Combating Florida’s Toxic Algae with Refined Floating Treatment Wetlands

Jennifer McCloskey

Authors:  Jennifer McCloskey

Faculty Mentor:  Sergio Vega

College:  College of the Arts 

Abstract

Toxic algal blooms in Florida continues to be a growing threat in our sensitive freshwater habitats. Caused by excessive amounts of pollution and runoff, these outbreaks are threatening citizen’s health and livelihoods, as well as killing off a vast amount of marine life. Without proper regulations on sewage and runoff from representatives, this problem will only become worse as the years go on. Biological treatment is possible through the reintroduction of natural plants in floating treatment wetlands, harnessing the natural ability of plants to decontaminate the water. In my research I will attempt to address the urgent environmental crisis brought by toxic algae to the state of Florida from the perspective of art. My research features small-scale floating wetlands that will reintroduce native species to Florida’s waters. They use the natural form of the lily pad with recycled Plexiglas to further push a hybrid natural/technological design. Unlike past floating wetlands, my prototypes are meant to stand out, drawing in viewers and then educating them on Florida’s toxic algae problem as well as adding cultural and aesthetic value to any aquatic habitat that they are placed in.

Poster Pitch

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Poster

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Jordan Moumne
Jordan Moumne (@guest_792)
1 year ago

I love the use of art as a response to a biological issue. My question in, what made you choose a green plexiglass? How are the ecosystems that you are placing these pieces in impacted by the color and the introduction of these units?

Jennifer McCloskey
Jennifer McCloskey (@guest_3156)
Reply to  Jordan Moumne
1 year ago

Hi Jordan, truthfully it was from an aesthetic standpoint that I chose the green plexiglass. Because I was not able to put my pieces in for an elongated amount of time, that is research for the future. Personally, I think that it might deter too many species that would benefit from this (specifically avian friends), but at the same time, there has been cases where birds eat too much of the plants to the point where the treatment wetland fails. So, it’s kinda up in the air.

Callie San Antonio
Callie San Antonio (@guest_890)
1 year ago

Hi Jennifer,
This looks like such an interesting way to combat toxic algae. I’ve heard of other biomaterials possibility being used to tackle the algae problem in Florida, but this takes it a step further, appealing to aesthetics as well. I can imagine that this would be of great appeal to areas in the public that are having issues with algae and want a solution that is not visually deterring. Really cool stuff! Do you think that this could be applied to areas of various scale?

Jennifer McCloskey
Jennifer McCloskey (@guest_3356)
Reply to  Callie San Antonio
1 year ago

Hi Callie, in theory yes I think that it can be, but there are some limits in the design I created. The max dimensions in the laser cutter I used was 24″x48,” so my largest piece only has a diameter of about 24.” But, if I had the opportunity to make such large pieces, I would happily change my design and probably make other plant forms or use another material.

Thanks for the question!

Connor Tringali
Connor Tringali (@guest_1514)
1 year ago

Hi Jennifer,
I really love your approach in combating the growing problem of climate change in a visually appealing way. I believe this approach is going to become more valuable as our environment shifts. I understand your prototype is made from recycled Plexiglas, have you put any thought into using a biodegradable material? I understand the purpose is to keep the “lily-pads” on the surface but would the wind and animals interfere with this? Thank you for your work.

Jennifer McCloskey
Jennifer McCloskey (@guest_3674)
Reply to  Connor Tringali
1 year ago

Hi Connor, I have considered using a biodegradable material, but mainly due to the coloring of the plexi and the availability or recycled bits, I created these ones. In the future it would be interesting to try out biodegradable materials, and testing out their longevity, but I would worry about it’s flotation more than anything. So for the surface, you can actually anchor floating treatment wetlands to the floor of the habitat and it will not be pushed over. Animals (to some degree) are meant to interact with them, but because I chose such bright and weird shapes, animals might just avoid it.

Honestly, because I did not have the ability to really put my pieces in a body of water for an extended time, I fear too much of this is hypothetical, and I apologize.

Thanks for the questions!

Ajay Patel
Ajay Patel (@guest_2580)
1 year ago

I LOVE THE PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF ART!

Jennifer McCloskey
Jennifer McCloskey (@guest_3690)
Reply to  Ajay Patel
1 year ago

and I appreciate you!

Marta L. Wayne
Marta L. Wayne (@guest_3970)
1 year ago

Super cool! We have two faculty in Biology also working on algae; I sent them your abstract. Love this project!

Jennifer McCloskey
Jennifer McCloskey (@guest_4956)
Reply to  Marta L. Wayne
1 year ago

Thank you so much! I could definitely use some help on the science side. My email is jenski564@ufl.edu if they are interested!

Emily Case
Emily Case (@guest_4670)
1 year ago

This is such a fantastic project! Art is truly a corner stone of society and I’m glad it can be seen as a bridge into biological problems as well. Do you plan to continue working on it? Have you worked with any other practical applications of art?

Jennifer McCloskey
Jennifer McCloskey (@guest_5242)
Reply to  Emily Case
1 year ago

Thank you! I do plan on continue working on them in my best ability, but I am graduating this semester, which might put the project on hold for a bit. In a lot of my other work, I have made mushroom tables, mushroom planters, grow tables, and similar functional pieces that have ecological components. But honestly I make a lot of hybrid animals out of ceramics and other oddities. Recently I have been focusing on dandelions as a holy herb and growing my own on purpose!

My instagram is @Jenenennifer if you’re interested in looking at more of my art. I also have a website, but I have not updated it for some time. (jennifermccloskey.com)

Thanks!

Jennifer