What Is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics are a food production system designed for sustainability and long-lasting effectiveness. The system is composed of two elements – a section where plants grow in water and another where animals are raised. Mixing principles of aquaculture (raising animals such as fish, shrimp and crayfish in aquariums) with hydroponics (raising plants in water), aquaponics are designed to grow food without the need for soil.
In this symbiotic environment, effluents slowly gather in the water, creating a toxic atmosphere for animals. This water is transferred to the hydroponic system where the effluents and other aquaculture products are filtered out by the plants as nutrients. The purified water is returned to the animals for re-use.
Aquaponic systems range in size from small and portable to large commercial units. The technology usually uses freshwater instead of salt water. Over time, effluents and waste accumulating from leftover food and fish bodily waste gather in water to the point where it becomes toxic. Due to closed recirculation in many aquatic systems, this results in water having to be cleaned and purified.
While this effluent and waste-filled water becomes toxic to fish and other animals at high concentrations, it provides a source of food and life to plants. Filled with essential nutrients and minerals, the water helps plants grow and thrive.
Aquaponic systems are divided into a few subsystems for the removal of solid wastes, maintaining oxygenated water, and adding bases to neutralize acids. These sections include the solids removal unit (for removing leftover food and assorted waste), the rearing tank (for feeding and raising fish and other animals), the biofilter (where bacteria can grow and convert nitrates from ammonia; nitrates are then used by the plants), the sump (where water descends to before being pumped back up to the rearing tanks) and the hydroponics subsystem (where plants are grown by absorbing excess nutrients from the water).
Aquaponic systems are extremely effective at retaining and reusing water. Instead of discharging dirty or used waters, the system recycles the same fluids over and over. Aquaponic systems depend strongly on creating a harmonious relationship between the animals and the plants in the system. This relationship yields a strong ecosystem that only experiences slight variation in oxygen and nutrient levels.
Adding water is only necessary when fluids are lost from absorption by plants, evaporation of surface water, removal of solid waste from the system, or system overflow due to rainfall. It is estimated that an aquaponic system needs roughly 2% of the water a traditionally irrigated farm does to grow the same amount of vegetables and produce.
As a result, aquaponic production of crops and fish in areas where water and other resources are scarce quickly becomes possible.
The aquaponic systems have three main inputs – electricity to pump water between the hydroponics and the aquaculture, food to give to the animals and fish, and water.
As a result, the systems are able to continually produce fresh vegetables and plants while also raising fish and other aquatic animals. In this way, aquaponic systems offer a future of resource recycling and sustainability.
Click here to view a guide that shows you how to create this system.