Maritime Applied Physics and the EcoLogix Group have teamed up to design a solar-powered barge for oyster farming in deeper parts of the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland. The companies aim to improve the oyster output and ease conflicts between watermen and waterfront landowners.
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Solar barge for oyster farming: an easy solution?
Two Maryland companies, Maritime Applied Physics, and EcoLogix Group, announced Monday they teamed up to design a solar rig to power barges. The rig would hold oysters in vertical columns up to 20 feet deep.
In a joint venture called Solar Oysters; the companies are designing prototypes and expect to demonstrate a farm model in the coming year to attract investment.
In this regard, the initial models have been small. However, and according to experts consulted by the Washington Post, the concept calls for much larger barges, with a significant potential effect on the aquaculture industry.
According to the companies, the solar barges would automate many steps of the farming operation. Oysters typically grow in cages or reefs resting on the bottom of shallow water or in cages floating at the surface. This technology would allow growers to take advantage of deeper waters better.
Mark Rice, president of Baltimore-based Maritime Applied Physics and principal of Solar Oysters, told the WP, “there was not much automation in raising oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. There’s a lot of backbreaking work that is often done in water and during the winter months. And we hoped that we could make that work easier.”
With solar energy, the barge also could conduct water quality monitoring and run the security system, among other tasks. The expected cost of the project is about $800,000.
More importantly, the project may help reduce conflict among farmers, waterfront property owners, and watermen, said Tom Miller, director of the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
Waterfront landowners often express concerns that farms near the shoreline disrupt their scenic views. And watermen often discuss with farmers, who they feel are taking over parts of the shallow to create their farms.
“What this solar-powered technology offers is the potential to move aquaculture into deeper water, which will reduce — if not eliminate — the conflicts between all three groups,” said Miller. “It’ll move aquaculture into water that’s deeper where natural oysters don’t occur.”
One thing that remains to be seen, though, is how the oysters will react. The companies have only built smaller prototypes, although a larger model, which will be 90 feet by 53 feet, is on the way.
Another critical question is whether the solar-powered water jets – meant to clean off the cages when they rise to the surface – will be strong enough to remove attached marine organisms.