The Case for Conservancies: Nature’s Bio-Filtration

The Case for Conservancies: Nature’s Bio-Filtration

The Case for Conservancies:

Nature’s Bio-filtration



 A Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources (IFCNR)

Searching for Sustainable Solutions Series White Paper




Authored by

Thomas James

John D. Aquilino Jr.

Kelsy Armstrong

March  2018




© 2018 – All Rights Reserved

International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources (IFCNR)




Developing sound solutions to environmental and social equity problems is the primary mission of the International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resource (IFCNR – pronounced “if-nar”).

The global pursuit of protein to meet the needs of the planet’s ever increasing human population is currently focused primarily on both land and the oceans.  Options include protein/meat from farm animals and from marine animals: fish, shrimp, etc.  The latter includes capture fisheries and aquaculture.  Aquaculture offers two variants: marine pens or land-based culturing.  Each has its proponents and detractors.

IFCNR’s research views land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) as offering the greatest promise of supplying viable quantities of marine protein with the least environmental problems.  Upon closer examination, IFCNR discovered an interesting technique for filtering the water it uses at its base of operations in Aransas County, Texas.  That company is Global Blue Technologies (GBT).  The technique is the use of a Conservancy composed of native flora and fauna as an integral component to its water filtration system.  GBT believes its Conservancy approach not only provides the needed and missing element to create a true RAS facility, but also can and should be adopted by flow-through aquaculture as well as farm animal facilities.

IFCNR examined the concept of mimicking nature to filter impurities from water used in GBT’s approach to aquaculture and asked if it can be used in other applications used to raise marine as well as terrestrial protein.

IFCNR concluded the creation of a Conservancy or natural bio-filter can indeed prove to be a very helpful means to eliminate harmful contaminants in wastewater from RAS and flow-through aquaculture as well as from farm animal operations.

IFCNR sought to fully understand the concept and workings of the Conservancy concept.  To that end, IFCNR joined GBT in a joint hands-on effort to promote this natural bio-filter approach to aquaculture and agriculture activities where applicable.


Table of Contents


The Conservancy Project

Participant Background

Problems with No Easy Solutions

A Lone Ray of Hope

RAS Infrastructure

The Conservancy Project’s Hope

Reconstituting Re-circulated Seawater

Nature’s Bio-filters

The Project’s Multiple Stages

Examples of Fauna & Flora


Illustration 1 Concept of a Natural Biofilter/Conservancy

Illustration 2 Schematic of RAS & Conservancy



The Conservancy Project

For nearly two decades, IFCNR studied the economic and sociological implications of environmental issues as well as the technological advances associated with both shrimp and marine finfish aquaculture.

The Foundation quickly came to the realization that aquaculture is vital to the global food/protein supply.  IFCNR acknowledges that:

  • Aquaculture is the only practical vector capable of increasing productivity to meet the projected future global demand for marine protein. Capture fisheries are already at or beyond their sustainable boundaries.
  • Aquaculture’s potential to grow its productivity also positions it as a very real means to relieve the stress on the Oceans caused by over-fishing.
  • Shrimp and marine fish aquaculture are important sources of jobs and income for individuals in developed and developing nations alike.
  • Marine finfish aquaculture is of equal or greater importance to meeting growing nutrition demands, but not in its present state.
  • Currently, marine fish aquaculture is dependent upon unsustainable and environmentally harmful grow-out technologies.
  • If marine fish aquaculture is to reach its full potential, new technologies must be adopted and more wild species must be domesticated and added to the inventory of cultured marine species.


IFCNR also recognized the importance of RAS technology as a vital means to avoid the environmental problems associated with land-based aquaculture as well as the key role natural bio-filters/conservancies play in creating a true and complete zero-discharge recirculating aquaculture technology.

The compelling rationale for adopting conservancy technology throughout the aquaculture industry is the fact that it relies upon native filter-feeding plants and marine animals to purify and re-vitalize wastewater.  Using this natural technology, the conservancy water whether intended to flow back for reuse in recirculating systems or into estuaries or the oceans will prove as or more pristine than that of its original source.

After considerable study, the International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources agreed to join with the Global Blue Technologies’ family of companies to develop, document, and promote the use of natural bio-filters or conservancies by RAS and traditional land-based shrimp and marine finfish aquaculture enterprises as well as farm animal facilities where applicable.

IFCNR’s goal is to create and promote the use of vibrant and productive Coastal Conservancies and demonstrate that commercial shrimp farms as well as land-based marine fish aquaculture and, it is hoped, farm animal ventures can and must co-exist with and provide real benefit to native eco-systems.

GBT considers this natural bio-filter/conservancy technology an essential and integral component of a true vertically integrated and zero-discharge, re-circulating aquaculture system (RAS) from hatchery to production to harvest.  As conceived, the natural bio-filter acts as a bio-bridge completing the RAS’ closed-loop aquatic circuitry.  Of equal importance, it is a natural method of revitalizing “tired water” resulting from constant cycling through a recirculating system.  Constantly reused water suffers from a depletion of ion “nutrients” found in Nature’s healthy waters.

Participant Background

The International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources (IFCNR) is a 501 (c) (3) private foundation (EIN 54-1746221).  IFCNR is recognized by numerous international agencies whose mission is improved quality of life for animals and humans alike by combatting poverty, oppression, and hunger.  They include The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), The Committee on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), The International Fisheries Committee (COFI), and more.

Concern over the state of the world’s oceans, its terrestrial resources, and its food supply from fisheries, aquaculture and agriculture are overriding IFCNR priorities since its inception in 1995.

Global Blue Technologies Inc. is a for-profit corporation with numerous affiliated companies.  Among them are Global Blue Technologies – Cameron, the company’s domestic shrimp production operation; Sea Products Development LLC (SPD), its proprietary genetics hatchery and brood stock development center (BDC); and Perciformes Group LLC, a research and development center focused on domestication of marine finfish species as well as others dependent upon its farmed marine animal production.  Each of the three facilities referenced is located on Copano Bay in Aransas County, Texas.  Each is bio-secure and RAS.

Like traditional hatcheries, SPD requires a 24-hour flow of treated sea/saline water.  Because a hatchery deals with larval stages of aquatic animal “babies,” it must use virtually “virgin” water with a high standard of water chemistry.  Traditionally, all hatcheries worldwide operate on the principle of “water in, water out” requiring discharge of the “water out” into the sources – local bays, estuaries, etc. – from which it originated.  SPD is different.  SPD’s “water out” discharge flows into the self-contained conservancy area, not into Copano Bay.  SPD is also the only entirely American-owned and operated hatchery in the world.

Each GBT-affiliated facility at its 171 acre Aransas County aquaculture campus shares the natural bio-filter/conservancy.

GBT and IFCNR’s ultimate mutual goal in this enterprise is to create an eco-system blueprint that can be adopted by hatcheries and other aquaculture venues in the United States and around the world using Nature’s resources as a viable alternative to emptying “used” waters back into the oceans, bays, and estuaries as is the common and accepted practice today.

Problems with No Easy Solutions

This project was born of IFCNR’s specific interest in providing practical solutions to environmental and social problems intrinsic to the methods pursued by the global effort to insure sufficient protein for generations now and in the future.  They include but are not limited to:

  • Problems with land-based and marine protein raising methods;
  • Devastation of coastal mangrove forests by traditional shrimp farms. Those forests are traditional nurseries for countless species of marine Life;
  • Pollution from indiscriminate shrimp farm wastewater discharge into Estuaries and the oceans that threatens wild fish and crustaceans;
  • Pollution, disease, parasite infestation from marine-based aquaculture.


How to increase protein production and decrease environmental damage are problems with no easy solutions.

International, regional, national, and state agencies such as the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and a host of NGO studies and activities (the Pew Oceans Commission, Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, the Global Ocean Commission, etc.) raised and continue to raise the alarm over the plight of marine stocks being over- and illegally fished.  Their common theme is the fact that the oceans can no longer support the ever-growing global demand for marine protein.

Commercially desirable marine species are fished in national Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) 200 miles from a nation’s coastline where the majority of wild-caught fish are taken.  Even the Oceans’ “commons,” the High Seas, are being exploited by the world’s major fishing nations – Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Spain, the United States, Chile, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and France – to the point where the Earth’s Oceans are losing their commercial fishing value.

To mitigate this over-exploitation by legal, illegal, and unregulated capture fisheries; international organizations, governments, NGOs, and the media alike are turning their hopes to aquaculture to offset the decrease in the contribution to the world marine protein supply provided by wild-caught fisheries.  Increasingly, aquaculture is seen as one of the most important and effective means to “give the oceans a break” from fishing stress as well as as a viable option to increase the global supply of marine protein.

While those goals are universally recognized, the means to achieve them are unclear and, arguably, controversial.  In part, a very large part indeed, that controversy is mired in the fact that aquaculture and the techniques employed therein contribute to the problem. Its practitioners, even today, have not strayed far from what was done hundreds, even thousands of years ago.  What began in small ponds and basins as a way to feed individuals and their families, progressed into today’s high yield commercial aquatic animal farming industry.

Within aquaculture, or any industry, innovation must prove itself if it is to be accepted.  To become truly beneficial, that innovation must be something more than a perceptual change.  Innovation, in and of itself, does not automatically equate with what is right, no matter how productive it proves. Today any such innovative technique must perform in a way that not only increases marine protein biomass but also diminishes environmental degradation if it is to be deemed truly beneficial.

The media, industry, and some regulatory agencies tout net pens, open-pond farms, and boutique semi-recirculating aquaculture systems as steps in the right direction.  IFCNR begs to differ.

Net pens are not part of the solution.  While they indeed contribute impressive marine biomass, more and more they are seen as a growing part of the tragedy facing our oceans and tributaries.  Pollution from feces, uneaten food, antibiotics, pesticides, etc. smothers the benthic layer of our oceans for hundreds of meters around net pen anchor sites.  Critics call the practice of moving net pens yards, even miles, from original anchor sites “cosmetic.”  They see that practice as little more than “flushing” that pollution elsewhere to create yet another anoxic carpet.  Concentrated levels of organic solids lead to changes to the benthic eco-system, oxygen depletion, and stimulation of deadly algae blooms. (see NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NWFSC-49, Sept 2001; Tsutsumi: “Impact of Fish Net Pen Culture on the Impact of the Benthic Environment of a Cove in South Japan,” Estuaries, Vol. 18, No. 1A, p. 106-115, March 1995; Chua: “Angry Farmer Shows Why Fish are Dying,” Singapore Independent, June 25, 2014)

Pollution is pollution no matter where in the ocean it’s dumped.

The problem with net pens is being recognized.  Washington State recently banned them in its coastal waters. Native Americans of the Northwest Treaty Tribes pushed hard for that ban.  Singapore is moving to ban them due to the detrimental effect they are having on local fish farms. In 2015, fish farmers there lost 160 tons of pen-raised fish worth millions of dollars because of negative conditions associated with net pens.  Similar region-wide massive fish deaths occurred in 2009 and 2012.  (Amanda Lee: Today, Feb. 12, 2014)

Open-pond farms leave an equally large and destructive footprint on coastal wetlands through untreated wastewater discharge and destruction of mangrove forests.

Boutique RAS farms may meet the consumer needs of neighbors, but they do not contribute substantially to the marine protein biomass supply the world must have now and in the future. Nor are they sustainable because of their inability to deal with waste.  Emptying befouled water into municipal drainage systems or sprayed on farmland only adds to the list of environmental problems linked to aquaculture.

A Lone Ray of Hope

GBT offers the one bio-secure recirculating shrimp aquaculture system studied by IFCNR over the years that appears to live up to the mandate to “do no harm” to the environment.  The company’s corporate creed is to seek ways to go beyond that maxim and to act decisively to provide solutions to problems affecting the environment.  In other words, do better.

GBT’s approach to RAS technology appears more than capable of increasing global marine protein resources by producing large commercial quantities of marine shrimp and marine fish on a miniscule environmental footprint.

GBT’s focus is to establish a new paradigm in environmentally friendly commercial shrimp aquaculture.  The objective of this joint IFCNR-GBT project is to use natural elements as a means to provide an alternative to discharging water from hatcheries, production ponds, any aquaculture facility whatsoever into rivers, bays, and oceans.  IFCNR’s goal is to demonstrate to the industry a real benefit to Nature compatible with shrimp aquaculture via a bio-filtration conservancy of native plants and aquatic animals.

IFCNR and GBT feel strongly that local, state, and national government regulatory agencies understand, support, and participate to whatever extent necessary in this project. They most certainly can prove invaluable expertise and guidance in selecting appropriate aquatic and terrestrial plant and animal species native to the areas in question as well as assisting in monitoring the progress and efficiency of the conservancy’s affect on each facilities’ “water out.”

In keeping with GBT’s corporate credo of striving to go beyond having “minimal impact” on the environment and IFCNR’s goal of conserving Nature’s resources, the conservancy has another very important role beyond that of treating the recirculating water or flow through effluent with natural filters.

By configuring a significant amount of the shrimp or marine fish aquaculture complex’s land with native bivalves, sea grasses, mangroves, etc., the Conservancy will establish a micro eco-system that sustains native fauna and flora with that same water during the harshest periods of climactic change and drought!    

RAS Infrastructure

The first step before water is brought into the hatchery, BDC, or production raceways within GBT’s vertically integrated shrimp and marine fish RAS aquaculture complex it is withdrawn from a natural source – a bay, ocean, or deep saltwater well – through the farm intake system.  The water is then channeled through a variety of filters where it is also treated with ozone as well as chlorine to remove any living organisms and bacteria. Once it is de-chlorinated, it is used to fill holding, spawning, and maturation tanks as well as production raceways.  Prior to discharge into the conservancy, the “used” water is treated by each facility’s mechanical bio-filtration system, a combination of rotary drum filtration, alternating anaerobic/aerobic water treatment chambers, foam fractionators, and ozone injection.

IFCNR and GBT believe that the combination of mechanical and natural bio-filtration insures that water discharged from all shrimp and marine fish facilities exceeds water quality expectations established by local and international regulatory agencies.  Throughout the entire procedure, water quality is monitored and sampled on a daily basis from: surrounding ecosystems, from the Conservancy, and from the GBT Hatchery, BDC, and Production facilities.  A baseline is established and samples are analyzed to scientifically document any changes for comparison purposes.

In the event of a significant weather event where rainwater runoff threatens to exceed the carry capacity of the conservancy, the contingency of siphoning off a portion into a deep injection well far below any potable water aquifer is in place.

The Conservancy Project’s Hope

GBT and IFCNR know the natural bio-filter/conservancy’s use of Nature’s own resources contributes to restoring re-circulated waters as close as possible to its natural biological and chemical profile and that it is the missing integral component of a complete RAS technology.  The project’s hope is to give the aquaculture industry, whether RAS or flow-through, an alternative to discharging daily hatchery flow as well as during harvests into nearby bodies of water.

IFCNR knows too that natural biofilters/Conservancies provide a substantive degree of wastewater treatment for open-pond farms.  The restorative qualities of these natural elements are well documented in scientific literature.

IFCNR and GBT acknowledge that components and variations on this theme have been used in the past by more progressive open-pond farms and by other disciplines.  Aquaculture scientists such as Drs. Addison Lawrence and Tzachi Samocha at Texas A&M Corpus Christi as well as Drs. Kevin Main and Nathan Brennan of the Mote Marine Laboratory focused primarily on using mangroves and a variety of sea plants. (Lawrence, Samocha et al, “The Potential Use of Mangrove Forests as Nitrogen Sinks of Shrimp Aquaculture Pond Effluents…” Journal of the World Aquaculture Society, Vol. 30, Issue 1, March 1999; Main, Brennan et al., “Integrated Aquaculture of Marine Fish and Plants for Food and Restoration Using High and Low Salinity Recirculating Systems,” Mote Technical Report #1742, December 31, 2013)

The GBT/ IFCNR cooperative effort seeks to demonstrate definitively the creation of a complete eco-system containing not only mangroves and sea grasses but also a variety of aquatic animals (oysters, clams, etc.) in a unique application of this concept to aquaculture.  This self-contained Natural bio-filter is an adaption of the basic principles developed through the study of the complex relationships of matter and energy, and in this case, among air, life, rock, and water in the fields of earth and “living systems” science.

At its inception, GBT contributed 131 acres (52 hectares) of its 171-acre aquaculture campus site in Aransas County, Texas to this project. The initial configuration incorporates an area of 70-80 acres set off from Copano Bay’s shoreline.

GBT and IFCNR believe that the right mix of native sea grasses, bivalves, mangroves, etc. for a specific geographical region will not only restore aquaculture water very close to its natural state as it continually moves through an aquaculture complex’s aquatic circuitry; but it will also recreate and sustain the vegetative habitat for native birds, crustaceans, fish, mammals, reptiles, and more.

Illustration 1 – Concept of a Natural Bio-filter/Conservancy

The IFCNR/GBT design mimics Nature’s way of doing things while functioning exactly as a circuitous length of “bio-pipe” somewhat akin to PVC pipe joined to RAS continuous loop plumbing.  The conservancy is not a length of rigid PVC pipe.  Nor is it a holding, retention, or dumping tank or a traditional wetland.  It is similar to a wetland in that it too is a living system incorporating living organisms that contribute significantly to extending the viable life of recycled water in recirculating systems.  In a similar sense, the mechanical bio-filter is also a living system working complementary to and in tandem with the conservancy.  Both must be kept in constant operation to function effectively.

The conservancy provides a redundant “natural mechanism” to clarify and remove microscopic impurities from the water that passed through the mechanical biofilter.

Because the conservancy is an open system exposed to a variety of weather conditions as well as frequent visitation by birds and terrestrial animals, its water must revisit the complete process of sand and carbon filtration, ozone, and chlorine and de-chlorination treatment before it is allowed to recirculate through the various farm facilities.

As noted, the natural biofilter’s ability to influence the clarification and restoration (to the extent possible) of the chemical and biological profile of the water in continual use in an RAS setting will be scientifically documented.  Data will be kept of water quality and efficacy as a component of RAS technology as well as the state of the fauna and flora inhabiting and visiting the conservancy.  IFCNR and GBT see the incorporation of the conservancy as a way the aquaculture industry provides real benefit to the environment.

Reconstituting Re-circulated Seawater

A practical consideration of any recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) is the unavoidable fact that over time the inherent chemical content of seawater becomes depleted. Seawater is the earth’s “blood,” a fitting analogy because of the similar chemicals found in both fluids and because both are life sustaining.  Restoring the natural “health” of the recirculating water is a complex and daunting task.

Seawater’s composition is 35 parts per thousand (35‰) of salts to water.  Salinity is measured by electrical “conductivity.” The more salt the greater the conductivity of the fluid.  Salinity tends to be greatest at the surface of warm tropical waters where it is subject to solar evaporation.  It is lower where fresh water from rain or rivers, etc. causes dilution.

Salts found in seawater are composed of positive and negative charged “ions” called “cations” (positive) and “anions” (negative).  Water is electrically neutral because dissolved salts separate into their respective “cations” and “anions.”  An example is sodium chloride (NaCl).  In water the Na+ cation detaches from the compound’s anion Cl-.

Seawater contains six major ions in constant/conservative ratios: sodium (Na+) 55 percent; chloride (Cl-) 31 percent; sulfate (O4S2-) 8 percent; magnesium ion (Mg2+) 4 percent; calcium ion (Ca2+) 1 percent; and potassium ion (K+) 1 percent.  It also contains every naturally occurring element including iron, lead, gold, copper, etc. some of which are incompatible with farmed shrimp health.

Even though some constituents in seawater are toxic at high levels and detrimental to organisms when depleted, Nature’s balance evolved a chemical profile in seawater conducive to supporting life.

Dissolved ions from sedimentary rocks are carried to the oceans by freshwater tributaries.  Technically the time to replace the total amount of ions in seawater with ions from river flow is called the “residence time.”  It takes between 8 and 280 million years to replace all the oceans’ ions from sedimentary rock.  Nevertheless the oceans’ salt composition and concentration have been in a “steady” or “balanced” state for the past 1.5 billion years.  That is where the addition of ions is equal to their depletion.  Most other substances found in seawater are not “conservative.”  They vary in concentration geographically, depending upon depth as well as uptake and release from various organisms.

IFCNR is under no illusion that it can restore a perfect ion content in the hatchery water.  Nevertheless, sedimentary rock will be placed in the streambeds and in close proximity to acidic mangrove roots that can etch rock and, in theory, contribute rock ions to the water.

Oxygen and carbon dioxide are two key gases found in seawater. The two sources of oxygen in seawater are the atmosphere where it dissolves in surface water and photosynthesis.  The latter is the ability of plants and algae to use the energy in sunlight to convert CO2 to oxygen and carbohydrates.

Carbon dioxide reacts with water to produce bicarbonate and carbonate ions used to control the acidity (pH) of seawater.  (Calcium carbonate shells are made from the combination of carbonate and calcium ions.)

Seawater also contains “nutrients” including nitrate, phosphate, and silicate.  In surface waters, plants deplete these nutrients.  As plant and animal remains sink to the oceans’ floors, they decay causing higher nutrient concentrations in deep waters.  Potentially catastrophic results can occur when seawater contains an overwhelming amount of nutrients such as phosphate and nitrogen.  That condition is called eutrophication where algae populations rapidly increase into “algae blooms.”

Algae blooms block out sunlight to bottom-dwelling plant and marine animal life, prohibiting the replenishment of dissolved oxygen by photosynthesis.  Water temperature also plays a role in saturation.  When dissolved oxygen drops below a healthy 80 percent to 30 percent, the body of water becomes hypoxic and fish and other aquatic plants and animals begin to die.  (Dittmar, Chapter IV “The Chemistry of Seawater” pp 165-227)

Healthy seawater therefore is the result of a complex interplay of chemistry and biology.  As occurs in virtually every organism, seawater must have a balance of ions, gases, and nutrients.  IFCNR believes the natural processes within the conservancy will approximate nature as close as possible in this project.

As noted, all water initially flowing through the natural biofilter/Conservancy will originate from each of the aquaculture campus facilities.  Before emptying into the conservancy, that water will have been processed through drum filtration, alternating anaerobic/aerobic water treatment chambers, foam fractionation, and ozone injection or through accumulated rainfall. There is a possibility that at some locations, low salinity water will be injected to decrease salinity and/or adjust the volume of the conservancy area in order to provide the correct environment and water depth necessary to enable the health of the conservancy’s flora and fauna.  It may be necessary as well to provide controlled injections of the RAS biofilter water to increase salinity of rainwater pooled in the conservancy area.

The project’s intention is to demonstrate that by using native grasses, plants, filter-feeding bivalves, etc. water passing through the natural bio-filter conservancy can be clarified, oxygenated, and restored to as close to its natural state as can be achieved.

Nature’s Bio-Filters

As mentioned earlier, the idea of using natural fauna and flora to combat conditions that render seawater and water from aquaculture systems less than ideal is not new.  Researchers have looked into the concept for decades and are pleased with what they have found.  Bivalves and sea grasses do filter out heavy metals, bacteria, viruses including Avian Influenza, carbon, and pollutants.  They have applied them to progressive open pond shrimp farms with reasonable success. (Muki Shpigel, “Bivalves as Biofilters and Valuable Byproducts in Land-Based Aquaculture Systems” 2003)

Nature’s filters stack up favorably to the daily out flow from GBT and SPD aquaculture facilities.  A single oyster filters 50 gallons of water daily.  A blood clam does the same at an 8-gallon daily rate. That does not count the filtering characteristics of mussels, barnacles, or acres of sea grasses and mangroves.  The latter also improve water clarity and quality by absorbing suspended sediment, dirt, and silt and transferring them from the water column to the benthic substrata.

An area of considerable interest is the volume of water the Bio-filter/Conservancy can hold.  Of the 130 acres/52 hectares donated by GBT to the Aransas County project, 25 percent will be dry land and 75 percent waterway, then 97.5 acres/39 hectares is the water surface area involved in bio-filter activity. At an estimated average overall depth of 3.5 feet, the waterways hold 111,196,312.5 gallons (97.5 acres x 3.5 feet = 341.25 acre-feet x 325,850 gallons per 1 acre-foot).

IFCNR estimates it will take 90 days before the GBT conservancy waterway reaches its full retention capacity. That does not take into account volume fluctuation from precipitation and evaporation.  A variety of other natural factors can influence the conservancy retention levels.  In regions of prolonged heat, evapotranspiration may account for significant water loss.  Transpiration is the loss of water from plants expelling it through their leaves.  Evaporation turns liquid water into vapor due to elevated temperatures. The interaction of the biomass of native vegetation planted in the conservancy presents its own intriguing scientific opportunity, namely monitoring the water volume reduction due to absorption.  A single tree has been documented as absorbing up to 70 gallons of water through transpiration daily.

The conservancy’s interest in water loss via environmental factors will differ slightly from that of the goals challenging the production facilities.  Conservancy’s two-fold focus will be on the amount of water needed to sustain the animal and vegetative content of the conservancy’s roughly 32.5-acre dry land mass as well as its function as a bio-filter that, as part of the re-circulating system, creates a complete and sustainable circular, zero-discharge flow.

The conservancy’s primary objective beyond its function as a bio-filter is to establish a native habitat for aquatic and terrestrial plants, an environment that sustains life for its aquatic animals – crustaceans, invertebrates, reptiles, a select few species of small fish – as well as habitat for its birds and land mammals.  Where the two objectives converge is the beneficial effect the Conservancy’s “occupants” provides in filtering unwanted elements from the hatchery water.  The combination of filter feeders (oysters, clams, mussels), sea grasses, and mangroves provides the equivalent of Nature’s original “foam fractionator.” They remove dissolved organic solids (DOS), nitrogen-containing compounds (nitrates and ammonia), phosphates, carbon, and other unwanted nutrients.

Mangroves are one of the Earth’s most efficient carbon stores combatting global warming.  They constitute only 0.5 percent of the Ocean’s coastal area yet account for 10-15 percent of carbon storage attributed to the Oceans.  Mangrove forests store two to four times the carbon of tropical forests and three to five times that of temperate in-land forests.  One square kilometer of mangroves (247 acres) absorbs 83,000 metric tons of carbon.  If the conservancy only dedicates 5 acres to mangroves, 1,660 metric tons of carbon would be scrubbed from the Texas’ environment.

The Project’s Multiple Stages

Each conservancy project will be implemented in multiple stages.

The first stage will determine the actual flow rate of water from all of the production facilities into the conservancy.  It will involve the design and construction of the physical formation of the waterway and identify the source, quantity, and location for each plant and animal specie to be located within the conservancy.  That task is projected to take 6-8 months.

Stage two will involve stocking and planting of component plants and animals – bivalves, sea grass, fish, ground cover, mangroves, etc. – and monitoring their health, numbers, and effectiveness in performing their desired functions (4 to 6 months).

Stage three will focus on monitoring water quality.

Illustration 2 – Schematic of RAS & Conservancy

IFCNR is hoping to work with NGOs, local and state agencies, and universities for guidance in locating stocking sources.  It is conceivable that the conservancy may eventually contain surplus species of flora and fauna sought by state agencies or universities.  In such cases, IFCNR and GBT will provide (gratis) examples of those species requested by government agencies and/or university research institutes.

Appending a natural bio-filter conservancy to the circulatory cycle of an RAS shrimp farm provides yet another benefit to the flora and fauna within.  In the case of minimal rainfall and prevailing drought conditions, the conservancy will provide a continual supply of water to the plants and animals living within regardless of the local climate.

IFCNR’s initial discussions with veteran aquaculturists elicited the response “that’s never been done.”  Within the aquaculture industry, the GBT system of shrimp farming continues to be met with similar skepticism.  GBT’s success underscores IFCNR’s belief that its melding a natural bio-filter with a conservancy is a perfect match with the GBT technology.

Examples of Fauna and Flora

IFCNR’s intent is to locate sea grass beds throughout the waterway in configurations allowing the creatures dwelling within a quasi-isolated area to thrive.  The “river” banks and terrestrial areas will be lined with indigenous plants, trees, grasses, cacti, etc.   Man-made ridgelines and berms separating the Conservancy from existing wetlands will allow wildlife to observe, hunt or hide, and seek shelter.

The following list of native Texas plants and aquatic wildlife is included as an example of the types of organisms for stocking in the conservancy’s waterway and surrounding land.


  • Oysters (Crassostrea virginica) – a single oyster can filter more than 200 liters of water per day (“Water Purification”- Ramsar Convention on Wetlands Fact Sheet #5 2015). Among the heavy metals they remove are copper, zinc, cadmium, cobalt, mercury, and arsenic.
    In a study published in 2000 (pages 25-33), researchers looking into shrimp pond effluent and biofiltration via oysters and a macro-algae (Gracilaria tikvahaie) found discharged waters added “high levels of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), inorganic and organic particulate matter, live algae, dissolved organic matter, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, phosphate, and other potential contaminants.” They saw shrimp survival rates increase due to the oysters and overall decline in pollutants thanks to both organisms. (Kinne, Samocha, Jones, and Browdy-Characterization of Intensive Shrimp Pond Effluent and Preliminary Studies on Biofiltration, North American Journal of Aquaculture (Impact Factor: 0.71). 01/2001; 63(1):25-33)
  • Ark Clams – There are 15 species of ark clams native to Texas. Two that caught IFCNR’s attention are the Blood Ark (Anadara ovalis) and the Ponderous Ark (Noetia ponderosa).  These particular clams are believed to be part of the diet of the Karankawa Indians thought to be descendants of migrating Carib Indians who inhabited the Gulf Coast from present day Corpus Christi to Galveston, Texas.  Copano Bay where IFCNR intends to locate its natural bio-filter conservancy is named after one Karankawa band, the Kopanes.
    Blood Ark clams contain hemoglobin and myoglobin that give their blood (fluid) its red color.  Blood clams can filter 40 liters of seawater per day.
  • Marsh Mussel (Geukensia demissa) – The Marsh Mussel feeds on phytoplankton and is one of the few bivalves that can feed on minute bacterioplankton. It is a favorite in the diet of blue crabs and shorebirds.  It lives in a variety of salinities, among mangroves and salt marshes.


Sea Grasses

  • Shoal Grass (Halodule wrightii)- This variety of shoal grass is a true native of the Gulf of Mexico and therefore more appropriate for inclusion in the IFCNR bio-filter conservancy.
    Sea grass beds are important to water quality.  Their roots trap sediment improving water clarity.  They also trap, filter, and recycle nitrogen and phosphorus.  According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, sea grasses can even act as bio-filters for raw human sewage.
  • Turtle Grass (Thalassia testudinum)
  • Manatee Grass (Syringodium filiforme)



  • Black Mangroves (Avacennia germains)
  • Red Mangroves (Rhizophora mangle)



  • Naked goby (Goiosoma bosc)
  • Gulf killifish (Fundulus grandis)
  • Sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus)
  • Rough silverside (Membras martinica)
  • Spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus)
  • Sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus)



  • Barnacles – Reticulated Striped Barnacle (Balanus reticulatus), Striped Barnacle (Balanus Amphitrite Amphitrite)
  • Crabs – Fiddler Crab (Uca longisigralis), Blue-spot hermit Crab (Paguristes hummi), Blue Crab (Callinectes spedius)



  • Anemones – Tricolor anemone (Calliactis tricolor), Onion anemone (Paranthus rapiformis), Warty anemone (Bunodosoma cavernatum)


Plants & Grasses

  • Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor)
  • Spanish Dagger (Yucca faxoniana)
  • Lantana (Lantana horrida)
  • Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia engelmannii)
  • Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria)
  • Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata texana)
  • Gulf Cord Grass (Spartina spartinae)


IFCNR knows the conservancy also attracts a diversity of native animals including the Evening Bat (Nycticeius humeralis), the Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus), Southern Yellow Bat (Lasiurus ega), Bobcat (Lynx rufus), Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus), Coyote (Canis latrans), white tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus texanus) to mention a few.

Together we will strive to relieve the Oceans of the pressure of over exploitation and supply marine protein to help feed the planet’s hungry human population.

                                                                            – IFCNR

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