Growing your own phytoplankton is a rewarding way to support a thriving marine ecosystem. Phytoplankton, also known as microscopic, photosynthetic microalgae, play a crucial role as the foundation of aquatic food webs. In saltwater aquariums, they provide natural food for filter-feeding reef creatures and enhance the nutritional value for tank inhabitants. To successfully cultivate phytoplankton at home, you’ll need a clean environment, water movement for oxygenation, adequate lighting, a phytoplankton liquid starter culture, and basic equipment.

Key Takeaways:

  • Phytoplankton are tiny, photosynthetic microalgae that are essential in supporting a healthy marine ecosystem.
  • Growing phytoplankton at home requires a clean environment, water movement, light, a starter culture, and basic equipment.
  • Phytoplankton serve as natural food for filter-feeding reef creatures and improve the nutritional value for tank inhabitants.
  • Choose the right phytoplankton species based on your goals and available resources.
  • With proper care and attention, a thriving phytoplankton culture can contribute to overall water quality in your home aquarium.

What is Phytoplankton?

Phytoplankton are the foundation of aquatic food webs, playing a crucial role in supporting marine ecosystems. These microscopic, photosynthetic microalgae are free-floating and cannot be seen with the naked eye. Although they may be small, their impact is significant. Phytoplankton serve as a natural food source for filter-feeding reef creatures and provide essential nutrition for tank inhabitants in saltwater aquariums.

Phytoplankton are essential for maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem. Filter-feeding reef creatures consume phytoplankton as their primary food source, making it a vital component of their diet. In addition to directly supporting the food chain, phytoplankton also contribute to water quality by stabilizing tank biology and improving water chemistry. They can even help reduce unwanted algae and bacteria, creating a more balanced and thriving aquarium environment.

Equipment for Growing Phytoplankton at Home

When it comes to cultivating phytoplankton at home, having the right equipment is essential. This will ensure that you provide the optimal conditions for growth and maintain a healthy culture. Here are the key pieces of equipment you will need:

1. Phytoplankton Starter Culture

A phytoplankton starter culture is the foundation of your cultivation journey. It contains a diverse range of live phytoplankton cells and serves as the inoculum for your culture. You can either purchase a starter culture from a reputable supplier or obtain one from a fellow hobbyist who has successfully grown phytoplankton.

2. Phytoplankton Container

A suitable container is required to house your phytoplankton culture. It should be translucent to allow light penetration and have a large enough volume to accommodate the growth of the cells. Consider using a glass or plastic container with a lid or cover to prevent contamination and evaporation.

3. Aquarium Air Pump

An aquarium air pump is necessary to provide oxygenation to your phytoplankton culture. The gentle bubbles created by the air pump help keep the cells in suspension, allowing for adequate light exposure and nutrient absorption. Choose a pump with adjustable flow control to achieve the desired level of aeration.

4. Light Source

Light is a crucial factor in phytoplankton cultivation as it drives the process of photosynthesis. You will need a suitable light source that emits wavelengths in the blue and red spectrum, which are most effective for promoting growth. Consider using a fluorescent or LED light specifically designed for aquarium or horticultural use.

5. Miscellaneous Items for Sterilization

To maintain a sterile environment and prevent the growth of unwanted organisms, you will need various items for sterilization. This may include hydrogen peroxide or bleach for cleaning the container and equipment, gloves for handling the culture, and a UV sterilizer for disinfecting water used in your culture system. Always follow proper safety precautions when working with sterilizing agents.

By having these essential pieces of equipment, you will be well-prepared to embark on your phytoplankton cultivation journey. Remember to closely monitor the conditions of your culture and make adjustments as needed to ensure a successful and thriving phytoplankton culture.

7 Steps to Successfully Growing Phytoplankton at Home

Growing phytoplankton at home can be a rewarding experience that contributes to the health of your aquarium and the overall marine ecosystem. By following these 7 steps, you can create a thriving culture of phytoplankton right in your own home:

Step 1: Prepare the Culture Medium

  • Choose a suitable container that allows sufficient light penetration.
  • Add a phytoplankton starter culture to the container.
  • Use a specialized phytoplankton fertilizer, such as Guillard’s F/2, in the appropriate dosage.
  • Ensure proper oxygenation with an air pump or magnetic stirrer.

Step 2: Provide the Right Lighting

Phytoplankton requires adequate light for photosynthesis. Use a light source with a higher blue and red component for optimal growth. Position the light above the culture container and provide a consistent light cycle of 12-16 hours per day.

Step 3: Maintain Proper Water Conditions

  • Keep the culture medium temperature between 68-77°F (20-25°C).
  • Monitor and maintain the pH level between 7.8-8.3.
  • Regularly test and adjust nitrate levels to ensure optimal growth.

Step 4: Provide Adequate Water Movement

Phytoplankton requires water movement for oxygenation and to prevent settling. Use an aquarium air pump or magnetic stirrer to create gentle agitation and keep the algae cells in suspension.

Step 5: Monitor and Control Contamination

  • Regularly inspect the culture for signs of contamination, such as bacteria or unwanted algae.
  • If contamination occurs, consider sterilizing the culture container and equipment.
  • Proper hygiene and cleanliness are crucial to maintaining a healthy phytoplankton culture.

Step 6: Harvest and Feed as Needed

Harvest the phytoplankton culture when the cell density reaches its peak. Use a fine mesh sieve or a phytoplankton collector to separate the cells from the culture medium. Feed the harvested phytoplankton directly to your aquarium inhabitants or freeze it for future use.

Step 7: Continuously Monitor and Adjust

Regularly monitor the growth and health of your phytoplankton culture. Adjust the culture conditions as needed to optimize growth and ensure a continuous supply of phytoplankton for your aquarium.

By following these steps, you can successfully grow phytoplankton at home and contribute to the well-being of your aquarium ecosystem.

Phytoplankton Uses in Aquariums and Aquaculture

Phytoplankton serves a crucial role in both aquariums and aquaculture. Its primary use is as feed for various organisms in these environments. Filter feeders, such as corals and microorganisms, directly consume phytoplankton, while other organisms rely on it as part of their food chain. Additionally, phytoplankton is essential for breeding marine invertebrates and fish, as their larvae often feed exclusively on zooplankton.

Besides being a source of nutrition, phytoplankton also contributes to stabilizing tank biology and improving water chemistry. Its presence helps reduce the growth of unwanted algae and bacteria, maintaining a balanced and healthy ecosystem within the aquarium. Furthermore, in aquaculture, phytoplankton plays a vital role in shrimp farming. It is used to enrich food organisms and employs the Greenwater method, which reduces cannibalism among larvae.

Table: Phytoplankton Uses in Aquariums and Aquaculture

Phytoplankton Uses Aquariums Aquaculture
Direct Consumption by Filter Feeders ✔️
Food Chain Contribution ✔️
Larval Nutrition for Breeding ✔️ ✔️
Stabilizes Tank Biology ✔️
Improves Water Chemistry ✔️
Reduces Unwanted Algae and Bacteria ✔️
Shrimp Farming Enrichment ✔️
Greenwater Method for Larvae ✔️

As demonstrated in the table above, phytoplankton plays a significant role in maintaining the health and balance of aquariums and aquaculture systems. Its diverse applications make it a valuable asset to aquarium enthusiasts and aquaculture professionals alike.

Choosing the Right Phytoplankton Species for Cultivation

Growing phytoplankton at home requires careful consideration of the species you choose to cultivate. Each species has its own unique characteristics and requirements, so it’s important to select the right one based on your specific goals and available resources. Here are some key factors to consider when choosing a phytoplankton species for cultivation:

  1. Nutritional Content: Different phytoplankton species vary in their nutritional composition. Some species may be richer in essential nutrients like proteins, amino acids, and fatty acids, while others may have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals. Consider the nutritional needs of your tank inhabitants and select a species that provides the desired nutritional profile.
  2. Cell Size: Phytoplankton species come in different sizes, ranging from large diatoms to smaller nanoplankton. The cell size of the phytoplankton can influence their availability as a food source for filter-feeding organisms and the overall balance of the aquatic ecosystem. Larger species may be more suitable for filter feeders, while smaller species can be beneficial for enriching zooplankton populations.
  3. Contamination Sensitivity: Some phytoplankton species are more sensitive to contamination and changes in environmental conditions than others. Factors like water quality, temperature, and salinity can affect the growth and stability of the culture. Choose a species that is resilient and adaptable to your specific tank conditions to increase the chances of successful cultivation.

Researching the different phytoplankton species available and their specific requirements will help you make an informed decision. Consulting with experts and fellow hobbyists can also provide valuable insights and recommendations for selecting the most suitable species for your cultivation goals.

Table: Comparison of Phytoplankton Species for Cultivation

Species Nutritional Content Cell Size Contamination Sensitivity
Species A High in proteins and amino acids Large Low sensitivity
Species B Rich in vitamins and minerals Small Medium sensitivity
Species C Balanced nutritional profile Medium High sensitivity

This table provides a simplified comparison of three hypothetical phytoplankton species for cultivation. Species A has a higher concentration of proteins and amino acids, making it an excellent choice for promoting growth in filter-feeding organisms. Species B is rich in vitamins and minerals, providing enhanced nutritional value for overall tank inhabitants. Species C offers a balanced nutritional profile suitable for a variety of organisms. Consider these factors when selecting the right phytoplankton species for your home cultivation.

Preparing the Culture Medium for Phytoplankton Breeding

Creating the right culture medium is crucial for successful phytoplankton breeding. The culture medium is the environment in which the phytoplankton will grow, so it needs to provide the necessary nutrients and conditions for optimal growth. Here are the steps to prepare the culture medium:

  1. Choose a suitable container: Select a translucent container that allows sufficient light penetration. It should have a large enough volume to accommodate the desired amount of phytoplankton culture.
  2. Add a light source: A suitable light source is essential for photosynthesis, which is the primary source of energy for phytoplankton. Use a light with a higher blue and red component to promote optimal growth.
  3. Oxygenate the medium: Provide oxygen to the phytoplankton culture by using an air pump or a magnetic stirrer. This ensures that the algae cells remain suspended and receive sufficient oxygen for growth.
  4. Apply phytoplankton fertilizer: Use a specialized phytoplankton fertilizer, such as Guillard’s F/2, in the appropriate dosage. This fertilizer provides the essential nutrients that promote the growth of phytoplankton.
  5. Obtain a starter culture: Introduce a phytoplankton starter culture, which contains the initial population of phytoplankton cells, into the prepared culture medium. This helps kickstart the growth of the phytoplankton culture.

It is important to monitor the nitrate level in the culture medium. Nitrate is a key nutrient for phytoplankton growth, and its concentration can indicate whether the culture is ready for feeding. Once the nitrate level reaches the desired range, you can start feeding the phytoplankton culture to maintain its growth and stability.

Container Light Source Oxygenation Phytoplankton Fertilizer Starter Culture
A translucent container with sufficient volume and light penetration. A light source with a higher blue and red component for optimal growth. An air pump or magnetic stirrer to provide oxygen. A specialized phytoplankton fertilizer, such as Guillard’s F/2, in the appropriate dosage. A phytoplankton starter culture to kickstart growth.


Growing phytoplankton at home is a fulfilling and beneficial endeavor for both your aquarium and the marine ecosystem. By following these best practices for phytoplankton growth, you can ensure the success of your cultivation efforts and enjoy the numerous advantages it brings.

Firstly, selecting the right phytoplankton species is essential. Consider your specific goals, whether it’s feeding filter-feeding creatures, enriching zooplankton, or stabilizing tank biology. Each species has its own requirements, nutritional content, and sensitivities, so thorough research is necessary to make an informed choice.

Next, it’s crucial to create the ideal environment for phytoplankton breeding. Use a suitable translucent container that allows enough light penetration, and ensure the light source has a higher blue and red component for optimal growth. Proper oxygenation is achieved through an air pump or magnetic stirrer, while a specialized phytoplankton fertilizer, like Guillard’s F/2, provides the necessary nutrients. Regularly measuring the nitrate level helps determine when the culture is ready for feeding.

Lastly, maintaining proper care and attention is vital for a thriving phytoplankton culture. Regular monitoring of water parameters, such as temperature, salinity, and pH, is necessary. Regularly clean and sterilize all equipment to prevent contamination. With these tips and a commitment to providing a clean environment, you can cultivate a continuous supply of phytoplankton that will enhance your aquarium’s biodiversity and overall water quality.


What is phytoplankton?

Phytoplankton are tiny, microscopic, photosynthetic microalgae that serve as the foundation of aquatic food webs.

Why is phytoplankton important in saltwater aquariums?

Phytoplankton provide natural food for filter-feeding reef creatures and boost the nutritional value for tank inhabitants.

What equipment do I need to grow phytoplankton at home?

You will need a phytoplankton starter culture, phytoplankton fertilizer, a phytoplankton container, an aquarium air pump, a light source, and various miscellaneous items for sterilization.

How many steps are there to successfully grow phytoplankton at home?

There are 7 steps to successfully growing phytoplankton at home.

What are the uses of phytoplankton in aquariums and aquaculture?

Phytoplankton is used as feed for filter feeders, corals, microorganisms, and the larvae of marine invertebrates and fish. It can also improve water chemistry and reduce unwanted algae and bacteria.

How do I choose the right phytoplankton species for cultivation?

Consider your specific goals, such as feeding filter feeders, enriching zooplankton, stabilizing tank biology, or displacing unwanted algae and bacteria. Different species have different nutritional content and sensitivities to contamination and environmental factors.

How do I prepare the culture medium for phytoplankton breeding?

You will need a suitable container, a light source with a higher blue and red component, an air pump or magnetic stirrer for oxygenation, phytoplankton fertilizer, and a starter culture. The container should allow sufficient light penetration, and the fertilizer should be used in the appropriate dosage.

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