A Brief History of Aquaponics

history of AquaponicsAquaponics, while may be viewed as a revolutionary concept of raising fish and plants together, is not entirely a new idea. It has its roots from the early people in Mexico and in some parts of Asia. It may still be unclear as to exactly when and where it really originated but the earliest recognized system are those employed by the Aztecs. They invented a system of agricultural lands called “Chinampas.” This system is a network of canals and artificial islands where crops are grown using the nutrient-rich mud and water from the canals. They used these nutrient-rich waters from the canals to irrigate the plants grown on the artificial islands. Other examples of early Aquaponics systems can also be traced from Indonesia, South China and Thailand.


They cultivate rice in paddy fields together with raising fish. On the other hand, the ancient Chinese also used a system of integrated aquaculture in which they raised fish, ducks and plants together, symbiotically. In this system the ducks are placed in cages above the fish ponds. The fishes process the wastes from the ducks and the water from the fish ponds irrigates the crops at the bottom.


The persons that probably are responsible for what we know today as modern Aquaponics were John and Nancy Todd and William McLarney. They are the founders of the New Alchemy Institute in 1969. These people are primarily responsible for the construction of a prototype agricultural Ark. It is a solar-powered, self-sufficient bio-shelter designed to provide the needs of a family of four for the whole year, using holistic methods for food and shelter provision.


A closed loop Aquaponics system however was not realized until the mid 1980’s. Mark McMurty, a graduate student of the North Carolina University and Professor Doug Sanders created the first known closed loop Aquaponics system. In this system, effluents from fish tanks were used to irrigate tomatoes and cucumbers in sand grow beds which also functioned as bio filters. As the water drained from the grow beds, it was circulated back into the fish tanks.


In the early 1990’s gravel grows beds were employed by Missouri farmers Tom and Paula Speraneo. They raised vegetables in ebb and flow gravel grows beds which were irrigated by nutrient-rich water from a large tank in which they raised Tilapia. Their system has been commonly employed by Aquaponics enthusiasts around the world because it was dynamic and practical.


We are greatly indebted to these pioneers of Aquaponics. Through them we are now enjoying growing our own food in the comforts of our own backyard.

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