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Biological Restoration of water and land

Friday, March 10, 2017 8:58
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(Before It's News)

According to the 2015 World Economic Forum  "nofollow" href=
"" target=
"_blank">Global Risks 2015 Report
,  the water crisis is
the world’s #1 risk. The problem is not only the amount of water
available in the world’s rivers, lakes, and aquifers, but the
pollution of those resources from human contamination, including
bacteria, toxins, and nutrient loading. 

Around the world, lakes are dying off through bacterial and
algae blooms. Lake Erie between Canada and the US, Lough Neagh in
the UK, Lake Taihu in China, to name but a few of the thousands of
dead or swampy lakes around the world devastated by humanity’s
commercial, agricultural, and septic runoff. 

"Xuzhou Steel Group’s South Eastern steel plant is located near Weishan Lake. © Lu Guang / Greenpeace"
"Xuzhou Steel Group’s South Eastern steel plant is located near Weishan Lake. © Lu Guang / Greenpeace" />
Xuzhou Steel Group’s steel plant is located near Weishan Lake,
China, 4 May, 2015

In 2009, Earth systems scientist Johan Rockström and colleagues
published “Planetary Boundaries” in the
journal Nature, showing that human activity has
threatened seven essential systems – including fresh water and the
disruption of the world’s nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, which
effect fresh water. 

Phosphorous and nitrogen are critical for organic molecules such
as nucleic acids, adenosine triphosphate (ADT), and for DNA. All
plants need phosphorous and nitrogen and have evolved to find and
absorb these nutrients. However, nutrient loading from human
sources leads to accelerated productivity in water – called
eutrophication – signalled by algae blooms, oxygen depletion and
dead zones. Agricultural fertilisers, phosphate soaps, and
household septic systems all contribute to the nutrient cycle

Human communities, factories and livestock also contribute
bacteria to the world’s water tables. Health officials are
particularly concerned with coliform bacteria, often used to
indicate hepatitis or giardia, since those pathogens prove
difficult to detect but often exist in combination with fecal
coliform. In particular, health authorities monitor water
for Escherichia coli (E. coli), a
source of disease.

Industrial and domestic toxic waste products including arsenic,
fluoride, selenium, uranium, iron, manganese, mercury, pesticides,
endocrine disruptors, pharmaceuticals and microbial pathogens are
also major sources or water contamination.

Fortunately, this triple threat of nutrient loading, bacteria,
and toxins – can be mitigated using organic, biological methods,
generally known as “bioremediation.”


Certain microbes, bacteria, fungi, and plants can remove or
metabolise pollutants in soil or water, including assisting in the
removal of industrial chemicals, petroleum products, and
pesticides. Some compounds – certain heavy metals, such as cadmium
or lead, for example – resist bioremediation. However, some studies
have found that fish bone and bone char can remove small amounts of
lead, cadmium, copper, and zinc from soils.

A healthy ecosystem is, in itself, a bioremedial network of
organisms, processing each others’ wastes, and this process can be
enhanced by design. Purely organic systems include bioswales, plant
buffers, and biofilters regulated by microorganisms.

"Mexican Mayan farmers visit Finca Organopónica Cayo Piedra in Matanzas province, Cuba. Organoponics is a system of urban organic gardening in Cuba. This delegation visits at least five farms using ecological farming techniques that could be replicated in Mexico and other parts of the world. © Anaray Lorenzo / Greenpeace"
"Mexican Mayan farmers visit Finca Organopónica Cayo Piedra in Matanzas province, Cuba. Organoponics is a system of urban organic gardening in Cuba. This delegation visits at least five farms using ecological farming techniques that could be replicated in Mexico and other parts of the world. © Anaray Lorenzo / Greenpeace" />
Ecological farming Finca Organopónica Cayo Piedra, Cuba,
14, January, 2017

Smart farmers and communities have used bioremediation for
millennia. Permaculture and simple composting employ bioremediation
to metabolise unwanted bacteria or pathogens in soils. Simply
replanting native species along disturbed shorelines helps take up
nutrients and bacteria. Microbes and mycelium can be added to soil,
to enhance the natural uptake of unwanted compounds and organisms.

Bionics to Biomimicry

In the 1950s, American biophysicist Otto Schmitt copied the
nervous system of a squid to help design an electronic trigger
circuit that is still used today to remove noise from signals in
digital circuits. He coined the word “biomimetics” to describe the
process of taking design advice from organisms and ecosystems. His
colleague Jack Steele coined the term “bionics,” later used in
Martin Caidin’s novel Cyborg, associated with
increasing human powers using artificial body parts. 

In 1997, Janine Benyus published Biomimicry: Innovation
Inspired by Nature
, expanding biomimetics and popularising the
idea of using natural systems to design commercial products. The
classic example is Velcro, patented in 1955 by Swiss engineer
George de Mestra, designed after the surface of common

“When we look at what is truly sustainable,” wrote Benyus, “the
only real model that has worked over long periods of time is the
natural world.” Producing commercial products, however, is a
different matter than restoring degraded ecosystems. Nevertheless,
it remains feasible that nature-inspired design could help restore
ecological balance.

Last year, Jesse Goldstein at Virginia Commonwealth University
and Elizabeth Johnson at University of Exeter, published “ "nofollow" href=
target="_blank">Biomimicry: New Natures, New Enclosures
” to
address these questions.  They critique a “neoliberal
illusion” that we help the ecosystem by creating a faster
“bioeconomy,” using spider web chemistry to create bullet proof
vests, or natural designs to create more powerful aeroplanes,
faster computers, sharper video screens, or biotech patents.

They warn that neoliberal economics overlooks biophysical limits
and the inherent unsustainability of relentless economic growth.
They suggest that the bioeconomy can become another form of private
accumulation, whereby patents of nature’s creations replace fences
to enclose the natural commons for private profit, driven by
venture capital funding, not for the restoration of nature, but for
the “reproduction of capital.”

However, biotechnologies can include genuinely restorative
systems, including bioremediation fields, a sharkskin design used
in hospitals to repel bacteria, or a Nubian beetle technique of
drinking from fog, used to collect water for buildings. 

“How,” Goldstein and Johnson ask, “can we imagine a form of
production that can both reproduce beautiful lives and unmake the
infrastructure of our ecologically catastrophic social

Ecological restoration

To create successful biological design, we not only have to ask,
“How does nature solve this physical challenge?” but also ask:
“What is natural economics?” The economy of an ecosystem is
non-hierarchical It is a web of shared relationships that
contribute materials, energy and services to other parts of the
network, as growth fluctuates within natural limits. 

Lake Winnipeg in Canada suffered from high levels of phosphorus
loading from the surrounding community, causing severe algae
blooms. Researchers planted cattail to reduce nutrient flows.
Certain plant species, such as cattail and canary grass produce
sugar-like compounds that move through the roots, into the soil,
and enhance nutrient collection and disease resistance. The Lake
Winnipeg project has been so successful that researchers are now
harvesting cattail as a heating fuel, further increasing the
nutrient removal, since the plants are not left on the lakeshore to

Biologist, Dr. John Todd, has designed what he calls “Living
Machines” – bioremediation fields to clean up contaminated soil and
water in the US, China, and elsewhere. The system on Moskito Island
in the Virgin Islands, treats domestic sewage on a terraced
hillside, using solar heat, gravity, and ecological systems to take
up nutrients and distribute them to plants, animals, bacteria and
fungi throughout the system. 

"ForestClose up of fungi in the Kellerwald forest near Edersee in the German state of Hesse. Deciduous forests, as a CO2 sink, are of importance for the climate and provide home to numerous animal and plant species. © Michael Loewa / Greenpeace"
"ForestClose up of fungi in the Kellerwald forest near Edersee in the German state of Hesse. Deciduous forests, as a CO2 sink, are of importance for the climate and provide home to numerous animal and plant species. © Michael Loewa / Greenpeace" />
Fungi in the Kellerwald forest near Edersee, Germany, 25
October, 2013

In Mason County, Washington, US, mycologist Paul Stamets uses
mushrooms to capture contaminants from water. Mycorrhizae fungi
support plants by extending their root structures, and
myco-remediation utilises this natural symbiosis to absorb
bacteria, nutrients, heavy metals, and toxins. Stamets can match
certain fungal species with target pollutants. Wood-degrading fungi
are effective in breaking down hydrocarbon compounds and
chlorinated pesticides. Oyster mushrooms will capture petroleum
products and E. coli. Turkey tail will bind mercury
pollution with selenium, forming a non-toxic compound. The
Ecuadorian fungus Pestalotiopsis can consume

The Loess Plateau, in North-central China – a 1200-metre
elevation region the size of France between the Wei and Yellow
Rivers – is the cradle of Chinese civilization, occupied by people
for a million and a half years. However, by the twentieth century,
ten thousand years of agriculture, livestock grazing, logging, and
amassed dynastic wealth had degraded the land so thoroughly that
the rolling hills stood bare, and gullies annually washed a billion
tons of sediment into the Yellow River. The ecological devastation
caused droughts, famine, and poverty. 

In the 1990s, John Liu, an American who had been living in China
for over 30 years, joined a Chinese government ecological
rehabilitation initiative to restore the Loess Plateau economy by
restoring the ecosystem. Local citizens terraced the hills to
retain water, replanted trees, grew crops, and created vast
ecological zones that allowed biodiversity to recover. Agriculture
has grown, and family incomes in the Loess region have since
tripled. Over 35-thousand square kilometres of bare land have been
restored into a diverse green belt. 

Liu emphasises the importance of soil carbon as a way for
humanity to restore the carbon disequilibrium in the atmosphere.
“COemissions are a symptom of systematic
dysfunction on a planetary scale,” says Lui. “Human impact on the
climate is not simply emission-based; it is degradation.”

The Loess project was primarily low-tech, employing people while
building community cohesion, an example of genuine biological
restoration that also restores human economy, health, and

“Landscape restoration,” explains Lui, “starts with restoring
ecological function. This changes the socio-economic function. If
the intention of human society is to extract, to manufacture, to
buy and sell things, then problems arise. Real economy is
understanding that natural ecological functions that create air,
water, food and energy are vastly more valuable than anything that
has ever been produced or bought and sold. Rather than commoditise
nature, we need to naturalise the economy.”


Resources, links: 

“Thirty Years and Counting: Bioremediation in Its
Prime?”  ""
, March, 2005.

“Contaminants in drinking water: Environmental pollution and
health ;” John Fawell  Mark J Nieuwenhuijsen”  "nofollow" href=
target="_blank">British Medical Journal
, 2003.

“Assessing the resistance and bioremediation ability of selected
bacterial and protozoan species to heavy metals,” I. Kamika and M.
Momba;  ""
target="_blank">BioMed Central
, Microbiology, Feb. 2013.

Water crisis as the #1 global risk: World Economic
Forum,  "" target=
"_blank">Global Risks 2015 Report

“Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global
crisis,”  ""
target="_blank">The Guardian
, March 2015.

“Removal of Escherichia coli from synthetic stormwater using
mycofiltration,” Taylor, A., Flatt, A., Beutel, M., Wolff, M.,
Brownsona, K., Stamets, P.;  ""
target="_blank">Ecological Engineering
, May, 2014.

Clu-in, EPA report:  ""
target="_blank">Citizen’s guide to bio-remediation

“Interview with Paul Stamets”:  ""
target="_blank">Mother Earth News

Helping the Ecosystem through mushroom cultivation: Paul
Stamets,  ""
target="_blank">Fungi Perfecti

John Todd:  "" target="_blank">Ecological

What is Biomemicry:   ""
target="_blank">Biomimicry Institute

target="_blank" href="/r2/?url="
target="_blank">Biomimicry: New Natures, New
: Jesse Goldstein, Virginia Commonwealth
University, and Elizabeth Johnson, University of Exeter, 2015.

John Lui, documentary:  ""
target="_blank">Green Gold

“Environmental Challenges Facing China – Rehabilitation of the
Loess Plateau,” John D. Liu, Director of the  href=
target="_blank">Environmental Education Media Project

height="1" width="1" alt="" />


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