A new industry may soon open up for tunicates.
Tunicates, or sea squirts, are a group of marine animals that more closely resemble blobs than the vertebrates to which they are related. They can be found in every ocean and spend most of their lives attached to docks or the bottom of boats where they feed on plankton. Some live alone and others live in large colonies.
Because tunicates like to attach themselves to docks, rocks, and boats, they can be a nuisance for boat owners and shellfish farmers. Instead of a seeing a nuisance, however, Christofer Troedsson of Uni Research saw an opportunity. When their water content is removed, tunicates are 55 percent protein. They are also the only animals that produce cellulose. These qualities make them interesting options for feed and biofuel.
In a small-scale experiment that began six months ago, Troedsson and others placed tunicates in the sea. They were recently harvest by a group of eight people who worked for two weeks to collect 30 tons of the ‘ocean weeds’. The tunicates were washed, pressed, dried and ground into animal and fish feed.
Feeding farmed fish is typically the biggest challenge and often makes aquaculture (for carnivorous species) unsustainable. If protein from tunicates can be used as fish feed, it will provide fish farmers with a cheaper, more sustainable option.
Now, the experiment has turned into a large-scale pilot project.
“Production has so far exceeded our greatest expectations,” Troedsson said in a news release.
Uni Research and the University of Bergen have teamed up with the Research Council of Norway to help turn this project into a commercial industry. Right now, researchers are experimenting with different structures (ropes, mesh, and others) to see which one produces the most tunicates. They are also trying out different methods of harvesting, washing and pressing to get the most product.
Learn more here: Slimy tunicates may be worth billions.
Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.