Tuesday, November 16, 2010

floating islands

One aspect of the current worldwide economic disaster that continually aggravates me is the fact that so much in the way of human ingenuity keeps getting pushed further to the back of the shelf. As an example, wetlands the world over are losing ground to overdevelopment and pollution. With this loss comes drastically reduced water quality, increased flooding of surrounding areas and the looming specter of the extinction of many species - including eventually, ourselves.

Last summer everyone's attention was focused on the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, a situation that's continued to be a catastrophe because of the massive quantities of oil still in the water and because of the dangerous chemicals used as dispersants. So far it's the worst example to come to the attention of the general public but nobody's going to stop drilling for oil in the oceans because we don't like it.

Anyway, the multiple levels of pollution have been bothering me enough that I went rooting around on the internet to see if anyone had any better ideas. Would you be surprised to find out there's a solution people have been playing around with for thousands of years? The fix for the pollution of wetlands appears to involve nothing more complicated than building floating islands which already have a long history of success. The people of Lake Titicaca, build their villages upon what are in effect huge rafts of bundled reeds. The chinampas of Mexico were artificial garden islands created by the Aztecs as early as 1150AD and used continually until they were destroyed by the invading Spanish.

More recently several companies have been constructing archipelagos of boat-size to basketball-court size islands out of recycled plastic and foam, plant habitat-specific vegetation, and set the islands afloat wherever natural wetlands once thrived. Along with rainforests and coral reefs, wetlands are the most active and diverse ecosystems on the planet, serving as a home or breeding ground to one third of all bird species, 190 amphibians and more than 200 types of fish. Wetlands filter out excess nutrients and pollutants by trapping them in roots and soil where plants and bacteria break them down into less harmful substances. Called BioHavens, there are now more than 3000 of these ready-made ecosystems floating at trouble spots around the globe. The link will take you to Floating Island International where you'll find some very cool pictures of finished projects and those in process.

It made me feel a little better knowing there are active bio-remediation projects going on in the US and around the world. The Leviathan, with 2500 ft of top surface and shown here without the plants, is capable of processing of up to 8,000 gallons of 'dead zone' water per minute in either fresh or sea water. It can pull from any depth and provides the complete 'wetland effect' of nutrient conversion. It operates at low power and, since it's modular, can be extended. The motto for the project was 'It will take a monster to eat a dead zone'. Although it was offered to the US government, and the Coast Guard in particular, as a way of ameliorating the recent damage to the Gulf, I haven't been able to discover if it was used - although I suspect not. I'm sure many people living in the Gulf states would be delighted to work on new green tech projects but things like this cost money and so long as huge polluters aren't subject to environmental laws it won't happen on a large enough scale to make a difference.

Meanwhile, I found a guy who went to Mexico and built his own island. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I did.


Francis Hunt said...

It's immensely frustrating - and hopeful at the same time; the solutions to so many of the problems our world has don't have to be discovered, they're already there. Our inability to implement them often has to do with fear; fear of change, fear of giving up the tried and trusted even when it's not working well, fear of admitting that we don't have all the answers ourselves.

Or the discomfort hasn't grown for too many to a stage where they are prepared to try new things and new ways. But then, humanity has always seemed to like living on the knife edge, only really prepared to act when we cut ourselves. However, given the increased volumes we are causing all around - from world population to resource explotation to energy use - the danger is growing that the next cut could be fatal.

Sean Jeating said...

Glad I am late. Francis probably within a few minutes) put in words what would have taken me hours - only much better. :)

On the risk of carrying crows to Halifax: Another excellent post, Susan.

La Belette Rouge said...

What a visionary that guy is. And I love that he has a duck. Thanks for sharing this!xoxo

jams o donnell said...

Good lord I had not heard of biohavens before, Thanks for posting!

Randal Graves said...

The motto for the project was 'It will take a monster to eat a dead zone'.

Genetic scientists who dream of supervillainy, you heard the lady. Get crackin'!

susan said...

francis - If it weren't for a very small and maniacal element at large in the world I think most of us would do pretty well at figuring out mutual respect, whether it's with other cultures or the natural world. Humanity survived for thousands of years, even through Ice Ages, by being able to compromise and innovate. From what I've read all of that changed when agriculture became our main support and those who didn't enjoy the hard work began enslaving others of our species.

There I go lumping all the nuance into one box, probably not very helpful, but it's that small percentage of the human race that still calls the shots. It's the greed of those whose wealth and power has grown beyond vulgar that impedes our growth as a species. Nowadays, they use proxies to sharpen that knife and I agree it's that blade that imperils all.

sean - Francis's was a great comment which inspired one of my small rants. The powers that be have decided to run an all stick and no carrot world. I have a feeling it may turn and bite them.

belette - Yes, seeing that video made me chuckle. It was great when his favorite companion turned out to be a duck.

jams - We have to travel further afield to find the cool news, eh?

randal - It definitely took a monster to make one. Cthulu is too good for it.

Liberality said...

huge polluters aren't subject to environmental laws

and that's a huge problem! I hope we humans can pull the fat out of the fire before it's too late.

Spadoman said...

Sounds great, all of it, and to use the waste, like the plastic bottles, to make the flotation part of the island is a wonderful use for them since we can't seem to rid the world of them altogether. Where did this guybget the money to do this? Buy the fish nets, plants and such? That's the key in everything and I know everyone knows it. The main reason government and industry doesn't persue simplicity is that there is no profit.
During the nvideo, when the narrator mentions the Mexican government, at first I thought he was going to say something about paying taxes. To be sure they would tax him if it were the USA.
But good to bring it to light and make people aware that there are alternatives, and they can be from the sublime to the ridiculous. (That is a short leap you know?)
I also took a peek at what Crow had to say earlier on. Good stuff! Give my regards to the feathered one.


Seraphine said...

who wouldn't love to own their own island?
i'd like mine attached to the earth somehow, tough. i don't even like drinking from plastic bottles, and i'm sure floating on a plastic bottle island would make me seasick.
but i love the idea of creating wetlands using artificial islands. the world's ecology can use all the help it can get.
thanks for the positive (and fun!) news, susan!

susan said...

liberality - I really hope so too but I'm not optimistic.

spadoman - I don't know where he got the money but I suspect he brought some with him from his old job and then just lived cheap. The thing that's so annoying is that the people with the big money are not paying attention to the fact we live in a closed system - it's a big one but we don't have a backup planet. That means they're not using correct accounting procedures.

Crow sends his salutations.

sera - I think there'd be any number of problems riding an island out to sea and seasickness might be the least of them. The wetlands idea is a wonderful one though and I was very happy to find it and be able to share.

I've missed you.

Pagan Sphinx said...

That is quaint to make islands from plastic bottles and grow plants on them. Seems rather unrealistic for most of us. Spadoman states one of them: lack of money and time. Good comments from others as well on this. Francis Hunt is right that we only react when we are on the verge of bleeding out.

Interesting idea. I hope it catches on and then I want someone to give me the funds to make it happen here in the Pioneer Valley!


Steve Emery said...

This is fascinating. It's always a wonderful encouraging thing, to me, that people can do these interesting and creative things if they have the determination. Most of us live in a pretty narrow range of what's possible.

lindsaylobe said...

Many indigenous populations relied upon reciprocal support of collective sustainable land. Australian aborigines shared with other tribe’s seasonal abundance, uninterrupted by agricultural advances when they lived in stone dwellings to plant crops and engage in irrigated eel farming and so forth according to the seasons. Although those practices would not sustain our present day population we can learn of the intimate relationship with nature and of an admirable non-materialistic philosophy. Living in cities it is only too easy to lose that affinity with nature upon who we depend.
Fortunately many wetlands now have world conservation status and there are also literally thousands of local communities in every country with a huge reservoir of volunteers who spend their time maintaining and nurturing the environment with some very good results. I think that ecotourism and guided tours may also help raise awareness and allocate more investment into preserving and restoring these wetlands areas.
Best wishes

susan said...

pagan sphinx - The video showed the guy with the plastic bottle island. That was pretty ingenious but not very practical. The really cool thing was seeing the Floating Island International gallery of pictures and their web page. They make small and large islands that perfectly clean dead zones in water. It does cost money but mostly it takes work.. Err right, time costs too, doesn't it? dammit.

steve - It's a wonderful program and one I'd never heard of til now. When we need good news these days it takes a little extra effort too.

lindsay - It's good to know about the ways indigenous people used to maintain themselves without major agriculture. Your hope that we can learn to appreciate different ways of living in the world is a good one.