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Commercial Facility Based on the University of the Virgin Island’s Aquaponic System
Fact Sheet • September 2009
ince the 1980s, the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) Agricultural Experiment Station in St. Croix has been conducting research on recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). Much of the UVI research is conducted using a commercial-size RAS that incorporates aquaponics. Aquaponics is the practice of growing herbs and vegetables in water from a RAS system that has fish growing in a connected tank. Through years of research, the staff at UVI has established an aquaponics RAS that is made of easily procured material and is simple and efficient to run. Using an eighth of an acre for production, the staff raises fish and produce that is sold at a farm store located on campus. The system includes four fish tanks, six hydroponic tanks and filtration tanks to support good water quality and growth for both the fish and plants.
The four fish tanks are each 10 feet in diameter and four feet high and hold 2,060 gallons of water. Each fish rearing tank contains 22 airstones. The total volume for the four fish tanks is 8,240 gallons. Each tank can hold either 600 Nile tilapia or 1,200 red tilapia. The stocking rate determines the final size at harvest for Nile tilapia (1.8 lbs) and Red tilapia (1.1 lbs) after a 24-week growth period. The fiberglass tanks cost $1,870 each, totaling $7,480 (before shipping). The six hydroponic tanks in this system are four feet wide, 100 feet long and 16 inches high, holding 3,000 gallons each. The hydroponic tanks consist of a poured concrete wall that is four inches thick ($7,000) and a plastic liner to retain water ($2,751 including installation materials). Each hydroponic tank contains 24 airstones. Polystyrene rafts float on the surface of the water to support the plants, which grow in containers (net pots) that are partially submerged in the culture water. The six hydroponic tanks hold a total of 72 rafts at one time. The rafts have varying numbers of holes for the net pots depending on the plants being grown; optimum planting density varies among the different plant types ($2,922 includes rafts, net pots, paint and templates). The estimated cost for constructing the hydroponic tanks is $12,673. The filtration components in the UVI aquaponic RAS include two clarifiers, two pairs of filter tanks, a degassing
tank, a sump and a base addition tank. The clarifier is a cylindrical tank with a cone at the bottom to collect solid waste from the fish tanks ($3,984 for two clarifier tanks). Solid waste is removed from the system in the form of sludge by opening a valve in a drain line connected to the bottom of the clarifier’s cone. Each pair of filter tanks receives water from one of the clarifiers. The filter tanks are rectangular and are loosely filled with three-quarterinch mesh orchard netting ($2,249 for four filter tanks and the netting). The orchard netting catches fine solid particles, which are removed from the system by staff members manually washing the netting with a highpressure water spray once or twice a week. The degassing tank receives water from the filter tanks. There are four airstones in the center section of the degassing tank to vent off-gases (carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen sulfide and nitrogen) that are produced in the filter tanks ($700 degassing tank). The sump is the lowest point in the system and is the only tank that shows water loss. If the water level decreases, a float valve opens and adds new water to the system from a reservoir of rainwater collected from a catchment ($396 sump tank and float valve). The base addition tank is used for the slow addition of potassium hydroxide (KOH), calcium hydroxide [Ca(OH)2] and chelated iron (water soluble form of iron) into the system. There is one airstone in the base addition tank. Potassium hydroxide and calcium hydroxide are added in equal amounts on alternate days to the base addition tank to maintain a pH of 7.0. Adding these bases provides sufficient supplementation for potassium and calcium. Chelated iron is added every 3 weeks at a rate of 2mg/ liter to prevent iron deficiency in the plants ($155 base addition tank). The filtration components total $7,484.
Water movement and the addition of dissolved oxygen are important for maintaining good water quality and promoting fish and plant growth in aquaponic and RAS. Two blowers (1 and 1.5 horsepower) are used to pump air into the aquaculture system through 237 airstones located in the fish, hydroponic, degassing tank and base addition tanks ($3,730). The blowers and airstones add dissolved oxygen to the water through the process of diffusion. A 1/2 horsepower pump continuously recycles the water by moving it through the system ($480). PVC pipes and fittings are used to connect all of the components of the system along with other miscellaneous parts and supplies ($8,643). Pumping, aeration and general supply needs total $12,853. The total estimated construction costs of an aquaponic RAS that can produce 11,000 pounds of tilapia and approximately 37,800 heads of leaf lettuce a year is $40,490 (excluding labor). Many different varieties of crops can be grown in the aquaponics system including: lettuce, endive, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cucumber, squash, melon, mint, basil, lavender, thyme, dill, watermelon, spinach, chard, arugula, tomato, pepper, onion, leek, garlic, chives, corn, beans, peas and flowering plants.
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