A Quick History of Aquaponics (It Is Quite Old!)

history of aquaponics

Aquaponics may seem like a relatively new idea in today’s farming industry. The truth is it has ancient origins. Plus, such methods have been widely promoted by some governments for sustainability, but they have constantly been ignored until recently. These days, aquaponics is a hype, and everyone wants to know a little about it – how it works, what benefits it brings in, and so on.

The idea of bringing fish and vegetables together into a self-sustainable system is quite old. In fact, the history of aquaponics goes back to ancient times. The indigenous population of Mexico used to rely on integrated aquaculture, but the rice systems across Asia are not to be overlooked either. Obviously, such systems have evolved overtime. Now, how did the world come from these ancient solutions and innovations to the modern aquaponics system in a backyard?

A few words about aquaponics

The idea of aquaponics came to life in 1970s. That is when the industry was given an official name. The practice itself is not new at all, but it has never been too detailed. There are many early examples of similar systems, but the one used by the Maya civilization is probably the oldest one. Further on, Aztecs relied on similar systems – about 1,000 A.D. They used to grow plants on rafts and let them flow freely on the surface of lakes – pretty much what aquaponics means, but at a higher scale.

Aztecs came up with a very interesting system. It is referred to as chinampas. It is one of the initial systems that resemble the modern aquaponics. Basically, these systems were some networks of different canals. Locals came up with small artificial islands – to prevent them from floating away. They cultivated crops on these floating islands. The first systems were both moving and stationary. They used to be installed in lakes. Then, as Aztecs learned that canals could be just as nutritive, they expanded their systems.

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Aquaponics in China

The southern side of China was also famous for its own variety of aquaponics. Similar systems were found in Indonesia and Thailand as well. Practically, locals relied on paddy fields to cultivate rice. Fish used to help the system survive, while the rice used to help the fish. The system was built at a large scale and could feed whole villages.

While different, such systems existed in many parts of the world and relied on fish like swamp eel or carp. In paddies, farmers used to rely on pond snails, which were just as efficient. The Chinese even mixed in different species of fish for better results – finfish or catfish. Believe it or not, they even brought in ducks for a top-notch symbiotic collaboration.

Ducks used to be located above the ponds. The finfish relied on the waste from ducks, while the catfish were in the lower ponds, relying on the waste from finfish. At the very bottom of this terraced system, water from catfish was used to help rice and other crops grow.

Suggested article: Growing Aquaponics Rice – The Ultimate Guide

When modern aquaponics kicked in

The history of aquaponics has seen various developments overtime, but there was nothing official – if something worked, it was implemented. The modern aquaponics came to life as a solution to common farming issues. Farmers tried to find various solutions to raise fish without depending on water and land so much.

Fish were normally kept in massive ponds – sometimes, in netted environments on coastlines. The progress has occurred over the past four decades. These days, fish can be kept more densely, so they require way less water to grow or thrive. The main benefit of such systems outweighed the main disadvantage – the high amounts of waste water. Plus, farmers had to rely on antibiotics to keep fish in good health condition.

The idea of aquaponics started gaining shape after William McLarney, Nancy and John Todd established an institute and created a self-sufficient and powered shelter that could provide sustainable resources for a family for over a year. Apart from the actual shelter, the system also provided vegetables and fish. It was only an idea back then.

As the 1970s kicked in, scientists used the idea of using plants to filter water and fish to feed plants. The first official and professional aquaponics system was created in 1997. Prior to this, a few closed loop systems were created, but nothing was official.


Further findings and researches showed what ancient civilizations already knew – such a system is self-sustainable and can provide food without too much maintenance. Bottom line, the history of aquaponics goes back to ancient times. Modern aquaponics is nothing but the ancient solutions used back then. The only difference is that access to technology and science proves the efficiency of such systems – back then, it was just something that actually worked and helped people farm.

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