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UT students create micro islands to clean up Knoxville waterways

UT Students from Institute of Agriculture came up with creative green solutions to help out the environment.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — UT students are designing micro islands for Third Creek in Knoxville. These floating wetlands are meant to provide a habitat for both animal and plant life along the creek. 

The micro islands will also act as riparian buffers to help mitigate runoff into streams.

This innovative science project is part of Green Infrastructure, a course offered by the UT Department of Plant Sciences. The class focuses on tackling complex environmental challenges with science and ingenuity.

Mike Ross, the assistant professor who teaches the class, said he's excited to see students take on the project. 

"In the course, students study ecological design interventions, especially locally, such as bioswales on campus, a system that filters stormwater runoff. By utilizing regenerative systems and nature’s own resilience, I hope to empower students," he said.

The micro islands themselves are made from locally harvested bamboo and are fitted to the banks of Third Creek. The plant life that grows from these floating wetlands help filter contaminants in the creek through a process the class calls phytoremediation.

Andrea Ludwig is an associate professor for the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science and consults for the Green Infrastructure class.

"We chose native perennials for the wetlands that can be used again and divided as they grow," Ludwig said. "I see plants move and find their niche, where they thrive. Students do not have to get it completely right. If we get close, nature will do the rest."

The floating wetlands are part of a larger project being led by both Ross and Ludwig to not only restore the Third Creek area, but also bring about positive environmental change to UT campus.

"While the floating wetlands were being launched, students noticed a turtle hatchling on the bank. It gives me hope that there is a thriving, resilient ecosystem, even in an area like Third Creek, where visible garbage floats" Ross said. "I also have hope that students and citizens alike will use their agency to improve where they live. This is our drinking water. Do we, one day, want to fish in the Tennessee River? Do we want to wade in Third Creek? These are not insurmountable goals."

To learn more about the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, check out their website