The marvels of aquaponics systems are often evidenced by the bountiful harvests of vegetable crops and fresh water aquatic animals such as fish. Although it is impossible to point out to a sole hero since the entire system is based on self-sustainability and symbiotic relationships, bacteria are often left out in the awarding ceremony. This is baffling considering the vital role bacteria plays in the aquaponics systems. This article is therefore all about recognizing the unsung heroes in the aquaponics systems: bacteria.
An aquaponics system is a food production system that relies on the seamless integration of aquaculture and hydroponics in a symbiotic environment. Fresh water aquatic animals and vegetable crops get to be reared and cultivated in an environment devoid of soil. The set up of aquaponics systems range from simple tanks to complex sets of equipment depending on the type of foods reared, the area covered and integration of alternative energy among other factors. Aquaponics systems have numerous benefits such as appropriateness in all kinds of settings, allowance for all year round farming, enabling of abundant food production, creation of useful by products, energy efficiency and economy. In the entire furore about aquaponics systems, bacteria are sometimes not mentioned when perhaps they are the real heroes.
Bacteria, one of the first forms of life to exist on planet Earth have mostly been associated with causing diseases and bringing misery to many forms of life. Bacteria constitute a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms of which not all of them are essentially pathogenic. There are some bacteria that are beneficial. Bacteria that thrive in aquaponics systems are some of the beneficial bacteria. With many types of bacteria cited for causing diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera and syphilis, it is no surprise that many people cannot comfortably give bacteria credit when bacteria turn out to be in fact beneficial. The truth of the matter is that without bacteria, life as we know it would be unsustainable.
Water in aquaponics systems is always circulating in a continuous cycle. Water that leaves the fish tank is full of ammonia that was excreted by the fish. Ammonia, even at low levels is toxic to fish and most of other fresh water aquatic animals. Without a system of eliminating this ammonia, the fish will die in no time. In an intricate two-phase process, autotrophic bacteria unleash their magic of converting this toxic ammonia to nitrite in the first phase and nitrite to less toxic nitrate in the second. This nitrate is not toxic to fresh water aquatic animals unless it accumulates to very high levels. The good thing is that in the aquaponics system, plants make good use of the nitrates to synthesize proteins; completing a wonderful symbiotic relationship. As such, water that flows from the biofilter (where all this magic happens) goes back to the fish tank with no ammonia and negligible amounts of nitrates.