Can dinky vanities actually clean the water?

By Sonja Horsmann and Penny M. Hunter COASTAL residents know that tidal flatworm brooms were designed to cleanse clam habitat of layers of dead invertebrates. These primitive, 1-inch-long wheels allowed growing clam larvae to…

Can dinky vanities actually clean the water?

By Sonja Horsmann and Penny M. Hunter

COASTAL residents know that tidal flatworm brooms were designed to cleanse clam habitat of layers of dead invertebrates. These primitive, 1-inch-long wheels allowed growing clam larvae to move around in tight-packed sand and clear water, diverting debris in their path. But we would like to apply the same principle to wind farm spoil.

This week, after five years and about 140,000 hours of research, our study published in the peer-reviewed journal Journal of Applied Ecology closed its doors. Even more exciting: with a low cost of $10 per square foot, local wind farms could be replaced by smart grid projects using the same round-top vacuums used to harvest silica.

Coastal towns like Brookings are for many of us less than a drive away. High tides pose a threat not only to bridges and roads, but also to sea life at risk of being overrun by the same invasive species as plankton and zooplankton, the “noisemakers” of the sea. Squats similar to those used to dig open-ocean trenches can also be used to clear sea water bottoms of brush, sand and algae before nesting and spawning of juvenile oysters and clams occur.

The bottom line: one easy fix to dispose of excess turbine spoil can serve to improve water quality and create local economic benefits.

Our company, Horsmannocean Laboratories, has been working with industrial companies, tribes and coastal communities since 1994 to reduce soil erosion and the accumulation of pollution.

We were hoping our duct-tape cobalt coil proved affordable enough to cover the cost of getting rid of turbine spoil — and in our study, one draft showed that if these turbines were taken out of service and simply swept to the water, power bills could be cut nearly in half.

Using our Deep Sea Swarm generator for one turbine, we monitored its performance and cost effectiveness over five years at an average of four turbines, and monitored the wind power output after a system update. Since this study was a pilot run, the Deep Sea Swarm cost about $300 per square foot to build. In contrast, permanent generators could be built for $10 per square foot.

Besides cleaning land surfaces, stripping turbine spoil is a great way to support healthy ecosystems and local economies. There’s also much potential for new business for local businesses. We found that deep-sea robotic snorkeling tech can be used to clean up new-growth oyster beds at the same bay where commercial lease operations are performed. Eco-tourism tourists who visit a bay for rich fishing or oyster fishing can now also see the restoration work that is being done by their companies to protect local waters.

Surfaces in the bay that have been stripped of turbine spoil within three years will likely turn up almost nothing, but areas that are picked up within five years will retain or even increase their abundance of blooms, larvae and young oysters.

A popular attraction at the Marine Science Institute, the public boat tour of the Gulf of Mexico, is the Bay Bar at the Louisiana/Texas state line. This bay is a national wild-area that for many years saw little bird life, just dead vegetation. Today, it has a thriving population of gulls, terns, cormorants, and cormorants. The Bay Bar is also home to a fast-growing population of manatees. From our port (near where we live) it is a half-mile to the Gulf on the water.

As we listened to stories of fishermen, bay-front business owners and residents being compensated by the turbine sweepers, we were inspired that a solution is out there. Throwing turbine spoil away is easy and inexpensive. Not only can waste-water treatment plants “wipe clean” nearly all of this approach — our Deep Sea Swarm can show just how good this clean-up is — they can return the same bounty to the bays and estuaries where it came from.

It’s time to move away from old-fashioned, “stick-in-the-mud” attitudes, and begin the change process. We are all in favor of clean air and water and responsible, profitable economic development on the Oregon coast. Tearing down and throwing away turbine spoils is not an easy choice, but it is one that is worthwhile.

Horsmannocean Laboratories is working with other scientists to find out whether thousands of square feet of turbine spoil — compared to few square feet of machine scrape — can be removed at the cost of a few thousand dollars.

Sonja Horsmann

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