Sponge farming at Masig - 2009

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Growing sponges at Masig Island
Image: Stephen Whalan.

The establishment of Australia's first sponge farm at Masig Island in Torres Strait highlights the impact and uptake of AIMS' sponge farming research.

The project has been developed with substantial State and Commonwealth government investment. This project was one of three Queensland innovative initiatives highlighted by Premier Anna Bligh at the launch of Q-Tropics – Queensland Tropical Expertise Strategy.

Sponge aquaculture will supply an international bath sponge industry worth $40 million per year. This highly traditional industry in Europe and North America in particular is suffering from a lack of supply of commercial bath sponges as traditional fisheries decline.

Farming sponges is an ideal industry for remote communities as it requires relatively low technological infrastructure and no refrigeration, the sponges store and handle well and are light weight and therefore inexpensive to transport to market. It also provides opportunity for significant value adding.

A second farming project is also poised for development, pending environmental regulatory assessment, at the Palm Islands off the north Queensland coast. This project is initially intended to provide stepping-stone opportunities in training and education for members of the local Palm Island community, with three trainees already completing their Certificate III in Aquaculture, which included commercial diver training.

The project has also supported completion of three PhDs, an MSc and two Honours degrees, together with a number of associated publications.

Once operational, these sponge farms are collectively expected to employ over 40 indigenous people, with more expected as this new industry grows in northern Australia.