Even with Funding, How Can We Address the Escalating Climate Crisis?

With nature as model, wetlands provide many solutions for climate woes.

It’s apparent that massive new funding will be put towards solving the worst of today’s climate woes—some two trillion dollars!  What does this mean?  Zero-emissions cars? Canceled oil pipelines? What will it look like in terms of actual efficacy?  And how will it influence Americans in both the short term and the long term?

With all of the energy around the new Biden administration’s focus on climate change mitigation, I’ve been really focused lately on how all of the work we’ve been doing here at Shepherd Research Center not only fits into the White House’s priorities, but just might be the missing link connecting a whole lot of seemingly disparate goals.

Clean technologies, greenhouse gas emission reduction, food sustainability practices, resource management, habitat preservation, clean water, and the health and equity of environments for all people regardless of race, color, or income: All of these things can be addressed with the work we’ve been doing here with floating treatment wetlands and related solutions.

Hear me out:

Wetland tech helps floating solar technology

Solar power is the fastest growing alternative technology, and floating photovoltaics is emerging as one of solar energy’s rising stars, based in its use of underutilized space on water. Asia is particularly responsive to this opportunity. Floating photovoltaics offers another key environmental benefit in that the platforms (whatever they are made of) become a surface on which microbes and biofilm grow and help mitigate nutrient burdens of the water. By integrating the advanced nutrient cycling features of BioHaven Floating Island modules into FPV projects, large waterbodies can be protected from Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) at the same time they are generating loads of energy.

Not only would BioHaven matrix improve the water quality around the FPV units, the Floating Island also serves as protection for delicate instrumentation from the wind and waves.

A BioHaven Floating Island attenuates waves such as chop waves / wind chop. Its floating structure eliminates concerns about sinking and rises and falls with the tide. The engineered anchor design has been tested for years. It has been manufactured to hold anchor through hurricane-force winds and storm surges, and native marsh plantings provide habitat as well as water quality benefits and natural beauty.

Also, even as FPV is emerging as the fastest growing form of solar energy generation, it has been plagued by questions around environmental impact. We have over 9,000 island launches to support our water quality improvement claims. We fix water using nature’s model…nature’s wetland effect.  Bringing this phenomenon to the FPV market represents an innovative new variable.

FII is poised to fill in the critical environmental gaps associated with conventional FPV projects.  The environmental impact of FPV projects is our baby.

Wetlands mitigate one of the most visible climate woes: greenhouse gas emissions

Today in the U.S. almost half of all fresh water is nutrient impaired.  This means it is poised to experience harmful algae blooms. Nutrient impaired water actually represents a bit more than half of the fresh water in the U.S., now, as compared to only 15% back in 1972, when the initial Clean Water Act was passed.  

Freshwater, currently the source of some 20% of total greenhouse gas, can be stewarded to health, fish productivity, and high impact climate changing gas reduction.  

The carbon storage and sequestration in soil and plant life of wetlands is well documented. Natural wetlands cover just 9 percent of the planet’s land surface, yet are estimated to store 35% of the area’s carbon. Where humans have moved in to an area and displaced an effective carbon sink (like a wetland) with development, adding a new method of sequestration, in the form of a BioHaven Floating Island on a nearby waterway is a way to offset the loss.

We know that most of the world’s freshwater is contained in small shallow lakes, and that sediments within them are known to produce at least one-quarter of all carbon dioxide and more than two-thirds of all methane released by lakes.

Eutrophic water emits massive volumes of greenhouse gas.  Massive!  Such greenhouse gas factories always occur within watersheds.  The lakes and reservoirs that are today experiencing Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) account for major volumes of GHGs, volumes that must be factored into any effective climate action.

BioHaven Floating Islands can “transition” a lake from eutrophic to oligotrophic. And, they work like natural wetlands as efficient sinks of carbon.

Bruce Kania

Today, methane, a particularly nasty greenhouse gas (GHG) that is produced by unhealthy water, can be quantified by satellite.  This is a major breakthrough.  It means that today, humans can track actual climate impact associated with nutrient impaired water.  With enhanced technology allowing for more accessible and higher-resolution monitoring of atmospheric concentrations, we can measure and quantify changes in aquatic emissions of CO2, CH4 and N2O. Then turn those changes into monetary value. With this knowledge at our fingertips, expanding into the carbon credit and trading market becomes even more attainable.

There are four stages on the water health scale: oligotrophic is the closest to pristine, followed by mesotrophic (a little impaired), eutrophic (getting up there) and hyper-eutrophic (dangerously impaired).

The average Global Warming Potential (GWP) values for mesotrophic waterways are about five times higher than for oligotrophic waterways. GWP values for eutrophic and hyper-eutrophic waterways are over 50 and 1,500 times greater, respectively, than oligotrophic waterways. In other words, exponentially more GHG is emitted at higher trophic levels.

By removing the nutrient burden that causes lakes to tend towards eutrophication, BioHavens can “transition” a lake from eutrophic and hyper-eutrophic back to oligotrophic. And, they work like natural wetlands as efficient sinks of carbon.

As streams and springs originate in high country, they ultimately develop into rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.  As they progress towards oceans, they gather up and concentrate suspended solids and colloidals.  This includes ubiquitous carbon, nitrogen in its various forms, and phosphorus.  Today, based on conventional agriculture’s bias towards chemicals, especially here in North America, we inject incredible tonnage of nutrients, like orthophosphate, into our watersheds.  A single pound of orthophosphate, think “fertilizer,” can translate into 1,100 pounds of filamentous algae.  With some cyanobacteria thrown in!  The criminally skewed ratio of nutrients that have been “sold” to agriculture has resulted in thousands of aquatic greenhouse gas factories.  It is that simple.  Our agricultural system is a primary agent of climate change.  And speaking of our agricultural system:

Floating islands foster food sustainability

The innovations based on natural floating wetland islands are all about cleaning water, yes. Fresh water, clean air, healthy soils, and a thriving ecosystem are the cornerstones of sustainable agriculture systems.

BioHaven Floating Islands employ a concentrated wetland effect, and in the process cycle nutrients that otherwise grow cyanobacteria and dangerous Harmful Algae Blooms into healthy water and FISH.

harvesting fish to cycle nutrients clean pond water image shows a white man with mustache and ballcap holding a string of about 15 yellow perch
A happy friend at Fish Fry Lake with a string of perch.

This transition of pollution-causing nutrients into fish is a natural byproduct of BioHaven floating islands. Fish are hyper accumulators of the nutrients that otherwise become cyanobacteria, which kills water. Catch-and-keep fishing is a natural, chemical-free way to clean up and prevent cyanobacteria blooms. And they happen to be a wonderful source of protein and Omega -3 fatty acids.

Catch-and-keep fishing is a natural, chemical-free way to clean up and prevent cyanobacteria blooms.

The island matrix that took more than 600 prototypes to perfect, can also be an important part of aquaponic gardens, a sustainable source for agriculture and livestock production where the land is not suitable for growing. Aquaponics, an integrated system of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) is an alternative farming system that allows for natural resources to be maximized where land is at a premium.

Floating Islands build habitat and the all-important biodiversity

The United Nations Report, Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, highlights the importance of accelerating action to safeguard and restore biodiversity. Inger Andersen, the UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Program has said: “We know what needs to be done, what works and how we can achieve good results. If we build on what has already been achieved, and place biodiversity at the heart of all our policies and decisions – including in COVID-19 recovery packages – we can ensure a better future for our societies and the planet.”

We know what needs to be done, what works and how we can achieve good results. If we build on what has already been achieved, and place biodiversity at the heart of all our policies and decisions – including in COVID-19 recovery packages – we can ensure a better future for our societies and the planet

Inger Andersen

Biodiversity is critical, as all food systems depend on it. “All food systems depend on biodiversity and a broad range of ecosystem services that support agricultural productivity, for example through pollination, pest control and soil fertility. Healthy ecosystems also underpin delivery of water supplies and water quality, and guard against water-related hazards and disasters. The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity may therefore be regarded as foundational.” (Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, 3)

The use of our floating island matrix as a tool to increase biodiversity is well documented, as is the use of islands as invertebrate habitats and pollinator habitats.

a honey bee pollinating yellow flowers
Grow flowers, vegetables, native plants, fish, and attract pollinators with a BioHaven Floating Island

Any decline in the invertebrate population will cause irreparable harm to the food chain. And imbalances in ecosystems lead to the emergence of pests that damage crops and the proliferation of insects that carry diseases like West Nile Virus and Blue Tongue.

The loss of wildlife species has global impacts, and can be mitigated by protecting shorelines and rebuilding wetland habitats. The loss of wetlands and shorelines due to human encroachment and sea water level rise is a real danger to many creatures—those we can see and those we can’t!

The opportunity to transition our sick water into incredibly productive and pristine water is in front of us right now! We can transition impaired waterways into wonderful, natural water through biomimicry, by letting nature guide us.  We can have pristine water in our cities.  But we can do so much more. We can re-learn how to partner with nature, instead of fighting it!