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How to Safely Move Fish and an Aquarium

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One of the most difficult things to transport during a move is a heavy glass fish tank and its scaly inhabitants. Fish are very sensitive to their environment, and a move can be very stressful and even detrimental to them if they are not handled correctly during relocation.

How to Move an Aquarium

There are very specific steps you must follow and precautions to take to ensure your fish arrive safely. The following guide will provide you with some basic information on safely transporting your aquarium and your fish to your new home and helping them adjust to their new environment.

1. Empty the fish tank before moving it

The aquarium should be the very last item you tackle on moving day to minimize your fishes' time out their tank as much as possible.

  • Drain the water from the tank. For shorter moves (less than one day), fill several buckets with the tank water to bring to your new home to preserve some of the beneficial bacteria cultures and facilitate your fishes' reintroduction to the tank. For moves that will last longer than a day, you should throw the water away. When you set up the tank in your new home, you will have to treat it as a new tank and allow the water to cycle for a week before adding fish.

  • Remove all plants and tank decorations. Living plants can usually last a couple of days out of the tank if they're kept wet. You can place them in bags with a little bit of water and then put them in the container with the bags holding your fish.

TIP: Removing all tank decorations, plants and most of the water will make it more difficult for the fish to flee when you are trying to remove them from the tank.

  • Remove gravel from the tank to eliminate the extra weight and prevent breakage. The gravel can be transported in a large bucket.

  • Remove the filter media without cleaning it. Place it in a bag or container with water from the tank to help preserve the bacteria colony. Place the bag with the filter in the cooler along with the fish. For longer moves, you should clean the filter and pack it as you would any fragile appliance, since the bacteria won't be sustainable.

2. Prepare the fish for the move

There are several ways to move your fish, depending on the time and distance they will be traveling.

TIP: Refrain from feeding your fish several days prior to the move. They won't starve, and it will give them time to empty out their digestive systems. Fish secrete more waste when they are stressed. Since they will have minimal oxygen during their trip, you don't want their water to grow dirty.

Transfer your fish into their temporary container. Fill sealable plastic bags 25 percent with water from the tank, letting the rest fill up with air. Net the fish and place them each in their own individual bags. Then, place each bag carefully at the bottom of a large Styrofoam cooler. Don't stack any of the bags! There should be enough water inside, so the fish are fully submerged at all times.

  • Replenish the oxygen in the bags by periodically opening and then resealing them every couple of hours
  • Purchase Poly boxes for fish used to warm water to maintain the desired temperature
  • Put larger fish into sealed buckets rather than bags
  • An air-pump or air stone will extend the amount of time you can keep your fish out of their tank safely
  • Use an opaque container for transporting fish, because they are less stressed when in the dark
  • Keep the container holding your fish out of direct sunlight during transport
  • Avoid excessive temperatures and major temperature drops
  • Do not feed the fish during the trip

TIP: If your move will last longer than a day, it is a good idea to find temporary lodgings for your fish in a friend's fish tank or a pet store aquarium. You will not be able to save water from the old tank during a long move, and you will need to cycle the new water for about one week when you set the tank up in your new home. This means you cannot add your fish for a week, and they will not be able to live in plastic bags for that long.

3. Pack the aquarium tank in a crate for transport

Cutom-made wooden crates are the best way to prevent cracking, scratches or other damage to the fish tank.

You can also wrap the tank with soft towels or blankets, binding them with tape. Be careful not to let the tape adhesive come in contact with the glass, or it will leave behind a sticky residue. Cut large squares of cardboard and tape it over the towels for added protection.

  • Remember to always lift your tank from the base, not the walls
  • Never stack anything on top or inside your tank while moving
  • Transport the tank in your car to prevent other heavy items from falling on top of it during transit

4. Set the fish tank up in your new home

The first thing you should do upon arrival in your new home is set up your tank.

If you move locally

  • Fill your tank with the water from your old home
  • Set up your filter and heater
  • Allow them to run for a while to make sure everything is functioning properly
  • Add your gravel, tank decorations and plants
  • Acclimate your fish by placing their bags into the tank and wait ten minutes for temperatures to equalize
  • If fish respond favorably, fill each bag with a cup of water from the tank, then reseal
  • Do this several times for 10 minute intervals
  • If the fish appear happy and calm, you can open the bags and allow them to swim out

If you move long distance

Set your tank up as if it were a new tank, including an approximate week-long delay before putting fish in the tank. This allows the water to cycle before reintroducing the fish to their home. You may have to find temporary boarding for your fish in a friend's aquarium or a pet store until they can move into their new tank.

Nicole La Capria  Posted by Nicole La Capria on December 4, 2018

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