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Moving Your Aquarium

If you are like so many other aquarist, where you set up your tank is not necessarily where it is going to stay. Sometimes, the new bride will say, "Not in my living room!" and it will have to go to the basement. Other times, you will need to move up or move out because of any number of reasons. One of the stupid ones is the landlord enforcing the "No Pets" clause and you gotta go. I remember one place telling me that pets were not allowed and when I explained it was fish they still insisted that pets equated to noise and they would have none of it. Later, dude. I'll go elsewhere.

Anyway, at some point you will need to move your aquarium and there are some simple steps that you can take to ensure that your little friends make it. For long distance moves, some of the steps may seem extreme, but understand that the health and welfare of the livestock is of the foremost importance.

The process differs slightly depending on the distance moved, so I have broken it down into four distinct move ranges:

Each of these moves will be discussed in their own sections. One thing is consistent across all moves: Never move an aquarium with anything in it. I know you can do it, you being a big tough guy and all, but don't. The torque placed on the seams of a tank, with even as much as just the sand-bed still in it, will weaken them, making them prone to leak or total release. Perhaps they will be fine, but if you have ever seen how much floor 30 gallons of saltwater can cover you will understand that it is better to take everything out first.

Across the room

Across the room is defined as a move that will take only a short while to execute. One that can be done by a couple of industrious folks in a couple of hours. Let's say that your new bride wants the tank in the basement instead of the dining room, or you are moving from apartment 4A to 4C. Well, here is what you need to do.

  1. Get yourself some large Rubbermaid containers with enough capacity to house the entire contents of your tank. Several 5-gallon buckets, or perhaps some never-used plastic garbage cans will work. Make sure that you have more than one though. I would consider 2 a bare minimum, due to the fact the you disassemble in the reverse order that you reassemble.
  2. In advance of the move, make up somewhere between 10% and 50% new saltwater and adjust the temperature and specific gravity to that of your tank. Since the tank will be broken down, a good water change is always a good idea.
  3. Prep the new location of the tank. Make sure you have electricity and GFCI plugs in advance of the move. Remove any furniture or fixtures that might impede your progress.
  4. Drain about half of the water out of the tank into your containers. Do not expose any sponges, as this will prove fatal.
  5. Remove as much rock as you can without removing corals and place it in the containers. Then remove the corals, making sure to put them in a stable spot so they are not crushed by the other rocks.
  6. When all the rock, coral, and fish are removed, drain the remaining water, within an inch of the sand bed, and cover the rock and coral completely. Throw in a power head and heater if you are a slow mover.
  7. Using a scoop of some sort (maybe cupped hands) and into another container, remove the sand bed.
  8. Relocate the stand and tank to the new location, and get it plumb, square and level.
  9. Scoop the sand-bed back in and replace the water that was with it.
  10. Add your water change water to the tank.
  11. Replace the water in the tank to the 75% level with the water in your containers.
  12. Rebuild the reef with the rock, and replace your corals.
  13. Top off the tank with the remaining water.
  14. Replace the filtration (skimmer, powerheads, etc.), and lighting, and get it running. If you have fish, leave the lights off until the following day.
  15. Discard the remaining water.

Across town

An across town is only slightly more complicated that an across the room move. This should take no more than 8-12 hours to execute. The difference here is that you will need to use large coolers instead of just plain old plastic containers as referred to in step 1 of the Across the room move. We need to maintain temperature as much as we can during the move. Other than that, perform steps 1-2, and 4-7 of the Across the room move just as they are listed, but move quickly, and make sure the piles of rocks and animals are stable.

Don't drive like a nut. Pretend that you have young children in the bed of the truck, and drive accordingly. You don't want to crush anything, or drop it off in the middle of Main St.. As soon as you arrive at the new location, get a heater and a powerhead in the coolers with the corals and fish. Then proceed to setup the tank in accordance with steps 3, and 8-15 of the Across the room procedure.

Across the state

Across the state, assuming that you live in a modest size state, is a 12-24 hour procedure. If you are in Texas or Alaska, see the section on Across the country. The difference between moving across the state, and moving across town is one of time.

Before attempting to move a distance like this, make sure you have somewhere to put the tank when you get there. Also, call ahead and find a local pet store in advance. If you bust the tank or a pump you will need a replacement, pronto. Also, run down to the local electronics store and buy a DC-to-AC power converter for your vehicle, and a couple of extension cords. You will need to put an air pump or powerhead and a heater in each of you containers containing animals for this trip, and the best way to do it is with a power converter.

So, to execute an across the state move, perform the Across town procedure, only adding a powerhead and heater to your animal containers.

Across the country and further

If you need to move across the country or further, you need to consider the following: The animals will most likely not survive a several day transit. And if they do, they will be wicked stressed out. Consider doing one of the following:

Find a local pet store in your city of origin that will house and later ship your animals to you for a fee. Once your tank is in place, call for your animals. You will most likely have to pay them handsomely for the service, so ask yourself if it is worth it.

Find a local pet store in your destination city and see if they will receive your animals and hold them for you, for a fee, until your tank is set up. They may want less than the other store, because you will be forever indebted, and most likely a repeat customer. It will no doubt not be free, though.

Find an aquarist club in your destination city, and see if they have an animal sitting service. A lot of aquarist just like to help, and you will get to meet some like-minded spirits along the way.

Lastly, and this is the most extreme, sell or give away all of your animals to someone who will care for them. When you get to your new location, start over. Remember, your pleasure does not warrant the waste of a life. Make sure you do what is right.


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