm to koi. But, just as HP ends up getting used repeatedly by some, PP ends up being used repeatedly. This is not good. It will end up causing permanent damage to the gills, and can do more harm than that.

  10. #50
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Other Chemicals: Salt

    At one time, it was widely recommended that salt be used to get rid of string algae. The recommended dosage varied. But, it did not do much unless the salt dosage was at a level that killed plants in the watergarden. Indeed, even a dosage concentration of 0.6% seemed to cause a temporary setback, but sometimes the algae was reported to adjust to the salt and continue growing. I do not see salt being recommended much anymore.

    What salt can be effectively used for is to keep the string algae from growing on the pond bottom around the bottom drains, where the growing algae can clog the drains. Get salt that is in big pieces or chunks and toss the chunks on top of the algae growing around and into the bottom drains. The algae it lands on will be killed. Large streamers may well go through the drain shortly afterwards, so be prepared to deal with it going to the first stage of the filtration system fed by the drains. I've read a report of it gunking up a sieve because it came through in too large a glob for the seive to handle.
    Last edited by MikeM; 06-03-2013 at 01:36 PM. Reason: typo

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