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Your very own self-sustained micro-ecosystem

By

January 22, 2010

A commercially-produced EcoSphere(R) closed ecosystem  (Photo courtesy EcoSphere Associate...

A commercially-produced EcoSphere(R) closed ecosystem (Photo courtesy EcoSphere Associates Inc)

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Have you ever wanted to create your own little planet? Do you like aquatic life, but think that aquariums are too much work? If your answer to either of those two questions is Yes, then you might quite enjoy owning a miniature closed aquatic ecosystem. All you need is a credit card, or a clear glass jar, some stuff from a pond, and an appreciation for things that exist on a small scale. The result will be a self-sustained miniature world that doesn’t need feeding, filtration, or anything other than light, from the outside world.

Buy one ready-made

Miniature closed ecosystems were first developed in the early 80’s by NASA , in a study aimed at finding ways of supporting human life in outer space. That technology was licensed, and resulted in a consumer product known as the EcoSphere(R), which is still available to this day. An EcoSphere(R) is a glass globe with sea water, bacteria, gravel, a piece of coral, algae, several algae-eating shrimp and an air pocket all sealed inside. The algae converts light and carbon dioxide into oxygen, the shrimp breathe the oxygen and convert it back into carbon dioxide, the bacteria break down the shrimps’ waste, and the whole thing can keep itself going for quite a long time. “We regularly receive letters from customers stating their shrimp lived for up to 20 years enclosed” company VP Dan Harmony told Gizmag. “We hear this often from many customers, that their EcoSphere is five, eight, or even ten years old.”

Make your own

If you want a closed ecosystem that you know is done right, then an EcoSphere(R) is definitely the way to go. It can be quite fun and fascinating, however, to make your own freshwater version. There are numerous examples on the Internet, but probably the definitive how-to guide is a video posted by Make Magazine. What it boils down to is, you’re collecting water, sand/bottom debris and plants from a pond, sealing them in a jar with some air space at the top, then leaving everything in indirect sunlight.

Inhabitants

Apart from throwing a few small snails in there, you don’t need to make a point of including any animals, as various creepy-crawlies will present themselves over time. One of the highlights of using pond life, in fact, is keeping track of the various water fleas, shrimps, worms and other things that seem to just spontaneously show up in there. Whatever you do, do not include anything like fish, tadpoles or large insects - not only is it cruel, but they won’t survive anyways. Some people will tell you that even keeping shrimp in a closed ecosystem is cruel. Given that it’s impossible for any human to ever truly know the consciousness of a shrimp, that’s a hard claim to address one way or the other. Decide for yourself.

It’s difficult to say how long a do-it-yourself system will keep going. According to various accounts, most of the more visible inhabitants die off within a year or two. The teeny-tiny zooplankton, however, can go considerably longer. In any case, whether you go commercial or home-brewed, a closed ecosystem is a fascinating macrocosm of the planet that all living beings share.

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About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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6 Comments

that's the problem with it:

with those socalled 'ecospheres' you do NOT have a biologic ecosystem LIVE to watch, but you watch it DIE.

ofcourse you can say 'haha, thats life', but then again, life should have a chance to live, doesn't it?

fronten
24th January, 2010 @ 03:17 pm PST

I have owned an EcoSphere, a Small Pod I believe, for over 7 years now. Two shrimp still swimming around happily. These have to be the coolest, most original, products I've seen, and great customer service to boot!

Chuck Rock
25th January, 2010 @ 07:26 am PST

I've had my ecosphere for little over 2 and a half years now. All my residents are alive and well. I would say that the only downside, is that many people think it's a snow globe, and pick it up and shake it before I can stop them :-). Love my 'sphere, and will upgrade in a couple of years when my inhabitants die off from old age.

Mathew
29th January, 2010 @ 07:17 am PST

Mathew;

A little tag saying "DON'T Shake!" would solve that problem ...

Brian Hall
28th May, 2012 @ 07:19 am PDT

You can do it with moss too, get some charcoal gravel dirt now just throw in several kinds of mosses. Seal the jar air tight and you see the thing fill with life. Bugs flowers so on mine seem to last forever got several for years. Moss is so contaminated with organisms you wind up with a zoo, Makes good point about sterilizing stuff.

Jonathan Wint
15th July, 2012 @ 06:55 am PDT

It's the middle of winter here and it's about 20f below zero here, would it be alright for me to get water and dirt this time of year or should I wait till it warms up?

Lauren Centers
5th January, 2013 @ 05:46 pm PST
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