We want to take a minute to go through what is aquaponics, where it came from and why we feel it solves some pre-existing problems in the Abaco Islands.
It is a sustainable farming system that mimics the natural process of all lakes, ponds, rivers, and waterways on Earth. This is achieved by combining aquaculture (raising of fish) and hydroponics (a soil-less method of growing plants) which creates a symbiotic relationship. Fish waste provides the essential nutrients for plant growth, while the plants provide water filtration to create habitable water for the fish.
The term Aquaponics was coined in the 1970s, but the system is far from a new. The “roots” of Aquaponics extends deep into ancient cultures of the world.
Dating back to 1000 A.D., the Mayans, followed by Aztecs, would cultivate crops in nutrient rich lakes using rafts. Aztecs constructed chinampas; a system of artificial islands in a network of canals to grow plants. The nutrient rich mud and water in these canals resulted from the fish waste. Aztecs would then dredge the nutrient rich waste to irrigate the plants above.
In one of the earliest examples of aquaponics principles, the people of China, Thailand, and Indonesia cultivated rice paddies using aquaculture. Ancient Chinese civilizations, using a polyculture farming system, created a symbiotic cultivation process using finfish, catfish, ducks, and plants. Finfish would process the waste from ducks housed above a pond. The catfish would then feed off the finfish waste in a lower pond. The wastewater from the catfish pond would then flow to irrigate the rice and vegetable crops creating a harmonic food system.
These ancient methods of agriculture helped form the stepping stones for modern day Aquaponics. The evolution of current systems started in 1969 when the New Alchemist Institute modeled a bio-shelter named ‘The Ark’; a self-sufficient, solar powered shelter designed to accommodate the year-long needs of fish, plants, and provide shelter for four people. Around the same time, the University of the Virgin Islands researched solutions for wastewater derived from the fish farming industry. Dr. James Rokacy developed a methodology to use plants to filter the water. Rakocy and his colleagues developed the use of deep-water culture hydroponic growing beds in a large-scale aquaponics system in 1997.
The efforts of these few and many others, helped develop aquaponics as a method of creating a sustainable, eco-responsible, and nutritional cultivation of food for commercial applications as well as the backyard gardener. The system can be constructed as large or small as one chooses. On the smaller side, a backyard aquaponics system is essentially no different than its larger commercial application. Most DIYers around the world find the systems to be economical, enjoyable, and a chance to build something pleasing to the eye, as well and the family dinner table.
The benefits of a looped aquaponics system are numerous: they are spatial efficient, low on water consumption, provide for accelerated plant growth, allow for year-round production in controlled environments, operate efficiency with shared equipment, and allows for multiple crops to be produced simultaneously.
The goal of the project in the Abaco Islands is to provide solutions to the existing limitations in agriculture prior to the Hurricane Dorian. We are also building an infrastructure necessary to get their food system back up and running after the destruction left by the storm. The Project is working directly with local farmers, schools, community members, and relief organizations to create an aquaponic and hydroponics community garden and training center. This will increase the local production of nutrient rich food, provide an avenue for economic independence, and create a positive learning platform for future generations.
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