The dreaded Ich and what to do if you have it in your system......

So you have Ich and you are asking yourself, "How did I get this and how do I get rid of this?" Well let's start with what exactly Ich is shall we?? Ich is a parasite caused by a protozoan parasite called Cryptocaryon and is present in all saltwater environments. Ich looks like white specks of granulated sugar and is also sometimes referred to as "white spot disease". Ich have a staged life cycle that involves a cyst stage, a free swimming stage and a feeding stage where they attack the host fish. They are both obligate parasites and do not survive if a host fish is not present. Their life cycle is usually complete in a six week period with a tank temperature of 80°F. Lower temperatures prolong the life cycle while high temperatures shorten it. The main vector for introduction into a aquarist's tank is by adding an already infected fish.

Ich can be a debilitating disease if not treated as it decreases the fish's immune system and causes a great deal of stress on the fish. Most of the time, fish have the ability to fight off this parasite with their healthy immune system, but when fish become stressed or underfed, this disease become more apparent. Also tangs seem to be more vulnerable than other fish either due to their lack of slime coat and immune system response or it possibly could be some tangs are kept in small tanks which also stresses the fish. Almost every fish is susceptible to Ich but there are a few ways of combating the problem.

Ich is not always easy to get rid of. I get a lot of questions from friends and clients I used to service and even through online forums about the best way to rid of this disease. Many people opt for the chemical treatments. There are a lot of products on the market suitable for treating Ich but it also requires the use of Quarantine tanks where hobbyists can isolate the infected fish and not need to worry about adding dangerous chemicals to their display tank which can drastically affect corals and other healthy fish.

Some chemical treatments are as follows:
Copper Based Medications are a widely used remedy for Ich but requires a Quarantine tank since Copper is extremely dangerous to other livestock and corals

Another form of Chemical treatment is in the form of Garlic supplements. Garlic has been said to help boost immune system in many species of saltwater fish and can be added straight to the tank or mixed with food. This approach is less dangerous to the copper based medications and is recommended as a small remedy rather than a cure.

Some other forms of treatment in the chemical department consists of a multitude of chemicals like Fromalin Dip which is essentially Formaldehyde and again, a very dangerous chemical to add without the use of a Quarantine tank and should really only be used as a last resort cure all for the parasite.

Me personally, I have always opted for biological approaches to controlling Ich. First I always dose with a good Slime coat or Stress Coat supplement like from API. I have been using it for years and it really helps boost immune systems and the slime coats most fish have.

There are many creatures of the sea that can help hobbyists get rid of Ich without the use of dangerous chemicals and this is something I always suggest to those who ask me how I got rid of outbreaks in my own tank. One great biological solution is the Cleaner Shrimp aka Lysmata amboinensis. These commensal shrimp are known to set up "cleaning stations" where fish swim up to be serviced and cleaned.

Another one of my all time favorite biological methods of ridding Ich is my cleaner gobies. I raised gobies for over 20 years and had a lot of success with these species getting rid of Ich in the home aquarium systems. The cleaner gobies have two subspecies that are great for cleaning parasites and picking off dead skin. Not only do they take care of the parasites on the skin, but they also search for the free floating protozoan in the water column reducing the life cycle. My favorite of these gobies would have to be the sharknose goby, Elacatinus evelynae.

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Sharknose Gobies have to be my all time favorite fish and they do such an amazing job cleaning, I try to get one in every tank I have or service. I always recommend this fish to many of my friends when they are dealing with parasites in their tank. Now these fish are not easy to come by and may need to be special ordered by your Live Fish Store (LFS). As they are not normally wild caught, some aquafarms have begun tank raising them. Companies such as ORA is well known for their tank bred Sharknose Gobies.

Another cleaner goby is the Neon Blue or Striped Goby, Elacatinus oceanops. While similar to the sharknose, these gobies are distinguished by their blunted snout and bright stripes of gold and yellow. These species of gobies also do an excellent job of cleaning fish of parasites and dead skin, but not as thorough as the sharknose.

Finally we get to the cleaner wrasses, our last stop on the biological cleaning train of ridding Ich. Cleaner wrasses are good in certain areas but again, they are opportunistic and will sometimes feed off meaty foods or flake food rather than actually cleaning fish. Cleaner Wrasses are well known for cleaning larger fish species such as grouper and the occasional moray eel. If you can not get your hands on any of the above mentioned gobies, you may have some luck in larger systems with the cleaner wrasse. The best species of wrasse to get in your tank would be Labroides dimidiatus and easily found in most LFS. I have seen them here in Southern California at almost every LFS I have visited. If not available in your area, ask your LFS if they can order you one. I really like these fish for larger fish only and they will not fair well in smaller systems such as nanos or anything under 50 gallons.

So whatever your approach to battling the dreaded Ich is entirely up to you. It is in my opinion the biological approach works best. We as hobbyists want to recreate the natural environment our fish come from as best as possible in the home aquarium. There is no large bottle that comes out of the sky to supplement the ocean. Species have gone through evolution and have adapted to live cohesively with species and communal relationships is best seen under the water. We want to ensure our aquarium inhabitants are healthy and feel at home, just as they would swimming in their home reef systems out in the wild. If you do have to result to using chemicals, please follow the above guidelines and benchmarks for ensuring safety and the well being of your inhabitants. Ich can be treated if treated correctly and we all want our fish to live long and happy lives while under our care. Happy Reefing!