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Total Ecosystem Aquaculture - Sustainable Seafood Production for Fiji, the Pacific, and then the World

A complete ecosystem recycling wastes into increased seafood production, while cleaning up pollution and restoring the natural environment.

Photo of Mark E Capron
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

OceanForesters, a California corporation.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

OceanForesters engineers and scientists provide technical support for the lead organization: the University of the South Pacific (USP). Nearly all the prize money will be spent in Fiji under the direction of Dr. Rajesh Prasad, Aquaculture Program Leader, School of Marine Studies, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji. He will be assisted by: Dr. Antoine De Ramon N’Yeurt, Marine Biologist, Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (Pace-SD), The University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji Dr. Chinthaka Hewavitharane, Lecturer in Aquaculture, School of Marine Studies, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji Charlene Erasito, Student, School of Marine Studies, USP, Suva, Fiji Kimberly Samson, Student, School of Marine Studies, USP, Suva, Fiji Liliani Hughes, Student, School of Marine Studies, USP, Suva, Fiji They work in collaboration with the Fiji Ministry of Fisheries and hundreds of fishers, mangrove planters, and other Fijians.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://www.oceanforesters.xyz/ markcapron @ OceanForesters.com

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Ventura, California

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Laucala Bay, Suva, Fiji

What country is your selected Place located in?

Fiji

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The original inhabitants of the western Pacific Ocean islands were Austronesians who invented maritime sailing technology and were able to settle these far flung islands. Many of our people are descendants of those brave seafarers, who depended on the sea for their food, especially for their protein. Yet the sale of fishing rights to foreign fishing nations, unregulated exploitation of fisheries, increase in population, significant development in urban and peri-urban areas, loss of corals, degradation of environment, and other reasons have led to the decline in marine resources and food sources for the Pacific people.  Once self-sufficient, now we are dependent on less healthy Western food.

Most members of our team have grown up in Fiji and see Fiji as a beacon of hope and food expertise for all Oceania (and potentially for the world). Fiji is the most developed of the Pacific Islands Countries and Territories (PICTs) and is very well connected to other parts of world through communication technology plus air and sea transport, commerce and tourism.

Fiji is the main base for the University of the South Pacific (USP) which directly serves twelve member countries and four other associate states of the PICTs. We have 12 campuses, thousands of students and the capability to teach and support a new generation of aquafarmers throughout the Pacific.

Thus our work and future plans in Fiji on innovative “Total Ecosystem Aquaculture” shall not only demonstrate new aquaculture methods in Fiji but we can spread them throughout Oceania. The research and training, and the outcomes and results, shall underpin food security and resilience development in the entire Pacific Region. The central role of Fiji and USP will be vital for the demonstration of a new kind of aquaculture that could supply the protein needs of the entire world.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Pacific islands are grouped into Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia, shown on the attached map.

The Pacific people have unique cultures, traditions and customs not seen elsewhere in the world and these cultures need to be preserved. The people have strong communal bonds and many activities, including running of schools, sports, farming, etc. are community based.

The traditional foods for majority of the Pacific Island people consisted of fish and other seafood and root crops. There is now more food variety as a consequence of Western influence and other ethnicities arriving in the Pacific Islands. However, fish and seafood still feature strongly and fish consumption is as high as 150 kg/person/year in some Pacific countries such as Kiribati. The atolls hardly have any agricultural commodities because of inadequate land and most of their food, apart from seafood, is imported.

A large majority of the people in PICTs, particularly those not in the urban centers, still live a traditional, subsistence lifestyle, without centrally supplied electricity or tap water. Urban centers are generally small, consisting of government offices and some commercial activity. For those living on smaller islands or in remote locations on the main islands, travel to urban centers is infrequent and often difficult. It is a 200 mile boat ride to the nearest supermarket.

The governments of Pacific Islands countries, where agriculture is possible, are strongly promoting and advocating agriculture but production levels of most commodities remain insufficient for local consumption. Wild captured fish, other marine species, coconuts (copra) and timber products are the main exports.

The top Fiji exports are frozen fish and Fiji water. Its per capita income in 2018 was $6,200, higher than most other islands (Tuvalu was $3,700).

Western influence, importation of food items, decline in seafood and other marine resources, and decline in the consumption of traditional foods are implicated in deteriorating health of the people. Non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes have been rising alarmingly.

Laucala Bay, adjacent to the USP campus, will be the demonstration and teaching site for “Total Ecosystem Aquaculture.” Laucala Bay is typical of bays and lagoons found throughout the Pacific Islands.

Laucala Bay used to be a prime fishing location. However the Suva sewage treatment plant which drains into the Bay has contributed excess nutrients which have affected the health of the surrounding reefs. Another factor contributing to the unhealthy reef situation is the high sediment load running off from de-forestation and agricultural activities in the upper reaches and along the catchment of the Rewa River. It is anticipated that “Total Ecosystem Aquaculture” together with establishment of mangrove areas can absorb the nutrients and trap the sediments to clean up the water to be healthy for aquaculture and regeneration of the reef and various marine species.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

18000

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

912000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Environment: Climate change contributes to sea level rise, warming temperatures, unpredictable weather patterns and seasonal conditions, floods, droughts, etc., which poses significant threats to the lives and habitats of people in the Pacific.  Warming water is causing fish to emigrate from the tropics and many species are maturing at smaller sizes.  In addition to these threats, the issues of environmental degradation due to the need for housing, construction material, land clearing, increase in agriculture and livestock production, industrial and commercial development and the issues of over-exploitation of natural and accessible fisheries/marine resources present a myriad of challenges for the Pacific Island countries.

The Pacific Islands Countries and Territories (PICTs) are highly vulnerable to sea level rise, increasingly strong tropical cyclones, global increase in atmospheric and ocean temperatures, and changes to climatic conditions that alternate between intense floods and long droughts.  More than 90% of the population of PICTs inhabit low lying coastal areas, remote islands or coral atolls.

Diets: As sea level rise and accompanying saltwater intrusion destroys land-based agriculture, marine resources, particularly seafood, become the crucial component of food and income for the people of the Pacific. 

Economics: But declining fisheries have caused increased seafood prices such that many people cannot afford a healthy diet.  Or, if they are subsidence fishers, they won’t find the variety of seafood products needed for a balanced diet.

Policy: Sale of fishing rights in PICTs’ EEZs to foreign fishing nations, illegal fishing by stealth foreign trawlers, unregulated exploitation of fisheries, increases in population, significant development in urban and peri-urban areas, sewage and agricultural runoff, loss of corals, and general degradation of environment have contributed to a decline in marine resources and seafood availability for the Pacific people.

Technology: All of these issues will be much worse in 2050.  It is therefore highly urgent to provide for the long-term food security of the Pacific people. Aquaculture instead of capture fisheries is fast becoming a main source of seafood around the world (FAO, 2018). We are beginning some land-based aquafarms, but they are not sufficient to meet the needs. Plus their discharges can add to the pollution.  We need new technologies providing sustainable abundant and diverse food while improving the environment.

Education: But most of the fishers of Fiji and the Pacific lack the understanding of how to support the multi-species ecology required for profitable sustainable production of seafood.  They are stuck in their old ways of doing things that no longer work in these times of climate change, overfishing, overpopulation, and over-pollution.  They do not have access to demonstrations of the new methods that will lead to sustainable profitable mariculture even in the face of climate change.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Global System: The OceanForesters engineers and scientists worked with USP’s Dr. N’Yeurt in 2012 to publish a complete systemic design to feed the world, fuel the world, and reverse climate change with ocean seaweed farms (see attached Negative carbon via Ocean Afforestation).

Now with the hiring of Drs. Prasad and Hewavitharane to staff the USP Aquaculture Program USP is in a position to demonstrate the initial food system component of the overall global 2012 plan. 

Education: USP, the premier university of the Pacific Region, is supported financially by the 12 member countries. It has the people, organization, skills, facilities and network to address the problems faced by the governments and people of its member countries and the associate nations. The Aquaculture Section of the School of Marine Studies is now starting its Aquaculture Research and Development Program. Sustainable aquaculture is the key to long term food security and building of resilience in the South Pacific countries. Dr. Prasad has toured most of the islands (see attached pictures) and has grasped the community requests for training and technology that will support robust long-term food security and environmental health while countering declining fish and seafood catches with innovations in aquaculture. 

The South Pacific Islands Aquaculture Program, based at the USP Suva campus with a demonstration site in nearby Laucala Bay, provides students from across the Pacific the chance to study, conduct research and learn from the restorative aquaculture facilities. It also serves as a hands-on training center for aquafarmers from across Fiji and the rest of the Pacific islands.

Technology: Dr. Prasad believes Total Ecosystem Aquaculture (TEA) is the ideal innovation.  TEA involves establishing a complete ecosystem that cycles “wastes” into increased multi-product seafood production, while cleaning up pollution and restoring the natural environment. Polluted Laucala Bay, adjacent to the USP campus, provides an excellent demonstration and teaching site, since it presents a typical example of the issues found in other Pacific countries.

Total Recycling Systems within Systems: The attached PDF “TotalEcosystemAquaculture,OSMslides” is a draft of the presentation that Mark Capron will present on behalf of Drs. Prasad, Hewavitharane, and N’Yeurt at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in February 2020. The presentation shows the systems thinking of how TEA will harness the excess nutrients in Laucala Bay to produce 4,000 tonnes/year of diverse seafood, directly addressing the declining and limited selection of seafood.  USP will refine TEA production and management techniques specifically for Fiji and other PICTs while training islanders how to employ those techniques throughout the region. The system will also clean up the Bay, restore the environment, and model the ecosystem of the future.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Fiji, and eventually all the Pacific islands, will have robust sustainable fisheries supported by Total Ecosystem Aquaculture (TEA).  All the people, even on the remote islands, will have ready access to sustainable locally grown seafood of many varieties.  Plus, people on the larger islands will have such a large surplus of seafood they can export huge quantities of high quality, prized seafood that fetches so much income that they can move up out of the low income country category. 

Every major island will have a profitable TEA demonstration that not only is a key source of export income but also serves as the local training center for all fishers in that region. Even though sea levels may rise, the floating TEA systems rise with them, always maintaining their productivity and profitability.

Each TEA facility is a completely integrated sustainable ecosystem, including the internal nutrient recycling within the reef, plus the external nutrient recycling as described in the caption of the attached total nutrient recycling diagram.

With its integrated internal and external wastes recycling systems, Total Ecosystem Aquaculture a completely different kind of aquaculture, a significant move beyond internal nutrient recycling of Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture (IMTA).  Attached PDF “USP’s TEA, OSM presentation” explains reef-to-reef integrated production, which is the holy grail of sustainability usually expressed as cradle-to-cradle manufacturing.

The result is every island can be a completely self-sustaining food ecosystem in which it grows its own food for people and animals to eat, and then recycles the wastes from those people and animals to feed the seafood and land plants for perpetual sustainability.

In addition, all the Pacific ocean bays and lagoons will be sparkling clean, vibrant with natural life. Tourists will flock to the beaches and coral reefs to marvel in the natural beauty.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Global System: As mentioned above this food proposal is the initial component of a profitable system approach to feed the world, fuel the world, and reverse climate change. The attached 2012 paper shows how it embodies environmental, climate, political, social, energy and economic sustainability.

Culture and Community Governance: The infrastructure of total ecosystem aquaculture (TEA) creates or revives a reef.  It can be financed, owned, and managed by a coastal community or a group of fishing people forming a cooperative.  It can also be owned and managed as a private business.  The supermarket (dozens of species) nature of TEA fits with Fijians' preference for the community or cooperative model.  Many species are harvested from each TEA reef.  Dozens of non-harvested species are managed to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Whatever the ownership model, it needs coordinated and informed management.  Management should be like that employed by the community of Punta Abreojos (Pacific coast of Baja California, Mexico) on the abalone and other fish and plants of their natural reef.  Due to their coordinated sustainable management of their abalone fishery, the people enjoy developed country middle class lives, including college education for their children.  See “Baja California’s recipe for saving fishing communities” https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/09/baja-mexico-marine-conservation-tourism-fish-sharks-whales/.

Economics: The nutrients currently naturally supplied to Laucala Bay appear sufficient for generating more than 4,000 tonnes/year of finfish, crabs, and shell-on shellfish.  Current dock prices averaging US$6/kg are likely to drop as supplies increase.  Even if prices drop to US$4/kg, 4,000 tonnes of fish/yr still represents US$16 million/yr revenue.  Some of that can be exported.  The processing, freezing, packaging, and shipping systems for fish export are all in place, ready for more volume. Even when prices drop, the fishing community and distribution system should still gain on earnings due to increased volume. The attachments include a spreadsheet showing that a US$12 million structure could generate US$10 million net revenue per year.  Spreading these structures across the South Pacific could lift these nations out of poverty! Diets will also improve.

Research, Development, and Education: Because the initial infrastructure has a large research and training component, USP can trial innovative management techniques such as:
- Leave (or return) the very largest and/or fastest growing specimens to reproduce;
- Establish micro-sanctuaries and/or natural hatcheries;
- Install poacher sensing systems.

Whatever the ownership model and ecosystem/species management techniques, the owner/operators need to network.  Everyone benefits by coordinating their harvests for maximum value, improving computer models of their ecosystems, and trading resources and innovations. USP provides that network with its 12 campuses and skilled staff and outreach personnel.

Technology: There is not much fishing now in Laucala Bay due to poor water quality, but TEA will be reviving the bay as a fishery.  The fishery management system will be revived at the same time.  TEA’s complexity is best accommodated by developing computer models of reef populations informed by sensors. Fishing and distribution people could use smart phones to collect and share data. 

Building flexible floating fishing reefs is for a way to expand TEA over more than 10 million km2 of seafloor that is not currently as productive as a reef.  That is seafloor depths between 50 to 300-m, perhaps with a soft bottom.  Fiji is highlighted in the attached journal article, “Mapping the global potential for marine aquaculture for its potential increase in marine aquaculture.” These new reefs reduce the pressure on existing degraded ecosystems. Existing ecosystems can become marine sanctuaries while fishing moves to the new reef. The new fishing reef yield depends on its primary productivity. Reef operators can ensure much greater productivity and biodiversity by optimizing the new reef’s depth and nutrient return. The depth controls photosynthesis. Inorganic nutrient return controls primary productivity. Timing primary productivity controls dissolved oxygen concentration. In order to operate the new fishing reefs, we will need ecosystem nutrient-flow and populations models for all the life on reef. Reef life includes microbes, attached growth plants; the plankton around the reef; attached filter feeders; roaming (structure and/or seafloor) creatures; and finfish. Some life will be planted and/or stocked. Most life will volunteer. Reef operators will use the model and market analysis to predict how much of each species will be harvested when.

Funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s MARINER program allowed several teams to develop open-ocean structures/systems for growing macroalgae (seaweed). Those structures can be converted to permanent flexible floating fishing reefs laden with sea creature shelters and harvesting systems. Our MARINER team included a preliminary species, nutrient flow, economic, and scaling analysis when using the macroalgae reef as a new form of aquaculture. For example, reefs in Oceania might harvest: giant clams, oysters, crabs, shrimps, lobsters, octopus, squid, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, sponges, and free-range finfish, including milkfish, perch, grouper, snapper, sea bream, etc. Our scaling and economic analysis suggest that globally 60,000-km2 of new fishing reefs could feed 10 billion people 300 grams of seafood every day. The seafood would cost US$1 to $2 per kilogram at the dock. At feed-the-world scale, reef operators would be returning/distributing nutrient volumes equivalent to either 10 billion people’s wastes or a third of global artificial nitrogen production.

Other specific technologies include bamboo structures (a collaboration from the Ocean Nutrification Foundation entry) and a lightweight dissolving substrate for shellfish.  See the figures and the PDF “USP’s TEA, OSM presentation” for details. 

Nutrient Recycling Systems: Laucala Bay already has the top half of outer nutrient circle.  People consume seafood.  People’s “wastes” are treated and returned to the bay. Unfortunately, present poor conditions in the Bay prevent those nutrients from producing edible fish, cutting the circle. But TEA restores the Bay ecosystem and completes the nutrient cycling system for total “cradle to cradle” eco-sustainability.

Policy: The governments of USP member countries all recognize the need to improve fisheries and clean up the ocean environment. They are asking USP for best practices and innovations in aquaculture.

Vision Summary: Fishing and seafood distribution and consumption is a part of the culture of all the Pacific islands.  The people and the governments are ready to start.  All that is needed is some initial funding and then it can be self-financing from the profits. More funding would speed up the spread of TEA systems throughout the Pacific and the world.

Global Outcome: As this system spreads across the planet, the result would be that everyone on earth could have 300 g/day of high-quality protein, plus sea vegetables, including seaweed and more. World hunger could be solved.

At the same time, the primary productivity and the nursery function of the artificial reefs would increase the biodiversity and populations of all creatures in the oceans of the world and global fishing stocks would increase. The entire ocean ecosystem would be restored to pre-industrial conditions.

Collaboration: There are a number of other aquaculture teams that we look forward to collaborating with to add their innovative ideas to make these artificial fishing reefs even more productive. Sustainable ecosystem management would be further informed with concepts from World Wildlife Fund, some of which are explained in their Food Systems entry “Sustainable Manjua fishing in the communities of the Caribbean Coasts of Guatemala” https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/open-submission/sustainable-manjua-fishing-in-the-communities-of-the-caribbean-coasts-of-Guatemala.

Also, the University of New England (includes The Nature Conservancy) team’s “Ocean Food Systems” https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/open-submission/ocean-food-systems.

Also, several other contestants have expressed interest in implementing TEA in their shore locations. In addition to the experts at USP, there are many international universities and consultants that could provide more expert support, including the University of New England, the University of New Hampshire, and many others. The only hindrance is lack of funding.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Team (6)

Jim's profile
Jim Stewart

Role added on team:

"Jim Stewart, PhD, is co-designer and co-manager of a winning entry team in the US Dept of Energy MARINER competition for innovative seaweed grow-harvest systems that helped produce the Restorative Aquaculture design. An environmental policy expert, he as co-created with Professional Engineer Mark Capron a global plan to feed the world with seafood, fuel the world with biofuels, and reverse climate change with massive carbon sequestration."

Mark E's profile
Graham's profile
Graham Harris

Role added on team:

"Graham Harris is a manager, technology and seaweed expert from New Zealand working on innovative aquaculture programs."

Don's profile
Don Piper

Role added on team:

"Don has held board appointments at more than 15 organizations including Sustainable Arizona, The Sustainable Economic Development Initiative (MEAT), Verde Valley Agricultural Renaissance, Gardens for Humanity, Friends of the Santa Rita Experimental Range, HireNetworks, BioResource International [an INC 500 Company]. Over the past twenty-five years, Don has mentored more than 500 aspiring entrepreneurs through the early stages of developing and launching their business concepts."

M.'s profile
M. Hasan

Role added on team:

"Renowned water resources recycling (drinking, recycled, and waste water) professional engineer."

Antoine's profile
Antoine N'Yeurt

Role added on team:

"Dr N'Yeurt grew up in Fiji, graduated from the University of the South Pacific, and is now the leading authority on seaweed of the South Pacific Ocean."

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Photo of Mark E Capron
Team

We are arranging collaborations with the other ocean entries. Started with the Ocean Food Systems teams. We see the need for a network of ocean food systems groups.

Collaboration actions can be:
• Place a positive comment on the other ocean entries.
• Coordinate via email and/or voice to add other ocean entries in your answer to “If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide…”, add notice of collaborations in other entry text, fill gaps in each other’s entries.
• The OceanForesters invites any collaborating team to excerpt concepts, text, and pictures from its entry for use in their entry. The OceanForesters does not expect any collaborating team to share its winnings with OceanForesters.

Email markcapron at oceanforesters. com and jimstewart at oceanforesters. com for emailing documents or setting up Zoom or Skype calls.
(email addresses are altered in hope of avoiding robots)

We, the OceanForesters, have detected the following ocean food system entries (please invite other ocean seafood entries we might have missed):
• Ocean Gardens (Africa, Canary Islands) https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/open-submission/ocean-garden-s/comments
• Ocean Nourishment (Africa, Senegal) https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/open-submission/ocean-nourishment-increased-sustainable-fish-stocks
• Ocean Orchards (Asia, Malaysia) https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/open-submission/ocean-orchards
• Ocean Food Systems (North America, Maine, USA) https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/open-submission/ocean-food-systems
• Shellfish to Save the World (North America, Maine, USA) https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/open-submission/shellfish-to-save-the-world
• Autonomous Aquaculture: … (North America, New Jersey, USA) https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/open-submission/autonomous-aquaculture-changing-how-seaweed-is-grown-and-eaten
• Sustainable Manjua fishing… (North America, Guatemala) https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/open-submission/sustainable-manjua-fishing-in-the-communities-of-the-caribbean-coasts-of-guatemala
• Marine Forestation of the Shallows … (no location) https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/open-submission/marine-forestation-of-the-shallows-for-seafood-and-co2
• Total Ecosystem Aquaculture (Oceania, Fiji) This is the OceanForesters’ entry. https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-system-vision-prize/open-submission/restorative-aquaculture-sustainable-seafood-production-for-the-world

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