Acclimation Series: What is acclimation? why should you acclimate?

So you are pretty excited about your new arrivals, can’t wait to get them into your tank. But a short while after you get them into their new home, your new fellows just lies there, dead. What could be the problem?

There is probably nothing more stressful to fish & inverts than bringing them from the wild through the wholesaler to your home. Within a short period of time, the fish was captured, held, packaged, shipped, sorted, handled, and packaged again, and so on through the collector, exporter, importer, wholesaler, and retailer to your tank. Throughout this process the livestock have undergone drastic changes in temperature, ammonia, pH, salinity, diet, medications etc. and arrive at your tank completely stressed.

What some hobbyists do not realize is that if the fish are not handled very carefully and placed in an optimum environment, their stress levels will increase making them sick and they will eventually die. You first need to understand the stress factors and how one can eliminate them. A smooth transition is therefore to your tank is facilitated through proper acclimation.

What is acclimation? Acclimation is the process whereby fish or invertebrates are transferred successfully from the shipping bag of water into your home aquarium.  Why is acclimation important? Your new arrivals from the ocean are used to stability and any abrupt change to their environment could lead to stress, disease, or even death.   It is very necessary to spend some time acclimating them to avoid any of the above scenarios.

Temperature, pH and ammonia levels often go awry during shipping and long duration in a closed bag.  You must also be aware of the salinity differences between the shipping water and your aquarium water; this can only be achieved through Acclimation.

Stress factors to be aware of and how to deal with them:

1) Temperature- The proper way to slowly adjust the temperature of your newly arrived fish or invertebrate is to float the bag in your existing aquarium water under dim lighting conditions only.  Do NOT float a bag under a set of intense and hot lights!!  This will cause the water in the bag to heat up too rapidly, and can shock the new arrival due to the intensity of the light at the water’s surface.  The best way to temperature acclimate is in a sump, refugium, or main tank with the lights out (or turned very dim if possible).  Do not open the bag and start exchanging or dripping until the temperatures are equal inside the bag and inside the aquarium.

2) pH- The pH often drops during shipping, due to fish respiration and waste released into the shipping water.  Acclimation will bring the pH in the bag gradually up to the pH level of your aquarium.  The proper pH for your saltwater aquarium is 8.0-8.4; the proper pH for your freshwater aquarium is 7.0.  The higher your tank pH the longer you should acclimate, but don’t generally exceed 60 minutes. On average, this process should last 20-45 minutes.  It’s also important as you bring the pH up to add ammonia neutralizer, because as the PH increases in the bag, so does the toxicity of the ammonia.

 3) Ammonia- Ammonia builds up in the shipping water due to fish and invertebrate waste in the bag. The lower pH in the shipping bag renders the ammonia less toxic.  After temperature acclimation, we recommend a few drops of a commercial ammonia neutralizer, such as amquel, be added to the bag water. Once the neutralizer is added, begin adding tank water to the bag and removing shipping water gradually until you have exchanged at least 75% of the water, or proceed with drip acclimation at this time.  So as you acclimate the pH will rise back up to tank levels and the ammonia will be diluted out.  Never acclimate without ammonia neutralizer because as the pH in the bag rises, the ammonia in the bag becomes more toxic and will cause excess respiratory stress to the fish / invertebrate.

4) Salinity- Salinity or specific gravity, the amount of salt contained in the seawater, will generally not fluctuate during shipping.  However, acclimation is very important to ease the transition from the bag salinity to the aquarium salinity.  Wild fish live within very specific salinity levels. Their bodies work hard to maintain the osmotic gradient between themselves and their environment. If their environmental salinity is not specific to their needs and is not held at a steady level, they have to work harder to maintain their osmotic gradient, which generates chronic stress. We generally recommend at least 10-15 minutes of acclimation for every point difference between the two salinities.  Example:  The bag salinity is 1.026, the tank salinity is 1.022, that’s a 4-point difference in salinity, therefore acclimate for 40-60 minutes.  Salinity of our shipping water will generally run 1.018-1.020 for fish, and 1.023-1.025 for inverts.  We recommend testing the water upon arrival with a reliable refactometer, and not placing the fish or invert into the tank until the salinities are equal.

Fish Spotlight: The beautiful yet very elusive, Diamond Tail Flasher Wrasse (Paracheilinus attenuatus)

Image: reef central

The Diamond Tail Flasher wrasse, Paracheilinus attenuatus, is one of the most attractive yet lesser known species of Fairy Wrasses /Fairy Flasher from the Indian Ocean. This fish is very much sought after and why not, with all its vibrancy and stunning hypnotic colors, rendering it the most photogenic of the flasher wrasses.

The Paracheilinus genus are known as flasher wrasses because males put on an extraordinary display of exaggerated movements and intensifying “flashing” colors when courting and mating.  Aside from the display, male Diamond Flasher Wrasses look great even without being in full nuptial coloration making them great acquisition candidates for aquariums. Aquarists debate the exact number of flashers due to geographical variations and hybridization issues, but it currently stands at approximately 16 species spread out from East Africa and the Red Sea, throughout all of the Indo-Pacific, and into the western Pacific Ocean.

Diamond Tail Flashers are the only species of Paracheilinus in which the adult males sport a lanceolate or pointed caudal fin, hence the name diamond tail wrasse. The females and young males have the more common round caudal fin.

Due to the flasher wrasses desirability – they are common in the aquarium trade- we have received many requests to source for the diamond flasher. However, despite the fact that the flasher wrasses maybe common, it is unknown to some of the aquarists that some of the flasher wrasses are rarely available; the diamond tail flasher being one of them.

Image: Brad Syphus

Why the Diamond Tail flasher is difficult to source

While we may be able to offer a few Diamond Tail Flashers to the trade, these species are few and far between. The fish which is found in East Africa, particularly our country Kenya, may only be found one or two in shipment with other wrasses after a long period of time. These fish appear in very low density and stays between 12- 25 Meters meaning that they must be decompressed so as to reach the surface, this can be very difficult for the smaller the fish.

Moreover, out in the fishing ground, it may take our diving team a whole week sourcing for the Diamond Tail Flasher without even finding 1 piece. When you consider its rarity plus the retail cost of this fish compared to the cost used up in sourcing the fish, it makes little sense as we the fish would have to go at a very expensive rate. We find it therefore difficult to do business with this fish and have previously dropped all requests to source for this fish.

A United Airlines airplane is prepared to be  pushed back from a gate Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, NJ. A winter storm one day after the Super Bowl cancelled or delayed dozens of flights in the region. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) ** Usable by LA and DC Only **

Freight delays and postponement as a result of bad weather  

We would like to inform our clients’ of the disappointing start to 2018 in some parts of the world where bad weather conditions are causing delays and cancellation of shipments thereby resulting in operational challenges, inefficiencies and increased cost.

Heavy snowfall and below-freezing temperatures have highly affected our trade due to flight re-routing and cancellation of many carriers. Temperatures in affected countries are sinking below -20 degrees Celsius and forecasters predict they would continue to sink.

To our beloved clients who are affected we apologize in advance and hope that the weather conditions clear up soon. In case of a delayed or a postponed delivery, we kindly request our clients to bear with us as these are unforeseen situations beyond ours or our carrier’s control.




From Reef to Aquarium

Before your fish finds itself in your top of the art aquarium, do you ever wonder where in the world it must have come from? How does it get from fishing point to you?

Despite how fascinating the aquarium might make your space look, mimicking the tropical ocean in one little breathing space, many hobbyists/enthusiasts know little about where their fish come from, and/or what methods are employed to catch, maintain and import for long term sustainability.

Kenya marine center aquarium


No doubt that fixating your eyes on a marine aquarium is mesmerizing; filling you with wonder and amazement at the creation of the beautifully decorated underwater creatures. How do their patterns and shapes come to be? How much more beautiful must it be in the ocean with the multitude of fish and inverts? What an incredible world it must be. Perhaps the admiration of Mother Nature’s most exotic and ornamented creatures is what has seen the marine aquarium industry, which started off as a hobby rise into a multi million dollar industry.

Whereas majority of the marine aquarists are aware that the greater population of tropical marine fish are caught from the wild (The industry is shifting more towards captive breeding), travelling across the world for export, they must be in tune with the process involved from reef to aquarium to better place them as keepers of healthy sustained fish.

So what exactly is the journey from reef to aquarium?

Where the fish comes from

Kenya is host to some of the most bio-diverse coral reefs with high fish diversity supporting species such as the mantis shrimp, potato grouper, hump-head wrasse and sea urchins.

It is estimated that there are 200 coral types and 1500 fish species in the east Africa marine eco-region that extends for about 4,600km of coastline from southern Somalia, through Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique to the north-eastern shores of South Africa. Our center however obtains its fish from the vast Kenyan coastal region; Ukunda, Kilifi, msambweni, Tiwi, Kindondo, Diani, Majaoni, shelly, shariani, kanamai, malindi amongst others. Species commonly available include; Anthias, butterflyfish, Clownfish, anemonefish, damselfish; the list is endless.

How Tropical Marine Fish are caught


Kenya Marine Center is well aware of the dangers of using crude live fish-catching methods on the marine ecosystem. Use of chemicals is detrimental to the fish as they are not only subjected to severe internal damage – killing them but their habitat is destroyed as well. To better help conserve and maintain our coral reefs and the ecosystem, we use traditional hand-net catching. We take full control of the entire fishing process and our fishermen are under strict orders and observation. The divers catch the fish one or several at a time using the barrier nets and scoop nets therein handling the fish from the reef in much the same way as we would remove them from the aquarium. The safe methodology that we use is one of the main reasons that our customers commend us on always providing them with quality healthy fish.

From Kenya marine center to your aquarium

Once the fish are with the fishermen, we ensure short transit time from the fishing point to our saltwater aquarium systems. We only use modern transport systems (trucks) fully equipped to sustain the fish during transportation.

We then acclimatize and quarantine the marine fish before their shipment with our marine biologist constantly checking on their health. Once ready for shipping, the fish are not fed for at least 24 hours to help minimize the accumulation of waste during transport. Our UV-C filtration + Chiller system used to purify our packing water improve our packing water quality and ensure that our fish survive the export ride.

At this juncture, the fish are packed and shipped off to importers’ facility. Since the journey tends to be tedious, 24 hrs or more, we pack our fish with plenty of pure medical oxygen to give them a favorable environment for sustainability.

Once at the importers’, the procedure should be to examine the tropical marine fish so as to make sure the trip was not overly stressful to them and that they were not injured along the way. Once the import facility is confident that the fish in their care are healthy, they are offered for sale. In some cases they are sold directly to hobbyists via the Internet, and in other cases they are sold to retail facilities at wholesale prices.

Heat pack

New stock arrival!! Heat Packs

To combat cold temperatures and avoid stressful conditions for fish during shipping over the cold season, Kenya
Marine Center has brought in new stock of Heat Packs. These will help the fish maintain a standard temperature of 24 degrees Celsius for up to 40 hours and KMC can guarantee quality shipment to all our existing and potential clients. These packs help control the temperature of the fish during shipping in case there is a layover at an airport
as well as during harsh weather conditions thereby helping prevent them from climatic impact.

Our heat packs are normally imported outside the country so as to ensure that we only offer quality for our customers. Aside from the heat packs, at Kenya Marine center, we can provide double insulation upon the customers’ request.

Kenya Marine center is committed to providing quality products and service and we are also open to more suggestions on how we can better serve our customers in terms of packaging.

Image: ©-Jaromír-Chalabala

Live Fish delivery delays due to unpredictable air freight space over the festive season

December brings a lot of pomp and color all over the world. For Kenya Marine Center however, this means unpredictability of air freight space. The festive season is very commercial which results to increase in shipping of goodsacross the world as people rush to ensure that their Christmas gifts arrive in time. Furthermore, passengers also tend to carry more baggage than on other occasions –and passenger baggage always has priority – which unfortunately results to commercial cargo being cancelled from flights when there’s not enough space.

Keeping this in mind, we would like to inform our live fish customers that they are bound to experience some shipping delays this month.we are not in a position to guarantee that goods will arrive as scheduled.To ensure on-time delivery however, we plead our customers to kindly cooperate with us by making sure that they plan ahead and make their orders early so as to facilitate early bookings.  Make certain that you also provide the correct descriptions for your orders to avoid last minute changes and therefore delay in shipping.

We apologize in advance for any inconveniences caused. Thanks for your cooperation.

Kenya marine center

Our Live Fish packing process

Increase in aquaculture has made shipping of live fish a very important activity in the fish industry. The success of shipping however depends on the methods of packing and careful handling.  Exporters take care of a number of factors to ensure that only quality fish is shipped to customers.

Diving for tropical marine fish

First off is ensuring that only quality water is used. Secondly, they also have to ensure that temperatures are controlled when transporting the fish and last but not least, exporters make sure that pure oxygen supply is available for the fish as this is the most sensitive factor for their survival. Ornamental fish caught for shipping also need to be handled and packed by skilled people who understand their needs.

Before shipping, the fish that have been caught are kept in clean water, separate tanks. The marine biologist checks on the fish constantly to make sure they are comfortable and healthy. We do not feed the fish a day before they are scheduled for shipping. This helps to reduce their metabolism and oxygen intake as well as avoid contamination of water with metabolic waste during transportation.

Once all these conditions are met, then comes the packing. Ornamental aquarium fish are packed in a polythene bag filled to 1/3 of its volume. The polythene bags are filled with three parts oxygen to one-part water. After filling with water and fish the upper part of the plastic bag is compressed to drive out the air and then inflated with pure oxygen. The top of the bag is then bent and tied with two or three rubber bands and then placed in Styrofoam boxes standardized specifically for fish.

Kenya Marine center

Styrofoam is mainly used for insulation to keep the temperatures controlled during shipping. Ornamental fish exporters either use Styrofoam boxes or line their cardboard box with Styrofoam panels – Kenya Marine Center uses the panels for packing. The Styrofoam boxes or panels are then placed inside another outer container – cardboard box to protect the shipment from damage.

One major challenge that Kenya Marine Center faces is access to the Styrofoam boxes. Kenyan manufacturers are reluctant to produce Styrofoam boxes due to low demand. This makes the production of Styrofoam boxes in Kenya to be very expensive. Importing them on the other hand would also result to increase in shipping costs.                                     

At Kenya Marine Center, we have been able to overcome this challenge of control of temperature by using heat and cold packs. These packs help control the temperature of the fish during shipping in case there is a layover at an airport as well as during harsh weather conditions thereby helping prevent them from climatic impact. Our heat packs are normally imported outside the country so as to ensure that we only offer quality for our customers. Aside from the heat packs, at Kenya Marine center, we can provide double insulation upon the customers’ request.

Kenya Marine center is committed to providing quality products and service and we are also open to more suggestions on how we can better serve our customers in terms of packaging.


Fishes out of Africa by Michael J. Tuccinardi a CORAL Magazine excerpt from the May/June 2017 issue

by Michael J. Tuccinardi

Despite being the second-largest landmass on Earth, bounded by two oceans and two seas and having tens of thousands of miles of coastline, the African continent does not tend to be thought of in terms of its marine life. Africa’s east coast, however, boasts vast stretches of tropical coral reefs in the Western Indian Ocean, many of them teeming with reef fishes. And although relatively few aquarists know it, Kenya has been the site of a small-scale marine aquarium fishery supplying fishes, invertebrates, and—until recently—corals to the trade since the mid-1970s.

Kenyan marine fishes have never been a particularly common sight at American import and wholesale facilities, but in my years at Segrest Farms near Tampa, Florida, I saw a few shipments of fishes and invertebrates from East Africa come and go, piquing my interest in a region that has some truly unique species. In my own travels and explorations of the marine aquarium trade, I’ve always gravitated toward the smaller, more obscure fisheries and collecting regions, and Kenya has remained high on my list of sites to visit. When the opportunity recently arose to not only explore the coastal city of Mombasa—the country’s marine fish export hub—but also to visit collecting sites along the country’s coast with Jochen Federschmied of Kenya Marine Center (a major exporter), I enthusiastically accepted and soon found myself disembarking from a crowded flight into a hot, dusty Kenyan afternoon.

Fish-holding systems at the facility of Kenya Marine Center, a large exporter located just outside the city of Mombasa.

Fish-holding systems at the facility of Kenya Marine Center, a large exporter located just outside the city of Mombasa.

It’s no surprise that Kenya, with just 333 miles (535 km) of coastline, is far better known for its interior, which contains spectacular wildlife habitat and the famed Mount Kilimanjaro, and abuts Lake Victoria, one of the major hotbeds of freshwater cichlid diversity on the planet. Despite that, Kenya’s coast is unique in that much of it is enclosed by a massive barrier reef lying just a few miles offshore. This chain of barrier and fringing reefs extends for over 125 miles (200 km) along Kenya’s shores and southward into Tanzania. The northern Kenyan coast near Lamu has less coral cover due to the out-flowing fresh water of the Tana River, and north of that the coral reef zone is effectively bounded by an upwelling of cool water along the Somali coast, so the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts comprise a distinct coral reef ecoregion, according to J.E.N. Veron’s online database Corals of the World ( And while the country’s reefs suffered significant bleaching during the highly destructive El Niño Seasonal Oscillation of 1999 (and in subsequent events), overall the fringing and inshore reefs have recovered and survived intact, especially in and around the nearly 10 percent of Kenya’s offshore area that has been set aside as marine protected areas (MPAs).

A group of Allard’s Clownfish (Amphiprion allardi), an East African endemic, in a host anemone on a fringing reef.

A group of Allard’s Clownfish (Amphiprion allardi), an East African endemic, in a host anemone on a fringing reef.

Kenya’s offshore habitat is diverse, including nearly every type of tropical marine ecosystem, from vast mangrove swamps, seagrass beds, and shallow Acropora– and Porites-dominated fringing reefs to extensive deepwater fields of soft corals and anemones. Over the course of my five-day visit, I was able to explore most of these habitat types and see many of the fish and invertebrate species that I had previously seen only behind glass. One of the first things that struck me about the underwater scenes off the Kenyan coast was the sheer volume of fishes present—huge shoals of Anthias were almost always in view along the reefs, and there were numerous large predatory fishes, like the schools of massive Southern Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) that I witnessed in the midst of a feeding frenzy just above one of the dive sites. Although it has a history of fishing and coastal resource use that extends back thousands of years, much of Kenya’s coast is sparsely populated, and there is relatively little in the way of industrial or large-scale fishing in most areas. This, coupled with the relatively healthy reefs, means that the fish assemblages along the coast have remained largely intact, despite some localized overfishing of food fish species.

The fish and invertebrate life found on Kenya’s reefs is extremely diverse, and while many of the commonly encountered species are found throughout much of the Indo-Pacific, East Africa boasts plenty of its own endemics. These unique species and distinctive populations— especially of reef fishes—have become staples of Kenya’s export trade, and over the course of my time there I was thoroughly impressed by the stunning array of fishes being collected in this undeniably exotic locale, although few are seen with any regularity in the U.S. aquarium hobby. Despite their relative scarcity in the trade, I couldn’t help but feel that many of them deserve more recognition. From an aquarium enthusiast’s standpoint, they certainly seem worth the extra effort necessary to seek them out—and not just for their uniqueness and suitability for any serious hobbyist who may have grown somewhat bored with the standard species seen in most marine and reef aquariums. I was struck by the obvious vitality and health of these fishes upon import, which was due to careful collecting methods—harmful and destructive techniques, such as cyanide fishing, are not utilized in the Kenyan aquarium trade—and short duration of transit from collection to export station.

For the next issue of CORAL I’ll examine the Kenyan marine fishery and provide a firsthand account of my time spent with the skilled divers who collect these fishes and invertebrates for their livelihoods, but for now I offer a detailed look at some of the country’s most impressive and unique fish exports, along with brief notes on their care in the aquarium.

The beautiful Blue Star Leopard Wrasse (Macropharyngodon bipartitus), a regular export from Kenya, in an exporter’s holding tank.

The beautiful Blue Star Leopard Wrasse (Macropharyngodon bipartitus), a regular export from Kenya, in an exporter’s holding tank.


Blue Star Leopard Wrasse (Macropharyngodon bipartitus)
Probably the most beautifully marked of all the leopard wrasses, as members of this genus are commonly called, M. bipartitus is distributed widely throughout the Western Indian Ocean and is extremely abundant on most Kenyan reefs. Although wrasses of this genus have a somewhat deserved reputation for being delicate in the aquarium, much of this is likely due to poor handling and stress during and after collection and importation. A large, well-established aquarium, a substantial sand bed, and ample feedings of varied, high-quality foods appear to be the keys to keeping these somewhat fragile beauties thriving in captivity.

Radiant Wrasse (Halichoeres iridis)
A fish that certainly lives up to its name, the Radiant Wrasse is another Western Indian Ocean fish found in large numbers off the East African coast. Like most of its congeners, it requires a sand bed to sleep in and, while shy at first, generally adopts the gregarious behavior typical for this genus. Some reports indicate challenges with recently imported specimens, which I would probably attribute to transport stress or malnutrition. Most freshly collected fishes are active and enthusiastic eaters.

Yellowtail Tamarin Wrasse (Anampses meleagrides)
Although it is found throughout the tropical Indo-Pacific, this beautifully marked wrasse has long been considered a challenge to keep successfully. Specimens from Kenya, which do not usually suffer from extended time in transit before reaching an exporter, are likely to fare far better in the aquarium, which is why this species remains a popular export from the country.

Yellow-Breasted Wrasse (Anampses twistii)
Like other species of this delicate genus, this wrasse tends to fare poorly when handled roughly or subjected to poor conditions before and during export. Much like the leopard wrasses, they need ample sand beds and large, well-established aquariums to thrive.

Bicolor Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides bicolor)
Without a doubt an experts-only fish, this species should be kept in a large aquarium under the care of a highly experienced aquarist. Carefully collected specimens that haven’t begun wasting away due to lack of food—such as most specimens exported from Kenya—are far more likely to adapt and thrive in an aquarium.

Candycane Wrasse (Hologymnosus doliatus)
This is another commonly encountered denizen of Kenyan reefs. The attractively marked juveniles of this species tend to form loose schools as they hunt for small invertebrates. Relatively hardy in aquariums, they grow to a hefty 12+ inches (30 cm) as adults and so are only suited for large aquariums.


Goldtail or Chrysurus Angel (Pomacanthus chrysurus)
This large, attractive angelfish is found only along the east coast of Africa and is among the most sought-after Kenyan exports. Although occasionally encountered on the reef, it tends to be more common in rocky and algae-dominated habitats on the North Coast.

Flameback Pygmy Angel (Centropyge acanthops)
Although remarkably similar to Centropyge aurantonotus, which, oddly enough, is found across the globe in the Southern Caribbean, C. acanthops is endemic to East Africa and sports a more vibrant orange coloration. On the reef, this fish tends to stay close to rock or coral overhangs and makes a colorful, if somewhat shy, aquarium resident.


Allard’s Clownfish (Amphiprion allardi)
A beautiful, rather delicate East African species in the A. clarkii complex, A. allardi is typically found inhabiting Carpet Anemones (Stichodactyla sp.) or Ritteri Anemones (Heteractis magnifica). Although it has been bred in captivity, it is not commonly commercially available except as a wild-collected specimen from Kenya.

Vanderbilt’s Chromis (Chromis vanderbilti)
A widespread species that, unfortunately, is rarely seen in the hobby, this small-growing Chromis is both hardy and peaceful. Although not prone to forming tight schools like some of their congeners, they make attractive additions to a reef tank and tend to stick close to branching coral heads.

Juvenile Blue Tangs (Paracanthurus hepatus) in an exporter’s aquarium. East Africa is home to a distinct population of this fish that is known for the unique yellow coloration in adults.

Juvenile Blue Tangs (Paracanthurus hepatus) in an exporter’s aquarium. East Africa is home to a distinct population of this fish that is known for the unique yellow coloration in adults.


Yellow Belly Hippo or Regal Tang (Paracanthurus hepatus)*
*distinct population
Although the Blue, Regal, Palette, or Hippo Tang is among the most well-known and immediately recognizable of all reef fishes, relatively few people are familiar with the fact that there is a distinct population of this fish known from East African waters. These fish, in contrast to the uniform blue they display throughout the rest of their range, sport a pale yellow belly that develops further as they grow. Beyond this unique color pattern, which should interest any aquarium-keeper looking for something out of the ordinary, these fish are typically collected and held under far better conditions than Indonesian specimens, so they tend to acclimate to aquarium life without the health issues that often plague this species.

The bizarre but beautifully patterned Gumdrop Coral Croucher (Caracanthus madagascariensis) is a miniscule relative of the scorpionfishes. Image credit: Mo Devlin / Segrest Farms

The bizarre but beautifully patterned Gumdrop Coral Croucher (Caracanthus madagascariensis) is a minuscule relative of the scorpionfishes. Image credit: Mo Devlin / Segrest Farms


Gumdrop Coral Croucher (Caracanthus madagascariensis)
This bizarre and minuscule member of the scorpionfish family is extremely similar in behavior to the well-known clown gobies of the genus Gobiodon, inhabiting coral heads almost exclusively in the wild. Technically venomous, these strange little fish adapt relatively well to aquarium life and would make a fascinating centerpiece for a nano reef.


Black Pyramid or Zoster Butterfly (Hemitaurichthys zoster)
This darker, Indian Ocean cousin to the more well-known Yellow Pyramid Butterfly (H. polylepis) is found in large aggregations just offshore along most of the Kenyan coast. This species is generally considered one of the more reef-safe species of butterfly.

The smoke from a smoldering cooking fire filled the small room and lingered just above the packed-earth floor. I was in the village’s only open “restaurant,” along with a few locals, who were sitting across from me on a rough-hewn wooden bench, quietly finishing an early breakfast. The familiar sounds of early morning in the developing world drifted in through the open door and windows—a rooster crowing apathetically, the far-off drone of a motorbike, and a pack of semi-feral dogs barking just outside. The proprietor of this little restaurant—an outgoing and rail-thin man in his early 60’s—leaned over to pass me my coffee and asked what brought me out to this somewhat remote spot. When I replied “aquarium fishes,” he responded with the bemused, slightly quizzical look I’ve come to expect from that answer. “We have those here?” he asked. “In Kenya?”

The beautiful African Flameback Pygmy Angel (Centropyge acanthops) is one of the country’s best-known exports.

The beautiful African Flameback Pygmy Angel (Centropyge acanthops) is one of the country’s best-known exports.

Many people, even longtime hobbyists, might ask the same thing. Kenya’s coastline, bordering the far western edge of the Indian Ocean, has been the site of a small but vibrant aquarium fishery for decades. Like many of the small-scale collection locales spread out across the world’s tropical oceans, Kenya’s marine aquarium fishery is relatively unknown and remains poorly studied. But the fishes that make their way into the United States and other import hubs across the world—several of which have populated my own personal aquariums—have held an enduring fascination for me, and for that reason I found myself traveling across the Indian Ocean from Colombo, Sri Lanka, to Mombasa to get a firsthand look at Kenya’s marine aquarium trade.

Arranging to see aquarium fish collectors in action, whether in the South China Sea or the Amazon Basin, is rarely a simple task. Success depends on complex, often last-minute travel plans, good weather, and no small amount of luck. On this trip, however, I had few obstacles to contend with, as I had help from one of the country’s largest fish exporters, Kenya Marine Center. The company’s founder, Jochen, had organized transportation and allowed me to accompany his divers and collectors along the coast for the duration of my visit.

And so, in the tiny village of Gazi, nestled against the mangrove forests along Kenya’s South Coast, I waited for the team of divers to meet me and begin the day. Another watery instant coffee later, they began to trickle in. One of the youngest, having had the good fortune to collect a rare Gem Tang a few days before, was clearly suffering from the after-effects of a long night of celebrating his valuable find. One of them beckoned me to the door, and I followed them out to a wide, sandy beach where the boat was waiting.

Most aquarium fish collectors in Kenya use SCUBA gear and hand nets to collect from the offshore reefs at depths of 20–60 feet (6–18 m).

Most aquarium fish collectors in Kenya use SCUBA gear and hand nets to collect from the offshore reefs at depths of 20–60 feet (6–18 m).


Over the next few days, I went out with dive teams along the coast to observe fish and invertebrate collection in action, traveling back each afternoon, along with the day’s catch, to their holding facility. Due to the relatively short coastline, most of Kenya’s aquarium trade is concentrated in a few collecting locations, most of which are only a few hours’ drive from export facilities clustered near the international airport in Mombasa.

The sprawling city of Mombasa, which has a population of over one million, is actually an island nestled into the southern edge of the Kenyan coast, less than 60 miles from the border with Tanzania. Its history stretches back over 1,000 years; it has been a Portuguese trading post, a British Protectorate, and a vassal state of the Sultanate of Oman. Today, it is a victim of the uneven pace of Africa’s urban development, and the dense population, heavy ship traffic in and around the port, and largely unregulated sprawl have heavily impacted the waters surrounding the city. Fortunately, the damage to inshore reefs has been localized, and it only takes a short time to reach intact, richly populated reefs just beyond the coast’s pristine beaches. A remarkable percentage of Kenya’s coastline is relatively healthy fringing reef, and the South Coast is home to the most vibrant of these.

This, combined with the proximity and easy road access to export facilities, is why the South Coast remains the favored region for ornamental fish collection in Kenya—and why I found myself on a traditional wooden boat heading out toward the extensive barrier reef outside Gazi, close to a kilometer from shore. The divers and boat crew, at first clearly a bit on edge having a foreigner in their midst, had relaxed and were now preparing for the dive. The majority of the collecting in Kenya is done by fairly well-organized and well-equipped dive teams using SCUBA gear. The reefs with the densest populations of desirable aquarium fishes tend to be around 30 to 60 feet (10–20 m) down, and although some areas had obviously been damaged in earlier bleaching events, these reefs were, for the most part, in good condition. The fish diversity was also remarkable; small schools of Powder Blue Tangs (Acanthurus leucosternon) were visible in every direction, and huge mixed-species groups of wrasses foraged close to the coral heads along the bottom.


Divers use barrier nets to collect fishes, deftly laying out the net in a semicircle on the seafloor and using it to corral the desired fishes into a smaller hand net before transferring them into standard plastic fish bags tied to their belts. Aquarium fish collecting in Kenya is, as in several other small-scale aquarium fisheries, a skilled trade requiring years of training and practice, and most of the divers I met had been collecting fishes as their primary source of income for more than five years—and some far longer. As always, I was amazed at the level of local ecological knowledge displayed by these collectors, who (when asked) can usually rattle off detailed information about the seasons for certain fishes at certain sizes, the influence of the tides and lunar cycles on fish abundance, and even what sites offer the best collecting at various times throughout the year. Each diver’s single tank of air is the major constraint on collecting, and they waste no time once in the water, scouting on their descent for groups of fishes to target and fanning out nets as soon as they reach the bottom. In a careful but hurried process, the divers spread out across the reef and pursue their targeted species, which vary according to what the exporter demands.

Although each exporter (there are three or four currently operating in the country) likely uses different methods with his own divers, the fact that Kenya’s fishes go directly from diver to exporter, typically in the same day, is hugely advantageous in terms of both communication and minimizing over-collection. Each dive team I spent time with went out with a rough list of what was needed, and for abundant or easy-to-collect fishes like damsels there was a quota in place—anything above that number would be paid for, but at a much lower price. During the 40- to 45-minute dives, the collectors gradually fill their belts with bags of fishes, from groups of Blue Star Leopard Wrasses (Macropharyngodon bipartitus) to reverse harems of the widely abundant Allard’s Clownfish (Amphiprion allardi), with the occasional larger bag reserved for single specimens of large angels like the Emperor (Pomacanthus imperator) or the sought-after Goldtail Angelfish (P. chrysurus). Above the surface, the boat crew times the dive and keeps close watch on the makeshift buoys, waiting for divers to surface.

Once the divers begin to surface, the crew springs into action and a flurry of activity ensues as the collectors, bags of freshly captured fishes in hand, haul themselves up and over the gunwales of the boat. Oxygen tanks are brought out and the divers and crew begin sorting the catch, re-bagging and changing water when necessary, before inflating the bags with pure oxygen. Each diver’s catch is placed in a separate pile in a shaded spot or under a tarp, and soon the divers begin preparing to repeat the process.

After a successful dive, collectors and boat crew work quickly to change water and fill bags of fishes with pure oxygen to ensure that they arrive at the export facility in good health.

After a successful dive, collectors and boat crew work quickly to change water and fill bags of fishes with pure oxygen to ensure that they arrive at the export facility in good health.


On a typical trip, the collectors make two dives, each lasting around 45 minutes, with a break in between while the boat makes its way to the second site. By the time the hot equatorial sun is high overhead—just around noon—the second dive has usually been completed and it is time to head back to shore. En route, the divers work quickly to re-bag most of their fishes once more, this time sorting them by size and species, performing additional water changes (big grazers like tangs and angels can make quite a mess in a short time) and, finally, marking the bags with scraps of paper on which they’ve written their initials—a simple yet effective system to ensure that each diver gets paid for the fishes he has caught.

Although teams of divers like the ones I traveled with are responsible for the lion’s share of aquarium fishes exported from Kenya, a significant percentage of snorkel-based collection occurs in the shallow inshore areas as well. On my last day in the country, I was able to accompany a group of snorkel collectors while they collected fishes and invertebrates. In contrast to the deeper coral reef habitat, this collecting site was primarily a vast seagrass flat, punctuated by rocky outcroppings with moderate coral coverage. Despite being far from “typical” reef habitat, these seagrass flats were no less productive in terms of fish diversity; dense schools of damsels, small surgeonfishes, and butterflies were easy to spot and approach. Because it requires far less skill and training, snorkel collecting is often an entry-level position for younger fishermen looking for work in the aquarium trade. Over time, snorkel collectors who prove adept at collecting and produce fishes in reliable numbers are offered the opportunity to train as divers, which comes with a substantial increase in earning potential.

After a particularly long, hot morning at sea, divers return to the export facility with their catch and unpack them before they are acclimated in holding tanks. Generally, divers are paid only for the fishes that survive the trip, so they keep a careful eye on them. It is uncommon to see any fish mortality at this stage.

After a particularly long, hot morning at sea, divers return to the export facility with their catch and unpack them before they are acclimated in holding tanks. Generally, divers are paid only for the fishes that survive the trip, so they keep a careful eye on them. It is uncommon to see any fish mortality at this stage.

Like many marine aquarium fisheries, the commercial trade in Kenya began in the early 1970s (Okemwa et al. 2005), at a time when the combination of improved air transportation and early success keeping marine aquariums drove some enterprising members of the industry to look beyond the established export points in the Philippines and Hawaii. Kenya’s reefs, which boast a wide variety of endemic, aquarium-suitable species (for more information on these, see Part I of this feature in the previous issue), made for an attractive, if logistically challenging target for the growing trade. Although there is no written history of the trade in Kenya, multiple sources relayed to me that one or more German expats began the first collection and export operation in the country. For many years, Kenyan fishes were sought by aficionados of the uncommon, but were only intermittently available. During the 1990s and into the 2000s, Kenya’s marine aquarium industry saw increased involvement by a few major importers in the US and Europe and developed significantly, and once-sporadic shipments became far more regular.

In the final stage of the process, fishes are packed for export to wholesalers and importers around the world. This packing crew is bagging Kenya’s unique “Yellow Belly” color form of the popular Blue Tang (Paracanthurus hepatus) for a shipment.

In the final stage of the process, fishes are packed for export to wholesalers and importers around the world. This packing crew is bagging Kenya’s unique “Yellow Belly” color form of the popular Blue Tang (Paracanthurus hepatus) for a shipment.


For a time, even corals were exported and the main collection point, Shimoni, on the Southern Coast, became something of a well-known name among importers and members of the trade. To this day, the Kenya Tree Coral (Capnella sp.)—which, if I recall correctly, was the first coral I ever bought—remains a staple of the hobby, although its namesake country no longer allows the collection or export of any coral species. Today, a handful of exporters continue to ship fishes and invertebrates regularly from Mombasa International Airport, primarily to Europe and the United States. Although the “boom years” of the business have probably passed, aquarium fish collection remains an important business for those involved.

Like nearly all small-scale aquarium fisheries, Kenya’s has been poorly studied and would be considered data-deficient by nearly any standard. The country’s artisanal food fisheries, however, are fairly well-documented in the scientific literature, and many of its reefs have been monitored and studied for decades. This allows at least some insight into the fishery on an ecosystemlevel and, combined with what limited data does exist on aquarium fish collection, helps paint a picture of where the aquarium trade in this country, and the ecosystems that sustain it, stand today. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the degraded state of coral reefs worldwide, this is a bit of a mixed bag. Generally speaking, Kenya’s food fish trade has remained small-scale, and they have never had a massive industrialized fishing fleet like those seen in other Indian Ocean countries. This has almost certainly helped protect reef habitat from widespread destruction due to trawling and rampant overfishing, but even small-scale fisheries can have a significant impact. Research indicates that after a peak in the late 1970s, overall catch per unit effort (CpUE, an important indicator of fishery health) has declined for all types of artisanal fishing along the coast (Samoilys et al. 2016). While this decline has not been nearly as precipitous as in some other regions, it is still indicative of trouble ahead for many of the important food fish families.

Kenya’s coral reefs, while still considered to be in relatively good health, have suffered a great deal in recent years. Major bleaching events in 1997–98 and 2007–08 caused significant loss of coral cover in many areas, although periods of recovery helped regain some of what was lost. Kenya also has an extensive range of marine protected areas along its coast, covering over 10 percent of its offshore area in total. Although enforcement of these areas (which includes strict no-take national parks) has varied in the past, a number of studies indicate strong recovery of fish and coral abundance and species diversity both in and around these areas. As is often the case, very little research has been done into the specific impacts of the ornamental trade, but given its small, localized nature and relatively low volume of locally abundant species, it is likely that the negative effects have been limited. Divers I spoke to, although keenly aware of lower numbers of food fish species in their collecting sites, generally did not see this decline extending to the aquarium species they targeted.

In an age of increasing concern about unsustainable sourcing of all manner of consumer products and widespread global decline of coral reefs, it remains surprisingly difficult to make purchasing choices for our reef aquariums that don’t contribute to either. Even defining what is and what is not sustainable with regard to the trade and hobby remains a fraught discussion, especially given the lack of research into most marine aquarium fisheries. In Kenya’s case, however, there are, at the very least, a few indicators that this fishery is among the better options for sourcing aquarium fishes and invertebrates. First and foremost, cyanide use and other destructive collecting practices are unknown in the country’s reefs. Also of great importance is the relatively direct route that freshly collected fishes take from reefs to export facilities just a few hours away. This dramatically improves survival rates and prevents the over-collection that results from poor communication between collector and buyer or the need to offset the high mortality rates associated with long, complex supply chains. Finally, Kenya’s extensive marine protected areas offer an important reservoir for species diversity and likely create what is known as the “spillover effect,” in which stocks of fishes and invertebrates in the surrounding areas are augmented. In the absence of hard data, it is difficult to support claims either for or against the sustainability of aquarium fisheries like Kenya’s, but these small-scale fisheries increasingly seem to be a better sourcing option for hobbyists looking to minimize the impact their aquariums have on wild reefs.

Part 1 | Part 2

See More:

Click cover to order this back issue for your CORAL collection.

Click cover to order this back issue for your CORAL collection.

See even more images in the lavish full version, published in the July/August 2017 issue of CORAL Magazine. Subscribers can access the digital edition to view this issue in the digital archives, or you can purchase a single-issue copy of the printed magazine through our web store.

Image Credits:

Images by Michael J. Tuccinardi unless otherwise noted.

As originally posted in the links below



A happy fish is a healthy fish.  And keeping fish healthy is our number one priority at Kenya marine center. Are you curious to know the reason behind our high quality fish at Kenya marine center and how we have achieved that? I will share with you our secret. Having Over a decade of experience in the fish industry we have gained informative skills and strategies that have played a great role in improving our fish health.

The key thing we avoid in order to keep our fish happy is stress. A stressed fish is susceptible to diseases that jeopardize their health. At Kenya Marine center we go out of our way to ensure our fish are in a relaxed environment. We enjoy seeing our fish swimming freely and radiant in our holding facility before export.


Below are some tips to make your fish happy

Fish Acclimation

Acclimation is the process of accustoming the aquatic species to your aquarium water. At Kenya Marine Center we acclimate fish brought in from the wild before introducing them to our system as we prepare them for export. This process is important because fish from the wild are adapted to ocean water which has a slight difference in parameters from the one in our holding facility. Introducing fish in your aquarium water abruptly might lead to stress or PH shock. That’s why we must acclimate our fish at Kenya Marine Center.

How we acclimate our fish at KMC

Drip line Method

In this method we float the fish bag for about15 minutes in our aquarium water to equalize the water temperature. Then we pour the contents in a bucket and set up a drip line from the aquarium to the bucket. We ensure the water slowly flows into the bucket. Once the water level in the bucket is double that of actual fish bag water, we dispose half of the water without harming the fish and repeat the process. When the process is over, the fish is now ready for its new environment.

Water quality.

Water entails the whole fish environment and thus plays the main role in fish health.  Fish put in poor condition get easily stressed. At Kenya Marine Center, we avoid this by ensuring all water parameters necessary for fish are observed in the holding facility and during transportation. We test our water frequently and this keeps us alert on what’s happening in our holding facility at any given time. It enables us monitor our fish and detect any suspicious behavior or fish discomfort and hence take corrective measures with immediate effect. We ensure to keep our water safe and suitable for our fish to keep them happy and healthy

Here are the major water parameters we observe, on a daily basis.

PH: 7.6-8.4

Temperature: Optimal range 24° C to 27° C

Salinity: Specific Gravity:  Broad range 1.025

Ammonia (NH3): Zero

Nitrite (NO2): Zero

Nitrate (NO3): Ideally Zero to 25ppm

Dissolved Oxygen: >6.90 mg/L


Good Nutrition

Fish should be fed healthy, that you can read in every book. But what is healthy feeding? It’s ensuring your fish eat good quality food which is a must if you want them healthy. Good nutrition boosts fish immunity making them resistible to diseases. At Kenya Marine Center we are careful on selecting fish feeds as we understand that every fish has its own demands and needs, for instance, Doctor and tangs like vegetable based food while lions are predators. This strong opposition on feeding behavior force us to act on it.

We are also very careful on the amount of food we provide for our fish. We ensure to provide just enough. Feeding too much can be risky. The leftover food decomposes in water altering the water parameters hence creating an uncomfortable environment for fish which causes stress. Underfeeding on the other hand will result to emaciated fish.

Fishes who go in export are exempted from feeding for 24 – 48 HRS.

Our Biological department watch the feeding 7 days a week as it is a daily task.





Regular Treatment

A fish holding facility works different from a home aquarium and we as exporters have to react on it.

In mass animal keeping, sanitation is a very important point. Out of this reason we have to do a regular treatment program for the whole facility.

We have been practicing this over the past ten years which has played a big role in keeping our fish parasites free and healthy. Ensuring our fish are in a safe and suitable environment has increased their quality as well.



Generally, we have been kin in observing all of the above and that’s how we have managed to have the best quality fish over the ten years. Our commitment to making our fish happy and healthy has resulted to us having the most admirable and happy fish. To sum it up keeping your fish happy is ensuring they are in a comfortable environment and knowing the right way to treat them. It is important to take care of your fish if you want them to stay healthy and of good quality.





The right way to acclimate incoming Fish

On a biological perspective, different species have different body settings which are highly dependent on its environment. This is the reason why a certain type of species can only be found in a specific area. The same goes with marine life.

Fish cannot simply adapt and survive in a new environment. However, if you wish to migrate your fish without the risk of them dying, you need to learn the right way to acclimate incoming fish into a new ecosystem.

What is acclimation?

For you to be able to transfer fish into a new environment without compromising it, you first need to learn about acclimation. Acclimation, or acclimatization, is getting certain species accustomed to its environment.

Several factors affect the health of fish in their environment, such as the water temperature, pH level, water quality, sedimentation, and ocean conditions.

Acclimation is necessary especially if fish are to be transferred from their natural habitat to an artificial environment. This is most common when fish are taken from the lake or ocean and transferred to an aquarium.

Naturally, fish are not easily affected by environmental changes when they are in their natural habitat and can always opt to migrate once a sudden disruption occurs. An artificial environment cannot originally meet the fish’s physical needs and need to be supplied with chemicals and adjust its oxidation level which can stress the fish and cause them to have illnesses and die.

Different types of acclimation methods

Entering your fish into a new environment abruptly can cause stress and illness. The right way to acclimate incoming fish comes in several methods. As simple as they may sound, several factors are also considered for these to be done properly.

Floating method

  • One way to acclimate incoming fish is through the floating bag method. The right way to acclimate incoming fish with his method is by allowing the bag the fish comes in with to float in the aquarium water. In its first fifteen minutes, the bag should be floated with its lid closed.
  • Open the bag afterward and roll the lid outwards to allow oxygen to come in and disperse the carbon dioxide accumulated.
  • Gradually put a small amount of aquarium water in the bag and continue to do so every five minutes. Once the fish bag is full of aquarium water, you need to scoop the fish out of the bag and transfer him/her/them to the aquarium. The idea of this method is to gradually adjust the fish’s body to the temperature of the water. At first the bag is floated with the lid closed to slowly adjust the bag’s temperature to the aquarium water.
  • Take note that you shouldn’t spill the water from the bag when transferring the fish already to the aquarium as this may disrupt the pH level of the mixed waters in the bag with the aquarium.

This method is best used for fresh water fish as they are less sensitive to pH level changes. Out of the two acclimatization methods, this is the easiest one with no other apparatus needed and can be done at home.

Drip method


If floating method is suited for freshwater fish, drip method is the only acclimatization method for saltwater fish. This method is more tedious and would require a five-gallon bucket and two air tubes and gang valves.

  • The right way to acclimate incoming fish through the drip method is by allowing the fish bag to float in the aquarium water with closed lids for the first fifteen minutes and opening the lid afterward. Gradually transfer small amounts of aquarium water as well in the fish bag every five minutes as well.
  • After conducting the first three steps of the floating method, transfer the fish to the bucket by spilling it together with the water in the bag. Make sure that the fish will not be exposed to the air during the transfer and must be completely submerged in water once in the bucket.
  • Attach one end of the air tube to the siphon drip line of the aquarium and place one end of the tube to the bucket. You can regulate the drip flow by using an airline control valve or simply tying knots on the tube.
  • Turn on the siphon drip, with four to five drips going to the bucket per second. Once the amount of water doubles, throw half of its volume and continue dripping until the water reaches the same level.
  • Afterward, scoop the fish into the bag, close the lid, submerge it in the aquarium, and finally open the bag to free the fish to their new environment.

The entire process takes a minimum of one hour. In this method, patience is really needed and monitoring is necessary.

Acclimate the fish the right way from one water to another

Acclimating fish is a tedious process. Simple as these methods may sound, the actual demonstration would require patience and careful handling of the fish. Several factors are considered when transferring them to a new environment, mainly the water temperature and the water quality.

Another factor to be considered when acclimating is light. During the acclimatization process, keep the lights off for at least four hours as this also affects the temperature and the entire adjustment process of the fish to its new environment.

Transferring fish to another habitat could bring them stress and cause illnesses and even death, the reason why the right way to acclimate incoming fish is given. Allow the fish to stay in their new habitat for at least week to fully adjust.

Guest blogger:

Toby Sanders has more than 15 years of experience in aquarium sector, he is totally passionate about creating Aquarist Guide blogspot. He enjoys sharing all of his knowledge to help you guys effectively build your own tank. He believes that when you find the easiest way to raise your lovely fish successfully throughout his blog, you will definitely fall in love with fish keeping more than a popular hobby.