A group in Scotland has designed floating wetlands that harness nature’s own power to clean and beautify urban waterways.
Founded by Michael Shaw, his daughter Lisa and her husband Galen Fulford, Biomatrix Water develops several different modular systems that can rid polluted water of everything from suspended solids to nitrogen, phosphorous and metals – and they’re 20 times more effective than land-based treatment plants.
Since 1900, the planet has lost up to 71 percent of its global wetlands, according to an article in Marine and Freshwater Research. This is a shame because in addition to providing habitat for aquatic species, wetlands provide vital environmental services, including water purification, flood protection and shoreline stabilization. Not to mention the numerous studies demonstrating how human beings and other species function better in healthy natural environments. Biomatrix is on a mission to restore some semblance of balance.
“Nature has the power to clean up waterways and to transform our cities — and therefore our lives,” says company spokesperson Suzanne Birch. “It just needs a toe-hold, which is difficult in our steep-walled, hard-edged urban waterways.”
The rafts of the Biomatrix Floating Ecosystems are comprised of thermo fused high-density polyethylene floats assembled with stainless steel joints. Durable and low-maintenance, they can withstand strong weather and water currents and potentially last for up to 20 yeas, according to the company. A dynamic medium of natural fibers provide the toe-hold for plants that Birch mentioned. Once these plants have had a chance to establish roots, the floating green rafts function like any other natural aquatic ecosystem “with its cycles of growth and regeneration.” But the real secret sauces lies with microorganisms, or biofilms, that latch onto underwater roots.
“The engineering principle of all of these these water treatment systems is to create the most ideal habitat for aquatic microorganisms, as they do the actual treatment work using the nutrients in the water as a food source,” says Birch. She adds that the microbes require surface area, oxygen, optimum pH and water temperature of, and sufficient water retention and time to suck up the various pollutants. These floating wetlands are useful in eutrophic lakes and ponds, nutrient-dense rivers (caused by agricultural runoff), open wastewater canals and other treatment plants, among other water systems. That said, the company cautions that their products don’t always work in isolation.
“Most of the time the solution is not “just” to create a series of floating ecosystems within a waterway,” says Birch. “The effort is most effective if a series of combined measures are undertaken: physical trash and solids removal, dredging, continued aeration of the water, the integration of the floating ecosystems, and engagement and education of the public to ensure they will continue to look after their waterway.”
These efforts combined with active political will and waste removal can result in significant results within the first six months, according to Birch. In the meantime, it takes up to two years for ecosystems to mature; as they do, their efficacy improves as well. “So a timeline for cleaning up a waterway, if the whole project runs smoothly, is around 1-2.5 years,” says Birch. As for price, it’s hard to quantify the beautification of a previously destroyed aquatic ecosystem, but it will cost around $240 for square metre of a floating island depending on the specifics of each site. Variables include anchoring, planting and installation.
And here’s the best part: Biomatrix can ship their products anywhere in the world. To date, they’ve worked with city leaders, architectural firms and nature conservation groups. Are you next?