Tyler Isaac CAS ’11

I entered Boston University in the Fall of 2007 hoping to gain an education in marine science which would enable me to successfully run an ornamental fish breeding company. My focus was on raising high-value fish species for aquarium sale in order to protect the wild populations from collection; when I was in high school, I had a 300-gallon coral propagation tank and a small clownfish breeding system which I operated under the name Findamentals, LLC and sold livestock to local hobbyists. I wanted to be able to do that on a more professional and scientific level, so I elected to major in Marine Science as an incoming freshman.

Tyler's first reef tank

Tyler’s first reef tank

The start of the growout tub for Findamentals, LLC

The start of the growout tub for Findamentals, LLC

During my time at BU, I started working as a technician for Justin in the Marine Research Teaching wet lab in my sophomore year and worked there through graduation. I participated in the Marine Semester my junior year, Fall 2009, and went down to Wee Wee Caye in Belize. The Marine Semester was a life changing experience, and really showed me what scientific research was all about – I wasn’t learning about science, I was doing science! Wee Wee Caye was a great introduction to field work, and who can complain about traveling to the tropics during the cold Boston winter?

The following fall, I studied abroad on South Caicos, of the Turks and Caicos Islands with the School for Field Studies, an independent study abroad program accredited by BU. South Caicos is a particularly remote 8sq mile Caribbean island, inhabited by 1,500 Belongers (the proper name for native Turks and Caicos Islanders), Haitians and Dominicans. Thirty-five Americans, including myself, from universities across the USA lived and studied in a repurposed abandoned dive hotel overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

Daily life there was similar to the marine semester; I attended morning lectures from 8am-12pm, and then went out into the field for the afternoon to conduct research. I conducted research including detailed assessments of the ecology and health of reef, mangrove and seagrass habitats inside and outside of protected areas, assessments of the status and level of local fishing efforts, as well as monitored the effects of tourism and habitat destruction on the surrounding ecosystems. For the end of the semester, each student completed an individual research project under the direction of one of the faculty professors and presented in front of the community of local fishermen.

Through my studies and experiences on South Caicos, it was clear there was a severe overfishing problem there; data from both transect surveys and fishery landings indicated the conch, lobster and grouper populations were in steep decline. After seeing the destruction by unsustainable and unenforced/unregulated harvesting methods first-hand, my interest in aquaculture shifted from the ornamental hobbyist level to aquaculture as a career in food production, to remove pressure from wild fisheries.

Since graduating, I have completed internships at the New England Aquarium in the American Lobster aquaculture program, and the Cape Eleuthera Institute in the Bahamas working on an open ocean cage aquaculture project raising cobia.

At the New England Aquarium, I worked with Anita Metzler hatching larvae from gravid wild female lobsters, and then raised them on different feeds with varying concentrations of astaxanthin (the carotenoid pigment which binds to protein in the lobster’s shell – the concentration determines the color of the lobster).

At CEI in the Bahamas, we raised cobia (Rachycentron canadum) from eggs produced by our broodstock – the fish are raised 1000-10,000L tanks in the wet lab until they are around 45 days old, at which point they are moved out to a 3,000 m3 open ocean net cage situated about two miles offshore in 30m of water. My work was to SCUBA dive the cage daily and clean the netting, feed the fish, and take water quality and sediment samples. In less than one year, the cobia reach market size (~2kg) and are harvested to feed the Cape Eleuthera Institute and The Island School, and are sold to local restaurants as well.

The moral of the story is: play with fish tanks. Aquaculture is a booming industry, and has quite a few flaws regarding sustainability, and we need more fish tank nerds like myself to fix them! I am hoping to attend the University of California at Santa Barbara in the fall to start my Masters in Environmental Science and Management at the Bren School and make a splash in the aquaculture industry.

UPDATE (fall 2013): Tyler is now a graduate student at the University of California at Santa Barbara pursuing a Master of Environmental Science and Management, Coastal Resource Management

CEI aquaculture cage

CEI aquaculture cage

Tyler next to the CEI aquaculture cage

Tyler next to the CEI aquaculture cage

Tyler setting up a flowmeter outside the cage

Tyler setting up a flowmeter outside the cage

Tyler Inside the CEI aquaculture cage

Tyler Inside the CEI aquaculture cage