Aquaponics refers to any system that combines aquaculture and hydroponics. The fish waste flows to the hydroponic system where those by-products are broken down by bacteria into useable nutrients, called nitrates and nitrites. The water is then recirculated back into the aquaculture system.
While it is hard to pinpoint the exact time that aquaponics was first used (somewhere around 1000 A.D.), there are several early examples of its use. The Aztecs developed a system known as chinampas. Plants were raised on stationary, or sometimes movable, artificial islands in shallow lakes and waste materials dredged from canals were used to irrigate the plants.
The contender for the first aquaponics system are the ancient Chinese. These similar early systems used plants, ducks, finfish and catfish together to raise their fish and plants harmoniously.
While many different systems are on the market today, the development of the modern aquaponics system is often attributed to the various works of the New Alchemy Institute, the works of Dr. Mark McMurtry et al. at the North Carolina State University, and Dr. James Rakocy and his colleagues at the University of the Virgin Islands.