Update Dec. 27, 2022:
SelfSustainingEcosystem.com does not manufacture Ecospheres. We cannot recharge your Ecosphere.
The company that produces Ecospheres, Ecosphere Associates, went out of business in early 2022. I was able to establish contact with the previous owners to find out what happened. The business closed due to increasing pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic interrupting supply chains and recent legislation in Hawaii that limits the capture and sale of wild marine life, including Opae’ula shrimp.
While Ecospheres are no longer available for purchase from the original manufacturer, you can buy the shrimp from other hobbyists online and make your own self-sustaining ecosphere quite easily. Good luck!
The EcoSphere is the most recognizable of ecosystem-related products. It’s the poster child for self-sustaining ecosystems in the public’s mind.
And, truthfully, it’s one of very few products that actually does meet the standards to be truly self-sustaining. It is materially-closed. The only input is energy from light and ambient temperature.
Even more impressive, the EcoSphere achieves these criteria while being a successful commercial product. Their website boasts of having sold almost a million of the little globes. It’s easy to understand why: they’re not prohibitively expensive, they require virtually no maintenance, and they are actually interesting. Anyone could toss some green, slimy algae in a ball and it would stay green for many years. Have active, macroscopic critters in the form of shrimp is what makes that EcoSphere truly unique.
That being said, there is some contention surrounding the EcoSphere – namely, the fate of the shrimp.
Halocaridina rubra, often referred to by its Hawaiian name “Opae Ula” or Red Volcano Shrimp, is an incredible little crustacean. They can tolerate the extreme conditions found around, well, volcanoes. They can survive in tide pools, which are generally harsh environments. These shrimp even live up to 20 years, despite being less than an inch long.
This makes them an excellent candidate for an EcoSphere… because it is also, unfortunately, a harsh environment. Ecosystems with a small volume are very sensitive to change, be it temperature, light, or chemical levels. Leaving your EcoSphere on a shelf with too much sun for even one day could prove lethal.
More importantly though, the product doesn’t have a reliable way to deal with shrimp waste. Although shrimp have a very low-bioload, ammonia will eventually accumulate to toxic levels. EcoSphere’s pamphlets remind us that the spheres include “microorganisms” in addition to algae and shrimp, but the simple fact is that the sphere can’t support a large enough population of denitrifying bacteria in a volume so small.
The end result is that the average life of an EcoSphere is only 2-3 years. With good care you could reasonably expect 5 years. While, personally, I think the price is more than worth it for 2-3 years of a fascinating paperweight, the real issue is the moral one.
Is it right to keep shrimp in a cage, knowing that you’re shortening their lifespan to (at best) a quarter of its potential? And you know their eventual death will be from being poisoned by their own waste?
Of course, most of these wild shrimp don’t live to 20. They are preyed upon, smashed into rocks by the tide, or trapped in a dwindling tide pool.
In my opinion, the bigger issue here is that all these Opae Ula are wild-caught. They’re incredibly hard to breed in captivity, as hobbyists could tell you, so the shrimp used in EcoSpheres are harvested from the islands of Hawaii.
Is it sustainable? I’m not sure. We’ve witnessed the perils of over-fishing many other times, though. Wild-caught stock is the seedy under-belly of the aquarium trade, and I’d rather not support it.
Apologies if this review sounds scathing – I don’t hate EcoSphere. I wouldn’t personally buy one, but I don’t think they’re evil. You could always make a jarrarium yourself (for cheaper), but not everyone wants to do that. If an EcoSphere sparks in a child a love of science, or convinces an adult to care about conservation, then its good will far outweigh any harm.
We have one that was given to godson 19 years ago and I just noticed that the shrimp was still alive. And it had belonged to a couple who’d had it for a couple years before giving it to Alek.
That is insane! Gotta love those shrimp!
I have two shrimp left. I received them as a gift when I lived in my previous home. I’ve lived in my current home for 19 years. I’ve probably had them over 21 years.
I bought one for my mom that lasted over 10+ years. I got her a new one last xmas 2021 but unfortunately the shrimp dies right away (??) and now I am unable to reach the company 🙁
What a bummer, but now I know I’m not alone
I own a medium size ecosphere. I bought many throughout the years and have given them his gifts. I understand that this company is no longer a business but I can’t bring myself to throwing this ecosphere that no longer is sustaining Life in the trash. Any suggestions?
I have my empty ecosystem and it’s actually beautiful and I won’t throw mine away. The algae and moss still grows and that is a living ecosystem.
I was given one as a gift by a former student in 2014 and despite very little attention from me in recent years, the ecosystem sits in my bedroom and the shrimp are still alive.
Wow, that’s pretty incredible! I love to hear stories like this. My professor has about 7 such gifts, though only one is still kickin’ these days
13 years and going. Just noticed we are down to one shrimp. We’ve had 2 for the past 5 years. Just don’t mess with them and they live. Don’t use the magnet to clean. Let them clean it.
I had an ecosphere for nine years with my beloved Max being the only shrimp in there. I loved him and took him to different rooms in the morning and night. And even on vacations with me. He recently passed away and now I want another one but am afraid they won’t live long
I’m trying to find EcoSphere Enterprises, to re-shrimp my globe. Did they go out of business? Their website and phone number doesn’t work.
Hey Bryce, yeah, I think you’re probably right. My site has received loads of emails from people mistaking me for Ecosphere Associates. So much so that I’ve tried to find them myself and haven’t been able to get in touch.
I had 3 shrimp and now down to 2. But these two have lived at least 9 years! I don’t have an exact date when I got the Ecosphere in Atlanta, but I lived there 5 years and now in NC for another 5-1/2 years! I love these little guys!
I was given an ecosphere 7 years ago by a friend and he had bought it 3 years before that, so it’s 10 years old now. It originally had 3 shrimp, he said, but was down to 1 when I first saw it. But Shrimpy is still with us and has moved with me through 2 job changes. He has sat now on 4 desks, including our computer desk at home between jobs. I thought he was way past his expiration date, but it sounds like maybe not! 🙂
John I also call my last shrimp shrimpy. 8yrs for me.
My cats were fighting and knocked our ecosphere off the table. It has broken. We had 2 shrimps. One has died. I was able to put the living shrimp in a bowl with some of the remaining water, rocks and the sea fan. How can I keep him alive?
Hey Patrick, thanks for the reply. I appreciate it. That’s too bad to hear, it was a cool thing. All the best!
Mine last shrimp just died after almost 10 years. When I bought this in 2012, it had a note that said I can send it back for a recharge. I still have the padded box but no idea where to send it. Anyways, I was impressed
Will there be any in stock soon?
That seems unlikely, since the manufacturer of Ecospheres has shut its doors.
My ecosphere bottom cracked and is leaking water. Little dude is down to 2” of water. Is there a way I can refill and seal the globe myself?
I was having the same issue and am looking at what type of water to add fresh or salt so far it seems to be salt water, but I am worried I kill the last two guys I have it has been over ten years.
Opae ula live in brackish water and, generally speaking, can tolerate a wide range of salinity levels.
The best case scenario would be to replace the missing volume with salt water you have mixed yourself:
– use distilled or RO water as the base
– mix in marine salt (such as instant ocean brand) until you reach a salinity level of 1.010 (you can pick up a hydrometer to measure salinity for a couple of bucks)
You could also remove your shrimp and place it in just about any other vessel, though be sure to include as much of the original material as possible.
I had one years back that had one survive 8 years.
I have had a globe for at least 6 years. The last shrimp has finally died. Do you have an idea of how I can responsibly get rid of the globe?
Hello Patrick; my last shrimp died about 2 weeks ago. I had been watching him/her? and sadly expecting it. But then I also noticed a few babies swimming all around, and now I can see even more. They are too tiny for me to make out their shape, but they must be shrimp? I’ve had this globe about 2 and a half years. Is there anything I can do to help them survive? I haven’t moved the globe. It’s near a window with indirect light and shutters that are closed part of the day. No drafts. Thanks, Maria
Yup, it sounds like the momma was survived by her offspring! You shouldn’t have to do anything, there isn’t a lot you could do even if it was unsealed, but a portion of them will hopefully survive and mature after a few months. They have several larval life stages to go through before they settle down and look and act like the shrimp you are familiar with.
Good question. I suppose you could recycle it as its mostly glass; I suspect the seal won’t pose an obstacle.
I have an Ecosphere that I bought at SeaWorld San Diego back ( the largest they had at the time) in 1995, making it 27+ years old. It started with some shrimp and snails, but the snails have been gone for years. I reached out to Ecoshpete Associates a few years ago and they checked my serial number and said it was one of the oldest ones they know of. To this day it has always had 10 – 20 shrimp in the ecosystem. I love watching them to this day. They have been in 4 houses and, 5 jobs. Sad to hear that they are gone
Wow, what an incredible story!!! I had heard that some of the first versions had snails in them, bummer to hear they didn’t make it. I guess they couldn’t reproduce in that environment. Thanks for sharing 🙂
I bought a small ecosphere (pod shape) back in the mid 1990s and one of the shrimps lived 13 years. It may have lived longer if given the chance, but the person to whom I entrusted my little pod tossed it while I was away for a year. I would love to get another one.
Shoot, that’s a bummer to hear. I’m afraid there is no real chance of getting a new, authentic ecosphere. There are similar products you could buy, however, or you can get some Opae ula shrimp and make your own!
I am actually trying too locate the original company that I purchased from. My contact phone number is not working! My information is still the same; please contact me about recharging my ecosphere!
I have two. Neither of them lasted a year. In fact the longest life was about 3 months. I was very disappointed. I feel like this should work but for me it was a scam.
I have had a small shrimp ecosystem for about 4 years now. It’s a small plastic tank rather than the sealed glass ones. It had 2 shrimp originally but the first one died after 2 years. Over time the water in my ecosystem has halved by evaporation. Can I safely add more water to help prolong the ecosystem? Would deionised water be suitable?
Any advice is appreciated- thank you!
Yep! Deionized or simply distilled water should be all you need. Be careful not to exceed the original volume by too much or it will become too “freshwater” instead of the brackish that they require.
I just realized mine has died. I was given it Chrismas of 1999. It has a 5 digit serial number. I used to email Chris with the company every few years to update him. Sad to hear they went out of business, sadder still my shrimp died. 23 years, more than half my life…
My daughter bought us one over 10 years ago and its still going. We watch and check on the little guy frequently. The unit comes with a magnetic based scrub if the sphere becomes cloudy. No direct light. No issue with waste build up or other toxicity issues that I can tell. My son is a microbiologist and he said the plant will use harmful nitrogen biproducts, and the plant, needs nitrogen, will convert it into useful nitrogen products. As a aerospace scientist myself I find it truly fascinating how this ecosystem continues to survive.
I realized my shrimp Thor died today after roughly 10 years. Very sad to find out they’re no longer in business.
Ringo is going on 12 years. Unfortunately we have lost John, George and Paul.
Shrimpie will be 12 in May. I think we are either super lucky or we happen to have just the right mix of light and temperature for the system.
Has anyone found a comparable product (please link here)
Heya Dan. It is a bummer that the manufacturer is gone, but there are still ways to enjoy the ecosphere ecosystem. You can find guides to creating Opae ula aquariums online and make one yourself. Otherwise, the only similar product to the Ecosphere that I know about is this one:
I purchased my Ecosphere 11 years ago before I discovered it might inhumane. There was an old endorsement from Carl Sagan on their website at the time.
All but one shrimp (named Shrimpie) died early on, but Shrimpie is still going strong. Will be 12 years in May since he/she arrived.
My lone shrimp has been living in his safe, protected environment for over 20 years now. Sadly, his brothers and sisters have passed on, but he is still going strong.
Inhumane? I don’t think so. Do you think that this shrimp would have survived in the wild for over 20 years?
Sad to say our last shrimp is gone. Originally received in Dec. 2005
My son got his EcoSphere for his high school graduration in 2001 from his sister. There were 4 shrimp to start with , but 3 died withend the first year. The Sphere has been at my house since then in the same spot. The old fellow is still going strong!
I have one that was put in a drawer at work for about 2 years and when I opened the drawer to clean it out, the shrimp are still alive. I’ve had it for at least 15 years. I understand these guys are long-lived if in a stable situation, but how did they survive for 2 years in the dark? I’m even more impressed with these now.