The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is collaborating with 15 partner organisations across the Atlantic Ocean to ensure the aquaculture industry is sensitively and sustainably developed to benefit the community. One of the initiatives that forms part of the integrated multitrophic aquaculture is the Viking Aquaculture Buffeljags Abalone Farm on the southern coast of the Western Cape.
The aquaculture industry in South Africa is experiencing phenomenal growth with around 230 farms countrywide cultivating a range of fish and shellfish species. Recently, the industry has grown substantially with the production levels increasing by almost 75% since 2013 to around 6 000 tons.
“The aquaculture industry is emerging in South Africa and has the potential to play a key economic role and create jobs. Therefore, it is very important for the industry to be developed in an ecologically safe and sustainable way through science, research and innovation,” says Dr Marie Smith, CSIR senior researcher for biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The aquaculture brings huge economic benefits to the industry, in 2018 the total sales value came to approximately R1 billion. The revenue excludes additional value generated through leisure, tourism and by activities such as trout fishing. Over 86% of the value of the industry is represented by marine aquaculture such as abalone farming. The European Union, through the Horison Research and Innovation programme, has since 2014 made available nearly €80 billion in funding. The funding focuses on excellent science, industrial leadership and tackling social challenges.
The Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance Flagship is one of the initiatives that benefited from the funding. It aims to better understand and sustainably manage the Atlantic Ocean as a whole, with initiatives specifically focusing on aquaculture production. The four-year All Atlantic Ocean Sustainable, Profitable and Resilient and Aquaculture (ASTRAL) project was initiated in September 2020 to support the development of the industry in a sustainable way, ensuring a strong climate-ocean-food value chain.
Integrated information system
The ASTRAL focuses on integrated multitrophic aquaculture (IMTA), a farming approach that cultivates animals and or plants at different levels of the food web. This type of system has the potential to reduce eutrophication and accelerate product growth. The ASTRAL places a strong emphasis on research and the creation of new production methods and value chains in aquaculture. The ASTRAL project seeks to provide integrated information systems to support decision-making, together with recommendations on optimal monitoring strategies to minimise risk and maximise mitigation opportunities.
The ASTRAL project aims to do this by developing and using a wide range of tools and systems to:
- facilitate the optimisation of new approaches
- new sensors for environmental monitoring and hazard identification
- new techniques for species combination, as well as
- comprehensive investigation on regional climatic and environmental risks.
Sensors to identify and quantify pathogens, microplastics and phytoplankton particles are integrated into farm-wide Internet of Things networks. Together with other valuable physico-chemical environmental monitoring information (water pH, temperature, and salinity) – all accessible via data analytics platforms enable real-time data visualisation, as well as record-keeping.
The role of the CSIR’s Coastal Systems and Earth Observation Research Group in this project is to provide satellite-based monitoring capacity and climate-related research. It also provides support for targeted technology development and planning of sensor-validation activities.
The ASTRAL project also focuses on four farms termed “IMTA labs” where research and innovation activities are conducted to support the success of the aquaculture venture. The IMTA labs are a collaboration of commercial farms and research organisations in South Africa, Brazil, Ireland and the United Kingdom. They feature a variety of closed system, land-based flow-through, and open ocean systems where new techniques and technologies can be tested.
The South African-based IMTA lab is led by specialist marine animal and plant biologists from the University of Cape Town and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, with a marine research lab at DFFE in Seapoint and practical implementation onsite at Viking Aquaculture Buffeljags Abalone Farm.