Aquarium Science and Aquaculture
Headed by Dr. Andy Rhyne, the Wet Lab program and its facilities play a large role in the Aquaculture and Aquarium Science Major and Minor degrees offered at RWU.
Main research initiatives include:
- Research and development of culture techniques and systems
- Broodstock and larval nutrition
- Live feed culture
- Cost-effective larval rearing systems
- Small-scale commercial production of marine ornamentals
- Exposure to a holistic view of the aquarium industry, trade sustainability and socio-economic implications
Our Wet Lab program relies on and engages with our Microalgae Production. Algae species Tisochrysis lutea and Chaetoceros muelleri are grown to feed copepods as they have complementary fatty acid profiles for proper larval fish development. Algae species Nannochloropsis oculata and Tetraselmis spp. are produced to create shading in tanks to reduce stress on larval fishes during their development.
We maintain research partnerships with a variety of public and private organizations committed to the conservation and sustainability of our natural resources, including The New England Aquarium, The Audubon Society of Rhode Island, and Fundacion Grupo Puntacana.
New England Aquarium Partnership:
In 2008, RWU entered into a formal research partnership with the New England Aquarium (NEAq) and formed the Aquarium Sustainability Program.
The Aquarium Sustainability Program conducts solution-based research to improve the sustainability of the public and home aquarium industries and contribute toward conservation by improving wild capture fisheries, developing and improving aquaculture techniques for ornamental species, and creating an atmosphere where aquariums can be a force for conservation initiatives. The following are projects within the scope of the Aquarium Sustainability Program:
The Larval Culture Project
The aim of the Larval Culture Project is to reduce the need for public aquariums to collect exhibit animals from the wild. A healthy and well-managed public aquarium naturally conditions fishes to reproduce on exhibit. This project capitalizes on natural breeding behavior by increasing the capability of public aquariums to produce fishes from the broodstock within their current collections. Funded by the Institution for Museum and Library Services, the Larval Culture Project has trained personnel from 18 public aquariums in fish rearing techniques and provided each institution with a modular culture system. Project training workshops are currently being transitioned into an AZA continuing education program. Additional funding is being sourced for the development of additional specialty workshops—e.g., live food production, etc. Recent successes for the Larval Culture Project include the breeding of blue reef chromis (Chromis cyaneus), copper sweeper (Pempheris schomburgkii), lookdown (Selene vomer), and smallmouth grunt (Haemulon chrysargyreum).
Adventure Aquarium, California Academy of Sciences Steinhart Aquarium, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Hubbs Sea World Research Center, Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium, North Carolina Aquarium (Fort Fisher and Pine Knoll Shores), Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, Sea Life Center Kansas, Seaworld (San Diego and San Antonio), The Aquarium at Moody Gardens, The Maritime Aquarium, Toledo Zoo
Aquarium Biodiversity & Trade Flow Database Project
Over 40 countries produce ornamental fishes and invertebrates through fisheries and/or aquaculture. A comprehensive understanding of trade flow is limited as a result of poor data collection and analysis. For example: only CITES-listed species are obliged to be identified on shipping invoices. This project has developed a tool to capture species-specific, invoice-based volume and price data and retrospectively assessed five years of US importation data (refer to the Marine Aquarium Biodiversity and Trade Flow website – www.aquariumtradedata.org). The Aquarium Biodiversity & Trade Flow Database Project is currently undertaking a real-time assessment of ornamental fish export data from the Philippine trade.
Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, with funding from NFWF and NOAA International Coral Program
Cyanide Detection Project
Cyanide is used by some collectors to anesthetize wild marine fishes, making them easier to capture. This technique has grave repercussions for marine ecosystems as well as the fishes collected; often killing the fishes, as well as living corals and invertebrates exposed to the cyanide. Cyanide can even enter the food fish system. A technique to determine if fishes have been collected using cyanide is currently under development and will be implemented in conjunction with a "cyanide-free fish" certification initiative.
Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s Nature Center and Aquarium:
In 2011, RWU partnered with the Audubon Society of Rhode Island to revamp the five aquatic exhibits at the Environmental Education Center in Bristol, RI.
RWU students worked on the 12-month renovation project and now maintain the exhibits on a weekly basis, getting exposure to state-of-the-art exhibits and filtration including a 2,000 gallon Bay & Ocean exhibit.
Alternative Reef-side Economies Project
The Alternative Reef-side Economies Project promotes the link between sustainable fishing practices and coral reef resilience. Working with local ornamental fishers, this project is directed at decreasing collection mortality and increasing animal health; the cornerstones for protecting reef ecosystems, while promoting a sustainable ornamental fishes industry and economy. Fishers in Les Village, Bali, have been trained to catch newly settled fishes—identified as a more sustainable life-cycle stage to collect—and grow them to market size in offshore aquaculture cages. These techniques have been successfully employed to produce blue tang (Paracanthurus hepatus) and green chromis (Chromis viridis); two heavily fished species.
Project Piaba is the archetype home aquarium fishery project that links small scale fisheries to ecosystem protection and sustainable livelihoods for communities residing in regions of biological importance. Conceived and implemented by NEAq staff more than 20 years ago, many hold this as the model system. Over the years, we have been contacted by numerous countries wishing to create their own Piaba and as a result formed the IUCN FFSG Home Aquarium Fish Sub-Group. Moving forward we will apply our unique skillsets and assets related to animal care, compelling live animal exhibits, and educational messaging to foster these types of fisheries.
Blue Aquarium Project
The Blue Aquarium Project is an initiative to promote and increase the operational sustainability of public aquariums. It includes the development of best practices for animal husbandry and water quality management, mechanisms to better engage with the wildlife trade to improve scientific and conservation value, and techniques to improve collection and exhibit sustainability through increases in practices and technology. Recent work includes the use of next-generation molecular tools to examine microbiomes in aquatic systems and their relation to system and animal health.