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Reef Globes, worlds smallest balanced reef aquarium Answered

These are aged systems that keep myriad coral reef organisms alive using a delicate balance of natural materials and very reduced manmade gear. They are like ecospheres, but to the 20th power. Compared to an advanced reef aquarium they are just as stable due to design features, and they bring marine science study into the home in a practical manner. There are no others in the world like these designs and they are easy to build but expensive to build as well. I hope you enjoy my invention now posted as an instructible



Updates, the bowl is running well and is producing new and varied sponge growth on the live rocks


another year's update, the corals grow over and compete and change the natural landscape of the reef its all natural to watch and occasionally affect with gardening techniques updated video for 2011 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIwyXymjyrk

Steve A

Would really enjoy knowing if you set one up...how did it go!

an update taken with the lid removed:


Thank you for posting ! they are handy for an office because its the least imposing in terms of the common approach of wiring and water tubing and devices associated with the coral keeping standard. I know some offices where 5 gallon+ nano reefs are allowed to be kept so in that case the larger water volume will allow for mistakes where a standard tank can be used.

Rather than having to learn complex marine science chemistry and application for months and sometimes years before actually trying a marine tank, the reefbowl differs in that anyone can set you one up now and learn about the reef -as- it runs, not before.

Thats the new standard in 2010, its not an exclusive club for technophiles any longer but this brings into call an important fact; we must stay within the bounds of captive grown coral trades and sales, do not purchase wild harvested corals or 1st generation fragged corals, ask about their origin when you buy! If you can use very hardy, and generations-removed frag lines (mushrooms, xenia, montipora, acropora, caulastrea, acanthastrea, euphyllia, dendronepthia & tubastrea etc) there's no ethical concern in approaching your coral vase.

I invite ethics discussions as well at any point, its a valid concern. This is simply an approach to further the public study of the reef in a repeatable and amazing manner.

I only advocate using simple, aquacultured/captive grown frags which are easy to get nowadays and nearly always work if you follow a set of operations in water changing and feeding. Many ornamental shrimp and crabs are also captive grown and can be had if sought, and manmade ceramic live rock is also available making a totally sustainable hobby for diverse learning applications.

here's a detailed build thread for Mark K's vase design where he drilled the sides of the vase and set it up with the correct lid:


Beautiful work! It gives the opportunity to enjoy our marine diversity in a calm setting like the home or office setting.

Just an update after the summer. Im going on the fifth year on this current vase and have just met several online friends who are keeping them as well and the repeatability is excellent. Check out any of Warlion's videos on youtube for examples of an aged system and he's improved the design considerably.

Steve I was wondering if yours came to bear, let me know man!

Hi Brandon,
I've got nearly all the bits, except the vase. I HAVE got a tall cylindrical glass thing, about 10" inside diameter, and I figure I can make a glass top for that.

Time permitting of course.


this video explains some of the biology and care practices for keeping advanced invertebrates in the pico reef long term: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuIIPFeUd2Q and this one shows a few of the aquariums I have built and sold over the years, and how to remove troublesome coralline algae growth from the reefbowl: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3onG2SvzKc see closely the benthic communities that naturally develop on the rock surfaces in the vase, by the technique of only feeding the tank heavily just before a full water change. this assures no animals across the biota starve for protein and nutrient, yet the export prevents it from overloading the system. small aquariums make you procrastinate water changes much less often.


Steve, when you tell them what you are doing with these corals and how you are going to keep them get ready for a revolt lol

just tell them to google "the history of pico reef biology" before they try and shut you down lol. Its suprising to me I posted these first in 2001 and then have spent all this time trying to prove they aren't fake! Maybe it will catch on by 2020 lol

Are there any books you can recommend on making one ? 


Here are the exclusions to setting up one of these, issues with items listed below will usually prevent successfully running one:

1. Do you have access to a fish aquarium store that sells corals and marine organisms raised in aquariums? Moving natural reef life into a pico reef usually produces dieoff that will pollute the system, items for these vases need to be live rock that was matured in an aquarium and simple, aquacultured corals for the less-than-advanced.

2.  Cost, it's considerably more to buy a strong reef light, the live rock and the coral, probably about as much as setting up a complete 55 gallon freshwater planted tank which is much less delicate. You have to feed these reefs cyclopeeze, a frozen bar of marine food that needs to be kept in your freezer and you only feed the vase a few hours before your water change weekend, never in between. Food is not left in this tank to systemically degrade, it is exported soon after feeding with a 100% water change.

3. Temperatures, simply stated this vase must run in a room that never gets over 77 degrees maximum summer temperature. Freezing is not a problem, the heater is grossly oversized per unit of water. Fanning can be used to cool the tank when needed, but a room of 77 and lower is ideal for long term runnings.

4. Are you willing to learn the basics about saltwater preparation and maintenance, how to make change water, etc. (the relationship between temperature and salinity chiefly) This is the most technical part of owning the reefbowl, there are no water test parameters to learn like in a larger tank but basic marine water care needs to be heeded, such as storing the makeup water in a vessel with an open, and never closed lid then adjusting the evaporation with freshwater correctly in both the vase and the change water in between servicings.  

5. discipline. There will come a point where water changes have to be 100% weekly, without fail, or you will lose the bowl. My current vase is nearing 5 years old continually with the same rock and sand, its the oldest pico reef in the world and its like riding a chemical wheelie for 260 weeks...if you just don't skip the water changes, and you don't have contaminant issues and no child accidentally smashes your bowl, well I guess I can guarantee it w work


Thanks for the detailed and fascinating replies.
1.) I HAVE access to a very good local aquarium shop, who specialises in corals and plants !
2.) We'll see.
3.) No problem, I live in England :-(
4.) Yes.
5.) Well we have to see.....


There are no books about the reefbowl as its my own personal invention, and in fact many in the current reefkeeping circle refuse to believe they are even real or not plumbed into secret sump systems... I have spent the last decade detailing the workings online, mainly at nano-reef.com or reefs.org where the construction of small reefs in standard aquariums is the focus of the entire board. I know of no formal printed material other than the Nanos issue of Coral Magazine showing setup but not long term care,  so I wrote this article:

The vase system above is the most stable nano reef in my opinion because of specific designs that combine evaporation restriction with high oxygenation and only an airpump to move the water. Most designs on the web forums are very technical tanks, and require far more automation and technicality to run them vs this small vase where full water changes take the place of complex filtration equipment; however, many combinations of simplicity and technicality exist on that site to give you some ideas especially if you intend to use fish, whereas my vase features only live coral and the rock communities such as sabellid worms, sponges, assorted reef bugs etc. Fish alter the chemistry of the pico reef tank more than anything.

Would be glad to detail setting up one via web comments, I just posted a series of build steps on this video below at youtube.

Neat! So when's the instructable coming?

we can make this thread the instructable~ask any questions about the build and I'll respond while someone sets it up, live time coaching~

this is a time progressed documentation of the tabletop growth in this three inch wide aquarium. The time frame is 12 weeks, 25 weeks, then 105 weeks.

FirstPlugs.jpgsecond plugs.jpgtabular full.jpg

its been six months since my video is posted and there is also an article on

www.nanoreefblog.com about these systems with some technical explanations and history of extremely small reef aquaria and the animal life

here's a few updated shots of using the system to produce coral frags for sale back to other aquarists, so we don't take from the wild. The hobby isn't like the 90's, totally consumptive and all for show, we have enough stocks to wean off natural life if people would slow down the purchase of marine fishes, buying only those that are maricultured like gobies and clownfish and a handfull of others, banggai cards for example.


These systems are different from the common 'nano' reefs in that they either restrict or totally eliminate evaporation, which is unheard of in the reef tank science industry and in common practice. They are all under a gallon, some are half gallon, and are currently the smallest recognized reef aquaria in the world, many of the popular reef discussion forums list the build steps in good detail as I've been posting these for about a decade now, they aren't exactly new...

The glass globe is a vase, and is featured in live motion in the video link I included of my living room bioscience invention and music cave

The square reef tank is about 9 inches long, is totally sealed, is 4 years old and has grown miniature 'table top' or tabular growth forms of the reefbuilding coral acropora again listed in the video link

Wow!  This is very pretty!   I'm impressed.  Somehow I suspect it takes a lot of care and attention to keep these things alive.  You mentioned,
"many of the popular reef discussion forums list the build steps in good detail"
Could you maybe provide some links?  Which forums are you talking about?


Jack thank you for taking time to view these ideas. Here is one of the build threads, if you are considering starting one catch me on the youtube comments part of my video I check there daily. These are the simplest reef tanks, far easier than any other saltwater tank because no daily testing is required due to the parameters I've worked out for gallon and smaller reefs over the years. that's part of the illusion these provide, they are a goldfish bowl, and run about that easily. the thread will give some details, hit me up on youtube if you want to work out the ion dosing for the system.


Thanks for the link to your post. That plus others from the same domain like:
do sort of help give me a better picture of what all is involved growing corals in tanks, globes, etc.

I'm probably not going jump into this as a hobby any time soon. I live in a desert, about 1000 km from the ocean. Although I'm not sure how much of an obstacle that would actually be to obtaining corals and other organisms. 

Actually nearly anywhere on Land could be considered a desert compared to a coral reef.  That's part of the beauty of these reef-in-a-glass setups.  I mean it looks like there are a dozen different kinds of coral in there, so much life in such a small volume.  I think mostly I was just captivated by the beautiful pictures. Like I said before, very pretty. Thanks for sharing this with Instructables.

The tanks are the simplest way one can set up a reef tank to study. These are displayed at colleges and public science forums, so a descriptive sign was made at a local shop to inform people of some basic facts regarding the ocean and nano reef keeping in general.