Muhlenberg students help manage a greenhouse where closed-loop ecology is practiced.

Sustainable Tilapia: Theory of Connectivity

They’ve built a sustainable tilapia farm.

On the top floor of the Shankweiler Science Building, there exists a sheltered greenhouse. Behind the clear glass doors, among the many plants and water filtration systems, you’ll find large tanks filled with various sizes of tilapia. Dr. Richard Niesenbaum, professor ofbiology and director of the sustainability studies program, and his students study ways to produce an ecologically and environmentally sustainable food source.

Tilapia are a genus of freshwater fish originally found in warmer African climates. The fish are valued as a food source due to their rapid growth cycle and high-protein, low-saturated-fat nutritional content.

Students have helped engineer every stage of the process, ensuring that as many “loops” as possible are eliminated in every stage of the tilapias’ growth and development. By reducing thermal, electrical and biological waste, the fish are raised with a minimal amount of environmental impact.

Business students have produced marketing studies to explore how the fish can be distributed, students with interests in engineering have explored design plans for large-scale facilities and students like Lucas Michelotti ’12 have found ways to naturally filter the water to provide a healthy environment for the fish without excessive external resources.

“This is a great opportunity for Muhlenberg students,” says Niesenbaum. “By definition, sustainability is interdisciplinary, making connections among the environment, economics and the health and welfare of people. Our students are exploring ways to promote economic development and nutrition through environmental management and sustainability in an urban environment.”

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