Sea cucumbers described as “dark maggots” have brought new life to fish farms in Hawaii.
Kauai Sea Farms, the Pacific American Foundation and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) are working to breed three species of sea cucumber in the hope that they will become a high-value export product, benefiting the local ecosystem.
The project is taking place at Nomilo Fishpond on the southwest coast of Kauai, Hawaii. This particular pond, which is located in an extinct volcanic crater, is one of the oldest and most fertile in the entire state.
Hawaii is home to 488 of these so-called loco i’a, ancient aquaculture systems that were developed to support sustainable fish farming hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. However, after the westernization of Hawaii in the early 20th century, many Loco I became dilapidated.
Nomilo Loco I’a was abandoned since 1992, when Hurricane Iniki blocked its seawater channels and disrupted the flow of nutrients between the pond and the sea.
However, thanks to recent restoration efforts, Nomilo now hosts a healthy community of native species. But it still has a long way to go.
“We’re hoping this project can help address some of the challenges, including water quality, viable food sources, and revenue,” NOAA aquaculture expert Tori Spence said in a statement.
Sea cucumbers are a group of marine animals found throughout the world. Their bodies are like squishy cucumbers with short, tubular legs and they can grow up to six feet in length. They are considered a delicacy in many cultures, especially in East and Southeast Asia.
According to Kauai Si Farms: “Sea cucumbers are an important species to near-shore ecosystems, which are being wiped out worldwide due to high-value export markets.”
But there are other, non-monetary benefits of breeding them as well. Sea cucumbers serve as underwater sweepers, filtering out organic waste and other debris that has settled on the fishpond floor.
Like the filter-feeding oysters and clams used in other ponds, sea cucumbers can improve pond water quality. ,[This] The number of fish that thrive in a pond at once increases,” David Anderson, production manager for Kauai Sea Farm, said in a statement.
The project is focusing on growing three species of sea cucumber that are native to Hawaii: surf redfish and white teatfish, which are widely used in Chinese food and medicine, and namco, a species popular in Japanese cuisine.
The first phase of the project involves growing juveniles in solar-powered hatchery tanks. Next, the team will conduct tests in different pond environments to find out how the animals live under different conditions.
In the final phase, Anderson and his team will partner with the Hawaiian Sea Grant – part of a national network to promote the protection of coastal resources – to run workshops and produce on how to grow and maintain different species of Hawaiian sea cucumber. To develop the manual.
“This project is investing in the opportunity to use restorative aquaculture to produce a potentially high-value export product,” Anderson said. “At the same time, it will restore the fishing ponds and increase the production of fish for the community”.
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