Aquaponics: addressing marine concerns, sparking career interest
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), doubling aquaculture in the United States could create over 50,000 jobs and a billion dollar industry. Environmental science professor Dr. Mark Green’s class MS 360–Aquaculture: Science and Methods might help to make that happen.
“The wild-caught seafood industry is struggling,” says Green. “Many of the fish stocks are being harvested at an unsustainable rate and are literally disappearing from the ocean.”
In MS 360, students maintained a variation of an aquaponics system—a combination of both aquaculture (raising aquatic organisms in a controlled environment) and hydroponics (growing plants in water). A large, plastic fish tank housed the aquatic organisms—tilapia in MS 360’s case. A marine pump circulated water from the tank to trays of leafy greens. The water filtered through the plants until it eventually returned, clean and filtered, to the fish tank.
The benefits of the project are two-fold, says senior environmental science major Shradha Miller ’14. “The fish waste provides nutrients, mainly nitrogen, to the plants that help them grow. And the plants maintain a healthy water quality balance for the tilapia.”
NOAA reports that 91 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States originates abroad—half of which is from aquaculture. As a result of imported seafood, the U.S. seafood trade deficit is currently valued at $11.2 billion.
“There’s opportunity for tremendous growth in the aquaculture industry,” says Green. “I’m a big proponent of sustainable aquaculture.”
Students are getting the hands-on experience they need to both understand and operate an aquaculture operation. Some, like Miller, are even considering going into aquaculture professionally.
“I’m thinking about starting an aquaculture business some point after graduation,” she says. “It’s highly sustainable, takes stress off wild stocks, and produces a super fresh product. Not to mention how lucrative it can be if done properly.”