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Scientists propose recirculating multi-trophic aquaculture pond system (RAMPS) to harness peatlands

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By Milthon Lujan

Graphic summary of the research. Source: O'Neill, (2024); Case Studies in Chemical and Environmental Engineering, 9, 100748.
Graphic summary of the research. Source: O’Neill, (2024); Case Studies in Chemical and Environmental Engineering, 9, 100748.

The world faces a huge challenge: ensuring that everyone has access to safe and nutritious food. Climate change, conflict, and economic factors threaten global food security. This is especially worrying for the most vulnerable populations.

Aquaculture is the fastest growing food production sector globally and provides a reliable, protein-rich food source. However, traditional aquaculture practices can have environmental drawbacks.

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A team of researchers from University Road (Ireland), University College Cork (Ireland), the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice (Czech Republic), and AquaBioTech Group (Malta) reviewed the performance of the IMTA system over the last three years to determine the strengths and weaknesses and generate a vision for the future of a recirculating aquaculture multitrophic pond system (RAMPS) model.

Peatlands for fish farming? Introducing RAMPS

Peatlands are wetlands with layers of decomposing plant matter. Many peatlands, traditionally used for fuel and other purposes, are now degraded and under protection.

Irish researchers developed a novel aquaculture system called RAMPS. It combines elements of two existing systems:

  • Recirculating aquaculture system (RAS): treatment and reuse of water in a controlled environment.

This closed loop system offers several advantages:

  • Reduced environmental impact: Unlike traditional open-air aquaculture, this system minimizes water waste and prevents pollution.
  • Circular economy: Fish waste is used to grow duckweed and microalgae biomass, creating a valuable secondary food source.
  • Bioactive potential: The peat bog environment is home to more than 2,000 species of indigenous microalgae, some with potentially beneficial health properties. These can be further processed using a biorefinery approach to extract valuable bioactives for various applications.
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What is the RAMPS system?

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The RAMPS system is built on a degraded peat bog and uses a semi-closed loop:

  • Fish are raised in ponds.
  • Duckweed and algae naturally filter water, removing contaminants.
  • Rainwater fills the system, with minimal need for additional water.
  • The treated water is then returned to the fish ponds.

The benefits of the peatland RAMPS system include:

  • Reduced environmental impact: Peatlands naturally absorb and store carbon. This RAMPS system minimizes water use and avoids contamination from excess nutrients.
  • Organic Principles: The Irish Trial adheres to organic principles and protects the surrounding peatland ecosystem.
  • Waste Management: The plants and microorganisms in the system help filter and purify the water used by fish, reducing waste and promoting a healthy environment for fish.

Looking to the future: Research and development

According to the study, future research will focus on:

  • Optimization of biomass production: Improve efficiency in the cultivation of duckweed and microalgae biomass to maximize resource utilization.
  • Identification of value streams: Exploration of new business opportunities derived from biomass and bioactives from peatlands.
  • Digital Integration: Develop a multi-stakeholder HUB framework with integrated digital technologies to facilitate precision management and knowledge sharing.

A vision for sustainable aquaculture

The success of this project could lead to a new sustainable aquaculture model: the Recirculating Multitrophic Aquaculture Pond (RAMP). RAMPS could offer a more environmentally friendly way of farming fish while potentially creating new economic opportunities in peatland regions.

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Ireland’s IMTA peatland system is a promising example of innovative solutions to food security. This research could contribute to a more secure and resilient global food system by harnessing underutilized land and promoting sustainable practices.

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The study was funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Contact
Emer A. O’Neill
Empower EcoTM Sustainability Hub, Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest, East Campus, University Road
Athlone, Co, Westmeath, Ireland.
Email: emer.oneill@tus.ie

Reference (open access)
O’Neill, E. A., Stejskal, V., Paolacci, S., Jansen, M. A., & Rowan, N. J. (2024). Quo vadis – Development of a novel peatland-based recirculating aquaculture multi-trophic pond system (RAMPS) in the Irish midlands with a global orientation. Case Studies in Chemical and Environmental Engineering, 9, 100748. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cscee.2024.100748