All about Ecospheres

          If you’ve never heard the term “EcoSphere”, you are not alone. They are a relatively new kind of product that brings science into the living rooms of everyday people. To give you an idea of what exactly an ecosphere is, one example is actually the Earth. Any planet or environment where living and non-living things are emphasized by interaction characterizes an EcoSphere. This could be another planet, extra-terrestrial objects, a biosphere, or even a small aquarium like structure which is what we are referring to in this case. Another way to think about them is to call them a closed ecosystem.

These ecosystems were originally funded by NASA who was trying to find a way to self-sustain astronauts on very long trips into space. Because they don’t need to rely on any kind of matter that exists outside the system, it was thought that they might be the beginning of larger, similar structures that would have scientific use. It was thought that a larger ecosphere type of system would eventually be able to serve as life support systems during space flight, inside of space stations or even larger habitats in the future. Though they haven’t yet broken that barrier, the ecospheres did surpass their expected life expectancy by almost four times as long as they were forecasted to.

EcoSpheres are made out of blown glass and generally contain organisms or microorganisms that can live together and form their own ecosystem within the container while living independently. In an ecosphere, nothing is needed to be added to keep the small ecosystem thriving and living off of the other organisms in the container. Because of the structure of the EcoSpheres and their ability to self-sustain, they require very little care and can survive for up to ten years without additional help.  Furthermore, all ecospheres are unique to others in that they house their own special organisms that react differently than the organisms in another ecosphere that is otherwise the same.

The only thing an EcoSphere needs to thrive is a source of light, nothing more. The spheres have an amazing ability to use the light as an energy source and maintain their environment without overusing their resources or overpopulating to the point of failure. Many of them last upwards of ten years, even though they were only meant to survive for two. They are a perfect example of animal and plant life thriving together in an environment to ensure the survival of each species.

There are several different kinds of ecospheres. Many of them can be custom designed to fit certain décor or desires of the customer. They are frequently bought and sold as unique gifts because of their wondrous nature and ability to thrive for so long. Since their invention, the people who create the EcoSpheres have gotten more creative, making a variety of shapes and sizes to appeal to consumers and sell them. The most common shape is a sphere, and they can range in size from the palm of your hand to about the size of a basketball. They also come in oval-like shapes as well. They can be custom designed for the right price also, making it the perfect gift for the relative who has everything.

I should mention the types of organisms that inhabit the EcoSpheres so perfectly that they can exist maintenance free for so long. While the organisms can vary from each one, the general species that are used inside of ecospheres include active micro-organisms, small shrimp, algae and bacteria, each of which exist in filtered sea water. Each EcoSphere also contains a sea fan, gravel, and decorative shells as part of the materials that help to sustain life in the environment. As long as you place it under a source of artificial or natural light-but not too much natural light- in room temperature, you never have to feed or add water to the ecosphere, it exists solely on its own for your viewing pleasure.

The best way to think of an EcoSphere is to picture it as a small version of the Earth we live on. Since Earth itself is technically just a large EcoSphere, it makes sense that the idea for the smaller ones came from our own natural environment. Everything in the tiny EcoSpheres is put to use by their inhabitants. Nothing goes to waste and most of the resources are reused in a sort of cycle by the different organisms. It’s no wonder they are able to be self-sustaining. They are scientifically perfect examples of a balanced ecosystem where all of the organisms provide the necessities of life for the other organisms with nothing going to waste.

You might wonder why the environment of the EcoSpheres never overpopulates and they have just the right amount of nutrients to eliminate waste and survive for up to a decade. The reason for this is because the organisms, mainly the shrimp that are put in the EcoSpheres are chosen to inhabit them because they don’t exhibit aggressive behavior towards each other, including reproduction behaviors. The algae and bacteria that are in the EcoSpheres, however, reproduce continuously, which is the main reason excessive waste never accumulates and there is always balance in the organisms that live in them.

Caring for the EcoSpheres is relatively easy as long as you follow a few important guidelines. First, the system will need light, but not too much light and probably not the amount that would come from direct sunlight exposure. Too much light will make the algae over produce and kill the shrimp, disrupting the balance in the ecosystem inside. It also pretty much goes without saying that you should be pretty gentle with the EcoSphere, don’t shake or drop it because this will also disrupt the environment. It’s important to remember that there are living things in the sphere, even if you can’t see them all, and they will depend on you to successfully survive for years to come.

You may find yourself wanting to clean the EcoSphere if you own one, after a while the algae and bacteria can form a thin film on the glass making it look slightly dirty. It’s important to mention that you don’t really need to clean it, it will thrive just the same, and perhaps even better if you just let it be, but there are ways to clean it if it bothers you. The best way to do this is to use two magnets, one on either side of the glass, with a small cloth in between. You then use the magnets to scrub the glass container gently until it pleases you.

These tiny ecosystems that are modeled after our very own Earth can make a great present for someone you have a hard time shopping for. The average life span of an EcoSphere is between two and three years, but they have been known to last five or even ten years at times. That makes it the perfect present that keeps on giving to the recipient year after year that can help them appreciate the delicate balance living things need to go through to survive, while providing something nice to look at indefinitely. If you are thinking of purchasing one, keep in mind they are not cheap. They can range in price from around $80 to $490 depending on the size of the EcoSphere, but you can sometimes get a discount if you purchase more than one at a time. If you want to appreciate the special conditions that need to exist just to make sure an ecosystem, like Earth, can thrive, an EcoSphere might give you something to meditate on and think about that will put life into its perspective place.