Aquaponics /ˈækwəˈpɒnɨks/, or pisciponics, is a sustainable food productionsystem that combines conventional aquaculture, (raising aquatic animals such as snails, fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks), with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. In aquaculture, effluents accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity for the fish. This water is led to a hydroponic system where theby-products from the aquaculture are broken down by nitrogen-fixing bacteria, then filtered out by the plants as nutrients, after which the cleaned water is recirculated back to the animals.
As existing hydroponic and aquaculture farming techniques form the basis for all aquaponics systems, the size, complexity, and types of foods grown in an aquaponics system can vary as much as any system found in either distinct farming discipline.
(Source: Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquaponics)
A Closed Loop System
In aquaponics, the plants and fish benefit from on another. The process begins when the fish produce ammonia. Fish produce ammonia by releasing it through their gills and as a byproduct of eating. Ammonia in high concentrations can quickly become toxic to the fish.
There are naturally occurring bacteria all around us waiting to take advantage of this in the proper environment. They are collectively called nitrifying bacteria. One set of bacteria will go to work turning the ammonia into nitrites. This type of bacteria multiplies at double the rate of the second group of bacteria. This sudden increase in nitrite production brought on by the rapid growth of the bacteria is called the “nitrite spike”.
The second group of bacteria takes in the nitrites and converts them into nitrates. These nitrates are then what the plants absorb through their roots as nutrients and in doing so they help clean the water before it returns to the fish.
The process is considered a closed loop system because the fish provide a source of nutrients for the plants and the plants with the aid of beneficial bacteria provide clean water back to the fish. All happening in a smaller than the average footprint using only 10% the amount of water that a soil based system would use.
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