Grow Your Own Food Right in Your Kitchen With This DIY Aquaponics Kit
The Aquarium Garden kit is comprised of small growing plugs that fit inside just about any tank. All you have to do is insert seeds or seedlings into the plugs which are filled with Aqua Biofilter's growing material. Drop the pods into the tank and now you own your own mini-aquaponic garden.
"The concept of aquaponics is to nurture fish and plants at the same time," developer Michiel de Koning told EcoWatch. "Fish waste and all the waste water gets upcycled and fertilizes the plants. The roots of the plants grow deep down into the water and allow bacteria to biologically clean the water and transfer nutrients to the plants which grow healthy from all the nutrients. This is improving the water quality for the fish while the plants keep on growing."
He adds that aquarium owners will love the kit because the garden vastly increases biofiltration capacity thus dramatically reducing the amount of fish tank cleaning.
This 40-second video explains how the product works.
According to de Koning, the idea behind the project came from Australian environmental scientist and urban planner Tom Duncan who was involved in the world's largest floating wetlands project that cleaned up China's lake Taihu near Shanghai. The lake was badly impacted by toxic algal blooms, and thanks to Duncan's Aqua Biofilter technology, the bloom was completely eradicated in just three months after installation. Duncan is also behind other floating wetlands projects in Malaysia and Australia.
As for the mini-version, after living in apartments that didn't have a garden, Duncan got the idea of a indoor garden/DIY-floating wetlands system using everyday aquariums. He teamed up with de Koning and his two brothers, Peter and Gerjan, who each have backgrounds in business administration, civil engineering and mechanical engineering. After three years of prototype testing and development, they created the Aquarium Garden.
The plants growing in the fish tank soak up excess nutrients just like a wetland does in nature, so algae doesn’t have much of a chance to grow and the plants are much healthier, de Koning says.
Floating wetlands project, which spanned four acres in China's lake Taihu, cleaned up a toxic algal bloom. Photo credit: Home Ecology
Michiel de Koning took the time to answer some more of EcoWatch's questions.
Q. Why should everyone have an Aquarium Garden kit?
A. We hope to inspire kids and people all around the world to learn about the complexity of nature and develop ecoliteracy at an early age. When children build and interact with an ecosystem, they quickly understand its dynamics and can adapt their actions accordingly to the biofeedback that the aquarium ecosystem provides. It also suits self-directed learners who prefer to engage with their hands, not just learn from a book. Tom had restored wetlands in Australia and Asia, and wanted to bring the technology out of the field and into the home, school and office. It’s a self-cleaning fish tank that has an inbuilt ecosystem, and we believe everyone with an aquarium should have one.
With this aquarium sized aquaponics garden anyone can learn how to grow a little ecosystem in their home or school. It is a really fun process to create the garden and it’s just so much fun watching the fish goes straight to the garden roots dangling down, you can see the fish really love the roots habitat, it makes them feel safe and secure. It also keeps them healthy because the roots provide oxygen, beneficial enzymes and if you grow basil, mint and cilantro it also provides microdoses of health essential oils to the fish skin and gills, keeping it free of disease and parasites. It looks great and it creates a very healthy ecosystem for the fish.
The AquaBiofilterTM and plants soak up excess nutrients just like a wetland does in nature, so algae doesn’t have a chance to grow much, and the plants are much healthier. Photo credit: Home Ecology
Q. Can you tell me more about Tom Duncan's aquaponic floating islands? How has it helped reduce algal blooms or helped local ecosystems?
A. Currently the AquaBiofilter floating wetlands are being used in Australia and Asia by Governments, communities and industry to improve water quality in freshwater and marine ecosystems, as well as increase the biodiversity by creating fish spawning habitat and predator free nesting sites in urban water bodies. Environmental performance of the floating wetlands can reduce total ammonia by up to 90 percent when the hydraulic retention time is three days in a wetland and the surface area coverage approaches 45 percent. Aquaculture farms use AquaBiofilter floating wetlands to clean fish waste water.
Colloidally suspended heavy metals from roads, heavy industry, airports and factories can be cleaned significantly because the plant roots can grow up to 7 meters down in some cases depending on species, covered with a sticky bacterial and algal biofilm that traps the tiny heavy metal particles and the biofilm then passes the metals to the inside of the plant roots where they are stored securely in the carbon of the roots.
Lake Taihu water before and after floating wetlands cleaned up the toxic algal bloom. Photo credit: Home Ecology.
This is a much better outcome to trap the pollutants and treat them at their source, instead of allowing them to enter waterways and the marine food chain where other fish and mammals eat the fish, and even ending up in the human food chain as well. Heavy metals impact on fetal development is well documented, hence it is not recommended for pregnant women to eat more than one fish per week or month in some cases. In Melbourne, where floating wetlands are becoming popular, it is recommended that women and children up to 16-years-old eat no eels at all from Port Phillip Bay because of the heavy metals and chemical residues in the eels.
In many other bays and estuaries around the world it is the same story, too many heavy metals and chemicals have leached out of factories and roads into the marine food chain and humans and ecosystems are being contaminated. Floating wetlands helps restore the balance and trap the pollutants at their source. Regular stormwater wetlands cannot catch the colloidally suspended heavy metals due to the tiny size of the particles, so floating wetlands are essential if we want to clean up our marine environment and rivers for people to enjoy and fish to live healthy lives.
The Aquarium Garden also has AquaBiofilter technology inside it that biofilters out nutrients and grows plants quickly. Total phosphorous can be removed by up to 80 percent at the surface area coverage of 45 percent also, and total suspended solids can be reduced by 90 percent and algae also 90 percent.
Q. What are your future plans with the Aquarium Garden or Floating Islands? What are some of your other long-term plans for the company?
A. With the Aquarium Garden we hope to inspire kids and collaborate with schools to raise awareness for the complexity and circularity of nature. We are planning to sell the affordable Aquarium Garden in pet shops and ecostores in Australia, the U.S.A. and Europe.
After the crowdfunding campaign is successful we will publish blogs about home ecology with the goal of transferring our knowledge about nature, chemicals, herbs and health to the people for free.
At the moment we are designing a new sustainable aquaculture system with sustainable feed, while generating more value by creating products from what others call "waste," and doing all of this in closed-loop cycles that generate value for local communities all around the world. Some of these plans rely on grants and other projects are funded by communities and Government. We hope to leverage the awareness for health in people's homes into awareness and action for the large scale ecosystem restoration.
Also, we’re involved in a floating house project, so we hope to combine all of this and create scientific tourism instead of just the usual vanilla flavor ecotourism. Thereafter, we are trying to combine products that are a bit simpler, like an unbreakable glass bottle to prevent plastic entering our bodies and the natural ecosystems, that we hope to launch this year.
Q. Who are some of your team's environmental heroes and why? What are some other green projects you are really excited about?
A. Our main inspiration is Prof. Gunter Pauli, founder of the Blue Economy and creator of circular business models that create more value with what is locally available. He is collecting, describing and doing innovative businesses that are healthy for the planet and its inhabitants. His work and the work of the Blue Economy entrepreneurs are by far the most advanced in terms of sustainability since it is based on the core of biology and physics.
Some green projects we are very excited about are Blue Economy clusters across the world that can bring together 3D farming, ecosystem diverse aquaculture, algaeculture for human and fish feed, floating food production and floating houses that all together create climate resilient human settlements using nothing but renewable energy and positively impacting the local and regional environment, completely zero emissions.
Tom Duncan with Michiel and Gerjan de Koning. Photo credit: Home Ecology
On this track we are also very excited about our nearly unbreakable water bottle that is the answer to plastic and glass bottles that have a finite lifespan and much energy and in the case of plastic, harmful emissions in their recycling and pollutants into the local environment and atmosphere. We think it’s time to bring back sturdy design and products, so we are focused on a green product development that cuts through these complex issues and provides a bottle for life.
Key environmental heroes also include Elon Musk for making solar and batteries affordable and bringing electric cars to scale. We follow Musk’s work and always look for inspirations in his visionary approach whether we are looking at disrupting food production or designing positive human habitats resilient to climate change. Permaculture movement gives us inspiration providing methods for abundant food production and self sufficiency, as well as a design science that can scale from the kitchen to entire nations with a set of design tools.
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By Frank La Sorte and Kyle Horton
Millions of birds travel between their breeding and wintering grounds during spring and autumn migration, creating one of the greatest spectacles of the natural world. These journeys often span incredible distances. For example, the Blackpoll warbler, which weighs less than half an ounce, may travel up to 1,500 miles between its nesting grounds in Canada and its wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America.
Blackpoll warbler. PJTurgeon / Wikipedia<p>We used this information to determine how the number of migratory bird species varies based on each city's level of <a href="https://www.britannica.com/science/light-pollution" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">light pollution</a> – brightening of the night sky caused by artificial light sources, such as buildings and streetlights. We also explored how species numbers vary based on the quantity of tree canopy cover and impervious surface, such as concrete and asphalt, within each city. Our findings show that cities can help migrating birds by planting more trees and reducing light pollution, especially during spring and autumn migration.</p>
Declining Bird Populations<p>Urban areas contain numerous dangers for migratory birds. The biggest threat is the risk of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1650/CONDOR-13-090.1" target="_blank">colliding with buildings or communication towers</a>. Many migratory bird populations have <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw1313" target="_blank">declined over the past 50 years</a>, and it is possible that light pollution from cities is contributing to these losses.</p><p>Scientists widely agree that light pollution can <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1708574114" target="_blank">severely disorient migratory birds</a> and make it hard for them to navigate. Studies have shown that birds will cluster around brightly lit structures, much like insects flying around a porch light at night. Cities are the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2029" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">primary source of light pollution for migratory birds</a>, and these species tend to be more abundant within cities <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/gcb.13792" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">during migration</a>, especially in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2020.103892" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">city parks</a>.</p>
Composite image of the continental U.S. at night from satellite photos. NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
The Power of Citizen Science<p>It's not easy to observe and document bird migration, especially for species that migrate at night. The main challenge is that many of these species are very small, which limits scientists' ability to use electronic tracking devices.</p><p>With the growth of the internet and other information technologies, new data resources are becoming available that are making it possible to overcome some of these challenges. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-07106-5" target="_blank">Citizen science initiatives</a> in which volunteers use online portals to enter their observations of the natural world have become an important resource for researchers.</p><p>One such initiative, <a href="https://ebird.org/home" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eBird</a>, allows bird-watchers around the globe to share their observations from any location and time. This has produced one of the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ecog.04632" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">largest ecological citizen-science databases in the world</a>. To date, eBird contains over 922 million bird observations compiled by over 617,000 participants.</p>
Light Pollution Both Attracts and Repels Migratory Birds<p>Migratory bird species have evolved to use certain migration routes and types of habitat, such as forests, grasslands or marshes. While humans may enjoy seeing migratory birds appear in urban areas, it's generally not good for bird populations. In addition to the many hazards that exist in urban areas, cities typically lack the food resources and cover that birds need during migration or when raising their young. As scientists, we're concerned when we see evidence that migratory birds are being drawn away from their traditional migration routes and natural habitats.</p><p>Through our analysis of eBird data, we found that cities contained the greatest numbers of migratory bird species during spring and autumn migration. Higher levels of light pollution were associated with more species during migration – evidence that light pollution attracts migratory birds to cities across the U.S. This is cause for concern, as it shows that the influence of light pollution on migratory behavior is strong enough to increase the number of species that would normally be found in urban areas.</p><p>In contrast, we found that higher levels of light pollution were associated with fewer migratory bird species during the summer and winter. This is likely due to the scarcity of suitable habitat in cities, such as large forest patches, in combination with the adverse affects of light pollution on bird behavior and health. In addition, during these seasons, migratory birds are active only during the day and their populations are largely stationary, creating few opportunities for light pollution to attract them to urban areas.</p>
Trees and Pavement<p>We found that tree canopy cover was associated with more migratory bird species during spring migration and the summer. Trees provide important habitat for migratory birds during migration and the breeding season, so the presence of trees can have a strong effect on the number of migratory bird species that occur in cities.</p><p>Finally, we found that higher levels of impervious surface were associated with more migratory bird species during the winter. This result is somewhat surprising. It could be a product of the <a href="https://www.epa.gov/heatislands" target="_blank">urban heat island effect</a> – the fact that structures and paved surfaces in cities absorb and reemit more of the sun's heat than natural surfaces. Replacing vegetation with buildings, roads and parking lots can therefore make cities significantly warmer than surrounding lands. This effect could reduce cold stress on birds and increase food resources, such as insect populations, during the winter.</p><p>Our research adds to our understanding of how conditions in cities can both help and hurt migratory bird populations. We hope that our findings will inform urban planning initiatives and strategies to reduce the harmful effects of cities on migratory birds through such measures as <a href="https://www.arborday.org/programs/treecityusa/index.cfm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">planting more trees</a> and initiating <a href="https://aeroecolab.com/uslights" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">lights-out programs</a>. Efforts to make it easier for migratory birds to complete their incredible journeys will help maintain their populations into the future.</p><p><em><span style="background-color: initial;"><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/frank-la-sorte-1191494" target="_blank">Frank La Sorte</a> is a r</span>esearch associate at the </em><em>Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University. <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/kyle-horton-1191498" target="_blank">Kyle Horton</a> is an assistant professor of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at the Colorado State University.</em></p><p><em></em><em>Disclosure statement: Frank La Sorte receives funding from The Wolf Creek Charitable Foundation and the National Science Foundation (DBI-1939187). K</em><em>yle Horton does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/cities-can-help-migrating-birds-on-their-way-by-planting-more-trees-and-turning-lights-off-at-night-152573" target="_blank">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Lynne Peeples
Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.
In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.
Unintended Consequences<p>Chemists first discovered disinfection by-products in treated drinking water in the 1970s. The trihalomethanes they found, they determined, had resulted from the reaction of chlorine with natural organic matter. Since then, scientists have identified more than 700 additional disinfection by-products. "And those only represent a portion. We still don't know half of them," says Richardson, whose lab has identified hundreds of disinfection by-products. </p>
What’s Regulated and What’s Not?<p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently regulates 11 disinfection by-products — including a handful of trihalomethanes (THM) and haloacetic acids (HAA). While these represent only a small fraction of all disinfection by-products, EPA aims to use their presence to indicate the presence of other disinfection by-products. "The general idea is if you control THMs and HAAs, you implicitly or by default control everything else as well," says Korshin.</p><p>EPA also requires drinking water facilities to use techniques to reduce the concentration of organic materials before applying disinfectants, and regulates the quantity of disinfectants that systems use. These rules ultimately can help control levels of disinfection by-products in drinking water.</p>
Click the image for an interactive version of this chart on the Environmental Working Group website.<p>Still, some scientists and advocates argue that current regulations do not go far enough to protect the public. Many question whether the government is regulating the right disinfection by-products, and if water systems are doing enough to reduce disinfection by-products. EPA is now seeking public input as it considers potential revisions to regulations, including the possibility of regulating additional by-products. The agency held a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/dwsixyearreview/potential-revisions-microbial-and-disinfection-byproducts-rules" target="_blank">two-day public meeting</a> in October 2020 and plans to hold additional public meetings throughout 2021.</p><p>When EPA set regulations on disinfection by-products between the 1970s and early 2000s, the agency, as well as the scientific community, was primarily focused on by-products of reactions between organics and chlorine — historically the most common drinking water disinfectant. But the science has become increasingly clear that these chlorinated chemicals represent a fraction of the by-product problem.</p><p>For example, bromide or iodide can get caught up in the reaction, too. This is common where seawater penetrates a drinking water source. By itself, bromide is innocuous, says Korshin. "But it is extremely [reactive] with organics," he says. "As bromide levels increase with normal treatment, then concentrations of brominated disinfection by-products will increase quite rapidly."</p><p><a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15487777/" target="_blank">Emerging</a> <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.7b05440" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">data</a> indicate that brominated and iodinated by-products are potentially more harmful than the regulated by-products.</p><p>Almost half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, where saltwater intrusion can be a problem for drinking water supplies. "In the U.S., the rule of thumb is the closer to the sea, the more bromide you have," says Korshin, noting there are also places where bromide naturally leaches out from the soil. Still, some coastal areas tend to be spared. For example, the city of Seattle's water comes from the mountains, never making contact with seawater and tending to pick up minimal organic matter.</p><p>Hazardous disinfection by-products can also be an issue with desalination for drinking water. "As <a href="https://ensia.com/features/can-saltwater-quench-our-growing-thirst/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">desalination</a> practices become more economical, then the issue of controlling bromide becomes quite important," adds Korshin.</p>
Other Hot Spots<p>Coastal areas represent just one type of hot spot for disinfection by-products. Agricultural regions tend to send organic matter — such as fertilizer and animal waste — into waterways. Areas with warmer climates generally have higher levels of natural organic matter. And nearly any urban area can be prone to stormwater runoff or combined sewer overflows, which can contain rainwater as well as untreated human waste, industrial wastewater, hazardous materials and organic debris. These events are especially common along the East Coast, notes Sydney Evans, a science analyst with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG, a collaborator on <a href="https://ensia.com/ensia-collections/troubled-waters/" target="_blank">this reporting project</a>).</p><p>The only drinking water sources that might be altogether free of disinfection by-products, suggests Richardson, are private wells that are not treated with disinfectants. She used to drink water from her own well. "It was always cold, coming from great depth through clay and granite," she says. "It was fabulous."</p><p>Today, Richardson gets her water from a city system that uses chloramine.</p>
Toxic Treadmill<p>Most community water systems in the U.S. use chlorine for disinfection in their treatment plant. Because disinfectants are needed to prevent bacteria growth as the water travels to the homes at the ends of the distribution lines, sometimes a second round of disinfection is also added in the pipes.</p><p>Here, systems usually opt for either chlorine or chloramine. "Chloramination is more long-lasting and does not form as many disinfection by-products through the system," says Steve Via, director of federal relations at the American Water Works Association. "Some studies show that chloramination may be more protective against organisms that inhabit biofilms such as Legionella."</p>
Alternative Approaches<p>When he moved to the U.S. from Germany, Prasse says he immediately noticed the bad taste of the water. "You can taste the chlorine here. That's not the case in Germany," he says.</p><p>In his home country, water systems use chlorine — if at all — at lower concentrations and at the very end of treatment. In the Netherlands, <a href="https://dwes.copernicus.org/articles/2/1/2009/dwes-2-1-2009.pdf" target="_blank">chlorine isn't used at all</a> as the risks are considered to outweigh the benefits, says Prasse. He notes the challenge in making a convincing connection between exposure to low concentrations of disinfection by-products and health effects, such as cancer, that can occur decades later. In contrast, exposure to a pathogen can make someone sick very quickly.</p><p>But many countries in Europe have not waited for proof and have taken a precautionary approach to reduce potential risk. The emphasis there is on alternative approaches for primary disinfection such as ozone or <a href="https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/eco-friendly-way-disinfect-water-using-light/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ultraviolet light</a>. Reverse osmosis is among the "high-end" options, used to remove organic and inorganics from the water. While expensive, says Prasse, the method of forcing water through a semipermeable membrane is growing in popularity for systems that want to reuse wastewater for drinking water purposes.</p><p>Remucal notes that some treatment technologies may be good at removing a particular type of contaminant while being ineffective at removing another. "We need to think about the whole soup when we think about treatment," she says. What's more, Remucal explains, the mixture of contaminants may impact the body differently than any one chemical on its own. </p><p>Richardson's preferred treatment method is filtering the water with granulated activated carbon, followed by a low dose of chlorine.</p><p>Granulated activated carbon is essentially the same stuff that's in a household filter. (EWG recommends that consumers use a <a href="https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/reviewed-disinfection-byproducts.php#:~:text=EWG%20recommends%20using%20a%20home,as%20trihalomethanes%20and%20haloacetic%20acids." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countertop carbon filter</a> to reduce levels of disinfection by-products.) While such a filter "would remove disinfection by-products after they're formed, in the plant they remove precursors before they form by-products," explains Richardson. She coauthored a <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.9b00023" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019 paper</a> that concluded the treatment method is effective in reducing a wide range of regulated and unregulated disinfection by-products.</p><br>
Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992, and is still one of relatively few full-scale plants that uses the technology. Courtesy of Greater Cincinnati Water Works.<p>Despite the technology and its benefits being known for decades, relatively few full-scale plants use granulated active carbon. They often cite its high cost, Richardson says. "They say that, but the city of Cincinnati [Ohio] has not gone bankrupt using it," she says. "So, I'm not buying that argument anymore."</p><p>Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992. On a video call in December, Jeff Swertfeger, the superintendent of Greater Cincinnati Water Works, poured grains of what looks like black sand out of a glass tube and into his hand. It was actually crushed coal that has been baked in a furnace. Under a microscope, each grain looks like a sponge, said Swertfeger. When water passes over the carbon grains, he explained, open tunnels and pores provide extensive surface area to absorb contaminants.</p><p>While the granulated activated carbon initially was installed to address chemical spills and other industrial contamination concerns in the Ohio River, Cincinnati's main drinking water source, Swertfeger notes that the substance has turned out to "remove a lot of other stuff, too," including <a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-contamination-pfas-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">PFAS</a> and disinfection by-product precursors.</p><p>"We use about one-third the amount of chlorine as we did before. It smells and tastes a lot better," he says. "The use of granulated activated carbon has resulted in lower disinfection by-products across the board."</p><p>Richardson is optimistic about being able to reduce risks from disinfection by-products in the future. "If we're smart, we can still kill those pathogens and lower our chemical disinfection by-product exposure at the same time," she says.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-disinfection-byproducts-pathogens/" target="_blank">Ensia</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649953730#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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