Congratulations to community member @SaltyGallon and his 1 gallon pico reef aquarium for being selected for our April 2021 Reef Profile! This shockingly small all-in-one pico reef aquarium was a competitor in our 365 Day All-In-One Challenge that launched in January 2020, ultimately winning the most votes in our Best DIY category. In this article SaltyGallon shares his experiences in the hobby and this aquarium's incredible journey over the past year. Please share your comments and questions in the comments section below, and be sure to follow his aquarium journal for additional photos, history, and information about this amazing reef tank.
SaltyGallon's 1 Gallon Office Ocean
Display: 15x15x15cm cube with a total volume 3.375L or 0.9 US gallons (in 4mm opti-white glass)
Rock: Caribsea Life (Dry) Rock
Lighting: TMC iLumenAir Nano+ Multi Spectrum 3w LED (rebranded ZetLight ZN1030)
Heater: Visitherm Mini 10w
Circulation: Tunze Universal Mini 5024.04 return pump
Filtration: A thin piece of sponge, carbon, and sometimes GFO
Filter Media: None
Top Off: Manual
Temperature Controller: Inkbird ITC-306A WiFi
Established February 2020
The maintenance routine on this tank has shifted over time but I'm now at the (enjoyable) stage where I'm not overly precious about it - if the corals look off then I'll do a water change. For the first couple of months I was doing 100% water changes once every two weeks, but over time this has tailed off to once every three weeks and even as little as once a month. These days when I do change the water I'm a real zealot with the turkey baster, and take an odd joy in blasting the rockwork to smithereens and sucking up all visible detritus from the bottom and rear chamber.
Carbon and GFO are changed monthly - three teaspoons of carbon, and a pinch of GFO - and the little piece of sponge which performs the job of filter floss is rinsed every couple of weeks when dirty. Likewise, the glass is scraped when I get around to it, but certainly not more than once every couple of weeks!
Pink photosynthetic Gorgonia
Two varieties of ultra-green Rhodactis mushrooms
Interstellar, Firecracker and Mystery Tie Dye Jawbreaker Discosoma mushrooms
Various Zoanthids: Rastas, Utter Chaos, Sunny D's, Goblin's Fire, and Radioactive Dragon-Eyes
- Red Gracilaria mammillaris
I only got into the salty part of 'the hobby' in the last three years or so, but when I was a teenager I kept all sorts of freshwater fish and beasties - from koi, to kribensis, to turtles. I first dipped my toes in the salty waters with a couple of nano tanks, namely a small HOB filter tank and then a small AIO system… But as tends to happen, I quickly fell down the rabbit hole and realised there's so many more gubbins needed than just the box of water on the shelf!
The intention with this pico was that after a big house move I'd set it up in my office at work and it'd just be a bit of fun until I set up a larger more complex system at home, but after a) we moved house and b) I got a new job, the pandemic happened, and the pico never made it to the office!
I think I ended up being drawn to a pico because of that magic that miniature things tend to have. I really like the idea that you have to get up close to it to properly look at it, and when you do there's so much to see. Then there's also the comedy value of a silly undersized tank… And the fact that "big tank people" don't quite believe it!
All in all the tank has been a bit of a slow burner, but the beauty of something so small is it fills in quickly and it doesn't cost a bomb to start it off with a few nice pieces. There's been a few ups and downs but mostly "ups", and thankfully not too many annoyances such as pest algae and aiptasia. Up until recently I enjoyed keeping a few Asterina star fish in the tank but just the other week I caught one munching on a zoa polyp, so they all came out! Likewise the tank also has vermetid snails but it's no biggy, as the "one piece" scape can be pulled out the tank during maintenance and these guys are easily blatted.
For me it's temperature control that's the pico nemesis. I actually learned in the last month or so that in normal room temperature the return pump alone in this tank generates enough heat in the 1G of water to keep the tank sat at 25°C - which is nuts, and explains why my heater hardly turns on! A good fitting sheet of glass or perspex (with a couple holes in it for gas exchange) is excellent at salinity control, and limits fresh water top offs to twice a week, but when it's warm it's essential for it to come off to let heat out. A USB fan blowing across the water's surface does wonders in this scenario and I've generally found the "lid off, fan on" approach to be super-efficient in removing excess pico heat.
With this tank being fishless I've never worried about nutrients and wear the fact that I've never tested nitrates/phosphates as a bit of a silly badge of honour. I feed the tank with eBay bought phyto two or three times a week and feed heavily with Polyp Lab Reef Roids once a week, which everything in the tank enjoys! The shrimp get 2-3 tiny pellets after each water change but they largely seem happy grazing on detritus. I do have two bottles of Seachem Reef Iodide and Trace Elements that I have manually dosed before now (when the macro algae was going nuts and I'd gone a long time between water changes) but in hindsight they were a waste of my pennies in this situation and I'd have been better off doing a water change.
Some recent gubbins which have been added to this tank in the last month are a WiFi enabled plug socket and the WiFi Inkbird temperature controller… And I'm loving them both already! Maintenance is a breeze when you can flick things on and off via an app on your phone, and being able to check the tank's temperature anytime and anywhere is so useful - and the beauty of the WiFi plug socket is I can flick on a nearby fan on if the tank's too hot!
From the start "DIY" was a driving force behind this little tank, partly out of necessity and partly for the fun of it! There are a handful of properly pico tanks out there, but nothing which (for me) really fit the bill in terms of functionality and aesthetics. My past couple of tanks left a bit to be desired in the "cool department" so I knew I wanted this tank to be somewhat hip, clean and modern.
I really enjoy the planning element of a new build and I'm sure others do too. This aspect was kind of ridiculous on this tank, with the whole build being dictated by the smallest return pump and heater I could find… I settled on the Tunze Mini because it's got an impressive 80 litre per hour turnover at full throttle and it measures less than 4cm in size! Finding an adequate heater was a bit of a headache too, but in the end I settled on a 10w heater which was bigger than I'd like, but only because the 5w betta heaters etc seem to be very hit and miss in terms of quality and controllability.
With the rear chamber gubbins sorted, I knew how much room I had to play around with and I found a local tank supplier who makes little shrimp cube tanks in 4mm opti-white glass, which would fit the bill nicely! I placed an order for a nice 15x15x15cm cube and once it arrived, I got it measured up, and was able to get some perspex cut for both the AIO wall and the lid too. The biggest faff was siliconing the AIO wall in place - which is not easy given that the sump area is less than 5cm in width haha! I actually ended up applying the silicone to the inside edge of the AIO wall, put it in place, and then used the end of a pencil to smooth the bead of silicone against the glass… Rudimentary, but it did the job and ended up looking pretty tidy!
Throw in the fun of gluing together a couple of egg crate media racks, spraying the AIO compartment sides black, and coming up with a miniature scape made entirely of rock rubble from my LFS… And it ended up being a proper DIY fest! I'd encourage anyone to give a DIY tank a go, big or small - you learn a lot in the process and can end up with something really unique looking. I don't have the space at home but I do wonder… A big old daisy chain of drilled pico tanks, each with a different theme… Now that'd be really cool to see.
Advice For Hobbyists
Some advice to new reefers thinking of dabbling in a pico:
- Anyone can keep a small tank, but you do need to understand basic principles to do it well.
- To that end you should read-up on most aspects of reef keeping, and then proceed to keep your own tank and methods as simple as possible, learning from others' successes and failures.
- Good biological filtration is your best friend in the pico struggle. Healthy tanks and healthy food webs are built from the bottom-up, so it never hurts to periodically add top-ups of good bacteria, phytoplankton, and various copepods.
- A reliable thermometer is your second-best friend, for obvious reasons.
- A good refractometer is your third and final best friend - calibrate it with pure RODI water every now and again, and consider making your own RODI if you can;
- Stay on top of your water changes to start with, and always temperature and salinity match your water change water.
- …And for easier success go fishless, and stick to soft corals!
It blows my mind the amount of times I've been asked "Does this tank not have a skimmer, bro"?
I love the aesthetics of a sandbed but a bare bottom pico has some serious benefits.
I'm a big fan of frozen Mysis, Vitalis pellets and Reef Roids.
I own a "uranium bounce mushroom" but generally regard bounce mushrooms as a bit of a con!
I think the recent interest and creativity being put into pushing the reefing envelope with well executed macro algae and cold/temperate/native biotopes is fantastic.
Morally I'm still on the fence. I'd like to see the hobby clean up its act in terms of sourcing fish and coral from areas of the ocean which already face enough pressures.
We should all try and do our bit to use less plastic in all aspects of this hobby. When you think about it fish keeping is full of plastic from top to bottom… Which is ironic given we're all here because of our love for the oceans.