Leaving your reef aquarium can be
a traumatic situation, but there are some things you can do
to minimize the danger of a major catastrophe. For short durations,
a well-setup, stable tank can easily go without supervision
for a few days. This article is meant to address longer trips,
which would require someone to look after your tank for you.
Choosing a Tank Sitter
This is probably the most important step. You can hire someone
that specializes in aquarium care, but this is expensive and
there are no guarantees that they will take care of your tank
the way you'd like. It is a good idea to choose someone you
know and feel you can trust to follow your instructions to
the letter, whether that person is a professional tank caretaker,
or a complete aquarium novice.
The best choice is a friend that has experience with reef
aquariums. If that is not a possibility, then choose someone
that has shown consistent interest in the aquarium, and that
you can trust to follow your instructions without improvising.
If you don't feel comfortable with any of these suggestions,
then contact an aquarium maintenance professional.
The more you prepare for your extended absence, the more likely
it will be that your reef will be happy and healthy when you
return. The best way to be sure that your tank is not overfed,
or overdosed, is to pre-measure everything that will be added
to the tank while you are gone. Flake food can be put into
labeled sandwich bags with a day's portion in the bag. For
reef tanks, two part additives can be put in cheap, small
plastic containers labeled for each day, or for shorter trips
(less than two weeks) they can be ignored altogether, a stable
tank will not suffer from a few days lacking two part additives.
Unless you have a very simple method of dosing kalkwasser,
you would be better off discontinuing its addition while you
are gone. It is likely that a mistake in dosing kalkwasser
will cause a bigger problem than not dosing at all.
Food can be put into labeled sandwich
bags with a day's portion in the bag.
Two part additives can be put in cheap,
small plastic containers labeled for each day.
Be sure that any saltwater is well
marked and is not easily accessible to avoid accidental evaporation
replacement with saltwater. It would be advisable to explain
carefully to your assistant that they should always replace
evaporation with freshwater - not salt. Explaining why this
is true will help it make sense to your assistant.
Have everything your assistant will need in a convenient location
so that there will be no confusion. Be sure that anything
they will need is properly labeled and cannot be confused
with other items. If your assistant will need miscellaneous
items, provide the proper ones in the same location as other
equipment. For example, if they will need a bucket, make sure
a bucket safe for use is with your other aquarium paraphernalia.
This can prevent impromptu usage of other equipment (such
as a bucket used for cleaning with chemicals), which may result
in catastrophe for your tank.
Even more important, fix any broken or non-functional devices,
so that your assistant won't have to deal with them. Get the
tank operating smoothly long before you leave. Simplify all
your chores as much as possible, not just for your assistant's
benefit while you are gone, but also for your own. Do any
major chores (i.e. water changes, major cleanings/maintenance,
etc.) before you leave so that they won't need to be done
while you are gone.
Create a simple checklist of tasks for your assistant to use
each visit. This is where you tell them exactly what you want
done on each visit. This needs to be as specific as possible.
Without a checklist it will be very easy for your assistant
to forget something, or do more than you have planned.
Demonstrate how to do everything on the checklist to your
assistant. Have them do it at least once in your presence,
so you can verify that they understand the process.
Keep a logbook with the checklist. Ask your assistant to note
anything out of the ordinary, and keep track of what they've
done each visit. Dates and times are important required fields
for each log entry. This can be useful for when you return
to see how things went. Also, if something does go wrong,
your assistant can read the logbook to you over the phone
so you can determine what is amiss with the aquarium.
||Couldn't find one
of the gobies. Everything else looks good.
||The goby came out
tonight. Whiteish-green coral looks different.
||Didn't do everything
because I wasn't supposed to stop by today. Will be back
turning more green. Something wrong with it. Skimmer is
making funny noise.
||Fed twice as much
today since I should have come yesterday
if you wish to download this sample checklist in Microsoft
Excel format. (You may have to right click and select: save
target as... in order to save this file to your computer.)
Frequency of Visits
Depending on how confident you are of your aquarium's stability,
you probably only need to have someone stop by every other
day. If it will help your nerves, or if your aquarium typically
needs daily attention (fresh water replacement for example),
then certainly arrange for daily visits. Otherwise, your tank
inhabitants will do just fine without daily feedings for a
week or two.
Don't Make Major Changes
If at all possible, avoid making any major changes just before
leaving. The first few days after making a change is when
a failure is most likely to occur. Avoid the temptation of
installing a neat new gadget right before you leave.
Keep It Simple
Don't overcomplicate things. What seems simple to you may
confuse your assistant. Only do what is absolutely necessary
to keep your aquarium going until you get back. Water changes
can be postponed, additives can be skipped, and feedings can
be changed from elaborate custom seafood mixtures to simple
flake food. The more simplified you can make things, the better.
If it's possible, make regular contact with your tank sitter.
This will reduce stress for both you and your assistant. Be
sure your assistant understands that they are not to do anything
that isn't on the checklist until they talk to you first.
Of course the exception to this rule is if there is a leak
or some other major problem that has an obvious solution.
Let your assistant know that if they follow your direction
on the checklist and call you if anything else occurs, they
don't have to feel responsible if anything goes wrong. If
possible, every few days have a short conversation with your
assistant just to verify there are no problems. Be sure to
give contact information to your assistant so that they can
contact you if something does go wrong.
Provide an expert contact for the tank sitter to access if
you are unavailable in the even of an emergency. Good examples
of this would be your favorite employee at the local fish
store, or a member of an aquarium club you belong to who may
have in-depth knowledge of your system, or aquariums in general.
Document Basic Troubleshooting
Document anything that has gone wrong for you in the recent
past and how to deal with the problem if it occurs. If it
happened to you, it can happen to your sitter. Also describe
how to deal with any problems that you feel are likely to
occur while you are gone.
Relax and enjoy your trip. You've done everything you can
to ensure the health of your tank.