By Dr Peter Burgess of the Aquarian® Advisory Service.

Moving house and fish is never an easy task. The important thing is to plan ahead.

Stripping down an aquarium can be a messy business and the disturbance will inevitably upset the fish. Plan ahead and ensure you have all the necessary equipment at hand to speed up the job.

Here are some useful items of equipment that you will need:

- Clean (detergent-free) buckets with lids. At least two.
- Plastic fish bags (your aquarium shop can probably give you a few, perhaps for a small fee)
- Polystyrene fish boxes (ask at the aquarium shop)
- Elastic bands
- Sheet of bubble wrap
- Siphon tube
- Air pump
- Bottle of water dechlorinator (such as Aquarian®ís Water Conditioner, from the aquarium shop)

Depending on the size of your tank, it may take several hours to strip it down, so it is often best to do this on the day before the move. In which case, keep the fish overnight in clean buckets of aerated aquarium water and, if tropicals, store them in a warm room (eg at around 70-75ļ F). Ensure the containers are covered otherwise the stressed fish may try and jump out.

The fish's welfare is the major priority. For the move, they will need to be temporarily housed in one or more plastic fish bags which are filled with approximately one third aquarium water and two thirds air. Donít blow into the bags to fill them. Secure each bag with two strong elastic bands. It is a wise precaution to "double bag" the fish to reduce the chances of leaks. Place the bags in polystyrene boxes. You can use newspaper or other wrapping to help insulate the bags to prevent rapid changes in temperature, and to stop them rolling around during the journey.

Put any live plants in inflated plastic bags with a little aquarium water to keep them wet. Store the bags inside a rigid container during transit, to prevent the plants from getting crushed. (The reason for inflating the bag is that the air cushions and protects the delicate plants).


Retaining the biological activity of the filter(s) is a good idea, and will save you having to re-mature the filter when the tank is re-assembled. If you have canister or simple sponge filters, store the filter medium in a bag of aquarium water during the move and get the filter up and running in the new house as soon as possible. If the filter medium is stored for too long in static water then the beneficial air-loving bacteria within the filter may start to die off. If you have undergravel filters then you cannot preserve their biological activity, and must set them up afresh.


Once the fish and filters have been taken care of, you can proceed with removing the gravel and rockwork. This can all be stored in bags for transport. Several small bags of rocks and gravel will be easier to lift than one large one! If you have time it is best to wash the gravel and decor before bagging it up, otherwise this task will need to be done before re-assembling the tank after the move. The gravel is washed by rinsing it in a clean bucket under the cold tap until the waste water runs clear. Scrub the rocks and bogwood under the tap with a clean plastic scourer or old toothbrush. Never use soaps, detergents or other cleaning agents.

Be sure to wrap fragile items (eg heater-stats and light tubes) in paper or other protective packaging - label the parcels so you can locate them quickly at the other end.

Cover the empty glass tank in bubble wrap or similar protective packaging to prevent breakage during transit. Stand the tank on an old blanket or other cushioned surface. It is best to transport tanks in the boot of the car and secure them so they will not move about. Never place an unsecured tank in the back seat of a car: it could be lethal if you brake fast or have a head-on collision.

Setting up the aquarium should be a priority at the new house -even if this means setting it up in a temporary location (such as on the floor). You can move it to the final desired spot at later, more convenient, time.

Put the gravel back in the tank, followed by the rocks, bogwood and other non-living decor.

When refilling the tank remember to dechlorinate the new water with water conditioner- such as Aquarian®ís Water Conditioner product (otherwise the chlorine in "raw" tapwater may harm the fish) - do this before adding the biological filter. Adjust the water temperature, switch on the aerator and filter (and, if tropicals, the heater-stat), and leave the system running for an hour or two before adding plants then fish. Float the fish in their plastic bags for about 15 minutes. Returning the fish so soon to a newly established aquarium is far from ideal but is usually the only option available.

Donít forget to monitor the fish during the first week or two, as they may be stressed (and therefore more prone to diseases) as a result of the upheaval. It is also a good idea to periodically test the ammonia and nitrite level during this time - just in case the biological activity of the filter was affected during the move. You will definitely need to monitor ammonia and nitrite if reinstalling undergravel filters.

The chemistry of tap-water varies throughout the country: some regions (eg Devon) have soft, acid water supplies whereas other areas (eg London) are hard and alkaline.
Hardy fish, like goldfish and many tropicals, wonít be upset by small changes in pH or water hardness. But if your old and new homes have very different water conditions and the fish that you keep are sensitive to changes in pH or hardness (eg some of the more sensitive tropicals) then you have two basic choices:

1) Acclimatise the fish to their new water conditions SLOWLY. This may mean bringing lots of aquarium- or tap-water from the old home for re-filling the tank. Then use tap-water from the new house to make your routine part-water changes, so the fish gradually adapt to the new water conditions.
2) Adjust the new water supply (before adding to the fish tank) so it meets the water conditions that your fish are accustomed to. You can buy aquarium buffers and other products to adjust pH and hardness Ė these are available from your aquarium shop.

Which of these two options you choose will largely depend on the type(s) of fish that you keep and their specific water requirements. If in doubt, seek advice from your aquatic store or from an experienced hobbyist.

Good luck with the move!

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