How To Move an Aquarium

Tropical aquarium

So you've spent considerable time and money, not to mention heart and soul, to create a pleasant aquatic environment for your aquarium fish..

Anyhow, what happens to the aquarium when it's time to move? Careful planning is the key to success in moving an aquarium. Following these simple steps will give your fish the best chance of arriving safely in their new environment.

  1. Discontinue feeding a few days prior to your move. Don't worry; your fish won't starve. This will clear out the digestive system and will prevent the fish from over-contaminating their water during the move-many fish will create excess waste when stressed. Waste products in the water rob the water of oxygen.
  2. Prepare a clean Styrofoam cooler of an appropriate size. You will be placing bags of water and fish into the cooler, so assure that there is enough space for all of your fish. You'll want to avoid stacking any of the bags, so try to find a cooler with a big enough floor. Procure extra coolers if necessary.
  3. Prepare some bags in which to transport the fish. Each bag will need to be sealed; you can use zipper-seal bags or standard bags sealed with rubber bands. A local pet store is a good source for these types of bags. You may want to have some spare bags available for packing such things as your filter media, which will benefit from being transported in tank water.
  4. When it is time to move, plan on moving the aquarium last. Place the fish in the bags, with each individual or school in its own bag. Each bag should have enough water so that its inhabitants are fully immersed when the bag is placed on the floor of the cooler.
  5. Remove the media from your filter and place it in its own bag with water from the aquarium. Fill the remainder of the bag with as much air as possible. This will preserve some of the beneficial bacteria cultures. Place this bag in the cooler along with the fish. Bacteria cultures grow primarily on the filter media, but there is also bacteria contained in the plants and gravel (especially if your filter is the under-gravel type); so you might want to use the same procedure for your tank decorations. Bacteria will die when they're out of the water, though, so place them in tank water.
  6. Empty the aquarium completely and pack it securely.
  7. During your move, try to keep the temperature in the cooler constant. Heat packs can be helpful if the outdoor temperature is very cold. Keep the cooler in a place that is away from direct sunlight. If possible, avoid leaving the cooler in your vehicle overnight. If you're staying overnight along the way, bring the cooler inside with you.
  8. If traveling long-term (more than one or two days), you will need to replenish the oxygen in the bags. The quickest way is to open the bags and capture new air in the bags before resealing them. It's even better if you have access to an oxygen pump, or to an aquarium air pump and some airline tubing.
  9. When you arrive at your destination, set up your aquarium as soon as possible. Fill it with new conditioned water and allow the filter (with your saved filter media) and heater to run for a while to assure that they function properly.
  10. Acclimate the fish slowly. Place the bags in the tank for about ten minutes to allow the water temperatures to equalize. Then, open the bags, and fill each bag with one cup of water from the new tank. Do this several times at five or ten minute intervals.
  11. Observe the fish in the bags with the combination of old and new water. If they appear to be healthy, net them and place them in the new tank. If they are darting around or gasping for air, pour out some water from the bag and follow the acclimation process again.
  12. For the first few weeks, carefully observe the fish, and test the water. Ideally, your previously established filter media will allow you to transfer some of the beneficial nitrifying bacteria from the old location into the new tank, but you might also consider treating your tank with a chemical such as Bio-Spira to boost the cycle.


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