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Small Keys College Wins Big Grant To Evaluate Aquaculture

Nancy Klingener
Florida Keys Community College professor Mick Walsh heads up the college's marine environmental technology program.

Florida Keys Community College established a mariculture program six years ago, after the movie "Finding Nemo" created a craze for clownfish like the title character.

But it wasn't until Mick Walsh arrived three years ago to head up the college's marine environmental technology department that the program took off.

"When I got here, we had eight pairs of parent fish and that was it," Walsh said. "And now we have eight pairs of parent fish and hundreds, hundreds of baby clownfish and many more that have also been adopted out to community members and students."

That interest and expertise in aquaculture has helped FKCC become the only community college in the country to win a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Sea Grant program to assess aquaculture management in the U.S.

Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN
Most of the clownfish bred at FKCC are in the classic orange-and-white colors seen in "Finding Nemo." But they come in other varieties, too.

Walsh and students will review international and U.S. guidelines for aquaculture, then look at some case studies and any documentation to see if the U.S. follows those guidelines.

"Seafood consumers are a little confused, I think, and would just like some clarification, particularly about how sustainable aquaculture is," Walsh said.

Growing tropical fish for the aquarium industry, like the clownfish at FKCC, can help take pressure off coral reefs and leave wild animals in place, Walsh said, while farming fish for food can help feed people and protect wild fish stocks  — as long as the aquaculture itself does not harm the environment.

Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.
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