Purifying Water Nature’s Way: Bioneers Youth

Local youth place native plants in a bioremediation “island” at Bioneers 2015. Photo by CMCM

Legendary environmentalist David Brower once said, “My secret is that I surround myself with bright young people and then stand back and bask in the glow of their accomplishments.”

For the last two years, the Bioneers Youth Leadership Program (YLP) has worked with interns from the Marin School of Environmental Leadership (MSEL) and with Strategic Energy Innovations (SEI) as part of a cooperative education course with Skyline College in San Bruno. The interns earn two units of college credit. This year, we are working with MSEL high school seniors Selena Khisa and Julietta Saccardi.

Selena and Julietta helped us in planning the YLP aspects of the Bioneers conference in 2015, and they designed a youth-led community mural that was showcased during the Saturday Night Dance Party. They invited all Bioneers attendees to co-create the mural and engage in conversations about the effects of drought and wildfires and the role each individual can play to effect positive change. They are also in the process of designing and producing a Bioneers event on their campus for Earth Day.

Marin County Students Help Launch Bioremediation Project

MSEL students, Elly Blatcher, Evan Gabbard, Max Manwaring-Mueller, Cole Parker, Ben Wagner and Sophie Yoakum worked with Alex Kahl, of the Gallinas Watershed Council, to deploy the Floating Island bioremediation project, which helped clean the water in the lagoon at the Marin Civic Center, the Bioneers conference venue. The design, inspired by former Bioneers speaker John Todd, soaks up excessive nitrogen in the water (from the waste of Canada Geese), a source of pollution that causes unhealthy algal blooms.

The Floating Island bio-filters, made of tule, iris, reed-leaved rush and other plants native to Marin, create a living ecosystem that naturally filters the lagoon water and creates a healthy habitat for wildlife.

It’s a very simple thing,” said Alex Kahl, co-founder and co-organizer of the project, “What it does, it mimics nature. That’s why it’s called biomimicry. We make something out of technology, which acts the way nature does. On a very small scale, we’re imitating what these plants do in the real world — they clean out the dirty stuff in the water.”

The MSEL students helped launch the floating Islands during the Bioneers conference by putting 200 native plants into an island structure made of recycled bottles. The project involved research on structural engineering, and a taste of civic engagement: The students filed for an extension of time with Marin County to keep the islands floating as long as possible. They will monitor the effectiveness of the biofilters on the lagoon’s water quality and share the data with other schools.

Learn more about the link between bioremediation and ecological design in our Ecological Design Media Collection »

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse

Our bi-weekly newsletter provides insights into the people, projects, and organizations creating lasting change in the world.