Aquaponics system boosts prison system

Monday, 28 July 2008

A revolutionary Challenger TAFE aquaculture program at Karnet Prison Farm is sustaining the environment, reducing the burden on taxpayers, and changing lives.

The aquaponics program integrates horticulture and aquaculture to grow fish and vegetables in a way that drastically reduces water use while providing nutrients for plant growth and clean oxygenated water for fish farming.

Tony Bart, Aquaculture lecturer at the College’s WA Maritime Training Centre – Fremantle, initiated the program in conjunction with Kay Bullard, a Vocational Support Officer at Karnet.

“Kay has had success with horticulture trainees at the prison, and I suggested aquaponics as a way of streamlining costs and delivering enhanced benefits,” he said.

“In aquaponics, the effluent water from the fish tanks provides nutrition for the plants, and they in turn filter the water and return it to the fish. This eliminates the need for expensive fertilisers and uses about 10% of the water normally used for growing vegetables. 

“What you are seeing here is the way of the future in terms of sustainability.”

Kay, who holds a Masters in horticulture, said the aim was to be as environmentally aware as possible while providing the prison system with fresh produce and contributing to the rehabilitation of prisoners.

“We’re trying to go as ‘green’ as we can and still achieve maximum efficiency in terms of supplying the kitchens of Karnet and Casurina,” she said.

While this presents a saving for the taxpayer, Kay said the program itself also generates revenue to reduce the amount of funding required.

“We recycle what we can from around the prison, and we generate revenue to put back into the budget by supplying nurseries with plants, and domestic aquarium retailers and wholesalers with ornamental fish and water snails at commercial rates,” she said.

“And the benefit to the prisoners is huge, not only on a personal level, but also in terms of their employability in the labour market when released.

“Their commitment and their efforts in fabricating and setting up the aquaponics systems have been inspiring. They’ve developed a great deal of pride in being self-sufficient and sustainable.”

The prisoners were full of praise for the program and Tony and Kay’s efforts in particular.

“The training and support I received from Tony has been fantastic. When I’m released, I’m planning to buy a property and get involved in the aquaponics industry,” said one.

“None of this would have been possible without Kay. She’s had total confidence in me. I’ve gained a lot of self-esteem and the self-satisfaction of being able to look back at what I’ve achieved,” said another.

“Kay had to prove this was a viable project, and now it’s become a major focal point throughout the entire prison.”

Tony said that skilling the prisoners meant adapting the College’s online training methods, as the prisoners cannot access the Internet, and he personally visited the prison once a month to collect the assignments, oversee student progress and assist with technical aspects of the system.

“We had to modifying the training delivery to suit prison circumstances, but the prisoners have really embraced the course. They’ll earn a Certificate II in Seafood Industry (Aquaculture), and basically have hands-on skills ready to go,” he said.

The Director of the WA Maritime Training Centre – Fremantle, Kingsley Waterhouse, pointed out the symbolic nature of the program in relation to the prisoners, the community and the environment.

“Aquaponics essentially integrates a ‘closed’ aquaculture system with a horticulture system to symbiotically derive environmental and cost benefits,” he said.

“These benefits, plus the strong potential for prisoner rehabilitation, are being achieved in what many would consider another type of closed system – the prison itself.”

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