Tuesday, November 16, 2010
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.