Introduction to Pico Jar Maintenance: Water Changes
Pico jar reefs seem to be gaining popularity with reef hobbyists. Maybe it’s a fascination with small things, or perhaps it’s the idea of “less work” that is appealing to some. For me personally, it’s a combination of the two. I love miniature versions of things, and I love the challenge of creating a miniature reef system, which just so happens to translate into less time spent maintaining the system and more time spent looking at and enjoying the system.
For a basic pico setup with only a light source, heater, and circulation pump, the weekly water change is of utmost importance. It is the way you will remove the organics from the water and replenish lost minerals and trace elements. It is recommended to do a 100% water change removal and replacement. It is easy and safe to do, as well as cost effective, on such a small system.
Standard Water Change Rules Apply
Whether you are working with a 250 gallon system or a 2 gallon system, the standard water change rules apply. You will want to use RO/DI water (or distilled water) to help avoid nuisance algae. You will need to match your clean water salinity and water temperature to the pico system you are maintaining. You can use any salt mix that you like, but it is best to stick with one brand of salt as not all are created equally and switching salt frequently can be stressful to your tank inhabitants.
Items I have found useful during a water change include: Towels, tubing or hose lines, algae scraper, tongs, scissors, turkey baster, 2 buckets.
Since you need to work fairly quickly when doing a 100% water change on a pico reef system, it’s best to have everything ready before you get started.
Let’s Get Started
You want to have your corals exposed to air for the least amount of time as possible. While most coral can survive extended periods of time exposed to air, I still like to work as quickly as I can, while also being careful and thorough, with the task at hand. I start with scraping the glass for algae. This gets the algae suspended in the water column before water removal. Now that your glass is clean (let’s hope it wasn’t THAT dirty), you can observe any problem areas. You can use your tongs to pull out any hair algae/nuisance algae. This is also the time to look for any coral warfare that you may need to intervene in. Coral scissors/clippers may be needed for trimming or removing coral over-growth. In such a tiny space, coral growth will be even more obvious. Typically coral cutting makes the corals slime up. You want to do any cutting prior to water removal so that you can remove the slime with the water change.
Now is the time to put that turkey baster to work! Blast the rocks and in between the coral to get any detritus suspended in the water column. You’d be amazed at the amount of detritus produced by the coral alone.
It’s almost time to drain your pico, but first, don’t forget to shut down your heater and circulation pump. You do not want to damage these items during the 100% water change.
I find it best to have two buckets. One for waste water, and one for clean saltwater. Use your clear tubing and siphon the water out of the pico tank and into the waste bucket. I find it useful to do another basting of the rocks just prior to siphoning. You want to get as much detritus suspended and out as possible. Pay attention to the sand as a lot of detritus will settle in that area.
Once all of the water is removed, all that's left is to replace the old water with the new saltwater that is temperature and salinity matched. Don’t forget to turn your air circulation and heater back on at the end. You can use your towels to clean up any spills.
While no system comes without work, I have found that maintaining a pico reef is easy, fast, and enjoyable. My main goal is to work as quickly as I can so that my coral is not exposed to air for an extended period of time. I find that planning ahead is very helpful to accomplish this goal. Have all of your supplies ready before you begin. It may sound scary to remove all of the water from your aquarium, but it is completely safe and successfully done by many hobbyists, including myself. You may find that it is so easy, and that you enjoy it so much, that you end up doing more than one water change per week. Quite frankly, it’s been known to happen.
Happy pico reef maintenance, to all!