Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture System at the Ocean Discovery Visitors Center

Brandon McHenry

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Hi guys!
I work as a graduate student assistant and aquarist at the Ocean Discovery Visitors Center. We are a small educational facility designed to showcase all of the research being conducted by the marine scientists and engineers at Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, which is located in Fort Pierce, Florida. We have recently renovated the visitors center to include several aquariums that highlight some of our research areas. As a long time hobbyist and member of Reef2Reef I wanted to show everyone here some of the aquariums we have built.

Check out some of our other build threads here!
https://www.reef2reef.com/threads/180-gallon-florida-coral-reef-aquarium-build-at-the-ocean-discovery-visitors-center.413700/
https://www.reef2reef.com/threads/seagrass-aquarium-at-the-ocean-discovery-visitors-center.444340/
https://www.reef2reef.com/threads/sponge-reef-at-the-ocean-discovery-visitors-center.409311/

Today I will be highlighting a slightly different setup that is the primary demonstration in our Aquaculture Exhibit. This system is approximately 450 gallons split between 3 interconnected tanks and showcases one of the largest projects being conducted by our team of Aquaculture scientists lead by Dr. Paul Wills.

With a growing global population, and declining fisheries worldwide, aquaculture production will have to double in the next 40 years in order to meet the worlds demands. Currently, aquaculture is the fastest growing section of agriculture. However, less than 1% of the worlds aquaculture comes from the United States. Over the last 40 years HBOI aquaculture researches have been working to advance not only production in the United States but internationally as well. In addition to this mission, our scientists also work to study and grow ecologically important species for local restoration and stock enhancement projects.
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This work is all being conducted on-site in FAU Harbor Branch's 30-acre Aquaculture Development Park. This massive facility is comprised of 8 research buildings with a total of 39,000 square feet of space dedicated to investigating fish, clams, oysters, shrimp, algae, seagrasses and marsh plants. With such a a large facility, one of the most important aspects is sustainability. For this reason, all of our systems have been engineered to recirculate water flow and ensure zero waste discharge into the environment.
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The project that I will be discussing is the Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture System. This interconnected system allows our scientists to grow many different commercially valuable products in one system while also utilizing the inherent benefits that each species provides. In general, this system helps to conserve water, process waste, exchange heat and maximize space, all of which are critical in an aquaculture operation. For the sake of simplicity I will be describing the basic flow of water and nutrients and how each organism being grown serves a purpose and has value to either the industry or the environment. The system being showcased in this thread is a miniaturized version designed for our visitors center which allows guests to see, touch and even taste some of the organisms we are growing.
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To begin, a specialized pellet feed is fed to our stock of Red Drum, Scianops ocellatus. These fish are remnants of a stock enhancement project designed to spawn and raise juvenile redfish to the point where they could be released back into the wild. After being fed, the fish will produce waste which turns into ammonia in the water. From there the ammonia is transformed into nitrite and nitrate by nitrifying bacteria in our biofilters. This is the point where many flow-through aquaculture systems will discharge this water, impacting the local environment.


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Instead, our water is pumped into a trough containing two types of marsh plants and one type of mangroves. The sea asparagus, Salicornia bigelovii, is an edible marsh plant that can be found in artesian markets for use in salads. Sea purslane, Sesuvium portulacastrum, is also edible but is mostly consumed after it has been pickled. Finally, the Red Mangroves, Rhizophora mangle, is threatened estuarine plant that serves as crucial habitat for coastal organisms and provides a natural wavebreak to protect shorelines from erosion. All three of these plants, once large enough, can be passed off to other agencies for coastal restoration projects around our local areas.
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Further nutrient uptake is then conducted by two types of macroalgae growing in our system. The first is a red macroalgae in the genus Gracilaria. Many red algae produce commercially important products such as agar, used in food and microbiology labs as a nutrient source, and carageenan which is a food stabilizer that is used in products such as ice cream. A second species that we grow is Sea Lettuce, Ulva lactuca. This is a green alga that grows as a one cell-layer thick sheet and serves as an excellent food source for both people and animals.
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The algae that is grown in our system can then be fed to our population of Variegated Sea Urchins, Lytechinus variegatus. These echinoderms are excellent at keeping our algae populations in check while serving as a delicacy in many cultures. The gonads of these animals, known as uni, is eaten raw at many sushi restaurants around the world. The waste that these animals produce is a dense pellet that sinks to bottom of our trough and then collects. To further remove the nutrients in the waste, we grow a population of Gray Sea Cucumbers, Holothuria grisea. These animals are also echinoderms, like the sea urchins, and are primarily detritivores. In addition to the sea urchins, the sea cucumbers are grown around the world as a major food source, which helps to relieve global fishing pressure.
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At the end of this system, the water that has been cleaned and filtered of all waste and nutrients is then pumped back to the tank containing the Red Drum for the process to repeat. This "hydroponics style" system has given us the opportunity to educate our guests about the importance of aquaculture, sustainability, restoration and stock enhancement, water quality and global food supply. I hope everybody enjoys and feel free to leave comments or questions!
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LordJoshaeus

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Very intriguing! I wish I could be this efficient with my non photosynthetic coral tank
 
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Brandon McHenry

Brandon McHenry

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Interesting Stuff, Thanks for Sharing!
Thanks! Glad you liked it!
Very intriguing! I wish I could be this efficient with my non photosynthetic coral tank
You’d be amazed by how well plants and macroalgae can process nutrients! We are constantly pruning and harvesting.
 

LordJoshaeus

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I am planning on plumbing my 10 gallon non photosynthetic tank to a 10 gallon refugium. It will have a 4 inch sand bed to facilitate denitrifying bacteria growth and LOTS of macroalgae. How well do you think this will work?
 
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Brandon McHenry

Brandon McHenry

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I am planning on plumbing my 10 gallon non photosynthetic tank to a 10 gallon refugium. It will have a 4 inch sand bed to facilitate denitrifying bacteria growth and LOTS of macroalgae. How well do you think this will work?
I think that would work very well, especially since you are basically going to have a 1:1 ratio display tank to refugium. I look forward to hearing how it does for you!
Once again you are sharing some very cool work! Thanks!
Thank you! It’s nice to be able to showcase the work of our scientists and have it be so well received.
 

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