Life Rafts and Leviathan™

[Biohabitat’s floating habitat mattresses made of 100% recycled plastic bottles, seen here filled with soil and plants by a team of volunteers and ready for deployment as experimental land makers near the Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana.  Image source]

As recently reported by America’s Wetland Foundation:

“Hundreds of volunteers helped launch 187 “floating islands” in a demonstration project of new technology to protect the area south of Houma, Louisiana, that is considered to be “ground zero” for coastal land loss in America.  The islands offer promise, not only to protect existing land against eroding wave action, but also as a means of building new land in shallow open waters in an area that has suffered some of the nation’s greatest loss of land.

The five-by-eight-foot islands [were] planted with 40-60 native plants by volunteers, then anchored end-to-end for 1,500 feet next to remaining marshes on the thin strip of road that leads to Isle de Jean Charles, south of Houma.  The plants will set roots into the water bottoms, forming traps for land-building sediments. Several islands will be stacked away from shore to test their ability to build land in open water.”

[The project two installations along the north side of Isle de Jean Charles Road, via Google Earth]

In contrast to marsh terracing, which attempts to passively aggregate land by building up strategically arranged earth forms that require significant time, specialized labor, earth movers,  raw building material, and  money to create their foundation, the floating island technique (should it prove successful in the dynamic Mississippi Delta) literally builds from the top down, using a more passive biotic process of roots grafting themselves into the receding aqueous ground, thereby creating a vertical mesh that builds upon itself. The islands themselves can be assembled and put in place in a single day with improvised ‘off the shelf’ materials, making them incredibly close to open-source, do-it-yourself  land reclamation within the eccentric industrial legacies of the delta.  And a do-it-yourself approach is pretty much what the indigenous Houma Nation has been forced to do given the convoluted political situation they currently find themselves in.

[Above and Below: Images of the Terrebonne Floating Island installation, including the stuffing of the mattresses and their transportation to the deployment site.  Source.  More in-depth photo coverage of the community event, including details of raft construction can be found at Bayou Woman.]

Since being featured in Margolis and Robinson’s Living Systems (2007), BioHaven’s Floating Island technology appears to have proliferated and diversified, which based on the company’s list of case studies and independent research, is due to their efficacy.  They were a major component of TLS/KVA’s RIVERFIRST winning entry for the Minneapolis RiverFront Competition, which proposed a long string of the Islands, 8 acres in total, “anchored to existing bridge piers to provide protected riparian habitat for migrating birds and endangered wildlife“:

In the built realm, a stroll through BioHaven’s unlabeled image galleries is equally interesting:

In terms of increasing complexity, check out the Leviathan:

“Leviathan uses integrates high-volume, low-head circulation with matrix surface area for maximum wetland performance. Its efficient air-driven directional diffuser draws in and aerates in excess of ten thousand gallons of water per minute, pushing it through the BioHaven matrix and plant roots. A key innovation is the floating streambed, which contributes to the aeration and nutrient uptake.  In a standard Leviathan configuration, nutrients and contaminants are exposed to over 1,000,000 square feet of sticky, biofilm-laden surface area; however, Leviathan is scalable. In fact, those now being designed are large enough to circulate up to 10,000 gallons of water every minute.”

But more interesting for us are the simpler streams of the corporate technology and how that technology is being adapted and customized through application and engagement with the material, as we see in the Isle de Jean Charles instance; the fast twitch design.  The basic assembly of infrastructural things – banal and mass-produced – is malleable in both process and execution.  It seems entirely possible, and even likely, that the initial discovery that the floating islands would sometimes anchor themselves was entirely an accident of circumstance (?) that evolved into a deliberate and clever land making technique.

Equally fascinating is the much, much larger, Leviathan-like scale in which these assembled surfaces are proliferating in the landscape; a distinct generative legacy of our plastic waste ecology. If successful as a land generating technique, the former islands will in turn leave behind an ever-expanding subsurface horizontal strata of inorganic Polyethylene Terephthalate, likely to be re-exposed during some later geo-anthropogenic event.

[Above and below, a 900 foot installation of BioHaven® Floating Islands being tested at Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge for shoreline stabilization]


  1. namhenderson · ·

    Minus all the plastic this is awesome. I wonder if they have looked into other possible architectures, or maybe using (although there is probably a much more limited supply) some sort of new biodegradable plastic bottle. Although I suppose it would depend on the length of time these rafts need to have their own flotation before they become real islands with their own connected ground.

  2. I guess it is better to have repurposed plastic floating Islands in the ocean than the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It would be so much better to eliminate our dependance on plastic and oil.

    Very interesting idea and fascinating way of studying nature and then using new technology to work with nature instead of against it.

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