Are you Moving???


Moving your reef aquarium can be a daunting task. Like that meeting or test you have tomorrow that you didn’t prepare for – but you know if you buckle down for the evening and work hard, you’ll be ready to go in the morning. Either that or you'll just call in sick!

Well, calling in sick isn’t an option when you have to move and are taking your beloved box of water with you. With some well-thought-out plans and the proper supplies, your fish and corals will make it to their new home with the least possible impact. The following are guidelines to help walk you through the process and alert you to a few precautions you need to take to help ensure a smooth transition. Let’s start with some supplies needed for this task.


Recommended Supplies
Moving containers (5-gallon buckets thoroughly cleaned – I’ll bet you have a surplus from all the salt you've used?)
Holding tanks (nothing special here – let some Brute trash cans be your friend)
Air-pump and Stone (to aerate the water in the holding tank while the new tank settles)
Heater and/or fans (useful for keeping the water in the holding tanks at proper temperature – if needed)
Gloves (seems silly but, I got a nasty sting from the 2nd tank I moved – likely crushed a bristle worm or something)
Tupperware Containers (used for capturing livestock - I don't like nets - and don't let the wife see you taking her plastic ware…lol)

Note: If you are going to leave livestock and coral in the holding container for a prolonged period of time, you should consider things like lighting, skimming, activated carbon, heater (if it’s an in-home/same location move), temp-probe, etc.

Moving Coral and Other Livestock


When relocating the tank within your home, use a properly sized Tupperware container to capture your fish. Then place them in a 5-gallon bucket with plenty of aquarium water. Carefully scoop out invertebrates in a small, clean plastic container, before placing them in the bucket.


If you're moving less than one hour or so away, bag your specimens individually the same way your pet store does. My local fish store gave me the bags for free when I informed them what I was moving, but you can also purchase the bags if needed. A tip I recommend is that after you have bagged them, keep your specimens in the dark. It helps to reduce stress.

For long distance moves of 5 to 8 or more hours away, again bag your specimens individually. This time however, you'll need to coordinate with a LFS to add pure oxygen to the bags. Call them ahead of time for availability as not all LFS offer this. You may need to check around and make arrangements ahead of your scheduled moving day. Plants can be transported in bags too with some of the original aquarium water. You can maintain water temperature for your specimens by placing them (in their sealed bags) in a sealed cooler. If needed, add a hand warmer wrapped in newspaper so as to keep it from coming into direct contact with the bagged live specimen. I personally like to tape the warmer to the top of the cooler to assure it will not come into direct contact with the bags.

Moving Day


During the breakdown of your aquarium you’ll want to save as much of the water as you can (new water is better, but the amount needed will be determining factor). Depending on the size and amount of water, use 5-gallon buckets with lids or Brute trash cans with the casters to transport water. Reusing your water may aid in cutting down the cycling time once you restart your aquarium. You will also need to have some newly mixed saltwater ready at your new location – you will need it!!!

If you can, or shall I say if you have the time, now would be a good time to clean things like pumps, heaters, powerheads, and other equipment. Then pack everything the way you would pack your fine china set – you know, the one you never use.


For live rock, it's a good idea to try and keep it completely submerged in some of your aquarium water to minimize disruption of the bacteria colonies. You can actually add it to the same containers being used to transport your aquarium water. Again, this is all in an effort to reduce cycling time at the new location.

When moving the aquarium within your home, use the buckets as mentioned above. Leave enough water in the aquarium to fully cover the live-rock (if possible) and sand if you intend to reuse it (sand traps a lot of unwanted stuff, I recommend not reusing if at all possible). If you have to remove the live rock just keep it submerged as mentioned above. Although there is no need to pack your pumps and other equipment, you’ll want to keep them submerged in a container with some aquarium water.

Moved in at Last
Regardless of whether or not your new destination is within your existing home or a completely new location, you'll need to work expeditiously to get your aquarium operating again. Fill it with as much of the new water as you were able to make. Topping it off with whatever old saltwater you transported. You want to get your filtration, heaters and other equipment running as soon as possible. It's also not a bad idea to then add a bacterial additive to help accelerate any cycling that might happen. I would also recommend testing your water parameters to insure they are at acceptable levels (see Optimal Parameters for a Coral Reef Aquarium By Randy Holmes-Farley below) before adding any livestock. If parameters are at acceptable levels, start adding your livestock after proper acclimation.

Table 1. Parameters critical to control in reef aquaria.

Table 2. Other parameters in reef aquaria that aquarists may want to control.

These suggestions are designed to aid you and enhance your chances of a successful move. It takes planning and not just on the night before the move! Create your plan, create contingency plans, follow those plans and move expeditiously. Your reef depends on your execution of these tasks!

Nobody likes to move. And certainly nobody likes to move an aquarium. But if it has to be done, and you can’t call in sick, I hope these guidelines will help make that daunting task just a little more manageable.


About author
Alex V. (143MPCo), has kept marine and fresh water aquariums since 2006. His current systems are a 150g Mixed Reef that is home to a large variety of coral and reef safe fish, with a recently added 390g basement aquarium that will be SPS dominate. He is a member of MASNA and Reef Squad Leader at Reef2Reef.

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