Training in Marine Ornamental Farming for Extension Professionals in Micronesia

Final Report for EW11-001

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2011: $51,050.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Western
State: Federated States of Micronesia
Principal Investigator:
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Project Information


This project was based on assumptions that the marine ornamental aquaculture industry in Micronesia could be improved by better skills, knowledge, and communication between practitioners. The Marine and Environmental Research Institute of Pohnpei (MERIP), a not for profit corporation involved in the industry, led the project. In 2012, three activities occurred: a training workshop in Pohnpei; a study tour of Majuro and Kosrae; and study tour to the Marine Aquarium Conference of North America annual meeting. All three activities were completed successfully. In total 53 people involved in the marine ornamental industry received training or outreach from this project. Project follow-ups were conducted in 2013 and early 2015 and technical assistance was provided throughout the project period. Key participants reported sustained increased productivity, activity and coordination between producers and extension workers; increased skill levels; and new partnerships.

Project Objectives:

Assumptions: The marine ornamental aquaculture industry in the RMI and FSM could be greatly improved by better coordination and communication between practitioners. In addition, there are knowledge gaps especially between Land Grant and other public sector extension professionals of marine ornamental farming techniques. Improvements in these areas will lead to a greater number of people involved in the field, a larger variety of products being farmed, better pricing for products being grown and a higher skill level among outreach and extension professionals in the public sector.

Resources: Nearly all of the resources for this project will come from funding from SARE with matching from MERIP. The primary trainer will be Simon Ellis, the MERIP Director. Training facilities will be provided at MERIP for the on-site training component of the project (see Activities and Methods below). MERIP has a fully equipped facility with commercial scale demonstration training modules for marine ornamental aquaculture. Private sector partners will also be invited to the on-site training at MERIP.

Intended Outputs: 1. Audience. The main audience for the project will be Land Grant and/or faculty professionals who deal with aquaculture education and outreach from the College of Micronesia – FSM (COM-FSM) and College of the Marshall Islands (CMI). In addition, MERIP staff (4 individuals including the project leader Simon Ellis) and private sector practitioners from Kosrae and Majuro (2 individuals) will be part of the learning group. Members from the local fisheries management agencies in Pohnpei, Kosrae and Majuro will also be part of the group as will key personnel from grass roots conservation groups that promote sustainable aquaculture in the region. In total it is expected that 25-30 individuals with outreach responsibilities will receive training during the project. It is expected that representatives of the following organizations will attend the trainings.

COM-FSM Land Grant (Government)

CMI Land Grant (Government)

COM-FSM marine science faculty (Government)

CMI marine science faculty (Government)

Conservation Society of Pohnpei (NGO)

Pohnpei State Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (Government)

Kosrae Conservation and Safety Organization (NGO)

Kosrae State Department of Fisheries (Government)

Marshall Islands Marine Resource Authority (Government)

Marshall Island Mariculture Farm (Private Sector)

Micronesian Marketing and Management Enterprises (Private Sector)


The primary geographic focus of this project is the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), and specifically the respective main islands of Pohnpei and Majuro. These are fledgling sovereign nations that share a Compact of Free Association with the United States and are classified as belonging to the U.S Affiliated Pacific Islands. Citizens of both nations are classified as by USDA as socially disadvantaged, as they are Pacific Islanders. These nations are characterized by having vast ocean EEZ’s with small land areas and populations and also possess some of the world’s largest lagoon areas. Per capita GDP is uniformly low, and unemployment high. Not only are the FSM and RMI lagging in comparison to developed nations, demographic and economic indicators place them in the lower ranks of Pacific Island Nations and, like many developing small island nations, the FSM and RMI are economically marginalized. Economic development lags far behind the latent potential of their aquaculture, agriculture and agro-forestry resources and skills.

One of the most successful aquaculture enterprises in the FSM and RMI to date has been farming of marine ornamental invertebrates for supplying home aquariums in the United States and Europe. Giant clams (Tridacna spp.), hard and soft corals, ornamental sponges, zooanthids and corallimorphs are all cultured using simple techniques for live export via air freight. Importantly, these methods of farming are considered highly sustainable with extremely low environmental impact and are endorsed and promoted by conservation groups and local governments as a means of income generation and poverty alleviation for rural communities. In addition, marine ornamental farming is identified as a key economic development activity for the FSM and RMI. Commercial exporters of farmed marine ornamental products exist in Majuro, RMI and Kosrae, FSM. In addition, the leading not for profit institution in the region for this form of aquaculture, the Marine and Environmental Research Institute of Pohnpei (MERIP) is based in Pohnpei, FSM. This organization has a regional focus and provides training and technology transfer in sustainable aquaculture techniques.  


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  • Simon Ellis

Education & Outreach Initiatives



For 2012 the following activities and performance targets were proposed.
a. One week training for aquaculture professionals and producers at MERIP in Pohnpei. Participants will travel from Kosrae and Majuro to Pohnpei where they will undergo a one week training on marine ornamental culture techniques. This will include grow-out, marketing, shipping, permitting and sustainability aspects of the trade.
b. Study tour for 3 MERIP personnel to Majuro and Kosrae to visit existing facilities. This tour will also act as a feedback function for practitioners at these sites as the MERIP personnel will not only learn from their experiences but will also be able to provide advice to producers on-site.
c. Study tour for one individual to the Marine Aquarium Conference of North America (MACNA) annual meeting in Des Moine, Iowa in 2011. This meeting is the premier meeting of the marine aquarium industry in the United States and has the opportunity to meet with many buyers and producers of marine ornamental products and to learn the newest trends and techniques.

In years 2 and 3 of the project follow up visits will be made to the project sites for the purposes of continued training and evaluation.

Outreach and Publications

The only outreach materials from this project were the powerpoint presentations developed for the workshop in 2012.  Theses are attached to this report in the outcome and impacts section.

Outcomes and impacts:

a. A one week training for aquaculture professionals and producers. The workshop was successfully held at the MERIP facility in Pohnpei from March 5-8, a total of 4 days. On each day of the workshop there were the same 15 participants (see Workshop Participant List document for details) from both the private sector and also Land Grant and public sector fisheries divisions. There were also representatives from conservation NGO’s. Participants were asked to complete an Exit Survey and an Extension Activity Survey (see Exit Survey and Extension Activity Survey document for details), which will be used for comparative evaluation in follow up visits in 2013 and 2014. There were 3 participants from the Marshall Islands and 2 participants from Kosrae. The remaining participants came from Pohnpei. The workshop agenda (Workshop Agenda document) and presentations (Presentations 1-7) are also part of this report. Please also see Pictures PNI 1-6.
b. Study tour for 3 MERIP personnel to Majuro and Kosrae to visit existing facilities. Rather than 3 participants for this study tour it was possible to take 4 people for the same amount of funds. The tour took place from May 11-19, 2012. Due to changes in plane departure times to Kosrae the team visited there first from May 11-14, over a weekend. The team then travelled to the RMI for the remaining days returning to Pohnpei on May 19th.
Kosrae, FSM Tour
On Kosrae the work was coordinated by Mr. Bruno Ned of the Kosrae Fisheries Department and Mr. Martin Selch a private marine ornamental farmer and exporter whose company (Micronesian Management and Marketing Enterprises, MMME) runs the former National Aquaculture Center in Kosrae. Both these individuals participated in the workshop in Pohnpei earlier in the year.
Activities were as follows:
Day 1 – May 11. Arrive from Pohnpei 4 pm in the afternoon and meet with farm personnel at MMME and received a short tour of the facilities.
Day 2 – May 12. MMME staff took us to visit 2 ocean-based coral and giant clams farming sites run by community members in different parts of the island. Later in the day the team assembled at the MMME facilities for a tour of the fish collection and export station and a dinner hosted by our Kosrae partners.
Day 3 – May 13. Kosrae State Fisheries staff took us on a tour of a now disused mangrove crab hatchery. The hatchery had closed recently and the government is interested to use the facility for other purposes. Discussions were held as to what might be done with the facility including expanding its use to marine ornamental product farming. In the evening of May 13, the team were invited to witness the packing methods used by the MMME farm, this is an extremely important part of the marine ornamental trade.
Day 4 – May 14. In the morning a seminar was held at the Kosrae State Department of Economic Affairs. Simon Ellis gave a presentation on marine ornamental invertebrate aquaculture and its importance to exports in Micronesia. Another meeting was held with the Kosrae Conservation and Safety Organization (KCSO) an NGO, which focused on conservation and sustainable livelihoods in Kosrae. Information was provided on how communities might be become more involved in marine ornamental farming, especially with the presence of a successful exporter in Kosrae.
The team then traveled to Majuro, RMI arriving at 8 pm.
Please see pictures KSA 1-3.

Majuro, RMI Tour
The work on Majuro was coordinated by Mr. Miguel Delos Santos the aquaculture researcher at the College of the Marshall Islands (CMI) Land Grant Program and also Mr. Provan Crump, manager of a privately owned giant clam and coral farm, Marshall Islands Mariculture Farm (MIMF). Both these individuals participated in the Pohnpei workshop earlier in the year.
Day 5 – May 15. The entire day was spent with Mr. Miguel Delos Santos at the CMI Land Grant aquaculture facility in Arrak, on Majuro. Mr. Delos Santos gave a presentation of their activities to the team and the results of some recent resource surveys of the outer atolls of the Marshall Islands. Mr. Delos Santos has responsibility for marine ornamental extension and outreach for the CMI. His counterpart, Mr. Julius Lucky, also a participant in the Pohnpei workshop earlier in the year was unable to attend due to an off-island commitment.
Research activities at the CMI Land Grant are not focused on marine ornamentals per se but more in marine food fish, sea cucumbers and pearl oysters. However, many of the rearing activities for these species are very similar to marine ornamental invertebrates and fish. Demonstrations of microalgae rearing and pearl oyster spawning methods were presented to the team.
Day 6 – May 16. In the morning the team was invited to the MIMF farm for a tour of the facilities and also to witness the packing process. Discussions were held on the various aspects of the farming processes especially the packing process.
In the afternoon and seminar was held at the CMI and a presentation on the marine ornamental trade was given.
Day 7 – May 17. The team was invited to return to the MIMF farm to participate in the spawning of giant clams. A species not found in Pohnpei, Tridacna derasa, was used. Techniques very different to those used in Pohnpei were demonstrated. The spawning and preparation used the entire day.
Day 8 – May 18. The team were able to visit some lagoon based coral and giant clam farms operated by community members and also to visit some of the sites used for coral broodstock collection in the Majuro lagoon.
Day 9 – May 19. The team returned to Pohnpei in the early morning.

Please see Pictures MAJ 1-6.

c. Study tour for one individual to the Marine Aquarium Conference of North America (MACNA) annual meeting in Des Moine, Iowa in 2011. Due to the start date of this project being after the Des Moine meeting, permission was given by WSARE staff for the study tour to be postponed to the following years meeting in Dallas Fort Worth, Texas. The Dallas meeting ran from September 28-30th, 2012 and was attended by the project leader Simon Ellis. Please see the document titled MACNA Report for more details. This report was distributed widely to workshop participants and other interested parties in the region.

In 2013 and again in early 2015, the project PI Simon Ellis revisited Majuro and Kosrae to assess changes in the industry and to conduct surveys with training participants from 2012. During the site visits, existing facilities were visited and technical assistance and training was provided where needed. The project PI Simon Ellis also conducted survey interviews with participants from Pohnpei who were involved in workshops or training in 2012.

Technical assistance was also provided to participants over the 3 years of the project.  These varied from recommendations on pumps to giant clam spawning  training and coral husbadnry methods.  Farmers meetings were also held in Pohnpei twice yearly during the project period.  During these meetings farmers were able to discuss problems and also learn new techniques. 

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Proposed outcomes were as follows: 1. Improved communications and coordination between practitioners and extension professionals, in the FSM and RMI.

During follow up interviews and consultations this outcome has certainly been met. In fact this seemed to be the most significant outcome of the trainings and interactions. Key examples, taken from interviews and conversations, of this were as follows:

  • MMME owner and manager Martin Selch in Kosrae reported greatly improved communication with Kosrae Fisheries staff following the workshops in 2012.

  • Kosrae Fisheries staff member Bruno Ned, who also attended the workshops in 2012, reported “an increased appreciation of the needs of the private sector” and a stronger partnership with MMME.

  • Provan Crump, manager of the largest giant clam and marine ornamental farm in the RMI also felt that interactions and exchange of ideas were the most important aspect of the workshops and trainings. He keeps in touch with the two other wholesalers in Palau and Kosrae on a regular basis. He also stated that there was a better understanding between himself and his public sector partners.

  • Crump also offered this testimonial “A big thank you to the grantee for bringing together people for one of the most productive and effective workshop in the promotion of the industry”

  • From the standpoint of MERIP, the organizer of the workshops and also the grantee, these interactions were invaluable. Communications and relationships with private sector and public sector individuals involved in the marine ornamental aquaculture sector are vastly improved. Given that producers and exporters are generally separated by thousands of miles and often have poor communication infrastructure, the opportunity to get everyone together helped to make the industry more cohesive.

  • Selch also stated that he not working so much in competition with the other exporters in the region but more in synergy so that everyone benefits.

 2. Increased skill levels of extension professionals and practitioners in marine ornamental culture methods. Results of the exit survey from the Pohnpei workshop indicate that all participants strongly felt they had a better understanding of the marine ornamental industry. Further, all felt the workshop would help them with their work and 86% said they would use methods used in their training in the next 6 months. Evaluation of skills improvement in 2013 and 2015 yielded the following key findings:

  • Interestingly nearly all respondents felt that the increase and improvement in personal interactions and relationships were the most important aspects of the trainings.

  • However, people working in giant clam production cited improvements in growth and survival, as a result of the trainings, in the following areas: predator control (Pyramedellid snails); algal feeding during larval phases; soft coral farming techniques; clam mantle color; timing of zooxanthelle addition; and tank aeration.

  • Both private and public sector participants expressed greatly increased understanding of permitting and regulation aspects of export.

 3. New and improved partnerships within and between existing producers and extension professionals. While number of producers in the Micronesia region is quite small, the workshops and site visits helped greatly to garner collaboration. Key changes from the workshop in 2012 and the project end in 2015 are as follows:

  • MMME formed a new business relationship with Watson Mariculture in Palau. Mr. Selch visited Palau twice following the Pohnpei workshop in 2012 and has subsequently begun importing products from Palau to add to his own product line in Kosrae.  This relationship is still in place at the end of the project. 

  • All exporters/wholesalers, including MERIP, reported record sales in 2013.  In 2014 only MERIP and MIMF reported record sales (up from 2013).  How much of this can be attributed to the outcomes of the training and how much to a recovering economy in the US and EU it is hard to say. Increased communications between farmers and buyers/wholesalers it likely to have contributed significantly to this increase.

  • Predictably, private sector exporters were reluctant to give details of export figures. However, MERIP, as a quasi-private entity is willing to share this information. Coral exports in 2012 for MERIP were 14735 and in 2013 this grew to 21392 an increase of 45%.  In 2014, corals exports only rose slightly to 22,453.  The main reason for this was due to decrease in orders from MMME whose fish export business had been hit by export restrictions imposed by the Kosraen government.  This has led to a subsequent decrease in the demand for clams and corals from that facility.  Watson Mariculture in Palau did not respond to the 2014 request for information. 

  • Through improved communication between MERIP and MIMF in 2013, MIMF’s parent company, Ocean Reefs and Aquariums in Fort Pierce, Florida entered into an agreement with Petco to purchase corals sold by MERIP. This has significantly improved exports for both companies.  This increase continued into 2014 and early 2015. 

  1. Increased number of individuals entering into marine ornamental farming, either at the community or commercial level.

  • While export of corals has been seen to grow significantly there is almost no evidence of new farmers entering into the industry. In Pohnpei a group of 4 new farmers began growing corals in 2013 and another 3 begand farming in 2014. Instead it seems existing farmers are growing more corals per farmer.  4 giant clam farmers also began working with MERIP in 2014.

The second follow up visit in 2015 showed large personnel and logisitcal changes since the original workshop.  Both Land Grant personnel in Majuro have moved on to other positions and they have not managed to replace their aquaculture researcher since.  Changes of this nature are common in the RMI and can lead to loss of continuity in government offices. 

In Pohnpei FSM, most of the personnel from the Pohnpei State office of Fisheries and Aquaculture and Land Grant office have remained in their positions but have not begun any work in marine ornamentals.  In Kosrae, regulation of the marine ornamental industry was passed over to another agency which imposed strict export quotas on the wild fish export business of MMME.  This had subsequent impact on the export of corals and giant clams.


Potential Contributions

The overall marine ornamental aquaculture industry in Micronesia continues to thrive and is becoming more mature.  Farmers. wholesalers, the transport sector and government agencies continue to have a strong relationship.  This is somewhat unusual for Micronesia and it seems that this project with the training and follow up extension and evaluation component was successful in helping this small industry to thrive.

Future Recommendations


Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.