Consider These 6 Points Before Buying a Marine Aquarium Cleanup Crew

Marine aquarium cleanup crews (CUC)—those combo packs of various snails, crabs, and echinoderms sold for the purpose of algae control and detritus elimination—can serve an excellent utilitarian function in a saltwater system. What’s more, in addition to the janitorial duties they perform, many of these invertebrates are fascinating to observe in their own right and add yet another layer of enjoyment to the hobby.

Hermits crabs are a common saltwater aquarium cleanup crew member. Pictured is an Electric Blue Hermit (Calcinus elegans).

Hermits crabs are a common saltwater aquarium cleanup crew member. Pictured is an Electric Blue Hermit (Calcinus elegans).

However, any time you introduce livestock to an aquarium, there are compatibility issues, long-term care requirements, and other factors to think about. So, before investing your hard-earned dollars in any combination of critters to clean your aquarium, consider the following six points:

#1 Cleanup crews are just part of the solution

Cleaner organisms can certainly do their part to help keep irksome algae under control and scavenge uneaten food and detritus from those tight nooks and crannies, but they’re only part of the solution. You still have to do your part to minimize nutrient import and maximize its export by:

In other words, a cleanup crew is no substitute for good-old-fashioned “elbow grease.”

#2 Know what’s in the mix

Critter assemblages can vary considerably from one company’s cleanup crew to the next. Before committing to one, be sure to identify exactly which species are included in the package and thoroughly research their characteristics and care requirements—just as you would when adding a fish or coral to your tank. You want to verify that:

  • You can meet the long-term needs of all the species in the package.
  • All the species in the crew will be incompatible with your current livestock (e.g. they won’t eat valued specimens and your valued specimens won’t eat them) and are otherwise appropriate for your setup.
  • All members of the crew actually eat what they’re purported to eat.

#3 Ignore critter-per-gallon guidelines

Various retailers often recommend adding a certain number of snails, hermit crabs, etc. per gallon of tank capacity to keep algae in control. These types of rules are of little utility because what matters most to grazing and scavenging organisms is available real estate, not how many gallons of water the system can hold.

For example, if you have a 100-gallon aquarium that’s only sparsely aquascaped with live rockand you add 100 Astraea sp. snails to the system to control, say, an outbreak of diatoms. They’ll very quickly use up the available food supply and begin dying off.

A much better approach is to add a lower-than-recommended number of cleaner organisms to the tank and then observe their impact on the algae. You can always add more later on if necessary.

#4 Famine may follow feast

An Astraea snail moves across the glass while chowing down on algae.

An Astraea snail moves across the glass while chowing down on algae.

The scenario with the Astraea snails mentioned above is just one of many examples in which cleaner organisms end up eating themselves out of house and home. Another is Astropecten polycanthus, the sand-sifting starfish, which is often included in cleanup crew packages. This species does a great job of keeping an aquarium sand bed clean of detritus and uneaten food—along with any tiny organisms it happens to encounter in the sand.The trouble is, this starfish often does its job too well, consuming all the available microfauna in the sand bed and then gradually starving to death. This is often the outcome when this species is kept in small systems, it’s not provided an adequately deep sand bed, or the sand bed (regardless of its size and depth) simply doesn’t harbor an adequate population of microfauna.

#5 Crabs require caution

Various and sundry crabs, such as Clibanarius spp. hermit crabs and emerald crabs(Mithraculus sculptus), are also commonly included in cleanup-crew packages. But before adding any of these clawed critters to your system, be mindful that many of these crabs—even those that are largely considered herbivorous—are opportunistic omnivores that will sometimes decide to consume things we’d rather they didn’t.

For instance, it’s not unheard of for the ubiquitous blue-legged hermit crab (Clibanarius tricolor) to go rogue and feed on coral polyps and other small critters, including other members of the cleanup crew (i.e., snails). I can also attest from personal experience that M. sculptus is not entirely trustworthy around smaller fishes. One once sheared the entire anal fin and part of the caudal fin off a clownfish in my 75-gallon reef tank.

#6 Results will vary

As mentioned in the introduction to this post, cleanup crews can perform a very important function while providing additional interest. But keep in mind that these critter combos don’t always perform as well as advertised. Owing to factors such as the regular availability of alternate foods (e.g., fish food) in the system or the presence of excessive dissolved pollutants causing an especially intractable algae problem, these organisms may either completely ignore the items you want them to eat or make such a small dent in the problem that it’s hardly noticeable.

The bottom line is, a cleanup crew is just one part of the aquarium-maintenance picture. The rest is up to you!


Written by Jeff Kurtz

Photo Credits: Lucas


Diamond flasher (16)

Five Surprising Facts about Your New Saltwater Fish

Everyone loves the rich, brilliant colors of saltwater fish, and it goes without saying that their presence in an aquarium adds a vivid boost to any pet parent’s life. But there are some things that you probably did not know about saltwater aquarium fish. Read on for five fun facts that just might surprise you.


Did you know…

  • Not all saltwater fish are the same. You’re probably already familiar with the wide range of colors, shapes and sizes of saltwater fish, but did you also know that some saltwater fish are herbivores, some are carnivores, and some are omnivores? It’s wise to keep these differences in mind when selecting fish for your aquarium, so you can provide the correct diet for each inhabitant.
  • Saltwater fish drink water. Unlike their freshwater counterparts, saltwater fish drink water. Thanks to the effects of osmosis, they must drink water in order to compensate for the water that is being drawn out of their bodies. In the case of freshwater fish, the water is drawn into their bodies instead of out, thus eliminating the need to drink.
  • They use all five senses. While they might not see, hear, smell, touch and taste in exactly the same way we do, fish possess all five senses and use them to locate food, detect danger and communicate with one another.
  • Fish are smart. Don’t underestimate the cognitive power of saltwater fish. They are more than able to communicate with each other (and with you) by exhibiting certain signals and behaviors, so observe your fish closely in order to interpret their behavior.
  • Not all saltwater fish are friends. Fish are grouped into categories such as “community”, “semi-aggressive”, or “aggressive” when talking about compatibility, however, even fish that are coined “community” may not play nice. Some species get along with other fish, but are aggressive to their own species, while others may only get along with their own species if they are a mated pair. Some male fish like to live in a harem; in a group of all females, and will fight if other males are introduced to the tank. It is imperative that you research the behaviors and characteristics of each species you choose to add to your aquarium to make sure they are compatible with the existing residents.



Working towards a cleaner, healthier marine ecosystem: International Coastal cleanup

This past weekend, Kenya Marine Center helped coordinate and took part in the International Coastal cleanup that is held on the 15th of September anually. The Kenyan chapter which was divided into different cleanup sites along our entire coastline, recorded a large turn up and amazing team work to help make our environment cleaner and safer for our marine wildlife. The International Coastal Cleanup which saw its inception in 1986 catalyzed by the passion of two individuals; Kathy O’Hara and Linda Marannis, has since grown from just a small cleanup exercise in a small town in Texas to having over 100 countries participate yearly.


Unknown to some, the amount of pollution in our coastal lines especially plastic, has immense effect to our marine wildlife who end up dying as a result of chocking from plastic bags and straws or inhaling harsh chemicals dumped in our oceans. The coastal clean up saw people collect trash, and record data to help track and assist in the elimination of complete waste in the future. We took part in the Kikambala cleanup. Participants included corporate organizations, schools and the Kikambala community as a whole.


International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

Below is a round up of the cleanup exercise in other sections of thecoastline



International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center

International coastal cleanup - Kenya Marine Center


Aquarama: the ultimate marketplace for aquarium and fish-keeping industries 

Launched in 1989 in Singapore, Aquarama is an international exhibition for aquarium and terrarium supplies, ornamental fish and reptiles, garden and pond products. It covers most of the aquarium supply chain and applications (private home aquariums, public aquariums & zoo, etc.). The show is co-located with high level conferences (Aquarama Forum, public seminars), fish competitions, aquascaping masterclass, etc.


Director’s Statement – Succeeding through the seasonal changes

Dear Esteemed customers,


From where from you may be, I am certain that you are observing the seasonal changes. Spring has steadily given way to summer and fall will soon follow thereafter. Aquarium industry wise, you may/or not be aware of the ebb and flow that in most cases tend to correspond with the above mentioned seasons. This ebb and flow also tend to affect your purchasing decisions; if it’s not breeding season then the species are transitioning from pre-maturity to adulthood and so on.


Seemingly, when it comes to fish collection, there are often situations beyond our control that causes fish supply to fluctuate wildly each year, with almost no way to predict what will happen in any given year.


One year, can for instance see so many Zebrasoma desjardinii; so much so that we are pushed to halt its collection, while the next can see almost none of these species. This odd phenomenon can be as a result of the shift in weather patterns during breeding season and other influences that may directly affect the appearance of the species’ natural diet.



With very little chance of consistently predicting which way fishing patterns will turn out in advance. We therefore have to put in much work to ensure that you our customers understand the situation on the ground and are therein satisfied by our services despite the fluctuations. With that in mind, we hope to further eliminate customer disappointments stemming from not getting some of the fish in their wish list when ordered.


I would therefore recommend that you help us serve you better by maintaining good contact with customer support and simply explaining your requirements as clear as possible, so that they can be able to work on your order and get you the specific fish you need in due time. Thank you!

World Oceans (95)

World Oceans Day 2018 | Beat Plastic Pollution

This year’s world oceans day was marked with call to action for ocean protection especially against the threat of plastics. Guided by the theme, “Preventing Plastic Pollution and encouraging solutions for a Healthy Ocean,” we took to our shoreline along Kanamai-kikambala for a beach clean up exercise.


Being exporters of ornamental tropical marine fish & invertebrates, we are highly dependent on the Indian Ocean as our fish source and therefore it is vital that we help conserve it and the entire ecosystem. Our oceans increasingly face numerous threats such as climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, unsustainable and destructive fishing practices and the lack of capacities to address these threats. Aside from depending on it for or livelihood, we are committed to helping implement the Sustainable Development Goal 14: conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.


Our team was super ecstatic about the clean up exercise; a day at the beach!






The waste we came across included  plastics, lots of shoes (made of bothrubber and plastic) cardboards and glass. Of the three, plastics pose the greatest threat to oceans because of our poor waste management habits. Plastics are washed by runoff to the ocean thereby polluting our marine ecosystem. A recycling framework is needed in order  to prevent plastic pollution in the ocean.




















We are glad that we were also able to engage our  local community in the cleanup exercise helping mop up plastics from the environment.










In just a short stretch of the beach, we were able to collect bags upon bags of plastic litter, evidence of the much bigger problem i.e. poor waste management.





Going forward, we must continue to promote sustainable use of oceans even as we continue to use safe traditional fishing methods to collect our ornamental fish.  Our collective resolve together with or stakeholders should aim at finding solutions to common problems. We can ensure that our oceans are peaceful, safe and bountiful, and remain healthy as our blue home.

cleaner wrasse

Bi-weekly special offer: Cleaner wrasses

The five species of cleaner wrasses of the genus Labroides are truly an interesting group of fish. While not a unique behavior in the underwater world, their pathogenic cleaning service is quite remarkable.



The typical cleaner wrasse makes its living by nibbling parasites off other fish. A wrasse hangs out at an established “station” on a reef that other fish visit for cleaning. By eating the parasites, the wrasse gets a meal and the client gets a clean bill of health. Everyone leaves happy!



The wrasses in their ‘stations’ clean parasites, dead and damaged scales, and mucus from bony fishes, sharks, and sea turtles that present themselves for cleaning. A number of scientific studies and research attest to the important role these fish play in the health of the reefs. The overall health, size, and even diversity of fishes is greater in the reefs where cleaner wrasses are found versus those without their services.



Where cleaner wrasses are absent, resident fishes were 37% less abundant and 23% less species rich per reef, compared to control reefs, juveniles of visitors (fish likely to move between reefs) were 65% less abundant on removal reefs suggesting cleaners may also affect recruitment. This may, in part, explain the 23% lower abundance and 33% lower species richness of visitor fishes, and 66% lower abundance of visitor herbivores (Acanthuridae) on removal reefs that were also observed. ( Waldie PA, Blomberg SP, Cheney KL, Goldizen AW, Grutter AS (2011) Long-Term Effects of the Cleaner Fish Labroides dimidiatus on Coral Reef Fish Communities.)



This beneficial behavior is continued in captivity as well. While not to be completely relied upon over quarantine and proper conditioning, wrasse cleaning services can and does help in keeping other fishes healthy in our care. Numerous benefits from cleaner fish services have been documented, besides the obvious upside of removing parasites.



Cleaner fish also remove dead and damaged scales which are easy attachment points for some pathogens, stimulating mucus production, the first line of fish immune system defense, as well as the therapeutic affect of “it just feels good” much like we humans enjoy a back rub. The other fish benefiting from these services can be seen in dealer’s tanks when a new cleaner wrasse is added, fish will literally line up to await this service.



Cleaner wrasses are by no means an easy fish, but in the proper circumstances can be well cared for relatively easily, in some cases living over 10 years in captivity. Much of their perceived difficulty is related to the fact that they are obligate cleaners.Cleaning behavior can be classified two ways: facultative cleaning and obligate cleaning. Facultative cleaners provide this service on occasion or perhaps during a limited stage in it’s life but then stops as it grows. Juvenile angelfish, butterflyfish and many wrasses for example example, as young fish they provide this fish cleaning service, but prefer other food sources and stop entirely as adults.



Obligate cleaners need, or are obligated, to clean as nearly all of their nutrition is met this way.


Another reason for their perceived difficulty exists simply because of the service that they provide. Hobbyists may add cleaners in tanks with fish suffering from terrible disease, often ich or marine velvet, as a solution. However, such conditions would be fatal to just about any fish, even perceived hardy fish – cleaner wrasses.



That is not to say that if any tank is cycled and healthy a cleaner wrasse would be an appropriate choice, but rather in the proper setting these wonderful fish can be a beneficial addition. But what is the proper setting? Remember, they need to get much of their nutrition through cleaning client fish.


Captive bred cleaner wrasses such as these may one day be able to supply the demand from the aquarium hobby. In the wild they may clean hundreds, in some exceptional cases, thousands of fish a day. Most home aquariums come nowhere near these numbers, and if there are too few fish a cleaner wrasse can make a pest of itself in trying to force it’s service on unwilling participants.



In the obligate success stories the tank was usually a larger system, 150g or more and was heavily stocked with large fishes. The bigger the tank and the more potential clients the better. And while quarantine is best practice for any fish in aquarist care, cleaner wrasses most definitely contribute to the overall good health and well-being to fish in an appropriately sized setting.


The behavior of these unique fish is truly something to marvel at, and as a community that enjoys the natural aquatic world we as hobbyists want to afford these magnificent creatures the dignity they deserve and only add them where we are able to meet their specific needs.

kenya marine center interzoo (2)

Focus on Interzoo: Why we attend

Undoubtedly the world’s largest pet trade fair is underway in Nuremberg, Germany hosting thousands upon thousands of stakeholders in the pet industry. We are not missing out on the action either because we believe trade fairs offer us an incredible advantage of being able to connect in person with our customers as well suppliers of products and services valuable to us. But just how is Interzoo valuable?!


Interzoo Day 1

Day one of Interzoo was a buzz! We will be here till the 11th May! If you're around and would like to meet us, send an email to or message us on Facebook. We'd love to meet as many people as possible 🙂 – Nürnberg Messe

Posted by Kenya Marine Center on Wednesday, May 9, 2018


Diversifying into new markets

Interzoo thrusts you into a world filled with producers of products, suppliers, distributors, pet enthusiasts; name it! You want it; Interzoo trade fair has got it. The diversity with which this trade fair brings provides many an opportunity to explore and gather knowledge on new fields and markets they would probably be considering delving in. You also get on-ground information and statistics from people; let’s say you want to delve into a new country, Interzoo has many nations worldwide well represented and would be easier to gather information you need on ground and in person. You should also be on the lookout for possible business gains by visiting other booths. Trade fairs are the easiest way to do market research and you may be able to hook up with other entrepreneurs to expand your business.



Customer Relation

If trade fairs don’t bring you any closer to your customers, we don’t know what will?! The pet industry being an international, multicultural industry is made up of stakeholders set up in different time zones making it difficult to reach in person. However, Interzoo – under one roof gives you the access to thousands of customers and potential customers with whom you can amass opinions and feedback and be able to gauge your business’ impact in the market. Customers also get the opportunity to get the human connection with their suppliers and get their queries addressed in person. How valuable is that?! Did we also mention how many leads you get to generate?



Identifying Market trends to further adjust business

Trade fairs are not one-dimensional. Aside from display booths, there are various other programs that run concurrently with which you can use to assess the market trends and adjust your business accordingly; seminars conducted by experts in various fields as well as discussions of the latest innovations that may be applicable to your trade. Interzoo for instance, provides the opportunity to assess clients’ opinions, evaluate competition, check out new pet products and technologies, and determine market potential. One can as well as develop commercial structures through identifying new suppliers and distributors, and initiate joint ventures and/or project partnerships.



Meet & Greet

Finally, Trade fairs don’t have to be all business, all the time…years of the Interzoo have seen strange faces become well-known friends, and good relationships have been built up over the years through discussions and engaging at Interzoo; so in case you see us across your stand, say hello and lets connect!