Marine ecologist doesn’t let research cage him in

July 9, 2012
By Chris Saunders

morris1James Morris ’09 PHD spends his time plotting defenses for invasions. No, he doesn’t work for the Department for Homeland Security, and he’s not in the military.

Morris, who did his doctoral work at NC State’s Center for Marine Sciences and Technology (CMAST), is an ecologist at the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’s Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research in Beaufort, N.C. In our upcoming issue of NC State magazine, we profile his work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on invasive species, like Asian tiger shrimp and lionfish, that have come into North Carolina’s waters. (Photo courtesy of the National Ocean Service)

But Morris’ work goes beyond those invasive pests. He’s also a leading researcher in the field of aquaculture, which is the cultivation of marine species and aquatic life for either consumption by humans or for use in biofuels. From its use on trout or catfish farms to its implementation in the ocean, aquaculture is a science that’s meaning more these days with the demand for seafood constantly growing while supplies are flatlining.

“There are job creation opportunities,” Morris says. “There are a lot of reasons we think marine aquaculture is poised to expand.”

aquapodOne of Morris’ areas of focus is on cage culture. It’s a technique where fish are cultivated in a large aquapods, like the one seen in the picture here (photo by Snapperfarm), or cages, that are submerged in the ocean. Up until recently, it has been used in a few areas in the country, like the Northwest, where cages have been used to cultivate salmon.  Morris says there’s also cage culture in the Northeast and in the Bahamas.

With advances in the engineering of those cages, which can actually be steered now, and the research that Morris does concerning the impacts on marine life and water quality, cage culture could expand in the U.S.

“Many of those impacts can be avoided if siting happens in a proper way,” Morris says. “We could see activity in the Gulf of Mexico. There’s activity in the Southwest.”

But Morris doesn’t forecast a growing cage culture for North Carolina, where it’s never been tried.

“In the Southeast,  it’s going to be difficult to do aquaculture in the sea,” Morris says. “It just gets so rough. It’s such a shallow shelf. I’m not saying it’s not completely doable, but we’re not sure about it right now.”

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