by Laura Tiu | Feb 16, 2018
Scallops and shrimp over grits.
I have been involved in the aquaculture industry since the late 1980’s when I got my first job out of college on a tropical fish farm in Plant City, FL. As you can imagine, the industry has changed a lot since then. When folks find out I have worked in aquaculture, the same question seems to arise: “Is farm-raised fish safe to eat as wild caught?” I would like to say that I don’t understand where this question comes from, but over the years I have seen a bewildering number of mass media headlines touting misinformation about farm-raised fish and not enough touting the benefits. In fact, I saw a post this week on Facebook actually claiming that tilapia have no skin or bones and cannot be found in the wild, both not true. It is no wonder people are so confused. Many of the claims made are not research-based and a quick review of the scientific literature will disprove the statements, but who has time for that?
Aquaculture currently supplies over fifty percent of all seafood consumed and will expand in the future due to a limit on the amount of wild fish that can be sustainably harvested, and increasing demand by a growing population. Sustainable, responsible aquaculture is needed to fill that gap. Fish are farmed using a variety of production methods including ponds, raceways, recirculating land-based systems and in ocean net pens. Each one of these fish species and production methods comes with pros and cons, similar to the production of livestock and fruits and vegetables. Each species can be evaluated based on its environmental impact, production method and even country of origin.
The American Heart Foundation recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish rich in Omega-3s) two times per week. We currently only consume about half of that. This recommendation includes a variety of farm-raised and wild-caught fish. Both are crucial to meet current and future demand for seafood and omega-3 fatty acids. A common misconception is that farmed fish is not as healthy or nutritional valuable as wild caught fish although this claim has been largely disproven. One recent paper (Trushenski et al, 2017) compared the nutritional values of wild-caught and farmed bluegill, largemouth Bass and hybrid striped bass and concluded that the farmed fish provided more long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) per portion that wild fish, however both are excellent sources of high quality protein and nutrients.
With the Lenten season upon us, a time of a traditional increase in seafood consumption, what is an easy way to choose wild and farm-raised seafood? One website and smartphone app that I find easy to use is Seafood Watch (www.seafoodwatch.org). Seafood Watch uses an extensive evaluation system using research and a panel of experts to label seafood products as green (best choice), yellow (good alternative) and red (avoid) depending on the variety’s sustainability.
With this information and a little bit of homework, I hope you come to the same conclusion that I have. Both farm-raised fish and wild-caught fish are delicious, nutritious and great additions to your diet.
Baked tilapia, rice and vegetable medley.
by Carrie Stevenson | Jul 14, 2017
This solar-powered bicycle rental facility provides a healthy alternative to driving around a large city. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
Climate change is one of those topics that most people don’t want to think much about. It can be overwhelming, it can be controversial, and it can be downright frightening. A year ago, Yale and George Mason University completed the most recent surveys in the “Six Americas” study, which determined levels of belief and concern in global warming. The “Six Americas” range from people who are alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful, or dismissive when asked about climate change. Interestingly enough, 34% of Americans consider themselves concerned while 23% were cautious. Ranking third were 11% who are doubtful about climate change.
When you start to drill down into the individual questions asked on the survey, you see more agreement. For example, when Escambia County citizens were asked whether global warming is caused by human activities, somewhere between 45%-50% said yes. However, when asked whether they think global warming is actually happening (regardless of cause), the percentage went up to 65%-70%. When asked if they support funding research into renewable energy sources, Escambia County residents jumped up to an 80%-85% agreement. That, to me, is nothing short of a miracle, having lived in Escambia County long enough to know there’s rarely that much agreement on anything!
The takeaway message from that survey, to me, is that regardless of where people stand on climate change/global warming, there are some starting points that can be common ground. If the majority of a community believe climate change is happening and that supporting renewable energy research is a good thing, then they can work towards those outcomes to the mutual benefit of all.
An example of one small but significant step towards sustainable energy use includes bicycle share/rental facilities. On a recent trip to Salt Lake City, solar-powered bike stations were strategically placed around the downtown area. For a small fee, the bicycles could be checked out (for 30 minutes at a time) up to 24 hours. This ensures there are plenty of bicycles available for other users, and stations are close enough to one another that it’s easy to check bikes in and out if you need more time. The benefits of encouraging bicycles are numerous; reduced traffic and burning of fossil fuels, reduced need for parking in high-value real estate, and health benefits for riders. The other investment necessary to make biking more prevalent and successful are bike lanes, which were plentiful in Salt Lake City to keep riders and drivers safe. Once safe bike lanes are in place, those who live in the area with their own bikes are more likely to use them on a regular basis, further decreasing vehicular traffic.
There are many great organizations and publications around the country dedicated to increasing bicycle use and safety. For more information, check out Trail Link, Momentum Magazine, or the Burlington Bikeway.
by Andrea Albertin | Apr 29, 2017
One third of homes in Florida rely on septic systems, or onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems (OSTDS), to treat and dispose of household wastewater, which includes wastewater from bathrooms, kitchen sinks and laundry machines. When properly maintained, septic systems can last 25-30 years, and maintenance costs are relatively low.
A conventional residential septic tank and drain field under construction.
Photo: Andrea Albertin
A general rule of thumb is that with proper care, systems need to be pumped every 3-5 years at a cost of about $300 to $400. Time between pumping does vary though, depending on the size of your household, the size of your septic tank and how much wastewater you produce. If systems aren’t maintained they can fail, and repairs or replacing a tank can cost anywhere between $3000 to $10,000. It definitely pays off to maintain your septic system!
The most common type of OSTDS is a conventional septic system, which is made up of a septic tank (a watertight container buried in the ground) and a drain field, or leach field. The septic tank’s job is to separate out solids (which settle on the bottom as sludge), from oils and grease, which float to the top and form a scum layer. The liquid wastewater, which is in the middle layer of the tank, flows out through pipes into the drainfield, where it percolates down through the ground.
Although bacteria continually work on breaking down the organic matter in your septic tank, sludge and scum will build up, which is why a system needs to be cleaned out periodically. If not, solids will flow into the drainfield clogging the pipes and sewage can back up into your house. Overloading the system with water also reduces its ability to work properly by not leaving enough time for material to separate out in the tank, and by flooding the system. Sewage can flow to the surface of your lawn and/or back up into your house.
Failed septic systems not only result in soggy lawns and horrible smells, but they contaminate groundwater, private and public supply wells, creeks, rivers and many of our estuaries and coastal areas with excess nutrients, like nitrogen, and harmful pathogens, like E. coli.
It is important to note that even when traditional septic systems are maintained, they are still a source of nitrogen to groundwater; nitrate is not fully removed from the wastewater effluent.
How can you properly care for your septic system?
Here are a some basic tips to keep your system working properly so that you can reduce maintenance costs by avoiding system failure, and so that you can reduce your household’s impact on water pollution in your area.
- Don’t flush trash down the toilet. Only flush regular toilet paper. Toilet paper treated with lotion forms a layer of scum. Wet wipes are not flushable, although many brands are labelled as such. They wreak havoc on septic systems! Avoid flushing cigarette butts, paper towels and facial tissues, which can take longer to break down than toilet paper.
- Think at the sink. Avoid pouring oil and fat down the kitchen drain. Avoid excessive use of harsh cleaning products and detergents, which can affect the microbes in your septic tank (regular weekly or so cleaning is fine). Prescription drugs and antibiotics should never be flushed down the toilet.
- Limit your use of the garbage disposal. Disposals add organic matter to your septic system, which results in the need for more frequent pumping. Composting is a great way to dispose of your fruit and vegetable scraps instead.
- Take care at the surface of yourtank and drainfield. To work well, a septic system should be surrounded by non-compacted soil. Don’t drive vehicles or heavy equipment over the system. Avoid planting trees or shrubs with deep roots that could disrupt the system or plug pipes. It is a good idea to grow grass over the drainfield to stabilize soil and absorb liquid and nutrients.
- Conserve water. You can reduce the amount of water pumped into your septic tank by reducing the amount you and your family use. Water conservation practices include repairing leaky faucets, toilets and pipes, installing low cost, low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators, and only running the washing machine and dishwasher when full. In the US, most of the household water used is to flush toilets (about 27%). Placing filled water bottles in the toilet tank is an inexpensive way to reduce the amount of water used per flush.
- Have your septic system pumped by a certified professional. The general rule of thumb is every 3-5 years, but it will depend on household size, the size of your septic tank and how much wastewater you produce.
By following these guidelines, you can contribute to the health of your family, community and environment, as well as avoid costly repairs and septic system replacements.
You can find excellent information on septic systems a the US EPA website: https://www.epa.gov/septic. The Florida Department of Health website provides permiting information for Florida and a list of certified maintenance entities by county: http://www.floridahealth.gov/Environmental-Health/onsite-sewage/index.html.
The Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) identified septic systems as the major source of nitrate in Wakulla Springs, located in Wakulla County. Excess nitrate is thought to promote algal growth, leading to the degradation of the biological community in the spring.
Photo: Andrea Albertin
by Ray Bodrey | Apr 26, 2017
Floods are a common concern in many areas of the U.S. Gulf coastal residents should be particularly aware. Floods may come in the form of flash floods, which come with little warning. Other flood conditions come on slower, as with large thunder storm fronts and tropical storms. With hurricane season not far away, it’s a good time to think about your property and the floodplains in your area.
Figure: Flood Information Portal.
Photo: Courtesy of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.
Floodplains are broadly defined as land susceptible to flooding by any source. Areas designated as flood hazard areas are known also as “base flood” or “100-year-flood” zones. However, this can be confusing to some. A 100-year-floodplain does not mean that once your property floods, you’ll most likely not see it flood again for 100 years. The calculation actually means that there is a 1% chance that flooding will occur in any year. Floodplains are calculated by statistical estimates based on historical storm data.
Most mortgage lending agencies and banks, as well as real estate and insurance companies are well informed sources regarding floodplain information. Floodplain maps are updated periodically and are available for the public online and in print. FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program has recently revised the digital flood insurance rate maps for many counties in Florida.
The Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD) offers a great tool for us in the Panhandle. The NWFWMD has created a map website, known as the “Flood Information Portal”. This site is dedicated in showing the extent of areas of flood risks. The site is also helpful in determining flood insurance rates and building requirements. The site is very user friendly with a search function, where one can search for floodplain information for a specific address. A detailed report can also be generated showing both the effective and preliminary flood map for the particular address selected. The map website can be found at http://portal.nwfwmdfloodmaps.com. For more information please contact your local county extension office and county, or city, planning department.
Before a flood strikes, find out if buying flood insurance is right for you. If you are in an areas prone to flooding already, consider modifying your home to combat any future flooding issue. If you believe your property is at risk, please be prepared. Keep in mind that flooding in an area can lead to street closures, power outages and temporary reduction in public services.
Supporting information for this article can be found in, “The Disaster Handbook” at the UF/IFAS web address: http://disaster.ifas.ufl.edu/
UF/IFAS Extension is An Equal Opportunity Institution.
by Laura Tiu | Mar 11, 2017
There has been an increasing demand by clientele for information and training on small-scale food production methods to meet the growing demand for locally produced food and for personal consumption. One of the University of Florida Extension’s high-priority initiatives is “increasing the sustainability, profitability, and competitiveness of agricultural and horticultural enterprises.” One food production method currently being investigated is aquaponics.
Koi are a popular fish species used in aquaponic systems.
Photo: Laura Tiu
Aquaponics is a technique for sustainable food production that utilizes the combination of aquaculture with hydroponics to grow fish and vegetables without soil. The process begins with fish producing waste, which is then pumped through a bio-filter to convert into fertilizer for the plants. Plants use nutrients from that water, and the freshly oxygenated water is returned to the fish tank. By recirculating the water from the fish tank to the grow bed, the need for water is greatly reduced compared to traditional irrigation. Additionally, producing crops aquaponically can reduce leaching, runoff, and water discharges to the environment by reusing nutrient effluent from aquaculture and hydroponic systems.
For new growers, being able to have access to training and to see a demonstration unit can eliminate many of the pitfalls typically encountered. A small aquaponics system, using local-sourced materials, is being constructed at the Walton County Extension office in DeFuniak Springs, FL. This system will demonstrate the technology and capability of small-scale aquaponics. The system is expected to be operational in April 2017. Working together, the Sea Grant, Horticulture, and Agriculture agents will be able to share construction and operation information with interested clients. Data will be collected from the system in order to give clientele real-world expectations of the operating costs and production potential from the system. Information will be shared in face-to-face interactions, at workshops, via webinar and in published articles. The goal is to see an increase in the number of aquaponics operations in the Panhandle of Florida contributing to an increase in availability of locally and sustainably produced food.
If you would like to see the system or learn more about aquaponics by subscribing to our Aquaponics list serve, please email Laura Tiu, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greens tend to do very well in aquaponic systems.
Photo: Laura Tiu
A panhandle favorite, tomatoes can be grown using aquaponics.
Photo: Laura Tiu
by Carrie Stevenson | Dec 5, 2016
I don’t know about you, but my kids have a lot of “stuff.” Legos on my son’s floor, stuffed animals surrounding my daughter’s room—it’s a lot to keep up with. Granted, they have never thrown away a Lego brick or stuffed animal, so they’re not contributing to the landfill (only my lack of sanity), and they have used these gifts for many years. When they outgrow them, we will donate their toys to another family or thrift shop. However, as a group, we Americans generate 25% more waste during the holidays (between Thanksgiving and New Year’s), the equivalent of about 1 million extra tons of garbage.
Music lessons are a gift that keeps on giving–and can result in a skill lasting a lifetime. Photo credit: Eric Stevenson
As I, and my children, have gotten older, it’s been more important to me to give the gift of experiences, or at least something that they can use for a long time. Tickets to a concert or sports event, music lessons, or a trip to someplace new will result in lifelong memories and skills without the packaging waste or clutter in the house.
Passing on an antique piece of jewelry or their grandfather’s tool set can be inexpensive for you but priceless for the recipient. Last year my kids’ great-aunt gifted them with honeybees for a family from Heifer International, and it was an amazing opportunity to discuss selfless giving and the needs of others. Many folks would love to receive a donation in their name to their favorite charity as a gift.
When it comes down to it, though, giving tangible gifts is often expected, wanted, or even needed. So how can we do this without contributing to 2017’s landfill? First, look at packaging. Many companies are trying to consciously reduce the amount of plastic, paper, and space used to ship and package their items. If you do get lots of extra packaging, be sure to recycle it. I’m a huge believer in reusable gift bags—I’ve been passing some back and forth to family members for years—and some gifts can be given in a useful container, such as a wooden bowl, a platter, or reusable cloth bags. Other gift ideas include clothing (I got a shirt last year made from recycled water bottles) and toys made from recycled materials. Plants, whether houseplants or a tree for the yard, make for long-lasting, beautiful gifts, and consumables like homemade food are meaningful and inexpensive.
Consider giving plants as gifts–they are long-lasting and have many societal and environmental benefits. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson
Finally, consider the companies producing the gifts you give. Forbes’ list of the 50 Most Sustainable Companies highlights corporations that are making a concerted effort to reduce energy and water use. This can make a big difference when you consider the worldwide reach and influence of companies like Adidas (#5) or Coca-Cola (#13).
We at UF IFAS Extension wish you all a wonderful, memorable, and safe holiday season. This time of year can be overwhelming, though, so if you need help managing stress, check out this publication from our Family, Youth, and Consumer Sciences department!