There is the Boston Common, the Greenway and the Esplanade — but how about a new kind of city green? A water garden to explore — not by foot – but by canoe, kayak or paddle board or other small watercraft. The channel is an ideal place to truly live with water and embrace it, protected from swells and surfs, making a perfect environment in which to relax, explore and play on water. Imagine looking down to see the channel blanketed in a lush, colorful, layer of living creatures, animated by nocturnal and seasonal changes.
In order to truly embrace water, we must clean it.
Heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals have built up in the channel over time and continue to be deposited by sewer overflow during heavy rains, adding dangerous levels of coliform bacteria. While the Fort Point Channel inlet is protected, its character also presents a problem, these materials cannot be flushed out as there is little to no outward circulation of the water.
Our water needs plants and animals, as our parks need trees, and grasses and related fauna.
An installation of natural wetland biomass is a floating treatment that mimics the natural pollutant-removal processes of the native saltwater marsh. These floating islands, like trees in our parks, work on both large and small scales to filter harmful material from the water cleaning our environment while providing habitat to a number of local ecosystems, in this case, both above and below water. By reintroducing living shorelines once native to Boston Harbor, we can live, play in our water while protecting our city from toxic storm surge.
Biomass islands have exhibited impressive abilities to absorb aquatic such as phosphorus, ammonia, and nitrogen, and because of their surface area-maximizing design, 250 square feet of island is able to match the performance of an acre (43,560 square feet) of wetland surface area. The islands’ surface provides a habitat for any type of plants to grow- the plants obtain nutrients from the water and encourage microbial growth and the development of biofilm covering the island and plant roots, these beneficial microbes living on the root system effectively pull pollutants from the water. The natural vegetation on the islands’ surface are capable of attracting and sustaining insect populations which attract other wildlife, such as birds. The root systems underneath the islands allow for safe spaces where aquatic life can thrive away from harm.
The plants are supported by a flexible multi-layer biomesh growing matrix made of recycled plastics. The impressive surface area built into this design maximizes the benefits of microbe colonization. Additionally, the design of this matrix is largely what enables the islands’ impressive ability to dampen the run-up of incoming waves and surge. Tests in Massachusetts have shown the islands to be more effective in series, dampening waves by up to 93% in shoreline studies and up to 80% in deep water. This can mitigate and prevent damage both from recreational boat activity and the anticipated increasing threat of damaging waves due to rising water level, increasing storm severity, etc.
The islands can function in any water level and can adapt to fluctuations in water level, allowing them to maintain their protective wave-breaking qualities even as ocean levels rise.
Living with water requires community involvement.
This process can provide a framework for hands-on community involvement and education, generating awareness and interest in both marine biological health and its impact on human life. The installation will include an educational component — tours, children and adult bio exploration workshops
Boston Green Harbor Laboratory at UMASS Boston
Kim Poliquin, Design Director
Dylan Bush, Designer
Anamarija Franjkic, Marine Biologist