The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Aquaponics Innovation Center in Montello has wrapped up it’s inaugural summer internship program and is offering opportunities for undergraduate research in fall.
Denielle Gerrietts, senior, and Emma Ray, sophomore, were the first summer interns in the facility’s history and spent three months preparing and maintaining equipment, as well as tending to fish and crops.
Dr. Chris Hartleb, professor of fisheries biology, oversaw the internship program and is hoping to find more students to help continue research beginning in May.
The interns made systems operational and began research focused on using walleye, a cold water fish, to grow the same vegetable crops in a soil-less system that are traditionally grown in systems with tilapia, a warm water fish.
Romaine lettuce, broccoli, kale and bok choy were grown successfully in the walleye systems and were harvested at six-week intervals. UWSP’s Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility provided thousands of juvenile walleye, which were performing as well as tilapia, Hartleb said.
“To see that we’re getting the same production that we get with warmer water fish is pretty amazing,” Hartleb said.
The interns helped get the facility up and running and received training both on site and at the aquaculture facility. They faced several problems early on, however, and had to purchase supplies and piece together systems on a day-to-day basis.
“We actually went to the hardware store quite a bit,” Gerrietts said. “You had to think efficiently and keep it very clean.”
Despite being functional, the system proved to be more high maintenance than imagined, requiring intensive cleaning, feeding and staffing on weekends.
“The fish and the plants need to be cared for seven days a week,” Hartleb said. “The fish don’t know what a weekend is.”
Both interns were referred to Hartleb because of their interest in aquaponics.
Gerrietts said she has always loved both fish and plants and hopes to one day own her own aquaponics business. The internship was her sole interest for the summer and a one-time opportunity for relevant experience before she graduates in spring.
“It was perfect timing,” Gerrietts said. “It really was the only time I could dedicate my time to an aquaponics facility.”
Gerrietts currently works at the facility between one and two days per week, continuing the research that began in May. Ray has been involved with greenhouse and aquaponics projects since junior high. She plans to continue exploring the field in addition to microbiology, though she may not pursue a career in commercial aquaponics.
Confronting issues in a new facility on a daily basis was stressful at times, but was a good experience overall, Ray said.
“I really liked just being there from seedling to harvest and seeing how everything works together,” Ray said. “I’ll use it as an opportunity to feel out where to apply my major.”