Friday, 7 June 2013

IN THE FIELD – Mabe, baby: Commemorating World Oceans Day

(in-country visits by ACIAR’s research program managers)

In May this year, ACIAR’s Fisheries program manager, Dr Chris Barlow, visited Papua New Guinea (PNG) to check out the progress of several fisheries projects (the inlandaquaculture project in Goroka and a mariculture project at Nago Island, Kavieng). Highlights of the trip included 'finding Nemo' and seeing some of the amazing work coming out of a pearl-development project...

(Image courtesy of Zelko Slamaj)
During a whirlwind trip around PNG, one of the activities Dr Chris Barlow participated in was attending a progress meeting of a mariculture (marine aquaculture) project. Dr Barlow observed great progress being made in several areas.

“In one scenario, there is work being done on clown fish—made extremely popular as an aquarium fish by the film ‘Finding Nemo’. One of the angles we are following is to develop a sterile ‘Nemo’ which will help protect the PNG supply into the global market,” Dr Barlow said.

The work presents a great opportunity for market development and increasing opportunities for people working in the aquarium-supply area.
Hatchery manager Michael Tekanane
with a broodstock sea cucumber,
used for restocking.

“There’s also much enthusiasm for sea cucumber work. We visited Limanak village where a restocking activity is underway. There are only about 500-600 sea cucumbers stocked so far, but there is good survival and growth,” Dr Barlow said.

"These projects are helping to contribute to the sustainability of marine species and livelihood development for coastal communities."
“Some exciting developments are occurring with oysters. While there is limited progress at this stage with edible oysters, pearl production is making great advances. The longlines are growing well and the project team is getting some beautiful and distinctive colours”, Dr Barlow said.
An ACIAR-funded pearl production project, Abaiang Lagoon, Kiribati
Image courtesy of J Hunter Pearls
"Mabé" pearls are half pearls grown on the shell, as distinct from in the gonad as in round pearls.  An ACIAR Fisheries project led by Prof Paul Southgate at James Cook University has been responsible for developing this technology in the western Pacific (Tonga, Fiji, and soon in PNG).

“Round pearls are more valuable, but the profitability and amenity for local producers is favourable with the mabé. We’re aiming to extend the work being done in Tonga and Fiji into PNG,” Dr Barlow said.

Previous work has already been completed on a project whereby mabé culture was introduced to the farm of the biggest round pearl producer and major local employer in Fiji, J HunterPearls. A local artisan—the best carver in Fiji—turned the mabé into beautiful jewellery. Some of the mabé have been sold in Europe. 

The Mabé have been carved by a local artisan
Image courtesy of J Hunter Pearls

Image courtesy of J Hunter Pearls
Towards the end of 2013 the current pearl project will be holding a women's handicraft workshop at the mariculture research station in Nago Island, Kavieng, PNG.

It’s appropriate that this post is published the day before World Oceans Day, as we appreciate hard-earned ‘gifts from the sea’ that have the potential to lessen the burdens on the lives of people in developing nations and the aquatic resources they, and their neighbours, depend on.

By Alexandra Bagnara, ACIAR Communications

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