Trochus Focus – Sea snail proving a boon for Samoa

Researchers from Southern Cross University’s National Marine Research Centre are helping traditional fishing communities in the Pacific Island country of Samoa to maximise their earnings from trochus, a large, ‘top shell’ marine snail.

Trochus has flourished on coral reefs since its introduction to Samoa in 2003 through a project by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), as part of Australia’s foreign aid program.

Currently the meat from the trochus is consumed and sold locally, but the shell has been underutilised. Activities such as jewellery making have the potential to double trochus income for Samoan fishing communities.

Samoan Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Officers

Lead researcher Associate Professor Steven Purcell helped to host four capacity-building workshops in Samoa from July to September 2018 in partnership with Samoa’s Fisheries Division and a trainer in jewellery making. The workshops aimed to increase knowledge and skills in trochus shell by-products.

Two workshops each were conducted on Samoa’s main islands of Upolu and Savai’i. Each workshop lasted a week, attracting 40 participants from more than 30 villages.

Industrial machines and power tools for jewellery making and shell polishing were purchased in Australia and shipped to Samoa for the workshops and have been set up permanently at stations on Upolu and Savai’i.

“The local artisans have been encouraged to use the machines for making jewellery and polished shells for selling in local markets,” Dr Purcell said.

“The shell can be exported for making buttons, but at a local level it can also be polished into products such as jewellery and necklaces that can be then sold to tourists at village stalls, local markets and online.

Unpolished trochus shells Source: Wikipedia

“The results have been immediate, with some of the participants reporting an extra boost to their income since the workshop, which is really encouraging.

“So there’s an existing value in the meat and also in the shell.”

Hands-on experience for student

Also part of the project were underwater surveys conducted at 28 reef sites, which showed that the ACIAR-funded translocations of trochus 15 years ago have resulted in abundant populations being established in Samoa.

Trochus were found at all but one of the 14 field sites around Upolu, and at more than half of the 14 field sites around Savai’i. At two Savai’i sites, trochus populations are superabundant (>1000 per hectare).

Southern Cross University Bachelor of Science Honours student Kate Seinor undertook ecological research alongside the surveys. Results from her study will inform Samoa’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries about why the colonisation of trochus has been so variable across reef sites.   

Dr Steve Purcell and Kate Seinor

Dr Purcell said that Kate has not only completed a dream project doing underwater research overseas but has also gained experience in research that contributes to development and management of fishery resources.

“Kate has applied her research skills overseas in collecting ecological data and performing data analysis back at the National Marine Science Centre to reveal associations between the reef habitats and the animals.

“Her analyses will help to guide the management of the fishery and adds knowledge about the habitat requirements of this marine snail, which could inform future introductions to other Pacific Island countries.”

Southern Cross is offering the Bachelor of Marine Science and Management at the National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour for the first time in 2019.

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