A low maintenance/self sustaining Saltwater ecosystem

Picture of A low maintenance/self sustaining Saltwater ecosystem
Clip #44_frame-3.png
I have always been fascinated with miniature ecosystems. When I became interested in saltwater aquariums, I was always attracted to the smaller systems. At first many would say that it was difficult to maintain a small aquarium. After experimenting with many setups I came up with a setup that is easy to maintain and self sustaining for long periods of time. Here are the instructions in how to create one.
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
2013-05-13 14.14.50.jpg
2013-05-13 14.37.16.jpg
2013-05-13 14.16.47.jpg
2013-05-13 14.17.36.jpg
The most important component of the build is the PJ reef lamp. This lamp can be purchased at It includes special LED lights that allows for corals to grow and thrive. 

The other required components are a:
- Hand towel
- Water pipette 
- Tweezers
- Gel super glue
- Saltwater
- Live rock
- Corals and macro algae

Optional items if you want to make your own saltwater,
- Stirrer
- Saltwater mix
- RO/DI water
- Refractometer
- Small pipette

Step 2: Preparing the PJ reef ecosystem saltwater (optional)

Picture of Preparing the PJ reef ecosystem saltwater (optional)
2013-05-13 14.34.43.jpg
2013-05-13 14.39.23.jpg
2013-05-13 14.40.10.jpg
2013-05-13 14.45.01.jpg
2013-05-13 14.45.57.jpg
Saltwater is readily sold in local fish stores. The only problem is that quality varies from store-to-store. PJ reefs will be offering their own saltwater already made at their website.

Here are the steps in making your own saltwater
1) Purchase RO/DI water.
2) Mix saltwater mix according to the saltwater mix label instructions.
3) Dissolve saltwater mix in the RO/DI water.
4) Check with refractometer that the water is at 1.025 sg.
5) Clean refractometer.

Step 3: Creating the Ecosystem

Picture of Creating the Ecosystem
2013-05-13 14.50.01.jpg
2013-05-13 14.50.41.jpg
2013-05-13 14.51.17.jpg
2013-05-13 14.53.34.jpg
2013-05-13 15.02.35.jpg
2013-05-13 15.02.59.jpg
2013-05-13 15.04.03.jpg
2013-05-13 15.04.44.jpg
Next step is building the PJ reef ecosystem

- Add the live rock to the jar.
- Remove the corals one by one from the storage container.
- Add superglue on the back of each coral or the rock they are attached to.
- Attach corals to the rock.
- Put 2 macro algae in the system.
- Make sure that everything is attached and placed correctly.
- Check that water level is at the height of jars cover.
- Adjust accordingly.
jamob1 year ago
Wow that's not bad at all! Wish this was available a year ago before I threw $400 into my nano. Great idea!
rafysart1 month ago
do you still have it alive ? if so. how did you did it without a filter or water pump???
jbarber81 month ago
hey Davef2, thank you so much for the ible! It's very rare to see one of this quality, that seems to be informative, but in the end, turns out to be an infomercial... Keep up the great work, it's unbelievable that its possible to buy some live rock, which is already cultured, stick it in a $.50 cent jar, then buy coral, that someone else spent the time to raise, and only pay $100 for the "whole setup". Thank you again for your contribution to this DIY community. Only one problem I see at this point, is there a number you can post for free so that people can purchase these $100 mason jars? I'd hate for you to lose any commission opps...
slo5oh1 year ago

This instructable reads like a sales pitch for PJ reefs. I personally don't see this working with NO water flow, but anyone can buy a glass cookie jar and a full spectrum LED bulb (look for 6500k to 10000k on ebay) and try it on their own. Live rock can be purchased at most mom and pop fish stores.

pjreefs (author)  slo5oh3 months ago

The Instructables was made for people that like to DIY things, and was not intended as a sales pitch, just straight instructions on how to make one.

djsmiley2k slo5oh7 months ago

Exactly my plan :)

DaveF23 months ago

It should be noted that you need to use Super Glue >GEL<. Not plain super glue. Super Glue Gel has Cyanoacrylate that give it the ability to cure (dry) underwater and will not poison your inhabitants.

The lack of any flow greatly disturbs me as well. The live rock acts as natural filtration as the water flows through the rock. No flow = no real filtration. Yes, it could be argued that there's SOME filtration as the bacteria on the surface interacts with the water in direct proximity to it, but it will not filter the bulk of the water.

Source: I'm the vice president of the Chicago Marine Aquarium Society.

pjreefs (author)  DaveF23 months ago
Hi Dave, I documented my idea in a few years ago and has quite an interesting story, here is the thread. The original aquarium is still alive and gives me a reason to continue with PJ reefs.
djsmiley2k7 months ago

Looks awesome and easy - I'd like to point out you should never really have any fish in a setup of this size, but you can get lots of extra animals who come along for free when you get live rock - some are really interesting to see! :)

neetz11 months ago

Hi! I would love to buy one of these , I have always wanted a saltwater aquarium but I don't have the room or time for a huge one! Do you have to have experience with saltwater aquariums to keep one? Is it hard to maintain? I have only kept freshwater aquariums. What do you feed the coral, animals?

thank you!

Very neat idea. I have one concern/question. We know that corals rely on water movement to supply them with oxygen and food so what does this system do about water flow and gas exchange?

I'd like to know about this also.
deth2all1 year ago
Sweet, now the fun part, trying to find a way to build one myself for cheaper...
jamob1 year ago
How much did the cylinder tank and lamp cost?
pjreefs (author)  jamob1 year ago
Hey jamob, it cost $100.

The live rock and corals are aquaculture.