Aquaponics unit a success

Wairakei Primary School Student Anna Mounsey, 8, enjoyed checking out the completed aquaponics unit at the school, which ...

Wairakei Primary School Student Anna Mounsey, 8, enjoyed checking out the completed aquaponics unit at the school, which was completed earlier this year and offically opened this month.

When Wairakei Primary School decommissioned its swimming pool no one could have predicted its future use. 

This month marked the official opening of an aquaponics unit, which is now housed in the old school pool site. 

Aquaponics is a system of aquaculture in which the waste produced by farmed fish supplies the nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water.

To create the unit Wairakei Primary enviroschool leader Diana Fitzsimmons and enviroschools representative Amanda Jones had to raise $13,000, an amount some thought might be out of reach.

But through hard work and determination the pair managed to do just that, ticking off each dollar milestone as it rolled around. 

Jones said she was "relieved and excited" about the project being complete. 

"It's huge it really really is, we've had so many doubts about it for so long so it's really nice the day is finally here."

She said there had been so much generosity from the community, with people donating goods and time to help get the unit off the ground. 

"I'm excited that people are able to see the fish because no one really knows what aquaponics is, so it's a little confusing and what makes it so super cool and exciting is the fish."

Jones said she hoped other schools in the area would take note of what Wairakei had achieved. 

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"Especially if they're looking at decommissioning their school pool which is becoming really common." 

The first crop of vegetables was planted almost five weeks ago and some was now almost at the stage where it could be harvested.  The process is expected to speed up the longer the unit runs with lettuce expected to be mature within 21 days.  

Fitzsimmons said the students will learning a lot through the aquaponics unit, covering every aspect of the process of looking after the fish and the final product.

"They feed the fish, they will be doing the water testing." 

Principal Paula Farquhar said when the students had started looking into what they could do with the school pool a skate park and foam pit were two of the first ideas mooted.

However, they then learned about a school in Hamilton which had created a hydroponics unit, so went up to inspect it. 

After looking into it they discovered an aquaponics unit was a sustainable option.  Once the decision was made the journey to create a fully functioning aquaponics unit began. 

Wairakei school was last year presented with a Green Gold Enviroschools Award, recognising their hard work as they continue to help create a more sustainable environment. 

WHAT IS AQUAPONICS?

Aquaponics is essentially organic cultivation of plants and animals together in a re-circulating closed system (water tank), using water instead of potting mixes. It is a combination of aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soil-less plant culture). 

The system relies on the smooth functioning of the natural ecosystem created in the water tank. Water is only added to replace water loss from absorption by plants, evaporation into the air or the removal of biomass from the system.

This system is efficient, uses up little space and does not require lots of extra water. The fish provide all the nutrients needed by the plants so no fertiliser is required. Because the plants grow in water there are no weeds and so herbicide is not needed either. The daily water use is minimal and a large volume of food crops can be grown using much less space when compared to growing crops in a field. Aquaponics can be produced locally, year round and with consistent cropping. 

 - Stuff

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