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HomeNewsArchivesAquaponics Course Draws Students from Around the World

Aquaponics Course Draws Students from Around the World

June 18, 2009 — Like many thousands of visitors to the islands each year, the 56 people visiting St. Croix this week were drawn by the fish.
But not the colorful tropical fish that abound in the coral reefs of the warm Caribbean waters. These people are here to see the tilapia growing in the tanks of the Agriculture Experiment Station's aquaponics project at the University of the Virgin Islands' St. Croix campus.
Aquaponics is a mating of two food-production systems – aquaculture, the growing of fish in a controlled environment, and hydroponics, growing plants in a liquid without the use of dirt. Since 1979, UVI researchers have been designing, testing and operating a system that combines the two.
In the system, the tilapia, a popular food fish, are raised in tanks. If their waste products built up in the tanks it would poison them, but to plants it's fertilizer. So the water and effluent are pumped off into hydroponic beds where the plants – mostly lettuce and basil, and sometimes other plants including okra, cantaloupe, peppers and tomatoes draw them off, making the water clean for the fish again.
According to James Rakocy, director of the aquaponics program and research director of the Agriculture Experiment Station, the world turns its attention to the island each summer for the International Aquaponics and Tilapia Aquaculture Course, a weeklong course that mixes classroom learning with hands-on experience with the UVI system, which produces food in commercial quantities.
Over the years the course has drawn 362 students from 44 countries, 37 of the United States and four U.S. territories. This year's class, which began work on Monday, includes students from Australia, Denmark, Bulgaria, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Honduras.
"They're true believers in the potential of aquaponics," Rakocy said.
That potential is no small thing, he added. In the next half century the world faces growing challenges in continuing to feed a burgeoning population. Even if conventional agriculture continues as it has, the World Health Organization estimates that by 2050 the world will need to develop additional arable land of an area the size of Brazil. But that's unlikely to happen, Rakocy said, because the world is also running out of the nutrients that make up fertilizer.
The cost of nitrogen-based fertilizers are skyrocketing, because they are made using natural gas. Potassium and phosphorous fertilizers are also in short supply. On top of that, the world's fisheries are being depleted by overfishing.
In an aquaponic system, the fish and vegetable production are balanced, feeding each other, recycling the nutrients to produce food.
Whether setting up commercial or backyard hobby systems, the five dozen people attending this weeks course will take their new knowledge home to the corners of the world and keep spreading the word.
The course ends Friday with a small "graduation" ceremony, followed by an all-day trip to Buck Island, where among other things, the students will enjoy the fish – this time, the colorful, tropical kind.

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June 18, 2009 -- Like many thousands of visitors to the islands each year, the 56 people visiting St. Croix this week were drawn by the fish.
But not the colorful tropical fish that abound in the coral reefs of the warm Caribbean waters. These people are here to see the tilapia growing in the tanks of the Agriculture Experiment Station's aquaponics project at the University of the Virgin Islands' St. Croix campus.
Aquaponics is a mating of two food-production systems – aquaculture, the growing of fish in a controlled environment, and hydroponics, growing plants in a liquid without the use of dirt. Since 1979, UVI researchers have been designing, testing and operating a system that combines the two.
In the system, the tilapia, a popular food fish, are raised in tanks. If their waste products built up in the tanks it would poison them, but to plants it's fertilizer. So the water and effluent are pumped off into hydroponic beds where the plants – mostly lettuce and basil, and sometimes other plants including okra, cantaloupe, peppers and tomatoes draw them off, making the water clean for the fish again.
According to James Rakocy, director of the aquaponics program and research director of the Agriculture Experiment Station, the world turns its attention to the island each summer for the International Aquaponics and Tilapia Aquaculture Course, a weeklong course that mixes classroom learning with hands-on experience with the UVI system, which produces food in commercial quantities.
Over the years the course has drawn 362 students from 44 countries, 37 of the United States and four U.S. territories. This year's class, which began work on Monday, includes students from Australia, Denmark, Bulgaria, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Honduras.
"They're true believers in the potential of aquaponics," Rakocy said.
That potential is no small thing, he added. In the next half century the world faces growing challenges in continuing to feed a burgeoning population. Even if conventional agriculture continues as it has, the World Health Organization estimates that by 2050 the world will need to develop additional arable land of an area the size of Brazil. But that's unlikely to happen, Rakocy said, because the world is also running out of the nutrients that make up fertilizer.
The cost of nitrogen-based fertilizers are skyrocketing, because they are made using natural gas. Potassium and phosphorous fertilizers are also in short supply. On top of that, the world's fisheries are being depleted by overfishing.
In an aquaponic system, the fish and vegetable production are balanced, feeding each other, recycling the nutrients to produce food.
Whether setting up commercial or backyard hobby systems, the five dozen people attending this weeks course will take their new knowledge home to the corners of the world and keep spreading the word.
The course ends Friday with a small "graduation" ceremony, followed by an all-day trip to Buck Island, where among other things, the students will enjoy the fish – this time, the colorful, tropical kind.