An old Chinese proverb says: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime”. But by learning aquaponics, the ability to feed an entire community a plethora of vegetables and fish products becomes possible. You’ll be able to feed a whole city.

Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics that feeds off of each other. Aquaculture is the process of raising fish or other aquatic life in a controlled environment for human use. It is said that aquaculture started in 6000 BC when indigenous Gunditjmara people in Victoria, Australia raised eels.


Hydroponics is a process in which plants are grown in water or a nutrient solution instead of the traditional method of growing is soil. When put together, the two aspects of aquaponics work together to enhance the entire system.

Basically, the system works by using the nitrogen cycle in water. Fish excrement’s contain high amounts of ammonia. Two different types of bacteria break down the higher form of nitrogen into nitrite, then into nitrate. Nitrate can be used by plants for growth. Plants absorb the nitrate thus cleaning the water before it is returned to the fish tank.

Aquaponics is a dynamic system that conserves natural resources while also producing many products that humans need to live. In aquaponics, high quality produce, fish products, fertilizer, and more are created while only using a fraction of the resources it takes to grow plants in conventional agriculture.


The list of benefits that are gained with aquaponics goes on and on. Only 1% of the water it takes to grow plants conventionally is used in the system. It grows plants faster and the maintenance behind the whole process is minimal. There is no weeding involved and timers automatically control the flow of water through the system. Aquaponic systems are versatile and can fit into any space, from a window frame to a skyscraper.

The ability to create closed systems is growing in importance every day. A closed system is a process or physical system that does not require any inputs and creates no harmful outputs. It is a process that is completely sustainable and benefits every aspect of the system continuously. When preformed correctly, aquaponics is one of these closed systems.

There are many additions to aquaponics that truly make it a closed loop system. Black soldier fly farming creates an endless supply of high protein food for the fish, using only food scrapes to produce the flies. Vermicomposting (growing worms) in or around the system leads to similar benefits. You can breed your own fish fry to ensure a consistent school of fish for the system.

Aquaponic systems are being built all over the world, from commercial profit seekers to universities looking to research and expand upon aquaponics. You can build a very basic aquaponics unit in your home for around $100.

Aquaponics is another exciting way to become connected with nature. Many species and cycles are clearly presented when running the system for the enjoyment of all the creatures involved. It is easy to lose track of time while watching this wonderful system run.

Photos: Justin Leonard, Kate Field, Kanu Hawaii

PrintBy Jake Frazier

Jake Frazier is an outdoor enthusiast and the owner of Residential Ecology, a sustainable ecological resource management company. He uses existing natural systems to improve the quality of life for both humans and the Earth. Jake is interested in permaculture, living systems and exploring. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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