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Desktop Aquarium Challenge!

Some aquarist friends of mine and I are doing a “tiny tank challenge.”  Basically, we have to come up with something under 5 gallons that could sit on a desk, and be under $100, and we’re encouraging anyone to try it.

Further explanation: The Desktop Challenge!

I thought I’d share some of my progress here too as I go along:

My #tinytankchallenge project is going to be a 2.5 gallon “pico reef” tank. I haven’t completely decided on what I’m stocking it with yet (probably some zoas and frags from my big tank which won’t cost me anything), but I just ordered most of my equipment, so I thought I’d get things rolling with that.

My Tiny Tank.

I had a $50 Amazon gift card from my birthday, so I’ve technically only spent ~$40, however, for fairness sake, total so far is $68.48 US dollars. I didn’t need to buy a lid, since the tank came with one, nor substrate, since I already had a bag of crushed coral lying around. (I’m not counting that anyway, because lots of people like bare-bottomed reef tanks, so this was optional). I also have a small powerhead handy I may use, depending on how powerful that little filter is. For live rock (which will be doing most of my filtering, I have a bunch of small chunks I can scavenge from the big tank, but I may buy one nice piece from the local shop, which will probably put me right at the $100 mark.

I went with the 25 watt heater, even though it’s about 3X what I actually need because I’ve had good luck with that brand and didn’t want to chance an off-brand, pre-set betta heater, which is basically what all 10 watt aquarium heaters are. Funny, probably a better chance of cooking your tank with one of those than a decent thermostat controlled heater at a higher wattage.

I chose the filter I did because of the thin build. A lot of people use Aquaclear filters because they add the most water volume, but they’re significantly more expensive, around $40 or $50 and I’m really just using it for some chaeto algae. The reviews on this filter were generally good (quiet) and since it’s going on a desk in an office, I liked that the pump was internal and the external case is one solid piece so there’s no chance of a leak. I may have to mod the pump to slow it down by removing one or two of the impeller blades.

There really isn’t room for a fish in this tank, besides maybe a small goby, but I’ll probably have some micro-brittle stars, snails and such. Maybe an emerald crab.

If you have any questions, or would like advice on starting your own, drop me a comment!

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Ethan Kocak writes, draws and otherwise cobbles together comics on the internet.


  1. December 30, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    Very cool! Do you intend to add a hidden sump for volume, or will this be standalone? I’ve always bailed out whenever I get inspired with a new pico idea – too concerned I’ll get lazy about maintenance and end up crashing it. 🙂 If I could figure out a way to plumb it into my main system from where I want it to sit, though, I might go for it.

  2. December 30, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    Right now, no sump planned, although I actually could with the way my desk is set up. I’m going to use the HOB filter mainly as an aerator and refugium for some chaeto algae. I think the biggest issue overall is going to be keeping the salinity consistent, so Im planning on having some gallon jugs of distilled water and aged saltwater handy.

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