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Aquacultural Engineering 13(1994) 11-30

Sludge Management in Intensive Pond Culture of


Shrimp: Effect of Management Regime on Water
Quality, Sludge Characteristics, Nitrogen Extinction,
and Shrimp Production
J. Stephen Hopkins, Paul A. Sandifer & C. L. Browdy
Waddell Mariculture Center, PO Box 809, Bluffton, SC 29910, USA

(Received 23 September 1992; accepted 24 October 1992)

A BS TRA CT
Formation and accumulation of shtdge in intensive ponds is generally
perceived to impact shrimp production, although there have been few
systematic" investigations. Sludge deposits are suspected as the s#e of much
of the biochemical oxygen demand, mineralization of nutrients from
organic" matter, formation of toxic' metabolites, and possibly' the site of
nutrient and organic matter recycling back into the pond .food web. To
determine the effect of sludge on water quality, nitrogen extinction and
shrimp production, three sludge management regimes were tested: (I)
leaving sludge undisturbed in the pond (REMAIN); (2) removing sludge
accumulations at weekly intervals (REMOVE); and (3) resuspending or
moving sludge deposition daily to reduce the degree of anoxia
(RESUSPEND). All ponds were operated without water exchange.
Shrimp (Penaeus setiferus) growth was good, but survival ranged from
negligible in the R E M A I N treatment to moderate in the REMOVE and
RESUSPEND treatments. The sludge management regime influenced
overlying water quality, with the most pronounced effect being a significant reduction in ammonia-nitrogen, orthophosphate and in vivo
fluorescence and an increase in dissolved oxygen for the REMOVE treatment. In the REMOVE treatment, 67% of nitrogen added as feed was harvested from the pond with sludge. Only 22% and 15% of the nitrogen
added as feed was left in the pond sludge at harvest]or the REMAIN and
RESUSPENI) treatments respectively. All nitrogen inputs could be
accounted for in the REMOVE treatment while 89% and 58% could be
accounted .for in the RESUSPEND and R E M A I N treatments" respectively, indicating that the sludge management regime affected denitrification processes. If the sludge can be safely disposed of on high land, pond
water quality, as well as the quality of the water being returned to receiv11

Aquaculturul Engineering 0144-8609/94/S07.00 -- 1994 Elsevicr Sciencc Ltd,


England. Printed in Great Britain

12

.I.S. ttopkins, 1'. A. Sandi]er, C. L. Browdy


i,g streams in drain harvesting, is improved. Shrimp pond sludge can be
used to improve terrestrial crop yiehls on well-drained, but impoverished,
soils. Shrimp production as high as 3474 kg/ha witho,t water exchange
has ,or been reported elsewhere.

INTRODUCTION
Sludge formation is common in many types of aquaculture, particularly
those which involve applications of large quantities of supplemental feed.
Mudrak ( 1981 ) noted that hatchery waste solids tend to concentrate into
a viscous sludge, in an amount positively correlated with the amount of
pelleted feed applied. Sludge is assumed to be derived from uneaten
feed, phytoplankton, other decaying plant material, animal excrement,
mineral sediment, airborne debris such as dust and leaves, protozoans,
bacteria, and fungi. Little is known about the relative proportions or
properties of these postulated components. Sludge accumulations
equivalent to 11-38% of applied feed have been reported (McLaughlin,
1981; Mudrak, 1981). Differences were attributed to sludge digestion
because of variable holding times. As production technology is intensified, feeding rates are increased with concurrent increases in accumulation of sludge (Boyd, 1992; Fast & Boyd, 1992; Hopkins, 1986).
In shrimp culture, sludge accumulations may decrease the habitat
available for the shrimp, reduce the density of benthic food organisms
and cause direct toxicity due to production of hydrogen sulfide and other
anaerobic metabolites. However, none of these impacts has been documented. Healthy shrimp can be found within sludge deposits (personal
observations), benthic food populations are grazed nearly to extinction
in all areas of intensive ponds (Hopkins et al., 1988), and very little
hydrogen sulfide has been found free in the water column (Ray & Chien
1992). In an aquarium study, Ray and Chien (1992) also noted that the
amount of sludge ('ooze') mixed with sand did not affect overlying water
chemistry, stocking density did not affect sediment chemistry, and the
amount of 'ooze" had a positive effect on shrimp growth. However, they
dried and sieved the sludge used and these procedures would have
promoted rapid oxidation of organic matter and volatilization of some
inorganic compounds.
Boyd (1990) noted that aerobic and anaerobic degradation of organic
matter progresses in pond bottoms, but the water-logged conditions do
not favor rapid or complete oxidation. In conventional fish ponds,
utilization and cycling of organic matter is thought to be limited because

Sludge management and intensive culture of shrimp

13

of its sedimentation and accumulation in anaerobic sediment environments (Avnimelech et al., 1987). Aerobic decomposition in aquatic
systems may be more rapid than anaerobic decomposition, but there is
little real evidence (Blackburn, 1987).
AQUACOP (1984) report that in aerated ponds where the biomass
exceeds 0.2 kg/m 2, a complex medium containing bacterial flock,
phytoplankton and zooplankton develops. They note that this medium
can supplement the shrimp diet. Bacteria comprised about 20-35% of
the organic carbon in the proventriculus of a penaeid shrimp feeding in
muddy estuarine sediments (Moriarty, 1976). This suggests that shrimp
may derive some direct nutritional benefit from bacteria. Thus, increasing the bacterial biomass could be an important consideration in
management of intensive shrimp ponds. The production of bacterial
biomass in fish ponds has been reported to be 10 times higher under
aerobic than under anaerobic conditions (Schroeder, 1978). Further,
Leber and Pruder (1988) demonstrated that shrimp pond water
enhanced the growth of shrimp when compared with clean well water.
However, growth enhancement cannot be explained by carbon pathways
from microbial biomass alone (Schroeder, 1987). While some microbial
processing is apparently essential, grazing by target animals must be
sufficiently frequent to harvest the web of generated food before it is lost
through mineralization (Schroeder, 1987).
With a modest (1%) input of organic detritus, the depth of oxygn
penetration into sediment will be only 2-3 mm with moderate mixing
and 3-4 mm with vigorous mixing (Vanderborght et al., 1977a). Higher
organic loading of intensive aquaculture systems will further restrict the
depth of the oxidized layer. Diffusional fluxes, both into and out of
sediments, are greatly increased by surface disturbance (Schroeder,
1987; Vanderborght et al., 1977a). Sporadic fish bioturbation was found
to account for about 30% of solute flux in a pond (Blackburn et a t ,
1988). Schroeder et al. (1991) suggested that artificial resuspension of
precipitated organic matter might increase availability of natural foods.
The role of anaerobic sludge in recycling organic material back into a
form which is assimilated by target species is much in debate (Schroeder,
1987). Many biochemical processes associated with sludge digestion
result in formation of humic substances which resist further degradation
(Anderson, 1987; Boyd, 1992; Rice, 1982). The energy content of
detritus may be similar to that of its parent material, but available energy
declines as lignin and other difficult-to-digest complexes are produced
(Bowen, 1987).
Nitrogen may be lost from a pond system via several processes.
Ammonia may be volatilized from the water column to the atmosphere

14

J. s. Hopkins, P. A. Sandifer. C. L. Browdy

during periods of high pH, aided by heavy aeration (Reeves, 1972).


Aerobic nitrification of ammonia to nitrite and nitrate does not result in
a net loss of nitrogen from the system. Anaerobic denitrification of
nitrate to N 2 which, in turn, is in equilibrium with atmospheric nitrogen,
and production of N20 are probably more important pathways for loss
of nitrogen from marine systems (Seitzinger et al., 1984; Nishio et al.,
1983). Nishio et al. (1981) found that N2 produced by denitrification in
sediments is rapidly lost to the overlying water because of physical and
biological disturbances of near-surface sediments. Denitrification
processes can also convert nitrate back to ammonia, but the proportion
of ammonia produced is small relative to other nitrogenous compounds
(Vanderborght et al., 1977b). Nishio et al. (1982) found that 27-57% of
the nitrate produced by nitrification in sediments is consumed by denitrification, with the balance diffusing into overlying water. They
suggest that active sites of both nitrification and denitrification originating from ammonia are confined to shallow sediment depths. Elevated
ponds built with porous soils may lose nitrogen through water seepage
(Krom etal., 1985).
To control build-up of sludge and excessive amounts of dissolved
nutrients, intensive pond culture of marine shrimp and certain fish
typically incorporates regular draining of the ponds and drying of pond
bottoms to oxidize organic material (Chamberlain, 1991; Hopkins~
1986, 1992). Some sediment organic carbon is invariably lost to the
receiving stream in the process of draining ponds (Gately, 1990). Dried
sediment may be removed from the pond prior to refilling if build-up is
excessive (Williamson, 1989). Methods to dispose of sludge as the
shrimp crop grows~ using strategically placed drain ports, have been
examined (Hopkins, 1986; Hopkins et al., in press; Wyban & Sweeney,
1991). A suction dredge with a rotary cutting head for removing sediment deposits in ponds which cannot be completely drained was developed and tested (Williamson, 1989), but has not been used on a regular
basis. Boyd (1990) noted that when sludge is disturbed and discharged,
effluent quality is degraded through elevated concentrations of BOD,
solids and nutrients. The US Environmental Protection Agency prefers
that waste organic solids be recycled for use elsewhere (Bastian, 1991).
Sludge from domestic wastewater treatment can be placed on agricultural land, forested land or land which has been somehow impoverished.
About 80% of the nitrogen and 40-80% of the phosphorus in such
sludge becomes available to plants, and application rates are based on
nitrogen loading and assimilation capabilities of the land (Vesilind et al.,
1986). Clearly, alternatives to complete digestion of sludge in production
ponds or disposing of it with effluent are needed.

Sludge management and intensive culture of shrimp

15

The present study was undertaken to evaluate the effects of sludge


management on water quality and production characteristics of marine
shrimp ponds.

MATERIALS A N D METHODS
The study was conducted during summer 1991 at the James M. Waddell,
Jr, Mariculture Research and Development Center (WMC), a field
station of the Marine Resources Division of the South Carolina Wildlife
and Marine Resources Department. Three 0.1 ha (1008 m 2, 1300 m ~)
ponds were used. These ponds have a 2 : 1 length :width ratio, 3 : 1 side
slopes, and a sloped bottom where the depth ranges from 1"3 to 1"5 m.
Ponds are lined with 1 mm-thick high-density polyethylene which is
overlaid on the bottom with 26 cm of native soil. A concrete drain
structure incorporates screen tracks, an overflow weir and a drain valve.
Ponds drain into an effluent ditch, which carries water back to an
adjacent estuary some 800 m distance from the intake pumps.
Ponds were stocked with postlarval Penaeus setiferus, a species indigenous to the western Atlantic, which has been shown to have commercial potential (Sandifer et al., 1990). Techniques used to
pond-culture this species in South Carolina are similar to those being
used for the principal commercial species, P. vannamei (Sandifer et al.,
1991 ). Postlarvae were produced through controlled maturation of adult
shrimp and rearing of larvae in the WMC hatchery. A single batch of
postlarval shrimp was proportionately distributed directly to grow-out
ponds at a rate of 44 postlarvae/m 2 of pond surface.
To estimate growth, a random sample of shrimp was seined from each
pond and individually weighed to the nearest 0"1 g at 14-day intervals.
An accurate method of estimating survival during pond production does
not exist, so only harvest values are available.
Ponds were fed twice daily, at 0900 and 1700 h, from the pond bank
using a tractor-drawn pneumatic feeding machine. Feeding actually
began 10 days prior to stocking, to induce a bloom of forage prey for
postlarvae. Feed was a 3 mm-diameter, 40% protein pellet formulated
specifically for shrimp (Zeigler Bros., Inc., Gardeners, PA, USA). Daily
feeding amounts were identical for the three ponds. Feeding rates were
high initially to promote phytoplankton and zooplankton production, as
no inorganic fertilizers were used. Subsequently, feeding rates increased
as a function of absolute growth before being stabilized over much of the
season and were finally decreased due to slowed growth response and

16

J. S. Hopkins, P. A. Sandifer, ('. L. Browdy

low survival predictions. The average feed rate was 97 kg/ha day, with a
maximum rate of 137 kg/ha day (Fig. 1).
After the ponds had been filled, there was no intentional water
exchange, although some overflow was experienced during periods of
heavy precipitation. The average water exchange resulting from precipitation was 0.36%/day.
Ponds were initially aerated with one 1 hp paddlewheel per pond (10
hp/ha) and an additional unit was placed in each pond (20 hp/ha) on day
55. Except for the RESUSPEND treatment (described below), aerators
were situated in opposing corners of ponds in such a way as to create a
water-current gyre. In addition to mixing and aerating water, water
velocities created by aerators effectively swept most of the pond bottom
and deposited low-specific-gravity sludge particles in the center.
Aerators were run 24 h/day.
A variety of water-quality parameters were monitored. Water-quality
sampling schedules and analytical techniques employed (APHA, 1989)
are summarized in Table 1. Except for those parameters measured in
situ (temperature, oxygen, secchi disk visibility) all samples were collected in polypropylene bottles and returned immediately to the laboratory for analysis. Samples were drawn from just below the surface, as
water in these heavily aerated ponds has been found to be very homogenous (Hopkins et al., 1988). On day 148, the study was terminated.
Bottom sludge and soil were sampled over several days prior to drain
harvesting.
Each of the three ponds received a different sludge management
treatment (Fig. 2). In one pond, sludge was allowed to accumulate in the
center without being disturbed and remained there until harvest

250

200
J~

150
1O0
50

aJ
. . . . . . . .

i . . . . . .

20

Fig. I.

I_
!

40

...................

i. . . . . .

60
80
TIME (days)

:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1O0

120

140

Daily application rate of 40% protein shrimp feed.

TABLE 1

Monitoring
interval

Daily
Daily
Daily
Daily
Twice weekly
Twice weekly
Weekly
Twice weekly
Weekly
Weekly
Weekly
Daily
Weekly
Weekly

Parameter

Temperature
Dissolved oxygen
pH
Total ammonia-nitrogen
Nitrite-nitrogen
Nitrate-nitrogen
Organic nitrogen
Free orthophosphate
Suspended solids
Organic solids
Turbidity
Phytoplankton
BOD
Salinity

Sunrise
Sunrise
1400 h
1400 h
1000 h/1400 h
1000 h/1400 h
100 h
1000 h/140 h
1000 h
1000 h
1400 h
1400 h
1000 h
1400 h

Monitoring
time

Water-Quality Monitoring Schedule and Analysis Methodology

Thermistor
Polarographic meter
Potentiometer/electrode
Nesslerization/spectrophotometry
Diazotization/spectrophotometry
Cadmium reduction/diazotization
Modified Kjeldahl digestion
Ascorbic acid/spectrophotometry
Filtration/gravimetric
Ignition/gravimetric
Secchi disk visibility
ln-vivo fluorescence
Non-seeded, multiple dilutions
Refractometry

Analytical
method

"--,-1

,~.
~'2.

2
~
~'

18

.I.S. ttopkins, P. A. Sandifer, C. L. Browdy


REMAIN "-

water

._

line 47.2 m

b o t t o m 40.5 m

.....
j'

REMOVE
"~
. . . . . . . . .

RESUSPEND

o Fri-

o Sun.

'holding
tank

~ s ~ "

Fig. 2. Dimensional data of 0.1 ha lined ponds showing location and relative size of
sludge deposition (top), sludge removal apparatus (middle), and daily orientation of
aerator for sludge resuspension (bottom).

(REMAIN). In a second pond (REMOVE), sludge was physically


removed at weekly intervals using a solids-handling pump. In the third
pond (RESUSPEND), an aerator was repositioned each day so as to
change depositional patterns and resuspend, or at least move, the sludge
deposit on the pond bottom.
The sludge removal treatment was expected to prevent organic
material in sludge from mineralizing and releasing dissolved reactive
nutrients back into the water column. A diver with SCUBA equipment
would locate the sludge deposit and remove it with the suction hose of a
3 hp solids-handling pump. Sludge was pumped to a holding tank where
the material could be homogenized, its volume determined, and a sample
removed for laboratory analysis (Fig. 2). The sludge was then disposed
of on a sandy and nutrient-impoverished highland site. The following
winter, the sludge disposal site and an adjacent area were plowed and
planted with rye grass. The two plots were later inspected visually and
photographed.
The resuspension treatment was expected to increase the degree of
aerobic conditions within the sludge, thus increasing decomposition
rates. To accomplish resuspension, a paddlewheel aerator was positioned at the pond edge midway along the long axis. The aerator was

Sludge management and intensive culture of shrimp


20

19

REMAIN

REMOVE

15

RESUSPEND

wl0
1,4

Ns
0,

i 1 i , i , , , i
30

60

TIME

Fig. 3.

90

120

(days)

Growth of shrimp in ponds with various sludge management techniques.

moored with two lines, a posterior line connected to an anchor and an


anterior line attached to a stake on the opposite shore. Seven stakes were
located along three sides of the pond at 30 intervals (Fig. 2). Each day
the anterior line was moved to a different stake. This reorientation of
water currents generated by the paddlewheel effectively changed the
depositional area and resuspended or moved sludge deposits.
Ponds were harvested by draining over a 24 h period. The sludge
treatment had little effect on harvest efficiency as the ponds were well
engineered with bottoms which sloped to an end drain; sludge deposits,
where present, were in the center of the pond. Prior to draining, the
volume of sludge deposited in the center of each pond was determined.
Length and width of elliptical deposition zones as well as depth of
deposited sludge at 1 m intervals along each axis were measured under
water. A core sample of sludge was collected at each 1 m interval; the
material was homogenized and returned to the laboratory for analysis of
percentage solids, loss on ignition, Kjeldahl nitrogen, and total phosphorus.
After drain harvest, samples of the top 1 cm of soil were collected in a
grid pattern fom the pond bottom. Based on aquarium studies (WMC,
unpublished), the 1 cm depth exceeds the apparent limit of sediment
bioturbation fom shrimp of this species and size. A proportionate
amount of soil from the firm sand substrate layer below the sludge
deposit was included in the composite sample. Soil was analyzed for loss
on ignition, Kjeldahl nitrogen and total phosphorus.

RESULTS

Shrimp production
Shrimp production was highly variable between ponds, yet poor overall.
However, growth was quite good for this species (Sandifer et al., 1992)

20

J. S. ttopkins, 1'. A. SandiJer, ('. L. Browdv

(Table 2). Differences in harvest size are probably related to differential


survival and grow-out density at the end of the season (Fig. 3). Survival
ranged from negligible in the REMAIN treatment to moderate in the
R E M O V E and RESUSPEND treatments (Table 2). Low survival was
associated with the absence of water exchange as described in Hopkins et
al. (in press) (the REMAIN treatment pond was also the control noexchange pond in that water exchange experiment). The mortalities
could not be correlated with any one water-quality parameter, although
gill fouling associated with environmental conditions was suspected as a
possible cause. Substantial mortalities occurred in the REMAIN pond,
beginning about day 125. Mortalities were noted in the process of
pumping sludge out of the R E M O V E pond on day 110.

Water quality
Water-quality parameters varied dramatically over time and some were
significantly different among treatments (Table 3). Temperature varied
seasonally and salinity tended to decrease over time due to unusually
high precipitation and no replacement with seawater. The mean dissolved oxygen concentration in the RESUSPEND pond was significantly
lower than that of the R E M O V E pond. Biochemical oxygen demand
was highest in the RESUSPEND pond and lowest in the R E M O V E
pond but differences were not significant (Table 1). The average water
pH was similar for all ponds.
There were fairly high concentrations of nutrients in all ponds due to
the lack of water exchange (Table 3). Total ammonia-nitrogen (TAN) and
un-ionized ammonia were significantly lower in the R E M O V E pond
than in the REMAIN and RESUSPEND ponds. Ammonia concentrations rose and fell in an inverse relationship with phytoplankton
abundance. The RESUSPEND pond had the most radical fluctuations,
and the highest ammonia concentrations encountered were in this pond
just prior to harvest (see maximum and standard deviation about the
1ABLE 2
Production Characteristics of Intensive Shrimp Ponds Using Various Sludge Management Techniques

Harvest size (g)


Survival (%)
Production (kg/ha)

REMA IN

REMOVE

RESUS;PEND

23-3
0"2
18

16"7
32"8
2406

14.6
54"1
3474

Max.

2'3
4"4
0"9
8.1
0.4
2.2
0'62
1.53
11-0
5.2
1-1
93.1
38'6
9.0
0.1

S.D.

a
a
a, b
a
a
a
a
a
a
a
a
a
a
a
a

Sign~fl

Max.

26.8
29.8
18"3
25.0
5"0
7-1
17.9
34.8
8.6
9.4
1.5
111"9
0.29
2.37
1'10
4.15
8.4
25.0
14.(I
40.0
0"7
1'8
151.8 318.0
80-6 216.0
15.6
41.8
(I.3
1.1

Mean

2"3
4.3
1"0
7.8
0.4
1'8
0-38
1'21
8.6
9.(1
0"5
96-5
54.1
10.0
0.1

S.D.

REMOVE

a
a
a
a
a
b
b
a
a
a
b
a
a
b
a

Signif

Max.

26.6
29-9
18.1
25"0
4"5
7-4
20.4
33"6
8'6
9"5
3"2
17-0
0"54
2"56
1'21
5"05
9"3
50-0
17.6
30'8
1"8
5.2
163.6 362'0
94.7 208.0
22.5
55.0
0.3
0.9

Mean

2.4
4'3
1"2
7-9
0"5
3'3
0"56
1"43
11"3
7-4
1-0
87'7
60-1
15.5
0.1

S.D.

RESUSPEND

a
a
b
a
a
a
a
a
a
a
a
a
a
a
a

Signif

Means with the same letter designation a r c n o ! significantly different (17<0'05) as determined by one-way analysis of variance using
Bartlett's test of equal variance followed by Tukcy's pairwise comparison of means.

Temperature (C)
26'7
30'0
Salinity (ppt)
18.1
25.(I
Dissolved oxygen (mg/l)
4.8
7"4
Biochemical Oxygen Demand (rag/l)
18.8
38.4
pH
8.6
9'3
Total ammonia-nitrogen (rag/l)
3.(1
9"1
Un-ionized ammonia-nitrogen (rag/l)
0"64
2'82
Nitrite-nitrogen (mg/1)
1.31
6-30
Nitrate-nitrogen (rag/l)
9-8
34-5
Kjeldahl nitrogen (mg/l)
15.4
26.8
Reactive orthophosphate (mg/l)
2-2
6"0
Suspended solids (mg/l)
157-3 428.0
Organic solids (mg/l)
76'3
148"0
In-vivo fluorescence
19-2
40'0
Secchi disk visibility (m)
0.3
0"9

Mean

REMAIN

TABLE 3
The Ffect of Sludge Management Method on Mean, Maximum and Standard Deviation of Various Water-Quality Parameters

t'O

e~

22

J.S. Hopkins, P. A. Sandifer, C. L. Browdy

mean in Table 3). Nitrite-nitrogen and nitrate-nitrogen were also lower in


R E M O V E pond, but differences were not significant. Reactive orthophosphate was significantly lower in the R E M O V E treatment and
average values were somewhat lower in the R E S U S P E N D than in the
R E M A I N treatment. Total Kjeldahl nitrogen was lowest in the
R E M O V E pond, followed by the R E M A I N and the R E S U S P E N D
treatments, but differences were not significant.
Suspended solids and organic solids were slightly higher in the
R E S U S P E N D pond than in the other two treatments. In vivo fluorescence, used here as an indication of phytoplankton abundance, was
significantly lower in the R E M O V E treatment, presumably in response
to significantly lower concentrations of TAN and orthophosphate
available for phytoplankton uptake. The average secchi disk visibility
was similar for all treatments.

Sludge analysis
The bottom sludge was analyzed just prior to harvest in the R E M A I N
and R E S U S P E N D treatments. The volume of sludge was larger in the
R E S U S P E N D treatment, although the material was less compacted and
had a higher moisture content, presumably from being moved frequently
(Table 4). The calculated volumes of dry matter were 11.7 and 6"5 m3/ha
for the R E M A I N and R E S U S P E N D treatments respectively. The loss
on ignition (as a percentage of dry weight) was determined but this may
grossly overestimate the percentage of organic matter because both
organic and inorganic constituents of soils lose weight during heating
(Nelson & Sommers, 1982). Overall, about 30% of dry weight was lost
on ignition (Table 4) with the R E S U S P E N D treatment having the higher
weight loss. Kjeldahl nitrogen of the sludge was determined, but organic
and inorganic components were not differentiated. The nitrogen content
of sludge in the R E M A I N treatment was over 1"5 times higher than that
of the R E S U S P E N D treatment. The sludge total phosphorus in the
R E S U S P E N D treatment was 24% higher than that of the R E M A I N
treatment.
In the R E M O V E treatment, sludge was analyzed each week when
accumulations were pumped from the pond. However, the pumping
process entrained considerable water as well as sludge. Since the bulk of
the material in this pond was deposited in the week prior to pumping, the
sludge consistency was much more liquid as well. Therefore, a direct
comparison of sludge 'volume' between the R E M O V E and the other two
treatments was not possible. Instead, treatments were examined by
comparing the sum of sludge nitrogen removed in the R E M O V E treat-

23

Sludge management and intensive culture of shrimp


TABLE 4

Characteristics of Sludge just Prior to Pond Harvest and Characteristics of Soil at the
Time of Pond Harvest for the Three Sludge Management Regimes
REMA IN

REMO VE

RES USf'END

90
87.0
26.2
2560
1480

na t'
na
na
na
na

95
93.2
37.1
1620
184(t

1-9
663
860

1"4
300
580

2"5
7(10
1140

Sludge

Wet volume (m~/ha)


Moisture (%)
Loss on ignition (% dry wt)"
Kjeldahl nitrogen (mg/l)
Total phosphorus (mg/l)
Soil

Loss on ignition (% dry wt)"


Kjeldahl nitrogen (mg/I)
Total phosphorus (mg/1)

"Weight loss on ignition may not accurately reflect organic matter concentration.
~'na,not applicable for the treatment.
ment with the total sludge nitrogen at harvest in the R E M A I N and RESU S P E N D treatments (Table 5). T h e total amount of nitrogen removed
from the system via the R E M O V E treatment was substantially (3-4
times) higher than the residual sludge nitrogen in the R E M A I N and
R E S U S P E N D treatments. Weekly sludge removal harvested about twothirds of total nitrogen inputs to the system, 90% of which was via the
feed (Table 6). If not removed, 15% (RESUSPEND) to 22% ( R E M A I N )
of the total nitrogen inputs to the p o n d (feed, seawater and rainfall)
remain in the sludge at the end of the season.
Concentrations of nutrients and weight loss on ignition in the soil are
considerably below those of sludge (Table 4). It is not known whether
this weight loss is primarily loss of organic matter or whether it results
primarily from loss of structural water in hydrated aluminosilicates and/
or carbonate mineral decomposition. T h e interstitial voids between sand
grains for this soil were determined to be approximately 44% of the total
volume. If it is assumed that these interstitial voids become filled with
fine sludge material which has the same nitrogen and phosphorus content as sludge in the depositional areas, then the expected soil nitrogen
concentration would be lower than the actual value. T h e expected soil
phosphorus concentration would be higher than the actual value.
A n o t h e r way to examine the fate of nitrogen under the various treatment scenarios is through preparation of a nitrogen mass balance (Table
6). Feed accounted for 90% of nitrogen input to the system, with the
remainder entering the p o n d with seawater and rainfall. In the R E M A I N

24

J.S. Hopkins, P. A. Sandifer, C. L. Browdy


TABLE 5

Comparison of the nitrogen content of sludge remaining in the pond at harvest


(REMAIN and RESUSPEND) or removed during the season (REMOVE)

Sludge nitrogen (kg/ha)


Sludge nitrogen % total nitrogen
input to the system

REMAIN

REMOVE"

RESUSPEND

231
22

7(19
67

154
15

TABLE 6

Nitrogen Mass Balance" (kg/ha per crop)

Entering pond via feed


Entering pond via seawater
Entering pond via rainfallt,
Exiting pond via water
Deposited/removed via sludge
Deposited in soil
Assimilated in shrimp tissue
Not accounted for

R E M A IN

R E M ( ) VE

RESUSPEND

958
70
28
345
231
40
0
44(1

958
70
28
320
693
40
23
- 2(1

958
70
28
714
154
42
34
112

"Based on nitrogen content of feed, water budget and analysis of organic nitrogen and
ammonia-, nitrate- and nitrate-nitrogen in water, sludge and soil.
~'Rainfall values are an estimate based on limited data.

and R E S U S P E N D treatments, the major loss of nitrogen is nitrogen


species dissolved in water when the p o n d is drained. In the R E M O V E
treatment, the major loss of nitrogen is via weekly removal of sludge.
Smaller amounts of nitrogen are deposited in soil and, d e p e n d i n g on
production success, assimilated into shrimp tissue. Soil analysis prior to
pond filling indicated that there was but 1 kg/ha of soil nitrogen initially.
By summing all the nitrogen inputs and sinks, the a m o u n t lost through
processes which have not been quantified, primarily denitrification, were
determined. Of the total nitrogen inputs, 440 kg/ha (42%) could not be
accounted for in the R E M A I N treatment. A b o u t 11% of total nitrogen
inputs, 112 kg/ha, could not be a c c o u n t e d for in the R E S U S P E N D
treatment. In the R E M O V E treatment, calculated nitrogen sinks exceed
nitrogen inputs by 20 kg/ha (2%), indicating that the analytical procedures e m p l o y e d are not completely accurate; however, there is
probably very little nitrogen lost to other processes.

Sh~dge management and intensive culture of shrimp

25

DISCUSSION
The degree to which differences in shrimp bimoass affected sludge
dynamics is unknown. Processes of sludge formation are probably very
similar, whether or not shrimp are part of the pond fauna, as feed is still
broken down by smaller crustaceans, protozoans, microbial digestion,
etc. However, the relatively larger shrimp are capable of creating more
bioturbation. Survival in the REMOVE and RESUSPEND ponds is, in
one sense, quite impressive as there was no water exchange. The 3474
kg/ha in the RESUSPEND treatment is the highest reported pond
shrimp production without water exchange.
Sluge removal obviously took organic material out of the pond before
it could mineralize and release inorganic nutrients back to the water
column. Both ammonia and reactive orthophosphate were significantly
lower in the REMOVE treatment. It is not known whether sludge which
was removed was predominantly decaying shrimp feed and fecal
material or whether these materials had already been transformed to
phytoplankton and other organic particles. The lack of differences in
visibility, suspended solids and organic solids, even when there are
significant differences in in-vivo fluorescence, confirms that most of the
suspended material in these intensive shrimp ponds is not phytoplankton.
Average dissolved oxygen concentrations were significantly higher in
the REMOVE pond than in the RESUSPEND pond and also higher
than in the REMAIN pond. Undoubtedly, this was the result of removal
of organic material prior to a portion of the oxygen demanding process
of in-situ decomposition.
Nitrogen and phosphorus content of the shrimp pond sludge is
respectively about one-half and two-thirds that of sludge from a typical
urban sewage treatment plant (Vesilind et al., 1986; WPCF, 1989).
Sewage treatment plant sludge is often sold as a soil amendment and
fertilizer, although sterilization requirements are costly. Marine shrimp
pond sludge contains salts which can rapidly leach from the material
only when placed over a well-drained soil, such as the small disposal site
used in this study. However, disinfection of shrimp pond sludge would
probably not be required. Non-quantitative observations on the use of
shrimp pond sludge as a soil treatment for ryegrass production suggested
that sludge increased the biomass and condition of the grass. Neither
factor was quantified, although color photographs of the two plots were
made. It is not known whether improved ryegrass performance was the
result of improved soil physical properties (e.g. bulk density, water
retention) or increased nutrients (see the review in WPCF, 1989).

26

J. S. Hopkins, P. A. ,Swzd(fer, C. L. Browdy

About two-thirds of the total nitrogen inputs to the system via feed,
seawater and rainfall can be recouped by removing sludge weekly.
However, 15-22% of the total nitrogen inputs to the pond remain in
sludge at the end of the season if it is not frequently removed. If left
undisturbed, as much as 42% of the total nitrogen inputs may be lost to
the atmosphere via denitrification.
The concentration of organic nitrogen was lowest in sludge from the
RESUSPEND pond. However, at the time of harvest, inorganic nitrogen
species in the water column were very high. Thus, 11% of nitrogen which
had entered the RESUSPEND pond as feed, seawater and rainfall could
not be accounted for in the water column, sludge, soil and shrimp tissue.
Since the loss of nitrogen from the system was somewhat lower in the
RESUSPEND pond (11%) than the REMAIN pond (42/,,) (Table 6), it
is possible that denitrification, an anaerobic process, was being inhibited
by sludge resuspension. The highest concentrations of TAN and nitrate
were found in the RESUSPEND pond, suggesting that the sludge resuspension process probably increased the rate of transport of inorganic
nitrogen species between sediment and water. Hopkins el al. (in press)
discussed the importance of nitrogen cycling (from organic to inorganic
species) on effluent quality. If much of the nitrogen is in the form of
dissolved inorganic species at the time of drain harvesting, the total
release of nutrients for the entire shrimp production process may be
fairly high. If drain harvesting of no-exchange ponds coincides with a
period of low dissolved inorganic nitrogen but high particulate nitrogen,
the total release of nutrients is much lower.
Without replication, it is impossible to know whether differences in
shrimp survival between the REMOVE and REMAIN ponds were due
to the sludge removal process. The lack of replication is exacerbated by
uncertainties about the cause of mortality. However, the fact that there
was some survival in the RESUSPEND and REMOVE ponds is
encouraging.
Sludge resuspension would not improve the quality of effluent water
during drain harvesting and may actually degrade effluent quality due to
an increased probability that unconsolidated sludge would be entrained
in effluent. Not disturbing sludge in the pond (REMAIN versus
RESUSPEND) results in increased denitrification, whereby volatilized
nitrogen is released to the atmosphere. Thus, from the standpoint of
harvest effluent quality, it is better not to resuspend sludge deposits. If
sludge can be safely disposed of on high land, the sludge removal technique can significantly reduce the impact of discharged pond water on
the receiving stream. Of the three sludge management regimes, sludge
removal appears to offer the most advantages because of improved

Sludge management and intensive culture of shrimp

27

water quality for shrimp production and reduced nutrient discharge to


the environment.
CONCLUSIONS
1. If left undisturbed, denitrification processes in the sludge release to
the atmosphere much of the total nitrogen added as feed.
2. Resuspension (re-aeration) of sludge deposits may inhibit denitrification.
3. Frequent removal of sludge depositions significantly reduces inorganic nutrient concentrations in the water column and, as a result,
significantly reduces the concentration of phytoplankton.
4. Disposal of sludge on high ground reduces the impact of drain
harvest effluent on the receiving stream and, in certain situations, may
improve high ground soil quality and terrestrial crop yield.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This is Contribution No. 314 of the South Carolina Marine Resources
Center. Continued dedication and diligence of the WMC pond management team, May Baird, Joe Hoats and Peter Hamilton, is gratefully
acknowledged. Special thanks are extended to Richard D. Hamilton II
and his assistant Patrick Philips, for the many hours spent on nutrient
analysis. Fred Holland provided needed assistance with statistical
analysis. Claude Boyd is thanked for his thoughtful review and
comments about the relationship between loss on ignition and organic
matter content of soils. This work was supported as a state-funded
project at the Waddell Mariculture Center. The US Department of
Agriculture Cooperative States Research Service, through the Southern
Regional Aquaculture Center and the US Marine Shrimp Farming
Program of the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory Consortium, are
thanked for their continued support of associated shrimp culture and
effluent projects. The creation of a framework for routine water analysis
and shrimp production through these CSRS projects made the present
study possible.
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