Floating Islands – Nature’s Marvel

22 December 2010

Floating islands are a natural phenomenon – the benefits of which have now been ‘bio-mimicked’ into a commercial technology – one of the most exciting innovations for decades.  While many have tried to create ‘floating wetlands’, to-date only a single company has been successful in combining all of the abiotic and biotic components necessary to create a semi-natural biological engine.

Planting a new floating island

The first scientific evaluation of floating islands was published way back in 1711.  Since then there have been numerous reports and publications on this natural phenomenon (see Floating Islands, A Global Bibliography by Van Duzer – Cantor Press).  Relatively recently, Floating Islands International (Montana, USA), has created an inert, floating matrix known as a BioHaven.

Not many people are aware that the bulk, as much as 80%,  of the water quality polishing that occurs in wetlands takes place in the thin layer of organisms attached to all the submerged surfaces (rocks, plant stems, leaves of pondweeds and etc).  The greater this surface area, the more efficient the wetland will be).  The BioHaven design provides a massive surface area within a very small footprint – with one square meter of BioHaven providing the same surface area as 150 sq meters of conventional wetland planted with reeds!  (and thats before any plants are added!).  Other types of floating devices have focussed on plant support and nutrient uptake via plant growth – and this is where they fail in comparison to BioHavens in that they lack the biofilm support component.

Islands being prepared for bank stabilization

BioHavens come in all shapes and forms – as detailed in the BioHaven Overview.  They provide a unique and extremely-efficient means of augmenting the water quality processing potential of existing ponds, waterways and treatment plants.  In addition to their superior ability to process nutrients, they have also been shown to be effective against trace metals and pharmaceuticals.  As the New Zealanders have found with copper and zinc, BioHavens are also likely to be affect in attenuating chromium levels.

Launching a newly planted island

To date over 4000 BioHavens have been launched.  New Zealand, whose National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) have been testing BioHavens for two years,  launched over 8000 square meters this year (2010).   I estimate in the neighborhood of  half a million square meters have been launched in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, England, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, People’s Republic of China, and Korea.  They have also been installed locally at The Stables development in Cape Town.

Planting a pond edge floating island

Thusfar South Africans have been somewhat reluctant to take this technology on board – but then South Africa is, in general terms, a technology-averse nation. The upfront cost is a factor BUT, this needs to be weighed against the costs of achieving the same goal using conventional wetlands or using chemicals, approaches that can add 7-25x the cost of the BioHavens – and which do not consider that the BioHaven brings with it a long lifespan and almost instant start-up!

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