Aquaponics is a form of agriculture, the entire premise of which is based upon the mutually beneficial relationship between plants and animals, more specifically fish. The fish are raised in tanks where they are looked after and tended to by farm workers. The water in the tank accumulates fish waste, which, when broken down by bacteria, creates a potent natural fertilizer for plants. This water is continuously flushed out of the fish tanks and channeled through soilless plantations of vegetables and other edible plants. The plants absorb the nutrients from the water, purifying the water, and it is then fed back into the fish tanks.
In this way, the nutrient-rich water from raising fish provides a natural fertilizer for the plants and the plants help to purify the water for the fish. This all takes place within a closed system or “controlled environment,” in which temperature, humidity, and other important variables for agriculture can be carefully managed. The aim of this control is to recreate an outdoor environment that is super conducive to fast and healthy plant growth. Crops can be grown for food, pharmaceutical, and nutriceutical applications, and algae for food and biofuels.
The benefits of aquaponics
This harmonious relationship between plant and fish creates an exceptionally sustainable and productive agricultural ecosystem that:
- Requires little water and other resources, since the water is continuously recycled and the fish fertilize the plants (aquaponics uses 90% less water than traditional farming).
- Can run year-round and in any location on the planet, since it takes place indoors and in an environment where the temperature and humidity can be controlled.
- Provides a continuous and reliable source of food fish and a great variety of fruit and vegetable products for consumption.
- Can cater to the needs of an entire family, community, village, hospital, or institution from one relatively small-scale operation.
- Provides a cheaper alternative to food that has to be imported.
- Provides food that is free from herbicides, pesticides, and hormones. The reason for this is simple: fish are sensitive to their environments and cannot tolerate harmful chemicals. If these were introduced into an aquaponics system, the fish would likely die.
- Provides food with a lower risk of contamination or pest infestation, since it is grown and harvested in a closed, controlled environment.
Aquaponics is also useful for education in schools and universities. With each link in the food chain easy to see and examine, students can learn about the biological relationships between the fish and the plants and take the field of aquaponics further through scientific inquiry.
How aquaponics can feed communities
In countries, cities, and communities that don’t have an established agricultural sector and, consequently, rely on imported food to feed their citizens, aquaponics can offer a sustainable and rich source of healthy, nutritious food. Being locally grown, this produce is also typically more affordable than imported food products and can be made reliably available. In places where the climate is harsh or prone to frequent extreme weather events such as hurricanes, controlled environment aquaponics, which can be built in hurricane-proof buildings, can provide a lasting, reliable solution to food shortages.
Building and managing such operations can also be a good source of jobs for communities who want to take the reins of their food production.
The way of the future
Controlled environment aquaponics truly optimizes the use of resources, such as water, energy, space, capital, and labor, to grow just about any commercially viable crop and food fish, making it a sustainable farming solution for any community in the world.