Commencement 2016: URI student’s childhood fish tanks launch career in aquaculture

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KINGSTON, R.I. – April 13, 2016 – University of Rhode Island senior Ian Ross grew up maintaining fish tanks at his home in Terryville, Conn., so when he was deciding on a future career path, that’s what came to mind.

“There’s a certain beauty to life when you look at fish through the glass,” he said. “I always loved watching the fish swimming around, and I appreciated feeding them and testing the water to sustain life in the tank.”

As Ross prepares to graduate next month with a bachelor’s degree in aquaculture and fisheries technology, he is looking back at his time at URI and preparing for a fish-filled future.

Ross made the most of his four years in Kingston. He contributed to several research projects that may benefit the aquaculture industry, including a laboratory study of oyster immunity and how probiotics may increase the survival of oyster larvae. And he took a research diving class in the Caribbean where he learned the techniques and tools necessary to conduct research under water.

But his most involved work focused on examining whether two species of snail-like whelks prey upon quahogs in Narragansett Bay. It’s a question that has implications for the management of shellfish and the health of the marine ecosystem.

“Fishermen believe that whelks eat quahogs, but no one had ever really tested them before,” said Ross. So he built several test cages that were sunk in Wickford Harbor, placed whelks and quahogs in each cage, and twice a week he dived down to see what had happened.

Although the study is still ongoing, he found that the two whelks behaved quite differently. And he found the experience of conducting the study eye-opening. “The project really drove home that research is the way of the future; it’s what’s going to answer these important questions and help us figure out how to manage and grow with the Earth,” Ross said.

His college years weren’t all work and no play, however. One reason Ross enrolled at URI was to play in the University’s marching band, which he did for four years, and it provided many of his fondest memories.

“The band has always been a big part of my life,” said Ross, who played the cymbals in the band’s drum line. “I really enjoy marching, playing music, and the camaraderie that it brings.”

As a result of his membership in the marching band, he attended and performed at every URI home football game.

“Spirit is always high at the games, even when we lose,” he said. “You can’t get the same feeling anywhere else. The feeling of camaraderie and hard work and success you get at the end of a big performance is all because you’re doing it with a great group of friends.”

With graduation right around the corner, Ross dreams of working at a large aquaculture facility in northern Europe, where the industry is highly advanced, and he eventually hopes to manage his own aquaculture operation.

“Aquaculture blends well with my desire to help the world. It’s the wave of the future for feeding the world,” he said. “There is so much less land than ocean, so if we can farm the ocean we can feed a lot more people.”

While he works to save money and prepare for that next big step, he is returning to his first love – managing high-end aquariums.

“Europe and aquaculture are still my priority, but this is a good place to get started and get my feet under me while I get ready to take the plunge,” he said.

Photo by Nora Lewis