Hopefully this text will help answer some much needed questions on how to effectively ship live saltwater corals and inverts. There's too many times that I'm reading a thread on RC that I see someone state that they'd be more than happy to trade or sell their coral, if they only knew how to ship it. So, for the many reefers out there that have the shipping itch, this one's for you.
First of all, you want to have the right bags for shipping, we use 6"x 15"x 4mil bags for larger corals, such as this one here, and 4"x 14"x 3mil bags for smaller corals. Uline.com is a great spot for bags, otherwise there's always some available from the sponsors here in smaller quantities.
Now that you have the right bags, you want to make sure that you have the correct amount of water in the bag, you don't want too little water, or parts of the coral will be exposed during transit, which could result in the coral arriving doa from shipping stress.
You also don't want too much water in the bag, in this case, the pictured Astreopora would likely not fit into the appropriate sized shipping cooler, and with the added weight, there's a much greater chance of the box being thrown even harder by the shipping companies.
This bag is juuuust right, enough water to sufficiently cover the coral in transit as the box is rotated, and not too heavy or large enough to fall into the category of the "fedex destroyed my package and now won't pay the claim because there were corals in it" fiasco. On a side note, if you're speaking to fedex, or any shipping company, about shipping issues, do recall that corals are "decorations", they aren't "alive" or "perishable", just... decorations Remember, no one's telling you to lie to your shipping company, but barring any direct questions, there's no lying involved here.
Now, the most crucial part is sealing the bag, which we've managed to make as streamlined as possible, without pics or ever seeing it done, it's near impossible to explain. First, you pinch off the bag, making sure that adequate amounts of air are under the pinch, you may blow into the top a little bit to make sure it's poofy. It's also notable that you not overfill the bag with air, as it will make it more likely to "pop" from the pressures of being banged around during transit, you want it to be fluffy, not superfirm.
Then you're going to roll the bag 3 or 4 times under the pinch, to make sure it's sealed, as such
Now comes the tricky part, you're going to loop the remaining top of the bag over the rolled bag
And then loop it over with a rubber band (obviously you'll be holding the other end with your hand, not a nail, it's just easier to take pictures that way)
This part is difficult to get into pictures but easy to explain, you're going to hold the looped top of the bag, and then wrap the rubber band under the loop, if you hold the bag up you can just run your whole arm in circles under the bags, takes about 4 seconds.
After that's done, you're going to loop the center of the rubber band over the looped part of the bag, again and again, until you're out of rubber band
Leaving a nicely sealed bag:
Most would say, hooray we're done, which would be the case if you weren't actually shipping your bag, unfortunately, you have to be able to look at the bag and ask yourself, "am I willing to drop this down the stairs yet?" Keep this in mind when packing any corals, since the fedex/dhl/ups experience is very similar to a nice drop down a long flight of steps most of the time. So, we're going to slide the bag upside down into another bag, like so
And seal it like before, making a double stuffed oreo style baggie.
Now, you may be done, but personally, I don't like to worry about replacing a $100 coral over not using one more cheap baggie, so we do one more, making it the ever popular triple stuffed baggie, at this point you can barely see what's in there, which is a sign that this baggie is done. For corals with sharper edges, feel free to use as many bags as you'd like, there's no such thing as too many.
There you go, one coral, nicely wrapped up and ready to pack into your shipping cooler.
We'll be going over shipping cooler choices in another article shortly, and the strength and weaknesses of each one, but we're currently conducting a few tests to see which coolers are the strongest (dropping stuff off the roof = a good time), that way we can recommend the best and cheapest coolers possible for each scenario. For now let's just say that you can get a box at staples or any office supply, get some styrofoam from home depot or equivalent, and cut the styrofoam into 6 pieces to fit the top, bottom, and sides of the box's interior. This is probably the most low-tech way, and a hard enough hit will cause your box to get soaked and come apart. Also notable are using a thermos for shipping, and a hard small cooler from a drug store. Those drug store coolers can weigh a lot and be pricey to ship, and pricey to buy, but work in a pinch.
If you're adding a cold pack, do place it on something warble
And wrap it up, in this case we used bubble wrap, but newspaper works as well, just keep in mind that you don't want your frozen (or refrigerated) cold pack coming in direct contact with corals, because it will turn acros brown so fast your head will spin, and highly stress most any corals.
And don't forget to leave your wrench on the floor, so your girl (or wife/husband etc) can keep asking why the heck you buy 18 wrenches a month if you're just going to leave them all on the floor until they rust shut from the saltwater that you incessantly spill onto them...
Now you didn't forget to put the cold pack into the cooler did you?
Moving along, if you're like me, your short attention span kept you from realizing that you should have taken your cooler out of the box to wrap it in the first place, so now you'll dig the full cooler out of the box, and wrap the top up. You definitely don't want the cooler to be at all open due to overpacking (boo)
You want a smoothly sealed fully taped cooler edge (yay). Obviously this is only for the uberpricey and overrated premade coolers that have a single seal, for the low tech method we recommend lining the box with a trash bag to prevent leaks. Remember, if it leaks, it will be delayed! And if it's delayed, you will be screwed out of your money, welcome to the fedex/dhl/ups policy, if they broke it, and it's corals, they won't pay it.