Aquaponics is a sustainable food production system 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.

A research project run by the Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (CERES) consists of an energy and water efficient, free-standing aquaponic urban farm that provides communities with access to low cost organic products and food growing training.

The aquaponics system is a modular structure that uses affordable construction materials –  a shipping containers and poly greenhouses. The aquaponics system will be one element of an urban farm system, or Food Hub, which will include space for other production systems, along with space for vegetable sorting and storage, farm training and tool storage space.

Aquaponic systems consist of network of pipes and pumps that circulate waste water from a freshwater fish tank to water filled garden beds. Beneficial bacteria that occur naturally, convert the fish waste into soluble nutrients which food crops can absorb and use for growth.

Crops most commonly grown in Aquaponics systems include Asian greens, culinary herbs, lettuces and tomatoes, but most plants that can be grown in a vegetable garden bed can be grown in an aquaponics system.

Objectives and beneficiaries

The project aims to integrate aquaponics into an urban farming system that provides communities with access to low cost, organic, local produced food.

Strong points of the practice

In comparison to conventional broadacre farming, where water in irrigation systems is lost through evaporation, percolation and runoff, the only water loss in an Aquaponics system is the minimal amount extracted by plants and lost through transpiration and evaporation. In an aqauponics system all water not used by the plants is recycled back to the fish tank as purified water. Aquaponics systems use less than 1% of the water that a broadacre farm, of similar size, would consume.

In an Aquaponics systems, there is also no need for fossil fuel based fertilizers because the food crops get all their nutrient requirements from the fish waste.

The addition of a greenhouse into an aquaponics system provides a warmer environment which allows for a longer growing season in colder climates.