By Shane Ross, CBC News Posted: May 14, 2016 11:41 AM AT Last Updated: May 14, 2016 11:41 AM A
Shawn Robinson and Terralynn Lander watch over the sea urchins and sea cucumbers at the St. Andrews Biological Station. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)
There have been some tears shed along the way, but biologists in St. Andrews are celebrating a major breakthrough in their aquaculture research.
Last week marked the first successful spawning of sea cucumbers at the St. Andrews Biological Station.
"We were really, really excited. Everybody was running around like crazy because it was a first," said biologist Terralynn Lander. "So if we're able, if I'm able to close the life cycle on these, it would be a huge advancement for aquaculture here."
For several years, the biologists have been experimenting with sea urchins and sea cucumbers.
They hope their research will make aquaculture more environmentally friendly by raising the urchins from the ocean floor to eat the excess food and waste from salmon cages.
'It's a lot of work that goes into this, and when you come in and you see a predator has pretty much wiped out your tanks, you take it kind of personally and you go home and cry.'– Terralynn Lander
"We're trying to create techniques that can be adapted by industry that sort of mimic some of the natural processes that are going on, namely recycling," said research scientist Shawn Robinson.
But that's not all. They also hope to make money selling the lucrative urchins and sea cucumbers as they grow.
"We can produce species with a really high market value. In some cases, more valuable than the salmon that are being produced," Robinson said.
There have been some setbacks along the way. Last year, a predator got through the filtration system and decimated the sea urchin population.
"It's a lot of work that goes into this, and when you come in and you see a predator has pretty much wiped out your tanks, you take it kind of personally and you go home and cry," Lander said.
But now things are looking up with this latest breakthrough.
The next job is finding the best food source for adolescent sea cucumbers. Then, Lander said, the lab can expand its research into the wild.
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