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Learning about Mariculture: Florida Keys Community College

After talking with to Dr. Patrick Rice, Director of the Marine Environmental Technology Program at Florida Keys Community College, about educational opportunities related to the Gulf oil spill, I wanted to find out what other options exist for budding environmentalists who are interested in marine conservation. One particular exciting course of study for those interested in studying our oceans is mariculture, which studies and explores marine farming.

How do marine farms work? To put it simply, organisms can be cultivated in the open ocean in areas cordoned by large nets or ropes, or cultivation can happen in canals, tanks or ponds that are connected to the ocean, allowing consistent supply of fresh, ocean water. Marine farms can cultivate food items – like fish and shellfish – as well as non-food items like seaweed and pearls, which can be used for cosmetics, dietary supplements and jewelry.

The mariculture industry is growing rapidly, but the program at Florida Keys Community College extends well beyond simply the business of marine farming. At FKCC, the mariculture program focuses on teaching marine farming from a conservation perspective. “There is a right way and a wrong way to do everything,” says Rice. Take, for example, salmon farming. When salmon are cultured in nets in sheltered environments, huge amounts of resulting waste products settle to the bottom of ocean. These waste products can create a low-oxygen environment and harmful bacterial blooms.

How can responsible practices help mitigate these environmental risks? “If everything is done the same,” says Rice, “but some filter feeding mussels and seaweed are added to use the waste as a food source, they could convert it to something else that’s dissolvable by algae – and that’s a lot better for the environment.”  FKCC’s conservation-based approach operates from the perspective of trying to maintain balance in these marine environments by replacing what might be removed or adding beneficial elements, rather than just depleting them.

According to Rice, marine farming is actually the target program for most of his students at Florida Keys CC. “It’s a really great opportunity for 2 year degree students,” he says, “and our program is extremely competitive.” The program can also lead to a number of marine-related careers.

The study of mariculuture is, for example, critical for a marine biologist. “Anyone who wants to be able to mimic the environment of an organism,” says Rice, “for example a baby fish, must understand how water chemistry and other factors will affect that fish’s ability to spawn in captivity. In almost any area of marine science, you have to be mindful of the microbial environment, or understand live food production, invertebrate marine biology or phycology.” Each of these critical fields, he says, is a part of learning about mariculture.

Posted on: July 7, 2010, 1:47 pm Category: Getting a Green Job, Profiles in Sustainability Education Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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