Algal Turf Scrubber™ Algal Turf Scrubber

October 4, 1998 IRC presentation by Morgan Lidster on #reefs

A question and answer section follows this part of the presentation. You can download the transcript of the entire presentation (including the Q & A) here.

MJL Note dated Oct 21, 2014: Sixteen years later and the most fundamental change is the color of my beard! I sincerely hope that the contributions of experienced ATS users such as yourself, here and at, will help ensure a much different hobby sixteen years from now!

I hope I can lend some clarity to the convoluted subject of algal filtration, especially in regard to Algal Turf Scrubbing. As many of you are aware, my experience with Algal Turf Scrubbers, provides a sharp contrast to much of what has been published on the subject. I would like to point out that I represent Aquatic Technologies, Inc., better known as Inland Aquatics. Though these companies have yet to prove profitable, they are For Profit enterprises. Make no mistake about it. I am biased! Truth be told, it is arguably more accurate to describe Inland Aquatics as a representative of me. Inland is a public window into the last five years of my life.

Presenting myself as anything but intimately connected to it would be dishonest. Nevertheless, as you learn more about Inland Aquatics, I am confident you will agree that I'm actually "pitching" a sustainable future for OUR hobby. It's important to note that, except when I state otherwise, I am speaking of true Algal Turf Scrubbers (ATS), as developed by Dr. Walter Adey of the Smithsonian's Marine Systems Laboratory. True ATScrubbers™ are specifically designed to maximize the sustainable growth of algal turfs, the most efficient algal community known, while minimizing maintenance. ATScrubbers™ should not be confused with other types of algal filters, many of which are confusingly marketed as "Algae Scrubbers". The patented dump bucket makes it possible to maintain the turfs – the turfs do the "scrubbing".

Undoubtedly, many of you are familiar with the controversy that arose in FAMA magazine in 1994, just after the release of Dr. Adey's book, Dynamic Aquaria. While I don't want to rehash that here, it should be obvious by the end of the evening that many of the endlessly repeated criticisms of ATS systems have proven to be unfounded. (By the way Dynamic Aquaria Volume 2 was released at MACNA X last week. It features many of the systems from our facility. Check it out.)

Inland Aquatics has designed, built and operated ATScrubbers™ on commercial mariculture systems, retail showroom systems, and residential (40 to 400 gallon aquaria) systems for approximately five years. Based on our experience with commercial mariculture systems, we designed ATScrubbers™ for hobby scale usage. Though they have yet to be mass marketed, we have been selling residential size systems to aquarium hobbyists since mid 1997. Total gallons of ATScrubber™ driven systems maintained, by I.A, under this paradigm is approximately 45,000 gallons. Some of our original systems have been combined into larger systems, but our showroom houses systems over 4 years old. ATScrubbers™ are the only filters on all our systems, unless you count the sediment trapping Refugia. While we recommend at a 5% – 10% annual water changes, the water in these display systems has yet to be changed. Nevertheless, we are pleased to compare it to any conventional, high maintenance system, regarding appearance, biodiversity and overall success!

The following is a brief summary of the benefits I have witnessed with ATS filtration: The benefits of true Algal Turf Scrubbing include the effective regulation of oxygen, pH,and nutrient cycling, as well as surge simulation. Other benefits include the following:

  • Stabilization of pH and oxygen (at super-saturation) levels, leading to:
    • Elimination of typical "dark tank" pH swings
    • Increased fish health and minimization of stress
    • Minimization of circulation requisite to facilitate coral respiration and metabolic exchange
    • Freedom to FEED a captive reef system without increasing the need for water changes/maintenance
  • Our systems are fed HEAVILY, 3–6 times daily; allowing planktivores such as Anthias, Chrimis and Sleeper Gobies to flourish.
  • Reefs with large fish populations are awesome, especially when the fish are healthy, robust, and spawning as they would in their natural environment.
  • Simulation of natural wave motion via the dump bucket – This is very aesthetically appealing.
  • We feel this may be a contributing factor to overall coral health and our success with Goniopora sp.
  • ATScrubbed systems serve as hospital systems for most LPS corals.
  • We've seen examples of Fungia, Turbinaria, Goniopora, Lobophyllia, Wellsophyllia,and Favia, which were exceptionally damaged when introduced to the system and recovered fully; quickly in many cases.
  • Traditional cycling isn't necessary. ATScrubber screens make it possible to establish healthy, heavily loaded and fed, reefs in a day or two!!
  • ATS filters are inexpensive and much easier to maintain, especially on larger systems.
  • Minimization of water changes (10% /year) provides substantial long term savings.
  • ATScrubbers™ eliminate the need for multiple filtering and maintenance systems.
  • Significant "buffering capacity" regarding mishaps.
  • The ATScrubber readily handles nutrient spikes caused by dead fish, overfeeding, etc. Moreover, unlike any other filter, it can actually been run "overtime".
  • Supersaturation of oxygen allows for maximum system downtime (power outages, for example) ATScrubbers will remove nitrates, phosphates, heavy metals, silicate and even hydrocarbons on closed systems.
  • Increased biodiversity due to the ability to feed heavily and the absence of skimmers, mechanical and chemical filters or multiple power heads.
  • The majority of our ATS systems are designed to turn the system volume over a mere 1.5 – 4 times per hour. Oxygen at super saturation seem to make a big difference.
  • There is no loss of plankton or microfauna due to the operation of the ATS filter.
  • Though we discourage it, Amphipods and other microcrustaceans proliferate in the ATS itself and are occasionally dumped into the system, providing Anthias, Convict Blennies, Seahorses, and other finicky feeders with live food.
  • Many fish that require live foods flourish in these systems, including parasite eaters.

Talk's cheap! I'm sure you're wondering, "why", if ATScrubbers™ are so great, "have I read so much negative opinion about Algal Turf Scrubbing". I'm going to touch on the three main reasons, as I'm sure I'll get asked about this later.

  1. All "scrubbers" are not created equally! Although there are benefits to any photosynthetic filtration process, only true ATScrubbers™ are designed to utilize the incredible power of algal turfs. Turfs are 10 to 100 times as effective as macroalgaes. Only filters with true algal turfs are truly scrubbers.
  2. These systems are different! Many have failed simply due to mis–communication of the Dynamic Aquaria paradigm. ATS microcosms work incredibly well, but only if one allows them to! The success of Dr. Adey's personal systems, hundreds of ATScrubber™ owners, and Inland's 40,000 + gallons of thriving captive reef illustrate the incredible potential of this difference. Accounts of frustrated professional aquarists, on the other hand, illustrate the gravity of that difference.
  3. Misinformation!!! Ninety percent of the articles/books published,and online services about "scrubbers" have been written by authors with little or no experience with these systems. One of the most striking illustration of this is a FAMA article describing algae scrubbers as "mechanical filters that remove algae from the water or magnets used to scrape the glass". Another favorite, entitled The Difference Between Algae Filters and Algae Scrubbers concluded with the author mentioning that he had no idea what an algae filter is. Even venerable authors appear content to echo hackneyed critiques, without investigation.

Well, I'd better open things up to questions and answer. I was going to address some of the specific critiques of ATS, but let's see if there are any questions about points I glossed over. I would like to reemphasize one point concerning the "controversy" concerning ATScrubbers™. Nearly all the information published about ATS systems in the hobby literature and on the net has been written by authors who admit to having no experience with the technology. Considering all the hoopla and magazine sales generated by the 1994 controversy, I'm amazed at hobbyists' willingness to settle for such heresy.

Several of the articles mentioning Algal Filtration in 1997 (Delbeek, Sprung, Tyree to name a few) refer to successful mariculture operations using this technology, yet not one of these authors bothered to pick up FAMA and drop us a line or e-mail to get a little first hand information. I believe the Algal Turf Scrubber has a lot to contribute to our hobby and I sincerely appreciate your giving me an opportunity to tell you about it.

Please feel free to e-mail if you have any questions.

Thank you,
Morgan Lidster

For more information or to contribute your experience to this site, please contact: Morgan