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Top Algae-Eating Reef Fish for Saltwater Aquariums

by Brian Dunleavy
Top Algae-Eating Reef Fish for Saltwater Aquariums

A saltwater aquarium is an incredibly enjoyable hobby, giving enthusiasts a chance to capture the magic of the underwater world right in their living rooms.

Even so, with beauty comes responsibility for algae. An aquarium can easily be taken over by algae thereby affecting water quality and negating its aesthetic appeal. However, there are solutions to this in nature through fish that eat algae naturally.

Why Algae Is A Problem In Reef Tanks?

Algae can become a major problem in reef tanks because of its fast rate of growth and possible negative consequences on water quality and aesthetics. Several factors to the incessant growth of algae in reef tanks:

Imbalances in Nutrients

Nitrates and phosphates serve as nutrients for algal species which find their way into aquariums from different sources such as too much food or inefficient filtration coupled with decaying organic materials. In enclosed systems like the reef tank, nutrient imbalances could lead to explosive growth of algae.


Beaming lights are used to provide adequate lighting systems necessary for photosynthesis by corals. However, too much or the wrong kind of light can lead to an algal bloom especially where there is a high intensity of light as well as a high level of nutrients.

Insufficient Water Circulation

If water circulation is inadequate within an aquarium, areas may develop inside it that have no movements thus when detritus collects after some time they may begin decomposing hence becoming nutrients for algal growth.

Good circulation ensures proper distribution of air, nutrition, and filtering process across the tank thereby preventing the accumulation of algal masses.

Filtration Malfunctions

Mechanical failure or incorrect use and maintenance of filter equipment causes organic waste to build up together with soluble nutrients allowing algae to thrive hence causing blooms.

For efficient reduction of surplus nutrients in water together with its purification, the filtration system should have three main parts; mechanical, biological, and chemical sections. Algae

Spores Introduction

Algal spores can enter an aquarium through various means such as live rock, water, or by adding new stock. Once introduced, these spores can rapidly multiply under favorable conditions and colonize surfaces giving space to other organisms that compete for resources.


Algae-Eating Reef Fish


These adorable, often quirky fish are famous for their fondness of algae. They have elongated bodies and faces that say a lot so they rummage through rockwork and substrate to find algae. 

Blennies can be kept with other peaceful community fishes and provide endless fascination through their curious behaviors.



Also known as surgeonfish, tangs are bright saltwater aquarium inhabitants that are valued for not only their beautiful colors but also their ferocious hunger for algae. Tangs have specialized dental structures called “comb-like” teeth used to scrape off algae from rocks and glass.

Well-known tang species like yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) and kole tang (Ctenochaetus strigosus) are good options for getting rid of unwanted algae in marine tanks. Nonetheless, since these fishes can be territorial animals it is important to make sufficient space available and create hideouts that can mitigate aggression.

Sailfin Blennies

Sailfin blennies such as the lawnmower blenny ( Salarias fasciatus) have become renowned for effectiveness against various kinds of alga including diatoms and hair algae. They usually exhibit a big dorsal fin shaped like a sail on top of them hence the name “sailfin.”

Most importantly they are hardy creatures that require little attention and also have a peaceful nature thus making them suitable for almost all reef aquarium setups.


Foxface Rabbitfish

With flamboyant colors and elaborate designs on their bodies, foxface rabbitfishes (Siganus vulpinus), just like any others, have always been treasured because of their ability to eat algae. These fish are herbivorous and have a high preference for different types of algae such as filamentous and bubble algae.

Also, foxface rabbitfishes are generally calm and can coexist with quite several tank mates provided there is enough space and hiding spots.


Even though not all angelfish species eat algae, some make significant contributions towards the regulation of algae. For example, the magnificent emperor angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator) and coral beauty angelfish (Centropyge bispinosa), which has a remarkable coloration, can feed on algal cells especially when they are still young.

However, it is important to note that as these fish grow older they become less inclined toward eating this matter thereby altering their diet to encompass more meaty foods. 


Bicolor Blenny

The bicolor blenny (Ecsenius bicolor) with its striking colors and unusual personality is highly sought after for reef tanks.

These little peaceful creatures spend most of their time sitting on rocks and grazing over them. Bicolor blennies are particularly good at controlling hair algae thus making them very useful in an aquarium with lots of green growths.

Despite their small size that does not prevent the bicolor blennies from manifesting strong behaviors mostly seen in many marine systems.


Mandarin Dragonet

Mandarin Dragonets are usually not thought of as having anything to do with eating algae but it’s worth mentioning how special their feeding habits can be.

Mandarin dragonets mainly eat copepods and amphipods although they also consume some amounts of algae. Putting mandarin dragonets into an established aquarium with thriving populations of copepods indirectly helps control phytoplankton through the maintenance of a balanced ecosystem.



In conclusion, caring for a reef aquarium involves strategic thinking regarding how algae is handled. But there are other ways of going about this apart from regular water changes and responsible feeding practices.

For example, incorporating fish that eat algae in the ocean can help provide a natural solution. One can choose from different types of fish such as blennies, tangs, rabbitfish, or angelfish which can be suitable depending on one’s tank requirements.

By selecting appropriate algae-eating fish combinations and creating a stable ecosystem, however, aquarists can enjoy a dazzling saltwater aquarium that remains spotless even after many years.


by Brian Dunleavy