Sea cucumbers may seem an unlikely source of revenue.
But behind the scenes in a small facility on Coney Island, aquaculture experts are investigating the potential of farming this valuable and vital marine species. The ground-breaking work could help to boost the dwindling numbers of the species, which have been decimated by fishermen looking to take advantage of the thriving Asian market where sea cucumbers are considered a delicacy.
It could also put Bermuda on the global aquaculture map and provide a potential revenue stream to the Island. This cutting-edge work is being spearheaded by Samia Sarkis, who is affiliated with the Department of Conservation Services and who specialises in aquaculture.
For more than a year, Ms Sarkis has been developing aquaculture techniques in Bermuda to increase sea cucumber growth, which is now starting to bear significant fruit and could be used in the Caribbean.
“Clearly we have the same species of sea cucumber as in the Caribbean and Bermuda has the potential to develop technology for the Caribbean and increase the growth of this species,” she said. “We are looking at alternative ways to farm them and developing techniques so these species can be farmed in Bermuda to protect them.
“Sea cucumbers are a very high value food in the Indo-Pacific region, where prices can reach higher than $200 per kilo. In Mexico there is literally gun warfare over the sea cucumber harvest, such is the importance of the sea cucumber and the trade.
“Our project in Bermuda only began just over a year ago but we have seen excellent results with sea cucumbers, especially considering we have been working with very limited funds.”
The work at Coney Island began in July 2014 and has involved the cultivation of sea cucumber eggs, larvae and juveniles in large glass containers.
Ms Sarkis previously conducted major research projects on developing aquaculture technology for scallops, which attracted global recognition. In November she was appointed director of the Latin American and Caribbean chapter in the World Aquaculture Society. She hopes the promotion can help to put Bermuda on the map in the field of aquaculture.
She said: “Bermuda shares similarities with the Caribbean in terms of available candidate species for aquaculture and in terms of factors limiting the growth of this industry, such as available skill set for an aquaculture operation, and supply of seed or juvenile for native species.
“However, Bermuda has scientific expertise and research infrastructure. So Bermuda has the capacity to contribute to investigate the culture potential of Caribbean native species and to develop and optimise techniques applicable to large scale production.
“Becoming director provides a means to promote the diversification of aquaculture in the Caribbean region — including Bermuda — beyond the current trend of farming exotic species.
“More than 75 per cent of aquaculture in the Caribbean is based on tilapia production. There is know-how available for other species — native to the region — which should be considered to further develop this industry in a sustainable manner.
“Sustainability in this context refers to economic, social and environmental sustainability.
“I hope this will raise Bermuda’s profile in its capacity as a centre for research and development, and provide Bermuda with opportunities to play a key role in developing protocols for various stages of production of use to the Caribbean region, and share its technical expertise in the production of native species.”