Innovative mariculture solutions: IMARCS Foundation’s work with giant clams

Innovative mariculture solutions: IMARCS Foundation's work with giant clams


Giant clams (genus Tridacna) are endangered marine species that are often overlooked for the important ecological role that they serve and the potential that they hold to help improve marine environments, as well as other important sustainability issues.

The IMARCS Foundation stands at the forefront of addressing some of the most pressing environmental challenges, including carbon mitigation and biodiversity loss, by utilising giant clams. With a mission to remove atmospheric CO2, restore marine ecosystems, and revitalise local communities, IMARCS is driving innovation in marine conservation and sustainability through the mariculture of giant clams. This work holds immense potential for not only carbon sequestration and reef restoration, but also food security, jobs creation, and microplastics filtration.

This article covers the four main areas of focus pertaining to the IMARCS Foundation’s work with giant clams: carbon storage, reef restoration, food security, and microplastics filtration. Through their unique biology and ecological roles, giant clams can offer multifaceted benefits for enhancing the health and resilience of marine ecosystems, as well as certain aspects of terrestrial environments.

1. Carbon sequestration using giant clams:

At the heart of IMARCS’s vision lies the ambition to harness the carbon-sequestering capabilities of marine organisms, particularly giant clams. Through pioneering mariculture practices, IMARCS aims to cultivate giant clams in land-based facilities to establish a sustainable mechanism for permanently storing carbon dioxide while simultaneously promoting the growth of reef ecosystems.

The role of marine organisms in carbon sequestration has garnered increasing attention in the context of climate change mitigation. Giant clams contribute to carbon sequestration through two primary mechanisms: photosynthesis and shell formation. Like corals, giant clams harbor symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) within their tissues, which photosynthesise and fix carbon dioxide into organic compounds. This photosynthetic activity not only provides energy for the clam but also removes carbon from the surrounding seawater.

Furthermore, giant clam shells consist primarily of calcium carbonate, derived from dissolved bicarbonate ions in seawater (which are created when CO2 is dissolved in seawater). The process of shell formation facilitates the removal of carbon dioxide from the water column, effectively sequestering carbon in the form of CaCO3 (calcium carbonate). By increasing giant clam populations through in-shore mariculture, and then releasing them into marine ecosystems, carbon sequestration can be enhanced, contributing to climate change mitigation efforts and fostering ecosystem resilience.

2. Reef restoration with giant clams:

Marine reef degradation is a pressing global concern, driven by factors such as climate change, overfishing, and pollution. Giant clams have the potential to serve a vital role in reef restoration efforts due to their ability to enhance biodiversity and promote reef structure stability. As filter feeders, giant clams help maintain water quality by removing excess nutrients, thereby reducing algal blooms and enhancing coral growth. Additionally, their calcium carbonate shells contribute to reef substrate formation, offering attachment sites for coral larvae and other marine organisms.

The decline of coral reefs worldwide underscores the urgent need for restoration initiatives. By strategically deploying giant clam populations in degraded reef areas, the IMARCS Foundation aims to accelerate coral reef recovery and enhance ecosystem resilience. Through strategic deployment of giant clam populations grown in mariculture facilities, IMARCS is helping degraded reef ecosystems, laying the groundwork for their long-term sustainability.

3. Food security from giant clams

In addition to their ecological benefits, giant clams offer significant potential for enhancing food security in coastal communities. The IMARCS Foundation’s mariculture initiatives not only contribute to carbon sequestration and reef restoration but also provide a sustainable source of protein for local populations.

By cultivating giant clams in land-based facilities, IMARCS seeks to diversify aquaculture practices and alleviate pressure on wild giant clam populations, which have been driven to extinction in many areas they once thrived in due to overharvesting. Furthermore, the cultivation of giant clams presents economic opportunities for coastal communities, fostering livelihoods and promoting resilience in the face of environmental change.

4. Microplastics filtration from giant clams

Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, giant clams have shown the potential to help mitigate one of the most difficult emerging environmental challenges: microplastics. The proliferation of microplastics in marine environments poses significant threats to marine life and ecosystem health.

Giant clams present a natural solution for mitigating microplastic pollution through their exceptional filtration capabilities. As filter feeders, giant clams actively ingest suspended particles, including microplastics, from the water column. Recent studies have demonstrated the capacity of giant clams to uptake and sequester microplastics within their tissues, effectively removing these pollutants from the marine environment. Leveraging giant clams as biofilters offers a sustainable approach to combatting microplastic contamination and safeguarding marine ecosystems’ integrity.

The pervasive threat of microplastic pollution in marine environments underscores the need for innovative solutions, and the IMARCS Foundation recognises the inherent capacity of giant clams to ingest suspended particles, including microplastics, from the water column. By integrating maricultured giant clams into reef environments, IMARCS aims to mitigate microplastic contamination while simultaneously advancing broader goals of holistic ecosystem restoration and sustainability.

5. Further study and next steps

The IMARCS Foundation’s efforts with giant clams are part of a larger shift in marine conservation and sustainability, where innovative practices are being pioneered by organisations unafraid to push boundaries and utilise nature-based solutions. By harnessing the ecological potential of these charismatic mollusks, IMARCS is paving the way towards a more sustainable future, where mariculture serves as a cornerstone of climate change mitigation, ecosystem restoration, and community resilience. Through collaboration, innovation, and dedication, IMARCS is helping to reshape the trajectory of marine conservation, offering hope for the preservation and restoration of our oceans for generations to come, one step at a time.

By Jordan Flagel
Lead Environmental Scientist, IMARCS Foundation

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