Sea-cucumber Aquaculture in Tampolove

With 90% of global fish stocks overfished and climate change likely to increasingly impact reef fisheries, community-based aquaculture provides an opportunity to diversify coastal livelihoods while alleviating pressure on natural marine resources and supporting marine conservation. I spent the summer of 2019 in the tiny village of Tampolove, located on the south-west coast of Madagascar, working as a field assistant on a pioneering community-based aquaculture scheme in a project collaboration between NGO Blue Ventures and the University of Edinburgh.

In particular, this project focused on sea-cucumber aquaculture. Blue Ventures introduced sea-cucumber aquaculture in Tampolove in 2009 with the aim to create alternative employment opportunities for a population highly reliant on overexploited fish populations for their food and income. After a decade of development, the success of this community-led aquaculture scheme has led its story to be reported in international media including the Economist and BBC News.

Sea-cucumber aquaculture could offer a scalable solution to support some of the most vulnerable coastal communities, however, it does require strong technical and logistical experience to be successful. The two-year project between Blue Ventures and University of Edinburgh aimed to refine technical knowledge and create shareable resources to support the successful development of sea-cumber aquaculture in other communities.

Holothuria scabra sea-cucumber.
Photo: Meriwether Wilson
Pens in the sea-cucumber farm. Photo: Meriwether Wilson

The focus of our fieldwork in 2019 was to define the biophysical considerations needed to guide sea-cucumber aquaculture site selection. Along with other University of Edinburgh researchers and Blue Ventures staff, I spent the summer collecting sediment samples, digging and measuring holes and undertaking seagrass surveys. As the sea cucumber farm is located in the intertidal zone, our fieldwork was always a race against the tide with only two to three hours before the water became too high to work. Back at our huts in the village, we would write-up our observations and sort and organise samples to be weighed or returned to Edinburgh for analysis.

The most memorable part of the fieldwork was taking part in a ‘census’, when the University of Edinburgh team, Blue Ventures staff and sea-cucumber farmers were out from 1am to 3am to find, count and weigh over one thousand sea cucumbers. The census had to be undertaken at night as it is when the sea cucumbers are more likely to be at the top of the sediment.

The work we did in Tampolove has now contributed to a Sea-cucumber Farming Manual and a Biophysical Guide to Sea-cucumber Aquaculture Site Selection. These resources are aimed at development or conservation practitioners working in coastal communities with potential sea-cucumber aquaculture and to support the implementation of future aquaculture initiatives across the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

View a short video of the project here. The project was made possible through generous funding from the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation.

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