Moving Your Aquarium

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Fishtank being moved by removal men

Moving your fish and aquarium can be a stressful experience both for the fish and the fish keeper, but if done correctly, it can be carried out with relative ease and minimal adverse effects. The biggest problems often come after the move, and are associated with a loss of filter bacteria, so it is vital to understand the whole process, the effects on your fish and filter, and to carry out your move in the correct manner. Following the methods outlined in this article will hopefully help you avoid any disasters, and get up and running in no time.

Bags, containers and boxes

For most moves you will need bags and boxes to transport fish, equipment, and décor, and containers to hold water. It is best to make sure you have these ready in advance and that they are suitably strong for the purpose. Your best source of these items is your local retailer. Most shops will be able to sell you bags and boxes for a small cost, and let you take containers with a deposit and small hire charge. Polystyrene boxes are not obtained for free by shops; since they pay a charge for them, which is refunded when the boxes are returned, so don't be surprised if they charge you a few pounds for boxes.

Moving your aquarium a short distance (e.g. to another room)

Re-locating your aquarium to a different room or location in the house is fairly straight forward, and is usually carried out in the event of decorating, when you need to remove your aquarium away from toxic chemicals and debris. First, switch off your heater at least 15 minutes before anything else, since a hot heater-stat exposed to the air will shatter. Then switch off all your other equipment and begin removing all the aquarium decor, checking to make sure no fish are hiding in any objects. The water can then be siphoned away so than just a few inches are left - be careful not to siphon any fish, and try to keep as much water as possible. Use containers specifically bought for the aquarium or for drinking water storage, since other containers may contain chemicals from previous use, even if they have been dry for a while. Keeping all or as much aquarium water is very important for reasons discussed later on. If your aquarium is small (e.g. under 90 litres), a couple of fit individuals will be able to move the aquarium with a few inches of water still in it, so you will not have to cause stress to the fish by removing them. For larger tanks you will need to catch and remove the fish (see later on) and possibly remove the substrate along with any remaining water. Once this is all done, you can move the aquarium to its new location and begin to replace the water, you should then get the filter running as soon as possible, then start putting all the décor and equipment back in place. Your fish will be quite stressed from all the disturbance, so leave the lights off for several hours, and do not feed until the following day.

1) Switch off your heaterstat
2) Remove all décor, checking carefully for fish
3) Siphon away and store as much water as possible
4) For large aquariums, remove the fish and substrate
5) Move the aquarium
6) Refill with the stored water and get the filter running
7) Replace all décor and equipment
8) Leave the lights off and allow the fish to settle in peace

Moving your aquarium a large distance (e.g. more than 30 minutes away)

Re-locating to a different house is slightly different since the fish will have to be in transport for a significant time. The same basics apply at first - switch off the heater 15 minutes before, remove all decor and equipment, siphon off and store as much water as possible, catch and remove the fish, remove all the substrate and remaining water. Your fish will need to be properly caught and transported, which is covered later on, and your filter bacteria will be damaged, also covered later on. When you move your aquarium, it will need to be protected against knocks so make sure all the sides and edges are cushioned with foam, cardboard, or any suitable cushioning media. Do not store your heater-stat in the tank, since it will break easily if knocked against the aquarium glass. If you are moving house, it can sometimes be easier to set up a new aquarium first and just transfer the fish and water once the new tank has settled for a bit. With all the costs associated with moving house, the investment of a new aquarium should not add too much.

Moving your fish to a new tank

Transferring your fish to a new aquarium can sometimes be easier than moving an existing tank, but there are a few essential tips which must be followed for a smooth transition. In most cases, the new aquarium will be larger, so it will need additional water. It is very important however, that you keep as much of the old tanks water as possible, to reduce any dramatic changes in water chemistry, and keep as much useful bacteria as possible. Set up your new tank and get all the equipment running, ideally at a similar temperature as your existing tank, for a week before moving the fish. If possible, estimate how much water is in your existing tank, and leave room in the new tank to top up with the old tank water. Alternatively, you can run the new tank filled, and remove water at the time of moving, so there is space for the old tank water to fill the new tank. When you are ready, remove all decor and equipment from the old tank, drain the old tank down to a few inches (transferring the water to the new tank), catch the fish and place them in bags so they can be acclimated to the new tank. If possible, transfer your old filter directly from the old tank to the new one, even if the new tank has a new filter, and read the notes below about filter bacteria.

If your new tank is to be located in the same place as the old aquarium, you can either move your old aquarium to a temporary location whilst you set up and mature the new tank, or strip down, remove, and transfer everything from the old tank to the new tank in one go. If you do this you will need to have enough dechlorinated and settled water ready to top up the remaining volume in the new tank.

Damage caused to your filter

The biggest problem associated with moving your tank or fish is not the stress caused to the fish, but the effects which occur as a result of a loss of filter bacteria, which may not show up for several days or even weeks after the move. The bacteria in the filter of a mature tank will have taken a long time to settle, establish, and grow to a level which processes the normal amounts of waste produced by your fish. Changes in temperature, water chemistry, and oxygen levels will all kill filter bacteria, and all these factors are present during a move. With dramatic loss of filter bacteria, your filter will essentially be acting like a new filter with no bacteria, and will have to re-establish itself after the move. The problem here is that you will probably have a large group of fish, producing lots of waste, and the filter will not be able to process it. The end result is that ammonia and nitrite levels will rise, causing bad water quality, and since your fish are already stressed from the move, ill health, disease problems, and dead fish.

Keeping filter bacteria alive during a move

If you are moving just a short distance, such as to a new room, or the move will take less than 30 minutes, you can simply transfer your filter directly from one tank to the other and there will be minimal loss in bacteria. If your move is going to take a little longer a few steps can be taken to keep as much bacteria alive as possible. The two important things to do are to keep the media in your filter wet, and well oxygenated. A good way to do this is treat your media as you would your fish - remove the media from the filter and package it in bags of tank water with lots of air space. Never allow an external filter to be switched off, with water and media inside it for more than 15 minutes, since oxygen will be quickly used up, followed by stagnation, and a release of dangerous toxins, which will be flushed into the aquarium when the filter is switched back on. If your new tank has a new filter, you should run both the old filter and the new filter together for a couple of months, this will allow the old filter to deal with waste products whilst the new filter matures. Alternatively, if your new filter is much bigger, you can remove the old filter media and place it in the new filter.

The correct way to catch and transport fish

When you move your tank, removing all the décor and equipment, then draining the water down to a few inches will make catching your fish a lot easier. Once you are ready, use a net and slowly catch your fish - do not chase them with the net, this will cause stress and they will be much quicker and harder to catch. You can either package your fish in proper fish bags (obtained from your retailer) or all together in a sizeable and secure waterproof container. If you use bags, they should be double bagged (put the first, sealed bag, inside another) and packaged so there are no corners the fish can get stuck in. Air is much more important than water, so try to package the fish with a quarter water and three-quarters air. Catfish, or other fish with spines, should be packaged individually to avoid damage to other fish from their spines.

What to do after the move

Because of the stress caused to your fish, disruption of their environment, changes in water conditions, and probable loss of filter bacteria, there are a few essential things to do to avoid any problems appearing after the move. It is best to simply leave the fish alone, without lights or feeding, on the day of the move to let them re-settle. In the following few weeks, keep the feeding very low, and check daily for ammonia and nitrite levels. Providing everything is ok, you can gradually increase the feeding back up to normal levels. If ammonia or nitrites appear, stop feeding and use a nitrite/ammonia remover until they are back to normal. Do not carry out any maintenance for a couple of weeks, even if algae starts to grow, and make sure the aquarium is disturbed as little as possible. You should not add any new fish until the tank is fully settled, which will take at least a month and ideally wait about 6-8 weeks.

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