Aquaponics—Growing the world’s food supply

You may have heard of the growing number of aquaponics projects, including gardening. Aquaponics is a hydroponic system that grows fish in simple water tanks and uses the water that contains bio-nutrients to feed plants organically.

It is basically a self-cleaning, populating fish tank that grows food. Huh?

A ninth-grade science class at Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science Public Charter School (HAAS) in Hilo decided to take this a step further and demonstrate using solar power in an aquaponics project. Hawaii certainly has solar power!  The freshmen entered the world’s first “photovoltaic challenge” hosted by the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers. No, they didn’t win. They did capture second place and $500!

The students started with three tubs; the first and second cascading eventually to the third tub. In the first two tubs, they placed minnows to simulate two fishponds. In the third tub, they placed water plants. The idea was to use the nutrient rich water from the fish tubs and send the water to the third tub which would feed the plants and purify the water. Their challenge was to then circulate the clean water back to the fish tubs using the power of the sun.

Without getting “in the weeds,” students assembled parts of the photovoltaic panel with wiring feeding power to a small submersible water pump. They focused a metal halide lamp on the panel. Energy activated the pump and started a continuous cycle of water flow. Clean, oxygenated water goes to the fish, and in turn, their nutrient rich water feeds the plants which then clean the water that gets pumped back up to the fish.

When the school Director Steve Hirakami (in the photo below) asked the ninth graders how they wanted to spend their $500 prize, he expected a pizza party celebration. Instead, the students shouted, “Let’s build it!”

So with volunteers from the entire student body, butyl rubber liners, and some machinery, three ponds were carved out and lined. The solar panel was mounted, the pump installed, and the return PVC lines to the top pond were finished. The abundant rain collected on school roofs was delivered to the ponds. The first 75 juvenile tilapia were released into fish ponds by the ninth graders. By the time these students graduated, the ponds were producing fish for the school and the surplus was being sold to the community.

Education in Action. Real Life Experience. Entrepreneurial Skill Building. These charter school students created a legacy that continues today!