How to Prepare your Reef Tank for the Holidays

Posted on July 11, 2012 | 0 comments

It’s a fact that all aquarists, sooner or later, take a holiday. But our Reef tanks stay home, waiting for us to return. As Murphy’s Law teaches, if something can go wrong, it will do so in the  worst time and in the worst way. And with many years of experience I can say that I’ve seen that everything can happen. To avoid unpleasant surprises, we have to be prepared for the worse, because it can happen. So let us analyze the problem from all angles.

Fish Health

Except for specific cases, is not a problem if the aquarium is left “alone” up to 1,5 weeks, talking about aquariums that are at least about 75 gallon and are properly set. The fish may lose weight a bit, but if well fed will continue to graze happily on our rocks, and will have no particular problems. My advice in any case is to feed them more, several times a day, the week before departure, even double what we normally used to give them, so have a little more reserves to live upon during our absence.

There are automatic feeders, they carry out the task of feeding during our absence. I generally advise against their purchase for many reasons. First of all the feeders are placed near the aquarium, where the humidity is higher and therefore more often your content is getting moist before being released in the tank, arriving in the worst cases even to the point of decomposition. Of course this does not happen with food that will be added the next day, but think about a food that remains in the feeders, exposed to moisture for a week or 10 days, we can be reasonably sure that is still healthy? Also relying to a specific tool that is not used all year, then some damage could happen just when it should serve, and in any event we should still use a protocol to avoid unpleasant surprises about electrical failure. If storing food in the feeder does not scare you (and I recommend, in case, to use only granular food),  put in it very little food and serve only to their survival and not for their well being. Besides that it can be a good idea to use it for less than the period of absence, i.e. four days for a week of absence and not more than 9-10 days for two weeks in order to minimize risk of use.

If you are lucky (and otherwise some holiday gifts can do a lot) to have someone who can go visit the aquarium once every 2-3 days, just to give them a small spoon of food, up to two each time. Little food, little pollution, because remember that in case of trouble we are not there and if the aquarium is overfed, this can be a big problem.

Coral Health

Corals need Light, some food and enough Ca and Alk to grow and stay healthy. Some people dose manually, but most of us use either Balling or a Ca-reactor. If set properly, these setups can dose while were on Holidays, that’s why we set them up. When you dose manually, this is the time to automate. Start at least a month before departure because errors can be ironed out then. I highly the use of The Balling Method, because it is almost fail-free and has much more benefits. More about The Balling Method can be found here.

Our fish provide the coral with their necessary food, they don’t need us to do so! Light should be controlled by timers and will work while were gone.

Overall Tank Health

When you consider overall tank health, salinity is one of the most important aspects.

Auto-top offs tend to fail regularly, so here comes a good neighbor of friend into play. Make sure to have a large storage of good RO-water, and just ask the person who keeps an eye out to refill the tank every day, or other day. Mark the waterline in the sump, and things won’t go wrong.


It’s hard to be calm if we have no one that could look at our tank, at least for a period exceeding seven days, even if everything else is prepared to perfection. Apart from this however, the tasks that we should leave our tank keeper must be simple and clear. Write a manual and checklist without forgetting the (for us)  obvious but important tasks, like top-off the tank with RO water.

So besides giving a few little spoons of food for fish and fill up the tank of RO they should not do anything else! We have to keep things simple, so it is possible for almost everyone to complete them. I also  recommend to leave the telephone number of a friend aquarist or the LFS, so if any problem comes out, he would know how to act.

I’m off to France now for two weeks, I’ll keep my fingers crossed. At least I know I’m well prepared! Have a nice summer everyone!

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