What is Aquaponics?

At its core, aquaponics combines two different systems: an aquaculture system for fish production, and a growing system for plant production. In practice, aquaponics is a complex and interconnected ecosystem of fish, plants, bacteria and humans. The movement of water through the system is what drives aquaponics: waste produced by the fish flows into the hydroponic system, where those by-products are processed into usable nitrate and nitrates by the bacteria in the media bed. In turn the plants uptake these nitrates, cleaning the water, which then cycles back through the aquaculture system to the fish, roughly as clean as it was when it left.

Why Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is a highly sustainable method of agriculture, with moderate input and maintenance of the aquaponic system, such as cleaning filters and feeding the fish. The primary benefits to Aquaponics are:

  • Environmentally friendly growing with low water and power usage.
  • System primarily runs on fish food and water.
  • Little to no chemical usage – aquaponics requires no synthetic fertilizers and few pesticides.
  • Many of the plants that thrive in aquaponic growing are easy to grow.
  • Low susceptibility to pests and diseases.
  • Timely crop turn-around.
  • Increased crop production per square foot versus traditional farming.
  • Multiple crops and fish can be grown from the same system.
  • Fish can be harvested as an additional food or revenue source.

Aquaponics and STEM

For educators, an aquaponic system is a fantastic way to promote STEM subjects in the classroom. Aquaponics as a discipline touches on all aspects common to STEM programs in a unique way, including Chemistry, Mathematics, Engineering, Biology and more. Download Stuppy’s sample Aquaponics Curriculum to learn more about teaching aquaponics in the greenhouse classroom.

A Brief History of Aquaponics

While it is hard to pinpoint the exact time that aquaponics was first used, there are several early examples of its use. The Aztecs developed a system known as chinampas in the twelfth- and thirteenth centuries, where plants were raised on stationary, or sometimes movable, artificial islands in shallow lakes, and waste materials dredged from canals were used to irrigate the plants. However, as early as 5 AD, the ancient Chinese developed similar early systems using plants, ducks, finfish and catfish together to raise their fish and plants harmoniously. While many different systems are on the market today, the development of the modern aquaponic system is often attributed to the various works of the New Alchemy Institute, of Dr. Mark McMurtry et al. at North Carolina State University, and of Dr. James Rakocy and his colleagues at the University of the Virgin Islands.