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  • GraniteReefer

    Christopher Marks

    Congratulations to community member GraniteReefer and his 1.75 gallon pico reef for being selected for our February 2019 Reef Profile! This eye catching micro reef began as an entrant into our Creative Container Pico Contest in the fall of 2017 and has truly thrived under GraniteReefer's care. In this article GraniteReefer shares his experiences in the hobby and this aquarium's journey over the past year and a half. Share your comments and questions in the comments section below, and follow his aquarium journal for additional photos, history, and information about this fascinating little reef tank.

    GraniteReefer's 1.75 Gallon Pico Reef Bowl


    Tank Specs

    Display: 1.75 gallon handblown glass bowl slumped onto natural driftwood.

    Dimensions: 11” tall, wood stand included, 10” diameter imperfect circle.

    Lighting: AI Prime (non-HD)

    Lighting Schedule: 7am-9pm
    Lid: Repurposed glass from a candle warmer with aquarium silicone applied to create a seal.

    Heater: Cobalt Aquatics Minitherm 10 watt heater.

    Air Pumps: Cobalt Aquatics Phantom Ultrasonic Airpump (8gph), Cobalt Aquatics DC Air pump with battery backup (19gph).
    Lift Pipe: Clear rigid tube from a gravel cleaner with holes drilled.

    Controller: Digital Aquatics Reefkeeper Lite Basic for temp control, light control, and air pump control (feedings, WC’s, etc.)

    Rock: Dry Pukani that I acid washed, KP Aquatics rubble that was later removed after it seeded the dry Pukani rock.

    Sand: Natures Ocean Samoa Pink

    Salt Mix: Red Sea Coral Pro mixed to 1.026.

    Glass Cleaner: BettaMag by Two Little Fishes, Dollar store toothbrush.

    Refractometer: Milwaukee MA887

    Established October 8, 2017

    Maintenance Routine

    Maintenance on the reef bowl mimics the methods of those that came before me with only a few deviations. 


    Due to my inclusion of a fish, feeding is much heavier in my system. I feed a pinch of flake every day, and when I feed frozen foods to my larger reef tank I usually thaw it for a few seconds in the pico. These feedings are in conjunction with the one large feeding I do the morning of a water change.  During this larger feeding corals are spot fed with Reef Roids, the fish is fed either frozen or flake, and sometimes I will drop a shrimp pellet in for the pistol shrimp.

    Water Changes

    100% of the water is exchanged weekly. Red Sea Coral Pro salt is mixed to 1.026 SG in a 5 gallon bucket. The bucket has a 1/4” bulkhead drilled in the side near the bottom, attached is about two feet of 1/4” tubing and a ball valve, which allows me to gravity drain the new water into the tank by placing the bucket up high on top of a nearby fridge.




    First I clean off the tank walls using my BettaMag glass cleaner, then the tank gets stirred up with a turkey baster, while simultaneously siphoning the tank water into a different 5 gallon bucket.




    About halfway drained I will stop and scrub the lower walls with a toothbrush since the mag cleaner can’t reach the walls where the bowl sits recessed in its wood stand. Detritus is then lifted into the water column again using a turkey baster and the remaining water is drained out.




    Water is immediately added back to about 2 inches in depth, and since water is slowly added through gravity fed 1/4” tubing, I am able to direct the flow to clear detritus from rocks, stir the sandbed, rinse the glass, etc. The freshly added water is then drained again, and if there is still detritus and I have enough new water to spare, I may repeat this process again.




    After that the water is filled back up to the top, lid replaced, and the outer glass cleaned, first with a dry paper towel then with one that was sprayed with a little Windex well away from the tank.

    Testing & Dosing

    No testing or dosing is necessary as the tank gets a 100% reset on all parameters with each water change. Out of curiosity I have tested the Alkalinity, which I found goes through drastic swings from week start to week end, 10.4 to 4.6, but without any associated issues observed in the reef I have chosen not to change anything.

    Evaporation Top-Off

    No additional freshwater is needed during the week due to the glass lid offering such good evaporation control. For the few times that I have skipped a week of water changes, I add some RO/DI water during the morning feeding on WC day to bring salinity down a bit.


    Fritz & Wetherbee added January 2018


    In a tank free from predators, Gammarid Amphipods had a population boom that quickly outgrew the limited feeding inputs I was initially adhering to, which was one large weekly feeding before a water change. They began finding alternative food sources, AKA my corals! Feeling helpless and without other options, I went against better judgement and precedent, and added a fish to 1.75 gallons of water. His duty: to eradicate the amiphipod population. While they aren’t eradicated yet, he definitely keeps their numbers in check, and as a side effect of feeding the goby daily, the excess nutrients keep the gammarid amphipods full and not picking at corals anymore.


    • Fritz the Blackray Shrimp Goby (Stonogobiops nematodes)


    • Wetherbee the Candy Cane Pistol Shrimp (Alpheus randalli)
    • Brittle Starfish
    • Bristleworms
    • Limpets – The hardiest reproducing snail I have found
    • Gammarid Amphipods – A semi-pest

    Soft Corals


    OG Bounce Mushroom & Eagle Eye Zoanthids


    • Zoanthids – The Eagle Eyes have been the most prolific coral, now encompassing the entire upper rock work and lift pipe.
    • OG Bounce Mushroom – Likely placed too high but it is slowly adapting.
    • Ricordea mushrooms – These have been hit or miss, the blue one has been the hardiest.

    LPS Corals


    Acanthastrea Garden - Day 18



    Acanthastrea Garden February 2019


    • Acans – Favorite corals for feeding response, lost a few early on due to pests, and one more recently from trumpet overgrowth. Otherwise most have exhibited good growth.
    • Blastos –  Merlettis have gone from 6 heads to 20+. Red Wellsi has grown 3 new heads and increased its polyp size after an initial hiccup.
    • Trumpets – While they don’t out number zoanthids in growth, they have grown the most coral mass and are likely where a majority of the Calcium/Alkalinity is going.


    Kissing Gouramis pecking me through the glass in my dad’s 55 gallon freshwater tank when I was a child is my earliest aquarium memory. I now try recreating that for my children with a 55 gallon, a trio of blood red parrot cichlids, and four surprisingly big catfish. 2012 was my first miserable attempt at saltwater with a Fluval 6 gal and a Petco Condylactis Anemone that ate my clownfish. In October 2015 I set up my Innovative Marine 40 gal that ran until I transferred the contents to a RedSea Reefer 250 last month. Simultaneously I ran an IM4 pico and an IM10 mantis tank. My greatest achievement in the hobby so far is keeping my male mandarin alive for three plus years now, and successfully pairing him with a biota female mandarin.



    The beginning, October 8th 2017


    October 7th, 2017 this tank was purchased as my entry into the Nano-Reef.com Creative Container Pico Contest, a wicked cool competition held by the community. The contest set rules for what equipment could be used, beginning with choosing any "container totaling 3 gallons or less in total volume that is not a traditional aquarium." There were a bunch of members participating, which made the setup and progression of this little tank less daunting with the support of the community. At first I was an open skeptic about the simplicity of the setup, but with the help and encouragement from other participants I kept at it, and this tank has become my favorite system to maintain.


    November 2017



    January 2018



    September 2018

    Future Plans

    • Run the tank with the established husbandry methods indefinitely. 
    • Run the 19 gallon per hour battery backup air pump as my only air pump. As the coral skeletons grow to fill more of the water column, 8 gallons per hour of air flow isn’t enough to achieve the same circulation as it was in the beginning.
    • Trade the trumpet coral in for high end blastos or acans.


    I would consider the transition from the original contest approved 20 watt CFL 50/50 reef bulb to an AI Prime the most pivotal point in the tank's development, with almost all the growth happening after the light change. Choose a spectrum and intensity and stick with it long term, don’t change it frequently, corals for the most part are sedentary and grow in response to their stable environment.

    This tank runs 17 watts peak at 9.7 watts/gallon, with the light 4” away from the water surface. I chose the spectrum based on what flatters the colors of the corals, but also what was still was appealing to live with in my kitchen.

    Pico Reef Lift Pipes

    Glued into the rockwork is a length of clear rigid pipe from an old gravel vacuum. At the bottom of the pipe, extra holes were drilled to allow water to enter. The air line from the air pump is set to discharge close to the bottom of the pipe, so as the bubbles rise in the tube, water is pulled in from the bottom of the lift pipe.




    This helps create a more even flow in the small aquarium and contains the bubbles as they rise too. I would recommend a lift pipe in any similar pico reef bowl or container that is driven by an air pump for water circulation.

    Words of Wisdom

    • Research everything!
    • Do your planned water changes.
    • Have Fun!

    Reef Bowl Resources

    Links to all 51 contestant's pico reef journals can be found in the first post of the Creative Container Pico Contest announcement. There's a huge wealth of pico bowl and jar knowledge to be found!


    Coral Magazine Jan/Feb 2018 issue

    Micro Reefs were the focus and for anyone starting a reef bowl the essential knowledge is readily available.



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    Mirroring Seabass's statement, it's nice to see one of these mini systems chosen as TOTM and I enjoyed reading your write up.  Congrats!

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    I am so happy for you. This is well deserved because this pico is stunning. Your continued caring for this tank is an inspiration for many. Congratulations!  

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