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Culturing Phytoplankton

Phytoplankton is gaining popularity in the world of reef keeping. They are the fundamental organism in the marine food web and considered the staple food for many tiny marine organisms. Phytoplankton is a cluster of photosynthetic plankton composed of several species. Taken as a whole they are helpful as a supply of diet for other tiny organisms with varying features depending on species.

The benefits of cultivating Phytoplankton at home are many starting from culturing rotifers for aquatic proliferation, feeding other tiny crustaceans as a source of live food, to adding directly to a reef aquarium to increase the number of small beneficial organisms which may then feed your corals and fish. Phytoplankton dwells at the bottom of food web and help in stabilizing the nutrition of all the organisms above it.

All you need for culturing Phytoplankton at home are: 2 liter bottles or more depending on how much you want to cultivate, air tubes, air pumps, 24″ florescent bulbs, Phytoplankton Starter culture medium, and Phytoplankton food. If you have got these things, you can start the process right then.

Choose the place very carefully. It is best cultivated in closets or shelf. Make sure the place is neither too cold nor hot, normal room temperature is what you need for them. Also see to it that lighting is easily installed in the place. They need good intensity light to manufacture food and reproduce. However, your source of light should not generate heat as they can be harmful for Phytoplankton growth. Florescent is the best option in this case as it provides good light and stays cool.

Rinse the bottles thoroughly and let them dry. Drill hole in the cap of the bottles and let the air tubes pass through them till the bottom. Make the hole larger than the size of the air tubing to allow passage of air through them. Make sure the tubing’s end reaches the bottom the bottle. The bottles should be filled with 3/4 of the way with water and 1/8 with Phytoplankton Starter culture medium and 1/8 of the Phytoplankton food.

The Phytoplankton Starter culture medium is what you add to the phytoplankton to make it grow. It is comprised of salt water and Micro Algae Grow which is a kind of miracle-grow for phytoplankton. You can prepare this at home using an empty bleach bottle, which has been carefully rinsed with tap water. Fill the gallon container with tap water and add slightly less than ½ cup of salt mix. Then add 3ml of Micro Algae Grow liquid. Shake bottle and let it sit for a day. It is ready for use.

Keep the lights on for at least 16 hours a day. Turn on the pump to generate a steady torrent of bubbles in the bottle. Let it sit like that. After 10-12 days examine for color change; the bottle should be a dark green color. If the color change has not yet occurred let it sit for a few more days. It can even be ready before 10 days given that the important factors such as heat and lights are provided in appropriate measures. If the water temperature is warm the phytoplankton are likely to grow faster.

The solution is to watch when the water is not getting any darker. Once you notice no change in the color of the water for a few days, it is probably ready. You can test to see if it’s done by checking for phosphates and nitrates. When the tests read low your culture will no longer have enough nutrients to continue to multiply. Now you can filter the culture to remove any large particles. It is now ready to be used as dose in the tank or for starting a new culture. The Phytoplankton should be stored in the refrigerator, with periodically shaking to prevent it from settling. You can remove ¼ of the content and use the rest to begin the next batch of culture.

Do not use air stones in culturing as they get contaminated easily and are difficult to clean. Periodically remove the tubing, cover the holes and shake the bottles to prevent settling down of phytoplankton. When you want to begin dosing phytoplankton in a tank, begin slow and check for effects. If all goes well increase the dose after a couple of weeks. Phytoplankton is basically liquid nutrients and disproportionate amount of dosing could lead to rise in phosphates, nitrates and other pollutants in the tank. They are ideal for use in a matured tank that is less likely to catch up with nuisance algae.