Sunday, January 29, 2012

James Rakocy

James Rakocy

I participated in 30 years of development at UVI. It started on June 23, 1980, my first day of work, and ended on Nov. 30, 2010, my retirement day. Fresh from obtaining a PhD in aquaculture from Auburn University, my assignment was to lead the Aquaculture Program at the Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) in developing commercially feasible systems for the production of tilapia. Since there is little fresh water in the Virgin Islands, intensive production systems were required that conserved and reused water. We developed three commercially feasible systems: cage, aquaponic and biofloc systems.
In the beginning there were no facilities. My team and I installed a well and rainwater catchment, constructed a shed, erected tanks, built systems and dug ditches for water, air and electric lines. Initially I was more of a construction worker than a scientist. My office was in Building E, a house shared by AES and the cooking and sewing classes of the Cooperative Extension Service.
In 1987 I became the assistant director of AES and eventually worked my way up to director in 1996. A milestone occurred in 1988 when the fiscal year was ending with a budget surplus which enabled us to remodel Building E into a proper office and research facility with three laboratories. 

James Rakocy, third from right, at first Ag Fair 1981.
In 1989 powerful Hurricane Hugo came through destroying much of AES. Adversity turned into opportunity in 1990 when funds became available to build the Research and Extension Center with four offices for AES employees and two more laboratories, a field building containing 10 rooms for work and storage, and a bank of six greenhouses. We came out of that traumatic experience with greatly enhanced research capacity.
While the Aquaculture Program and AES were developing, UVI was growing at a remarkable rate with new buildings and infrastructure, state-of-the art information technology systems, more faculty and programs, comprehensive policies, better learning outcomes and greater emphasis on community engagement.
Personally I experienced the most gratifying career imaginable. In 1999 we started an annual short course to teach people how to use the technology we developed, especially the aquaponic system in which fish and vegetables are cultured together in a recirculating system. In 14 offerings, the course was attended by 566 students from 45 U.S. states and territories and 55 other countries. The UVI aquaponic system, as it is known, has become world famous and is being used in commercial operations in many U.S. states and foreign countries. Increasingly large facilities are being established. The story of the UVI aquaponic system is not finished, but it is important to recognize that UVI created an environment where innovation and creativity were allowed to flourish. I am very grateful UVI. Congratulations on your 50th Anniversary.

Photo detail: The 1981 photo shows, from left, Aquaculture staff members Ayyapan Nair, James Clark, Dr. Rakocy, UVI President Arthur Richards and AES and CES Director Darshan Padda. Click photo to view larger image.
Dr. James Rakocy is a former Research Professor of Aquaculture
and Director of the UVI Agricultural Experiment Station

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