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Oceanic Institute: Progress for Food Security and Sustainability

    By Malin Meyer. October 25, 2013 - 12:08 pm


As an environmental studies major, I am well aware of the many challenges the world faces when it comes to the degradation of our environmental resources.

And even though many of us tend to think of our dependence on fossil fuel as the major obstacle, there are numerous other issues at hand that also need to be dealt with.

One such issue is food security and it’s an issue that’s particularly important to Hawai‘i. It seems fitting that major research related to food security is being conducted here in the State – at Oceanic Institute in Waimanalo.

I recently stopped by Oceanic Institute to interview Dr. Shaun Moss, who’s been in charge of the institute’s shrimp department since 1997. The shrimp department has been featured regularly in the media for its research in aquaculture.

Originally part of the federally funded United States Marine Shrimp Farming Program (USMSFP), the shrimp department at Oceanic Institute was one of seven institutions that in the mid-‘80s was tasked with developing shrimp farming techniques for the American industry after a pathogen known as TSV (Taura syndrome virus) was discovered at American shrimp farming facilities.

Among their accomplishments, Oceanic Institute developed specific pathogen free (SPF) shrimp – shrimp that was proven to not contain pathogens – and by 1995, researchers at Oceanic could take SPF shrimp and selectively breed them for resistance against TSV.

Another major research area for the shrimp department is their work on developing recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS).

shrimp_dept_ocean“These are indoor facilities that uses recycled water for growing shrimp, eliminating problems associated with traditional shrimp farming,” Dr. Moss explained. The problems he’s referring to is effluent discharge into the ocean the outdoor shrimp farming ponds, and the restrictions of shrimp farming to coastal areas in the sub-tropic and tropical areas.

“Because RAS are indoor facilities, it’s not restricted to coastal areas, and we can control the temperature ourselves – so it opens up a range of opportunities for farming shrimp,” he said.

While Dr. Moss acknowledges that the technology is yet to be completely cost-effective, his hope is that the Institute’s continued research will one day make this technology available to shrimp farmers worldwide.

When the government stopped funding USMSFP in 2011, Oceanic Institute decided to take its technology and knowledge from the program and employ it at the global market – primarily Asia.

It’s important to note that Oceanic Institute is first and foremost a non-profit organization, so when they decided to go “commercial” they made sure to maintain their non-profit philosophy: “We share our research and know-how with businesses, and in return the share their services and knowledge with us. We set up contracts that focuses on transfer of technology. Whatever money the institute make from the contracts goes back into our research so that we can continue to explore opportunities and serve society.”

Oceanic Institute is currently working with two separate companies in China on a shrimp-breeding project, as well as setting up the RAS technology.

Moreover, Oceanic has engaged in a four-year project with the government in India to customize the breeding program for Indian shrimp farmers.

For Dr. Moss, the shrimp department has become more than just research: “It’s food, trade, modeling, and global business all at once– it’s such a fascinating multidisciplinary field to work in.”

And it could become even more multidisciplinary, as Oceanic Institute is looking into sustainable ways of producing feed for fish and shrimp.

Currently, farmers get their feed by catching or purchasing other marine organisms.

“It’s the process of exploiting one marine resource for another, and we don’t see it working in the long run,” Dr. Moss explained before elaborating on Oceanic Institute’s primary goal, which is to take resources out of the waste stream and put them back into use.

One area that could be worth looking into is the black soldier fly, which lays its eggs in organic garbage heaps. Its larvae are very rich in protein and could serve as potential feed.

The idea has been circulating in the scientific society for some years already, and Dr. Moss is very enthusiastic about the idea’s potential.

“Say that we collected lunch waste from schools and piled it together, seeding it with black soldier flies,” he said. “Eventually they would transform the garbage into protein-rich feed – and we could do it by simply using what we already have.”

Despite there being obstacles to the idea, such as ensuring revenue streams and getting it to a cost-effective level, it’s still encouraging to see that people have ideas, and that progress is being made.

In a world where the constant message seems to be that we’re running out of resources, it’s good to see people and organizations that are willing to think outside of the box.

Photos courtesy of Oceanic Institute.