Note from the Editor:

David Kimutai (@Davidangelfish) had the good fortune to connect with a major livestock supplier based in Africa for the marine aquarium trade. Below is David's interview with Kenya Tropical Sealife LTD, and all photos included in the article are courtesy of René Jorgensen and Kenya Tropical Sealife LTD, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

Reef2Reef is very grateful for the opportunity to hear from René Jorgensen and for his giving us an inside look at how his business operates.


Gymnothorax undulatus or undulated moray eel.
Gymnothorax undulatus.jpg

Kenya Tropical Sealife is among the top suppliers of aquarium fish from Africa. I visited them and sat down with René Jorgensen (The founder, Director) and Caroline Githinji (Sales and Marketing), for a quick chat about how he started and how the company catches and exports fish to aquariums in Europe, Asia, South Africa, and the Americas.

René Jorgensen
Rene Jorgensen.jpg

The Beginnings

How did you start?

René: I was a fish wholesaler in Denmark and sourced fish from many places. I noticed that fish from Kenya were good but the supplier was doing a poor job (High Dead-On-Arrival mortality of fish).

So I packed up, sold shares in the companies and came to Kenya with my suitcase and little cash in 2002 to start a fish supply business. I understood what needed to be done to get the best quality fish to the aquarist.

Zebrasoma xanthurum or yellowtail tang.
Zebrasoma xanthurum.jpg

Setting up in Kenya

It was hard for René to acclimatize to a different environment. The first step was finding fishermen then training them how to catch fish alive, and without causing injury and stress. This meant going to villages, talking to fishermen and observing how they worked. He then got experts to train these fishermen how to dive and catch the fish that live in the deep sea. The fishermen use nets for small fish and hooks for bigger fish such as sharks and rays.

Zebrasoma gemmatum or gem tang.
Zebrasoma Gemmatum.jpg

René: When a fisherman catches fish and resurfaces very fast, it could cause decompression to the fish, leading to stress. So it was important that fishermen knew how to catch and handle the fish.

The fish are caught after a client has sent their order except for some rare finds.

Sealife divers at work collecting livestock.
Kenya Tropical Sealife Divers collecting fish.jpg

What did your first setup look like?

René: In the first setup it was a series of buckets serving as tanks.

This was near the Creek (Mtwapa Creek). I started with this system. It was later that I bought this place, built a wall around it, then set up these buildings.

First setup
Kenya Tropical Sealife 2002 - 2005 set-up.jpg

How many times a day did you bring water from the creek?

René: Once a day. But I had a very good filtration so the water was actually of great quality. I filtered waste, protein, nitrate, and ammonia from the water. There was a biological filtration. And that is why our fish were of great quality from the beginning even with the “primitive setup”. But it was a lot of work. We used this system (see picture of 2002 setup above) until 2005 when we imported the modern equipment we are using (from America).

New facility laboratory.
The lab.jpg

From the look of your setup, you must have a large team..

René: We are a team of more than 50 staff here (at the company premises), and most work in packing the fish. (They include a vet, marine biologist and aquarium attendants plus the administrative, technical, and marketing staff.) The large team is because we send between 10 and 15 exports a week.

Kenya Tropical Sealife employs 75 fishermen today in the ocean.

Large-scale protein skimmers.
Protein Schemer.jpg

How do you bring in the fish?

René : We have many fishing boats spread along the coast (different fish are found in different sites). We drop the fishermen in the morning at different sites where they will fish for the day. From 2 to 3 PM they come out of the ocean. Trucks pick up the fish from the boats and bring them here. (at the Kenya Tropical Sealife Premises along Mtwapa Road, Kilifi County, near Mombasa.)

Holding area.
Holding area.jpg

Checking the fish

René: We have a screening team (Aquarists) to check the fish are in good health. They then sort and record the fish in a book. After that the fish are quarantined under medicated water, then transferred into the holding facility where we feed them. The vet will also check the fish after the initial screening and on the second day after screening and then periodic checks until the fish is packed for export.

When they (the fish) are ready to be exported we prepare and then pack them.

Fiberglass tanks needed for certain applications.
Fiberglass tanks.jpg

The treatment process

After receiving the fish, members of the team sort the fish by size and species. They then go in quarantine for 24 hours. The system runs with antibiotic and FMC* to prevent infections. Water in the quarantine area is changed every second day.

From the quarantine the fish are transferred to the holding facility. But first, they are dipped in fresh water to eliminate any remaining bacteria.

While fish systems in the holding area run on medication, invertebrate systems do not run on any medication.

Treatment for elasmobranchs is different; they stay in quarantine for a month.

Elasmobranch facility.
Sharks and rays facility (System 1).jpg


Fish and invertebrates at Sealife headquarters have different feeding habits. Herbivores (many of the small fish) are fed seaweed. Carnivores feed on fish and artemia. Elasmobranch feed is varied and includes crabs, cockles, prawns, and fish like mackerel.

Pomacanthus chrysurus or goldtail angelfish.
Pomacanthus chrysurus.jpg


René: We get water from the ocean daily and clean it to remove dust and sterilize to remove e-coli to prevent infection.

Lysmata grabhami, a cleaner shrimp.
Lysmata grabhami.jpg

Water tests are usually conducted twice a week to check levels of:
  1. Dissolved oxygen
  2. P.H
  3. Salinity
  4. Temperature
  5. Ammonia
  6. Nitrite
  7. Nitrate
  8. kH
Linckia laevigata or blue sea star.
Linckia laevigata.jpg

How do you pack the fish?

René: Each fish has to go in its pack, and there is a lot of screening before the fish are packed. We check for any sign of parasitic and bacterial infection. We also look for damage to their skin and fins. Any fish that has an infection, injury, or damage is then isolated for treatment. Most packers have worked with us between 8 and 10 years so they now have lots of experience. The fish have to be 100% healthy, that is why we have a lot of cubicles where fish go in one by one.

Caroline: Some fish are aggressive. Even fish of the same species can bite each other so it is important to separate them.

René: We use special water for packing. The fish are then shipped out in clearly labelled boxes.

When the client receives the consignment, they can start with opening the most valuable or delicate fish.

Fish packaged and ready for shipping.
Packed Fish.jpg

Types of fish/products

Kenya Tropical Sealife supplies over 800 species of fish. They also deal with marine invertebrates and elasmobranchs from the east African coast, Red Sea, (From their base in Djibouti) and once in a while import from America. Some of the popular fishes include endemic wrasses, blennies, angelfish, and butterfly fish.

Invertebrates include crustaceans, starfish, anemones, sea cucumbers, and many others.

Aetobatus ocellatus or oscellated eagle ray.
Ocellated eagle ray.jpg

Some of the larger fish are guitarfish, sharks, and rays. Most of the sharks are of the genus Carcharhinus in addition to whitetips and scalloped hammerhead sharks.

The rays include different species of stingrays, leopard whiprays, and flapnose rays among others. Most of these end up in public aquariums while others like the spotted rays are popular among some hobbyists.

Heteractis magnifica or Ritteri anemone.
Heteractis Magnifica.jpg

Have you built aquariums?

René: Yes, I have built various aquariums along the coast and in Nairobi for a few clients. Kenya Tropical Sealife services and maintains the Aquarium at the Kenya National Museum in Nairobi.

Elasmobranchs headed to the airport.
Elasmobranch Airport Delivery Truck.jpg

What interesting projects are you doing?

René: We are now setting up the new site which will also have a higher holding capacity (6,000,000 cubic liters) We’ll update you on the progress via our social media pages.

*FMC refers to some combination of formaldehyde and/or methylene blue and/or malachite green and/or copper

Kenya Tropical Sealife LTD may be found here:

and their social media accounts are here:


We encourage all our readers to join the Reef2Reef forum. It’s easy to register, free, and reefkeeping is much easier and more fun in a community of fellow aquarists. We pride ourselves on a warm and family-friendly forum where everyone is welcome. You will also find lots of contests and giveaways with our sponsors.


Author Profile: David Kimutai

David loves visiting the ocean, and his favorite saltwater aquarium fish is the dwarf angel, genus Centropyge in the family, Pomacanthidae. He is a freelance science writer and digital marketer living in Nairobi, Kenya.

His love for aquariums started when he was young, when together with his brothers, they fished a trout from a local stream and kept it alive at home for days before releasing it.

His forum name is Davidangelfish.