Congratulations to community member natalia_la_loca and her 1.75 gallon reef bowl for being selected for our April Reef Profile! This pico reef bowl has come a long ways in just one year, it's home to an incredible array of coral and inverts alike, and follows a unique maintenance routine. Below is the aquarium profile natalia_la_loca has written for us sharing her experiences in the hobby and this aquarium's progress over the past year. See what she's been up to and share your comments and questions in natalia_la_loca's featured reef profile announcement, or in the comments section below. Be sure to also check out her aquarium journal for more information about this unique reef tank.
Display: 1.75 gallons, 7.5" high x 9" diameter, hand-blown glass sphere from Amazon.com
Lighting: ABI 12W Tuna Blue par38 LED bulb in a black architect desk lamp from Amazon.com
Light Cycle: 11am-7pm with time switch; intermittent sunlight from east & south windows and LED light from shrimp bowl
Substrate: Aragonite flakes
Rocks: Dry Marco Rock
Heater: Betta Stik 7.5 watts
Circulation: TOM Stellar Air Pump rated for 10-20 gallons, bare airline with no air stone.
Filter media: None
Credit Card Debt: None
Top Off: Manual, 1-2 times a week.
Evaporation Control: Repurposed glass terrarium lid, vinyl tubing added around rim to control salt creep.
Controller: Finnex HC-810M digital temperature controller, analog time switch for light.
Established March 3, 2016
With no dosing and no mechanical or chemical filtration, large water changes are an essential maintenance routine for my reefbowl.
Once a week, I give my corals a generous feeding. Shortly after the lights come on, I turn off the airline and target feed roughly equal amounts of Reef Roids, Rods Food Coral Blend, Phyto Feast, Fauna Marin Ultra Ricordea & Zoanthus + Ultra Min D. I give the corals 10-20 minutes to eat, then turn the airline back on and let the food circulate for several hours while I heat newly mixed saltwater.
When water change time comes, I thoroughly blow out the rockscape and sand with a turkey baster to release snail poop and detritus into the water column. This step is really important because this is the only form of mechanical filtration I use. With the detritus suspended, I siphon out all the water, leaving the corals exposed.
Next, I dip a cotton swab in peroxide, pick it up with a long forceps, and treat any bits of hair algae or bubble algae that are visible. As Brandon429 showed the world, this is a fantastic way to eliminate nuisance algae: because the rocks are not immersed in water, the algae receive a targeted, deadly dose of peroxide that is not distributed in the water column. The paintbrush is for algae growing in tight spots—e.g., between two zoanthid polyps. With these two tools, I can kill any algae in the bowl without putting my hands in or taking out rocks.
If there are any aiptasia anemones or hydroids in the bowl, I smother them with superglue. This is my remedy of choice for nuisance cnidarian prevention because it walls off the offending organism in situ without spreading bits of flesh around the tank or introducing ill-behaved predators (I’m looking at you, peppermint shrimp!).
Pests taken care of, I fill the bowl about half full with new heated saltwater to rinse away peroxide and release additional detritus into the water column. Then I siphon it out and fill it to the top with new saltwater, clean the glass lid, then turn on the heater and airline. The whole routine takes maybe half an hour a week. Within a couple of hours, the corals are open as before.
I rarely clean the glass. Perhaps because the LPS and SPS corals are consuming all the calcium, the reefbowl grows no coralline algae, and my three snails are very efficient cleaners. I rarely open the lid except for feeding and water changes. About halfway through the week, I add a small amount of RO/DI water to compensate for what little evaporation has taken place. All corals are either glued down or on frag racks so the snails can’t flip them over.
- Palau Nephthea
- Captain America Palythoa
- Zoanthus sp:
- Petroglyphs (or similar)
- Utter Chaos
- Raspberry Limes
- Solar Flares
- Fruit Loops
- Pink & Golds
- Rings Of Fire
- Vamps In Drag
- Ultra Searchlights
- Morphed Watermelons
- No-name Blue Zoas
- Pink Goniopora
- Green/yellow Gonipora
- Orange Rainbow Goniopora
- Purple/green Frogspawn Euphyllia
- 2 misc. Acanthastrea Lordhowensis
- Witches' Wheel Acanthastrea Lordhowensis
- Blastomussa Merletti
- Red Planet Acropora
- Green Slimer Acropora
- ORA tricolor Acropora Valida
- Bubblegum Montipora Digitata
- Red montipora Digitata
- Tyree Sunset Montipora
- Orange Leptoseris
- JF Jack O' Lantern Leptoseris
- Mr. Freeze Leptoseris
- 2 Trochus Snails
- 1 Smooth-shelled Turbo Snail
- 1 Blue-leg Hermit Srab
- 1 Pom Pom Crab
- Asterina Stars
- Spaghetti Worms
I used to have two nano-reef tanks, a 37 gallon seahorse and mandarin tank (later a damsel tank) and an 8 gallon zoanthid garden. From the start, my operational model was high-maintenance, all the time: delicate animals, big bioload, multiple daily feedings, oversized filtration systems, large and frequent water changes. The animals were enchanting, but it was a recipe for burnout, especially since I work as an artist when not at my day job, go on business trips fairly often, and have other hobbies.
I stuck it out patiently for six years, but by January 2016, I was done. I took down both tanks and sold almost everything. To keep one toe in the hobby, I set up an opae’ula picosphere for Hawaiian volcano shrimp — a tiny red shrimp that thrives in a virtually maintenance-free system. But as I was setting up that bowl, I kept thinking about Brandon429’s vase reef, then started looking into it. In the process, I found Mary Arroyo’s videos of Maritza the Vase Reef, a wonderful 5-year-old reef system with a similar operational model to Brandon’s reef. I started a correspondence with Mary and began planning what would become my reefbowl.
Fortunately, the LFS still had several of my old zoa rocks, so I asked them to hold them for me and started assembling equipment. I still had some dry Marco Rock. I found a wide-mouthed glass sphere, an LED light, an architect lamp, and a digital temperature controller at Amazon.com. The air pump was one of the few pieces of equipment I hadn’t gotten rid of.
Since I was running an air pump, I had to figure out a way to control salt creep and evaporation. I tried using a plastic plant tray, but it caused condensate to run off the sides of the bowl and looked awful. The solution was a glass terrarium lid, which came ready-made with a drip lip that allows condensate to run back into the water. To get the lid to sit flush on the bowl while permitting entry of equipment cords and airline (as well as exit of air), I added a length of clear PVC tubing sliced lengthwise so that it slid onto the lip of the bowl. I used another piece of clear PVC tubing as a cord organizer.
Half a pound of aragonite flakes and two rocks later, I had my aquascape ready and filled the bowl. I dosed a few drops of pure ammonia and Zeobak to get the cycle going. After a couple of weeks, I added my first coral, a xenia frag gifted by a local reefer. The xenia did too well! I had it on a rock island, but it quickly spread to the main rockscape. Meanwhile, I added some of my old zoas as well as several new frags from the LFS.
Everything was great until I added the red-orange digitata. It had hair algae or bryopsis on one branch. I didn’t cut the branch immediately because I didn’t want to stress it (dumb) and figured I could just hit it with peroxide later (dumber). Within days, tiny strands of hair algae appeared on every surface of the bowl. Snails and peroxide spot treatments were not keeping up. So I went with the nuclear option and dipped or brushed 35% peroxide on every surface of the bowl.
The corals were so pissed. I did a couple of water changes and was optimistic at first, but the next morning I woke up to a bowl of milk. The xenia had melted during the night (in retrospect, a blessing in disguise). The zoas, burned and bubbly from several minutes of peroxide hell, didn’t open for weeks. With the immediate removal of what was left of the xenia and a few more 100% water changes, the remaining corals recovered. As it is EVIL, the algae was not completely destroyed, but it was knocked back to such an extent that I was able to keep it under control with spot treatments of peroxide.
Since then, the story of the reefbowl has been one of incremental change rather than big upgrades, downgrades, or disasters. Little by little, I filled it with frags and traded away the ones I didn’t like. I had a lovely chalice that was a model citizen until it face hugged my favorite acan. My frogspawn is giving one of my acros the stink-eye lately but has thus far been well behaved. I’m contemplating putting up a clear plastic barrier to keep her in line (with thanks to Brandon429 for the idea). Starting in December 2016, I started a little goniopora garden on a mini-frag rack to keep their probing nematocysts away from other corals. I’ve gotten the reefbowl through a couple of power outages using towels, a battery-powered air pump, and heating pads. In the last couple of months, fluconazole treatments have pushed bryopsis and GHA within a hair’s breadth of annihilation too.
Inspiration & Goals
As noted above, my big inspirations are Brandon Mason with his pioneering vase reef and Mary Arroyo, owner of the magnificent Maritza the Vase Reef. Both have put a lot of information out there about their systems, and Mary especially gave me tons of advice as I was setting up my reefbowl. Kudos also go out to Reefjar for spreading the word about the great potential of vase, bowl, and jar reefs. Other inspirations are Weetabix7 for (literally) thinking outside the box, Teenyreef for being super encouraging and generous with tips and advice, Nano Sapiens for demonstrating the virtues of patience and simplicity for a long-lived nano reef, Lawn for sending me some fantastic zoa frags, and the whole NR community for being awesome.
In addition to continuing to maintain this reefbowl, I am making plans to merge the reefbowl concept with my artwork.
Words of Wisdom
These are the things I wish someone had told me when I got started:
- Dip, inspect, intervene. Assume today’s little pest problem is tomorrow’s epidemic.
- Don’t burn through your savings or put yourself into debt for the hobby. Reef tanks are sexy. Financial security is sexier.
- Hydrogen peroxide is your friend. Plus, it gets mildew out of shower curtains.
- Reefing should be fun, most of the time. If you’re not enjoying the hobby most of the time, then it’s time to rethink and redo (or undo) your reef.
Advice For New Hobbyists
I often read on the forums that pico systems are not for beginners. I don’t see why. The simplicity of a vase, bowl, or jar reef is so amenable to the resources and skill level of a beginner, as long as a few essential conditions are met. Don’t get me wrong, maintaining a reefbowl is far more complicated than keeping a betta or a leopard gecko. But compared to most larger reef tanks, the labor, startup costs, and maintenance costs of a reefbowl are truly minimal.
But it still takes work. Want a Nemo or a Dory (or any other fish, in my opinion)? Then a reefbowl isn’t for you. You can’t slouch on water changes or detritus removal. The death of a single coral frag or a large snail could crash your system. On the other hand, early intervention by removal of the frag and a few 100% water changes will fix the problem right away. Ask me how I know that.
- Lighting Technology: The par38 that lights my reefbowl is about as cheap as they come, but corals look beautiful and grow under it. I had an expensive fixture once. It was chic and cool, but you don’t need one to grow coral. If I had loads of money, I’d get a fancy light, but if I have to choose between top tech and stunning coral, I’ll opt for the latter every time.
- Skimmers: We don’t need no stinking skimmers.
- Filter Media: I spit on filter media!
- Sandbeds: Only enough to keep the rocks from sliding around.
- Aquaculture: It’s the future of the hobby.
- Foods: Variety is the spice of life.
- Cleanup Crews: Get the smallest cleanup crew your tank will support. Don’t dump in 100 snails and watch 75 of them die within three months, like I did when I started the hobby.
- Coral Fads: I don’t care about coral fads, but I care about color. And great color sometimes (but not always) costs money. Good thing reefbowl equipment doesn’t cost much!