Try again: Is anybody running an algae scrubber as primary filter.


New member
I tried this once before.

Turns out I have semi-cryptic zones (thanx Steve for correcting that!!!! :)) which probably don't consume much nutrients.

However, that leaves me with algae scrubbing.

Here were the questions I really should have asked in that other thread (which is really interesting)
Does anyone else have a system with an algae scrubber as the primary filter? How long has it been stable. Have the macros been stable? Has it been a PITA the whole way and you are going back to berlin or DSB?? :D

I got one good suggestion from several people: run some carbon to pull the yellowing organics from the water.
Another thing to keep in mind was to make sure what is being exported isn't completely wiped out and crash the macros. I like that idea, and I will do some feeding on a regular periodic basis just to replace some inorganic fertilizers.

I don't really feed the system much, but have tons of light and flow and do weekly 10%-15% water changes. I have no mechanical filtration of any type now that I got rid of my skimmer which is pulling micro-particles out with the proteins and I want that micro-stuff to stay in the system.
(I have eased the skimmer out over a 4 month period, so no more skimmer lectures to confuse this thread. I have one fish and a couple hundred pounds of LR in 220-ish gallons of water so I really have a light bio-load.


Premium Member
A local college has an algae turf scrubber on a 175. I was asked to go up and check their skimmer because it didn't appear to be working. Turns out the collection cup never collected enough skimmate to need to be emptied in two years:eek1: . I explained that the airstone in a cc skimmer needs to be at the bottom of the skimmer, not just barely immersed :rolleyes: .

Very few corals were in the tank, but the anemone and frogspawn looked awesome. And the flame scallop over two years old was the healthiest I've seen.

As I recall, this system in another Mn college uses an atf as primary filtration without a skimmer,



In Memoriam
What do you mean, primary filter? You want someone with a bare bottom tank that just uses an algae scrubber? I have a refugium, a DSB, a skimmer and an ATF. Why restrict yourself to just one option?


Premium Member
OK, here I go again. Everytime I post, the thread dies. :eek2: Hurry back Mark.:D

My 170 is filtered with a large model turf scrubber. I took 20 pics yesterday & will be updating my page in short order. This a full tank shot. The scrubber has been running a couple months and as seen in the pics, I had to make a glass body for it to sit in because of all the shipping damage. It has not leaked yet, but. So its to early for some results, but I can tell you, some results now that the screen is almost fully developed.

1. Its a very easy method of filtration.
2. I dont have to monitor & dump my skimmer anymore.:D
3. The screen only needs cleaning every second week or so.
4.MUCH easier for someone to look after when I am gone.
5.My tank looks great so far, but its still early. Lots of pods, an increase in sponge growth, corals like my alve & organ pipe are growing, large increase in filter feeding tube worms.
6.Although not all its cracked up to be, the surge is still nice. For sure not enough current for my tank, like I thought it may be. The corals like yellow porites, digita & birdsnest all love it though. They sit right under the surge. And the fish seem to enjoy it also, as they like playing in it.:D
7.I dont have a sandbed, so the scrubber is pulling out nitrates, ammonia, nitrites, etc. that a skimmer alone would not.

I do run carbon 24/7 in a power filter. No mech filtration is used. My fish load currently includes
- pair of mated cinnamon clowns.
-lone remaining orange skunk, that lives in the bubble coral with the tomato,s.
-three bangaii,s
-pair of chromis

I have no sump, but can run my Euroreef in an above tank sump if needed. {its behind a wall}.:D

As for power consumption, I use no large return pumps anymore. The scrubber uses a Hagen 802 for feed and a pair of 55 watt compacts for screen lighting. I use several more Hagen ph,s for flow, all built into the fake overflows. I have removed the Iwaki closed loop system I was using.


New member
Thanx Agu.

cwa. I have been trying for many years to establish a stable system using balanced biology.

My model is the Plants->herbivore->predator model which specifies a large plant pop, smaller herbivore pop and tiny predator pop. I want my tank to grow its own food once I supply the energy and chemical building blocks.

I don't want a sand bed or anything else that can become a nutrient sink in here so out goes the substrate, ANY substrate. No anaerobic nothing except what is deep in the LR(beyond my control). I want wastes bound in biology that I remove, measurable, monitorable, not slowly building up as "inert" substance. Substance is substance and I don't see the removal mechanism.(just the sweep it under the rug mechanism)
I think sedimentation of sandbeds is going to cause a lot of heartbreak down the road here on DSB central, but that is only my opinion on the EZ way out of tank maintenance and ONLY time will tell. Even Dr Ron admits they need to be reseeded and other key maintenance. I am going for bulletproof not delayed crash(or even the remote possibility).

I don't want any mechanical filtration. Check out your skimmate under a microscope to see all the one celled life trapped in it (if you have any,mine was green slime it was so much) I have hated my skimmer for years because of all it pulled out, but I have found that there seems to be a critical mass of water necessary for stability which I have only built up to over the past 3 years, so I had to keep the darn thing on, but that has been my only mechanical filter for 10 years.

I have grown about every kind of SPS and softie for years with virtually no feeding, not even the one fish gets fed regularly. Hunt or starve buddy, my buddy is over 8 years old and looks like a show animal, so I think most of you waaaay overfeed your fish(pollute the water therefore employ more sewage removal techniques like sand beds and skimmers. BTW, the process industry uses all this stuff for sewage treatment, look in the Omega catalogs, if you think we invented foam fractioning and redox meters, fluidized sand or leach beds?)

If my macros crash, I will have to put the skimmer back on and try again.

What kind of filter is a refugium???? Or are you referring to Caulerpa in a quiet sump as an algae scrubber.
Guess what, there isn't enough nutrients in my water to grow Caulerpa (IMO green macroslime which is a great hi-nutrient indicator along with all the other green micros)

So why do you run all these filters? Are they necessary? or just the "IN thing" to do. How do you know what negative effects all that causes.

My system can go without power for 24 hrs and not be hurt(been there). I can isolate any of my 5 boxes of water containing life (dark sump doesn't count) from the rest of the system and it can stand alone.

I am almost there.... Now I am done defending myself

Any body else running algae scrubbers as the primary filter?????


New member
Wow Doug!. I was typing while you posted. That sounds great. Before I struggle with the pictures (ISP SUX squared) what algae grows on the scrubber?
All whatever micros? Do you clean the screen down to nothing or only half of it. I have macros on eggcrate in a tub (some real HD appalachian engineering :D)
I see you mention your scrubber has been cooking for several months only, like mine, so I can compare notes. My skimmer hasn't pulled a drop since Xmas but I did throttle it down in case of an OD it would still work.

Sounds like you are seeing some of the stuff I am seeing too. Sponges OTA, critters everywhere,tube worms EVERYWHERE,Xenia everywhere,worse pest than the Aiptasia everywhere, at least Aiptasia don't move around, all kinds of good junk flying around in the water. In the afternoon, it looks like someone puked in the SPS tank, the corals crank out so much stuff, in the morning it is all gone.

Thanx for the VERY encouraging post, sounds like you have a great system. (now on to the pics)


Premium Member

If you are really interested in the whole ATS thing/Biotope construction thing, you should read Dynamic Aquaria. I don't know if yo've seen it or not.

I ran an ATS in the past(sold it to Mark), and have plans for using a larger one in the future. I never used it as the only filter though.


New member
Hey Than, long time no see :D

Are you talking about "Dynamic Aquaria, Building Living Ecosystems" Walter H Adey and Karen Loveland. The Smithsonian Inst publication?

If so, I'm looking at it. You think I made all this stuff up by myself???? :D

I got a lotta books. Bad habit I got into at school. I still have all of my biology,chem,math,and EE books (just a couple credits short of my Bio degree, switched to engineering Sr yr, went for da money, I should go back for a masters in bio and be a real lettered heavyweight)

Here is another great book for all you rookie chemists out there:
"Chemical Technician's Ready Reference Handbook"Shugar SHugar et al. If you haven't had your several years of inorganic and organic chem lab under your belt,get this book too.


Premium Member

What you were talking about before sounded a lot like the Dynamic Aquaria stuff, so in the back of my head, I assumed that you had read the book.

I think if you went with an ATS as the primary filter, your system would be fine provided that you did everything slowly. Then again, the same could be said with or without any sort of filtration. Borneman doesn't use any filters onhis tanks and from the pictures I've seen, they look OK.

When I was using the ATS, my tank did do very well, and there were tons of sponges and filter feeders in the tank. I couldn't tell though if all the benefits I was seeing were directly associated with the ATS or not. It's tough to tell the cause and effect of anything anymore.


Premium Member
Hurry back Mark.

I'm hurrying, I'm hurrying!:D We close on the house at the end of May. You can bet your behind that I'll have an ATS set up again shortly after that!:)

Doug pointed out all the pro's of an ATS. And honestly, I think the cons are few and far between. Essentially, everyone who reads this board will agree that growing macroalgae(i.e. Caulerpa) in a sump or refugium provides great benefits to a tank. The beauty of turf alga is that they are much much more powerful producers. They will easily outcompete the larger macroalga and vascular plants. Furthermore, you need less real estate of turf to get the same result as some of the larger volumes of Caulerpa.

I want wastes bound in biology that I remove, measurable, monitorable, not slowly building up as "inert" substance.

How does one remove biology?:D A properly maintained DSB will not become a nutrient sink. Not only does it provide a place to process nutrients further, it helps add diversity to the tank. Judging from your posts, you seem to want to approach the tank in a ecosystem sort of way. And I mean the biology definition, not the 'miracle' version.;) A DSB helps to add another web to the model, more diversity and nutrient pathways. These fit your goals. If you are truly interested in going for the mini-ecosystem aproach with an ATS, then check out Adey's book. You'll find a huge chapter on the importance of marine sediments.

Even Dr Ron admits they need to be reseeded and other key maintenance.

This is not only a fault in Dr. Shimek's DSB. Loss of biodiversity over time is something that all isolated ecosystems suffer from. Whether it's a fenced-in national park, an island, or a reef tank in someone's living room. You'll find that the diversity of critters diminishes over time. The dsb model is more dependant on those critters, so YES, reintroducing them is necessary. But this is not unnatural. immigration and colonization to alleviate the loss from founder effects is perfectly natural. By reintroducing these critters, you are mimicking the effect of neighboring ecosystems recolonizing the one that suffered loss. You have to ask yourself, are you after a zero maintenance reef or one that mimics the model ecosystem? The model-ecosystem approach is definitely lower maintenance to an extent, but there's still work involved. The two are entirely different approaches.

Hunt or starve buddy, my buddy

While some of us may feed too much, I also believe feeding is necessary. In an algae export methodology, you are constantly removing nutrients and matter from the system when you harvest. But if no matter is put into the system, then eventually the system fails. Consistenly removing matter from the system and not adding/replenish it, creates a problem down the road.

Guess what, there isn't enough nutrients in my water to grow Caulerpa

If that's the case, then you'll have a hard time growing turfs. Turfs are far more productive than Caulerpa. I think feeding would solve that issue.;) A lot of people are inclined to believe that a system that cannot support algae like caulerpa is a healthy system. But that's not necessarily the case. Zoo's need the same stuff algae needs to grow. Adding food to the system would probably result in faster growth in your corals, and a resurgence of critters. I'm not saying your corals or critters are suffering now. From your descriptions, you seem to be getting good growth as it is. But I'm willing to bet that some nutrient input would really help. Kinda like how the acropora with the chromis living in the coral will grow faster than the one without chromis. The fish excrete waste and CO2, which the coral benefits from. Adey talks about how if an ATS tank isn't well fed, the turfs may starve and the system will crash. He even suggests throwing the algae back into the system upon harvesting, if this becomes an issue.

I wholeheartedly support your approach. We need more ATS people on this board, so I'm glad to see this thread!:) I'm definitely a believer of the Adey method, and I'm dying to set it up again in the new house. As soon as I do, I'll put up pics again!

yellow dog

New member
I'm not sure I buy into this no sand argument. I saw Adey's systems while they were up at the Smithsonian and they both had DSB's. In fact, when I saw the stunning carribean reef display back in '95 and before the DSB craze, I remember being shocked by how deep that sandbed was! The display was thriving, albeit in yellowish water, and had been for years.


In Memoriam
I am not sure what you mean by "balanced biology". If a DSB isn't balanced biology, what is? You can do anything you want, but you probably won't find many others to compare notes with. What do you hope to experience when you get the biological balance?


Premium Member
Hey guys. Had to leave for a couple days.

Mark, good to see ya on a scrubber post again. :D Glad to hear the house plans coming together. Look forward to some comparisons.

F & F, The screen is slowly coming along. Finally getting some good turf growing. Has a large variety of different algaes, thats for sure. The green hair is slowing down as the turf grows. Last cleaning I had a fair amount of red slime on the screen, but not this time.

Now its green hair, green turf, brown & red turf and some green slime.:eek2: I have started running my reactor effluent into the overflow that feeds the scrubber, so all effluent has to pass over the screen before returning to the tank.

Most times I just scrape the screen into a bucket, with a plastic putty knife. The odd time, such as the last, I rinse it, plus take a rough pad to it. I clean the whole screen.

Perhaps when my new Sedra pump for my Euroreef arrives, I will give it a run and see what it pulls out. One big difference, is that I feed several times/day. My clowns & bangaii, eat like pigs. Perhaps the chromis could survive on tank food, but I dont think the others would. I also have 5 cleaner shrimp that are pigs. I am trying to get all the above mentioned to breed.

Just on a side note. My reasons for not running a sandbed vary from asthetics to my clowns kicking the bejeebers out of it. Thus the rubble zones, where there is already tons of life living. I have added some sand in the back areas, as I am looking for a wrasse to add. I dont see any added benefit for a deep sandbed in my particular situation. I do however, not have a problem with running them, as seen by my pics still on the website of my tank before I moved. I ran a 4in. in the tank & a 3in. in the sump.

As for cons. So far.
There is some salt creep from the surge. I must run full tops and they must be kept clean. Not much other.


New member
dendro, why did you stop using an ATS?

Mark, your point regarding a DSB adding to the biodiversity really makes a lot of sense. I just am not going to put any substrate in this system. I run huge flows that keep the bottom clean(except for a couple of semi-cryptic junk collection zones). and I export sediment.
The Adey book shows an incredible variety of techniques in their various ecosystems. I never said I was copying them, only they gave me some ideas. They remove sediment from the caribbean reef system described in the book and call it geological export.

I am also not growing a turf, only macros. I am trying to starve out the micros. But I am interested in any algae scrubbers as far as how people are doing with them. That's why I am curious about just what is growing in the scrubbers.

As mentioned before, I agree with having to feed something and i plan on starting a regular feeding schedule and amount, but I am going to ease into it for sure. I still think that at some point I can get this thing to feed itself from inorganic compounds and energy alone(plus a few cheater vitamin kind of organic building blocks). I believe the key is to get the macros and the phytos settled in and I believe the rest will rock.

Anyway, all I wanted to do was build the plant based biology model to essentially feed the coral while keeping the water nutrient poor, like on the reef crest, and see if I can get the thing dialed-in to run with some stability, which might turn out to be impossible. So I am looking to see just how anyone else has been doing just keeping the filtering going even. This thing is dead opposite of zero maintenance. Seriously, DSB's approach zero maintenance better than what I have(that's a compliment).

I do see one general trend of everyone, and that is heavier feeding and of course heavier filtering. So Doug, you really only have the scrubber and the skimmer as your filters and you do feed a fair amount, did I get that right. That is pretty cool. Do you notice any ups and downs in things when the scrubber screen is full of algae vs when there is none. I would tend to want to have several screens and alternately clean them to keep a more even amount of algae in the scrubber, but never been there in either case.

I really appreciate everyone taking time to throw 3 cents worth in . verrrrrry interesting.


Premium Member
dendro, why did you stop using an ATS?
My setup isn't perfect for the every day operation of an ATS. The unit itself is right now on the shelf. Several months ago, I hooked it up, and some component of it (probably a sponge) leached "something" into my tank, and I lost all my fish that day. It sucked. I decided to put it on the shelf for the time being until I could figure out excatly what went wrong. I do plan on reinstalling the ATS in a little while, but again, the setup isn't what I had in mind originally when I purchased everything. Ideally, this would all be in an in-wall type setup, so everything is easily accessable. If I were to hook up the scrubber, it would be a little difficult to get the lights off to regularly clean it. Minor convenience related things, not anything performance wise.


Premium Member
I dont see any noticable difference just after cleaning the screen. There seems to be enough turf left, to grow rapidly again.

I have not yet run the skimmer at the same time. Although I feed several times/day, its not much at a time. The fish load is pretty light for a 170.
Dendro: What sponge did you use? You didn't happen to use one of those from the kitchen section of Lowes/Walmart did you? They're impregnated with some sort of soap/cleaner from what I've seen on the label.

Doug/Mark/etc: I'm heading to Lowes this week to pick up some 1/4" acrylic to build this ATS as a concept idea to get away from the dump bucket problems (having to add/remove weight when the screen gets full of algae, etc). I'm buying the el-cheapo acrylic as I don't want to spend the big $$ yet on black acrylic for the body. :) I'm going to base the screen dimensions on Adey's recommendation of 1 in^2 / gallon of tank water. Initially, I'll probably light it with either a LOA 65 watt PC or a couple of NO's that I have laying around. Heh, the AquariCare unit is only lit w/ 2 NO's. :)



Premium Member
Dendro: What sponge did you use? You didn't happen to use one of those from the kitchen section of Lowes/Walmart did you? They're impregnated with some sort of soap/cleaner from what I've seen on the label.
That's part of the problem. I do not know where the sponges came from. One was pink, the other was yellow, so it is a good guess that they have been treated with some detergent or anti-fungal chemical. Either way, whatever leached into the tank made quick work of about 11 fish. They died within a few hours. The coral however all made it unscathed. For that I am thankful.


Premium Member
That looks like it should work fine Shane. Little bit different concept. I have never had a problem with the tray balance, but then I clean the screen on a regular basis.

I have even put a bunch of turbo,s on the screen for a snack and it stays balanced. I had 20 on it one day.:D