Mote Aquaculture Research Park in Sarasota, Florida is growing something unique – saltwater vegetables. Construction on a marine aquaponic system was completed at the start of October 2014. Check out Mote’s News & Press page for an article about this project. The system was initially stocked with 200 red drum (also known as redfish) and it will ultimately hold up to 600 fish. These fish provide the nutrients for about 3,300 saltwater plants. The plants are in small pots filled with coconut fiber where they are rest in polystyrene rafts which float on the surface of four long raceways. The roots have constant contact with the water which allow for the absorption of the nutrients they need to grow.
The development of marine aquaponics will allow the industry to expand beyond freshwater fish production (e.g. tilapia, trout, koi). Producing marine and freshwater fish in aquaponic systems is highly desirable, because these land-based systems reclaim nutrients rather than discharging them into the environment. It also provides locally sourced food.
Two species of saltwater vegetables are present in the aquaponic system. One is sea purslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum) which grows throughout the world and has historically been used in traditional medicine as a treatment for fever, kidney disorders, and scurvy (Magwa et al. 2006). The other species is saltwort (Salicornia sp.), which has become popular in fine European dining and is considered to be high in vitamin C and β-carotene (Ventura et al. 2011). It takes about 3 months for the sea purslane to reach harvest size and takes about 5 to 6 months before the saltwort is ready for harvest.
While the plants were not ready to eat this Thanksgiving, maybe next year local residents of Sarasota can try out some new dishes made from sea purslane or saltwort to put on the dinner table. They will definitely make for a good conversation piece.