The first half of the spring semester at the Center for Marine Resource Studies culminated in a successful field trip to three other islands of the Turks & Caicos archipelago. Students and staff set off by boat across the Caicos bank on Monday morning to explore farms, restoration projects and the Conch Bar Caves on Middle and North Caicos as part of their Environmental Policy and Socioeconomic Values course. In addition, we had the chance to visit the Caicos Conch Farm, an aquaculture venture established in 1985 to farm the queen conch Strombus gigas, an historically important marine mollusk for the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the second largest fishery after lobster.
As part of the Resource Management course, students investigate current fisheries management examples and techniques, and the widespread failures resulting in the global decline of wild fish stocks. There is a crucial need to manage resource use and conserve marine biodiversity; however, in terms of food production, our ability to develop sustainable methods of farming seafood is paramount to replacing protein from disappearing wild-caught fisheries. Aquaculture has the potential to provide real solutions to local livelihoods and food security; however, it is often heavily criticized for causing more harm than good in terms of environmental damage. Hence, prior to the field trip, students were challenged with developing feasible aquaculture proposals for South Caicos, which they subsequently presented to a panel of judges. This was complimented by the visit to the conch farm, which is in the process of diversifying into culturing fish species such as Cobia and Amberjack. The farm tour, given by resident aquaculturists, provided students with a real world example of the challenges involved in achieving a viable business while avoiding further damage to delicate surrounding marine ecosystems.