A microalgae specialist from Egypt with a background in phytoplankton, Mohamed Salem is finding new uses for microalgae in the context of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, working on improving aquaculture practices as well as restoring ecosystems.
For starters, what hashtags best define who you are and/or your ambitions in the microalgae space?
#aquaculture #feed #shrimps #clams #diatoms #spirulina #hatcheries #antibioticfree
I completely overhauled the algae production system, ramping up production from 100-150 tons to 1,000 tons of diatoms per year…
What is your pitch/mission?
In my day job, I am making shrimp hatcheries more sustainable and more profitable by replacing standard feed with innovative microalgal feeding protocols maximizing larvae survival rates and eliminating the use of antibiotics. More generally, I am investigating new uses for phytoplankton in the contexts of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
What have you achieved to date in terms of aquaculture?
My work with microalgae has enabled our hatchery to achieve much better outcomes at a lower cost. Shrimp larva are highly dependent on diatoms as they make use of their silica to form their exoskeleton so getting this right is absolutely crucial.
When I joined the company, El-Ekhlas was using inefficient microalgae production techniques and shrimp larva feeding protocols based on Chaetoceros spp. and the use of soy, maize and other non-diatom inputs. In under three years, I completely overhauled the algae production system, ramping up production from 100–150 tons to 1,000 tons of diatoms per year, using a variety of diatoms and other microalgae that are much more adapted to the specific climate conditions of the Mediterranean sea, some of which had never been used commercially to date.
My new feeding protocols have multiplied the survival rate of shrimp larvae by 4, from 20% to 80%, and I am now gradually working towards achieving a 100% survival rate.
What are you currently experimenting?
The Covid-19 situation has highlighted the dependency of Egypt’s aquaculture sector on imported feed so I started working on finding viable substitutes. I managed to experimentally demonstrate that 60% of the imported feed could be replaced by fresh spirulina, maintaining survival and feeding rates while lowering costs and negative impacts on the environment. We will be applying this at a much larger scale during the next production season in 2021 and I’ll be pursuing my research in this domain.
You’ve also been cultivating phytoplankton for clam hatcheries…?
I started working on restoring giant clam populations (of the clam genus Tridacna) in the Red Sea, which are severely overfished, in 2017. Giant clam propagation is still in its infancy and is even completely new in the Red Sea. Another novelty is that I approached it from the phytoplankton perspective.
It’s important to know that juvenile and adult clams host symbiotic dinoflagellate microalgae called zooxanthellae, which provide around 80 to 90% of their host’s energy needs during the day, only 10 to 20% being covered by filter feeding of phytoplankton and organic matter suspended in the water column. Newly-born larvae do not host any symbiotic microalgae however and are completely dependent on the consumption of plankton. As a result, in the wild, many small clams die before acquiring symbiots.
Through the mass cultivation of zooxanthella and proper timing however, I managed to systematize the symbiosis of zooxanthella and giant clams larvae and achieve much lower mortality rates, which is crucial to help replenish giant clam populations in the Red Sea. This proves how microalgal diversity can be leveraged to help restore a balanced ecosystem.
Lastly, what kind of profiles would you be most willing to get in touch with?
I’d love to hear from people working in the same line as I am. Also, I am looking for data and information related to this kind of branch through books-guides, etc. I would also like to get in touch with professors and specialists in the same field to gain more knowledge and experience.
I would really appreciate any possibilities to further my knowledge (courses, scholarships, certificates workshops, etc.) and opportunities to take part in programs and projects related to algae biotechnology.
Connect with me on LinkedIn.
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