The objective of this project is to develop, in different climate and production contexts, an ecosystem-based approach for marine fish production and crop cultivation, in a circular economy perspective. The project will develop and test a Self-sufficient Integrated Multi-Trophic AquaPonic (SIMTAP) system combining saltwater hydroponic production in greenhouses and in-land aquaculture. SIMTAP will make use of different cultivation units for primary producers (plants, algae), fish (e.g. sea bream, sea bass, flat fish, mullets, etc.), and deposit/filter feeders (e.g. bloodworms and mussels), which are all interconnected, in a closed re-circulating system. In this system, the wastes from one level of the multi-trophic cultivation system are recycled and become the inputs (e.g. fertilizer, feed) for another. Enhancing the integration, SIMTAP enables the reduction of the environmental impact of the food production-chain. Moreover, SIMTAP can re-use brackish water from open-loop crop soilless systems, in a cascade effect acting as a bioremediation/wastewater treatment of effluents from greenhouse cultivations, or other brackish wastewater, and as a recycling of nutrients, closing the SIMTAP cycle. SIMTAP systems will be developed and tested in different Mediterranean contexts, considering different technological levels and potential integration with the existing greenhouses hydroponic productions and aquaculture systems, thus allowing to create employment, contribute to a balanced territorial development and reduce the environmental impact of fish feed production and hydroponics. Moreover, the project aims to experimentally test the effectiveness and performance of SIMTAP systems in terms of food production and quality, energy, water and other resource supply and consumption. LCA, LCC, SLCA energy and emergy assessment of SIMTAP will be also performed, and user’s manuals, guidelines and supports to policies will be provided.
Link to PRIMA Observatory on Innovation (POI):
Context of the project
Aquatic products play an increasing role in human nutrition and the supply is more and more sustained by aquaculture production which is particularly widespread in Spain, France, Italy, Malta and Turkey. Aquaculture has a significant environmental impact since it strongly depends on fisheries; it is in fact the main consumer of fishmeal and fish oil. Therefore, aquaculture needs alternative feeds, for instance insects, zooplankton, polychaete worms and other and deposit/filter feeders (sources of proteins and polyunsaturated fatty acids).
Integrated Multitrophic Aquaculture (IMTA) is one of the most promising pathways in the evolution of sustainable aquaculture systems (Troell et al. 2003). IMTA integrates complementary species of the trophic chain living in different compartments of the ecosystem. Inorganic and organic wastes from fed aquaculture species (e.g. finfish) are respectively assimilated by autotrophic species (e.g. phytoplankton, micro/macroalgae and higher plants) and heterotrophic species (e.g. oysters, mussels, crustacean, echinoderms and polychaetes) that are co-cultured with the fed aquaculture species (Fig. 1.1). Thus, the generic concept of IMTA covers a large set of practices based on the complementarity of productive compartments and is applied for many groups of species inhabiting different ecological niches (https://www6.inra.fr/imta-effect/What-is-IMTA). Currently, the most of IMTA applications concerns marine fish farming.
Fig. 1.1. Diagrammatic representation of IMTA in marine environment (source: Jena et al., 2017).
One of the simplest application of the IMTA concept is aquaponics. In an aquaponic system, the effluents from aquaculture is used to grow higher plants in a hydroponic system where the by-products nitrogen compounds are transformed by bacteria initially into nitrites and then nitrates that are utilized by the plants as nutrients (FAO, 2014; Waller et al., 2015). The water is then recirculated back to the aquaculture system. A more complex example of IMTA is the combination of polychaete-assisted sand filters and halophyte aquaponics for super-intensive marine fish farm (Marques et al., 2018).
Basically, IMTA systems have been designed in order to: i) optimize the use of nutrients and energy in the production loop, in order to decrease the dependence on external inputs, and increase the system efficiency; ii) decrease the waste effluent and bio-deposit impacts by limiting the loss of nutrients (in water, sediments and air); iii) diversify farm-products and generate a more robust source of income (less dependent on mono-product markets); iv) generate and use different types and levels of ecosystem services.
The Integrated Smart Monitoring and Control System - ISMaCS
The Integrated Smart Monitoring and Control System (ISMaCS) is designed to allow the acquisition, storage and management of large datasets of physical and environmental features in an integrated agriculture and aquaculture context, for the monitoring and analysis of key parameters of the entire production process, allowing assistance in production control, evaluation of system efficiency, and environmental assessment. The ISMaCS is conceived to operate in the SIMTAP project pilot facilities (in Italy, Malta, France and Turkey), where aquaculture and plant growing are integrated, both in indoor and outdoor environments, to collect data and make them remotely available in real time, allowing the diagnosis of the operating conditions of the monitored facilities. Due to the specificity of the multitrophic systems under study, the most effective, efficient and cost-effective solution, specifically designed and built for the SIMTAP project, has been developed. The system is able to operate in different environments, thus covering a wide range of conditions that allow the system to be flexible for future application in productive contexts, also based on the physical quantities to be measured, the accuracy and sensitivity needed, and energy and internet connections available.
The monitored features are divided in four categories, related to the main environments: outdoor, indoor, aquaculture, and systems operativity. The acquisition devices can operate out of grid supplied by batteries and assisted, where possible, by the use of an energy harvest from photovoltaic solar panels. Finally, to create a system able to address all the proposed challenges, the system is flexible and easy to install, modify and manage. The ISMaCS is composed by a central unit (gateway), connected to the internet and to the power grid. The central unit communicates wirelessly with nodes that manage the sensors (probes) acquiring one or more physical quantities of interest. The nodes can be connected to the grid or operating with a battery. The central unit collects data and sends them to the server via the internet. The “server” stores the data and makes them accessible via a web interface, allowing the authorized users to consult charts, control dashboards and download data. In this configuration, the ISMaCS can handle all the data locally; for the data transmission the gateway send data to a remote server and then to a cloud using the internet, in order to make them available to the partners involved in the SIMTAP project remotely and in real time. The fine-tuning and integration of the ISMaCSs in the experimental sites is defined based on the peculiar features and the time schedule of the activities of each pilot.