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Aquaponic system pays dividends for Rosemary students

US - A partnership between Rosemary Academic School, the Crop Diversification Centre South (CDC), the University of Alberta and EnCana is paying dividends for Biology students.

This partnership has enabled Rosemary instructor Jon Nielson to set up an aquaponics system in his classroom for use by the students.

With aquaponics, aquatic animal effluent (fish waste) accumulates in water as a by-product of keeping them in a closed system or tank (recirculating aquaculture system). The effluent rich water becomes high in plant nutrients but is toxic to the aquatic animal.

Plants are grown in a way (hydroponic system) that utilizes the nutrient rich water. The plants in turn assimilate the nutrients, reducing or eliminating the waters’ toxicity for the aquatic animal. The water, now clean, is returned to the aquatic animal environment and the cycle continues. Aquaponic systems do not discharge or exchange water. The systems rely on the natural relationship between the aquatic animals and the plants to maintain the environment.

When Nielson first started, he knew nothing about the system at all. He has been helped by the CDC but much of his information has been learned as he has gone along.

The system at Rosemary Academic School was purchased by the University of Alberta for the CDC South for research purposes.

“The partnership that I have had with them has been incredible,” said Nielsen.

He first contacted the CDC last fall which set the ball rolling. In March, Nielsen talked with Rosemary resident Mike Harding who works at the Centre. An appointment was made to talk with Nick Savidov, leader, greenhouse crops at the CDC South.

Hardy fish
The Crop Diversification Centre has nine aquaponic systems and they agreed to let Rosemary School have one, said Nielson.  The CDC has provided everything, including seven Tilapia fish and plants, for the system. Tilapia fish are used because they are hardy fish and can stand a fair amount of change.

Biology 20 students in last year’s class were the first to reap the benefits of the system. The system was set up in March where students grew and harvested 40 long English cucumbers from plants on the aquaponic system. From March to the first week of June, there was huge growth in the cucumbers

At the end of the school year, Nielsen brought his barbecue to school and treated his class to a cucumber and fish barbecue.

The next Biology 20 class will not occur until the following semester but Nielson is using aquaponics to help teach genetics to his current Biology 30 class.

The current system has worked really well but Nielsen found the system to be too large for a small classroom setting. He has been trying to get other schools interested in aquaponics but their concern has also been the space required. On top of this, students could not see the fish.