Published: 20 May 2024 Updated: 22 May 2024
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DATE 22 May 2024
FEEDBACK/STORY SUGGESTIONS Dempsey Ward Communication Coordinator +61 2 6122 2134

Support to build the skills of Torres Strait Island fishers is helping them to share traditional knowledge and use science to identify new opportunities, such as the farming of Sea Cucumbers. 

By Catherine Norwood 

Rocky Stephen, an Indigenous Australian from the Torres Strait, has big plans for Sea Cucumber aquaculture in his community and the region. He says the wealth of knowledge and technical skills he gained through an FRDC-supported program, will be crucial in developing those plans, especially since farming Sea Cucumbers has never been done in the region. 

Two high-value Sea Cucumber species are found in the waters around Rocky’s home island of Ugar: Golden Sandfish (Holothuria lessoni) and Sandfish (Holothuria scabra). The Sandfish fishery has been closed since 1999. Rocky aims to rejuvenate populations of this species through aquaculture, potentially reopening the fishery and creating new opportunities. 

Through FRDC’s capacity building program (2019-124), co-funded by CSIRO, Rocky took part in a two-week course on Sandfish seed production, nursery, and management, held at the Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Centre in the Philippines. 

Rocky Stephen looking into a microscope while at his sandfish aquaculture course
Rocky Stephen undertook training in the laboratory and in the field as part of his sandfish aquaculture course. 


“That training taught me everything I wanted to know about how to manage a hatchery, nursery and ranch sandfish,” says Rocky. “As part of the training we did theory and practical work on how a hatchery would operate, collecting broodstock, spawning, transferring eggs and raising juveniles, as well as techniques to improve survival rates, and even marketing. 

“It has given me the confidence to drive a project to develop sandfish farming on Ugar.”  

Additionally, FRDC and CSIRO have supported Rocky in developing his science and presentation skills. This has empowered him to start sharing stories of traditional knowledge and how it can be combined with science effectively.   

Rocky stephen standing with Phillipine sandfish course instructor, shaking hands and both holding Rocky's certificate
Rocky Stephen (right) receives his certification, having completed on Sandfish seed production, nursery and management training in the Philippines. 


These skills have made Rocky an expert in tailoring his message to different audiences, from state and federal government agencies to Traditional Land Owners and fishers, seeking support and identifying local needs and challenges in developing aquaculture operations. 

As a councillor to the Torres Strait Island Regional Council of Ugar and a representative on several other bodies and working groups, Rocky regularly takes part in discussions about fisheries management.  

He says the skills developed have given him confidence to be more effective in these representative roles. He understands the value of science in supporting and maintaining fisheries. “I'm a very strong advocate now for collecting data and the importance of data,” says Rocky.  

CSIRO Senior Research Scientist, and project leader, Dr Leo Dutra, says the aim of the project with FRDC was to build capacity in the Torres Strait fisheries sector through active engagement of industry members and CSIRO scientists. 

Along with Rocky, two other Torres Strait Islanders received support to attend international events and collaboratively prepare presentations that combined traditional and scientific knowledge. 

  • Frank Loban, who is a member of the Torres Strait Scientific Advisory Committee and part of a Torres Strait fishing business presented at the World Fisheries Congress in Adelaide in 2021. 

  • Patrick Mooka, a fisher, Guda Maluilgal representative for the Torres Strait Regional Authority, and a member of the Torres Strait Tropical Rock Lobster Research Advisory Group, presented at the 12th International Conference and Workshop on Lobster Biology & Management, held in Fremantle, WA, in October 2023. 

Leo says all the participants have appreciated the opportunity to work with CSIRO researchers, travel, build networks and expand their professional knowledge. 

“The two-way flow of traditional and western scientific knowledge between project participants and the CSIRO team has also been valuable. It has enriched the perspectives of all involved.  

“We are now able to better understand each other’s perspectives and collaborate to identify priorities and develop research needed to support the Torres Strait region,” says Leo. 

Related FRDC Project  

2019-124: Shared science and Indigenous knowledge to support fisheries capacity building in Torres Strait