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Adventures in Aquaponics on Maui, Hawaii.

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Rarotonga, Cook Islands

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On July 9, 2013, I received a call from Tim Mann of Friendly Aquaponics, Inc., regarding a regional aquaponics meeting that was to take place on Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands.   He was invited to give a keynote presentation at that meeting, but due to a scheduling conflict, was unable to attend.  He asked that I take his place, partly because my site was located on a sand dune in a hot, dry, windy place on Maui similar to many of the Pacific island locations, and I accepted.

Later, a copy of the announcement originally sent out by Richard Mann, Deputy Director General of the SPC, was received, the header of which began as follows:
“TO:    Representatives of Governments and Administrations of SPC Member Countries and Territories
SUBJECT:    SPC AQUACULTURE EXPERT CONSULTATION: Aquaponics for the Pacific islands region: review of opportunities and constraints. 23 – 27 September 2013, Rarotonga, Cook Islands…”

The SPC (Secretariat of the Pacific Community), “…is an international organization[sic] that works in public health, geoscience, agriculture, forestry, water resources, disaster management, fisheries, education, statistics, transport, energy, human rights, gender, youth and culture to help Pacific Island people achieve sustainable development…SPC’s members are the 22 Pacific Island countries and territories that are the beneficiaries of its services , along with four of the original founding countries.” (  The four remaining members of the original founding countries are Australia, France, New Zealand, and the United States of America. (

In the same announcement, the SPC expressed the reasons for their interest in aquaponics, “A production system that is economical in nutrients, water and land is very interesting for the people of small islands, particularly atolls.  The prospect of an intensive vegetable production system insulated from surrounding soil chemistry is of particular interest for climate change adaptation to salinization[sic] of atoll and low-lying coastal soils due to sea level rise.  To be able to grow fresh vegetables in places where they could never previously be grown is a useful strategy in the fight against Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs).”

Also, the reef fish in the lagoons surrounding Rarotonga and other islands have a form of fish poisoning called ciguatera which is toxic to humans.  Reef fish in these areas are not eaten, and thus cannot contribute to the food supply of the island.  Deep water fish, like tuna, beyond the reefs do not seem to be affected.

Rarotonga already has an aquaponics public-private venture named Te Raurau o te Kaingavai (TRK) – The Green Living Water Garden,  sponsored by the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) and the Ministry of Agriculture at Titikaveka, which was showcased at the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting in August 2012, as the Cook Islands Aquaponics Pilot Project.  TRK was designed and constructed by Dr. Wilson Lennard of Aquaponics Solutions, and implemented and currently maintained by Lynnsay Rongokea Francis and Barbara Thomson.

    Te Raurau o te Kaingavai (TRK)                                                         TRK Cafe

The current meeting would provide a time to review the progress and state of TRK and global aquaponics, identify constraints and knowledge gaps, and define strategies and critical success factors for its implementation in the Pacific islands context, to help with food security, improved nutrition, and economic livelihoods of the island populations.

Coordinating the event was Tim Pickering PhD, Inland Aquaculture Officer with the SPC, who did an excellent job managing the events and participants from many different Pacific countries. 

While unable to attend the meeting, Tim Mann generously offered his “2013 Outdoor MicroSystems Do-It-Yourself Manual “ free to all of the participants, and this was distributed to all via jump drive by Dr. Pickering.  During my presentation, I emphasized that the 2010 version of this manual was what I used when I first started, and that the 2013 version, the one that they were receiving, contained much more information, and was an excellent manual to start with.

I convinced my wife, Patty, to come along on this trip at our cost, but not just for a vacation.  She agreed to do an additional workshop  on Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Food Safety, and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).  Her background as a Registered Nurse lends itself especially well to Food Safety and GAP procedures.  She could also share her experiences with aquaponics growing mediums, seeding, sprouting, grow-out distribution, harvesting, and resistant plant varieties.

Other participants from Hawaii included Dr. Clyde S. Tamaru, Extension Specialist, and Dr. Bradley “Kai” Fox, Assistant Extension Specialist, both with the Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), at the University of Hawaii, and Leina’ala Bright, Naloponics, Graduate Assistant with CTAHR,  Graduate Student at UH Manoa Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, and a Cultural Practitioner of Lomilomi and La’au Lapa’au (traditional Hawaiian massage and herbal healing arts utilizing aquaponics).  One of the goals of CTAHR is to maintain an active research portfolio of non-biased, science based information (including on aquaponics) within the state and abroad (which potentially could include all of the Pacific Community).  (  CTAHR research is especially relevant to the Pacific islands.

Patty and I were honored to work with our Oahu CTAHR representatives as we are constantly in touch with our own CTAHR extension office on Maui by volunteering every week at the CTAHR Maui Master Gardner Help Desk, and are now more aware of the resources available at the University to help with horticultural and agricultural issues, along with the association of other master gardeners, each with their own unique blend of experience and knowledge.

We stopped planting our crops for a season since we would not be harvesting around the time of our trip, and asked my niece to tend to the farm and feed the animals while we were gone.

The trip to Roratonga took about 18 hours total including a 3 hour layover in LAX (Air New Zealand has a direct flight to Rarotonga from LAX).  We left Maui at about noon on Sunday and arrived in Rarotonga at 0605 on Monday morning (welcomed by live Cook Islands music in the terminal), just in time for the opening function which was to begin at 0900.

The opening function was hosted by the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) and conducted by Dr. Pickering.  Regional dignitaries that spoke included Minister for Agriculture Hon Kiriau Turepu, High Commissioner Joanna Kempkers, Secretary of Marine Resources Ben Ponia, and Director of Inshore Fisheries and Aquaculture Koroa Raumea.


 The MMR provided a “snack” at mid-morning, which was more like a lavish feast, including an entire roasted pig and many delicious local foods.  Food was never in short supply and provided to the participants daily.  Note that the food provided was all locally grown and prepared, and healthy as well as tasty.

Koroa Raumea, Director, Inshore Fisheries and Aquaculture,

Carving for Patty
                                                                                                                        Mid-Morning “Snack”

Country reports were given by their respective representatives on the current status of aquaponics in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, French Polynesia, Tonga, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).  Lynnsay Rongokea Francis gave a status report on the progress and current status of TRK, the Cook Islands Aquaponics Project.  Also, practical sessions and lunch were given daily at TRK, located a short walk away from the meeting hall.

Keynote presentations were meant to set the tone for each day’s discussions and workshops.  The first keynote presentation was by Dr. John Hambrey of Hambrey Consulting ( , who shared some of his groups findings on aquaponics developments on the world stage, including some realistic assessments and comparisons of aquaponics versus other forms of agriculture.  (Details of the presentations are beyond the scope of this report)

Other keynote addresses were given by the Hawaii resource persons. (not in order given)
    Dr. Clyde Tamaru, “Adapting Aquaponics for Pacific Islands Through Research and Education”
    Dr. Bradley “Kai” Fox, “Toward Lower-Cost, Pacific-Friendly Aquaponics System”
    Leina’ala Bright, “Aquaponics for Community Benefits”
    Larry Yonashiro, “Critical Success Factors for a Viable Aquaponics Business”

In addition, the following practical sessions were given in the afternoons.
    Lynnsay Rongokea Francis, “Orientation on Aquaponic System Design and Operation” at TRK
    Dr. Clyde Tamaru, “Managing Water Quality in Your Aquaponic Systems”
    Patty Yonashiro, Food Safety, Good Agricultural Practices, Hand Washing Workshop, IPM

Clyde, Leina’ala, and Tim Pickering Water Quality Workshop

       Patty’s Workshop on Food Safety and GAP

A main component of the meetings was the working group discussions utilizing different brain-storming techniques to capture a consensus about critical success factors, constraints, and priority actions regarding aquaponics

development in the region, the results of which will come out in a Proceedings publication by the SPC.  However, some preliminary results are noteworthy.
    The main reasons why a Pacific country may choose to implement aquaponics are,
    in order of importance:
       1.    Food Security
       2.    Human Health
       3.    Economic Development and Sustainability
    Factors contributing to poor performance or implementation,
       1.    Lack of information, technical advice, support in the Pacific context
       2.    Lack of resources on Pacific islands
       3.    Lack of government support
    Improving trends:
       1.    Improving body of science-based information relevant to the Pacific islands
       2.    Emerging support by regional organizations for the aquaponics sector
       3.    Improved networking of enterprises, countries, institutions, and experts

This highly productive and enjoyable week-long meeting ended with a closing function hosted by the Ministry of Marine Resources at TRK.  As always, a fantastic feast was provided with a whole pig and locally grown and prepared delicacies as live Cook Islands music filled the air and we enjoyed the evening with our new found friends.