Saint Joseph's College professor receives grant to test use of laser light in mussel farming

The Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center has awarded Dr. Mark Green of Peaks Island, associate professor of marine science at Saint Joseph's College, nearly $9,000 for a study on the use of submerged green-laser light to deter sea ducks from feeding on cultivated mussels. Maine's 13 mussel farms face losing up to hundreds of tons of mussels each year because of predation by sea ducks, primarily eider ducks.

Mussel growers often use a raft system to culture mussels, but even with huge nets draped from the raft to prevent predation, the growers can still suffer significant losses. If the green-laser light system works on the rafts, it is potentially less expensive, far easier to use and a much better deterrent to predation than the nets.

Green will construct and test a low-cost, submersible, green-laser light system in the Casco Bay Estuary, Gulf of Maine. Field studies will run periodically for a year beginning this winter.

The use of above-water, hand-held lasers has been shown to be a non-lethal and environmentally benign way of scaring away certain bird species. However, their use is labor intensive (people must shine the lasers at the mussel rafts during feeding hours). The proposed submerged laser light system uses solar power and interfaces with timing devices, so it can be left for weeks at a time with light maintenance required every 4 to 7 days.

If it proves workable, the laser light system could prevent hundreds of thousands of dollars from being lost because of mussel predation. Increases in mussel harvest would translate into more money for industry growth, additional hires and profitability for aquaculture businesses, according to Green. The laser system could also be adapted worldwide, where millions of pounds of cultured product are eaten annually by eider ducks.

Green will use marine science majors at Saint Joseph's as undergraduate research assistants in the project. He has extensive research experience studying the cause of juvenile clam mortality in Casco Bay . His recent discovery that large percentages of baby clams may actually dissolve in nearshore marine sediments has challenged a near 100-year-old scientific paradigm and has received global recognition. Green's research on clam mortality has been supported by large grants from the National Science Foundation.

The Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, housed at the University of Maine in Orono, promotes applied aquaculture research, assists in the formulation of policies favorable to industry growth, serves as a clearinghouse for aquaculture information, and is a liaison with government organizations, aqua farms and the general public.

October 20, 2006 Contact: Charmaine Daniels at (207) 893-7723 or e-mail cdaniels@sjcme.edu