Friday, June 24, 2011

The Best Designer? Nature

Growing up in Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay has always been a part of my life, whether it has been skipping stones on its shores as a child, eating steamed blue crab or sailing in summers past. The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and currently the Bay is in a serious state of environmental deterioration, due to overfishing, poor stormwater runoff, among other factors.

During my studies in school I became familiar with biomimicry after viewing a TED lecture by Janine Benyus. While enjoying a quick pint and some oysters, I thought again of this lecture and the opportunities to utilize biomimicry on an industrial scale. Why fight nature, when it could be possible to harness nature's abilities and in essence put Mother Nature to work.  Oyster filtration can mitigate water pollutants such as excess sediment, nutrients, and algae. An oyster can filter up to 5 litres (1.3 US gal) of water per hour. According to a NOAA report the Chesapeake Bay's once flourishing oyster population historically filtered excess nutrients from the estuary's entire water volume every three to four days. John Smith on his early exploration of the region described the Chesapeake Bay's water as being clear for meters, now the water is a far cry from this description. Today that would take nearly a year for this same process to continue.

According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation the Bay contains approximately 15 trillion gallons of water. Given the aforementioned data a single oyster could filter approximately 31.2 US gal of water per day, it would take roughly 480 billion oysters to filter the water in a single day, but given historical accounts of this process taking every three to four days one could safely assume that at peak population the Bay's oysters totaled around 150 billion. Furthermore given the current analysis that it takes almost a year to utilize the same filtration action on a rough estimate the population is a pale comparison.

Through carefully managed oyster farming, it is possible to harness the fantastic abilities of nature to counteract the effects of human pollution with relatively benign effects to the environment, and in some instances such as aforementioned a restorative effect.  With further study I hope to be able to assemble a comparative analysis of nature based cleaning programs with conventional programs. On a final note this process could be a viable solution to relieving pressure on land-based protein sources.

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