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Scientists lift the lid on prawn sounds -

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Scientists lift the lid on prawn sounds

Felicity Ogilvie reported this story on Thursday, August 13, 2009 12:50:00

ELEANOR HALL: CSIRO scientists are using recording equipment to delve into the secret life of

They've teamed up with a Hobart based aquaculture company to find out about some obscure prawn
eating habits that could be worth $20 million a year to the Australian prawn farming industry.

In Hobart Felicity Ogilvie reports.

(Sounds of prawns)

FELICITY OGILVIE: This is the sound that a prawn makes when it's eating.

ROSS DODD: We're using passive acoustics or hydrophones and we're analysing the sounds, all the
sounds in the ponds, identifying the feeding sounds and then using those feeding sounds to regulate

FELICITY OGILVIE: Ross Dodd is the chief executive Hobart based aquaculture company AQ1 systems.
His company has spent years working with scientists at the CSIRO to develop an underwater recorder
in order to listen to the prawns eat.

(Sound of prawns eating)

ROSS DODD: Well if you ever go to a prawn pond, the prawns feed off the bottom. They throw food
into the ponds and they can't actually tell how much the prawns had eaten and so they might
underfeed them or they might over feed them. They just waste feed.

So what we can do is tell when the prawns are feeding so we deliver exactly what the prawns need
and no more and no less.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Dr Nigel Preston from the CSIRO in Brisbane says every year local prawn farmers
produce 4,000 tonnes of prawns. That's about one third of the prawns Australians eat.

NIGEL PRESTON: So if you were flying out the east coast of Australia looking down at the mouths of
estuaries or next to the ocean you'd see these ponds. Each of the ponds is about 100 metres by 100
metres, about a one hectare pond and in each of those ponds they're stocked with around about
350,000 prawns.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Now what do prawns actually eat?

NIGEL PRESTON: The pellets that are fed to them are a mixture of proteins from wheat and fish meal
and so quite similar to the sorts of pellets that you'd feed to chickens.

FELICITY OGILVIE: The prawns being farmed are mostly the tiger prawn variety that end up being sold
at fish markets in Sydney and Melbourne and supermarkets across the country.

Knowing just how much food their prawns need to grow should net Australian prawn farmers an extra
$20 million a year and Ross Dodd says there's been worldwide interest.

ROSS DODD: Prawn farming is huge. We're talking about a $20 billion industry at a farm gate level
before all the processing. It's been growing at a compound rate of seven to eight per cent per
annum every year. It's probably one of the fastest primary production sectors in the world, fastest
growing sectors in the world.

FELICITY OGILVIE: And what will this discovery of how to regulate the feeding of the prawns, what
will that mean for the industry?

ROSS DODD: Well it has the I guess the triple bottom line type of thing where we can grow them
faster, we can use less feed to grow them and we can reduce the environmental impact.

(Sound of prawns eating)

FELICITY OGILVIE: The ability to listen to the prawns eat will make it cheaper to farm them but
there's no promise that saving will be passed on to consumers.

ELEANOR HALL: Felicity Ogilvie reporting.