Sustainable Fish Farming in a Box
Project Need: Traditional methods of aquaculture and agriculture demand high fossil fuel based inputs and create multitude amounts of waste harming the quality of our water supply and climate stability. Alternative methods of raising fish and crops are necessary to ensure an everlasting supply of high quality food.
- The United States imports 3.7 million tons of food each year, releasing over 246,000 tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere annually (Food Miles, 2007).
- Major fish farms discard concentrated fish waste equal to the waste of a town of 60,000 people
- Over 65% of nitrogen based fertilizers applied to agriculture fields leach into the Mississippi River watershed and contribute to the death zone in the Gulf of Mexico, an area covering 6,000 square miles (FAO, 1996; DOE, 2008).
- The United States uses 40% of its annual fresh water usage for agricultural irrigation (USGS, 2009).
- Aquaponics is an alternative and more sustainable method of raising fish and crops. “aquaponics” combines “aquaculture”, farming of fish outside their natural habitat, and “hydroponics”, raising of plants without soil. The fish excrete nitrogenous waste into their water tanks, the water is pumped to the plants where they remove the wastes and purify the water and the water flows back to the fish tanks using gravity.
Project Vision: The goal of this project is to create the first pilot scale aquaponics system at Loyola University Chicago (LUC) that could serve as a model for a full size aquaponics operation on campus. We will also evaluate the environmental impacts of our system by testing its water quality. The pilot system we will build can be used to demonstrate the capabilities of such a full size system to administration and the university community in order to gain support for a larger model. The full size aquaponics system would benefit the entire university by providing fresh, organic produce and fish to be served in the university dining halls. A full size aquaponics operation at LUC would reduce the amount of GHG pollutants released by food transportation to the university, the nitrogenous waste entering the Mississippi River watershed, and would use a minimal amount of water compared to field agriculture, all contributing to increasing Loyola’s sustainability. Additionally, the cost of food in Loyola dining halls will be reduced since the food will be in the university’s own back yard.
Pilot Aquaponics System
We constructed a fully functional and relatively self-sustaining system, containing a fish tank and potted lettuce plants in an elevated rack (see the model above). We contacted Myles Hariston, owner of AquaRanch Industries, LLC, and agricultural consultants for integrated hydroponics and aquaculture. Myles Hariston guided us through the building process and maintenance logistics. For our system we placed a 50 gallon drum at ground level to serve as the fish tank. We constructed an elevated plant rack from 2x6 feet planks and a ½ inch plywood board on the bottom. Inside the rack, we placed 20 4 inch pots filled with soil and lettuce plants. Then we elevated the rack 2 feet above the fish tank at an angle to allow the water to flow from the far end of the bed to the fish tank. We created a cutout at the edge of the bed closest to the fish tank which allowed the water flow directly around the potted plants and through the soil into the fish tank. We placed a 190 gallon/hour pump in the fish tank to continuously circulate the wastewater from the tank up to the far end of the plant rack.
Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IUCAC) Approval
In order to raise fish on campus, we needed to acquire IUCAC approval for the humane use of animals in teaching. With the help of our mentor we completed and submitted the IUCAC application for use of vertebrate animals in research, teaching and training with the assistance of our mentor. The IUCAC committee decided that our application needed modifications. As the end of the semester neared we decided to raise invertebrates (shrimp) in our system until our application was modified and approved.
Water Quality Study
We assessed the impact of our functioning system on water quality. We measured levels of water nitrate, nitrite, ammonia, hardness, pH and dissolved with and without shrimp added to our system and compared the results.
- Constructed the first pilot scale aquaponics system at LUC and tested its environmental impact
- Made valuable contacts with experts in the aquaponics industry
- Learned about ethical animal treatment use in teaching
- Created a foundation for future aquaponics projects in the STEP Food Systems Course and at LUC
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory (2008, April 24). Fertilizer Run-off From Agricultural Activities Blamed For Gulf Dead Zone In Gulf of Mexico. Science Daily. Retrieved April 28, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080421143836.htm
Food and Agriculture Organization of the Unite Nations. (1996). Control of water pollution from agriculture. Chapter 3: Fertilizers as water pollutants [Electronic version]. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved February 12, 2010, from http://www.fao.org/docrep/W2598e/w2598e06.htm
Food miles: How far your food travels has serious consequences for your health and the climate. (2007). Retrieved February 13, 2010, from www.farmlandinfo.org/documents/37291/foodmiles.pdf
United States Geological Survey. (2009). Earth’s water distribution. Retrieved February 12, 2010, from http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/waterdistribution.html