How Aquaponics Can build a healthier World- Eleuthera Bahamas aquaponics.
How Can Aquaponics Help Build A Healthier World? Island school Eleuthera Bahamas aquaponics.
By Kai Stanton Holloway
As I crunch my teeth into a crisp, watery leaf of lettuce, I think, “How can everyone in the Bahamas enjoy such a treat?” One of the big issues that has arisen from this Pandemic is the lack of access to healthy food for many Bahamians. The Bahamas is over 90% dependent on imported food. So why am I fortunate enough to be eating fresh vegetables, without leaving my residence? The answer is aquaponics. Aquaponics is a system of raising fish and plants in a symbiotic relationship, relying on the nitrogen cycle. The fish poop is converted by bacteria into nitrates, which is taken in by the roots of our lettuce plants. By doing this, the plants clean the water that goes back to the fish.
I became interested in aquaponics after helping the aquaponics team at The Island School, on the island of Eleuthera, in the Bahamas. A few people are able to produce enough lettuce to feed an entire school campus using this system.
COVID-19 struck, and lockdowns began. I started taking over a lot of the responsibilities for running the aquaponics operation. As fresh food supplies on the island became more scarce, I began to wonder, “Could small scale aquaponics systems meant for homes help?”
Growing your own food is a sustainable, healthy strategy for limiting your exposure during a pandemic, providing healthy nutrition, and saving money. There are a lot of ways to grow your own food, but if you have limited space or poor soil -- like is often the case here in the Bahamas -- an aquaponics system could be an ideal solution for growing food.
I decided to ask Csilla Vasarhelyi (the aquaponics sustainability teacher at Island School) for her thoughts on the subject of small scale aquaponics.
Me: Before everything shut down, what projects were you working on here at The Island School?
Csilla: We were looking at how aquaponics could help with food security on Eleuthera. We experimented with small systems using different media types, and seeing how well they worked, and how much it cost to build and run them. The idea was to prove their efficiency, and send them out to individual families or households, and give them a chance to grow their own food.
Me: How do you think your project would have changed things for the families in Deep Creek during these hard times?
Csilla: It can be difficult to get groceries in Deep Creek, especially fresh, healthy produce. The closest grocery store with produce options is in Rock Sound, a half hour drive away. The groceries are expensive, and some families don't have cars to be able to get there. My hope is these systemsg could supply some produce, even just a few vegetables like sweet peppers and tomatoes, and substitute some of the things they had to go buy.
Me: Do you think everyone has the resources to make their own aquaponics system?
Csilla: This is complicated to answer because it really depends on where you are. Getting materials is easy. Aquaponics can be so versatile and so many scrap materials can work. But to get this type of system to work where you are is more complex. Here in Eleuthera you need some power, water, and maybe partial shade. We aren't heavily urbanized so there is space outside to grow. We don't have extreme temperatures, no freezing, or extreme rain season. Other places have to worry about cold temperatures, growing inside, or on rooftops or balconies, and having enough light. So depending on what situation you are in, the price of the systems may go up.
Me: Do you think that growing at least some of your own food could have changed the spread of COVID-19? How?
Csilla: That is a good question. I suppose it could. The more food we can grow in our backyards, the less often we have to go to a grocery store, a public space, and risk contracting or spreading the virus. We can also look at the impact this pandemic has on our food systems. The Bahamas and other small islands like us are worried about food shortages. If we stop receiving shipments because of the pandemic, we are in real trouble. If we are each a little less reliant on those grocery shipments, and a little more self reliant, we are more food secure. Every little bit helps. Also, if everyone had their own small aquaponics system it would reduce pollution by lessening the demand for fresh produce, which would limit the carbon footprint caused by transportation and packaging.
When I look into the local grocery stores here in the Bahamas it worries me that all I see is processed junk food packaged in single use plastic. That is why I hope to help the aquaponics team achieve their goal of developing mini aquaponics systems and distributing them to the local community. Now, more than ever, I think everyone sees the value in becoming less dependent on imported food and prepackaged food. The health of our environment and our communities depends on it.
I want my friends and neighbors to be able to crunch into their own freshly grown produce, so I have been talking to friends and family about my ideas, posting information on my blog and YouTube channel, and I recently sat in on a meeting with the minister of agriculture for The Bahamas. The benefits are many: no fuel is being burned in transportation; no grocery bags, or plastic packaging is being used, discarded, and potentially blowing into the ocean; there is no additional deforestation occuring; you are not in a crowded grocery store, potentially being exposed to COVID-19; LET THERE BE FRESH NUTRITIOUS VEGGIES FOR ALL!!
Visit my YouTube site to tour an aquaponics system, and learn more about a small scale, home version: https://youtu.be/Nzdk0KFEKbw
Photo 1 (Illustrated by the author): Small scale, home aquaponics system
Photo 2: Walter Neely (left), the Island School Aquaponics technician with the author (center) and his brother (right)