Biologist Samia Sarkis becomes adjunct faculty member at BIOS

A team of representatives at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations workshop held in Jamaica in 2010

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations workshop held in Jamaica in 2010. The workshop brought together governments of the region, and sea cucumber was recommended as one of the candidate species for aquaculture development in the Caribbean. Photo includes: FAO representative in front, Sarkis in back, center, and senior civil officers from Fisheries departments of Jamaica, Panama, Aruba, Honduras.

Samia Sarkis, a marine biologist who was the principal investigator of the BIOS aquaculture program for seven years until 2003, returned this spring as an adjunct faculty member at the Institute.

Sarkis began her relationship with BIOS as a volunteer in 1983, shortly after obtaining her undergraduate degree. Since then, she has contributed to BIOS and the island of Bermuda in a variety of ways, including teaching courses on the management of the island’s resources, developing plans for protected species, authoring papers for the Bermuda government, and leading local and international workshops. Her more recent work included coral reef economics and studies on the role of seagrass in Bermuda’s coastal areas as a carbon sink (having the ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere).

Her recent focus—on sea cucumbers, locally known as sea puddings—stems from a meeting she attended in Cuba where she learned of the increasing pressure on the Caribbean populations harvested for commercial export.  Sea cucumbers are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they are easy to catch and their populations are slow to replenish.

sea cucumber

Worldwide, 14,000 species are known. In Bermuda’s coastal waters, four species are commonly found. Bermuda’s population of sea cucumbers seems relatively healthy, Sarkis said. But people, especially in Asia, consume them as delicacies. Since the 1950s, some natural stocks in Asia, Africa, and India have collapsed, leading to a rapid climb in their economic value and putting pressure on stocks in waters outside Asia.

Bermuda’s residents, and other island nations in the Atlantic, now have the opportunity to apply a precautionary, ecosystem-wide approach to the fisheries’ management, Sarkis said.  She added that she has started aquaculture trials and the results thus far are promising.