Visions from nature
Monitoring the fish farming industry – interview with Master’s student Albertine Rekdal
Albertine Rekdal Havnegjerde is a student in the Master of Marine Coastal Development at NTNU. She is currently writing her thesis on the potential of using epi growth on kelp species as an indicator for ecosystem health at the University Museum in the Department of Natural History. I spoke to Albertine about the sustainability of Norway’s aquaculture industry, finding her perfect thesis project and following in her brother’s footsteps.
Tell me about your thesis.
I wanted to lay the groundwork for a bigger study with the goal of improving the fish farming industry, to find new ways of bettering the local ecosystems. So I’m looking at the kelp species Laminaria hyperborea as a potential indicator for ecosystem health. I’m trying to see what sort of epigrowth is living on the kelp near fish farms, to see what sort of impact waste from the fish farming industry is having on the local ecosystem.
If we are going to have a sustainable aquaculture industry, and minimise ecosystem damage, fish farming has to change. Today you have MOM (monitoring – on growing – measurement) -analysis who check sediments, infauna, waste level, whether or not it’s an anoxic environment, basically checking for indicators of ecosystem health directly underneath the fish farm. But no one is checking the areas around the fishfarms to check for the effects of runoff. That’s why I wanted to check these areas and find out if it was possible to use Laminaria as an indicator species for these emissions.
“If we are going to have a sustainable aquaculture industry, and minimise ecosystem damage, fish farming has to change.”
There’s plenty of research showing that activities like using FADs or bottom-trawling are extremely damaging to marine ecosystems. Surely fish farming is a more sustainable alternative?
Well firstly, people who are from the industry will defend it by talking about the amount of space this fish have. It might be 200,000 fish in one cage, but they only ‘use’ 2.5 % of the cage, so that’s fine, right? But fish are constantly on the move, and have much larger territory requirements. They need more space.
Secondly, we know they’re being overfed. Studies have found whole food pellets in their gut, which means they’re not digesting them, which means that all this food waste is going directly into the local ecosystem. If you have a closed fish farm and feed it in the same intensity as an open fish farm, the amount of PO4 and NH4 will be 1,000 times higher than in the surrounding ecosystem in a normal situation (eutrophic coastal water) after just one day.
Look at how we’ve used the terrestrial ecosystem. A lot of the soil in agricultural areas is just used up. With population growth speeding up exponentially, we need new places to grow food. And yes, I think aquaculture is necessary, but if we do it the way we’re doing it now, we’ll ruin it like we’ve ruined the terrestrial ecosystem. I don’t think closed systems are the right way to go. It’s way too expensive and the water filtration is prohibitive. We should consider longer growth periods, stop overfeeding and look at the possibility of a slower and more sustainable process.
“There’s a high degree of interaction with professors [at the Museum], and it’s a relaxed environment.”
How did this thesis come about?
I was at a career day last year in February, and I got a flash drive from the museum, which had three open projects with Torkild Bakken listed. In my second undergraduate semester I took Floristics and Faunistics and Marine Biodiversity, and Torkild was my professor in both classes. He’s a really good professor, and I wanted to have him as my supervisor.
I sent him an email in February 2016. I knew I wanted to get into the Master of Marine Biology, and I like to have a plan! So I started preparing early. I sent him an email proposing what I wanted to work with, and asked him if we could meet. We talked about what would be the best fit for me, and it was this project.
How do you enjoy working down at the museum?
It’s great! Most other students in this Master’s program study at SeaLab, we are not that many in Marine Costal Development here. It was here that I could do the project I wanted, plus you have more space here, whereas SeaLab is quite cramped. There’s a high degree of interaction with professors here, and it’s a relaxed environment.
“The field trip was super intensive… but it was really fun. I’ve definitely chosen the right task for me.
Where do you get your data from?
I collect my kelp at Frøya Island, just west of the bay in Trondheim. I’ve had one trip so far, I’m waiting for a second one; we go out on a small boat so the weather needs to be good. The first time we went out there four days. We didn’t always find kelp where we expected to, so we’d have to come up with a plan B.
I had divers with me who would go down and get the kelp. We’d also take water samples. We collected 10 individuals from every location, and determined the species for 5 from every location, otherwise the workload is too high. The field trip was super intensive, as I have to get everything done before I go back, but it was really fun. I’ve definitely chosen the right task for me.
So when did you decide you wanted to complete a Masters at NTNU?
About 15 years ago! My brother started at NTNU in Trondheim, and he loved it. I’ve always looked up to him, so it’s always been my plan to come here. They’ve got a good reputation in Norway, and it always looks great on your CV to be a student at NTNU.
How do you like Trondheim as a student city.
I’m from a very small village where “everyone knows everyone”. Seeing new people everywhere here is fantastic. It’s big, but it’s small. You know everything, but there’s always something new to do. You have Bymarka and Estenstadmarka which are close by.
Where are you from originally?
I’m from the west coast, near Ålesund. I went to high school there, and then came to Trondheim for my Bachelor. Before that I took one year in History at NTNU, then I took the first year of a degree in Bioengineering at HIST, and then started my Bachelors in Biology.
That’s an interesting journey.
History was only a one-year degree. I wanted a year off, without having a year off. If I had stopped studying I wouldn’t have started again! So then I went back into Bioengineering at HIST. I was looking for lab work in Biology, but that wasn’t really what the degree was about, and I spent more time sitting in an office, taking blood and urine samples.
So after one year of that I started my degree in Biology, and that was much more fun. There was a lot of lab work, which I found much more interesting. I wanted to do more marine subjects, but I had to take a lot of mandatory subjects initially. It became a lot more fun once we could choose our own subjects and I could focus on what I wanted to do.
I moved into subjects like marine science, biosystematics and biogeography, and organic chemistry. I had a great time. The field trip in marine biodiversity was great. We went down to Frøya Island. Being out there where it all happens, you learn so much more than you could in a lab.
I’m trying to score grades that would allow me to get into a PhD, but I’d also like to head closer to home. One job I’d love is doing the analysis in aquaculture areas, working as a research assistant. I’m taking ecotoxicology now and loving it, so I’d like to work within ecotoxicology in a marine environment.