About the ShellEye project
ShellEye will develop tools to help shellfish farmers monitor and forecast water quality, to identify and prepare for events that could have a negative impact on shellfish. This will enable the proactive management of shellfish crops and help meet EU and UK water quality regulatory requirements.
Through funding from Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), this project will advance existing methods for using satellites for studying water quality in offshore and coastal farms. It will also extend and develop tools that shellfish farmers can use to predict short-term variations in water quality, based on their local weather conditions and forecasts. A user-friendly method to provide this information in a timely manner through regular 'news bulletins' to farmers, such as text messages and emails, will also be tested. Importantly, all of this work will be carried out in conjunction with shellfish farmers, allowing them to provide feedback on the project and ensure that the results are highly relevant to their needs.
The farming or cultivation of seafood (e.g. shellfish), termed 'aquaculture', is an important worldwide source of protein. As global populations continue to rise, the need for aquaculture as a key source of food will only increase to help provide food security for future generations. Approaches to help ensure efficient and sustainable aquaculture farming (e.g. reducing farm costs and energy use, and ensuring supply) will clearly help the industry to expand to feed future populations.
Pollution events that reduce the quality of the water within an aquaculture farm, both as a result of human activity or naturally occurring, can significantly impact aquaculture farms. These events can cause the loss of stock (i.e. shellfish have to be disposed of), harvesting to stop (causing a loss in supply to the customer), illness or, in extreme cases, death through humans eating contaminated food.
Water quality in and around the aquaculture farms in the UK and Europe are monitored using a series of tests based on collecting water samples and analyzing the flesh of the seafood being farmed. This sampling is carried out by government agencies. Due to financial constraints and complexity of this sampling, it is not possible to take samples everyday so near real-time information on water quality, as well as information about the quality of the water offshore from their farm, would help warn farmers of possible water quality issues surrounding their farm, whilst also helping them to make more informed decisions about when and how much to harvest.
There are many approaches that have been developed by scientists to use satellites to provide salmon and trout farmers with information on their local water quality. Scientists have also looked at the links between reduced water quality and changes in the weather conditions. For instance, satellites are routinely used for monitoring water quality in and around salmon farms in Scotland, and simple models that relate environmental conditions, such as rainfall and sunlight, to reduced water quality have been developed for the south west of the UK. These approaches and tools have yet to be made available to shellfish farms in a way that is suitable for farmers to use and exploit.