Researchers Partner with Chile
to Promote Sustainable Aquaculture
quaculture and the management of coastal environments are the focus of a growing partnership between the University of Connecticut and the Universidad de Los Lagos in Chile.
Aquaculture, the most rapidly growing segment of the agricultural industry, is expected to dominate global fish production by the year 2030. Yet significant environmental and biological challenges prevent this industry from operating at a sustainable level.
The Universidad de Los Lagos is centrally located in a region of Chile where aquaculture is practiced.
The partnership, launched at the end of last year, links U.S. and Chilean scholars with an interest in environmental management. One of the partnership's goals is to develop an aquaculture production system that has minimal impact on the environment and can be applied in any region of the world.
"We're looking at a multi-disciplinary approach to the management of coastal resources and the watershed," says Boris Bravo-Ureta, executive director of UConn's Office of International Affairs, who led a University delegation to Chile in December.
Discovering that they share many mutual research and environmental concerns and lie an equal distance from the Equator - Connecticut's latitude is 41 degrees north, the Universidad de Los Lagos lies at 41 degrees south - the UConn delegation signed an agreement with the Chileans to collaborate in areas such as marine science, aquaculture, coastal manage- ment, environmental monitoring, terrestrial ecology, watershed ecology and water quality.
"It was clear to all of us that there really is value in bringing these two university communities together for both educational purposes and research goals," Bravo-Ureta says. "It's not a transient phenomenon. The struggle between economic development and protecting the environment is an issue we're going to grapple with in various forms for the indefinite future."
The Chileans and North Americans have many lessons for each other.
Chile is a leader in aquaculture: second in the world for farmed salmon production and first in the production of Gracilaria algae. Yet it still has some of the most pristine coastal environments in the world, well suited to serve as outdoor research laboratories. Additionally, southern Chile's Lakes Region and surrounding forests contain many animals whose basic biology has not yet been investigated.
The area provides enormous scope for scholars to develop research programs related to environmental issues in coastal areas.
As a developing nation, Chile is under pressure to expand use of its natural resources for economic development, said Alejandro Buschmann, professor of aquaculture at the Chilean institution, during a recent visit to UConn. "We cannot afford to say to our people, 'You stay poor'," he said. "We must look for ways to develop but also seek to minimize damage to the environment."
Inspiration for the partnership came from a collaboration between Buschmann and Charles Yarish, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UConn. The two were working together on a project in which seaweeds are grown around salmon pens to cleanse the waters, producing a second crop in the process. "Integrated aquaculture and the use of seaweeds for bioremediation purposes is an important research subject in southern Chile as well as in Long Island Sound," says Yarish.
Long Island Sound and the Lakes Region of Chile have a lot in common, according to George Hoag, director of UConn's Environmental Research Institute. "Both regions are characterized by relatively sheltered estuaries with similar conditions that are ideal for aquaculture," he says, "but there are differences in population density and water quality."
Environmental studies that can compare control watershed and coastal systems to developed systems are of great scientific importance, Hoag adds. Chile includes areas that have been developed for aquaculture, as well as areas that are as close to pristine as can be found on our planet, he says.
In May, Buschmann and a 10-member delegation of Chilean reseachers, traveled to UConn, visiting both Storrs and the Avery Point campus, home to the marine sciences program.
During the visit, more than 30 UConn and Chilean researchers in disciplines ranging from economics and engineering to marine biology, ecology and evolutionary biology, and pathobiology shared ideas about their work, explored ways to collaborate with each other, and set some objectives for the future.
"UConn researchers have already seen the difficulties posed by multiple uses of coastal environments in industrial areas," says Bravo-Ureta, "and perhaps they can help the Chileans avoid some pitfalls."
Yet he stressed that the partnership must be genuinely collaborative. Certainly Chilean scholars and decision makers can learn much from Connecticut's environmental experience, he said. But researchers and policy analysts in the U.S. also have much to learn from the Chileans about development needs and environmental vulnerabilities in other regions of the world.