Aquaculture and marine sciences | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Aquaculture and marine sciences

Aquaculture is the world’s fastest-growing food-producing sector and the fastest-growing primary industry sector in the Indo-Pacific. It is recognised as part of the solution to regional food security, but also has important roles in providing community livelihood opportunities, in supporting conservation efforts including restocking, habitat regeneration and marine protected areas, in reducing fishing pressure on coastal and freshwater resources, in the captive breeding of desirable and rare aquarium species, and in bringing economic benefits through domestic sales and exports.

ACPIR's aquaculture-based livelihoods research team combines science, economics and social science to develop industries and programs that are profitable, sustainable and culturally appropriate. A key aspect is institutional capacity building and co-design with partner agencies, thus supporting long-term development.

Research Projects

Towards more profitable and sustainable mabé pearl and shell-based livelihoods in the western Pacific


Collection of pearl oyster juveniles, and artisanal mabé pearl and pearl shell handicraft production, provides livelihood and income generating opportunities to remote coastal communities in the Pacific. Prior research by ACPIR scientists has supported establishment of community enterprises in Fiji, Tonga, PNG and Samoa, benefitting primarily women. There is potential for significant development of this sector but, as well as technical support, sustainable expansion now requires country-specific research interventions relating to development planning, partner institution and stakeholder capacity, marketing and governance. In partnership with collaborating agencies in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and PNG, this project seeks to increase opportunities for community engagement with the pearl-livelihoods sector and optimise the flow of benefits. Specifically, the project aims to improve and expand production and sales, develop improved business structures and opportunities, and strengthen governance frameworks and markets for the artisanal mabé pearl and pearl shell handicraft sectors in the Pacific.

Fiji's pearl industry relies on community based spat collecton

Project Team: Prof Paul Southgate (Project Leader), Dr Thane Militz, Dr Pranesh Kishore, Ms Nittya Simard, Mr Theo Simos, Dr Katja Mikhailovich, Mr Ian Buck, Ms Ilse Marie Erl, Mr Bill Johnston, post graduate students from University of the South Pacific and Fiji National University, Ministry of Fisheries - Fiji, Ministry of Fisheries - Tonga, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries - Samoa, National Fisheries College - PNG, Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

Funding: ACIAR - $3.22 M.

Project team: Prof Paul Southgate (Project Leader), Dr Thane Militz,Dr Cathy Hair and Dr Nguyen Dinh Quang Duy.

Funding: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - $400,000.

Sea cucumber scoping study


In a first for USC, a memorandum of understanding was recently signed with the Mauritius Government, Ministry of the Blue Economy. The agreement will support a three-year research project developed by ACPIR's Professor in Tropical Aquaculture, Paul Southgate, to develop the sea cucumber resource of the Indian Ocean nation. Based on successful development of culture methods for sea cucumbers by ACPIR's Tropical Aquaculture team in Pacific and S.E. Asian countries, this project will involve transfer of culture methodology, institutional capacity building and ongoing support of resource management and policy development. The project will benefit from the ACPIR teams current ACIAR-funded research projects focused on developing sea cucumber mariculture in the Philippines, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea.

Improved understanding of sandfish biology and culture supporting community mariculture in the Indo-Pacific


This research theme includes research across a number of projects and countries including Vietnam, Philippines, PNG and Fiji with broad regional objectives. Research in Fiji is conducted collaboratively with the University of The South Pacific (USP) and the Ministry of Fisheries and focuses on elucidating the genetic make-up of sandfish stocks in Fiji and the Pacific, with broader collaborative links to similar research in SE Asia. Outputs will provide a broad understanding of population genetics of sandfish in the region to inform fishery management policy, and mariculture activities such as hatchery production, broodstock management and translocation of hatchery produced juveniles for field culture.

Project team: Prof Paul Southgate, Dr Monal Lal, Mr Kelly Brown (University of the South Pacific), University of the South Pacific, Ministry of Fisheries Fiji.

Funding: ACIAR – and the University of the South Pacific. $2,565,000.

Sea Cucumbers

Project team: Prof Paul Southgate, Dr Monal Lal, Mr Kelly Brown (University of the South Pacific), University of the South Pacific, Ministry of Fisheries Fiji.

Funding: ACIAR – and the University of the South Pacific. $2,565,000.

Project Team: Prof Paul Southgate (Tilapia Project Leader); Dr Monal Lal, Ms Salote Waqairatu, Mr Theo Simos, Professor Steven Underhill, Dr Inez Mahony

Funding: ACIAR part of the PARDI 2 project ($2.7M)

The Tilapia program - Pacific Agribusiness Research in Development Initiative Phase 2 (PARDI 2)

2021 - 2022

Commercial investment in global tilapia aquaculture stands as a success story, but Fiji faces challenges, including limited commercial viability, despite decades of international support and local technical knowledge. Most tilapia farmers engage part-time, and the industry struggles with exit rates.

The Tilapia program within the PARDI 2 project involved consultation with local stakeholders and establishing and developing a partnership with Tilapia Fiji Association (TFA). We undertook a tilapia agribusiness pilot program to "demonstrate" new channels to market for farmed tilapia in Fiji. This sought to show, in practice, how low market penetration of farmed tilapia can be addressed in a new and a different approach. The project team collaborated in establishing a new value chain with lead farmers, private sector operators and organised channel partners and developed new ways of working together, learning by doing, and generating visible results from consumer sales on the ground. The team captured and disseminated knowledge about the supply and promotion of freshwater species and coached and mentored where there were gaps in capability and capacity.

Participatory value chain assessments, in-market demonstrations and facilitated customer feedback has increased Tilapia farmer awareness of local market requirements, leading to improved production and farm management protocols that are now more market orientated. This has help build confidence amongst farmers and relevant stakeholders of improving market demand, product development and market pathways.

Improving nutrition through women’s and men’s engagement across the seaweed food chain in Kiribati and Samoa

2020 - 2021

Seaweeds are a source of food and livelihoods throughout the Pacific region. This project takes an action research approach to engage families (both women and men) with collaborative inquiry through a lens of gender inclusive nutrition-sensitive agriculture.

Working with government, non-government and industry partners, we aim to transform seaweed fisheries as part of a nutrition-sensitive coastal food system comprised of short supply chains, village-based processing, targeted sustainable use of natural resources and marketing for family consumption.

As part of this project, we are developing and evaluating gender-inclusive activities in two Pacific countries, Kiribati and Samoa, to shift the focus of seaweed production from an export commodity only to one that provides direct benefits to the health and wellbeing of local communities, as well as income opportunities for women.

Project team: Dr Libby Swanepoel (project lead), Prof Nick Paul, Dr Silva Larson, Ms Courtney Anderson and Prof Barbara Pamphilon (University of Canberra).

Funding: Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, 2020-2021, $250,000.

Swanepoel, L., Tioti, T., Eria, T., Tamuera, K., Tiitii U, Larson. S. and Paul, N. (2020). Supporting Women's Participation in Developing A Seaweed Supply Chain in Kiribati for Health and Nutrition. Foods. Mar, 9(4):382.

Butcher, H., Burkhart, S., Paul, N., Tiitii, U., Tamuera, K., Eria, T., and Swanepoel, L. (2020). Role of Seaweed in Diets of Samoa and Kiribati: Exploring Key Motivators for Consumption. Sustainability, September,12: 7356.

Project team: Prof Paul Southgate (Project Leader), Dr Thane Militz, Dr Simon Foale, Dr Cathy Hair, National Fisheries Authority, PNG, Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

Funding: ACIAR $1,741,605

Improving technical and institutional capacity to support development of mariculture based livelihoods and industry in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea


This project provides a sustainable basis for the development of a marine aquaculture or mariculture sector in PNG, focusing on high-priority commodities with mariculture potential, such as sea cucumbers (sandfish) and marine ornamental species, such as clownfishes, corals and giant clams. Research will build capacity, support sector development, improve local livelihoods and local awareness of mariculture potential, with potential to increase export earnings. Research also contributes to improving long-term government, non-government and local-community mariculture capacity.

Areas of research cover: development of sea cucumber culture techniques appropriate for community uptake in PNG; building sustainability into the existing aquarium trade; and determining whether profitable rock oyster culture can be developed in PNG.