Moving Your Aquarium: Part 2

Moving Your Aquarium—Part 2

Moving the most important thing(s)

In the last blog post, I introduced the idea of the aquarium move, the need for planning and the need to set aside time to do all the tasks necessary to move your aquarium.

Next I want you to think through how you are going to move the most important thing(s) in your aquarium.  Let me test your knowledge:

Al thinks the most important thing(s) to move are:
a) Your prized corals
b) Your prized fish
c) Your bacteria
d) All of the above

When in doubt, guess all of the above. While you may think of your prized fish and corals differently than you think of the humble bacteria that keep your tank clean and stable, they are inextricably linked, of course, and here is why:

From the day you added your first fish until the day you break it down for your move, beneficial bacteria have been living, breathing, reproducing and dying in your tank—performing the biological equivalent of a wastewater treatment plant. Those bacteria (and other “stuff”) are on virtually every surface in your tank. On the sand, the live rock, the inside of the glass, the sump, the skimmer—everywhere. Many of those surfaces you’re going to dry out, clean up and pack away.  A certain amount of that life will also be free-swimming in your conditioned aquarium water—but the shipping water that you pack your fish and coral in will quickly foul due to the drop in temperature and other sub-optimal conditions it will face.

Freshly mixed saltwater, in stark contrast, is void of this microbial life.  So when you dry your tank out, clean up your equipment and pack everything up, you lose massive amounts of that biodiversity you built up over time. So you have to take care of the microbes that take care of your tank—and have a plan for maintaining the biological filter.

So I encourage you to treat your bacterial population like you would a $200 living, breathing organism.  You want to minimize die-off where you can, clean exposed (dried) surfaces well to remove the decay, and have a plan to move a sufficient population to help kick-start your tank on the other side.

Minimize die-off

The first thing to do is minimize the degree of loss you will suffer.  Keep your live rock damp by wrapping it in damp towels and packing it in an insulated (Styrofoam) cooler. You can afford to pay less attention to the live rock than your prize fish or coral, but nonetheless, your live rock should be treated like live stock. Your aquarium sand, on the other hand, is a more difficult endeavor. I wonder if others could weigh-in here and provide their experiences with trying to move live-sand—but I have found that it doesn’t travel well. So I throw my sand away (except for a healthy-sized sample to inoculate the new sand/substrate on the other side).


You have to really clean the inside of your tank, and other equipment before you set the aquarium back up. Do what you can to try and remove the dead layer of cells encrusting everything that used to be underwater and dried out (and/or heated up, cooled down, etc.).  You don’t want to start off with a giant ammonia spike.


Have a nice, portable way to move a sizeable population of the beneficial bacteria. A few weeks before the move, place a few sponge filters in your tank (or sump)—and pack the sponges up ‘like a fish or coral’ in a plastic back and put it in the cooler with your fish/coral. Take a nice-sized sample of your live-sand and bag that up as well.

Conclusion on Biological filter

You would tell a newbie (newcomer to the hobby) it is ok to add a tank full of fish and coral to a brand new tank. That would be disastrous (and expensive). You certainly would never tell them to dump the livestock into someone’s dirty old tank that still smelled like the ocean.  Your prized fish and coral may be rare or gorgeous, but they are beholden to the humble bacteria in your tank for safe living conditions—so the most important thing you can do is to treat your bacterial beneficiaries like a prized specimen. It’s the most important move you can make.

To read the next installment of Moving Your Aquarium, check out Moving Your Aquarium: Part 3

Written by Albert B. Ulrich III. Follow me on Google + and Twitter

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