Researchers wish to uncover the potential of sea cucumbers as a natural, organic cleaner for fish farms. (Photo: Newcastle University/FIS)
Scientists study sea cucumbers for sustainable aquaculture
Friday, February 04, 2011, 00:30 (GMT + 9)
A team of scientists at Newcastle University are investigating how sea cucumbers can be used to create a sustainable farming in the sea.
Sea cucumber expert and part of Professor Selina Stead's team, Dr Matthew Slater, said the aim of the research is to learn about the animal’s potential as a natural, organic cleaner for fish farms around the world and as a nutritious food source.
“We wanted to find a way to clean up waste produced by large-scale aquaculture so that farming activities in the sea have little or no impact on the ocean floor,” explained Slater. “By growing sea cucumbers on waste from fish farms we are not only farming a valuable food product and giving the wild sea cucumber populations a chance to recover, we are also developing solutions to fish farming impacts.”
The sea cucumber project is being presented as part of a marine conference held at the university this week, which marks the beginning of the marine Newcastle network. It will unite the university’s world-leading experts in marine science and technology to resolve how to tackle vital challenges facing the marine environment now and in the future.
“By bringing together world-class scientists from a range of research disciplines, our goal is to find ways in which we can continue to use the seas as a source of food, energy and for transport, but use them responsibly and sustainably so we protect them now and for the future,” stated Professor Tony Clare, Newcastle University’s Marine Newcastle Co-ordinator.
The team has until now run most of the work at Newcastle University’s Dove Marine Laboratory. The team will next introduce the sea cucumbers to fish farms around the UK and raise them as both cleaners and food for human consumption.
As well, the team is spearheading a major aquaculture scheme in Tanzania, where animals are being raised in lagoon-based cages in a hatchery built to produce juveniles.
Stead, former President of the European Aquaculture Society, said this significant food export can give good livelihoods and a sustainable alternative to people.
“One of the key aims of the project is to find solutions for developing community-led aquaculture in East Africa as a way of tackling poverty,” she explained. “Sea cucumbers are fairly simple to farm, they just require clean water and plenty of food in the form of nutrient-rich waste.
“Man’s impact on the sea has escalated in recent decades and it is vital we work quickly to try to reverse some of the problems we have caused. Key species of sea cucumbers are already dangerously close to extinction unless we pull back now and give them a chance to recover,” she concluded.
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By Natalia Real