Water Quality and Aquaculture

Water quality management underpinning sustainable aquaculture and its expansion in South West England
This project brings together a wide range of stakeholders with a vested interest in the development of sustainable aquaculture and water quality management in the Southwest.

Aquaculture is the fastest-growing food production sector globally. Combined fish and shellfish sales from the UK aquaculture industry are already at around £1 billion at first point of sale, and this number is expected to increase rapidly. With declining capture fisheries, aquaculture is recognised as one of the few industries that can underpin sustainable economic growth and provide employment opportunities in UK rural and coastal communities.

Many studies have highlighted the nutritional benefits of shellfish, but as well as being good for our health, shellfish farming can be good for the environment too. Shellfish feed on naturally occurring plankton, and so the production of shellfish is highly sustainable. Shellfish installations can also provide many positive ecosystem service benefits such as sheltered nursery habitats for marine/estuarine organisms, improved water quality, and nitrogen and carbon capture and sequestration by the filter-feeding shellfish.

Compared to other coastal areas in the UK and abroad, shellfish aquaculture is relatively underexploited in the South West. This expansion is likely limited by, among other reasons, variable water quality which can affect the classification of shellfish production sites, and restrict when harvesting of shellfish is permitted.

A wide range of factors affect water quality and thereby hamper the development of aquaculture. A principle factor is microbiological water quality (ie faecal coliform counts, on which regulations concerning shellfish harvesting and classification are based); other aspects of water include pesticide and fertiliser runoff from farming, and chemicals and microbiological contaminants found in wastewater. A holistic approach is needed to ensure that resources are managed in a way that is sustainable across agriculture, water treatment and aquaculture.

Project aims

Led by Professor Charles Tyler (University of Exeter), the project team comprises geographers, bioscientists, environmental economists, biologists, hydrologists and a host of contributors with experience of whole-catchment thinking.

The team aim to better understand water quality and the dependencies of aquaculture in the South West and will acheive this by:

  • Building an understanding of the reasons for the success and failure of shellfish aquaculture installations.
  • Quantifying water quality and trace pollution sources for selected catchments in the South West.
  • Using existing models (ShellSIM) to relate shellfish quality to water quality.
  • Using existing models (NEVO) to predict water quality based on land use, as well as to simulate future land management scenarios and the resulting impacts on water quality and shellfish quality.
  • Providing a spatial view of water quality pressures in the South West, and compare this against other considerations for future aquaculture development (eg accessibility, wave exposure, competing uses for marine and estuarine space).

Our Partners

Project News

Future land-use scenarios and links to South West aquaculture

A new paper published by SWEEP academics considers the effect of land-use change on water quality and the marine aquaculture (mariculture) sector….

Artificial Intelligence could help predict harmful algal blooms

A new project will develop Artificial Intelligence tools to predict harmful blooms of algae in the ocean. Harmful algal blooms…

Project Events

South West Marine Ecosystems – Fisheries Symposium ‘Fisheries impacts on marine habitats’

The symposium will focus on work that has been carried out within four organisations to develop tools and research studies…


Project Code: 019
Project Lead:
Dr Ross Brown
SWEEP Impact Fellow
Professor Melanie Austen
SWEEP Marine Co-Lead
Dr Yuri Artoli
Professor Ian J Bateman
SWEEP Director

Ian is Professor of Environmental Economics at the University of Exeter Business School. As the SWEEP Director, Ian is responsible for ensuring that the Partnership delivers major real-world improvements in the economy, communities and natural environment of the region. This is achieved through the variety of projects which SWEEP undertakes.

Professor Richard Brazier
SWEEP Water and Business Lead
Dr Donna Carless
SWEEP Impact Fellow / Co-Investigator
Professor Brett Day
SWEEP Natural Capital Markets Lead
Dr Benjamin Jackson
SWEEP Impact Fellow

Benjamin works on the SWEEP 003 (Leak Detection) and 009 (Whole catchment) projects. He is a Physical Geographer, with a background in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), environmental modelling and river catchment management. He has worked on projects relating to flooding in river/wastewater networks, low-flow hydrology, and chemical risk assessment.

Dr Peter Miller
Earth Observation Scientist
Dr Mandy Robinson
SWEEP Impact Fellow
Dr Ricardo Torres
Systems Modeller
Professor Charles Tyler
SWEEP Water Co-Lead
Sara Zonneveld
SWEEP Impact Fellow

Sara is an Impact Fellow for SWEEP 004, working on natural capital approaches in Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks. She is a biologist with a background in ecology and ornithology.  Sara has been based at the University of Exeter since 2013, where she previously carried out research on Dartmoor’s moorland birds.