While most people know that Aquaponics is the combination of Aquaculture and Hydroponics, rather fewer know much of how it came about.
The notion of using fish wastes to fertilize plants (the fundamental premise of aquaponics) has its roots in early Asian and South American civilisations.
The ancient Aztecs built ‘chinampas’ (networks of canals and stationary artificial islands) in which they cultivated crops on the islands using nutrient-rich mud and water from the canals.
The ancient Chinese also employed a system of integrated aquaculture in which finfish, catfish, ducks and plants co-existed in a symbiotic relationship where the ducks were housed in cages over the finfish ponds. The finfish processed the wastes from the ducks. In a lower pond, the catfish live on the wastes that have flowed from the finfish pond. The water from the catfish ponds was used for irrigated rice and vegetable crops.
The New Alchemists are probably the people principally responsible for Aquaponics, as we currently know it.
In 1969, John and Nancy Todd and William McLarney founded the New Alchemy Institute. The culmination of their efforts was the construction of a prototype agricultural “Ark”……a solar-powered, self-sufficient, bio-shelter…..designed to accommodate the year-round needs of a family of four using holistic methods to provide fish, vegetables and shelter.
In the mid 1980’s, Mark McMurtry (a graduate student at North Carolina University) and Professor Doug Sanders created the first known closed loop aquaponic system.
Effluent from fish tanks was used to trickle-irrigate tomatoes and cucumbers in sand grow beds which also functioned as bio-filters. As the water drained from the sand grow beds it was recirculated back into the fish tanks.
McMurtry’s research and findings confirmed much of the background science that underpins Aquaponics.
In the early 1990’s, Missouri farmers Tom and Paula Speraneo modified the NCSU system and introduced their Bioponics concept. They grew herbs and vegetables in ebb and flow gravel grow beds irrigated by the nutrient rich water from a 2200 litre tank in which they raised Tilapia.
While gravel grow beds had been used for decades by hydroponicists, the Speraneos were the first to make effective use of them in Aquaponics. Their system was practical and productive and has been widely duplicated by Aquaponics enthusiasts throughout the World.
Americans Rebecca Nelson and John Pade commenced publication of their quarterly Aquaponics Journal in 1997.
In more recent times, Canadian researcher Dr Nick Savidov has undertaken further research around the productive potential of aquaponics.
Through the efforts of these pioneers, Aquaponics…..a modern slant on an old idea….is enjoying a renaissance.
Article by Gary Donaldson, www.aquaponicshq.com