Here's the flowering of a green imagination. Collect floating soda bottles flushed down storm drains. Bind them together in big sacks, then build floating islands on top of them. On these islands plant spartina grass, black needlerush, and marsh hibiscus. Like magic, you've morphed garbage into floating wetlands that can be anchored along a city dock to absorb pollution, beautify the shoreline and provide a habitat for fish. This is not just a creative idea. It has become reality on the waterfront in Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Keith Bowers (pictured at right) founder and owner of Biohabitats, Inc., in June launched floating wetlands projects in Baltimore (at the Living Classrooms Foundation campus, on the Inner Harbor), and in Philadelphia (beside Pier 53, on the Delaware River.) Now he wants to expand his floating empire, to more areas of the Baltimore waterfront and other cities, rivers and ponds.
"We are recycling debris, and what we are creating helps from a water quality standpoint," said Bowers. He was one of several speakers yesterday at a conference on "Technologies That Can Save the Bay," that was co-hosted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO) at CBF's headquarers in Annapolis.
The day-long event was attended by about 100 entrepreneurs, scientists and policy-makers, and included presentations from a variety of companies. These included the Furbish Company, which makes erosion control structures that grow plants called "living retaining walls;" Stancills, Inc., which creates bedding material for improved green roofs; and EcoSystem Solutions, which puts eelgrass seeds into convenient pellets, to help people re-plant the Bay with aquatic vegetation. Other speakers included Chuck Fox, the EPA's Bay cleanup czar and Bay author Tom Horton.
"It was good to learn about new technologies," said CBF Senior Scientist, Dr. Beth McGee, who helped to coordinate the event. "But I think the real value was in the relationships and partnerships that hopefully evolved because of this showcase."
Keith Bowers' floating wetlands were among the most unusual and attention-grabbing projects discussed at the event.
Bowers explained that the plants growing on the recycled islands -- an example of what he calls "regenerative design" -- absorb phosphorus and nitrogen pollution. He added that the roots dangling down beneath the water provide shelter for fish.
Moreover, all the old bottles can be assembled into the island bases by volunteers or students, creating a good opportunity for building community involvement in cleanup, Bowers said.
The floating squares would likely block the sunlight on the bottom, so they would not be raised over areas that already have healthy aquatic vegetation, he said. For that reason, they are good candidates for greening up the edges of urban areas (like the waterfronts of Baltimore and Philadelphia.)
To learn more about Biohabitats and its projects, click here.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Photos by Biohabitats, first, third and fourth; and Tom Pelton, second picture)