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The Green Life: Floating Islands Give Hope to Flooding Community

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September 27, 2011

Floating Islands Give Hope to Flooding Community

Floating island Ernest Dardar lives on Isle de Jean Charles, a drowning spit in Louisiana. It has never been a true island, but that might change: The sea is gulping down land in the Mississippi delta, and what used to be a maze of green and blue is looking more like an open ocean dotted with grassy life rafts. Mr. Dardar, whose Native American community rooted down there in the 19th century, has already moved once because he couldn’t commute to work during high tide. If the water keeps coming, a full-on transplant may be unavoidable. Now, an endeavor to deploy mats of foam and recycled plastic might bring some of the Isle back to the surface.

On September 23, more than 300 volunteers convened on Isle de Jean Charles to launch 1,500 feet of floating islands. A coalition that includes America’s Wetland Foundation and Shell is behind the project, which aims to restore a significant portion of vanished land and protect what’s still there.

The islands, which look like brown mattresses growing sea grass, are made from four strips of recycled plastic bottles layered with buoyant marine foam. The manufacturers cut wicking channels through two of the four layers, install grass plugs, and pack them with peat. As the grass grows, it bores through the porous bottom layers into the water, where its roots trap sediment and provide habitats for microbial colonies and fish.

If all goes well, the islands should produce new land that'll equal 300% of their surface area. They are staggered into rows that resemble long docks separated from each other by about five feet of water, which creates a terracing effect. Similar islands were installed at Louisiana's Bayou Savage National Wildlife Refuge in 2009, and that grass jumped off within a year.

Martin Ecosystems manufactures the islands, and CEO Ted Martin is optimistic about the project: “It’s a win-win when you can use recycled plastic to promote the ecosystem.” Each island contains about 576 reconstituted plastic bottles. If your lunchtime beverage lives a noble life, it might end up in this soda-bottle heaven.

-- Jake Abrahamson / photo courtesy of Martin Ecosystems

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