From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published September 21, 2012 11:20 AM

Floating plastic, papyrus islands may help restore Lake Naivasha

Besides being known as the material for the first paper of ancient Egypt, papyrus is also very valuable in filtering water as it has the ability to recycle nutrients. In fact, plans are being implemented to plant papyrus on floating plastic islands which will help protect the ecosystem of a prominent water source known as Lake Naivasha in Kenya.

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Lake Naivasha is a large freshwater lake that has been ecologically suffering for the past 30 years. Dr Harper, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Leicester, who is in part responsible for the restoration attributes this decline to the population growth in the surrounding town due to the floriculture industry as cut flowers have become one of Kenya’s top grossers of foreign exchange.

Dr Harper explains: "As job opportunities have grown, the human population has grown more than twenty-fold, and settlements have sprung up in a haphazard fashion, clearing papyrus. In the same 30 year period, the population of buffalo native to the lake has trebled, knocking down the papyrus to eat it."

Besides the decrease in papyrus plants, the unregulated use of lake water for irrigation is reducing the level of the lake and causing environmental concerns. Also, the lake is suffering from sediment that has accumulated in the lake due to bank erosion. Sediment poses a major concern as it can block sunlight from getting to underwater plants which stimulate the ecosystem.

The papyrus restoration project is one of several ongoing initiatives in the Lake Naivasha basin aimed at reversing negative effects of environmental degradation. Funded by the German REWE Group, the papyrus restoration partnership between UK-owned tea producer and flower grower, Finlays, and Dr David Harper, aims to recreate the water-cleansing services of papyrus with the artificial floating islands.

Papyrus will be planted in islands made of recycled post-consumer plastics, such as water bottles. The islands will then be anchored in the mouth of the main river, the Malewa. The goal is to trap silt and sediment before it reaches the lake.

The restoration project is valuable two-fold as the roots of papyrus islands will provide habitat for fish nurseries and feeding grounds and above the surface water, the papyrus stems will provide habitat to birds like warblers and kingfishers.

If the first group of islands is successful, it will be repeated around the lakeshore. It then can be used as a model for other lake ecosystems that are suffering from similar environmental degradation. 

Read more at the University of Leicester

Papyrus in front of Lake Naivasha at sunrise image via Shutterstock. 

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