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Aquaponics Course on St. Croix Campus Draws Record Numbers

Participants in the week-long 12th Annual International Aquaponics and Tilapia Aquaculture Course taught at the University of the Virgin Islands have begun taking classes on St. Croix. According to Dr. James Rakocy, Director of UVI's Agricultural Experiment Station (AES), 92 participants from 21 states, 18 countries and three U.S. territories signed up for the one-week program.

"The turnout was so large that we were forced to turn away many students because enrollment exceeded our capacity," Dr. Rakocy said of this year's enrollment figures, which are the highest ever.

Dr. Rakocy has been conducting aquaponics research on UVI's St. Croix campus for 30 years and is considered the world's leading expert on aquaponics. Aquaponics is the combined culture of food fish and vegetables in recirculating systems. What makes aquaponics so attractive is that the fish effluent provides nutrients for rapid plant growth. The plants in turn purify the water, which is returned to the fish culture tanks in a continuous cycle.

Students from as far away as Singapore, the Northern Mariana Islands, Peru, Argentina, England Botswana and Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean off Madagascar are registered to take the course, which began June 13 and concludes on June 19. Several local participants have also registered.

The Aquaponics Course has been taught annually by Dr. Rakocy and his colleagues (Donald Bailey, Charlie Shultz and Jason Danaher) since 1999. This year marks a milestone as more that 500 students have been trained from more than 50 countries and 45 U.S. states and territories.

"UVI is the leading institution worldwide for aquaponics research." Dr. Rakocy said. "We were ahead of our time and we have been at it a long time, which has resulted in the development of a commercial aquaponic system that has become the industry standard. Everyone refers to it as the UVI aquaponic system."

While the University's aquaponics system raises tilapia, people in other regions or countries raise different species such as ornamental koi carp, sturgeon, Asian sea bass, rainbow trout and Australian perch, among others. This year the Aquaponics Course will benefit from the participation of a lecturer from Wisconsin, who will phone in to discuss the utilization of greenhouse technology in temperate climates. "That's a new topic," Dr. Rakocy said. "We show his PowerPoint slides while he is connected through his phone to the Great Hall speaker system. Sensitive microphones in the hall allow students to ask questions.

The growth of aquaponics as a viable means of feeding global communities is a legacy that Dr. Rakocy is proud of. Commercial aquaponics has been slow to develop, but there is an explosion of interest in backyard and hobby systems, he says. It is estimated that there are 1,500 hobby and backyard aquaponic systems in the U.S. and that 1,000 secondary schools are teaching aquaponics as part of their agriculture or science curricula. Commercial development is sure to follow.

With his retirement from UVI looming in November, Dr. Rakocy said he hopes to be available to assist with future courses if the need arises. From a perspective of 30 years of experience and a forward view of the alarming trends in population growth, the depletion of fisheries resources, and increasing water and fertilizer shortages, Dr. Rakocy says UVI is well positioned to continue its vital research to meet the need for fresh and wholesome food while conserving and reusing water and recycling nutrients.

For information about the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Aquaponics Course please contact Dr. James Rakocy at 692-4031 or by e-mail at jrakocy@uvi.edu.