Fish in the final frontier

I’m sure many of us choose fishkeeping because we like animals. Specifically, we like aquatic animals. A few of us love creating aquascapes and all that green does appeal to my minimalist side. But as well as blowing the minds of uninitiated friends with our resplendent underwater realms, those plants have a secret power. The power to gobble all the leftover nitrogen from its vicious cycle called nitrates. For those than cannot recall their school days, plants require nitrogen in large lumps. In fact nitrogen is hard to come by if you’re a plant and requires things like roots which collected its water soluble nitrogen in most soil. So why don’t we all have planted tanks? The problem with serious ‘scaping is it doesn’t leave much room for our fishy pals. The maintenance can be a pain and what about the salty side of things?

You may have heard of hydroponics, if not it’s soil-less farming, using water as a medium for supplying nutrients. The principle has been around for as long as the Great Wall of China and is a fun hobby, making use of all that spare kit lying around, utilising the same skills and knowledge.

As is often the case with our hobby a bit of innovative plumbing can go a long way. If you divert your tank water to a regular hydroponic system, the nitrates can be stripped out, saving you sleepless nights. You can use any spare lights to shoot electrons at the plants solar panels whilst they lap up their fish manure. There’s clearly more to it but our friend the internet can fill in the blanks. It might just help the annoyed aquarist who neglected their nitrates and now has to go on a water change rampage.

If you are not confident of such a leap into the unknown, there are many plants that are happy to have their roots dangling into the tank from above. Using these ideas, you could even grow some nice fruit and veg with rates of growth that far surpass their muddy equivalents. Another innovation from our far Eastern cousins is the introduction of edible seaweed (and there are more marine edibles), and this too can be cultivated from marine tank water using the same principle.

This marrying of aquaculture and hydroponics is call ‘aquaponics’ (imaginative, huh?). Its promise of producing (fish) meat and veg in a closed system is being adopted by NASA in the hope that it will massively cut down on supplies when we fling people to Mars. A couple of experiments using those crazy parabolic plane manoeuvres have boldly sent fish where no fish have gone before and scientists at NASA have been trialling aquaponics on the International Space Station for a while now. Although few of us have eaten our prized pets, the insanely brave among us may just be traveling with fish to the final frontier, or at least Mars!