Environmentally-friendly artificial floating islands debut at Degnan Park

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The artificial floating islands project, first introduced by West Orange Township Council President Susan McCartney, is finally a reality at Vincent’s Pond at Degnan Park.

An AFI is a man-made floating structure on which aquatic vegetation grows. The islands provide an affordable solution for improving water quality issues, preserving shorelines and creating an aesthetically pleasing environment.

McCartney introduced the project to the technology and engineering department at West Orange High School in 2020, but the pandemic postponed its construction until this spring. Plans to expand the floating islands to Cable and Crystal lakes are underway. The funding was provided through a $2,000 grant obtained by McCartney from Sustainable Jersey and with cooperation from the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station Cooperative Extension and West Orange High School.

“COVID set the project back and students went on to graduate, but the concept and the materials were still in place for the incoming sustainable technology students to continue the educational program to conduct the water quality testing, build the floating islands, secure the plants and launch in Vincent’s Pond at Degnan Park,” McCartney said.

High school students began by testing the water at Vincent’s Pond.

“We did some basic classroom colorimetric tests for dissolved oxygen, ammonia, phosphates, nitrates, salinity and pH. All results were within normal ranges,” environmental science teacher Peter Ficuciello said.

Using recycled materials consisting of PVC piping, water bottles and mesh, students created oval-shaped structures with aquatic plants woven into the mesh. The three islands are currently attached to the edge of the water at Vincent’s Pond.

The AFIs will provide a cost-effective and sustainable solution for addressing the problems of stormwater runoff and other sources of pollution that affect the township’s local waterways and aquatic life. Perennial water plants were used for the islands based on their proven ability to successfully filter out water pollutants. Furthermore, the islands will beautify the environmental landscape and preserve the lakeshores by helping to absorb waves.

“Students have been very proactive about being green,” technology and engineering teacher Cindy Celi said. “Students take my class to explore the technological side of environmental science. Sustainable Technologies offers them the ability to combine their interest in science and technology. Even though we collaborated with the Environmental Science class to take samples of the water, my students explored what plants would work well in the water, the materiality of the islands, the functionality to make them float and design features. Over the past few years, I have witnessed students more involved in school and community-based projects that are making strides to treat our environment with care and respect.”

“We are always grateful for the support of council President McCartney as she continues to introduce real-life opportunities for our students,” WOHS Principal Hayden Moore said. 

“This project also presents a strong STEM educational opportunity that can serve as a living classroom to engage students at all levels of education on water-quality issues and aquatic habitats,” McCartney said. “The proposed islands are simple to construct and install. This project, along with Liter of Light, the solar charging station, the swales and gardens, are only a few of the programs the township has invested in with the West Orange School District.”

Photos Courtesy of WOSD