Mariculture for the Planet


Lonnie Kaczmarsky, Ph.D.

Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation and Florida International University

Coral Reef and Edible Algae on Bocas Reef

2911 NW 40th Place
Gainesville Florida, 32605

Phone: (201) 704-8065

Course Description

This course is designed to provide a sound foundation in sustainable mariculture concepts, techniques, and experimental study for sea cultivation. The material covered is equivalent to a university upper-level course in mariculture.

This 4-week course is a hands-on introduction to sustainable oyster and edible algae gardening in a tropical setting, but with techniques that can be scaled up and applied world-wide. Students will learn to design, construct, source materials, and deploy cultivation systems in the sea to help expand ITEC’s grow-out systems and increase its environmental benefits. Using an experimental approach, students are taught to identify factors in the selection of a suitable site for sea farming and conduct test plantings. You will not only learn how to help the planet but you will actually contribute to its improvement by the work you do here.

Seaweed and oyster mariculture reduce carbon dioxide and thereby potentially mitigate ocean acidification and global warming. In addition, macroalgae oxygenate waterways and remove nutrients thus mitigate local ocean dead zones and harmful algae blooms. Oysters also remove nutrients and increase water clarity by their tremendous filtering power, thus promote the health of coral reefs and growth of seagrass beds, a carbon sink. Their shells also sequester carbon.

Students will: (1) Learn to take field measurements and collect data for simple statistical analyses. (2) Learn to bio-prospect for edible species of algae for “seed” culture while snorkeling, which they will “plant” in algal cultivation systems that they build themselves. (3) Learn to collect oyster spat (juveniles) to grow to marketable sized adults. (4) Visit local vendors of seafood products and restauranteurs to promote oyster and algae consumption by donating those grown by ITEC. (5) Learn about oyster and algae cuisines by developing recipes and preparing meals for their fellow students and ITEC staff.

Students will also research a related topic of their choice for an end of the course report or presentation to ITEC students and staff.

Formal Lectures

Eucheuma and Gracilaria grow out line

  • Brief history of mariculture
  • Oyster and marine algae ecology & taxonomy
  • Methods and techniques in sustainable mariculture
  • Causes of climate change and overfertilization of marine environments and their impacts
  • Environmental impacts of terrestrial food systems and comparisons to mariculture
  • Environmental benefits of sustainable mariculture (e.g., carbon and nitrogen sequestration)
  • Laboratory hatcheries vs. wild collection of oyster spat (baby oysters) and algal spores (“seed”)
  • Oyster and algae cuisines and recipes
  • Marketing, processing, and growth of farmed oysters & algae for human consumption


Assignments relating to lecture topics will be made from the text and supplementary research articles provided electronically.

Required Text

Eat Like a Fish by Bren Smith (2020)

Field Work Briefings

Prior to departing for cultivation or reconnaissance sites, the objectives for the day will be outlined and discussed with the group. Individual assignments will also be made to students and coordinated with the group.

Daily Activities

Lonnie and students on an excursion to area reefs

Each student will be expected to actively participate in the design, construction, deployment, maintenance, and monitoring of cultivation systems and gather source materials/seed culture for these systems. Students will visit established cultivation sites to familiarize themselves with the organisms, cultivation techniques, and to make observations that may lead to hypotheses that could be tested in student projects. In the evenings, students will participate in lectures and ‘debriefing sessions’ during which they will discuss methods, techniques, organisms collected, and observations they made and recorded in their logbooks. Waterproof, underwater logbooks will be provided.


To: (1) a laboratory-based facility with capacity to rear and feed larval oysters and induce algae spore (“seed”) production that can then be deployed to ocean farming sites; (2) a coral nursery facility that raises and outplants coral fragments to help restore degraded coral reefs; (3) local food markets and restaurants; and (4) ITEC’s reforestation sites (>100 acres) in Tierra Oscura and native tree nursery that are helping slow climate change by carbon sequestration. Optional field trips include SCUBA diving/snorkeling on local coral reefs and night snorkeling to observe bioluminescence. For the SCUBA trip, certification (PADI, NAUI, or SSI) and DAN insurance are required. A small extra lab fee covers dive tank, air and dive weight rental. Students who choose to dive are expected to bring their own BC, regulator, mask/fin/snorkel.

Research Projects

Students can work in teams or individually to prepare a research proposal related to their specific interests in consultation with faculty.  Projects may be suggested by observations made during field activities or from the research literature, and will be evaluated on the basis of feasibility in the available time, soundness of design and concept. During the final week, writing of project reports will be carried out and presented orally in an end-of-course symposium.

Grading and Credit

Mangrove oysters for growth study

Grades will be assigned based on a final exam, reports, proposals, research, attendance & participation at lectures & field activities, as well as by less tangibles such as personal attitude, motivation, and contribution to the course. The instructor will provide a breakdown of points earned and final letter grade to your academic institution. The student is to provide direct evidence of course participation such as the syllabus, schedules, handouts, lecture notes, proposals, reports, etc. Please arrange for credit through your department or academic advisor.

Tentative Course Schedule

Day 1 Arrive via flight from Panama City

Day 2-3 Orientation with the station and boat trip/snorkeling at nearby marine habitats and cultivation sites, designing cultivation systems, sourcing & gathering cultivation materials, lectures.

Day 4-9 Monitoring, maintaining, measuring, and analyses of previously established ITEC crops, cultivation system construction, culinary sampling of ITEC-grown oysters & algae, visits to local seafood vendors/restaurants, research proposals, lectures

Day 10-11 Field trips (see above)

Day 12-21 Deployment of student-built cultivation systems, gathering and measuring “seed” culture for cultivation, individual research, lectures.

Day 22-24 Research and write-up of individual projects and recipes, lectures, final exam

Day 25 Presentations of individual research and recipes, dinner party

Day 26 Return Home