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How can we get faster growing lobsters?

Lobsters are a hugely popular food. But animals from the same brood stock grow at different rates, which can make aquaculture difficult. Audrey is investigating which animals grow faster, and why.

Audrey Daning Turzan wasn’t interested in studying aquaculture…until the day she went scuba diving.

“I used to watch X Files and I wanted to work in forensics. But I wasn’t able to study that, instead I got a Diploma in Fisheries. At first I thought, what is this fisherman stuff, this isn’t cool!

“But then I got involved in scuba diving. Once I got inside the water, I thought 'this is really fun.' From there, I fell in love with fisheries and decided to do my degree in Aquaculture.

I found out that the University of Tasmania offered Aquaculture and that they have good facilities. They have very well-recognised research scientists, especially in Aquaculture. That’s why I came here to do my PhD.

Audrey’s PhD research at the University’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) is focused on maximising productivity in lobster aquaculture.

“Ultimately my research is about coming to a conclusion about the factors informing growth performance.

Lobster is an expensive seafood and a lot of people love it. But unfortunately it is pretty hard to produce. If they are harvested from the wild, it could lead to overfishing, so we need to find out how we can produce this lobster from aquaculture.

“The problem with spiny lobster culture is although they come from the same brood stock (same father or mother) they have a different growth rate.

“We want the animal to grow faster so we can harvest them faster to maximise the production. My research could allow us to find which animals can grow faster, and what physiological factors contribute to the growth.”

Audrey has been investigating the metabolic rate of the lobsters.

“In humans, different people have different metabolic rates. Some people eat the same amount of food but one individual might burn their food faster, so they might be thinner than someone whose metabolic rate is slower. It’s the same with my subject animal. I found out that those particular animals with a high metabolic rate will grow faster when they eat. That energy allows those animals to grow faster.

Sometimes the metabolic rate relates to the genetics of the animal. Some brood stock can produce high metabolic rate animals so from there you can choose particular brook stock to produce a high growth rate animal compared to the other brood stock.

Audrey tests the lobsters’ metabolic rate by placing them in a special chamber.

“A day before testing they aren’t fed. The next day they’re put inside a chamber which connects to an oxygen metre and I measure their oxygen consumption.

“Then I chase them around a bit so they are tired, then measure the oxygen again. From there we analyse their growth performance, the length of the carapace and the body weight. After one or two months I measure those again. Then you can see within a month how fast they grow, and you can see the correlation of the growth rate with the energy consumption. From there you can see if high metabolic animals grow faster or slower.”

Audrey is also investigating the lobsters’ feeding behaviour.

I’ll put a mussel in a tank with two juvenile lobsters and they will compete for the mussel; I’ll see which lobster is more aggressive and what factors contribute to this behaviour. Aggressive lobsters might grow faster because they have opportunity to get more food.

“That’s something I will be researching further. It’s really interesting when you work with living things.”

When Audrey returns to Malaysia she will share her aquaculture expertise.

“Before I came here, our government tried to encourage aquaculture industries to not take lobsters from the wild. But we couldn’t do that because we don’t have a lot of lobster expertise in Malaysia. That is one of the reasons I want to get more knowledge and information, so I can bring that back to Malaysia and share it there.”

When she’s not chasing her lobsters or studying, Audrey loves experiencing Tasmania’s environment.

The environment here is really good. Nice people, nice place to study. It’s really quiet, really peaceful. During the weekends I go bushwalking or go running.

“I used to have sinus problems back in Malaysia, almost every day. But since the first day I arrived here- almost two and a half years ago-I’ve had it maybe once or twice. I think it’s because there’s no pollution.

“The knowledge and teaching I get from my supervisor and the people around here is something that is really new and very good for me.

I told all my friend in Malaysia, ‘you should come to Tasmania.’ It’s one of the best places I’ve ever lived because it’s so beautiful.

Want to make a splash with your own research? Start your research degree at the University of Tasmania. Find out more here.