Moving a Tank Successfully - by Marc Levenson
When it comes to moving a tank, whether that be across the room or across town, success can be assured by your preparations and anticipation for any problems that may occur during the transition. Special consideration should be given to the new location, to make sure all is ready. Electrical needs should already be met, and the floor should be stable and sturdy. Obstacles should be removed at all costs to avoid tripping over anything while carrying the tank, the stand or anything else related to the move.
Whenever I'm about to move a tank, the first thing I do is start making more water. Even if you save every drop, you'll need more water at the new location for sure. If your schedule allows for it, prepare a trashcan or two full of mixed saltwater and have it ready to use. New trashcans run about $7 each at Home Depot, and they make great mixing containers and are equally useful for the moving process itself. Using RO/DI water, salt, a powerhead and a heater, you can have about 30g of water on hand, or more if you set up more than one trashcan full of saltwater. The water should be mixed and waiting at the destination if at all possible.
If you happen to be moving from one house to another, odds are you'll have lots of moving boxes and furniture to deal with. This needs to either be done before or after the tank is moved. When it is time to move your livestock, everything else must be put on hold, or let someone else focus on the rest of the move so you can put all of your attention into getting the tank torn down and re-setup in the new location. Make sure nothing in is in your path that will make it difficult to move the tank, so that it can be done safely.
If your tank has a DSB (4" of sand) and it is over 6 months old, you shouldn't disturb it. Moving a tank full of sand is of course much heavier and there is the risk of flexing and damaging the tank. Sliding a board under the tank to support it fully would be one way of moving it, and you better have enough people to carry that load. Another option is to save a few cups from the upper layer in a ziplock bag, and toss the rest out. If you choose this route, then you have the option to really clean the tank well before setting it back up at the new location. It is always easiest to clean a tank outside with a garden hose, laying it on its side and spraying it out thoroughly. Each side can soak in a half inch of water, then be scraped clean and rinsed. Rotate the tank until all the walls are clean.
What about the livestock itself? You can bag up corals individually just like the LFS does when you purchased them originally. These can be placed carefully within ice chests (summer or winter) or empty salt buckets (spring and fall) to prevent their shifting and being damaged. Adequate water should be added to each bag, and the bags should be sealed to create a good bubble of protective space around the corals. You don't want to arrive at your destination with rubble, right? Working with a helper will speed things along. Using the $7 trashcans, you can pull out all the live rock and place it in these. As soon as you have the corals and rock out of your tank, drain some tank water into the trashcan(s) to keep the rock fully submerged. Wearing gloves while removing rock protects against cuts or brushes with bristleworms. Any rock that has corals attached can be stacked on top of other rock in the trashcan to avoid their being damaged. Add water until they are fully sumberged. The tank will be cloudy, but now all the fish can be netted out. These can be bagged individually or placed in one or more saltbuckets with tank water.
With the livestock in coolers, buckets and trashcans, it is time to move now! What is the weather like? Are you traveling with everything in the back of a pickup truck or U-haul trailer? Do what you have to to maintain reasonable temperatures for the fish and corals. Perhaps they would fit in with you in the passenger compartment. The live rock (LR) and water you've brought along will be okay if the travel time isn't too lengthy. If the drive is short, you might decide to move all livestock first, and come back for the tank on the next trip. When moving LR, trashcans should only be filled about 1/3 to 1/2 full of rock and water, as two people are able to move that without it being too heavy. At the destination, your livestock will need life support: airstones, heaters, & powerheads. If you opted to move the tank and livestock in one trip, the livestock gets precedence and once they are safely hooked up with some equipment witin the climate controlled home, you can proceed with moving in the stand, tank and canopy.
Setting up the tank anew is similar to setting up a new tank. Sand first, covered by a plastic trashbag, then a large serving platter, then a bowl. Using a large submersible pump and some tubing, pump the water into the bowl which will overflow onto the platter and finally the plastic barrier. This keeps the sand from blowing around. Once the tank is half filled, you can gently remove the bowl, platter and plastic, and start placing the LR in the tank again. Wearing gloves, shake the rock well in the trashcan it arrived in to release any trapped detritus, then place it in your tank. Getting the rock in the tank is important, avoiding any long durations exposing it to air. If it has corals on it, just put them to the side and then retrieve more rock to start your stack. Try to stack it so that it looks random, yet solid. Nature hates a straight line, so avoid creating a 'brick wall' look. Try to create caves, crevices and areas for water (and fish!) to flow through. The rock should not topple easily, as that could scratch the glass or acrylic viewing panels. Wave your hand strongly near the rock to see if it teeters. Leave enough room between the rock and the walls of the tank so that a cleaning magnet will fit without hitting.
Once all the rock has been placed in the tank, you can add in the fish, corals and more saltwater. This is why it is important to have new saltwater made up in advance at the right temperature, as the water the rock travelled in is now muddy from the shaking / rinsing and is full of waste. Next, Add powerheads, the heaters, filters, and turn everything on. The lights can be turned on a little later after you've had a little time to relax.
If you set up the aquarium with new sand, once everything has been put in, you can add the live sand you bagged up earlier. Just pour a cup of sand in a few different spots before the powerheads are turned on. Lower the cup or bag of sand down to the substrate and pour it out gently. It is okay for this sand to form little mounds, and there is no reason to stir it in nor the need to level it out. You want the micro-fauna to be able to scurry deeply into the grains of sand, and once you turn on the powerheads a few minutes later, the sand will begin to level out naturally.
Be sure to test the water daily, watching for ammonia, nitrate, or phosphate spikes. There are products that you can use to reduce these if necessary. Matter of fact, keep a bottle of Seachem's Prime on hand as it is great in an emergency to lower toxicity in the tank. Phosphate sponges can remove these as well.
Things to have on hand:
If you follow these guidelines, moving a tank can
be done successfully and with careful attention, all the livestock
should survive the trip and continue to thrive in their new location.