What distinguishes Shellevators from other oyster culturing systems?
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Shellevator™ (Shellfish Elevator) is an automated, scalable and mobile oyster production vessel powered by compressed air. Thousands of oysters rise from the sea floor to above the sea surface in under a minute and a penny. This breakthrough patented invention is a method that replaces most of the heavy lifting, back breaking and dangerous work of existing oyster production systems. Water flow in and out of ballast tanks beneath shellfish containers is controlled by simply opening valves to airlines connected to a compressed air source. Shellevator™ moves vertically through the water column like a dry dock facilitating laborious and costly oyster farming operations such as desiccation, density reduction, tumbling and harvesting. Shellevator™ is built with durable structural beams, scalable to any size, adaptable to any water body and hurricane ready.
The most transformative Shellevator™ advantage is seamless mobility ushering a paradigm shift from farming oysters to herding oysters. Shellevator™ is a new class of marine vessels that can be efficiently and quickly moved away to avoid harm, purge human health hazards and improve growth or quality, which is critical for adapting to the uncertainties of climate change.
Containerized oyster aquaculture operations rely more heavily on manual labor than any other food commodity. Every operation at oyster farms from stocking, density reduction, desiccation, relocation and harvest require manual lifting of containers by workers. These operations are typically conducted at the farm site with workers in the water. This business model limits the size of oyster containers in existing culture systems and exposes workers to a plethora of safety hazards.
Maintaining a skilled workforce is particularly challenging considering the impact of weather on restricting marine operations and extended harvest closures triggered by pollution and harmful algal blooms (HABs) that interrupt cash flow to pay workers. Timely mobilization of work crews to secure gear in response to fast approaching storms is critical to prevent catastrophic losses of crop and gear. Lightweight gear is especially vulnerable to being swept away or buried by hurricanes and requires more unit manipulations and slows preparations. Labor costs and maintaining a labor force during uncertain periods of inactivity impedes expansion of oyster aquaculture more than any other factor.
Shellevator™ methodology replaces manual labor using compressed air to quickly and inexpensively lift oyster containers above the sea surface without workers entering the water. The simple step of opening valves on a manifold connected to a compressed air supply source introduces air into lift tanks and exhaust water to raise the Shellevator™. When all the water is exhausted the valves are closed to maintain the floating position. Submerging Shellevator™ is accomplished by opening the valves and exhausting the air from the lift tanks into the atmosphere. Once the Shellevator™ is floating it can be easily relocated to perform operations in more favorable conditions near shore of indoors. Current prototypes can be loaded on a trailer at a boat ramp and driven to a processing plant of other facility or placed on a boatlift to conduct density reductions or harvests out of the water.
Existing technology could be used to actuate opening and shutting valves remotely to convert Shellevator™ into robots. Valves could be operated with a timer, motion sensor or a remote device on demand. Shellevator™ moored to a pier could be plumbed in sequence to a shore-based compressor and valves could be operated manually or automatically by reacting to pressure drops when all water is exhausted. Shellevator™ anchored offshore with on-board pressurized tanks would also allow remote operation.
Check out the Virtual Trade Show from Northeast Aquaculture Conference in January 2021 with Andy Depaola and Daryl Steiner
Tested with demonstrated performance under adverse conditions
Shellevator™ prototypes have been operated in Mobile Bay starting in early 2017 and have produced tens of thousands of oysters for interstate commerce. Payload among prototypes ranges from 10,000-20,000 market-ready oysters. Current prototypes that rest on the sea floor have an operational range of 2-6 feet of water depth. Shellfish are contained above the lift tanks and frame and are at least 1-2 feet above the sea floor when the Shellevator™ is submerged. This feature saves oysters from being buried by shifting sediment and suffocation when exposed to extreme seas.
Shellevator™ have stayed put during numerous hurricanes and tropical storms that have washed away piers in Mobile Bay since 2017 including four in 2020. Wide body, low profile and heavy load combine to make Shellevator™ virtually immovable when resting on the seafloor in the normal grow position. Single anchor point allows 360 degree swing for lighter loads and lighter lines and moorings than required for gear requiring multiple anchoring points that fail during cross winds. Sinking Shellevator™ from the desiccation position floating on the sea surface takes a few seconds by opening two valves on the manifold. Oysters are in gear above pontoons that is 18-30” off the seafloor and protected from burying and suffocation as gear that rest on the bottom. All Shellevator™ prototypes and oysters survived Hurricanes Nate and Gordon without any preparations other than opening valves. Hurricanes Florence and Michael caused $10,000,000 and $20,000,000 damage to oyster farms in NC and FL, respectively in 2018.