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The Aesthetics of Aquaponics

29 Sep 2016 - Nicholas Tyler Lannon

In a previous post, we explained what aquaponics are through a lens focused on the technology and productivity. In this post we’ll address the issue of constructing aesthetic systems, a challenge that still plagues the aquaponics community, and some potential solutions.

Aquaponics are mostly used for the production of food for human consumption in private spaces. Production is the ultimate purpose of many aquaponics systems, and coupled with the fact that many systems are designed by the operator, who may not have any formal design/engineering training leave system aesthetics on the back burner for many installations.

However, there are several ways to incorporate visually appealing elements into an aquaponics design. The simplest adjustment is to substitute glass/ high strength acrylic for the standard marine grade fiberglass or PVC tanks. This allows viewing of the fish from all sides of the tank. From there, the building/planting of the tank tailored to the species can produce a visually striking habitat while helping maintain the health of the tank environment. Much like in nature, the more diversity that exists in the system, the lower likely-hood catastrophic failures will occur. If the planned system is too large as to make a glass/acrylic tank cost prohibitive, installing siding or rock walls around the tank can give the tank the same look and feel of a tasteful garden pond.

Aquaponics system used for growing basil at Pompieri Pizza, Durham NC

Another way that an aquaponics installation can be tailored to be an attractive point of interest is to utilize ornamental containers in conjunction with the chosen soilless media. Utilizing disguised flow trays instead of exposed PVC pipes can give the system a more natural appearance and offer more options in plant choice/placement. Flowers, ornamentals, and a variety of exotics can also be grown in place of produce bearing plants. The hydroponic half of the aquaponics is incredibly versatile and mostly is subject to the requirements and preferences of the operator.

Photo courtesy of USDA, Hawaii Department of Agriculture, Aquaponics Growbeds

Perhaps the most difficult challenge in applying aesthetic design principles to aquaponics involves the pumps, filters, wires, and tubing involved in moving the water from tank to grow beds. Planning the placement of these around the space where the system will be is the first step. Consider angles and direction of foot traffic around the system and plan to place as much of the system in accessible yet out of sight areas. Siding and paneling can be used to cover much of the running pipe/wires. Filter pumps for larger systems create a fair bit of noise. This can be reduced by covering said pump with a sound box, a tactic commonly used to quiet generators.

Lastly, it’s important to consider that not all of these suggestions will work for any aquaponics system. The key is to match these strategies to your system where effective and forgo the adjustments that are cost prohibitive or that make operation more difficult.