I do consulting for a number of mariculture – ocean farming – projects in the Indo-Pacific region. Currently I am working with one project, a social enterprise, growing the sea cucumber Holothuria scabra for the Chinese market. Sea cucumbers are a delicacy for the Chinese, and are also used in Chinese medicine and cosmetics. Here is a picture from one of the grow-out pens. You’ll notice that Nemo made a cameo appearance…
Around the world, sea cucumbers are being intesively over-fished and the natural stocks are collapsing. The project I consult for produces its own seedstock in their hatchery, a sustainable and ecological approach. In fact, we see juvenile scabra appearing in the areas around our pens – products of natural spawning.
Over a year ago, we finished a visit to the project and I just completed training of our local staff in techniques for research and monitoring. To the left is a picture of the village as viewed from the deck of the research laboratory. We fully expected to return in a few months – but of course all our plans were eclipsed by the pandemic.
However, we pivoted and adapted: setting up a WhatsApp chat room to continue the work together. Despite lockdown, the project staff did a great job monitoring growth rates, doing gonad surveys, estimating pen populations and monitoring environmental factors. And its fun maintaining the relationships while teaching them basic principles of marine biology and oceanography.
Here is a view of the deck with the lab on the right and our project pen in front. The pen is used to observe sea cucumber behaviour, test things like different types of feeds and any other activities that help us understand how to better manage these animals.
The work is fascinating. Sea cucumber culture is in its infancy, with only a few projects around the world, so the things we learn benefit not only our local villages, but other projects as well.
A drone shot of one of our large sea pens. There are up to 20,000 animals in a cage this size.