Can we really use seaweed to purify our water?

Extractive aquaculture, or bioextraction as it is sometimes called, is an up-and-coming technique used to purify water and remove contaminants. This technique uses organisms that are innately good at removing the nutrients, such as algae, and even shellfish. For example, algae takes in nutrients to grow and reproduce. One of the most common and plentiful nutrients in wastewater is…well…human excrement. Excrement has high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous—just what the algae needs. Other organisms, like shellfish require other nutrients to grow. For example, shellfish often need calcium and other materials to grow shells and exoskeletons, so these organisms are better at filtering these “pollutants” out of the water.
One of the most important lessons we can learn from nature is that one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. That being said, we simply need to find organisms that thrive on our “pollutants” and use them to do it for us. Instead of spending millions of dollars on costly chemical means, treatment plants could potentially create man-made ecosystems to filter pollutants out of water. By creating something similar to a natural ecosystem, various species would thrive on different nutrients or pollutants, and each specializes in a different type. What could be better than getting an organism to do our work for us…for free?

Brian O’Neill
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