The Climate Change – HAB Link

Warm winters, cool spring, hot summer, and nutrients: When climate change and spring runoff coincide, Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) are just round the corner. Flooding that flushes agricultural runoff down watershed blended with ever-increasing post-treatment human nutrient load pretty much guarantees that harmful algae blooms are on their way. All the primary nutrient sources are still in place and climate change is still marching on!

Our action team, and our six current manufacturers around the planet, have all seen and noted increased awareness of late. People are in action mode and are looking for natural solutions to environmental pressure points, like HABs. And climate change.

HAB’s are a hidden source of climate disruption. If they are not treated or prevented, they use up all the oxygen in water. We all know by now that HABs can kill pets and even humans; we have recently learned that they emit potent greenhouse gases, even more disruptive to the atmosphere than carbon. Gases such as methane and nitrous oxide, up to 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Water Stewardship IS Climate Action

Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) are an under-reported source of the most potent of greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide. Preventing and treating HABs is a powerful way we can take climate action.

Water Resource Recovery (WaterRR) offers a beautiful strategy with which to intercept nutrients before they become HABs. We position BioHaven Floating Islands in strategic locations, like wastewater lagoons, stormwater ponds and inflow points on lakes, where the islands intercept nutrients in front of cyanobacteria and filamentous algae. We capture those nutrients and grow trees and plants, instead of cyanobacteria and algae. This is a pure and elegant form of climate action.

Harmful Algae Blooms have increased dramatically over the last twenty years. They are primarily caused by nutrient pollution, especially phosphorus. Excessive fertilizer application and sedimentation, exacerbated by severe weather events connected with climate change, result in a profusion of blue-green algae and cyanobacteria. When the algae die, ubiquitous microbes digest the dead organic material and use up dissolved oxygen. Besides killing fish, the resulting hypoxic water can release at least 70-times more greenhouse gas than healthy water. That’s because the gases being released are methane and nitrous oxide.

Today’s increase in algal blooms is unprecedented. For example, in 2004, New York State recorded eleven HABs. In 2018 that number grew to 394. The impact on our climate is staggering and getting worse.

a large square section of young floating islands on the edge of a lake where boats navigate in the background
Large BioHaven installations deliver ROI, clean water AND help combat climate change

Algaecides Contribute to the Problem

Human propensity is to “treat” water by killing algae with a range of chemical and water treatments. Heavy-metal flocculants that convey phosphorus to the bottom of a waterway in colloidal form (like a jelly), can come back later to start another harmful algae bloom.

Mats of dead algae and cyanobacteria feed the ongoing production of GHGs. Expensive treatment of the symptoms is only temporary, as the nutrients that caused the original algae are still in the waterway. Severe weather events remix nutrients into surface waters and start the algae-boom-and-bust cycle over again. So does seasonal lake turnover.

Grow Fish Instead of Algae

“We don’t fix water to resurrect the food web; we resurrect the food web to fix water.” Bruce Kania.

See Bruce’s TEDx talk on Transition Water to explore this theme

Here at Floating Island International (FII) and WaterRR, we foster beneficial and perennial life forms to take up excess phosphorus and nitrogen from water. BioHaven Floating Islands reduce nutrient pollution before it leads to HABs. The resilient recycled plastic matrix platforms, made from the same plastic water bottles we drink from, grow a wide range of native plants and trees. They produce a root mass that supports huge amounts of biofilm. Biofilm is the number-one consumer of phosphorus in water. The islands also cycle nutrients into another form of phytoplankton called diatoms. These in turn provide food for (and cycle into) a wide range of beneficial invertebrates and fish. In other words, the food web is resurrected! The result is the kind of water we remember from our childhoods….at least some of us lucky ones!

illustration of a floating island planted with trees, grasses and plants shows water line, root mass under the island and fathead minnows swimming in the water also dragonflies in flight

I am CEO of Floating Island International and WaterRR. Let’s move towards sustainable water, transition water, the liquid of life. Water can be beautiful again!

Fish Fry Lake where I live, and dozens of lakes in northern Wisconsin, like Kiss Lake, Joy Lake, and Chippewa Flowage, they’ve all shown me this. It’s like a classroom where the teacher, nature, can be a hard ass, but we end up loving her! Because she gives us beauty as long as we team with her. As long as we partner with her. As long as we act, and step into stewardship.

If you have taken the trouble to read this, thank you. You are a cog in this wheel. You are vital, and only with you and our collective willingness to act can we succeed. Now is the time. Send us a message. Let us know where the pressure points are. Where will the HABs happen, and who is responsible for that water? Is it you? Reach out to us, and become part of a natural, chemical-free, sustainable solution!

Are there meaningful climate-change actions we as water stewards can undertake?   We think there are.  In 2011 Floating Island International completed an in-house, short term study.  We weighed a 25-square foot BioHaven, then planted and launched it on a waterway here in Shepherd, where it was exposed to nutrient surges.  During the growing season the island was removed, and again dried and weighed.  Its weight had increased by 72%, mostly in the form of organic biomass. The island was on track to double its weight by the end of the season. It was not alone.

a man lifting up a bed of floating islands to expose the roots underneath

Today there are over 9,000 other BioHavens doing the same thing all over the world – capturing and sequestering carbon.  From what we can see, many BioHavens are even exceeding the 72% weight gain.   What does this mean?  Can we employ nature to assist in cycling greenhouse gas from nutrient-rich water?  Can we prevent carbon dioxide and methane, and even nitrous oxide, from cycling into earth’s atmosphere? If so, how? Water Resource Recovery may be the key.  

Islands that pay for themselves, that generate revenue and provide a real return on investment, are far more palatable to a community’s water stewardship program than forced compliance.  My sense is that biomimicry must go commercial!  And frankly, going commercial makes a lot of sense.  It means larger island archipelagos that tie up more carbon.  And interestingly, water quality enhancement becomes a byproduct.  In other words, water quality is incidental to the commercial value of islands!  

I am a founder of FII, and I’m motivated.  Are there others out there interested in helping me find natural solutions to climate change? I sure hope you’ll reach out.

a scientist technician lifts a cube of biohaven floating island in a yellow container to examine the root mass which extends several feet below the island surface
BioHaven Floating Islands remove nutrient pollution and prevent potent greenhouse gases from forming in oxygen-deprived lakes and ponds.

Today’s eutrophic lakes that are producing methane and nitrous oxide can be healthy again over the space of a few short years.