Below and Above, A Floating Wetland Supports Life is a collaboration between botanist Hope Leeson, visual and community artist Holly Ewald, ecological artist and Biomimicry student Alexandra Ionescu, and artists & designers August Lehrecke, Matthew Muller, and Maxwell Fertik with the purpose of creating constructed floating wetlands. Floating wetland ecosystems heal water by regenerating the food web. The genesis of an ecosystem begins with microorganisms. We are learning how to initiate a propensity for nutrient cycling and how to create the conditions for a collaboration with the more-than-human world. The structure is currently floating on Ice Pond at the Elaine and Philip Beals Preserve Southborough, Massachusetts as part of the Art on the Trails exhibition.

Our work has recently been featured on EcoRI

We presented our work at the Stormwater Innovation Expo on October 18th. 



Development of design: 

Harvesting Japanese Knotweed at the Cooperative Knotweed field day initiated and led by Max Fertik with over 10 volunteers. 

Constructing the pontoons and raft 

Planting the floating wetland 

Installing at Ice Pond in Southborough, MA as part of the Art on the Trails: Transformation 2023 outdoor exhibition 

Collecting water samples with the plankton net, collecting seeds, and observing the fibrous root structures that grow underneath 

This project combines diverse ways of knowing to explore the artist’s role in creating ecologically functional art. An alternative to petroleum-based materials used for buoyancy, it proposes two modular floating wetland structures made of dried Japanese Knotweed. We are learning from the ways in which indigenous communities have built floating islands for hundreds of years by harvesting natural materials found in their surroundings.

The Japanese Knotweed used to create this floating wetland was harvested as dry stems from Mashapaug Pond and Gano Park in Providence, RI. Utilizing invasive species removes their biomass from the environment and allows us to repurpose them as a buoyant structure. By doing so, we are transforming this invasive species into an opportunity to improve water quality and promote biodiversity.

Human activities continue to degrade freshwater ecosystems as a result of agricultural and stormwater runoff, and wastewater discharges. Algae present in water respond to excess nutrients with increased growth. This causes people to apply algaecides as a chemical treatment to kill the algae. A response that does not remove nutrients from the water, and interrupts a natural cycle wherein pond organisms attempt to remediate pollutants introduced into the waterbody. In contrast, wetland plants within a floating wetland ecosystem consume nutrients, while creating a habitat for the more-than-human world below and above the water line. Through the plants' life cycles, they regenerate the food web, amplifying the natural processes between plants, sunlight, water, and microorganisms.

Over time, the 20 native wetland plant species that we have selected for this floating wetland, will contribute to nutrient removal by upcycling them into their leaves, stems, roots, and flowers. Importantly, the plants in this floating wetland will grow dense columns of roots into the water as they seek nutrients. The surface area within the root layer is key to floating wetlands, where diverse communities of bacteria, algae, protozoans, and fungi known as periphyton grow on plant roots and form a biofilm. The periphyton cleans water by nutrient uptake, filtration, oxygenation, and toxin removal.

Ice Pond, where the structure is currently floating doesn’t require remediation as it is a thriving ecosystem. Nonetheless, it provides us with an opportunity to learn how floating wetlands create a habitat for non-humans, observe the decay of natural materials, document the growth of the native wetland plants, learn what microorganisms find a home on the roots of plants, and think through the lens of timescales unknown to us.