When you visit a floating island, you often see dragonflies and monarch butterflies flit around the pollinator friendly flowers. You may see small turtles sunning themselves or a duck resting. But below the islands there is so much more. Floating Islands can be planted with a wide variety of native aquatic plants that grow long roots through the matrix in the island and underneath. In just months, the roots can be two feet long and these roots provide multiple benefits:
1. The most obvious benefit of roots is nutrient uptake.
Like in a garden, nature can help remove nutrients as the plants grow. The island’s surface vegetation will pull up dissolved carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. Surprisingly it is less than you think. Studies have shown only 5% of the phosphorus is due to plant uptake.
2. Roots provide the necessary substrate for microbes to colonize.
These microbes, and the sticky secretions they produce (biofilm), will form a community of periphyton (an underwater organism or community of microbes, algae, cyanobacteria, zooplankton and invertebrates attached to a substrate). Periphyton is the primary agent responsible for cleaning water and sequestering excess nutrients from urban and agricultural run-off. The microbes will help break down the majority of the nutrients. The islands compete with the algae for nutrients such as phosphorus and therefore, reduce large algal blooms.
3. Roots slow water movement which helps with sedimentation and reduced cloudiness.
Roots not only create a physical barrier for water to pass through, but the roots can help absorb some of the water during time of higher water levels. As the water passes through the root system, excess carbon is sequestered and flakes off to the bottom of the lake or pond. This can reduce the cloudiness of the water and make it look cleaner and healthier. The sequestered nutrients will remain at the bottom of the lake unless the sludge is turned up from dredging the lake or other aquatic life burrowing into it.
4. Roots create a rich food source for many fish and other aquatic species.
Roots are the home to a large variety of small invertebrates. These small creatures are the beginning of the food chain to feed the entire waterway system.
5. Roots provide protection for spawning and protecting the young fish.
The roots create a shaded space that is protected. Fish can cling to the root system to lay their eggs. In Milwaukee, floating islands were installed on the metal sides of their river to successfully create a place for fish spawning.
The root of this story is that floating islands have so many benefits not just above the waterline but below as well. The root system is a vital component to improve the overall health of your waterway.
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