Biofilm. Nature’s Green Tech Solution to Smelly Pond Water and Harmful Algae

Can clean water and a healthy habitat grow from slime?

Biofilm. Nature’s Green Tech Solution to Smelly Pond Water and Harmful Algae

What is biofilm? Most landscape lovers and water garden owners don’t sit around singing the praises of biofilm. But perhaps we should.

Biofilm is what some of us would look at as the nasty slimy stuff caught in the roots of all of the plants that contribute to the beauty of these landscapes.

Can clean water and a healthy habitat grow from slime?

Biofilm is what covers a stick that has been in the water, that makes river rocks slippery, serves as the building block for microbes and food for insects, amphibians, and fish, and helps to keep the water clean.

Any place where there is a matrix of material, like in a floating wetland, an abundance of microbes thrive. The matrix of material and the biofilm that forms serves as somewhat of a housing unit for all of these microbes…they live in the matrix and feed off of many of the nutrients in the water.

Natural wetlands offer augmented surface area and circulation in a body of water, both of which contribute to the beauty, diversity, and sheer wildness that occur in natural landscapes where they exist.

San Diego Island, a floating island looks like natural landscape is a natural solution to keep the water clean

It’s true that biofilm is not always a good thing. Outside of a body of water, biofilm can harbor harmful bacteria and is responsible for food borne illness. But like bacteria itself has a varied role in life on Earth, so does biofilm. Biofilm is also responsible for much of our oxygen supply, and may even be responsible for all of life itself as we know it.

What does biofilm have to do with green pond water or a smelly lake?

Landscape lovers, water garden owners, regional recreational lake and municipal pond managers, as well as landscape architects, would be well served to think a bit more about biofilm.  It is part of a natural solution, the most ecologically sound solution, to the common pond and lake management problem of how to prevent harmful algae blooms (HABs). Water eutrophication is one of the biggest problems affecting parks departments, city managers, landscape architects, governmental water quality boards and public policymakers.

On golf courses, in urban waterways, private ponds, and public lakes, too many nutrients are feeding algae growth. There is not enough competition for this food source. Eutrophication is the result, leaving landscape managers looking for eutrophication solutions.

In a healthy ecosystem, microbes eat these same excess nutrients that algae love. By creating more microbes, you will eventually starve the algae of its main food source—natural algae control. Microbes in the form of biofilm are the biggest factors in removing nutrients from the water. Any place that there is a matrix of material, like in a floating wetland, an abundance of microbes thrive.

How can we harness the power of biofilm to clean pond water?

We believe that the most ecologically sound solution to poor pond water quality, smelly pond water, harmful algae blooms that result in green water and eutrophication is to encourage the growth of microbes and the creation of biofilm.

This, in conjunction with adding shade, circulation, and beneficial plants, will provide the best pond algae solution.

When there is healthy surface area covered in biofilm, environmental conditions in the water will be right and there won’t be a problem with an overgrowth of algae, bad smells and green water. So it makes the most sense to activate a water quality solution that restores a healthy habitat in your lake or pond. 

Habitat restoration means building a place where biofilm can grow.  By modeling nature’s own solutions, looking to nature’s wetland effect, stewards of water can increase biodiversity and clean the water. With augmented surface area and circulation, shade, plant growth, and living organisms, you can get rid of pond algae without chemicals.

minifloating island with roots that will uptake excess nutrients in a green pond with excess algae
Mini floating island & roots, where biofilm grows and attracts microbes, to create a healthy ecosystem.

Bruce Kania, founder of Floating Island International, (who we wrote a blog about, here) reminds us that we think we need to clean the water in order to bring back a healthy habitat, when really, we need to bring back the healthy habitat in order to clean the water.

When you encourage the growth of microbes, the creation of biofilm and periphyton, providing a food source for fish, (fishing being a primary method for transitioning excess nutrients from the water) you are restoring the natural ecosystem of your pond.

How do floating islands integrate the natural benefits of biofilm into a eutrophic pond?

Artists rendering of floating island science, as a natural solution to algae, biofilm attaches to roots, attracts microbes which in turn consume nitrogen, phosphorus, and other excess nutrients that create green pond water
Biofilm attaches to root hairs and the floating island matrix, attracting microbes and taking in excessive levels of nutrients that lead to HABs.

BioHaven floating islands serve as biofilm reactors. Every cubic foot of the proprietary floating island matrix provides over 350 square feet of surface area available for biofilm growth. Plant roots grow through the island matrix and also grow biofilm.  If you’re interested in the science, you can learn more here. And in case you were wondering, that duck island at the top of this post? It’s a BioHaven floating island.

Over 9000 BioHaven floating islands have been deployed around the world to support water resource recovery.  And biofilm is at the root of it all.

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