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Dirt Cheap DIY Pico Peninsula

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Dirt Cheap DIY Pico Peninsula


How it happened:


I've been keeping fresh water aquariums for an year now, mostly pico and nano planted tanks, while they are great fun they are now all mature and pretty much take care of themselves, so I've been looking for a  new challenge.


Since my house is pretty much strapped for aquarium space and we have a baby on the way the only option was a nano/pico reef. Luckily during a random trip to a big box hardware store I found the perfect little 2.5 gallon (10 litter) tank. 


Well 3 months of research and bargain shopping this is the result:




The Gear

(approximate price in dollars)


Aquarium: 2.5 gallon (10 litter) 12$

Filtration: Old noname HOB that happened to fit the aquarium perfectly ~15$

Filter Media: Seachem Matrix leftovers from fresh water aquarium bought it bulk so i'd say it's about 3$ worth

Lights: 2 noname white and blue led lights 6W each 18$

            1 strip of 18 high powered blue actinic leds 6$

Heating: Aquael Slim 25W 20$

Cooling: Single 60mm 12W pc fan 3$

Thermometer: JBL slim 3$

ATO: Airtight cereal box 3$

         Air tubing & 2 valves 2$

Timers: 3 digital timers 15$

Aquascape; 2 small pieces of dry Zanzibar rock 8$

                     2 litters of dry Zanzibar 3mm sand 5$

Other random bits & bobs: wires, plexiglass, super glue etc. 7$



The setup




Since the 2 LED lights I found in a LFS didn't have blue and white channel controls and seemed a bit under powered, I decided to augment them a bit with a led strip I found in a hobby shop.

The strip is SMD2835 12V and claims that each LED outputs 100 lumens also it's IP67 water resistant and comes with double sided tape pre-attached, should be more then suited to light this little tank.

All I did is solder a power connector to the led strip made sure it's covered thoroughly with shrink wrap, plugged it in to a 12 power supply I had laying around. I've mounted them to a thin piece of transparent plexi (wish I had a white piece but what can you do), glued some standoffs and then glued the whole thing in between the two lights I already have. Job done, now I can have the blues on one timer and the whites on another. 


What I would have done differently is add a switch to the LED strip cable so I don't need to unplug it to turn it off and use a white piece of plexi to match the LED lights.







For an ATO I decided to go for a simple gravity fed drip system to keep the cost as low as possible.

I got an airtight cereal box container, used my soldering iron make two holes the size of the air tubing. I threaded 2 pieces of tubing one that goes close to the boom and a short one that goes in about one inch into the container. Because the tubing tended to curl up I threaded the long one in a plastic straw to stiffen it up. After I made sure that the lengths of the tubing are right I super-glued around the holes to make a seal as air tight as possible. (inert silicone would have been a lot better but I didn't have any at hand)

At the end of the tube that runs to the aquarium I put two valves for a more precise control of flow.

In order to figure out how many drops per second I needed to keep up the evaporation I let the aquarium run for 24 hrs then measured how much it evaporated. As it turns out it evaporates exactly 0,5 litters... lucky me the maths will be easy. Assuming a drop is 0,05 ml I end up needing about a drop every 8,3 seconds roughly. That was the easy bit getting the valves closed just right took me about 45 minutes of trial and error, my phone timer never had as much use. The drip rate will most likely have to be adjusted as the seasons change and the light schedule will be set.

After two days I'm satisfied with the results the level is pretty much unchanged. The container is big enough that I don't need to refill it for 4 day and It also has a handy dandy flip cap so I can re fill without removing the lid. 


What I would have done differently is get a "prettier" container as the wife doesn't approve of this (and I quote) "ugly ass bottle of water in between my beautiful plants"






Since my house is basically a sauna all year around, a cooler is a must.

I went with a small 12V,  60mm processor fan, as quiet as I could find. I cut a usb cable and spliced the fan the power cables to the USB cable again making sure to carefully shrinkwrap the finished product. Then all I did is plug it in in a old mobile phone usb power brick. Pro tip: use a 5V power supply the fan will work at approximately 40% speed and it is inaudible. I used double sided tape to fix the fan to the HOB filter with some hot glue added for extra safety.

The fan is plugged into a timer after some fiddling with duration of on time I got stable temperature 26C (78F) with one hour on one hour off time, as with the ATO the schedule will have to change to account for seasonal temp fluctuations and lighting schedule.


What would I have done differently is spring for a 30$ JBL temp sensor to have precise control but unfortunately the sensor only supplies 12V so the fan would be considerably nosier.





Filtration & Flow


As it stands the filter witch is 400l(100gl)/h is over kill, I'm pretty sure even on the low setting it could easily provide flow for SPS, even on the lowest setting but I intend to fit in a filter pad and possibly a light over it to make it into a mini refugium which would slow down the flow considerably.




Heater barely fits in the HOB filter wohoooo!




I wanted to go for something very simple and that looks good on all sides because the pico-reef sits in between my wife and my desk, so I spent hours looking through the box of rock and measuring each piece till I found the combination we both liked. After I washed the sand and the rocks in RODI water I dried them thoroughly, mocked the layout and proceeded to use gel super glue to fix the rocks to the bottom of the aquarium again silicone would have been muuuuch better. The damn glue takes ages to cure, being a bit impatient and a colossal moron, I thought let's use my wife's blow-drier on blister hot to speed up things ... WRONG! ... Do not do this! not only did it not speed it up significantly, the hot air evaporated the glue making a irritating toxic fume, my eyes were watering and my sinuses were on fire for a couple of hours!



Current Status (21.03.2019)


Tank has been cycling using Seachem Stability, a bit of seeded Seachem Matrix and daily small ghost feedings for about 3 days. Ammonia is starting to show up so the sit and wait phase of the process is on it's way. It's the first time I use any bacteria in a bottle and I'm really curious if it has any impact.




Salinity; 1.025

Ammonia: ~1ppm

Nitrite: 0 ppm

Nitrate: 0 ppm

Temp: 26C/78F


I will start test alk/cal/ph as soon as my Saliferst tests arrive. Which reminds me...


"Hidden" Costs: 


RO unit: Aquamedic 2,5gl/hr 50$

Various water tests: Salifert NH4 NO2 NO3 Calc Alk ~50$

Refractometer: Red Sea 50$

Salt: Red sea coral pro 7kg/15lb 25$ (should last me for ages even with 100% water changes)


Total: 175$


Future Plans

Make a Plexiglas lid, I already have some supports left over this should be easy to do. 

Make a mini refugium in the HOB filter, might need some further research for this, as I what I gathered it might have low to no impact in such a small space.

Define a maintenance schedule: weekly water changes, ato refilling, glass cleaning etc depending on the stocking.


Planed Livestock


CUC: one blue legged hermit

         one snail (astrea?)

         one/two shrimp (I'm quite partial to the cleaners, wife likes the red ones with white dots)

Coral: Zoas



           GSP (on the back wall)

           Xenia (wife's favourite)

           Hammer (my favourite)


That's about it, I'll make sure to update as things evolve and I'll leave you with a few more pics of the tank:





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Christopher Marks

Welcome to the community @MrGlass1024! 👋


Thank you for sharing your clever pico reef system with us, I'm looking forward to seeing your reef grow!


I like your cooling fan solution on the corner of the filter, nice tip for using a USB power supply. Your automatic top-off drip is an interesting solution for evaporation, do you worry that the ambient humidity will change throughout the year and effect your evaporation rate again? Here is a different concept for a gravity fed ATO unit you might consider if the drip design becomes difficult to manage: 


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it's funny...but all that lighting makes it look like a big tank...and yet it's TINY!!!  LoL!


edit - also, welcome! you came in style and your first post is quite the flash bang!  😄

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A Little Blue

Cheap and cheerful. Me like. 

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Was that tank premade or did you just grab the glass from Home Depot and build it from that?

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Thank you all for the warm welcome!


@Christopher Marks First of all thank you for the welcome! I've been considering that ATO type but since the pico is siting right over my wife's PC tower I thought it might be a bit to risky of a method to try especially since there is quite a bit of surface agitation coming from the HOB filter. As for the adjustments to the drip rate I'll just have to wait and see for the moment it beats having to top off manually twice a day. If I end up having to fiddle with the drip rate daily I'll bite the bullet and buy a nice safe Tunze Osmolator or something of the sort.


@stevejo The tank was premade (branded MARINA) it even came with a little foam mat


In the meantime I found some leftover plexiglass and fashioned a lid, I'm curious how much impact it will have on evaporation rates, will update on changes. Also here's a couple of pics:











And a picture of just the blue lights on:




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Quiet the pico youve got there. I like it

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That's a handsome tank, and it looks much bigger than the dimensions suggest! Nice minimal rockwork too 🙂

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