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Transforming Trash Into Floating Wetlands

Floatingwetlands 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.

KeithBowers 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.

Pavolunteers Pictured at left are volunteers with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society building a wetlands float for the Delaware River. 

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)


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Great idea, except that once the bottles break down they become part of the food chain. Plastic trash needs to be removed from aquatic systems.

Thanks, Blair. I'm not sure these plastic bottles ever become part of the food chain. I believe the idea is that they remain in the structure of the floating island until it is removed or sinks to the bottom.

They do break down more slowly since they are not exposed to the sun, but eventually they will break down into smaller bits which fish eat. They cannot digest this. Those that live do become contaminated, as we are all contaminated by plastics, i.e. BPA, ect. I do love the floating plants idea, Very smart.

I kinda understand the concept of what you are trying to do! but if you go on my profile. You will see pics of a Elk River state park that has debre on it! any ideas on what to do with this stuff? This is also where they are going to dredge the river that has permits from the us corp of engenering with multiple EPA super fund sites and chemical dumps. no soil samples recently have been preformed! would love some help on any ideas on,1 how to get cars out of a reveans of a creek that goes into the river. to get a spoil site off our parks and lands.3. how to get soil and water samples preformed before dredging begins again. can reach me at or on fb. Lisa Corrado.. i seem to get no help! or a run around. would like some real help!

Where can I get a set of plans. Would like to put one at my pier on the South River if the river is not to dead to supoort even this type plants.

Thanks, John. I would try contacting Biohabitats directly at

Their web site lists Tim Burkett as the person to ask about projects:

Good luck!

To Lisa Corrado:

If people are dumping cars, spoils and other bad stuff into a park, you might want to try contacting the Maryland Department of the Environment's Hazardous Waste Enforcement Division at (410) 537-3400.

If they can't help you, they might at least know who to contact.

Great comments from everyone. I have a few clarifications. .... As the inventor of the floating bottle wetlands, we recognize the issue with plastics in our waterways. They do in fact become part of the food chain once they are mechanically worn into microscopic particles. This may contribute to whales being diagnosed with breast cancer. That is why we are only using bottles collected from the water. Then we try to educate the kids to stop littering. We hope that in fact, we stop the breakdown as the bottles become encapsulated roots. We don't know yet. That's why this is a prototype. Finally, we have a patent pending. The aim is to keep the technology free for community groups, but we want to track who is building them, how many are built and where. Please feel free to contact me.

Thank You Tom, I have contacted the MDE and all officials and I am comming up with no help! but thank you for taking the time. I shows someone seems to see my side and how wrong this really is!

I wanted to take the time to add some comments that I feel would be helpful for this discussion. As the distributors of the Biohaven Floating Wetland Islands used at the National Aquarium launch site, BlueWing Environmental distributes the "commercial" nutrient uptake solution that can handle the Bay TMDL at 40% of the allocated funding costs. Through our extensive experience with floating treatment wetlands, I would offer that the bacteria (microbes) that will cover the bottles should encapsulate the plastic and render it generally safe to the environment. Biohabitat's rendering of these islands provides an incredible learning opportunity to help educate the public and will provide some ecological value to uptake nutrients and create habitat above and below the surface of the water. We all need to work together to clean up the water in the Bay! BlueWing Environmental is excited to lead the expansion of this concept in Baltimore's Inner Harbor with the Waterfront Partnership and the City of Baltimore.

Have you guys seen the floating islands in Chicago? I saw them when i visit a few summers back.

Have you guys seen the floating islands in Chicago? I saw them when i visited a few summers back.

I love the cheaspeake bay myself and i getting hurt to see what is happing to this perfect body of water. I think we should stop using cars all the time and stop making houses because there are animals dieing because of us making houses and we need to save some of the land for the animals beacuse its not just us that live in this world and also if we are going to live in this world we would want it to be clean.

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