In Pacific island countries like the Marshall Islands, the sea offers more than land. But at the Land Grant program under the College of the Marshall Islands that is based in Arrak village, aquaculture complements agriculture and vice versa.
“Land Grant serves the RMI and the people of RMI based on their needs,” said Dean of Cooperative Research and Extension Stanley Lorennij. And Land Grant does this by extending land, sea and laboratory research to the community.
The needs of the people are conveyed through different channels. Recently RMI President and Aur Senator Hilda Heine expressed a need in Aur Atoll for rabbit fish, locally known as mole, while Education Minister and Mili Senator Wilbur Heine put in a request for clams. As a result, Land Grant successfully trained four Aur residents last month in cultivating mole and four Mili residents in cultivating clams to provide food or generate revenue for their respective communities. But the aquaculture division does not stop there.
The operation includes growing multiple aquatic organisms for feed, restocking, conservation and even aquarium use. Researcher Sergio Bolasina’s first project was on sand clams, known by the Marshallese as jukkwe, the amount of which have been declining in the lagoon and can now only be found in specific places or protected areas. Bolasina studied how to reproduce the species and compares how they are grown in the lab and in natural waters.
With research assistant Neirose Batin, a recent CMI graduate who also completed rabbit fish and clam training, Bolasina has been researching and growing Japanese and local species from larval stages. This entails culturing algae-based rotifer feeds to feed the fish, but since the fish are born very small the feed is a bit too big for their mouths, Batin and Bolasina told the Journal. The team plans to work next with grouper fish, which are in high demand in parts of Asia including China, Taiwan and Japan.
The aquaculture division has also been working on an aquaponics system where aquatic animals are raised with plants cultivated in water. This ensures a balanced environment through a cycle that feeds the fish, makes fertilizer from the waste and promises a fish salad later on, Bolasina remarked. At the moment the division is working toward expansion, which means moving the fish and algae into bigger tanks.
This also means there is a need for more hands. Electrical, piping and plumbing ensure that the lab facility runs smoothly, but there is only one person to maintain this at the moment. Ideally, the division would need five to six people to focus on the different areas of research and culturing alone. Currently water quality agent Loredel Areieta checks the water used in raising the tilapia fish, but as an extension part of her own division.
Bolasina also stressed the importance of aquaculture in medical research, pharmaceuticals and beauty products. These use marine animals such as sponge or even fish scales in study and consumerism. He added that island nations like the RMI, which are rich in traditional knowledge of the sea, must safeguard and use what they know in a modern setting.
Read more about this in the October 4, 2019 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.