Saltwater Aquarium Inverts – Cultivating a Cleanup Crew

For freshwater aquariums, there are a wide variety of algae eating species of fish and invertebrates that can help to keep the tank clean. But what about saltwater tanks? A saltwater aquarium has different cleaning needs and thus requires a special clean-up crew. In this article you will learn the basics regarding what type of invertebrates are recommended to help keep your saltwater aquarium clean.

Saltwater Tank Cleaning Needs

In a freshwater tank, your main concern is algae. In a saltwater tank, there are many different types of algae to worry about in addition to accumulated fish food and organic waste materials that need to be removed from the tank. Below you will find a list of the common types of algae in a saltwater tank:

  • Red Slime – Also known as cyanobacteria, slimy red algae growths are common in reef tanks and they can be caused by an excess of phosphates and iron; low water flow; warm temperatures; and low alkalinity.
  • Diatoms – Diatoms are most likely to appear in new saltwater tanks and they manifest in the form of a brown, powder-like substance that disappears as the tank cycles.
  • Green Film Algae – This type of algae manifests in the form of a powdery green film on tank surfaces or cloudy green water. Green film algae is most likely to form when there is an excess of nutrients.
  • Green Hair Algae – Green hair algae is very fine in texture and it can be removed manually or eaten by herbivorous saltwater species of fish and invertebrates.
  • Green Turf Algae – This type of algae grows in coarse, wiry patches on live rock and it is difficult to treat while it is still in the aquarium. Sea urchins and crabs are the only inverts that are likely to be effective against this type of algae.
  • Blue/Green Algae – Another type of cyanobacteria, blue/green algae forms slimy mats on tank surfaces and it is difficult to eradicate because many invertebrates ignore it.
Hermit_Crab Hermit crabs are great for dealing with difficult types of algae. harmit crab photo by (Polinesia ( [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsRecommended Saltwater Invertebrates

Now that you know what kinds of algae you are likely to encounter in your saltwater tank, you can begin to plan your cleanup crew. The key to a successful cleanup crew is to include a variety of species with each species having a different specialty so all the types of nuisance algae are covered. Sea snails, for example, tend to feed on detritus including uneaten fish food, fish waste, and organic debris – some snails also feed on certain types of algae. Hermit crabs, on the other hand, feed largely on animal matter and algae. Crabs are great for dealing with difficult types of algae such as filamentous algae, hair algae, slime algae, and cyanobacteria.

Sea urchins can sometimes be good members of a saltwater cleanup crew, though it is generally the juveniles that tend to feed on algae – as the urchins grow, they tend to become more carnivorous. Certain species of shrimp can be used in saltwater cleanup crews to feed on plankton, bristleworms, and other nuisance species. Sea stars do not tend to eat algae but they will filter your tank substrate, feeding on accumulated debris. It is also important to remember that certain species of saltwater fish feed on algae – some examples include blennies, tangs, and surgeonfish.

Additional Tank Cleaning Tips

Adding some of the aforementioned invertebrates to your saltwater tank will help to control nuisance algae and other problems in the aquarium. You still need to perform regular water changes, however, because your cleanup crew does nothing for your water chemistry – water changes are still necessary to keep ammonia levels at bay. In addition to performing routine water changes, you may also want to think about installing an EcoBio-Stone in your tank. These stones are made from natural zeolite and crushed volcanic rock, infused with live beneficial bacteria and the nutrients they need to thrive. By adding an EcoBio-Stone to your saltwater tank you will find that the beneficial bacteria quickly reproduce to establish and maintain the nitrogen cycle, thus keeping the tank water clean and clear. Best of all, a single EcoBio-Stone can last for up to 2 years.


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