Floating island

A floating island is a mass of floating aquatic plants, mud, and peat ranging in thickness from a few inches to several feet. Floating islands are a common natural phenomenon that are found in many parts of the world. They exist less commonly as a man-made phenomenon. Floating islands are generally found on marshlands, lakes, and similar wetland locations, and can be many hectares in size.

Natural occurrences

Sometimes referred to as tussocks, floatons, or suds, natural floating islands are composed of vegetation growing on a buoyant mat of plant roots or other organic detritus. Some cenotes in northern Mexico have natural floating islands.

They typically occur when growths of cattails, bulrush, sedge, and reeds extend outward from the shoreline of a wetland area. As the water gets deeper the roots no longer reach the bottom, so they use the oxygen in their root mass for buoyancy, and the surrounding vegetation for support to retain their top-side-up orientation. The area beneath these floating mats is exceptionally rich in aquatic lifeforms. Eventually, storm events tear whole sections free from the shore, and the islands thus formed migrate around a lake with changing winds, eventually either reattaching to a new area of the shore, or breaking up in heavy weather.

In the Brazilian Amazon floating island form in lakes on the floodplains of white-water rivers.[1] They are known as Matupá and range in size from a few square meters to a few hectares.[1] In the traditional belief system of the indigenous population the Matupá are known as the house of the Giant Anaconda.[1]

Explosive volcanic eruptions may create pumice rafts, which can float on the ocean for months or even years before becoming fully saturated and sinking. Over time, larger rafts can have grasses and palm trees growing on them .

In aquatic regions of Northwestern Europe several thousand acres of floating meadows (German Schwingrasen, Dutch trilveen) have been preserved, which are partly used as agricultural land, partly as nature reserves.

Artificial islands

Main article: artificial island
Circular phumdis, called athampum, were artificially built for fishing in Loktak Lake

Floating artificial islands are generally made of bundled reeds, and the best known examples are those of the Uros people of Lake Titicaca, Peru, who build their villages upon what are in effect huge rafts of bundled totora reeds. The Uros originally created their islands to prevent attacks by their more aggressive neighbours, the Incas and Collas.

The Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, was surrounded with chinampas, small artificial islands used for agriculture known as "floating gardens" (though not really floating). Floating gardens on a large scale have been demonstrated with aquaponics[2] systems in China growing rice, wheat and canna lily on islands, with some installations exceeding 2.5 acres (10,000 m2).[3]

Spiral Island was a more modern one-person effort to build an artificial floating island, on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. Modern artificial islands mimicking the floating reedbeds of the Uros are increasingly used by local governments and catchment managers to improve water quality at source, reducing pollutants in surface water bodies and providing biodiversity habitat. Examples include Gold Coast City Council[4] in Australia. Artificial floating reedbeds are commonly anchored to the shoreline or bottom of water body, to ensure the system does not float away in a storm event or create a hazard.

During World War II, the British Project Habakkuk proposed the construction of aircraft carriers made of ice-like Pykrete. Its size and speed made it more of an artificial iceberg or island than a ship.

Commercial development of floating islands has begun taking place. Floating habitat islands were installed with salicornia salt marsh plants at Sydney Olympic Park Authority in 2011[5] providing nesting sites for local and migratory birds including black swans, black-winged stilts, red-necked avocets, Pacific black ducks and chestnut teals, using the Aqua Biofilter product.[6] The world's largest vegetated floating islands 4 acres in size were installed in 2004 using Aqua Biofilter™ product with Canna (plant) at Lake Tai, China using materials including a combination of polyurethane open cell filter foam, closed cell polyethylene floatation foam, bamboo and coconut fibre filter foam mix with wicking ability to supply water to plant roots.[7]

A commercially produced floating island was installed in the river otter enclosure at Zoo Montana in 2007.[8] In 2009 and the beginning of 2010, a few larger islands were launched to provide nesting habitat for Caspian tern colonies. The largest of the islands, at a record-setting 44,000 sq ft (4,100 m2), was launched into the water at Sheepy Lake. These islands are a collaboration between the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Oregon State University, and Floating Islands West, a Floating Island International license holder.[9]

A recent US Army Corps of Engineers project was built in The Hideout, Pennsylvania as part of a watershed management project. The floating island was created to mimic nature; help improve water quality, including reducing phosphorus levels; and buffer habitats against surges in nutrients and pollution.[10]

Buoyancy in artificial floating reedbeds is commonly provided by polyethylene or polyurethane floatation foam, or polyethylene plastic containing air voids. Growth media include coconut fibre; mats made of polyester or recycled PET bottles; synthetic geotechnical mat; jute; soil; and sand.


See also


  1. 1 2 3 de Freitas, Carolina T.; Glenn H., Shepard Jr,; Piedade, Maria T. F. (April 2, 2015). "The Floating Forest: Traditional Knowledge and Use of Matupá Vegetation Islands by Riverine Peoples of the Central Amazon". PLOS ONE. Public Library of Science. 10: e0122542. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0122542. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
  2. "Aquaponics floating biofilter grows rice on fish ponds". Tom Duncan. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
  3. "Waste Management and Environment - Floating new ideas". WME Magazine. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
  4. "City of Gold Coast Floating Reedbeds". Gold Coast City Council. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
  5. "Floating islands support waterbird populations". Sydney Olympic Park Authority. 2012-08-15. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
  6. "Floating habitat islands". 17 July 2011. Retrieved 2014-01-20.
  7. "World's Largest Aquaponics Project, in China's Third Largest Aquaculture Lake". Permaculture Research Institute. 2014-10-14. Retrieved 2014-10-28.
  8. "Zoo Montana installs a BioHaven in Otter enclosure" (PDF). 19 September 2007. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
  9. "Floating Island Constructed for Caspian Tern Nesting at Summer Lake Wildlife Refuge". Bird Research Northwest. 1998-03-22. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
  10. Waters, Kelly (2012-10-16). "Watershed management project". Wayne Independent.
  11. Oliver, Michael K. (1982). "Floating islands: a means of fish dispersal in Lake Malawi, Africa". Copeia. 4: 748–754. doi:10.2307/1444082. Retrieved 2013-04-05.
  12. Corbett, Keith. "Lagoon of Islands". The Unique Flora of Tasmania. Hobart District Group of The Australian Plants Society - Tasmania Inc. Retrieved 2013-04-14.
  13. Keen, Kevin (2011-07-30). "UPDATE: Floating island on the verge of breaking its tethers". WQOW TV. Retrieved 2011-08-09.
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