A framework for sustainable aquaculture within peri-urban green infrastructures protecting the Gulf of Thailand from eutrophication

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering

Abstract

Global demand for aquaculture produce began to grow exponentially from the 1980s onwards, and in response, Thailand developed more intensive farming methods that transformed its coastal landscape. The vast tract of land between Bangkok and the Gulf of Thailand nowadays consists mainly of low biodiversity aquaculture ponds that a vulnerable to pollution and novel shrimp and fish diseases. Rapid growth of the Bangkok Metropolitan Region is responsible for very poor microbial and chemical water quality in urban drainage canals which provide water for coastal aquaculture. Our BBSRC sponsored research has shown how this urban pollution is causing algae blooms in aquaculture ponds, with and without nutrient addition to the ponds, and how small scale producers are suffering economic losses as a consequence. Overall costs to the Thai economy from algae blooms and novel shrimp and fish diseases amount to billions of pounds. In 2018, there were 35,422 hectares of seawater shrimp aquacultures in Thailand, down from 48,590 hectares in 2008. While the current decline of the aquaculture sector in Thailand is of great concern, it also provides opportunity for a re-think and movement towards more resilient production systems.
The project will engage Thai government officials from the Department of Fisheries, the Water Quality Office of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, and small-scale aquaculture producers in a critical analysis of water policies and innovative aquaculture practices. The policy analysis will review current standards for the quality of water to be used in coastal aquaculture, and will critically consider impacts of various policies on coastal land use, food production, flood risk mitigation, water cleansing and biodiversity. Modelling will predict how different wastewater treatment fee structures could enable an expansion of Bangkok's wastewater treatment infrastructure that currently covers only 50% of residents. The model will also predict how such an enhanced wastewater treatment provision would benefit surface water quality and the coastal aquacultures which depend on it. Engagement with small-scale producers will disseminate BBSRC sponsored research outcomes on innovative methods for water quality management in aquaculture. This includes biochar amended biofilters which could be implemented as high biodiversity buffer zones between aquaculture ponds and their associated canals. It also includes novel methods for microbial pollution source tracking and the characterisation of aquaculture microbiomes and their vulnerability to pathogen invasion. The project will investigate the willingness of farmers to adapt such practices and management methods, and what support and/or incentives would be needed to facilitate the uptake of best practice. A community engagement event will show-case water treatment methods, and new molecular microbiology capabilities at the King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi, which were established through an institutional links grant with Newcastle University. At the event, Thai aquaculture innovators will also present their experiences with certified and organic aquaculture methods, and how recreational offerings such as accommodation for tourists on farms can provide an additional income stream. Lessons learned through the engagement with the various stakeholders will be integrated in a GIS framework to visualize water policy implications on water quality in canals and associated coastal aquacultures, with and without treatments, and implications for food production and biodiversity in the coastal belt, and pollution discharges into the Gulf of Thailand. This framework will be used for scenario analysis. The illustration of various scenarios at a public symposium will facilitate communication with decision makers and other stakeholders, and will enhance their understanding of the inter-linkages between urban and agricultural activities and the natural environment.

Planned Impact

The project will review current guidance for the quality of water used in coastal aquaculture to derive quantitative risk assessment based thresholds for pesticides and microbial water quality. The derived thresholds would be protective of consumers, aquacultural workers and the environment, without becoming an unrealistic impediment to coastal aquaculture in the peri-urban area of a rapidly growing metropolis. Realistic water quality goals and standards are an important first step towards better enforcement. The current situation is that Thai standards for water to be used in aquaculture are in some instances very strict in comparison with international standards (i.e. WHO guidance). In reality, however, water quality does not comply with these standards and is nonetheless used for aquaculture. The Department of Fisheries is responsible for aquaculture regulations and their enforcement, and is therefore an important collaboration partner in this project. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is involved, because the very poor water quality in the drainage canals that serve as water sources for aquaculture is mainly of urban origin. The increasingly affluent urban residents of the Bangkok can support their less affluent neighbors in the peri-urban coastal aquaculture region through enhanced urban wastewater treatment. The project will visualize how different wastewater treatment fee structures could facilitate an expansion of wastewater treatment infrastructure in the Bangkok Metropolitan region, and would thus benefit surface water quality and the coastal aquacultures which depend on it. Models and visualization tools developed in this project will facilitate understanding of regulations and policy impacts on the ecosystem services provided by the land tract in between Bangkok and the coast. The project will thus support science-based decision making for more robust and sustainable food production systems in the coastal aquaculture area. It will also elucidate how embedment of aquaculture in a broader vision for blue-green infrastructures could minimize the amount of pollution that currently reaches the Gulf of Thailand. This project will directly support small-scale aquaculture farmers through education on affordable water treatment methods, probiotics and organic production methods which can yield higher value produce. A community engagement event at Surakit Farm, which is a local learning centre, will facilitate communication between scientists and practitioners, and also between aquaculture innovators and more traditional farmers. The event will inform about exemplary aquaculture practices and better earning opportunities, such as organic produce or a combination of aquaculture and recreation offerings. Previous and current research collaborations between NCL and KMUTT have already enhanced scientific capacity at KMUTT in pesticide/antibiotics analysis, risk assessment and molecular microbiology to track sources of microbial pollution, and to identify pathogens and antibiotic resistant or probiotic bacteria in aquaculture ponds. Through engagement with the DOF/BMA/farmers awareness will be raised of these new skills, which are now available at KMUTT, and can benefit environmental protection and aquaculture practice. The translation project will not only share data and disseminate research outcomes, but will also built Thai capabilities for using such data for sound and science-based policy and decision making.

Publications

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Description This award found that water quality in canals supporting aquaculture in Central Thailand's coastal aquaculture region frequently exceeds Thai standards for water in marine aquaculture. As a consequence, Thai aquaculture producers suffer from algae blooms in their ponds. While intensive aquaculture producers in Thailand reported more frequent algae blooms than extensive producers, the intensive producers can manage the detrimental impacts of algae blooms better via aeration of the ponds, whereas extensive aquacultures more frequently suffer from low oxygen levels and the death of shrimp and fish. The award found that faecal pollution in canals is mainly of urban origin and associated with elevated levels of environmental antimicrobial resistance. The scientific evidence corroborates testimonials by the small-scale aquaculture producers that they are not using antibiotics in their ponds and points towards a need for expanding municipal wastewater treatment to improve canal water quality.
Exploitation Route The outcome demonstrates the nexus between water quality and food security in the periurban environment, and the need for an urban/rural dialogue on water quality management between different stakeholders to protect food production systems from the negative impacts of inadequate urban wastewater treatment. Our study findings show that Thai Department of Fisheries policies to mandate prescription for antibiotic use in aquaculture to reduce antimicrobial resistance is effective. With a sound One Health policy in place compliance monitoring becomes critical. This top-down approach can be strengthened by the bottom-up approach of monitoring environmental antibiotic resistomes. To this end, we have shown the value of high-throughput metagenomic methods for comprehensive screening of environmental antibiotic resistomes in surface waters and sediments, and the added value of well-characterized environmental microbiomes for pollution source tracking. Through the collaboration Thai partners became competent in metagenomic methods for environmental surveillance which they can now use independently. The outcomes of this collaboration stress the importance of adequate urban wastewater treatment to protect peri-urban food production systems and reduce the spread of environmental antimicrobial resistance, which is particularly relevant in low and middle income countries.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

URL https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/davidwerner/newton-fund-project/
 
Description This award is engaging multiple stakeholders (Thai university researchers, Thai aquaculture producers, the Thai Department of Fisheries, and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration) in a dialogue on regulations, policies and practices to improve water quality in Central Thailand's coastal aquaculture region. Attention was paid to ensuring a gender-balanced participation of stakeholders in these dialogues. The prior research and current engagement activities are led by senior female researchers in Thailand who are setting shining examples for high achievement in science, engineering and project leadership for a gender-balanced project team and project stakeholders. Previous research by Newcastle University (NU) and King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT) has identified urban pollution from Bangkok as a major cause for poor water quality in canals supporting peri-urban aquacultures, and has shown that extensive aquaculture practices contribute to an attenuation of this water pollution, while intensive aquacultures have a neutral or net negative impact. These insights were shared and augmented with perspectives of the non-academic stakeholders. In interviews, aquaculture producers shared their management practices and what problems are affecting their businesses. From these dialogues it became apparent that aquaculture farmers are mainly concerned about the most apparent consequences of poor water quality such as algae blooms without necessarily understanding how these phenomena are caused by excessive levels of nutrients in the water. At engagement events in two provinces, aquaculture producers were informed about these issues and simple methods for measuring nutrients in water were demonstrated to them by KMUTT researchers. Interviews with the aquacultures revealed that intensively managed ponds frequently experience algae blooms, but can manage the potentially detrimental impacts via aeration, and hence death of fish or shrimp rarely occurs. In contrast, extensive producers less frequently observe algae blooms, but more frequently experience low oxygen levels and death of fish or shrimp, because they cannot aerate their ponds. This brought to light a negative interdependency whereby poor water quality in canals discourages extensive management practices which, according to the research described, would contribute to water pollution attenuation. Hence, there is a need to address such disincentives in improved policy frameworks. These insights were shared in a dialogue with the Department of Fisheries about current aquaculture practices and Thai standards for water quality in coastal aquaculture. A comparison with corresponding standards in 10 other countries revealed that Thai standards for some metals and organic chemicals are less stringent than in European Union countries, but the main concern arises from poor water quality in canals that exceeds the existing Thai standards, especially for faecal coliform bacteria. The prior KMUTT and NU research has shown that high levels of faecal bacteria in canals are linked to urban pollution from Bangkok and is also associated with elevated levels of environmental antimicrobial resistance. The scientific evidence corroborated testimonials by the aquaculture producers that they were not using antibiotics in their cultures. These findings were shared in a dialogue with the Department of Fisheries and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to emphasize the need for improved municipal wastewater treatment to reduce faecal pollution discharges into canals which then affects water quality in coastal aquaculture. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration shared its plans for raising more revenue for wastewater treatment via a wastewater treatment fee for households and businesses currently connected to sewage treatment works. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration shared how the fee will be structured and its regulation plan for implementation and tariff collection from July 2021 onwards. The Department of Fisheries and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration provided data for agricultural and municipal wastewater discharges, respectively, to enable a scenario analysis by KMUTT and NU how enhanced wastewater treatment and changes in aquaculture practice may benefit water quality and thereby food security in Central Thailand's coastal aquaculture region.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Partnership with Bangkok Metropolitan Administration 
Organisation Bangkok Metropolitan Administration
Country Thailand 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT), Newcastle University (NU) and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) Water Quality Management Office, Department of Drainage and Sewerage have formed a partnership to review water quality issues affecting Central Thailand's coastal aquaculture region. KMUTT and NU have shared novel and unique datasets with BMA on the occurrence of trace organic pollutants (herbicides and antibiotics) and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) potential to seven major classes of antibiotics in Central Thailand's coastal aquaculture region using high-throughput qPCR targeting 295 antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) and mobile genetic elements (MGEs). In parallel, next generation sequencing (NGS) of 16S rRNA gene amplicons, qPCR of faecal pollution makers, and conventional plate count methods for the comprehensive characterization of environmental microbiomes was shared. These novel data sets have closed important knowledge gaps in BMA's understanding of water quality issues in Central Thailand and convincingly demonstrate that insufficiently treated urban wastewater discharges are the main driver of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Central Thailand's coastal aquaculture region. Such findings support BMA's current efforts to raise more funding for wastewater treatment in Bangkok via the introduction of a wastewater treatment charge to earn additional revenue of about 500 million baht a year from the fees.
Collaborator Contribution BMA has shared their monitoring data for water quality in the Hua Krabue canal, where KMUTT and NU research has found markedly elevated environmental antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and faecal pollution, compared to other canal and aquaculture sampling loations. BMA has shared their plans and calculation principles for new proposed regulation which will raise funds for wastewater treatment operations via a wastewater fee in Bangkok. BMA also shared how much additional revenue is expected to be raised from this fee in the future. Once the regulation takes effect, City Hall expects to earn additional revenue of about 500 million baht a year from the fees. This information enables KMUTT and NU to develop scenarios for future water quality in Central Thailand's aquaculture region. Once the scenario analysis is completed it will be shared with BMA and can help them target future investments into wastewater treatment and for publicizing the anticipated benefits of such investments.
Impact This collaboration is multi-disciplinary between natural and social scientists, engineers, and practitioners in the Thai authorities. A scientific publication about the drivers of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Central Thailand's aquaculture region is in the late stages of review (third round) and anticipated to be published shortly. The knowledge/data exchange happened remotely, but a workshop with stakeholders to share the scientific findings and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration plans for expanding wastewater treatment in Bangkok with the Department of Fisheries, aquaculture producers and the public will be held as soon as the pandemic allows for this to happen safely.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Partnership with the Department of Fisheries 
Organisation Government of Thailand
Department Coastal Aquaculture Research and Development Division
Country Thailand 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT) and Newcastle University (NU) are sharing unique data sets on the occurrence of organic micropollutants (herbicides, antibiotics), faecal bacteria and putative pathogens, and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Thailand's coastal aquaculture region with the Department of Fisheries (DOF). These novel datasets close current knowledge gaps in DOF's understanding of current water quality issues and impacts in Central Thailand's coastal aquacultures. The data suggest good compliance of small-scale aquaculture producers with Thailand's One Health policies to reduce use of antimicrobials in aquaculture and suggest that aquaculture is currently not the main driver of environmental AMR in Central Thailand, with AMR being significantly higher in urbanely polluted canals draining central Bangkok, as compared to aquaculture ponds. KMUTT and NU are using the data to inform quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) which will assess the exposure risks for aquacultural workers to faecal pollution and associated hazards in Central Thailand. These QMRA outcome will be shared with DOF to inform their water quality standards and advise to aquaculture producers.
Collaborator Contribution DOF is sharing information on aquaculture practice in Central Thailand which will inform a scenario analysis by KMUTT and NU researchers to predict how changes in aquaculture practice can contribute to surface water quality improvement in Central Thailand's coastal aquaculture region.
Impact This collaboration is multi-disciplinary between natural and social scientists, engineers, and practitioners in the Thai authorities. A scientific publication about the drivers of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Central Thailand's aquaculture region is in the late stages of review (third round) and anticipated to be published shortly. The knowledge/data exchange happened remotely, but a workshop with stakeholders to share the scientific findings and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration plans for expanding wastewater treatment in Bangkok with the Department of Fisheries, aquaculture producers and the public will be held as soon as the pandemic allows for this to happen safely.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Aquaculture producer engagement at Surakit farm. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact About 20 aquaculture farmers attended an event at Surakit farm to share knowledge about water quality issues and management in aquaculture and affordable methods for testing water quality.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/davidwerner/newton-fund-project/
 
Description Engagement event with aquaculture producers in Cha Cheong Sao province 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact About 20 aquaculture farmers attended an event to share knowledge about water quality issues and management in aquaculture and affordable methods for testing water quality. Participants realized how water quality may affect shrimp productivity and consequently their revenue. They learned how to set up their own water quality monitoring using simple test kits to check water in their farm, and they can pass this knowledge on to farmers in their neighbourhood.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/davidwerner/newton-fund-project/