This week, my group and I were in Cambridge exploring the Charles River and the land surrounding it, focusing on sustainability in parks and how areas are taking action in climate resiliency. We saw many interesting things surrounding the Charles including a floating wetland. At first, I had no idea that this floating island of plants and grass was man-made, nor did I know its primary function. A floating wetland is a man-made raft that houses native wetland plants. They contain soil, plants, and root interactions similar to a natural wetland. It provides a home beneficial water-cleaning microorganisms and a safe place for other plants and animals. But how does it float? A floating wetland is anchored to stay in one area of the body of water but moves with the water level. The bottom of the floating wetland is often made out of polyethylene terephthalate, which comes from recycled plastic waste. Research has proven that floating wetland islands can reduce nitrogen and phosphorous levels in ponds, one study actually found that wetland helped remove 32% phosphorous and 45% of the nitrogen in lake water.
The Charles River has a very strong reputation for having dirty water, but in the last 25 years, people have worked in order to clear its name, making it one of the cleanest urban rivers in the United States. But, blue green algae, aka Cyanobacteria is blooming. When cyanobacteria are present, there is evidence of an impaired ecosystem, which can be hazardous to human health. In order to solve this problem, a floating wetland was placed with the hope that native plants will help reduce cyanobacteria blooms and restore a balanced food chain. The floating wetland in the Charles explores an ecological intervention to try and reduce harmful algae, which often hurts the river's cleanliness and can threaten the life in it. These "algal blooms" are a symptom of a break in the food chain, which can be extremely detrimental to all of the living organisms in the river. The Charles decided to make a multi-year partnership with Northeastern Ph.D. student Max Rome in order to collect data with other researchers to understand if adding additional habitat will have a positive outcome on the food chain. Also, in hopes that the public would take interest in the wetland and educate people on the ecology of the river.
Hopefully, over the course of a few years, this team will collect enough information to prove that floating wetlands are an important and helpful resource to environmental resilience. On Thursday, we spent our day creating our own parks that would be most helpful to our environment. I attached my park and my notes, so also take a look at that!
Here are some pictures of my week: