In the sheltered lagoons of Pohnpei, Micronesia, the Marine and Environmental Research Institute of Pohnpei (MERIP) has set up a sea sponge farming operation as a means of generating a sustainable livelihood for local community members, many of which have no access to running water or electricity, and little means of earning money.
MERIP's mission is "To promote sustainable development and livelihoods for Micronesians, through natural resource conservation, and to research, teach, demonstrate and transfer technologies that allow Micronesians to improve their lives while maintaining core traditional values and minimizing impact to the environment."
Under this mission MERIP members work with individuals and families in rural, coastal communities to develop alternative sources of income for the local people, many of whom still primarily live a subsistence lifestyle or are largely dependent on fisheries-generated incomes. One of the main products grown by MERIP members are natural sea sponges for bathing and cleaning for which they receive a very good return for their time, with an hourly wage that is much higher than the minimum local wage.
Two species of sponges are grown: the wool bath sponge ( Cosinoderma matthewsi ) and the smaller cosmetic sponge ( Spongia matamata ). Large, healthy sponges from the sponge farm are cut into small pieces, about the size of a table tennis ball, and threaded onto underwater lines. The pieces are left to grow in the lagoon for around two years before harvesting. Sponges are primitive, filter-feeding animals and do not need to be fed. Although sponges are animals they have no nerves and cutting them causes no pain. No chemicals are used in the farming process. Free divers remove seaweed and encrusting animals from the sponges and culture lines by hand each month.
When the sponges have grown into a nice rounded shape and ideal size they are harvested. Some of the largest specimens are kept to be divided up for the next batch of sponges. The sponges are left in the air to dry for several hours and then placed in baskets and returned to the lagoon for a few weeks. This process removes all the organic matter from the sponge, leaving the odourless spongin (collagen) skeleton, which will become your sustainable sponge.
The sponges are cleaned by washing them twice in a household washing machine and then air dried. This process gives the sponges a superior softness. Marine biologists from MERIP do a final quality check of each sponge before it is packaged and sold.
New Internationalist is an ongoing education and a monthly reminder of our common humanity. A wonderful readable guide to the social and political forces that shape our world...With its hard-hitting coverage of world affairs, evocative first-person essays, sweeping exposes of such topics as land mines and the geopolitics of blue jeans, the New Internationalist offers a consistently unique and important perspective on global culture.
Thank you for your wonderful magazine. I look forward to receiving it every month and always find a lot to think about when I read it.
The New Internationalist magazine is the most brilliant advocate on behalf of the developing world. It's a source of information; it's a source of reassurance on ideas; and it has an enormous integrity.
New Internationalist weighs the world on the scales of justice. By tapping into a vast global network of activists, the compassionately written and tightly edited magazine breathes life into the stories of people who are working to build a better planet.
New Internationalist supports Fair Trade producers like The Chetna Organic Cotton Project. Fair Trade promotes a fair wage and fair working conditions, encouraging developing world producers to help themselves.
A little about The Chetna Organic Cotton Project: Say NO to pesticides that poison three million people every year, and help make trade fairer at the same time.
New Internationalist Australia is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization, which means we have to stock a percentage of Fair Trade products, and also adhere to Fair Trade practices ourselves. Great for supporting producers rights, and also for our staff.
Sign-up for our free monthly email newsletter. We'll update you on new products that have just arrived and sales items.