15.3.16 | The ecological, social and economic consequences of aquaculture on tropical ecosystems and humans are the focus of a new research project at the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT). The project titled ACUTE* is funded with close to one million Euro by the Leibniz Association. It is coordinated by Dr. Astrid Gärdes, head of the junior research group “Tropical Marine Microbiology”. The three-year project unites ecologists, microbiologists, biogeochemists and social scientists from Germany, Indonesia and the Philippines. The research partners have recently gathered for the kick-off conference at the University of the Philippines in Manila.

The growing demand for fish and shellfish greatly exceeds the current production capacity of natural waters. Today more than 70 million tons of products from aquaculture are being marketed. In many tropical countries especially within Southeast Asia they are vital for export and employment.

But the industry is also dealing with many ecological problems. The growing demand for aquaculture products and the increasing pressure of the competition leads many fish farmers to intensify their methods. Excess nutrients and faeces in the aquaculture ponds cause algae bloom. In many enclosures the concentration of bacteria and parasites is also extremely high and treating the populations with hormones and medication further contaminates the water.

In coastal regions harmful substances and germs and the excess of organic material from net cages can enter the open ocean. Neighbouring aquaculture plants and the bordering coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs and seagrass meadows are suffering as a result leading to significant economic and ecological damage.

“Particles covered with germs are consumed by fish, mussels and other sea creatures and can thus enter the food chain and pose a great danger to human health,” explains Dr. Astrid Gärdes. Her research project follows a multidisciplinary approach dealing with the whole ecological and socio-economic context of tropical aquaculture and serving to improve the aquaculture practices in tropical countries. “The results will create the prerequisites to develop suitable management strategies and to assess the risks threatening the people living on the coasts and their livelihoods,” adds Dr. Gärdes.

The ACUTE research project will run over a period of three years. It is funded through the Leibniz Competition by the Leibniz Association. The Leibniz Competition is conducted according to criteria, which were developed in line with the aims of the Joint Initiative for Research and Innovation. It is an important strategic tool to support exceptional research, service or transfer proposals of institutions belonging to the Leibniz Association.

*ACUTE = AquaCUulture practice in Tropical coastal Ecosystems - understanding ecological and socio-economic consequences