From Keyworth to Kisumu: Aquaculture in Lake Victoria, Kenya - A student adventure…by Kelsey Ferris

I have almost completed my 1-year industrial placement in the Inorganic Geochemistry team at BGS, and will soon be back in New Zealand to finish my undergraduate degree at Waikato University. My experience has included fieldwork in Kenya, aqueous chemistry analyses for BGS science projects and external clients. The experiences I have gained from this placement branch much further than broadening of my analytical and research abilities. My leadership skills, independence and confidence within my own abilities has grown immensely due to the responsibilities I have been tasked with. 

Kelsey analysing samples in the aqueous lab
My research project aligned with Andy Marriott’s Newton International Links project – Aquaculture: Pathway to food security in Kenya, which is investigating the contribution of micronutrients from wild and caged Nile tilapia in Lake Victoria to dietary intakes in the Winam Gulf basin. In addition, possible inorganic contaminants were measured to define potential pollution pathways, hence food safety. This work also supported CEG activities with the University of Nottingham, who measured antimicrobial resistance as a result of exposure to metal pollution.  In my previous geoblogy I talk about the exciting adventure I was a part of in May as we undertook fieldwork on Kenyan Marine Fisheries Research Institution (KMFRI) research vessel R. V. Uvumbuzi, sampling Lake Victoria for waters, sediments and fish.

Life aboard the R. V. Uvumbuzi. I tried my hand at all aspects of fieldwork, from sampling to navigation.
The filtered waters, fish tissue and sediments were analysed back at BGS for general chemical parameters, mercury and a full suite of elements on the ICP-MS. It was clear to see while sampling that the water quality in Winam Gulf was much poorer than the greater Lake Victoria basin, as it ranged from vivid green in hypereutrophic and high-density aquaculture zones near cities, to murky brown throughout the Gulf. Waters within Winam Gulf had much higher concentrations of anions, cations, alkalinity, TDS and many other parameters than the greater Lake Victoria basin. This, coupled with a low TN:TP ratio in shallow Winam Gulf waters, indicates that Winam gulf is hypoxic and of poor quality for aquatic life to grow.

The water quality of Winam Gulf was poor compared to the main Lake Victoria basin.
A typical daily portion of fish comprises of 100g of tilapia and compared to an average Kenyan PMTI (provisional maximum tolerable intake), none of the potentially harmful elements studied for wild or caged tilapia were greater than 4% of the PMTI. Hence, the health risks associated with consuming tilapia were low. However, 100g of both caged and wild tilapia exceeded 10% of the RDI (recommended daily intake) for numerous essential micronutrients, and was noticeably higher for selenium. This indicates that the tilapia sourced from both caged and wild sources is a good source of nutrients. Part of my research outcome and possibly the next step would be to do more research on the nutritional quality of caged tilapia to improve Kenya’s food security.

Back in the UK I have soaked up as much of the British culture as I could, experiencing snow for the first time, the special magic of a winter Christmas (although I am looking forward to spending it at the beach this year!), and the attraction to a beer garden on one of the precious summer days. During my personal time I have travelled around Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Croatia, Scotland and Wales, and have been amazed by the rich culture and history that we Kiwi’s aren’t accustomed to.

Thank you to all of the wonderful people I have met during this journey, the mentors who have guided me towards finding a new passion in aquaculture research, and to the lifelong friends who have made this year the best of my life! This year has taught me that success is the result of a combination of opportunity and hard work. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in the right place at the right time, apply yourself and you will be amazed at the results.