New paper: key traits of Volunteer Monitoring Programs as related to Outcomes

From: Kris Stepenuck <kstepenu>

Subject: [citsci-discussion-l] New paper: key traits of VM programs as related to outcomes

Date: January 7, 2019 at 12:10:36 PM EST

To: “citsci-discussion-l” <citsci-discussion-l>

Reply-To: Kris Stepenuck <kstepenu>

Greetings citizen science community,

I wanted to share a recently released paper that identifies seven key traits of volunteer water monitoring programs as related to outcomes on natural resource policy and management. I hope it will be useful to volunteer monitoring and other citizen science programs as they grow and develop.

Here is a link to the full paper in Society & Natural Resources followed by the abstract:

As citizens take on expanded roles in gathering and reporting environmental data, their potential impact may relate to organizational traits. This study sought to understand the relationship through a survey that identified traits and impacts of U.S. volunteer water monitoring programs on natural resource policy and management. A multiple regression model tested the influence of nine traits on an index of impact, addressing eight a priori hypotheses related to natural resource management outcomes. Seven traits were significantly related to impacts. Significant positive relationships included: the objective to address an environmental crisis; an EPA and/or state approved quality assurance plan; support of external decision makers who may use or benefit from data; larger budget; volunteers playing more roles in the research process. Fewer impacts were expected from programs operating within schools. Understanding these relationships can help guide citizen science programs or other types of citizen engagement efforts.

Kris Stepenuck
Kristine Stepenuck, Ph.D.
University of Vermont
Extension Leader, Lake Champlain Sea Grant
Extension Assistant Professor of Watershed Science, Policy and Education, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources
81 Carrigan Dr, #312F
Burlington, VT 05405
Phone: (802) 656-8504
Email: kris.stepenuck

PICISOC Tech In Pacific website on startups and new technology

Another Pacific Islands INNOVATION that might be useful in the Caribbean, if it’s not already being done… might want to build a Caribbean small island site that’s linked with the Pacific AND relevant global sites — especially GIN <>, which is THE BEST source for news stories about small islands.


Begin forwarded message:

From: Kenneth Katafono <kenneth.katafono>

Subject: [PICISOC] Tech In Pacific website on startups and new technology

Date: October 29, 2018 at 6:16:45 AM EDT

To: Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society Discussion List <picisoc>

Reply-To: Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society Discussion List <picisoc>

Just wanted to share this –

Met a guy from Startup&Angels ( based out of Sydney and we’re looking at hosting events/training in Suva next year to help boost our startup ecosystem in Fiji.

University of the Bahamas: Small Island Sustainability Research Complex

from Eye Witness News <>

UB opens first Small Island Sustainability Research complex

The University of The Bahamas (UB) recently opened its first, state-of-the-art science research facility, the G.T.R. Campbell Small Island Sustainability Research Complex, which, represents a significant move towards sustainability and the fulfilment of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The multi-million-dollar facility is the result of a gift to the University from the Freedom Foundation, and is named in honour of shipping magnate and naval architect the late George T. R. Campbell whose family was present to witness the milestone. Mr. Campbell founded Dockendale Shipping in Nassau, an operation now headed by H.E. Lowell Mortimer.

A LEED-certified complex with modern laboratories to support a wide-range of environmental monitoring and chemical analysis methods and techniques of the air, land and sea, the research centre is also dedicated to meeting national priorities in agricultural production as well as food safety and security.

H.E. Lowell Mortimer, one of the visionaries behind the newly constructed facility, has remained committed to the institution over the years. Given the intricacies of the design and construction of this building, it was years in the making.

“Around 2008, starting with Dr. Keva Bethel, followed by Janyne Hodder, a presentation was made to me for a sustainability centre and here we are today with the G.T.R. Campbell Small Island Sustainability Research Complex”, he shared.

He was pleased to see Mr. Campbell’s dream become a reality. “I hope that through this centre, it will help fulfil one of the visions of George Campbell in helping The Bahamas to feed itself, just as in Canada, he helped Canadians to feed themselves.”

UB President, Dr. Rodney D. Smith touted the collaboration that will exist as a result of this new paradigm. “Small Island Sustainability is a signature programme at UB with various degree options that will provide students the opportunity to interact with each other and create inter-disciplinary synergies for dynamic research,” he explained.

The building comprises three classrooms and a geographic information systems (GIS) teaching lab; 6 research labs, including 1 aseptic tissue culture lab (a sterile lab); 11 staff and research offices, and office spaces for visiting researchers, graduate students and laboratory technicians. Additionally, there are six active research laboratories which will focus, specifically, on Plant Tissue and Bio-technology, Geospatial Visualization and Informatics, Food and Natural Products Innovation, Plant, Soil, and Water Sciences, Applied Laser and Optical Science Research and Chemical and Environmental Analysis.

Minister of the Environment and Housing, Romauld Ferreira, a UB alumnus, underscored the importance of this new complex and the role it will play in the future growth and development of the country. He commended the university for being at the forefront of sustainability practices in the country.

“As we open the door to the GTR Campbell Small Island Sustainability Research Complex, we are opening the doors to the solutions to our nation’s burgeoning problems. We are equipping this generation and those to come, with the tools to address climate change and to create the future they want and deserve,” he said.

He also acknowledged Campbell’s legacy. “The Small Island Sustainability Research Complex will set the bar for environmental studies and research throughout The Bahamas while paying respect to a man with an honourable history as a naval architect and prominent global leader within the shipping industry.”

Naomi Campbell, daughter of the late George Campbell, reminisced about her father and spoke fondly of him “My father was in inventor. He was a thinker. He was curious. There is nothing he was not curious about…his mind never stopped working.”

Campbell also reflected on the significance of the complex and what it represents to The Bahamas and globally.

“Sustainability is the word going forward that will lead us into the future. The new generation of students that will graduate from this university will leave their imprint for following generations. We are initiating a process that is spawning itself across the world right now and throughout universities and it is a wonderful thing to be part of,” she said.

The GTR Campbell Small Island Sustainability Research Complex will further position the institution to attract and retain world-class faculty; enliven the University system and bring together students, experts and facilities to revolutionize teaching, research and studies in small island sustainability.

New Nature article: ‘No PhDs needed: how citizen science is transforming research”

from Nature <>

23 October 2018
No PhDs needed: how citizen science is transforming research
Projects that recruit the public are getting more ambitious and diverse, but the field faces some growing pains.
by Aisling Irwin

Filip Meysman knew he had made his mark on Antwerp when he overheard commuters discussing his research project on the train. Then, just a few days later, he saw an advertisement about his work on television. There it was, he says, “in between the toothpaste and George Clooney’s Nespresso”.

As a biogeochemist at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, Meysman wasn’t used to drawing so much attention. But that was before he adopted the citizens of northern Belgium as research partners. With the help of the Flemish environmental protection agency and a regional newspaper, Meysman and a team of non-academics attracted more than 50,000 people to CurieuzeNeuzen, an effort to assess the region’s air quality (the name is a play on Antwerp dialect for ‘nosy’ people).

The project ultimately distributed air-pollution samplers to 20,000 participants, who took readings for a month (see ‘Street science’). More than 99% of the sensors were returned to Meysman’s laboratory for analysis, yielding a bounty of 17,800 data points. They provided Meysman and his colleagues with information about nitrogen dioxide concentrations at ‘nose height’ — a level of the atmosphere that can’t be discerned by satellite and would be prohibitively expensive for scientists to measure on their own. “It has given us a data set which it is not possible to get by other means,” says Meysman, who models air quality.

Citizen science — active public involvement in scientific research — is growing bigger, more ambitious and more networked. Beyond monitoring pollution and snapping millions of pictures of flora and fauna, people are building Geiger counters to assess radiation levels, photographing stagnant water to help document the spread of mosquito-borne disease, and taking videos of water flow to calibrate flood models. And an increasing number are donating thinking time to help speed up meta-analyses or assess images in ways that algorithms cannot yet match.

The movement is surfing wider societal forces, including a thirst for data; the rise of connectedness and low-cost sensor technologies; and a push to improve the transparency and accessibility of science. Increasingly, government institutions and international organizations are getting in on the action. The US and Scottish environmental protection agencies, for example, have incorporated citizen science in their routine work. The United Nations Environment Programme is exploring ways of using citizen science to both monitor the environment and stoke environmental concern. And the European Commission has made a range of funding opportunities available for citizen science within its €80-billion (US$92-billion) Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

At the same time, citizen-science proponents have grand visions for the future of the field. They hope that such efforts will become a major source of high-quality data and analysis in areas relevant to policymakers as well as scientists. In December, multiple citizen-science organizations banded together to form a worldwide group — the Citizen Science Global Partnership. One of its first tasks is to explore how citizen science can help to monitor progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to address global challenges ranging from hunger to environmental degradation by 2030.

To gain legitimacy, many expect that the field will have to overcome lingering concerns about the reliability of its measurements and its usefulness in research. “There needs to be some type of acceptance and institutionalization of citizen science,” says Steffen Fritz, a specialist in Earth observation and citizen science at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria. “It needs to be not just bottom-up — it needs also to be accepted as some kind of official data stream.”
Counters and encounters

The origins of citizen science go back at least a couple of millennia. In ancient China, migratory locusts frequently destroyed harvests, and residents have helped to track outbreaks for some 2,000 years. The modern form of such research arose after science became a professional activity, creating a cohort of interested outsiders in the process. The phrase ‘citizen science’ itself was coined in the mid-1990s. Alan Irwin, a sociologist now based at the Copenhagen Business School, defined it both as “science which assists the needs and concerns of citizens” and as “a form of science developed and enacted by the citizens themselves”.

Some of the earliest modern citizen-science projects, starting with bird counts in the early twentieth century, involved concentrated outdoor campaigns to record animal sightings. Since then, public involvement has grown to encompass a range of roles. Muki Haklay, a geographer at University College London, has outlined a taxonomy of involvement, from ‘crowdsourced’ citizen science, in which lay people contribute data or volunteer computing power, to ‘co-created’ and ‘collegial’ research, in which members of the public actively engage in most aspects of a project, or even conduct research on their own.

In areas such as biodiversity, where citizen science first thrived, projects are breaking boundaries through the sheer volume of participants and data. The Global Biodiversity Information Facility, the world’s largest such repository, says that it gets half of its billions of data points from lay sources. The group estimates that it has supplied data for more than 2,500 peer-reviewed papers in the past ten years.
Two youth programme participants take a photo of a plant with a smartphone to upload to iNaturalist

[Photo caption: Youth-programme participants Donovan Wooten and Maya Sanders record observations with iNaturalist.Credit: Catie Rafferty/]

At iNaturalist, a social network to which anyone can submit a photograph of their encounters with flora and fauna, co-director Scott Loarie has presided over a doubling of submitted images every year since it was launched in 2008. He tries to trace scientists’ use of iNaturalist data and has counted 150 papers so far — but he thinks that the actual number is much higher because many of the papers don’t cite the organization.

Other researchers have enlisted the public in more-involved projects to enhance research activities, including checking data derived from other sources. When a team published a paper1 in 2011 suggesting that there could be enough marginal land to grow biofuel sufficient to meet half the world’s liquid-fuel needs, Fritz recruited an army of citizen analysers to participate in the IIASA’s Geo-Wiki project to study the claim. After working through thousands of images from Google Earth, they generated estimates of land use that were hundreds of millions of hectares lower than those of the original paper2. “We downgraded the initial estimates drastically,” says Fritz.

Fritz thinks that some people are attracted to his projects because they want to contribute to science, whereas those who become most involved are drawn to the prospect of co-authorship on papers. Some simply like the offer of Amazon vouchers, he says, or a few euros.

Other projects can draw participants for political and social reasons. Within days of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, a small group mobilized to distribute Geiger counters (and ultimately DIY assembly kits) to anyone who wanted to measure radiation levels themselves. At times, local and central governments were hostile to the effort, says Azby Brown, an architect and a leader of the group, now called Safecast. But the findings proved useful, exposing inaccuracies in government readings: high counts where people had been told it was safe to go, and low counts in places that had been deemed unsafe. There is still scepticism about these citizen-generated data, Brown says, although the International Atomic Energy Agency has invited him to speak at several meetings over the past few years.

But it’s not just lay people with concerns or scientists with a bright idea who trigger projects: governments and their funding arms are also getting involved. With the support of the European Commission, for example, a project called Ground Truth 2.0 has set up six pilot ‘citizen observatories’ in Africa and Europe. Each is designed to encourage a three-way conversation between laypeople, scientists (or those who process the data) and those who could benefit from the data, such as policymakers or local authorities. Ground Truth 2.0’s leader, Uta Wehn, a researcher at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands, says that earlier citizen observatories funded by the European Union included the public as an afterthought. But here, scientists don’t dictate the project; they choose the location and let interest groups decide what issue they want to explore and how to do it. “We’re putting the people before the sensors,” she says.

One observatory, which is examining deteriorating water quality in the Mälaren region of Sweden, found out through early discussions that the existing data on water quality are dispersed, and that local people who do the monitoring had no connection with the decision-makers. Two years in, Wehn says it is too early to say whether such projects are changing policy. But participants laud the relationships that have been built between various stakeholders, she says.

Some research leaders are looking to citizen science to foster more inquisitiveness in the ‘post-truth’ era, in which emotional appeals often seem to win out against fact-based arguments. François Taddei, co-founder of the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity in Paris, thinks that citizen science can revive critical thinking. Children exposed to such projects are “much less prone to fake news and all these problems that we are facing in the information age”, he says.
Growing pains

Yet, even as its aspirations become grander in scale, citizen science faces a number of challenges, including data quality and recruitment — in terms of both persuading more scientists to work on such projects and enlisting enough citizens to participate in them.

Papers published in the past few years have identified flaws in citizen-sourced data, including deviations from standard protocols and biases in recording or in the choice of sampling sites3,4. Graham Smith, a wildlife ecologist who analyses sightings made by members of the public for the London-based Mammal Society, a British conservation charity, says that Sunday ramblers will ignore yet another rabbit bounding across their path but unfailingly note a more spectacular sighting such as an otter, which is “the most recorded mammal in Britain for its population size”.

Smith, who works for the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has explored statistical approaches to combat this bias. New apps that track a citizen’s route and time in the field are also enriching the data, he says. Meanwhile, simple techniques exist for testing the quality of online analysis, says Fritz. His group inserts occasional control submissions that test a contributor’s conclusion against a predetermined professional one (those who regularly fail — about 5%, estimates Fritz — are dropped, whereas those who do well can progress to become co-authors of papers). Scent, a project that uses a gaming app to encourage citizens to photograph land use, has humans and algorithms check one another for errors, says Daniele Miorandi, a communications engineer for the project.

Some academics fear that the public is getting fatigued by all the options, and note that participation in some projects, such as the United Kingdom’s long-running Big Garden Birdwatch project, has declined (see ‘Crowd power’). In an unpublished paper, Haklay has estimated that the number of people globally who could be drawn into regular data collection is about 1.7 million. “You can get a lot of people for a short time investment, or very few people for a deep and intensive engagement, but you can’t get everyone doing it all the time,” he says.

Researchers and participants are also encountering challenges with ethics, data use and privacy. In Kenya, for example, one of Wehn’s citizen observatories is a mapping project that enables people to note poaching incidents, wildlife encounters and fencing, which can be harmful to animals. But the data gathered could be used for nefarious purposes. “Sightings by the tourists might be perfect for the poachers,” says Wehn. She says the team is in careful discussion with authorities about what data can be disclosed.

These issues are likely to grow, particularly with the rise of health-monitoring apps. Philip Mirowski, a historian at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, has raised concerns about the fate of citizen data. He points to projects, such as PatientsLikeMe, that ask people to upload medical information. At least in the United States, he says, “the people who generate the data really don’t have any say in what’s done with it”.

Meanwhile, leaders in the field are pushing for more professionalization, by attempting to systematize the available research and agree on common methodologies. The Open Geospatial Consortium, an international alliance of businesses, research institutes and government groups, has launched a taskforce to get citizen data streams to talk to one another. And the US-based organization SciStarter, an affiliate of Arizona State University in Tempe, has made tools and other resources available for avoiding pitfalls in rolling out projects.

Some are sceptical of efforts to manage citizen science from the top down. Michiel van Oudheusden, a sociologist at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium who has studied the example of Fukushima Daiichi, says that citizen science can be especially valuable when it is unaligned with the establishment. “Subversiveness can be very productive,” van Oudheusden says.

But Martin Brocklehurst, an environmental consultant and citizen-science advocate, believes that the benefits of bringing order to the field outweigh those of being an outsider. “Too much of citizen science is like a fireworks display: it’s great science, but it’s short-lived,” Brocklehurst says. “We need to start embedding it into the routine way that we do science to support the policy-making process.”

Perhaps that is what CurieuzeNeuzen has achieved. The group thinks it reached a world record in the density of air-quality measurements. Now the people of Flanders are mulling over the findings. Among other things, the results revealed that the centres of rural villages, which were thought to have pure air, in fact have high levels of traffic-related air pollution.

The project has opened political doors that more-subdued announcements by the scientific community might never have done. Air quality became a theme in local Flemish elections, which were held in mid-October. Meysman says that he has received many invitations to present his data. And the European Environment Agency says that it aims to apply the approach more widely.

Still, Meysman says, citizen science isn’t always feasible. Less-established scientists, under pressure to publish, could not afford the time he has devoted to the CurieuzeNeuzen project, he says. Personally, he has loved watching the effort unfold — the communications campaign, the wave of public interest, the valuable new data — and the chance to put the results to practical and political use. “If I had collected the data myself, I would have had much less impact.”

Nature 562, 480-482 (2018) (See the original article — live link at the top of this posting.)

Cit Sci Ethics Discussions on Twitter

Lisa Rasmussen at UNC-Charlotte received a [US] National Science Foundation award for a conference about ethical issues in citizen science. Lisa is part of the CSA Ethics working group, which encouraged the proposal, with Anne Bowser and me as advisors. The goal of the conference is to reach a shared understanding of the existing “gap” in ethical oversight in citizen science, and begin to understand how this gap may be filled. 
To involve more people in the citizen science community of practice, we invite those on Twitter to join in the discussion tomorrow (Tuesday July 11from 2:00-3:00pmET at the hashtag #CitSciChat.  The in-person conference will take place next week at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, and then we’ll host another Twitter #CitSciChat on Thursday July 27 from 1:00-2:00pmET
For those not on Twitter, you can follow the feed on the left hand side of this page:
PS – I’m also hosting a #CitSciChat on Wednesday July 11 from 2:00-3:00 about biomedical citizen science, and on Friday Aug 4 at 1:00 about terminology in citizen science. 

NatureTech A Different Tack on a Nature Tech Project

The NatureTech award does not have to be based on mapping or GIS technologies, but there are many options using those tools, especially in ways that provide access to land information (including especially ownership).

This extended blog by Mike Miller illustrates a number of different ways that Web GIS tools could be harnessed to enhance and support environmental and cultural resource management in small islands of the Caribbean.

Check out requirements for the $3,000 NatureTech prize at NatureTech.Solutions.

Good luck


Begin forwarded message:

From: Mike Miller <lstomsl>

Subject: Why your organization needs a web GIS strategy

Date: May 4, 2017 at 1:28:59 PM EDT


Reply-To: Mike Miller <lstomsl>

I wrote this blog based on my experience in environmental consulting but I think many of the same principals will apply to conservation organizations.

Its not just about publishing data, its about making GIS more accessible and reducing costs.

Hope it will be useful.


SCGIS:The LISTSERV for the Society for Conservation GIS LISTSERV SIGNOFF SCGIS ********************************************************

Bruce Potter
NatureTech Award for 2017 — $3,000
Application Deadline — 1 September 2017

= – = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = –

Rising Tide of Citizen Scientists is Needed in Hawaiʻi

[from Hawaiian Public Radio, <>

Photos of King Tides (L-R) at Maunalua Bay in East O‘ahu, Kaluahole (a.k.a. Tonggs), and Kālia (a.k.a. Grays) in Waikīkī.

Scientists studying sea level rise at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa need your help. Impacts of some of our highest tides of the year are predicted to be seen this week. And the general public is being summoned to document those impacts along the thousand or more miles of coastline across the island chain. HPR reporter Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi explains how anyone with a smartphone and coastline access can contribute to science.


Who among us hasn’t dreamt of making that big scientific contribution or discovery? If that’s you, the Hawaiʻi and Pacific Islands King Tides Project may be your chance.

GONSER: We’re trying to document these high water level events to give us a snapshot into what could become an everyday occurrence with future sea level rise.

Matt Gonser is with the University of Hawaiʻi’s Sea Grant College Program, and he’s working on recruiting citizen scientists, ordinary folks like you and me, to collect data by snapping photos of what happens when the highest of high tides or King Tides meets sea level rise. Is there flooding? Is there erosion?

MERRIFIELD: What does it actually look like on the ground?

Side-by-side comparison of King Tide impact on the Ala Wai.

Oceanography Professor Mark Merrifield is the Director of the Center for Coastal and Climate Science and Resilience at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

MERRIFIELD: How is the beach affected? Is it running up to the road?

Merrifield has studied sea level rise for over 30 years, and says nothing can quite replace first-hand human observation.

MERRIFIELD: We have a very comprehensive system but it’s not everywhere. It would be great to see what the impacts are like across the state, and that’s where the citizen scientists can really help us.

Last year, Gonser recruited 60 citizen scientists contributing over 500 photosduring two King Tide events. But continuous data collection is needed when it comes to observing the combined impact of natural or cyclical changes like King Tides and sea level rise, which Merrifield says is subtle.

King Tide impact observed at He’eia Fishpond in Kāneʻohe, Oʻahu.

MERRIFIELD: We’re talking about inches of change over decades. It’s not something that you would point out and say that’s sea level rise, and that’s global warming. It’s a little more complicated than that.

According to Merrifield the rate of sea level rise that we’ve been seeing for the last century is going to double and even triple over the next few decades.

MERRIFIELD: And that’s when the awareness of it will be much more abrupt and obvious.

GONSER: The reality is that change is coming and that needs to be a part of the discussion. And that’s what we hope the citizen scientist project can initiate because when you’re out there and you’re experiencing it, you can’t ignore it, it’s real. The inevitability of sea level rise is here and now the discussion moving forward is what can we do about it?

The first King Tides of summer are rising with the new moon tomorrow with impacts to be seen as early as today and lasting through Friday. Project photos and links on how you can get started are available on our website.

For HPR News I am Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi.

How to get started as a citizen scientist with the Hawaiʻi & Pacific Islands King Tides Project?

Download a PDF of the instructions here.

Join Matt Gosner and the project team on Thursday, June 1, 2017, at 6:30 p.m. for a talk on upcoming King Tide citizen scientist photo opportunities. The talk will be recorded and available online.

Aquaculture Innovation Award

This article describes a push to make the aquaculture industry more sustainable. NatureTech.Solutions is in no position to reward grassroots aquaculture innovation in the small islands of the Eastern Caribbean, BUT, we might be able to make a nice award to a group that adapts one of these “fish-free fishmeal” products to cost-effective use in the region.  From the Mongabay Series: Oceans

Fish for all? The fish-free fishmeal challenge

                                                                         10 January 2017 / Elizabeth Devitt

Eight teams of innovators from around the world are competing in the Fish-Free Feed (F3) challenge, created to accelerate the development of aquaculture diets made without fish or fish oil.

Fish for all? The fish-free fishmeal challenge
  • The aquaculture industry is growing faster than the human population, at about eight percent each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  • About 20 percent of the world’s fish goes to aquaculture, depleting wild-caught forage fish such as anchovies and krill to provide essential oils and protein for the development and growth of these cultivated foods.
  • The first team to sell 100,000 metric tons of fish-free feed or, if that threshold isn’t reached, that sells the most feed by the end of the contest, on September 15, 2017, will be named the winner of the F3 challenge.
When the world is staring down a population that’s pushing quickly toward nine billion people, aquaculture offers an efficient way to produce high-protein food for the hungry masses. But there’s a catch: While fish are feeding the multitudes of people, there may not be enough left for other fish to eat. As the farming of fish, shrimp, and mollusks expands, the old adage about “plenty of fish in the sea” may no longer ring true.

The aquaculture industry is growing faster than the human population, at about eight percent each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. About 20 percent of the world’s fish goes to aquaculture, depleting wild-caught forage fish such as anchovies and krill to provide essential oils and protein for the development and growth of these cultivated foods.

“Even if the industry gets to a sustainable maximum yield, that just means we’ll take the same amount of fish out of the sea without affecting how much we want next year,” says Kevin Fitzsimmons, an aquaculture expert and environmental sciences professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Nobody interviewed the whales and dolphins and seabirds as to whether they’re getting enough anchovies, menhaden and other forage fish.”

The Fish-Free Feed (F3) challenge was created to accelerate the development of aquaculture diets made without fish or fish oil. Eight teams of innovators from around the world were attracted to the sustainable premise and the promise of a $200,000 (USD) prize, raised through crowdfunding and sponsorship from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the New England Aquarium, the University of Arizona, and the World Bank. The first team to sell 100,000 metric tons of fish-free feed or, if that threshold isn’t reached, that sells the most feed by the end of the contest, on September 15, 2017, will be named the winner.

Cutting out the “middle fish,” TerraVia’s AlgalPrimeDHA can provide omega-3 essential fatty acids from algal sources, rather than using fish as sources of fish oil for fishmeal.
Photo courtesy of TerraVia.

“There’s a lot of research going on out there, the problem is getting the word out in the industry and getting people to recognize that all kinds of ingredients — single-cell proteins, algal extracts or insect meals — could be used instead of fish,” says Fitzsimmons, chair of the contest committee. Beyond generating new feed formulations, he also hopes the contest will connect alternative ingredient manufacturers with feed companies and investors who can help smaller companies scale up production.

One of those smaller companies looking to ramp up production is TomAlgae, a Belgian-based manufacturer of microalgae that feeds shrimp during the earliest life stages. By growing a specific diatom under carefully controlled conditions, they take the guesswork out of nutrition and avoid contamination with pathogens that can reduce the nutritional value of this food source.

“We want to replace the live algae used in hatcheries,” says William van der Riet, the company’s cofounder. “There is an enormous technology gap in the early stages. They rely on a very artisanal way of producing their own feed when they should be relying on feed with quality that is consistent from day to day.”

This specialized feed can’t compete with the bigger companies on a tonnage level, notes van der Riet. Under ideal conditions, about 100 grams of the freeze-dried micro-algae (which is rehydrated before use) could feed one million shrimp larvae and produce about 15 tons of shrimp meat. The F3 challenge is a way to join with other companies producing fish-free products and create a complete chain of sustainable feeds for aquaculture, starting from the hatchery stage, he says.

Asian tiger shrimp (Penaeus monodon). Photo by David Knott/ Southeastern Regional Taxonomic Center, Charleston, South Carolina.

On a larger scale, algae is harnessed by TerraVia, a California-based company, to produce docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), one of the omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) found in fish oil. Roughly 400,000 tons of fish oil go into feeds for farmed salmon and trout, making aquaculture the single biggest industry for consuming long-chain omega-3s like fish oil, notes Walter Rakitsky, TerraVia’s senior vice president of emerging business. Algae is the original source of the EFAs that bioaccumulate in fish.

Previously focused on extracting oils for biofuel production from algal fermentation, TerraVia uses its bioreactors in Brazil to produce DHA. With facilities capable of making tens of thousands of tons of AlgalPrimeDHA, Rakitsky estimates that every ton of their algae-derived DHA saves about 40 tons of wild-caught fish.

With a sustainable ingredient to offer, TerraVia teamed up for the F3 challenge with Star Milling, a Bay Area feed company, and TwoXSea, an environmentally motivated fish wholesaler headquartered in San Francisco. Their contest entry is a rainbow trout feed produced by Star Milling, and formulated for TwoXSea by USDA research physiologist Rick Barrows to include the TerraVia’s algae-made DHA as well as other healthy ingredients such as flax oil and pistachio meal.

The quest for healthier fish food wasn’t new to TwoXSea, a company cofounded by Bill Foss, a hi-tech expat who helped start a seafood restaurant — called Fish. — to serve sustainable seafood and educate consumers.

“We treat the ocean like a toilet with everything we dump in [the water], we don’t know what inventory is in there, we can’t control it, and yet we blindly depend on it for food. That’s stupid,” says Foss. “Every consumer needs to start making educated decisions and take some responsibility — not just on farmed fish.”

Tilapia reared at the USDA Bozeman Fish Technology Center facility. This is the favorite fish of Kevin Fitzsimmons, an aqualculture expert at the University of Arizona, because it has an optimal “conversion rate” that produces the most amount of edible fish for the least amount of feed. Photo by Wendy Seale.

The obvious solution, for Foss, was to stop sourcing seafood from somewhere else and start farming freshwater trout on a plant-based diet. He calls the process “renewable” rather than sustainable. “We want to be involved in things that can be replicated, so that generations from now we’ll still have access to the same fish,” he says.

Similar to Foss’ restaurant patrons, more than one kind of meal needs to be on the aquaculture menu because each species has different nutrient requirements. For example, the plant-based foods formulated for omnivorous tilapia might not be suitable for carnivorous salmon.

The Ridley Corporation, a leading agri-feed producer based in Australia, focused on developing feed for prawns, a seafood for which experts estimate that global aquaculture production will grow by more than 5 percent in the coming years. With a novel ingredient called Novacq, their contest entry represents a long-term effort to develop more sustainable feeds that boost growth performance, enhance disease resistance, and reduce waste.

“We’ve been looking at sustainable feed strategies for many years, so the thinking behind the competition matches ours really well,” says Sunil Kadri, head of business development at Ridley. “Whether or not we win, we want to be part of this international movement and work with like-minded people and companies; this competition gives us that opportunity.”

Those kind of opportunities are lining up. Before the next competition milestone in mid-January — a first tally of sales receipts for the new feeds — the F3 contestants are invited to a round of meet-ups with fellow competitors, selected industry insiders, and investors.

“We didn’t set this up to pick winners or losers,” says Fitzsimmons of the F3 challenge. “Having all these companies talking to each other and using a fish-free diet — that’s a success unto itself.”

Tilapia farming in floating cages in Vietnam. Photo by Khaw Hooi Ling.

Could these innovation tools support a NatureTech Solution in the Eastern Caribbean?

[This article was published in the on-line magazine BOATINTERNATIONAL . I remain totally flummoxed — and frankly skeptical — about these weird financial tools that The Nature Conservancy has been developing and promoting for the past decade or more, but it would be great if they could be handily adapted to the needs of countries like St. Lucia or Grenada.

[And I would be delighted to see several of these financial innovations as applicants for the a NatureTech.Solutions award for 2017.    bp]


Award #7


rphs6jo3slkcp2vzdiue_maria-damanaki-1260x1760Innovation Award: Maria Damanaki, The Nature Conservancy

Photographed by Harry Cory Wright

The Innovation Award recognises an individual or group that has been responsible for the development of the most promising new innovation for the benefit of the marine environment this year. Nominees for the Innovation Award must have taken a lead on the initiation or completion of one or more new innovation for the benefit of the ocean, or seen another significant milestone towards the development of that innovation.

Last year the Nature Conservancy, a global charity, pledged “to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends”, and created a ground-breaking marine investment model when it brokered a debt swap between the government of Seychelles and its Paris Club creditors. This resulted in the restructuring of $21.6 million of Seychelles’ debt in exchange for a commitment by the 115-island archipelago to invest in marine conservation and climate adaptation initiatives, not least the creation and management of a marine reserve of more than 400,000 square kilometres, which will be the second largest in the Indian Ocean.

As Maria Damanaki, the charity’s global managing director for oceans, explains, it specialises in debt-for-nature swaps, having completed “15 of them around the globe, mostly via a US government mechanism called the Tropical Forest Conservation Act. However, funding for TFCA dried up and the Conservancy began to look for additional opportunities to develop debt swaps, or ‘debt conversions’ as we prefer to call them”. This was the first that supported marine conservation.

“We are hoping to close another two deals in the next 12 to 18 months,” she says, “to be able to expand marine protected areas and biodiversity protection zones as well as financing for marine conservation and climate resiliency.” The debt conversions, she adds, “are a great way to take what can be a negative – the high levels of debt in small island developing states – and be able to restructure the debt into funding” for conservation causes. “These deals also support these countries’ policy goals around the blue economy, in particular around improving [the management of] fisheries, coral reefs and adaptation to climate change,” Damanaki says. “These deals create funding streams and improve policy regimes around these blue economy goals in a holistic fashion.”

Born in Crete, Damanaki became the youngest-ever member of the Greek parliament, and served for 25 years. And in 1991 she became the first woman to lead a political party in Greece. Latterly she spent four years as European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, during which the commission oversaw the recovery of fish populations to much healthier levels. Indeed the continuation of her fisheries policy could result in there being 15 million more tonnes of fish in the sea than there were, and 30 per cent more jobs.

“The ocean gives us oxygen, food and joy,” she says. “We give it plastic, too much carbon and reckless fishing. People exploit it first, and consider the consequences later. The ocean is in peril thanks to humanity; only we can help it recover.”

Highly Commended:
Amado Blanco and Net-Works, Zoological Society of London/ Philippines

Danajon Bank in the Philippines is one of only six double barrier reefs in the world. It’s also among the most degraded, with some of the highest rates of overfishing. Pollution and a declining fish population mean local families are finding it hard to feed themselves. Discarded micro-filament nets, which take hundreds of years to degrade, add to the issue.

Net-Works – a collaboration between the Zoological Society of London and Interface, the global carpet tile manufacturer – has created a community-based supply chain that encourages local communities to collect and sell discarded nets, thereby generating income for themselves. The nets – more than 100 tonnes have been collected so far – are then exported to Slovenia, where they are recycled into yarn to make high-quality carpet tiles. To date, more than 900 families have benefited from the income. And the sea is cleaner.