Marine Science and Plastic Art

Posted in: Science | (Français) le4 November 2011

When I was a marine biologist, I was involved in a research project on the commercial farming of marine fish in seawater cages. There was a ‘marine farm’ with hundreds of cages submerged in seawater to breed fish species for commercial sale.


This farm was located in a sheltered bay, close to an estuary off the east coast of Mauritius. The nearby estuary was a prime location for fish rearing as it was rich in nutrients. However, the richness of the water also attracted enormous quantities of seaweeds, which would grow on the cage netting. The cages were basically huge cubical frames with fine netting covering each side. The seaweed would completely obstruct water flow into the cage, resulting in poor water quality that would halt fish growth.


My research team aimed to investigate the problem and come up with solutions. As biologists, we were analyzing the problem from a scientific point of view. We considered various possible solutions, like introducing new fish species that would eat the seaweed growing on the cage netting, using chemicals to kill the seaweed or changing the location of the cage to areas less rich in nutrients.


I have always kept busy doing artwork, crafts and various DIY projects in my spare time. During that specific period, I was having fun crafting with reinforced plastic pipes. I remember warming a cylindrical plastic pipe and cooling it down in a cold-water bath to design a new shape for a collage. A few days later, I came up with a surprising idea for the scientific study. I proposed a new cage prototype with a frame made of reinforced plastic pipes and having the shape of a cylinder rather than a cube.


The idea was to submerge only half of the cylindrical cage along its axis and allow the fish to grow inside. Once the seaweed started to cover the submerged side of the cage, we would simply rotate the cage along its axis and expose the seaweed-covered side to the sun. The seaweed would dry and fall off by itself, whereas the fish would continue to grow in the clean, submerged half of the cage. The results of the cylindrical cage test were amazing and I was subsequently invited to present my findings at the international annual aquaculture conference in Florida.


I would have never found this idea if I had been thinking only with my scientific left brain. It’s by making a connection between the scientific problem and the artistic craft work experience that the solution came. To make such connections, we have to think analogically and metaphorically. I like to say “anametaphorically.”

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