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How to implement a marine observatory for aquaculture?

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By Milthon Lujan

Marine observatory for aquaculture
Marine observatory for aquaculture.

Dreaming of prosperous aquaculture farms, resilient to the whims of the unpredictable ocean sway? Envision a system that alerts you to crucial currents, temperatures, and weather warnings vital for the health of your precious harvests. Well, that’s precisely the promise of marine observatories specialized in aquaculture!

For millennia, the ocean has captivated us with its enchanting beauty and infinite generosity. But beneath the surface lies a complex and intricate network of environmental factors, a symphony of currents, temperatures, and life forms vital to the health of the ocean and the economic activities that depend on it, such as aquaculture.

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On the other hand, understanding the ocean’s response to constantly changing environmental factors is crucial to safeguarding marine ecosystems and the industries that rely on them. This is where ocean observation emerges as a ray of hope, a scientific lens through which we can decipher the whispers of the ocean and anticipate its reactions.

An article published by scientists from the Marine Institute, Institute of Marine Sciences of Andalusia – Spanish National Research Council (ICMAN-CSIC), Xylem-Aanderaa Data Instruments A/S, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers France Section, and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO/IOC) opens a window to a pioneering project, framed within the EuroSea program (grant agreement H2020 No. 862626), which has designed and implemented marine observatories on two aquaculture farms: Deenish Island in Ireland and El Campello in Spain.

In their publication, the researchers describe the steps followed in designing and implementing a marine observatory that provides the current status and forecast of oceanic conditions relevant to the aquaculture sector.

Ocean Observation: A Fragmented Task

Dispersed data points, collected through various methods, lacked the necessary cohesion to paint a holistic picture.

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Large-scale marine observatories bring together a multidisciplinary group of sensors, satellite imagery, and numerical models. These powerful tools act as translators, deciphering the complex language of the ocean by integrating data from the entire spectrum.

Examples like the Civitavecchia Coastal Environment Monitoring System (C-CEMS) in Italy and the ODYSSEA network (Operating Network of Integrated Observatory Systems in the Mediterranean Sea) in the Mediterranean Sea showcase the immense potential of these multi-platform observatories.

But what if we could adapt this observational power to the specific needs of a critical industry like aquaculture?

Observatories for Marine Aquaculture

This is precisely the inspiration behind a new and innovative marine observatory created in collaboration with the aquaculture industry itself. Implemented at pilot sites on Deenish Island, Ireland, and El Campello, Spain, this observatory embodies the spirit of collaboration, intertwining real-time in-situ observations with sophisticated models and satellite data.

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These ocean observatories integrate data from three key sources:

  1. Essential on-site ocean measurements: temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, currents – a real-time check on the environmental health.
  2. Remote sensing observations: satellite images provide a panoramic view of surface conditions, such as algae blooms or wave patterns.
  3. Modeled forecasts: accurate predictions of future oceanic conditions, anticipating drastic changes in weather or hydrography.

The study describes the procedures for developing the marine observatory for aquaculture:

  1. It outlines the study areas and the materials and equipment deployed at each pilot site.
  2. Procedures followed for developing the observatory, including steps for implementation, required data, tools, models, and software used, international standards, quality control, challenges or implementation issues, visualization tools, and user feedback mechanisms available.
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The Importance of Collaboration

But what truly sets this project apart is its focus on stakeholders’ needs. Recognizing the diverse challenges faced by aquaculture farms, the observatory goes beyond mere data collection.

Before deploying any sensors, the project delved into the concerns of the aquaculture industry. What keeps them up at night? What information would enable them to make decisions with greater confidence? By listening attentively, scientists tailored the observatory to their specific needs.

How Does the Observatory Work?

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Based on the needs of aquaculturists, researchers created an open-access website (https://eurosea.marine.ie/), an intuitive control panel where aquaculturists access live data, detailed forecasts, and personalized alerts. Threatening waves? An early notification is received to reinforce facilities. Rising temperature? A warning alerts to potential fish stress, allowing adjustments in feeding or management.

In this way, the marine observatory provides personalized weather warnings, alerting aquaculturists to potential threats such as extreme temperature events known to stress fish and high waves that could endanger aquaculture infrastructure.

Following the recommendations of the Ocean Best Practices System, the project ensures transparent and accessible data, providing all stakeholders with the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions, including:

  1. Parameters affecting fish health: e.g., sea water temperatures inducing stress and harming fish growth and survival; monitoring potential harmful algae blooms.
  2. Parameters affecting aquaculture operations: e.g., strong winds or high waves.

The Key to Success

The key to the success of the marine observatory lies in continuous feedback. Aquaculturists are active partners in this process, providing suggestions to improve the platform and services offered. This way, the observatory evolves at the pace of the industry itself, always serving sustainable and resilient aquaculture.

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Conclusion

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This project is a beacon of hope for the future of aquaculture. By better understanding the ocean and adapting to its changes, we can cultivate prosperous harvests in harmony with the environment. Thus, the ocean waves will no longer be a threat but a valuable source of information to guide aquaculture farms toward a bright future.

The study has been funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

Reference (open access)
Pereiro, D., Belyaev, O., Dunbar, M. B., Conway, A., Dabrowski, T., Graves, I., … & Cusack, C. An Observational and Warning System for the Aquaculture Sector. Frontiers in Marine Science, 10, 1288610.

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