After a Swahili lesson with Benji we sat down to do some research into the legalities of aquariums. There’s a man called Simon that Des knows who is going to be working for the Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Association (KCWA), but at the moment he is working in an aquarium.
He’s our spy.
Simom is taking an Aquaculture course and needed to do a work placement so for the last couple of months he’s been working at the Kenya Tropical Sea Life Aquarium in Nairobi, sending us pictures and information. It all looks a bit sketchy.
Cameron and I start by rifling through at the information Des has been sent. We see many pictures of beautiful creatures kept in pens that are really just glorified barrels. Zebra sharks piled on top of each other, turtles in miniature enclosures and even majestic eagle-rays encased inside tiny compartments of blue plastic. Saeed writes that all of the fish get starved for a couple of days before transportation so that they don’t dirty their pens or bags with faeces. We see the piles of fish that have died in transit due to inadequate conditions. For marine conservationists, this is sacrilege.
We start looking up the laws on this kind of stuff. Pulling up the 1991 Kenyan Fisheries Act and any legislation on aquariums that we can find. We discover that you need things like Fish Movement Permits, Aquarium Fisherman licenses to trade fish for ornamental or pet purposes. We’re not sure how many of these they have, or the exact terms and conditions of each one, but it’s a start. We’re a little bit dismayed though to find out that the punishments max out at a fine of 20,000 shillings (just over £150) or two years imprisonment.
We moved on to their website. We thought that we could have a look at what they’re claiming and see if it stood up to scrutiny. On their homepage it proudly declares that all of their fish are caught with nets, but when we look at the Shark Page it becomes a bit murkier. They say that ‘all sharks are caught with net/hook’. Hmmm… A bit suspicious. We noted it down and kept going. The website says that all incoming stock are given prophylaxis treatment, to prevent illness, but they don’t give any further details.
“What kind of chemicals are they giving to these poor fish?” Cam wondered aloud.
“God knows,” I replied.
We dove deeper into their website. They deliver stock all the way to France, Spain, Denmark, Italy, Hungary, Poland and Belgium. We cringed to think of the conditions that such gorgeous animals would be kept in on such long and arduous journeys, not eating for days and trapped in dark cargo holds. These fish were supposed to have a whole ocean to swim in, not a plastic bucket.
We clicked on the ‘Staff’ section and were met with a photo of Renee Dalgard, the founder of the aquarium. The photo is slightly blurry, but despite the pixelation you can see he’s a sleezy bastard. I admit I might be a little biased but there’s something about his eyes. They’re sunken too far into his face and the way that he forces out a smile, baring his teeth, it sets me on edge.
Once we’d gathered information on the laws and legislations of aquariums we decided that we needed to reconfirm our faith in the oceans by going for our first fish identification practice out on the reef. This was going to be a little trial for the in-water test we would have to do when we started diving, to prove that we knew all of the fish species well enough to survey them.
Yael and I took slates and Cameron took the selfie stick attachment for my GoPro so that he could point out fish species that we would then write down on the white slate in pencil. It was really good fun and a really useful way of learning the types of fish. The PowerPoint that we had been using was good but in some of the photos the fish are at weird angles and you can’t see their distinctive markings which makes spotting them in the wild a bit more tricky. Also you begin to memorise the order of the fish instead of their morphological differences.
Before we even reached the reef I heard Yael calling us over. There was something on a piece of seaweed that she was watching. It was orange and curled at the edges like it was made of ruffled fabric, a nudibranch. Tiny. The size of a fingernail. Then it unfolded itself and began to swim through the water. The way that it undulated and curved through the water was amazing and I’d never seen a free swimming nudibranch before. We lifted it up with the slate and watched it swim again before letting it rest on the bottom.
We swam out into the reef, spotting bloodspot squirrelfish, orange-striped triggerfish and raccoon butterflyfish. The water was clear and shallow, letting all the light in so the normally vibrant fish seemed to take on a whole new dimension of colour.
When we were coming back into shore we also had a visit from a beautiful tiger snake eel. They’re almost entirely blind (or just really stupid) and if you put a hand out they’ll just bump into it, change direction and swim along next to you. It’s body was incredibly soft, to the point where its tail would graze along my arm and if I hadn’t been looking I wouldn’t have realised that it touched me.
It felt like a real relief to see the natural world thriving after staring at all of those horrific photos of so many fish trapped inside postage stamp containers.
I just hoped they wouldn’t be for much longer.
- Swahili lesson with Benji
- Aquarium legislation research
- Snorkelling with fish identification practice
- Volunteer guide research
- Taekwando lesson with Bavel
- Swim in the sea
- Sundowners with Des
- To Backpackers!