Shipping Live Corals

How’s it going guys, it’s Than from Tidal
Gardens, and as you can probably surmise from the title of the video, we are talking about
shipping. Shipping corals is one of the main challenges of operating an online-based business.
Corals by their very nature are fragile, and shipping them across the country is a highly
stressful event. It is also a very expensive so it is not something we want to be messing
up. Hopefully this video will give everyone an idea of how we package our corals. When you receive coral from us, they will
arrive in either a 4 oz cup or a plastic bag depending on the size of the coral. We will
talk about each of these in turn. First off, we like to suspend the corals in
their containers. The main goal here is to reduce as much bouncing against the sides
of the containers as possible. Minimizing contact with the side walls seems to help
greatly. To achieve this, we start with cutting square pieces of closed cell foam. In the
past, we would cut out circular pieces with a hole saw, but we later learned that square
pieces worked better. Also, square pieces resulted in far less wasted material. After we have some nice square pieces, I punch
a hole in the middle using a pen. Most of what we sell are frags and frag plugs fit
nice and tight into the middle of each square. The reason we prefer the square shape to the
round shape we used to use, is because the corners of the square anchor to the sides
of the cup. The cup can be jostled in any direction during shipping but because the
coral is essentially fixed, there is practically no risk in it flipping upside down or ever
coming in contact with the sides of the container. Here’s what it looks like with an actual
frag of Blastomussa. As I mentioned, it is pretty snug in there. We then slap a label
on the cup, which helps us as well as our customers. As soon as you touch some of these
corals, they shrink right up and they can be hard to identify. The labels really help
in that regard. In theory this cup should be ready to go,
but we like a little bit more peace of mind. It is very unlikely for a cup to leak or crack
in shipping, but anything is possible. Here is where our new favorite toy comes into play.
We picked up a bag stapler, which has saved us a lot of time and calluses on our fingertips. Rubberbands are fine to use, but once you’ve
bagged 100 corals or more, they can get your fingers pretty raw. A single pull on the lever
puts an aluminum staple in place that is watertight. At this point it is more likely for the back
of the bag to burst open than the staple giving out. Obviously not every coral is going to fit
nicely in a 4 oz cup. Some of our larger pieces are going to have to go into bags, but our
packing principles stay pretty consistent. We try to minimize contact with the bag itself,
and triple bag the corals to minimize the risk of the bag breaking or getting punctured
by a sharp piece of coral. Sometimes we are lucky and the larger piece
was mounted to a frag plug that we can then use to attach it to a float. When that option
isn’t available, sometimes the rock itself can be rubber banded to a float. Sometimes,
however, a piece of coral simply cannot be floated so it goes into the bag as is. One
thing to note is we don’t pack the bags too tightly. There can be some expanding an
contracting as temperatures in the box change so we want to avoid a situation where a bag
expands and bursts. Just like the cups, we slap a label with the
name of the coral on it. Winter is the busiest time of year in the
reef aquarium hobby, which means we do the vast majority of our shipping when it is cold
out. To do this, we send our corals out in insulated boxes with a heat pack. The heat pack is iron based and starts an
exothermic reaction in the presence of oxygen. A typical heat pack will quickly heat up to
over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The goal of a heat pack is to warm the air in the box passively.
You do not want a heat pack sitting directly on a bag of coral. The best way I have found
to keep the bag to itself is to tape it to the lid of the box. One last thing about heat packs… Remember
when we took all those precautions to make sure there are no leaks in either the cups
or bags? It is more for the heat pack than the individual coral. If a heat pack gets
wet, it stops the reaction, so a single leak could cause the entire order to lose heat,
which would be terrible. Sometimes though, it is just too cold out
even with Styrofoam coolers and heat packs. It’s simple physics. They can only keep
a box so warm so if the outside temperature is in the single digits or worse yet below
zero, we won’t be shipping. Finally, I should point out that we include
a pamphlet with some acclimation instructions for your new arrivals. In every one however
is a discount code you can use on your next order. Most are modest savings, but there
are a few floating around that are really big. Anyhow, that does it for shipping. I hope
you guys have a better idea of how we go about packing corals. Until next time, happy reefing

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