Aquaculture North America

Lab on the move

July 1, 2024
By Seyitan Moritiwon

Connecticut Sea Grant wants to provide essential training for seaweed farmers

“The purpose of the mobile lab is to conduct industry-applicable research and serve as a training tool for the state’s aquaculture industry.” Photo: EoNaYa / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

In 2013, Anoushka Concepcion came up with the idea of a mobile seaweed laboratory but it wasn’t until 2023 that she got funding for the project. The associate extension educator at the Connecticut Sea Grant program and University of Connecticut extension said it’s being developed in response to a need by industry and regulators associated with the state’s emerging seaweed aquaculture industry.

“The purpose of the mobile lab is to conduct industry-applicable research and serve as a training tool for the state’s aquaculture industry.” “Back then I saw the need to make training accessible to communities where they live.”

Concepcion said back in 2013, the seaweed industry only had two commercial farmers and while she saw the need for a mobile laboratory, it was challenging to justify the need to develop one.

Since conceiving the idea, there have been online virtual training opportunities for seaweed production and processing. “However it doesn’t serve the current needs that continue to be better suited more for in-person hands-on training.”

Instead of prospective farmers and current farmers having to take time away from jobs, pay for travel to commute to a laboratory to conduct research, or get trained on a concept, the mobile lab will be taken to those people. “It’s about ensuring equitable access to training and research opportunities and making knowledge sharing more accessible.”

Mobile lab initiative
In December 2023, Connecticut Sea Grant announced that it was awarded a grant of US$200,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) to fund the purchase and equipping of a trailer to be used as a mobile lab. 

Anoushka Concepcion, associate extension educator at Connecticut Sea Grant
Photo: Anoushka Concepcion

The grant covers the expenses for acquiring and customizing a trailer measuring 8 by 8 by 14 feet, transforming it into a mobile laboratory. The plan is for the lab to reach various locations in Connecticut, New York, and potentially Rhode Island to offer training sessions for seaweed farmers. Additionally, the funds will be allocated to sustain the technician’s salary responsible for managing the facility. 

According to information from the website, the Connecticut Sea Grant has a goal of achieving healthy coastal and marine ecosystems and consequent public benefits through partnership with stakeholders to support research, outreach and education programs.

“When we get a request, whether it’s from farmers, from regulators, from processors, from end users, such as chefs, that’s when we jump into action, and when we have to try and figure out how to address that need,” Concepcion said.

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Since accessibility to in-person training and lab space to test out small-scale projects was a need, a mobile structure was developed in partnership with state regulators. 

“That seemed like the best option. So the state can conduct inspections so that they’re comfortable with how the laboratory is being used, ensuring that it’s being sanitized properly to prevent the spread of invasive species and diseases, that in that mobile structure, they’re able to control how it’s being sanitized.”

The trailer is currently under construction with anticipated completion and delivery of the laboratory by the end of April. Concepcion describes the mobile wet laboratory as a “container that’s made out of recyclable material that sits on a trailer that can be hauled with a truck.”

She said the wet lab will have a filtration system and will be modular so it can be adapted to projects’ needs. The trailer will be parked at the UConn Avery Point campus and if people want to use the lab, they can connect with Concepcion through her email on the Sea Grant website. 

Concepcion said the laboratory facility will also be accessible to students who want to conduct experiments however they need to secure their funding. 

Pioneering food safety
Concepcion has been in the aquaculture field for 25 years. While undergoing a bachelor’s degree in marine biology, she discovered aquaculture as an undergrad. She’s been working at the Connecticut Sea Grant for about 14 years. She was hired to work on shellfish direct marketing when she started with Connecticut Sea Grant. She later shifted her programming to focus mainly on the emerging seaweed industry. She said one of the main projects that she’s been focusing on for several years is seaweed food safety. 

“I established the first seaweed food safety guidance in the country. And that was in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Aquaculture, which is the lead regulatory agency for all things aquaculture in the state of Connecticut.” she said.

She said as a result of that guide, farmers can sell the sugar kelp that they produce. “There’s many many uses for aquaculture. But for me, what’s most important is food production. And that’s why I am in the field of aquaculture, specifically marine aquaculture is for food production, and helping support that component.”

She said her area of expertise helps her better provide the assistance that people need at her job.

Sustaining the lab
OpBox, a manufacturer in Maine that uses recycled PET plastics is making the trailer. Although Concepcion said that they weren’t actively looking to build with a company that deals with sustainable material, “it just would be more cost-effective in the long run to have something that’s lightweight. Used from recyclable materials, but also structurally sound.”

The funding from the USDA is enough for phase one, Concepcion said. “But we need a lot more funding for phase two, which is the in-person training,” she said, adding that she’s currently looking for funding to support the second phase. 

Concepcion said she has ideas to maintain the use of the mobile lab. However, it takes external funding to do it. “We do have some plans. But right now, we’re doing it one step at a time, addressing needs as they emerge.”  


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