Growing a Phytoplankton Culture

Phytoplankton CultureBack in March of 2014, I decided I wanted to try my hands at a phytoplankton culture. There are many reasons saltwater hobbyists may want to start a phytoplankton culture, but first what is phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are essentially microscopic marine plants.

Phytoplankton is a highly nutritional food that some corals and many small organisms like copepods and rotifers  eat. Some people will start a phytoplankton culture with the intention of dosing directly into their aquarium. Others will use phytoplankton to feed to rotifers and copepods, which can in turn be used to feed fish fry when breeding fish.

Before I get into the steps to culture phytoplankton, here is a list of supplies you will need.

Supplies Needed

Since phytoplankton is one of the lowest things on the food chain, you need to make sure everything you use, like buckets, airline tubing, water jugs etc. have never been used for your main display tank. There could be microscopic organisms or their eggs on the supplies without you knowing, which could destroy your culture by eating all the phytoplankton.

Steps to Culture Phytoplankton

  1. 6500K Strip LightFirst, I set up the area where I would be culturing the phytoplankton. This was in my basement which ranging from 55 to 65° F depending on the time of year. (I live in New England)
  2. Then I set up the lighting, I just used 2 fluorescent strip lights with a 6500K color temperature.
  3. For containers I used a gallon jug from bottled water. I drilled a hole in the cap big enough for the airline tubing to fit through. I would also recommend drilling a second hole to allow air to escape, more on that later.
  4. Next you need to make the water for the phytoplankton and add it to the jug. I used mixed saltwater with a salinity of 1.019, and I also added 5mL of liquid fertilizer, Miracle-Gro. I added the fertilizer to give nutrients for the phytoplankton to consume, based on recommendations from other hobbyists.
  5. Starting Phytoplankton CultureThe next step is adding your starter culture to the jug. If you want to grow a specific type of phytoplankton, I would recommend buying a culture online to ensure that only that phytoplankton is growing in your cultures. I wasn’t too concerned with the variety of phytoplankton, since I was just experimenting if I could successfully culture phytoplankton. Because of this I ended up using Phyto-Feast and added enough to tint the water. I added more over the next couple of days as well. You can use any live phytoplankton product, just make sure it is actually live phytoplankton.
  6. Rigid Airline TubingThe last step is to put the rigid airline tubing through one of the pre-drilled holes and start the air pump. This helps circulate the phytoplankton to ensure it doesn’t all clump at the bottom. The rigid tubing can also be used as a stirrer every so often to help with clumping. The reason for the second hole is, once you start the aerator, without a second hole you pressurize the jug and either the top will pop off or one day you will lose power and not have a back siphon on your aerator and the water will shoot through the tube ruin your aerator and end up on the floor…not that I know anything about that. 🙂
  7. With the Phyto-Feast, I noticed it took a little longer than what I had read other people reporting so just remember to be patient. Over time your water will turn green, and you can actually culture your phytoplankton. You can either split it into more bottles or feed it to something. Once your cultures are really producing, you will want to either split the culture or feed it off often, otherwise you run the risk of it becoming overpopulated and crashing.

There are obviously going to be different ways to culture phytoplankton; however the above method is what I used and it worked well for me. I’d love to hear from you in the comments section if you try this or another method of culturing your phytoplankton. What do you culture your phytoplankton for?

Thank you for sharing!
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