Water Stewardship IS Climate Action

Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) Produce Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs)

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.

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 – and few are even aware of the issue, let alone doing something about it.

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!

BioHaven floating islands make excellent fishing platforms. We harvest the fish to get rid of phosphorus. Removing phosphorus prevents harmful algae blooms. Harmful algae blooms can contribute massive amounts of methane to the atmosphere. Fixing harmful algae blooms is a form of climate action.
Ten kids harvest 671 healthy, colorful, mixed age class of native fish in four hours, cycling nutrients that would otherwise have grown over 1.5 tons of HAB, at Fish Fry Lake, Sept. 21, 2017.

Projects That Pay For Themselves

WaterRR’s Water Resource Recovery initiative takes this process further by growing plants and landscape trees on BioHavens and harvesting them. They can then be sold to defray expenses or donated to the community to promote goodwill. FII also plans to produce commercial volumes of solar power on BioHavens. We are convinced that Water Resource Recovery – projects that mitigate their own costs – is the only feasible way to fix HABs sustainably.

Our floating islands biomimic nature’s model to create a truly sustainable system that addresses even massive HABs. We have made many significant improvements to make BioHavens durable enough to withstand all that a large lake can throw at them: high winds, big waves, ice, UV-light, waterfowl, nutria, muskrats and beaver. BioHavens have even withstood hurricanes and typhoons. We engineer and build islands based on a 60-year design life. Water Resource Recovery means that the valuable nutrients present in water can become a cost–benefit proposition. This is not just for lakes but for a vast range of other water bodies like wastewater lagoons, drinking water reservoirs and private ponds.

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

Harvest of Microplastics

BioHavens have a proven ability to cycle suspended solids out of water. Biofilm engineer Dr. Mark Reinsel, FII’s process engineer, affirms that the bio-reactive surface area on and within BioHavens, which has the proven ability to mitigate total suspended solids (TSS), should also be able to remove micro-particulates of plastic. Using historical data from our many case studies, we can size a project for TSS reduction, which is particularly strategic in wastewater lagoons, where microplastics concentrate before infiltration into watersheds.

Harmful Algae Blooms are, in one sense, an opportunity. They indicate that nutrients are available to be cycled into perennial plants and trees, or fish which should be harvested from nutrient rich eutrophic waterways much more aggressively than most of today’s bag limits proscribe. Today’s HAB-afflicted waterway is tomorrow’s revenue generator, and tomorrow’s terrific recreational waterway. Instead of viewing nutrient pollution as an expensive problem to contend with (so doing nothing) we can welcome it as a resource recovery opportunity. Municipalities facing fish kills, beach closures, odor, and even human and pet safety, will find BioHaven WRR practical and effective. Climate activists must awaken to this challenge. One of the best activities we can do in the face of this challenge is protest the chemical and algaecidal treatments so common today…and go fishing!

Floating Island International and its seven licensed manufacturers have some nine thousand islands launched around the world. We are eager to talk with you about the challenges you face in managing your water.