Whether you’re moving across town or across the country, moving your aquarium and its inhabitants is hard work. It’s safest to pack them in a Styrofoam box with heat or ice packs depending on the weather, but if you’re not going far, a five gallon bucket may suffice. I recommend using Bag Buddies in fish bags to help reduce ammonia toxicity and to calm them down. If your drive is longer than one day, it’s best to have them stay with a friend or someone in your local aquarium club who can ship them to you when you are ready. You could also ship them to a trusted fried, if you have one, in your new location.
How to Pack and Ship Your Fish and Corals
It’s best to pack each fish in its own bag. If more than one fish is in a bag, there could be aggression issues, increased ammonia levels, or in the worst case if one dies, it could pollute the water and kill the others. Fill the bag first with clean, aerated saltwater that matches the pH and temperature of the tank water. DO NOT use tank water, as it contains bacteria and organics that could pollute the water in the bag. Fill the bag between 10% – 25% full, then drop in a Bag Buddy or oxygenate the bag with pure oxygen. Make sure the bag is more than 75% oxygen or air, and less than 25% water. twist the top of the bag, then thread a rubberband through itself. Double over the twisted part of the bag, and wind the rest of the rubberband around it. Turn the bag upside down, and put it inside of another bag. Repeat rubberbanding, then turn upside down and put into a third bag. Turning it upside down prevents fish from getting trapped in the corners where they can suffocate or be injured. You want the bags to be firm to prevent sloshing inside the box, but not so inflated they may burst in the airplane. Place the bags upright into the Styrofoam box. If there is any empty space, pack it with a bag full of air. cover the bags with several layers of newspaper and tuck the newspaper down into the sides.
To pack coral frags, cut a small square of Styrofoam and rubberband or tie the coral plug to it so it floats inside the bag. If packing a large coral colony, wrap it carefully first in a bag to act as a sling to keep the coral upright and preventing its pointy branches or rock from poking through the bag. Use as many layers of bags as you can to prevent leaks. There is no need to turn the bag upside down before layering it with another bag.
Depending on the weather, use heat packs or ice packs. Don’t let the heat packs or ice packs touch the bags. Make sure there is a layer of newspaper between them, or use a water proof heat pack sleeve. Heat packs will not work if they get wet. Heat packs require a constant flow of oxygen to work properly, so poke a hole in the Styrofoam lid in the center just above the heat packs. If you are using a heat pack sleeve, cut off the corners. Tape them, or if the back is sticky, stick them to the inside of the lid. Try not to cover the heat pack with anything that could suffocate and extinguish it.
You are ready to put the lid on the Styrofoam. If there is too much space between the lid and the bags, pack it with newspaper. You don’t want the bags to jostle around inside the box at all; they could burst. Use packing tape to secure the lid, then put it inside an appropriately sized cardboard box. The cardboard box protects the Styrofoam, is a great insulator, and allows a place to attach addresses and FedEx information. Tape the middle, all seams, and box flaps of the cardboard box and take it to your local FedEx location for shipping.
When your fish arrive in their new home, get them acclimated as quickly as possible. Some fish keepers recommend temperature acclimation only. After spending more than a few hours in the bag, it’s likely to have a higher ammonia level and a lower pH as a result. Ammonia is less toxic at lower pH levels. Dripping tank water into the bag water the fish arrived in will increase the pH and make the ammonia more toxic. You may also remove as much of the bag water as possible and run a wide open drip line to quickly acclimate the fish.
I recently moved from Wisconsin to Philadelphia and wasn’t willing to give up my fish and aquariums. I actually had to move the fish three times over the course of this move. We got rid of our apartment in Northern Wisconsin in October, so I went to stay with my in-laws an hour south while my husband went to Philadelphia ahead of me to find an apartment. Moving the fish wasn’t as difficult as moving the corals, and I ended up losing every last one because of the cold weather. What I should’ve done was pack them in a Styrofoam box with heat packs, but since we only had an hour to go, I put the fish and corals in 5 gallon buckets. If the fish had to be in the buckets longer, I had planned to use battery powered air pumps to keep them aerated.
Once I was ready to move myself, our furniture, and our other pets (parrots, hamsters, gecko, etc), things got trickier. It was going to take 3 days to drive a moving truck from Wisconsin to Philly in sub-zero weather. There wasn’t room in the cab of the truck, and it would be too cold in the cargo hold. I decided the best way to proceed was to ship them overnight via FedEx to my husband who was already in Philly. I packed up a test box of guppies, dwarf seahorses, and a couple hardy saltwater fish, then took it to FedEx. They quoted me $300 for overnight. I estimated I needed three more boxes to pack up the seahorses and remaining saltwater fish, so ultimately, it was going to cost $1200 to ship my fish. I ended up sending the test box 2 day air for $150.
Luckily, I have a friend in Wisconsin an hour south of where I was staying with my in-laws who also breeds seahorses. She graciously volunteered to baby-sit my seahorses and delicate marine fish while I got settled in Philly. A month later we were ready to have them shipped.
My fish and seahorses all arrived in great shape today. They were already begging for food, eating, and courting one another. Here are some pictures of them in their new Philadelphia home!