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/Go Rin No Sho of Business

Ornamental Marine Algae,

How to Raise & Market It

by Bob Fenner  

A cursory thumbing through current hobbyist and industry publications should convince anyone that we are continuing in our reef-craze. Wet-dry filters, specialized media and lighting, top-end meters and controllers, foods, diagnostics and related treatments are all the rage. & the livestock.... Do you offer these dry-goods and organisms? You should. They are hot sellers with large margins.

An often neglected or under-represented portion of the mini-reef retail business is the use, display and sale of macro-algae. These serve many purposes, as you will see, in addition to adding to your bottom line.


Macro-algae are simple photosynthetic organisms that you can see without using a magnifying device. "Micro" algae are distinguished by miniature size; these are the blooms, scums and variously colored colonies most of us are trying to avoid. (See Freshwater and Marine Aquarium Magazine's 6/89 issue for my notes on micro-algae and their control.)

Macro-algae comprise red, brown and green species that are far "simpler" than "true", flowering plants. They have no roots, leaves, branches, xylem or phloem, or embryos like our more familiar house plants and trees. They can, however often be anchored, cultivated and reproduced by spores and splitting in our care.

Benefits to Your Customer and You: are many and important.

Bio-filtering: Macro-algae can be important in establishing and stabilizing new or "out-of-whack" systems. They bring in and help to establish micro-organism communities, absorb nutrients introduced by tap-water, synthetic salt mixes and feeding. To some large extent they are useful as bio-indicators: real-time monitors of the viability of the system. If your macro-algae will not live & grow, or start dying back, it is a sure sign that something's out of kilter chemically, physically and or biologically.

Algicides and Algistatics: 

Having a desirable group of algae intentionally growing in the system, will go a long way to limiting the growth of undesirable forms by competition for light space and nutrient.


 Many, if not most of the marine fishes and invertebrates we intentionally keep augment their diets naturally with large algae. What better deal than to have some continuously available for casual munching? Similar to our own nutrition, many trace nutrients make their way through this cycle.


Macro-algae serve to break up the physical environment, affording hiding space from tank bullies and you! & some piece of mind to the inhabitants. Beyond this, they are aesthetically attractive; their sheer physical beauty in terms of color, shape, size and motion is astounding.


 For all the above reasons, macro-algae are saleable and good business. They are readily available from the wilds or culture, and easily displayed and sold; they sell themselves.

Selection & Display:

 Should be as simple as the rest of your reef presentation. The macro-algae may be kept in the same systems for resale and display-only that you hopefully are currently utilizing. I would not urge your trying to sell macro-algae out of a Non-reef or non-invertebrate system. These are contra-indicated for reasons of too high nutrient loads, low specific gravities, historical copper use, et al..

Macro-algae have few requirements:

A) Good water quality. "Regular" specific gravity; @ 1.023-1.025. A normal range of temperatures, low ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, phosphate and other nutrient concentrations. Maintaining pH in the low to mid 8's is critical.

A reef or wet-dry filtration system is highly recommended; one to keep water quality optimized, and two, to add to tie-in sales.

There is considerable debate as to whether supplemental "trace elements" or fertilizers are necessary or to be recommended. Enough exogenous material is generally available through feeding fishes and inverts. Other considerations, such as reduction-oxidation levels and carbonate/bi-carbonate balance can be approached by the sophisticated hobbyist; for your part, you will only stock these organisms for a few days to a few weeks. More good news is that they are typically very hardy and rarely die "mysteriously".

B) Lighting: Should include adequate "reef" illumination by fluorescent and/or halogen systems or at least more lighting, for longer (16h) from less specialized fixtures and bulbs. In a pinch, these work just fine.

C) Predators: Be careful to leave out or limit the amount of algae eating and destroying fishes and inverts. Crabs, snails, tangs, angels among others can wreak havoc in a brief while.

Where to Get It:

From your regular marine life wholesalers! If their selection is too sparse, check out the Purchasing Guide's headings under Aquatic Plants and Live Rock. These species are less expensive than fishes and invert.s to ship and less susceptible to mortality during transit.

As an alternative, grow your own! That's what we do here in San Diego, with a few species of Caulerpa. They grow in such profusion in our display tanks, we harvest and sell them weekly. You can too.

There are numerous books and articles available describing the appearance, natural history, and culture of the several genera and species you'll find offered. I strongly suggest you read and sell Stephen Spotte's, Martin Moe's and Albert Thiels' works on marine aquarium keeping.

There is a ready market for marine macrophytes. I hope this article has stimulated you to seek out further information and augment your business and displays with macro-algae.


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