Aquaponics is an above-ground agricultural technique that involves the symbiotic integration of the fish farming system with aquaculture technology and the cultivation of plants above ground with hydroponics technology, in a closed and continuous recycling production system. The word ‘aquaponics’ is in fact a combination of the terms ‘aquaculture’ and ‘hydroponics’.
Aquaculture is the set of controlled farming techniques for the production of fish by humans. The Recirculating Aquaculture System, or R.A.S., basically comprises of a series of processes and treatments. Briefly, water is appropriately treated and sanitised for fish hygiene in intensive fish farming operations, e.g. through mechanical or biological filtration and ozone treatments. In these plants, certain parameters such as pH, temperature, oxygen and ammonia must be met.
Hydroponics, on the other hand, is the cultivation of plants without the use of soil. Specifically, it is a technology aimed at growing plants in a closed loop of water. Hydroponics allows controlled production from both a quality and hygiene point of view, and allows indoor production to be de-seasonalised. There are many advantages related to non-exploitation of soil and considerable water savings. With hydroponics, in fact, 90% less water is used.
In a nutshell, aquaponics combines the breeding of aquatic animals and the above-ground cultivation of plants that, through water recirculation, create an integrated, biological ecosystem. We properly speak of aquaponics when there are three subjects within the recirculating system that are in close relationship with each other: fish, bacteria and plants.
For more information on how aquaponics works, see the Acquaponica.blog.
The plant installed within the Sorgenti del Pescara Regional Nature Reserve is a small hatchery, i.e. a facility intended for the artificial reproduction, incubation and breeding during the early life stages of aquatic animals, and is the first in Italy to be built using the aquaponics technique within a protected nature reserve.
The project, realised with funds POR FESR 6.6.1, Abruzzo 2014-2020 Axis VI Action 6.6.1 by Acquacoltura Italia srl together with its partner IRCI Spa on commission of the Municipality of Popoli, is part of a programme aiming at the fish repopulation of native strains of Salmo trutta (trout) and Austropotamobius pallipes (crayfish) within the Regional Nature Reserve Sorgenti del Pescara.
This is an extremely innovative system based on agriculture 2.0: a greenhouse in which plants are grown without soil, using only water enriched with all the nutrients the plants need. In the case of aquaponics, the fundamental nutrients for plant growth are provided by the breeding of aquatic animals, of which these substances are the main waste products. And it is in this plant that the autochthonous strains of trout and crayfish are bred, which will then repopulate the watercourses of the Abruzzo region, with the first spawning specimens coming precisely from the Pescara Springs and the watercourses included in the Site of Community Interest of which the Springs are part.
Below are the specifications of the plant:
Cubic metres of recirculating water: 12.85 m3
Plant surface area: 900 square metres
Average quantity of fish: 172 kg
In addition to the hatchery tanks, the facility includes two types of hydroponic cultivation: vertical towers, in which the plants reside inside vertically placed channels consisting of a rigid casing that contains a growing medium that is also a mechanical and biological filter and in which the roots barely or partially touch the water, and grow beds, in which the plants are inside tubs or pots resting on inert substrates such as rock wool, lava stone, volcanic lapilli or expanded clay, which act both as a support for the plant roots and as a mechanical and biological filter, used for high-medium-stemmed cultivations or for plants producing large and/or heavy fruits.
For more information on the plant technology, please refer to the Agricoltura2punto0 website.