BIVI Srl: Precision Aquafarming using Earth Observation
Satellite data to support aquafarmers in molluscs harvesting on the Italian Adriatic Coast
BIVI Srl is an Italian micro-enterprise active in the aquaculture sector and mainly responsible for molluscs offshore farming. The company counts five employees and is based on the Adriatic coast, in Civitanova Marche.
BIVI Srl focuses its production mainly on mussel farming and partially on oyster farming. Every year, the company produces an average of 4-6 tons of cupped oysters and 150 tons of mussels. BIVI Srl operates mainly in Italy, specifically in the Marche region, and its customers are both local wholesalers and companies from the Ho.Re.Ca. (Hôtellerie-Restaurant-Café) supply chain.
The objective of BIVI Srl is to fully standardise and increase the production of cupped oysters (Crassostrea gigas). In addition to this, the company aims at implementing a full farming and production cycle of edulis oysters (also known as flat oyster), an indigenous oyster species of the Adriatic basin.
Aquaculture represents a source of sustainable and high-quality sea food products. As for the agriculture sector, aquafarming companies are looking for detailed and precise information to plan the optimal time to harvest and sell their products. Besides this, climate change effects are impacting the production and seasonal trends related to the harvesting of molluscs. Companies working in aquaculture are now searching for innovative solutions to collect information to monitor environmental parameters (water temperature, sea-level rise, water eutrophication, etc.), and associated risks, in order to optimise the management of the production sites.
In the specific case of BIVI Srl, the company is facing a series of challenges related to the frequent droughts that cause a depletion of nutrients and phytoplankton, with negative impacts on product quality (low meat products). The risk is a reduction of the production impacting the profit margins. In particular, the company needs to assess chlorophyll levels, which reflect phytoplankton density and composition, and compare them with those of the previous years.
The Satellite Solution
Satellite imagery proves to be a useful tool to collect timely information on a specific maritime area and to develop cost-effective solutions for aquafarmers.
Back in 2019, BIVI Srl — as a member of the Italian Association of Mediterranean Aquafarmers (AMA) — participated in a project funded by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policies (MIPAAF), which aimed at fostering the adoption of new technologies in the aquaculture sector.
Within this framework, the Italian SME Planetek, in collaboration with Blue Farm, a spin-off of the Ca’ Foscari University, , developed a service platform for fish farmers called Rheticus Aquaculture, mainly oriented towards molluscs harvesting.
Rheticus Aquaculture is a subscription and cloud-based service that provides geospatial information data and forecasting models and statistics based on information derived from satellites and in situ observations.
The service provides weekly information on parameters, such as chlorophyll concentration and temperature trends, mussels’ weight and growth prediction: information needed for predicting the economic value of the harvest according to the variation of the listed parameters.
The information included in the Rheticus service is a combination of satellite images, cartographic and environmental information available online as open data. Great support to the service comes from the software MITILAB, which provides in one single platform all the information on the work done and stocks on the harvesting area, such as maps and harvesting techniques.
The service is composed of two parts: a weekly bulletin sent by mail by MITILAB. The bulletin can be also consulted on a tablet that can be carried around by the aquafarmers. The other part consists of in situ observations, initially used to assess the growth prediction models.
After that, on the basis of satellite data and production batches, the service elaborates the weekly bulletin where chlorophyll and temperature data are expressed graphically comparing the data of the current year with previous years data as benchmark. The MITILAB software, based on a layout of the production units, can be updated daily, including all the needed information on the stocks (quantities, estimated growth, position, last grading/division, etc.).
Satellite data represent the main component of Rheticus Aquaculture. Sentinel-3 images and Copernicus CMEMS data are integrated into the platform. In addition, Blue Farm developed an algorithm based on Earth Observation data enabling the assessment of mussel’s growth rate.
The purpose of the system is to provide mussels farmers with data and forecasts that can be downloaded from the platform and easily understood even without a technical background.
Rheticus Aquaculture was used by BIVI Srl and other aquafarms along the Adriatic coast between 2019 and 2020, only for mussels farming.
The solution provided the company with clear and periodical information on chlorophyll levels in the Adriatic Sea and a forecast of the expected growth of mussels.
The service helped BIVI Srl to optimise time and to better plan the harvesting season. In particular, BIVI relied on the information related to the weekly mussels’ growth, including seeding data, stocking dates, 7-day forecast of mussel growth, and the comparative analysis between the current growth rate and the previous growing season.
Moreover, BIVI Srl retrieved historical data on chlorophyll concentrations over the last 10 years, which were very useful to better understand the on-going climate change effects on the harvesting.
This first version of Rheticus Aquaculture will be further improved to better respond to the needs of fish farmers like BIVI Srl who are looking for updated information on molluscs. Planetek is currently upgrading the service, co-designing a new customised service that will include weather conditions and forecasts for aquafarmers. To make the platform as user-friendly as possible, Planetek is planning to make the service available as a mobile app.