About 71% of the Earth's surface is covered in water, and it usually takes three things for a species to survive in an ecosystem, whether on land or in the water. The species needs water, food, and light. Few species may not need light, but without light, the food used for survival could not grow. In addition, nutrients are found in food to keep living things alive, both plants and animals. Even the waste of a species can eventually provide nutrients for a living organism. The world is connected through its living things, the water, and the land. Throughout history, humans have understood this connection. In ancient times when people needed food, they had to grow it themselves, either on land or sometimes even on water as part of a system called aquaponics.
The word aquaponics is a newer word, only dating back to the 1970s, but the concept has roots in ancient history. Aquaponics is a system combining the habitats of fish or other organisms that live in water with the growth or farming of plants. In the system, the plants and fish rely on each other. it is related to a combination of two other types of growing systems.
Aquaculture: This is fish farming. Agriculture is farming, growing plants in acres and acres of soil, but aquaculture is the breeding, raising and harvesting of plants and animals in water environments such as ponds, rivers, lakes, or oceans. Today, fish farming is used to raise salmon, carp, tilapia, and other species of fish.
Hydroponics: This is growing plants without soil. The plants do not receive nutrients like 'regular' plants, but the nutrients come from the water. An example is algae, which grows on the surface of water receiving its nutrients from the water. No soil is necessary.
Modern aquaponics (note the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics) combines the two systems into one single, unified or integrated system. The plants are not grown in soil but grow in various types of rocks or gravel, though in some systems, grow freely in the water. The nutrients for the plants come from the fish below a growbed, the place where the plants grow.
The nitrogen cycle is a major part of the system. The waste from fish, food waste, and other plant/animal-based material in the water will produce ammonia. The ammonia is toxic to the fish and plants, but bacteria (microbes) in the water break down the ammonia and change it into nitrite. However, nitrite can kill the fish, but the bacteria then break down the nitrite into nitrate, also toxic to fish, but it is taken up by the plants in the growbed. The water becomes clean again. The cycle continues.
The four simple steps further explain how aquaponics works using a tank, pump, and growbed. First, the fish in a tank eat and they produce waste and ammonia is produced by the waste. The waste will eventually be used as food and nutrients for the plants. Next, through the nitrogen cycle, the waste is converted to fertilizer and nitrogen for the plants. The process is also called nitrification. Third, the nitrogen and solid fish waste are pumped to the plants in the growbed above the water. The plants use the nutrients for continued growth. Finally, the water pumped into the plants is then filtered and cycled back to the tank below. The oxygen-rich water has been cleaned and there is very little waste. The plants benefit because they receive nutrients. The fish benefit because the water is cleaned.
Many experts believe that aquaponics is efficient and sustainable. Better food techniques will be needed in the future as the population grows and land becomes less available for growing plants. Aquaponics is environmentally friendly and could easily satisfy the needs of people throughout the world in every climate.
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