Moving A Running Reef Tank

This article addresses moving a running reef system to a new location or into a larger tank.

It’s usually not as bad as you’re imagining.  Moving a running reef system is a matter of a few simple steps.  If you transfer all your current sand, rock & water you’ll also be transferring all your good bacteria too so there should be no cycling in either scenario.  The additional water needed to finish filling the tank (whether new or existing) will act like a water change.  A good thing.

Moving a reef system to a new location only requires additional new saltwater made in advance but moving into a larger tank will need some planning & steps taken prior to move day.  You've factored what additional or new equipment you need to run this larger system, now let's look at what's needed for the actual move.

Moving to a larger tank:

1.  Figure out how much additional sand & rock you will need (in addition to what you already have) to satisfy the bacterial filter needs as well as create the depth of sand bed needed for the size tank you're going in to:

          A.  LiverockMIN 1 Lb of Liverock per gallon of tank. You MUST use "cured" or fully cleaned rock.  Purchase raw rock in advance & cure yourself or purchase it cured.

               Raw rock will cause a back cycle which could give the tank a killing ammonia spike!

          B.  Sand:  See my "recipe" specs on the Sand page here.  Each sand item has the recipe for it's use on it's product page.

2.  Before move day, rinse any dry sand product(s) to remove the dust particles.  If you don't, you will have a milkshake in your tank!  Rinse until it looks like watered down milk.  Set aside until needed.  It doesn't go bad wet.  :c)


To prepare for the transfer you will want to use pails as much as you can.  They are easier to transport & use less water to transport fish, corals & other livestock.  Old salt pails that are clean are good.  Some people go to their local grocery store or bakery and get pickle or frosting pails (any pail used for food products are fine).  Totes can be used too, especially to transport your equipment in, live rock too.  You will need to prepare extra saltwater in advance.  This will be used to replace water lost in the tear-down and for at least 2 water changes during the first week reestablished.  This will help reduce any unlocked nutrients caused by the move.  Be sure to make up the new water at least 24 hours in advance of using - a week in advance is best! Always make more saltwater than you think you'll need so if you loose any during tear-down & transport…you’re covered.  It will also be used in place of the last cloudy water you will remove from your tank.  Again, this will act like a water change…a good thing.    Be sure to have ROX reef carbon and a couple Polyfilters on hand as you will want to use them once the system is up & running again.

Tools & Supplies needed:

Clean Pails & Totes
PVC Ratchet Cutter
PVC Cement
PVC Slip connectors (to put your pipes back together)
Drain hose - usually 1/2" ID hose is used.
ROX Reef Carbon


Air pump & tubing - use a airline "T" for multiple fish pails

Steps for the actual tear down day:

1.  Shut down your system.  Turn off the pump, powerheads & all electrical equipment.  Siphon or pump clear tank water into a pail filling it about ½ full.  Set this aside as it will be used for your fish later.  Use 2 or more pails if you think one isn’t enough for the fish.  We do this first because once you start to take out corals & rock the water will start to cloud.  We want the fish in clear water.  I recommend using an air pump in the fish pails.  Fish are fine cooling down some (try not to let them go below 70 degrees) but they can quickly deplete oxygen - a slow gentle big bubble is best as fine bubbles can irritate & stress them further.  Have your airline tube anchored at the bottom side of the pail.  I would not use an airstone. Just rubber band the airline to a piece of live rock will be enough.

2.  Fill another pail with your tank water to be used for your corals, shrimp, snails.  As you draw the tank down, take your corals & place them in your pail(s) of water.  They don’t need to be put in bags.  Put corals in a pail that will get along together for the move or ride to the new location.  Put your more sensitive corals like your LPS on top or where they won’t get banged etc.  Clean plastic bags can be used for padding between corals & rocks if need be.  Any coral like zoos you think might release chemicals from stress you can bag.  Zip lock bags with tank water work fine.  You could also buy some fish bags from your local LFS.

3.  Take any rocks without corals & put them in a dry pail or tote.  They can be out of water for hours & still be fine.  You just want to keep them damp.  Covering them with wet newspaper will help if the move will take more than a couple hours.

4.  You can remove the fish once you have all or most of your rocks out which will make it easier to get the fish.  Use 2 nets to collect the fish.  You will pull your hair out trying to use just one net!

5.  Remove the rest of the rocks & siphon out any remaining water into it’s own pail.  You will want to discard the dirtiest of water.  Most tanks will NOT be light enough to move with the sand in place.  Scoop out the sand into it’s own pail(s)/totes for transport.  Try to keep the topper sand separate from the sugar fine base sand.  This will help you in the re-setup.  don't worry if both sand types mix a bit!

6.  Once the tank is in it's final location, reinstall the sand.  Add your old fine base sand in first then top with your new rinsed fine sand.  You do not need to rinse your old sand before installing in the new tank.  Try to keep the fine sand together & heavier topper sands together.  Once this is done you can start filling the tank with your old water.  Leave the fish pail water for last.  Add your base rocks.  Then place your top rocks and finally corals in.  It will be cloudy so don’t worry about rock placement at this time.  Just keep the corals on top until you can see well enough to move them around.

7.  Once the tank is running (you probably used your extra water to get it running) you can put your fish in.

8.  Be sure to put in a hefty amount of ROX carbon & your Polyfilter(s) to remove any chemicals released by the corals as well as excess nutrients.

This article assumes your system will be torn down & re-setup the same day.  Keep all the livestock in warm areas with room temps about 70 degrees or more.  If moving to a different home location in winter, preheat the vehicles before moving & all should go fine.

Your Cart

Login Form

Visitor Hours:

No Walk-Ins

Until Further Notice.

See "What's New"

below for more info.