New program educates local youths about sustainable seafood
Students are getting first-hand experience with sustainable seafood and marine conservation.
That’s thanks to a collaboration between The Cultured Abalone Farm, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Southwest Fisheries Science Center. These partners have the support of a mini-grant issued by NOAA Fisheries and the North American Association for Environmental Education.
According to a news release, CAF, the Sea Center and SWFSC are developing curriculum to educate the next generation about sustainable aquaculture (raising marine species for food) and conservation. “Sustainable aquaculture is not only a growing career field, but a key component to food security and the preservation of marine resources locally and globally,” according to a statement by the Sea Center.
The new curriculum uses a specific species case study: white abalone (Haliotis sorenseni).
NOAA Fisheries, the Sea Center and TCAF are already partners on the White Abalone Restoration Consortium, which is studying this endangered marine snail and restoring the wild populations.
“Once a culturally, economically, and ecologically important species, white abalone numbers have crashed since the 1970s, catastrophically depleted by overharvesting,” the Sea Center said in its news release. “WARC partners collaborate to raise white abalone in captivity and outplant them in their native waters, along with researching how abalone could be affected by new challenges like rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification.”
Since 1989, TCAF’s facility on the Gaviota Coast has sustainably raised for human consumption a different but closely-related species, red abalone (Haliotis rufescens). Over the years, the aquaculturists have learned a lot about what it takes to keep abalone healthy and reproducing.
TCAF has shared this knowledge with WARC partners raising white abalone in captivity, including the Sea Center. In addition to raising juvenile abalone and participating in spawning attempts to create more juveniles, the Sea Center has acted as a major local point of contact for the public to learn about white abalone and the WARC’s efforts.
Now TCAF, the Sea Center, and SWFSC are working together to create a high school curriculum on aquaculture with a field-trip twist.
TCAF will open its doors to Santa Barbara High School marine biology students participating in the curriculum and offer an aquaculture tour. On completing the curriculum, students will have the opportunity to earn volunteer hours (which are needed for high school graduation in Santa Barbara County) by educating guests at the Sea Center.
The partners are developing this curriculum with funding aid from NOAA Fisheries/NAAEE.
“This project addresses a critical need for building understanding of the essential role of aquaculture in the persistence of California’s iconic abalone populations,” said Dr. Kristin Aquilino, lead scientist for the White Abalone Captive Breeding Program. “Providing high school students with an opportunity to both learn about abalone aquaculture in the classroom and experience it first-hand will give them valuable cognitive skills and abilities, as well as make them more informed citizens when it comes to making decisions related to the environment.”
Dr. Aquilino sees potential for this curriculum to be reproduced by educators and aquaculturists around California. “I see this pilot program as an incredible doorway to aquaculture education statewide.”