Building with Nature

The Netherlands constantly has to battle against the threat of flooding from the ocean and rivers as a vast area of its land is below sea level. However, the last major flood was way back in 1953. The success of water management in Netherlands is largely rooted in careful spatial planning and ‘building with nature’ to achieve a resilient flood-proof landscape. The concept of Building with Nature was invented by the the Dutch water authority, Rijkswaterstaat, and several other research institutes and consultancy agencies. The concept basically develops waterworks by integrating infrastructure, nature and society for sustainable water management solutions. Working with nature, rather than against it, is seen as being more efficient and less costly. One such example is giving room to the river “ruimte voor de rivier“. During peak discharges, usually in winter and spring, the river has special designated areas along its banks where water can be stored and transported. These so called uiterwaarden or flood plains in English are of low commercial values with almost no buildings being built on them. In this way, the (financial) damage the river can cause is minimal. During normal water levels, these areas are normally used for recreation and cattle grazing.

In the picture and clip below you can see the river Waal near Nijmegen which has been fed large amounts of rain and meltwater from Switzerland and Germany in recent weeks. Despite it looking rather serious, the situation is very much under control as the flood plains are compensating for the high water level. It shows that Building with Nature is the way to go!


The Importance of Phosphate Recovery

Sooner or later, worldwide phosphate reserves will be depleted. Currently, phosphate is seen as a pollutant due to the high amounts phosphate run-off from agricultural lands. In the future, however, phosphate will become a strategic resource since it is only available in limited amounts. It is highly essential that society starts establishing ways of recovering this valuable resource. Phosphate is essential for people, animals and plants as its incorporated in DNA, bones, ATP and enzymes. Annually, 40 million tons of phosphate are mined mainly in Morocco, China and USA. The total world reserves are estimated between 3600-8000 million tons. The production of artificial fertilizer uses by far the most amount of phosphate. 80% of the world phosphate consumption is used for the production of artificial fertilizer. From this, it is clear that in the agricultural sector there needs to be a fundamental mind-switch towards recovering phosphate. Research shows that more than half of the applied phosphate on agricultural fields is lost through run-off and leaching…what a waste!! The recovery of phosphate not only recovers a vital element for life on earth, but it also reduces pollution loads into the environment.

(Obtained data from Wageningen World Magazine, Nr. 4, 2017).

Orange ASEAN, Jakarta

Last week I participated in the fifth edition of Orange ASEAN, this time in Jakarta! Orange ASEAN is an intensive 3-week consultancy project for young professionals, entrepreneurs and master students from the Netherlands and Southeast Asia designing innovative solutions for sustainability challenges in ASEAN countries. In interdisciplinary teams, participants work together in dedicated teams developing business cases for real-life issues. My team consisted of Tulus (Indonesia), Dawn (Singapore) and Sukumal (Thailand) with Royal HaskoningDHV as our client. They asked us to developed innovative solutions to Indonesia’s water challenges…very broad for a 3-week consultancy project! In the end we narrowed the scope down and came up with two products that were well received by our client: Smart Water ANalytics (SWAN) and a Technical Advive Platform (TAP). Massive thanks to the team for making the past 3 weeks so enjoyable! We really gelled and produced some interesting stuff 🙂

Profitability in Aquaponics

To grow vegetables in water from a fish pond full of nutrients might sound like a brilliant idea, but is it really profitable? A study by reaearchers from the Wageningen Univesity showed that more than half of the 1000 commercial aquaponic farms worldwide make a loss. This was mainly the result of low market value for the produced vegetables and fish that were farmed. Before starting an aquaponics farm it is important to look at the market prospects. A niche in the market needs to be found that could make aquaponics more profitable. Tilapia and catfish usually won’t make it because they sell for far to cheap. Perch, burbot and pike could be interesting alternatives for the European market as their market value is much higher.

Schematic overview of a aquaponic system. Illustration retrieved from Baliga Lab, Institute for Systems Biology

Potential for Marine Aquaculture

NPR (2017). A Russian fish farming operation in Ura Bay in the Barents Sea

Consumption of seafood is expected to replace a considerable amount of meaty products in the future. Could widespread marine aquaculture in (open) coastal areas help in satisfying the global demand for seafood? Researchers from the University of California certainly think so. Using certain criteria they calculated that marine aquaculture could potentially produce 16.5 billions tons of fish per year or 4000 pounds per person! The question remains, however, where will the increased fish feed come from. Will high-protein vegetable crops be needed which production is based on land? Also, wild specimens need to caught in order to start a population of fish for breeding. Finally, care needs to taken on the implementation of marine aquaculture in coastal areas. Shrimp farms in South-East Asia have destroyed many coastal mangrove forests and discharged harmful contaminants in estuaries. Space is not necessarily an issue for marine aquaculture, it is more of applying it in a sustainable manner by rectifying the above challenges!

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