World’s Largest Aquaponics Project, in China’s Third Largest Aquaculture Lake

Lake Taihu experienced its worst ever algal bloom at the height of summer, pushing researchers to search for new solutions. They decided to try a new technology, Aqua Biofilter, that is designed to remove nutrients that fuel algal blooms. An ambitious aspect of the project was to launch the world’s largest aquaponics system, over 4 acres in size, using new technologies in combination with old world bamboo that is used in traditional Chinese building. Experiments growing rice on fish ponds provided a foundation for scaling up to lakes and larger water bodies for earth and water repair.

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Growing rice aquaponics on fish ponds in China (Credit: Dr Kangmin Lee)

The technology is part of the new wave of products that biomimics nature, using biomaterials that can remediate and restore nature’s balance with non-toxic and sustainable processes. The concept was adapted from natural wetlands that process nutrients and pollutants with plants. Mature wetland ecosystems often develop self-sustaining floating wetlands that mop up pollutants. Most lakes and urban wetlands are highly modified or recently built, with polluted inflows, making it necessary for human intervention, taking the best of what nature has developed naturally to tackle pollutants that run-off from urban and industrial areas.


Aqua Biofilter project, Lake Taihu (Credit Tom Duncan)


Algal bloom removal shown in water
samples, Lake Taihu
(Credit Dr Kangmin Lee)

Lake Taihu has extensive aquaculture industry that suffered mass die offs and threatened the future of the industry. The research team chose plant species that would beautify the lake, and also provide rapid root growth which serve as habitat for native fish to spawn and provide refuge from the toxic algal bloom.

Three months after project implementation, the water cleared completely with no visible algae and water transparency improved by 250%. The plants had soaked up the excess nutrients, cutting off the nutrient supply that algal blooms require to grow. Roots exert a strong biofilm that captures nutrients and pollutants, and de-nitrifies the water allowing natural balance to be restored.


Aqua Biofilter project, Lake Taihu (Credit Tom Duncan)

Some 200 square foot of Aqua Biofilter provides a root biofilm surface area of 1 acre, delivering incredible rates of nutrient and pollutant removal, at zero cost once installed. The lack of operational expenses makes the technology attractive to local governments and water managers who need quick results at an affordable price. The benefits of floating wetlands go beyond improving water quality, by also serving as habitat for diverse water fauna, enabling complete restoration of aquatic ecosystems.


Aqua Biofilter project, Lake Taihu, China (Credit Tom Duncan)

Company CEO Tom Duncan has done some interesting Aqua Biofilter projects including growing rice on floating reedbeds, and writing Chinese characters with plants in urban developments on waterways in Nanjing to promote water conservation for urban apartment dwellers and skyscrapers viewing the waterways below.


Aqua Biofilter project, Nanjing (Credit Tom Duncan)

Check out the Aqua Biofilter website for more information: www.aquabiofilter.com,www.homeecologyonline.com, www.aquaponicskitchengarden.com and see their Facebook page.

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20 thoughts on “World’s Largest Aquaponics Project, in China’s Third Largest Aquaculture Lake

  1. Hi Tom, nice article of what your company does. The results are impressive.
    How much of the floating device is made from bamboo? how long on average does it last once it is in the water? I would like to make floating devices for large ponds using natural materials only (to avoid leaching from plastics in the sun, etc) – any tips to share to the community?
    Do the plants ‘slow down’ /become a lot less productive once the excesses are removed? Would be interested to know rice production of the systems once they are settled – like after a year or so?
    Thanks, best

    1. Hi Dylan,
      Biomaterials that we utilize on our aquaponic floating wetlands ( http://www.aquabiofilter.com ) include coconut fibre, coco peat, bamboo structures, bamboo supports, and where possible locally harvested sustainable wood. Bamboo lasts for 1 year to 2 years max. For certain applications, clients demand a certain lifespan of the product, so we use food grade polyethylene which lasts a long time, particularly because sunlight does not come in contact with the polyethylene after 1 year of plant establishment (when using evergreen and self-renewing wetland species.) Rice can be harvested according to the growing cycle, which may be once or up to three times per year. Experiments have been done allowing rice to auto-seed itself on the biomaterials that will support new growth in a permaculture self-renewing system. Its a work in progress though :)
      Cheers,
      Tom

    1. In China there are many native species that thrive in a polyculture system including grass carp, bighead carp, common carp, crucian carp, black carp, mud carp, and several other native species. It is not suitable to grow carp in other regions where it is not native and indigenous.

    1. The roots and algal bio-associates produce oxygen around the roots which is beneficial for aquatic ecology where ammonia is present due to anaerobic conditions of anaerobic stratification in the water body. The floating wetlands should not be installed beyond the oxygen carrying capacity of the water. We call is the Aqua Biofilter rule of thumb – do not install more than 45% of surface area, or the installation can lower dissolved oxygen. We have described in our scientific research that no more than 45% of surface area should be covered, if no oxygenation is provided such as a static lake, or on a pond outflow such as rip raps or gabion stone mattresses before water enters the receiving environment, or conversely in an intensive system with a mechanically powered (usually solar) aerator.

    1. Hi Dr Kamal, the rice can be harvested either into a boat or canoe that one paddles out onto the pond, or the aquaponics floating rice beds can be designed to be pulled back to the shore and harvest in knee deep water at the edge. Drying the rice can occur on shore. Other options for communities that live on lakes, is the building of floating islands ( http://www.aquabiofilter.com or http://www.homeecologyonline.com ) has examples of floating islands that are for habitat purposes or living purposes. These spaces can be utilized for agricultural processing also for drying fish, and crop processing without having to return to shore. We would like to help communities that live on islands such as in Bangladesh, Iraq, the Americas including Peru, Mexico and others, and many more that are being discovered around the world.
      Cheers,
      Tom

  2. when we to taihu on 2002 … not like this …. excellent …. we want to try in our country in Cirata Lake…. thank you

  3. This is wonderful, I am 57 I had never heard of aquaponics a year ago, I saw an article on the internet and was skeptical of course but, when I looked into it I was hooked line and sinker. I started researching how to design a system at such places as Bright Agrotech, Backyard Aquaponics, Aquaponics Solutions Au, then was greatly blessed to find Dr, Ben and Glenn and Aqua Zen at Aquaculture Hub which is how I got here. I was just about to start my own system when I had heart failure, I thought that was probably it but I couldn’t stop studying about aquaponics and I found out that some people who I hadn’t talked to in a while were looking for someone to design an aquaponics system and I’m it. The feil is about to open up like you may not believe so, keep inspiring more people and maybe we won’t lose this next generation after all.

  4. Very interesting information on Aquaponics. There are interesting development on this new technique. There are successes and failures but over a period, farmers or hobbyists will learn a lot and will be ultimately successful. The key take in Aquaponics is the usage of nitrites/nitrates and maintaining of Ammonia cycle. You will have then fish surviving and plants growing in multiples. Good Luck.

  5. Dear Tom,
    I have existing fishpond in the Philippines with Tilapia in it. Is floating rice field feasible with it?
    Regards!

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