The Center for Sustainable Development is excited to be conducting multiple research projects with the Island School students this semester. Along with Plastic Pyrolysis and Permaculture, a group of six students are carrying out some cutting edge research for our aquaponics system. Aquaponics is essentially the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics, where the nutrients dissolved in fish waste are put to use to fertilize a variety of plants, including a multitude of vegetables for our campus to enjoy at the dining hall.
By investigating the feasibility of making our own fish feed, the students are gaining insight not only into the research world, but also the socioeconomic, political, and environmental impacts of alternative food production. Currently, the Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) in our aquaponics system are fed commercially produced aqua-feed which utilizes fishmeal to fulfill the protein requirements of their diet. This fishmeal is unsustainably sourced and produced by the processing of small pelagic fish species like sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and other fish that occupy lower ecological niches in the food chain. Currently, 36% of fishing stocks are allocated to produce fishmeal. The students have shown great interest regarding the contradiction that underlies the aquaculture industry; for a system that was instilled to prevent overfishing of our wild fish populations, how is it sustainable that these fish are provisioned a diet composed of other fish, whose populations are also vulnerable to overfishing? How could these fish that occupy lower trophic levels be better utilized?
The Aquaponics research team hopes to make our own aqua-feed using soybean meal, guinea corn, wheat flour, soybean oil and black soldier fly larvae, a nutrient-packed prepupal fly that has a massive appetite for the food waste from the dining hall. If we are successful, producing our own aqua-feed will negate our need to import commercial aqua-feed. More importantly, our results will justify the use of alternatives to fishmeal for protein requirements in aqua-feed diets. Whether it is shifting the provisioning of fish meal from fish to humans, or demonstrating the possibility of preparing one’s own fish feed to small-scale aquaponics farmers, the greater implications of this research are numerous and highly applicable.
In addition to carrying out their research project, the Island School students have been directly involved in daily aquaponic system maintenance, such as assessing water quality, feeding fish and seeding, planting and harvesting fresh produce for the dining hall. Fruits and vegetables such as lettuce, basil, cilantro, parsley, swiss chard, tomatoes, bok choy, kale and other brassicas are handpicked by the aquaponics research team. Much of the success that the system is currently seeing is owned to the students’ hard work and clear commitment to their research class.