Brown Wafer Algae


New member
Hey everyone,

I am looking for any of you who have had any significant growth of Brown Wafer Algae on their live rock. Any information is appreciated, I really don't know too much about it. Can any of you think of a constant factor being present where this algae thrives? I think it was on the rock when I introduced it, now it is expanding and I am afraid, very afraid.

I have a two and a half year old, 75 gal. reef setup that, unfortunately, has the brown wafer algae on approx. 2/3 of the live rock. The tank originally had none, so I obviously imported it by accident on a piece of rock added after the setup.

Here are my tank parameters:
- berlin skimmer run by rio 3100; operates 24/7
- 4 bulb 110 watt VHO lighting; 2 actinic and 2 sunlight bulbs
- nitrate, nitrite, and phosphate measure at nondectable levels (i.e. zero based on my inexpensive test kits)
- use RO water
- only supplement with kalkwasser
- feed frozen brine shrimp and spirulina flakes once per day
- inhabitants: yellow tang, percula clown, royal gramma, pygmy angel, mandarin fish, convict goby, 3 cleaner shrimp, emarald crab, sally lightfoot crab, variety of snails (astrea, strombus, trochus, turbo), and blue and scarlet hermits

I've been racking my brain trying to find others who have battled the brown wafer algae and won, but have had no success. In my case, none of the snails or other algae eaters will touch the stuff.

My next step in trying to fight the problem, is to move up to a RO/DI water unit. I understand that the DI component of will remove phosphate. Granted, my test kit tells me there is no phosphate, but the inexpensive kits are notorious for being inaccurate. Since the algae has to be feeding on something, I'm just taking a leap in faith and assuming this is the problem.

Ok, I'll stop rambling... Maybe you can provide your tank parameters, and we can find a common factor that we may share.

I guess I'll chime in "My name is 6-line and I have Lobophora variagata." Or, Brown wafer algae.
I hate it. It's starting to cover my rockwork; in the shade, in the sun. It's growing on my coralline which is on the back wall--it's everywhere and I dispise it.
Started off a a small brown patch on a piece of Fiji. Should have stripped it away then.
Icecap 660 w/4 48" tubes.
55 gallon, 75 lbs of rock.
Yellow Tang, 6-line, pair of ocellaris clowns, banggai cardinal
Sipedon skimmer run 24/7. Kalk added with makeup, makeup supplied by a Tap water Purifier (deionized resin cart.)
I recently employed the technique of filling empty areas of my 10 gallon sump with macroalgae (caulerpa and sargassum) in an attempt to rob some of the nutrients away from the brown algae. This stuff isn't readily removed, but it's easier to pull off when it has matured and expanding upward along the edges. It's described as a nuisance brown macroalgae common in the intertidal reef zone in nutrient rich waters. The taste is supposed to be noxious to herbivores (a. . .duh, they don't eat it) However, my yellow tang does seem to nip at it; I check out the abandoned and nipped upon area for evidence of consumption, but it appears the same.
Lets all join lobophora annoymous and get rid of this algae by pulling our wits together.

I'm with you. It would be great to find a common factor that others with the brown wafer algae have, and more importantly, how they rid themselves of the problem. Ironically, I've only seen 2 or 3 posts pertaining to the algae, and they basically were asking the same thing we have (i.e. how to get rid of it). Evidently this type of algae must not be as prevalent, as say hair algae.

Now, as for addressing the problem, here are some of my thoughts, for what little their worth. In stating the obvious, we have excess nutrients in our systems that are feeding the algae. As far as nutrient import is concerned, my only imputs are the frozen brine shrimp/spirulina flakes I feed, the RO water I use for topping-off, and waste products from my fish.

I feed once per day, and only enough for the fish to consume in a couple of minutes. To be more specific, the chuck of brine shrimp is approx. 1/2"x1/2"x1/8" and I add a "pinch" of spirulina flakes. For a 75 gal. tank, I wouldn't consider this overfeeding, although I'm just guessing. I don't want to underfeed or starve the fish, though, so reducing the amount of food isn't practical unless I get rid of some fish.

Speaking of getting rid of some fish, I have considered that option to reduce the bio load. I've gotten attached to them, though, so this method of eliminating nutrient sources will be a last resort.

I'm also a little suspicious about my water supply. Coincidently, that's something we have in common since we both live in the greater Cincinnati area. In Lebanon, where I live, we have very hard water. So much so, that I have a water softener to prevent mineral buildup. I also use a Sears brand RO unit to generate my tank water. After reading the owners manual, though, it evidently only removes a max of 90% of the total dissolved solids (TDS). From what I've heard, this isn't too great compared to a higher end RO unit like a Spectrapure. RO units alone also don't remove phosphate from the water. It requres an RO/DI unit to do this. So again, I suspect my unit may be providing great drinking water, but the purity may not be up to par for using in a reef tank. Fortunatley, my brother is sending me a Kent RO/DI unit he's no longer using, so I'm going to do a comparison of the water quality between the two. Rather than use the inexpensive test kits, though, I'm going to send the sample to work with my wife who has access to an analytical lab. Hopefully, this new unit will make a dent in the problem.

Well, this is all for now. Maybe you have some additional thoughts you'd like to add or speculate about.

Lobophora, con't

Lobophora, con't

I have an addition to the nutrient thing. I apparently add even more food substance/nutrients than you, because I do dose (or add/feed) my tank with Instant Algae (Tahatian Blend)and Golden Pearls about once a week, occasionally twice. I feed my free living LPS's (Trachyphyllia, Plerogyra, Cynarina) an occasional piece of shrimp. I have decided to cut back on this if not wait it out a few weeks. I feed the fish once a day, alternating between Formula 1 and frozen brine, about as much as you do being careful not to overfeed. I can't imagine not feeding them every day, they seem starved when I do feed them. The Tang gets occasional strips of Seaweed Selects, but probably not as much as he should get, but he seems happy and he does graze on the Lobophora although I doubt he's getting much. here's a link to some info on this algae:

H20Boy, BTW, several of us Reefers in the Cinti area are re-forming a reefkeeping society. E-mail me and I'll get you in the group list. We trade frags, info and hopefully will have get togethers/meetings in the future.

My system right now is as follows;

approx. 1 yr old enviroment, 55 gallon 100+- lbs. cured Figi with good coraline growth, 1/4" or so fine sand (petstore stuff I dunno), no sump, custom skimmer by Ron's Saltwater Heaven, Hagen 802's for circ., aqua clear 500 w/ sponge only or nothing for extra circ at times, 4'tubes 2 x Actinic Blue and 2 x daylight, kalk drip 24/7, oh yeah skimmer powered by Magnum 350 cannister with occasional chemi-pure and blue sleeve, 1 medium Lollipop Tang, 1 Smaller Hippo Tang, 1 peppermint shrimp, 6-12 snails of varying types, few dozen or less blue legged hermitts, good worm and pod populations, about a billion baby snails on back glass and growing, anchor, frogspawn, xenia, nepthia, candy cane, assorted polyps on rock, and some other creatures I haven't id'ed as of yet.
Water is optimum, calc is 400-450, ph is 8.2-8.8 in recent months, weekly changes @ 10%, Instant ocean, Kent's Iodine, Strontium, and Calcium (given to me is why)lightly dosed daily, kalkwasser daily constant drip, that,s it.
Oh 12hr photo with 1st and last Act only.

This reef system has been great with few problems other than some nusiance algae as normal. I do feed this tank heavy with various foods daily and I feed the coral weekly and directly with steamed seafood ground in it's juices frozen then thawed and bastered onto corals. I'm sure this adds a ton of nutrients into the system, but I had the brown before this and my skimmer works great, I get alot of almost black skimate daily,it's a little greener when I run it wet before a water change and it stinks like hell so I know it's the real deal. I am ready to chuck this $7 per lb rock if I cant stop this algae from spreding, I really hate it. Oh, the tiny baby snail seem like they are maybe grazing on it, but I can't see any progress on their part, they are too small to really see well.
I suspect phosphates are feeding this, but it looks similar to coralline where it is hugging the rock surface tightly and is firmly attached if not enamored, I wonder does this stuff feed in competition with coraline (same things) and whether nutrient starvation would really work? I dunno, I might just pull the rock myself, but I'd hate to do that and wind up with more elsewhere. With the lack of success stories responding I am becoming discouraged. Any ideas?

Thanks for all of the responses! Hope we can get somewhere with this.
It seems a bit drastic to pull the rock--you mentioned you have 100+ pounds of it, that's a lot of rock to replace!
I have a sufficent skimmer as well (Sipedon Maelstrom powered by Mag 7).
This algae isn't necessarily classed as a microalgae, say like hair algae or something similiar, but more like a macroalgae like Caulerpa and Sargassum. Nonetheless, it's still a nuisance algae. You seem to be the heaviest feeder amounst us (what is a Lollipop Tang, BTW?) But I don't know how much that emans as far as a cause because h20boy feeds lightly. I was curious when you said your skimmer is powered by a Magnum 350--you mean the canister filter? How does that work?
Nutrient starvation and export seem like a viable method of algae reduction; whether or not it accomplishes the task is up to time. Every thing I have read (not much) have specified this algae's presence in nutient-rich systems and also in recently cycled tanks. My tank has been cycled over a year, same with yours and h20boy. This algae doesn't seem to mind light starvation because I have patches of it
growing in the shade and under ledges where little light is present.
So, where do we stand from here?
Rowdy and 6-Line,

I don't want to beat this topic to death, but last night I did a little reading and research on phosphates since they are a primary factor in causing algae problems. Here are more of my thoughts....

I have a copy of "The Reef Aquarium, Vol. 1" by Sprung and Delbeek, and on pgs 262-265 there's some good info on phosphate (PO4) chemistry and reduction. In a nutshell, and liberally translating/quoting from the book, PO4 exists in both organic and inorganic forms. If readily available in organic forms, it can lead to massive algae blooms. The inorganic forms have limited occurrence in the water since it is quickly consumed by plants, and readily blows off into the atmosphere as aerosol from the bubbling action skimmers. PO4 is also an essential component of living tissue, so it isn't possible to eliminate it entirely from a tank unless the tank is literally devoid of life (wouldn't be much to look at, would it?).

Trying to measure the levels of PO4 in the tank, for practical purposes, is a moot point. Evidently, the test kits most of us use only measure for inorganic PO4. Consequently, a low or nondectable measurement of PO4 by a kit can be misleading since you may still have excess levels of organic PO4 that feed the algae. I suspect this may be part of the probem in my case.

The challenge then becomes finding a balance of PO4 where where excess levels leading to algae problems are eliminated. According to Sprung and Delbeek, the primary input source of PO4 to most tanks is the food we add for the fish, corals, etc... Consequently, one direct way to reduce the PO4 load is to reduce the amount of food we add to the tank. In my case, and I suspect both of yours', this isn't practical unless we're going to get rid of some of the fish, corals, etc from our tanks. Otherwise, the reduced feeding might lead to starvation not only of the fish and corals, but also of the beneficial organisms we've established in our sandbeds.

A second significant source of the PO4 is the makeup water we use. This is one area where we can definitely make a difference. As mentioned before, in the near future I'm going to be moving up to an RO/DI unit which should help reduce any PO4 in my makeup water. Since I'm getting the unit for free, it's also an inexpensive option other than the cost of maintining the filters. I'll let you know how this works out. Particularly if I can get my wife to do a comparison test of my RO vs. RO/DI water.

Other options I found involve exporting PO4 from the tank. One that I'm in the process of trying is developing a deeper sand bed. Like you Rowdy, I currently have only a shallow sand bed. A 1/2" depth in my case. Dr. Ron S. and others advocate beds of several inches, which when populated with numerous organisms contribute to reducing detritious, therefore reduce breakdown of oragnics into readily available PO4. I've even talked to some reefers who have sandbeds as deep as 6.5" !! Gradually, over the period of the next couple of months I'm going to build up to approx. 3-4". Again, I'll let you know what happens.

Improved protein skimming also helps to reduce both forms of PO4. I currently run a HOB Red Sea Berlin located in my sump. Because of the cost, I don't see myself upgrading to one of the high end skimmers (Aqua-C, Reef Devil, etc..) anytime soon. So, until I win the lottery or I manage to sneak it by my wife, this option isn't availble to me :)

Adding a refugium, or converting a sump into a refugium, is another option. An external sand bed with macro algae can be used here to export a variety of nutrients including PO4. Here again, space limitions and a cost limit this option for me :(

Lastly, as alluded to before, there's the option of reducing the bio load of the tank by removing some of the fish, etc.. This would reduce the need for feeding the quantity I do, therefore reducing the PO4 introduced to the tank. I've gotten pretty attached to them, though, so this is a last resort. From a practical standpoint too, this isn't physically easy to do. The little buggers are quick to head for crevices and holes in the liverock when the dreaded net enters the water.

To wrap this tedious, rambling effort up, the spread of the wafer algae over the last several months has stabilized in my tank. Granted, it still covers 1/2 to 2/3 of the rock, but it's not progressing now. In fact, in a couple of areas, it has periodically receeded slightly. So, the import and export of nutrients including PO4 have evidently balanced out. Now I just need to implement ways to reduce the quantities and watch for the results. Given the fact that I've gotten used to the look of the algae and it's no longer spreading, I've got patience on my side. Now it's just a process of carefully monitoring visual changes in the tank as I proceeed.


More Lobophora

More Lobophora

So we're beating this topic to death, but I see us as a minority in this particular algae problem--most people complain of dinoflagellates and hair and cyanobacteria. At least were beating a different horse. ;).
My sand bed is 1-1/2 inches deep at best, and I don't plan on increasing it until I upgrade to a 90 when I buy my house (thus ensuring I won't have to move it :eek: ). I recognise the benefits of the DSB and I'm sure it will help in certain aspects, but doesn't it just aid in denitrification and not necessarily nutrient/PO4 removal? How does the DSB remove the PO4?
H20Boy, what type of water do you use now--you mentioned going to a RO unit, but you also mentioned used used RO. I use a deionization cartrige, which is suppose to remove everything. Than again, it's difficult to tell if it's doing exactly that and I will eventually be upgrading to a RO unit in the future.
BTW, what about the Reefers Club, h20boy, did you get that in my last post?

Removing fish is out of the question for me as well. I will continue to feed the Instant Algae, but very sparingly. I have noticed that when the Lobophora mature beyond the inital 'tight sheet' stage, it does begin to flake up and that is when it's most vulnerable for removal, either by tangs or fingernails. I had a section that covered a live rock colony of zoanthids and eventually the zoanthids broke free and the algae chipped away. I have seen pictures taken on reefs where there is evidence of our algae covering rocks, so i guess one could say that it's just another part of our biotype/ecosystem and it'll run it's course. Although not as desirable and aesthetically pleasing to the eye as coralline, it is natural and not exactly coined as a stereotypical 'nuisance algae'it is part of of systems nonetheless.

My rambling replies are probably responsible for the confusion :)

In response to your last questions, I currently am using a Sears brand household RO unit. It does not have a DI cartridge as part of it. Based on what I've randomly read and heard from others, the "household" type RO units provide great drinking water, but don't remove as high a % of total dissolved solids as say a Spectrapure unit. RO units also do not remove PO4. You have to have a DI cartridge to do this. Consequently, I will be getting a Kent RO/DI unit from my brother to try out.

As far as the DSB's removing PO4, I'm relying solely on what I read in The Marine Reef Aquarium, "The detrivores also play a key role in substrate management....the little crustaceans multiply well in the substrates, as do numerous species of polychaete worms that feed on particulate matter. These organisms all play a role in the reduction of available PO4 in the system, and prevent the sand from becoming a dead muck zone...". I won't claim to understand the specific chemistry or biology involved. I'm just hoping Mr. Sprung and Delbeek know what they're talking about...

Oh, and yes, I'll e-mail you about the reef club. It sounds like a great idea, and I'd definitely be interesting in getting involved.

H2Oboy, My cousin lives in Lebanon, OH, too and he has a reef tank. I can't remember how big, 175 or something really large.

I assume everybody is talking about the form that looks like plain potato chips, no ridges, no barbeque seasoning. I think you might discourage or at least inconvenience this relative of kelp and sargassum weed in three steps. Increase light intensity gradually. Add more current-making devices to the aquarium. Add competitors such as Caulerpa, Ulva, Dictosphaeria and Gracilaria. I used to have Ceramium nitens which might be an ideal competitor since it grows all over another algae, like ivy climbing all over a tree. Although the algae underneath never seemed harmed, its growth must have been affected. I never had any luck maintaining Lobophora, or Padina either, in a tank with a variety of other algae and macroalgae. Anecdotal, of course.
First, thank you everyone for your imput, I have been away from my comp for a few days and am amazed to see this thread is so big.
6-line, my skimmer is an air driven DIY type, 3" pvc chamber about 4' tall running on 2 3" airstones powered by a tetratec deep water air pump and the magnum 350 (yes cannister or convertible) takes water from the tank and discharges into the chamber of the skimmer thus displacing other water back into the tank. I use the disconnect valves to slow it down so that I don't get too many bubbles and the water has longer exposure times to the air column. It works real well. I got it from Ron's Saltwater Heaven If you ever see his tanks in person, you'll know why I have complete faith in these skimmers, they really produce.
Oh, about taking out the rock, I meant the piece that is growing the algae in question, I'll slap together a quick webpage if I can steal a minute sometime soon and publish a few pics. That's one of those things I keep meaning to get to. Kind of like finishing my sump, or building a new hood, or working on my truck, or going fishing, or getting a few hours sleep each night, I'll get to it.
Hey everyone, I am going to review this entire thread and see if I can come up with something, thanks for all of your input folks!
One of the things that irritate me most about this stuff is that it has the audacity to grow on my coraline already growing on the back wall. The snails can't remove this stuff. The Lobophora in my tank hasn't reached the 'wafer/potato chip' texture yet. When it first starts on a section it is the flat, semi-encrusting brown mat with the ultrafine/nearly transparent hairs growing on it. Only after it has enlarged and matured does it seem to peel up on the edges.
Suffice it to say, I'm reaching my flashpoint regarding this stuff. I lost my Cherub Angel last week, and now only my Yellow Tang remains as a herbivore, and the lack of grazing is evident. I checked for phosphates yesterday doing th DryTab test, and I can't remember how it was measured on the test kit, but it is two color levels up from 0, so their presence is obvious. I wonder exactly how much p03/4 the tap water purifier actually removes. I know the cartriger isn't depleted yet, I checked the color beforehand. I wish there was an animal that just plowed through this stuff.
Any thoughts about one of those Tuxedo urchins?
I wish you luck in trying to find a herbivore that specializes in eating this plant. From reading I understand it's about the only macroalgae that survives in heavily grazed subtidal areas. (Marine Plants of the Caribbean, by Littler, Littler, Bucher, & Norris)
I too have a lobophora varirgata problem. Mine is finally moving to the wafer like stage. It has been spreading slowly and gradually around my tank in isolated spots. I have seen some of my scarlet hermits picking at it, but that's about it when it comes to one of my critters dining on algae. I feed my 110 phytoplankton twice a week and I feed a 1/2 cube of spirulina enriched brine to my fish and other animals every day. All of my levels are perfect except for my phosphates which remain quite high, due to the tap water I am still using. I am hoping to purchase a RO/DI unit soon and see if the algae begins to decline. I have looked everywhere for a solution, but there doesn't seem to be an easy answer. I have 2 160 watt VHO's for lighting as a reference to the scientist(s) who figures this one out.

It also seems that is grows on the lower levels of the tank.
Hi All,
I too have some of this algae. I have a small picture of it on my site, along with some yellowish red colored algae that physicaly is similar. For those interested
I have 220 watts of PC lighting on a 55 gal. 40 pounds or so of live rock and a 2 inch crushed coral bed. 4 foot tall 4inch diameter DIY protien skimmer. No mechanical filtration, just water circulation. I get my water straight from the tap. I was using a DI filter, but didn't notice any changes in algae control. My tank has been set up for 3 years and all water parameters are where they should be, except for Phosphates. My Phosphates are very high, and I will be setting up a refugium to grow algaes in to try and lower these. Oh yea, I have been cutting back feeding for a while too.
The brown wafer algae grows like crazy. I covered half of a baseball sized rock of larger button polyps in no time. So far, I have just been pulling the algae off with my hands where it gets bad. Interestingly, Where I have let the algae grow uninhibited, it seems to die off in the middle of the patch and the dying follows the direction of growth until the rock is bare again.
The red stuff has all the physical characteristics of the brown, but doesn't grow very fast at all.
Just like many of you have said, neither my algae blennie nor snails or crabs will eat it.
Hope this helps you guys out.
Ps. maybe the high phosphates are good for xenia, because it grows faster than the wafer algae.
Hey fellow sufferers,
JB, I too have that green candy-cane shaped like growth--it was in the shade and when I moved the rock, half turnd white while the other half remained green. Strange critter, I though it was some green macroalgae budding, but I doubt it. Nice, interesting pictures on your site.
Although you use only tap water and apparently chuck does as well (I have corresponded with chuck about this alage problem prior to this thread) there is a couple of us who do use RO or RO/DI or just DI water and the algae is still present.
JB says he noticed the hermits grazing on the stuff, I notice my Yellow Tang doing the same, but there never seems to be any indication of it being removed after investigating the grazed site. I wonder if the Tang is eating the tiny nearly transparent hairs?