Title:
Super-enhanced aquatic floating island plant habitat
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A super-enhanced aquatic floating island plant habitat that is adjustably buoyant and optionally biodegradable. The first embodiment is comprised of a thermoplastic elastomer, a mat, soil/flotation chambers, apertures, nutrient channels, buoyant waterscape options, and a tethering system. The floating island can include monitors that measure water and atmospheric conditions, dispensers for fish food or chemicals, and a water agitation/oxygenation device. Another embodiment comprises a positively buoyant soil matrix contained within a water-permeable bag. Another embodiment comprises a flotation collar, an outrigger, and one or more water-permeable bladders containing negatively or neutrally buoyant bedding soil. The present invention also covers an aquarium-scale floating island and submersible planter, a plant containment bag made out of thermoplastic elastomer, and several methods of adjusting the buoyancy of a floating island. A method of manufacturing a floating island comprising molded thermoplastic elastomer.



Inventors:
Kania, Bruce G. (Bozeman, MT, US)
Wiser, Leslie M. (Bozeman, MT, US)
Zimmerman, David L. (Pony, MT, US)
Cunningham, Alfred (Bozeman, MT, US)
Stewart, Frank M. (Bozeman, MT, US)
Smith, Russell F. (Livingston, MT, US)
Coleman, Thomas N. (Livingston, MT, US)
Application Number:
10/883558
Publication Date:
08/25/2005
Filing Date:
07/01/2004
Assignee:
Fountainhead L.L.C. (Bozeman, MT, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A01G9/00; A01K61/00; A01K63/00; (IPC1-7): E02B15/02
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
VALENTI, ANDREA M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Antoinette M. Tease, P.L.L.C. (Billings, MT, US)
Claims:
1. A floating island comprising a layer of thermoplastic elastomer or similarly adjustably buoyant material, wherein the layer of thermoplastic elastomer is molded to the shape of the floating island.

2. The floating island of claim 1, wherein the buoyancy of the layer of thermoplastic elastomer is adjusted to achieve maximum plant growth.

3. The floating island of claim 1, wherein the color, transparency or opacity, texture, flexibility and shape of the layer of thermoplastic elastomer are separately adjustable.

4. The floating island of claim 1, wherein the layer of thermoplastic elastomer is puncturable, thereby allowing plant roots and other plant components to occur within, above and below it.

5. The floating island of claim 1, wherein the layer of thermoplastic elastomer is puncturable, resulting in a mass of plant growth underneath the floating island.

6. The floating island of claim 5, wherein the mass of plant growth acts as a natural algae control.

7. The floating island of claim 1, wherein the top surface of the layer of thermoplastic elastomer is flat.

8. The floating island of claim 1, wherein the top surface of the layer of thermoplastic elastomer is irregular.

9. The floating island of claim 1, wherein the bottom surface of the layer of thermoplastic elastomer is flat.

10. The floating island of claim 1, wherein the bottom surface of the layer of thermoplastic elastomer is irregular.

11. The floating island of claim 1, wherein there are vertical holes in the layer of thermoplastic elastomer.

12. The floating island of claim 1, wherein the edges of the layer of thermoplastic elastomer are shaped so as to prevent animals from boarding the floating island.

13. The floating island of claim 1, wherein the layer of thermoplastic elastomer comprises soil/flotation chambers, apertures, and nutrient channels (collectively, the “nutrient channel network”).

14. The floating island of claim 13, wherein the layer of thermoplastic elastomer is constructed so that the rate of water flux passing through the island structure equals the plant evapotranspiration rate plus the net rate of pond water flow into the nutrient channel network.

15. The floating island of claim 13, wherein the soil/flotation chambers are filled with buoyant material.

16. The floating island of claim 15, wherein the buoyant material is closed-cell foam.

17. The floating island of claim 13, wherein the apertures contain plant bulbs, roots, bedding plants, soil with seeds, or any other plant form.

18. The floating island of claim 13, wherein the height and width of the apertures are adjustable to accommodate particular plants.

19. The floating island of claim 13, wherein the nutrient channels run between the apertures and the soil/flotation chambers.

20. The floating island of claim 19, wherein the nutrient channel penetrate the bottom and sides of the layer of thermoplastic elastomer.

21. The floating island of claim 19, wherein the nutrient channels do not penetrate the bottom and sides of the layer of thermoplastic elastomer.

22. The floating island of claim 19, wherein the width and length of the nutrient channels are designed to manage the buildup of anaerobic bacteria.

23. A floating island comprising a layer of biodegradable material, wherein the layer of biodegradable material is conformed to the shape of and attached onto the floating island.

24. A floating island comprising a layer of biodegradable material, wherein the layer of biodegradable material is molded to the shape of the floating island.

25. A floating island comprising a mat, wherein the mat is made of synthetic or natural materials, or any combination thereof, and wherein the mat is impregnated with any combination of buoyant fibers, buoyant structures, nutrients, seeds, or any other plant material.

26. The floating island of claim 25, wherein the mat further comprises an agent that enhances root growth and overall plant development.

27. The floating island of claim 25, wherein the color of the mat is adjustable.

28. The floating island of claim 25, wherein the mat is made of a nonwoven polyester fiber material.

29. The floating island of claim 25, wherein the mat is made of a nonwoven nylon fiber material.

30. The floating island of claim 25, wherein the mat is made of a nonwoven vinyl fiber material.

31. The floating island of claim 25, wherein abrasive particles are adhered to the bottom of the mat.

32. The floating island of claim 31, wherein the abrasive particles are comprised of glass.

33. The floating island of claim 31, wherein the abrasive particles are comprised of sand.

34. A floating island comprising the layer of thermoplastic elastomer of claim 1 and the mat of claim 25.

35. The floating island of claim 34, wherein the mat is set back from the edge of the layer of thermoplastic elastomer to prevent animals from boarding the floating island.

36. A floating island comprising bedding soil, wherein the bedding soil is impregnated with gas-filled, closed cell buoyant nodules.

37. The floating island of claim 36, wherein the bedding soil comprises an agent that enhances root growth and overall plant development.

38. A floating island comprising the layer of thermoplastic elastomer of claim 1 and the bedding soil of claim 36.

39. A floating island comprising the mat of claim 25 and the bedding soil of claim 36.

40. The floating island of claim 13, wherein the soil/flotation chambers are filled with the bedding soil of claim 36.

41. A floating island comprising any combination of a layer of thermoplastic elastomer, a mat, and bedding soil.

42. The floating island of claims 1, 23, 24, 25, 36 or 41, further comprising an agent for controlling biological growth.

43. The floating island of claim 42, wherein the agent is barley straw.

44. The floating island of claims 1, 23, 24, 25, 36 or 41, further comprising an agent for controlling pH.

45. The floating island of claims 1, 23, 24, 25, 36 or 41, further comprising an agent for controlling dissolved oxygen levels.

46. The floating island of claims 1, 23, 24, 25, 36 or 41, further comprising a tethering system, wherein the tethering system comprises a net device that extends below the floating island and that is attached to one or more anchors.

47. The floating island of claim 46, wherein the tethering system further comprises a rope or cable that connects the floating island to the shore.

48. The floating island of claim 46, wherein the tethering system further comprises an anchor line fabricated from thermoplastic elastomer.

49. The floating island of claim 48, wherein the anchor line is hollow.

50. The floating island of claim 49, wherein the anchor line is attached to a shore-mounted air compressor.

51. The floating island of claim 49, wherein the anchor line is attached to an air compressor mounted directly on the floating island.

52. The floating island of claims 1, 23, 24, 25, 36 or 41, further comprising a means for providing power to the floating island.

53. The floating island of claims 1, 23, 24, 25, 36 or 41, further comprising a means for obtaining sensory information from the floating island.

54. The floating island of claims 1, 23, 24, 25, 36 or 41, further comprising a means for distributing fish food or insecticide on or around the island.

55. The floating island of claims 1, 23, 24, 25, 36 or 41, further comprising one or more water conditioning or filtration unit(s).

56. A floating island comprising an air compressor that is powered by one or more stationary solar panels.

57. A floating island comprising an air compressor that is powered by one or more solar panels that are controlled by a tracking system that automatically positions the solar panels at the most efficient orientation relative to the current sun position.

58. A floating island comprising buoyant waterscape options placed around the perimeter of the floating island.

59. A floating island comprising buoyant waterscape options placed on the floating island.

60. The floating island of claims 58 or 59, wherein the buoyant waterscape options comprise natural driftwood.

61. The floating island of claims 58 or 59, wherein the buoyant waterscape options comprise an outer layer of plastic netting or similar material, a layer of material that provides buoyancy neutral mass and acts as a shock absorber and growth medium, a layer of malleable material that determines and holds the shape of the buoyant waterscape option, and an inner layer comprised of air or a buoyant material such as closed-cell foam.

62. A floating island comprising more than one unit, wherein each unit comprises any combination of a layer of thermoplastic elastomer, a mat, and bedding soil.

63. A floating island comprising positively buoyant soil matrix and a water-permeable containment bag.

64. The floating island of claim 63, wherein the water-permeable containment bag contains holes in its surface for plants to emerge.

65. The floating island of claim 63, wherein the water-permeable containment bag is covered by a protective netting.

66. A floating island comprising a flotation collar, an outrigger, and one or more water-permeable bladders containing negatively or neutrally buoyant bedding soil.

67. The floating island of claim 66, wherein the flotation collar is made of thermoplastic elastomer, plastic foam, or other similar positively buoyant material.

68. The floating island of claim 66, wherein the outrigger is flexible.

69. The floating island of claim 66, wherein the outrigger is rigid.

70. A floating island comprising a first water-permeable bladder containing positively buoyant soil matrix and a second water-permeable bladder directly beneath it containing negatively or neutrally buoyant soil matrix, wherein the second water-permeable bladder is attached to the first water-permeable bladder by a tether.

71. The floating island of claim 70, wherein the second water-permeable bladder is covered by a protective netting.

72. The floating island of claim 70, in combination with any number of the outriggers and water-permeable bladders of claim 66.

73. A floating island comprising a thermoplastic elastomer matrix, molded cavities, and plants, wherein the plants are placed in the molded cavities.

74. The floating island of claim 73, further comprising air bubble inclusions in the thermoplastic elastomer matrix.

75. The floating island of claim 73, further comprising buoyant modules embedded in the thermomplastic elastomer matrix.

76. The floating island of claim 73, wherein the molded cavities contain growth medium.

77. The floating island of claim 73, wherein the molded cavities contain buoyant nodules.

78. The floating island of claim 73, wherein the molded cavities contain moisture-retaining material.

79. An aquarium-scale floating island comprising a thermoplastic elastomer shell, growth medium, and buoyant nodules.

80. The aquarium-scale floating island of claim 79, wherein the buoyant nodules are comprised of closed-cell polyethylene foam.

81. An aquarium-scale submersible planter comprising a heavy base, a shaft, and a container section, wherein the heavy base is comprised of an integral weight.

82. The aquarium-scale submersible planter of claim 81, wherein the container section comprises growth medium, buoyant nodules and submerged aquatic plants.

83. A plant containment bag comprising a thermoplastic elastomer shell.

84. The plant containment bag of claim 83, wherein there is a hole in the top of the thermoplastic elastomer shell for inserting a plant.

85. The plant containment bag of claim 83, wherein the plant containment bag is cylindrical in shape.

86. The plant containment bag of claim 83, further comprising growth medium and buoyant nodules.

87. The plant containment bag of claim 83, further comprising water retention material.

88. The plant containment bag of claim 87, wherein the water retention material is zeolite.

89. The plant containment bag of claim 87, wherein the water retention material is fine-stranded nonwoven mesh.

90. The plant containment bag of claim 87, wherein the water retention material is open-cell polymer foam.

91. The plant containment bag of claim 83, wherein an opening is cut in the bottom of the thermoplastic elastomer shell to allow water to readily reach the plant's roots.

92. A plant containment bag comprising a flotation pad, wherein the flotation pad comprises a flotation ring and buoyant inclusions.

93. The plant containment bag of claim 92, wherein the buoyant inclusions are comprised of lightweight foam.

94. The plant containment bag of claim 92, wherein the buoyant inclusions are comprised of air pockets.

95. A floating island comprising a shore monitoring station.

96. The floating island of claim 95, wherein the shore monitoring station comprises any combination of photovoltaic plates, an air pump, a water pump, an aeration device in close proximity to the floating island, a variety of sensors on, under or above the floating island, a timing device, and a warning light.

97. A method of adjusting the buoyancy of a floating island, wherein the floating island comprises a layer of thermoplastic elastomer, comprising adjusting the buoyancy of the layer of thermoplastic elastomer during manufacture.

98. The method of claim 97, wherein the buoyancy of the TPE is adjusted during manufacture by sparging air into the thermoplastic elastomer.

99. The method of claim 97, wherein the buoyancy of the thermoplastic elastomer is adjusted during manufacture by adjusting the ratios of polymers to plasticizers.

100. The method of claim 97, wherein the buoyancy of the thermoplastic elastomer is adjusted during manufacture by selecting the polymers used based on their specific gravities.

101. A method of adjusting the buoyancy of a floating island, wherein the floating island comprises a mat, comprising adjusting the buoyancy of the mat during manufacture by adding buoyant fibers to the mat.

102. A method of adjusting the buoyancy of a floating island, wherein the floating island comprises bedding soil, comprising adjusting the buoyancy of the bedding soil by adding closed-cell foam or other buoyant material to the bedding soil.

103. A method of adjusting the buoyancy of a floating island, wherein the floating island comprises an inflatable tube or tubes on, in or under the floating island and a means for inflating and deflating the tube(s), comprising adjusting the buoyancy of the floating island by inflating or deflating the tube(s).

104. A method of adjusting the buoyancy of a floating island, wherein the floating island comprises a variety of plants, comprising selecting the plants on the basis of their respective buoyancies.

105. A method of adjusting the buoyancy of a floating island, comprising inoculating the floating island with gas-producing microorganisms.

106. A method of manufacturing a floating island, comprising the steps of: (a) attaching a fastener to a cover board; (b) placing the cover board on top of a seeded mat; (c) placing positive mold components for soil/flotation chambers and apertures in hot thermoplastic elastomer to form a layer of thermoplastic elastomer; (d) placing the seeded mat on top of the layer of thermoplastic elastomer; (e) molding the bottom of the layer of thermoplastic elastomer to the desired configuration; and (f) pushing a sharp tube through the layer of thermoplastic elastomer to form nutrient channels.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority back to U.S. Provisional Application Nos. 60/484,411 filed on Jul. 2, 2003, 60/512,509 filed on Oct. 18, 2003, and 60/572,566 filed on May 19, 2004.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to an adjustably buoyant, optionally biodegradable floating island that can be deployed in ponds, lakes, rivers or any other body of water to monitor, regulate and improve water quality, enhance plant and animal life, and complement the natural surroundings.

2. Description of the Related Art

In bodies of water such as ponds and lakes, algae growth and the natural process of eutrophication can lead to an increase in land mass and corresponding decrease in water volume, the killing of fish and other organisms, and the diminishment of aesthetic appearance. Various floating mechanisms have been devised with the aim of purifying water, cultivating plants, dispensing fertilizer, or counteracting the effects of eutrophication. None of these inventions anticipates the combination of features provided by the present invention.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,799,440 (Ishikawa et al., 1998) discloses a floating island comprising: (i) a planter with holes in it to allow the roots of the plants to grow into the water and to supply water to the soil in the planter; and (ii) an oxygen-generating agent container attached to the bottom of the planter. The planter is made of a foamed resin with a reinforcing film of polyurethane elastomer on the surface. The invention also includes: (i) a layer of porous material on the inner surface of the bottom of the planter that has an aerobic microorganism immobilized in it; and (ii) a plant cultivation bag to hold the soil. In the preferred embodiment, the oxygen-generating agent is calcium peroxide, and the soil in the planter is covered with a net or fabric that is permeable to water and air and is not harmful to the plants. In addition to generating oxygen, calcium peroxide also eliminates phosphorus, thereby restricting algae growth.

U.S. Pat. No. 4,086,161 (Burton, 1978) sets forth an ecological system and method for counteracting the effects of eutrophication in bodies of water such as marshlands, inland ponds and lakes. The system uses clusters of bark fibers positioned in the upper, relatively oxygen-rich zones of such bodies of water. These bark clusters attract and hold excessive nutrient deposition in the form of colloidal wastes and aquatic algae and also provide a safe habitat for algae predators and feeders.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,086,755 (Tepper, 2000) provides a floating hydroponic biofiltration device for use in a body of water containing plant-eating fish. The invention includes a float, a mesh and a matting. The float contains an aperture devoid of soil in which a terrestrial plant is inserted. The mesh is at a substantial depth below the float and serves to enable passage of oxygenated water to the plant roots while excluding large plant-eating fish. The mesh also serves as a substrate surface for the growth of nitrogen-converting bacteria, which convert the ammonia of fish waste to nitrates useful to plants. The matting anchors the plant roots and partially excludes plant-eating fish from a portion of the plant roots. In the preferred embodiment, the mesh and matting are formed of plastic.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,766,474 (Smith et al., 1998) and U.S. Pat. No. 5,528,856 (Smith et al., 1996) set forth a biomass impoundment management system that uses sunlight to purify water. The main purpose of this invention is to control impurities in water impoundments, such as ammonia, nitrogen, phosphorous and heavy metals. It is well known that nitrogen and phosphorous are a primary food source for various undesirable algae species, and ammonia and heavy metals are toxic to humans, fish and other organisms. This invention aims to purify water by allowing rooted bottom dwelling plants to grow and remain healthy on the bottom of a water impoundment while allowing rootless floating plants to grow and remain healthy above them. The non-rooted, floating plants are contained in a large surface area provided by elongated channels, which are oriented in a North-South direction to take full advantage of the sun. The elongated channels are designed to take advantage of wave activity to increase productivity.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,337,516 (Hondulas, 1994) sets forth an apparatus for treating waste water that includes a waste water basin and a number of wetland plants in floating containers. The idea underlying this invention is that the root systems of the wetland plants will treat the waste water. The extent of growth of the root systems is controlled by an adjustable platform associated with each floating container, so that the aerobic and anaerobic zones within the waste water basin are controlled and can be adjusted or varied as required. Similarly, U.S. Pat. No. 5,106,504 (Murray, 1992) covers an artificial water impoundment system designed to remove biologically fixable pollutants from urban or industrial waste water using aquatic plants to absorb pollutants.

U.S. Pat. No. 4,536,988 (Hogen, 1985) relates to a floating containment barrier grid structure for the containment of floating aquatic plants in a body of water. This invention is designed to facilitate the commercial cultivation and harvesting of aquatic plants. The grid structure consists of elongated flexible sheets that are interconnected at spaced intervals along their longitudinal axes to form a plurality of barrier sections in a web-like arrangement. Through the use of an anchoring means, the barrier grid is tensioned so that certain portions of the structure are submerged beneath the surface of the water by a device that harvests the floating aquatic plants.

U.S. Pat. No. 4,037,360 (Farnsworth, 1977) and U.S. Pat. No. 3,927,491 (Farnsworth, 1975) disclose a raft apparatus for growing plants by means of water culture or hydroponics. The raft floats on a nutrient solution, and buoyancy of the rafts is increased during plant growth by placing a small raft on a larger raft or on auxiliary buoyancy means. U.S. Pat. No. 5,261,185 (Kolde et al., 1973) also involves an apparatus floating on a nutrient solution. In this invention, rafts are floated in a water culture tank filled with nutrient solution, plant containers are inserted in vertically oriented channels in the raft, and the plants are cultivated by gradually moving the raft from one end of the water culture tank to another.

U.S. Pat. No. 4,487,588 (Lewis, III et al., 1984) addresses a submersible raft for the cultivation of plant life such as endangered sea grasses. The raft is manufactured from standard polyvinyl chloride tubing and fittings.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,014,838 (Asher, 2000) discloses a simple floatable unit for decorative vegetation. U.S. Pat. No. 5,836,108 (Scheuer, 1998) describes a floating planter box comprising a polyhedral planar base member of a synthetic foam resin less dense than water and an optional anchoring means.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,312,601 (Patrick, 1994) and U.S. Pat. No. 5,143,020 (Patrick, 1992) involve a simple apparatus for dispensing fertilizer in a pond. The invention consists of a flotation structure surrounded by a porous material such as a net sack and an opening in the flotation structure through which fertilizer is dumped. The fertilizer is dissolved by water flowing through the net sack at the bottom of the flotation structure.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention provides an adjustably buoyant, optionally biodegradable floating island that can be deployed in ponds, lakes, rivers or any other body of water to monitor, regulate and improve water quality, enhance plant and animal life, and complement the natural surroundings. In the first embodiment, which utilizes thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) as the primary layer, the floating island biodegrades gradually and in conjunction with the growth of a self-sustaining natural island around the original core. The TPE layer is optionally comprised of soil/flotation chambers, apertures, and nutrient channels, and the island can include buoyant waterscape options and a tethering system.

Optionally, the floating island can include monitors that measure water and atmospheric conditions, dispensers for fish food or chemicals, and a water agitation/oxygenation device that runs on mechanical or solar energy, as well as agent for controlling biological growth, pH and dissolved oxygen levels. The monitors can be part of a shore monitoring station or located on the island itself.

In another embodiment, the floating island comprises a mat that is impregnated with buoyant fibers, buoyant structures, nutrients, seeds and/or plant material. Abrasive particles can be adhered to the bottom of the mat to discourage animals from living on the island. An alternate embodiment comprises bedding soil that is impregnated with gas-filled, closed cell buoyant nodules. Either of these embodiments can also include an agent that enhances root growth and plant development.

In yet another embodiment, the floating island comprises a positively buoyant soil matrix contained within a water-permeable bag. The bag has holes in its surface for plants to emerge, and the bag is optionally covered by a protective netting. An alternate embodiment comprises a flotation collar, an outrigger, and one or more water-permeable bladders containing negatively or neutrally buoyant bedding soil.

The present invention covers an aquarium-scale floating island and submersible planter, as well as a plant containment bag made out of TPE.

Finally, the present invention covers several different methods of adjusting the buoyancy of a floating island, as well as a method of manufacturing the first embodiment described herein.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a side section view of the present invention in a pond setting with the cone netting design (the first embodiment of the tether system).

FIG. 2 is a side section view of the present invention in a pond setting with the triangular netting design (the second embodiment of the tether system).

FIG. 3 is a side section view of the present invention in a pond setting with the triangular netting design and anchor/positioning system.

FIG. 4 consists of three depictions of the triangular netting detail.

FIG. 5 is a schematic drawing of the third embodiment of the tether system of the present invention.

FIG. 6 is a top view of the first embodiment of the TPE layer of present invention.

FIG. 7 is a top view of the second embodiment of the TPE layer of the present invention.

FIG. 8 is an illustration of the mat detail of the present invention.

FIG. 9 is an illustration of the edge section detail of the present invention.

FIG. 10 is a top view and a side section view of a particular embodiment of the present invention that is designed to increase edge habitat for small animals.

FIG. 11 is a side view of the apertures of the present invention.

FIG. 12 is a side view of the preferred embodiment of the buoyant waterscape option of the present invention.

FIG. 13 is a top view of the preferred embodiment of the buoyant waterscape option used as perimeter material and a corresponding detail section view.

FIG. 14 is a top view of the preferred embodiment of the buoyant waterscape option used as habitat enhancement in the central portion of the floating island and a corresponding detail section view.

FIG. 15 is a side section view of an aquarium-scale floating island.

FIG. 16 is a side section view of an aquarium-scale submersible planter.

FIG. 17 is a side section view of a TPE island with integral molded cavities for plants.

FIG. 18 is a side section view of a first embodiment of a TPE plant containment bag.

FIG. 19 is a side section view of a second embodiment of a TPE plant containment bag.

FIG. 20 is a side section view of a TPE plant containment bag with an integral or attached floating pad.

FIG. 21 is an illustration of the process by which one embodiment of the present invention is manufactured.

FIG. 22 is a top view and a side section view of the “bag-type” embodiment of the floating island, in which bedding soil is placed in a water-permeable containment bag.

FIG. 23 is a top view and a side section view of an embodiment of the present invention that incorporates a manually adjustable buoyancy system.

FIG. 24 is a schematic drawing of the shore monitoring station of the present invention.

FIG. 25 is a side section view of the floating island with optional outrigger attachments for growing aquatic plants.

FIG. 26 is a side section view of the floating island with optional outrigger and submerged bladder attachments for growing aquatic plants.

FIG. 27 is a schematic diagram of phosphorus uptake by the floating island of the present invention. This figure is adapted from a similar figure appearing in Robert Kadlee and Robert Knight, “Treatment Wetlands,” Lewis Publishers, 1995.

REFERENCE NUMBERS

  • 1 Mat
  • 2 TPE layer
  • 3 Netting
  • 4 Ring
  • 5 Hole in the frame
  • 6 Cable or rope
  • 7 Anchors
  • 8 Frame to which netting is attached
  • 9 Tether
  • 10 Rope
  • 11 Air compressor
  • 12 Air hose
  • 13 Air pockets
  • 14 Soil/flotation chambers
  • 15 Apertures
  • 16 Nutrient channels
  • 17 Biodegradable fibers
  • 18 Buoyant fibers
  • 19 Seeds
  • 20 Rollers
  • 21 Inner pools
  • 22 Outer pools
  • 23 Outer layer
  • 24 First inner layer
  • 25 Second inner layer
  • 26 Central cavity
  • 27 Aquarium-scale island
  • 28 TPE shell
  • 29 Growth medium
  • 30 Buoyant nodules
  • 31 Aquatic or emergent plants
  • 32 Aquarium-scale submersible planter
  • 33 Heavy base
  • 34 Integral weight
  • 35 Shaft
  • 36 Container section
  • 37 Submerged aquatic plants
  • 38 Air bubble inclusions
  • 39 Molded cavities
  • 40 Plant containment bag
  • 41 Water retention material
  • 42 Flotation pad
  • 43 Flotation ring
  • 44 Buoyant inclusions
  • 45 Common fastener
  • 46 Cover board
  • 47 Positive mold components
  • 48 Mold
  • 49 Adjustably buoyant growth medium
  • 50 Water-permeable containment bag
  • 51 Holes in surface of water-permeable containment bag
  • 52 floating island structure
  • 53 Inflatable tube
  • 54 Exhaust valve
  • 55 Photovoltaic plates
  • 56 Support post
  • 57 Weatherproof box
  • 58 Sensors on monitoring station
  • 59 Air and/or water pump
  • 60 Battery
  • 61 Timer
  • 62 Warning light
  • 63 Sensors on floating island
  • 64 Aeration device
  • 65 Outrigger support
  • 66 Rigid or flexible outrigger
  • 67 Water permeable bladder
  • 68 Negatively or neutrally buoyant soil matrix
  • 69 Orthophosphate
  • 70 Pond
  • 71 Surface runoff/inflow to pond
  • 72 Free-floating algae
  • 73 Intra-island biofilm
  • 74 Island plant roots
  • 75 Elemental phosphorus
  • 76 Outflow from pond

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is superior to any existing floating island-type technology because it provides a super-enhanced habitat for plants, improves water quality, discourages algae populations, slows the process of eutrophication, provides a habitat for fish and small animals, and is designed to be aesthetically pleasing. It is distinguishable from any of the patents reviewed above because it is designed to enhance the existing natural plant and animal habitat. Unlike any of the other inventions discussed above, the present invention is both adjustably buoyant and optionally biodegradable. It is relatively lightweight and designed to be easily installed by one person. Installation of the present invention does not require the draining of water, construction of a submerged substructure, fitting or alteration of the pond liner, or disturbance of existing flora or fauna. By virtue of its design, the present invention results in only minimal water displacement, which allows the pond or other water body to retain its carrying capacity and does not adversely affect the health of the water body.

One embodiment of the present invention consists of a layer of TPE or other similar optionally accelerated photodegradable synthetic material with a low relative hardness (or “durometer”). Although TPE is the preferred embodiment, the present invention could be made of any other synthetic or natural material that accomplishes the same functional results as are described in this application. TPE can be manufactured to be positively buoyant, neutrally buoyant, or negatively buoyant. Within the TPE layer are soil/flotation chambers in which bedding soil and/or a buoyant material such as closed-cell foam can be placed, as long as it is sized appropriately to fit within the soil/flotation chamber. The TPE layer also contains apertures for placement of plant bulbs, roots, bedding plants, soil with seeds, or any other plant form. In a preferred embodiment, nutrient channels run horizontally between the apertures and the soil/flotation chambers and allow water and other nutrients to flow freely through the floating island. Due to the low durometer of the TPE, the apertures will expand to accommodate plant and root growth, thus avoiding the tourniquet effect of more rigid planter materials.

The floating island can be configured such that the nutrient channels, soil/flotation chambers and apertures penetrate the bottom and sides of the TPE through to the water, or such that they do not. In the latter embodiment, the island's vascular network will consist of interconnected flow channels that have openings at the top of the island structure but that do not penetrate through the bottom or sides of the island. In this case, pond water and precipitation will enter the island from the top, percolate downward through bedding soil, be taken up by plant roots and tissues, and subsequently evapotranspire to the atmosphere. The rate of evapotranspiration will equal the rate of vertical water flux through the island.

In the former embodiment, water from the water body is free to enter the island structure from below as well as from the top, thereby providing for a larger water flux through the island structure than for the latter embodiment. Wave action will likely force water into the nutrient channels in surges, and these surges will move through the nutrient channel network with each wave that passes. Movement of water into and out of soil/flotation chambers will likely be slower than water movement through the nutrient channels and will be governed by an advection/diffusion process in which the rate of water flux passing through the island structure will equal the plant evapotranspiration rate plus the net rate of pond water flow into the nutrient channel network. Factors that will affect the nutrient channel network flow rate are density, length, and diameter of flow channels and strength and frequency of wave action in the surrounding water body. In the absence of wave action, movement of water through the soil/flotation chambers will still occur due to capillary action and advection/diffusion, although at a reduced rate.

The TPE of the present invention is impermeable to water, and it also has a unique self-sealing quality. When the TPE is punctured, it will flow back into the puncture, as long as the puncture is not too wide. This quality allows for some additional embodiments of the present invention that take advantage of this quality. For example, the present invention could be constructed with punctures rather than openings on the bottom of the floating island to allow the roots of certain plants to grow through the punctures in the TPE readily. This would allow growth to occur underneath the island as well as on top of the island and would create a super-enhanced environment for plant development. The plant growth underneath the island would compete with algae for nutrients present in the water, thereby creating a natural algae control.

The surface or subsurface of the TPE may be flat or may contain irregularities such as elevations or depressions, as desired to accommodate the plant and animal life. The island itself may contain in its central portion additional openings from the top of the island straight through the TPE to the water body, resulting in added edge habitat. The shape of the TPE (and therefore the floating island as a whole) from an aerial view may be square, rectangular, circular, ovoid or of a free flowing design.

The present invention also includes a mat that lies on top of the TPE layer. The mat can be made of any combination of natural or synthetic materials and can also have an irregular surface if desired. Natural fibers may include, but are not limited to, shredded wood, wood fiber or chips, other plant materials such as stalks, cotton or similar spun fibers, jute, hemp, coir, natural rubber, and other woven or nonwoven materials. Synthetic materials may include, but are not limited to, spun, woven or foam plastics, synthetic mesh, artificial grass, excelsior, FUTERRA, ASPEN-FIBER TURBO MULCH, ENKAMAT, accelerated photodegradable polypropylene fibers, bubble wrap, and loose fill styrofoam. The mat may also include soil, nutrients, and seeds that will germinate and provide vegetation for the floating island. Some combination of these components is joined to form the appropriately buoyant mat. The mat is designed to be used as one form of bedding for seeds or any other plant starter.

As an optional feature, barley straw, which is believed to be algistatic (i.e., prevents new growth of algae) can be added to the floating island structure. In a preferred embodiment, barley is positioned on the floating island where it is exposed to both water and air. Other agents for controlling biological growth, pH, dissolved oxygen and other aquatic environmental variables can also be added to the floating island structure.

The present invention also provides a tethering system for both stabilizing the location of the floating island in a body of water and allowing access to the island from shore as needed. The tethering system is designed to allow the easy relocation or repositioning of the island at any time. Three different embodiments for the tethering system are illustrated below. The first and second embodiments consist of a net device that extends below the floating island and is attached to one or more anchors. The net device, which will encompass the roots of the plants on the floating island, is intended to provide security and food for smaller fish and aquatic life forms such as frogs, salamanders and newts, and the security effect of the net is further enhanced by plant roots that grow onto it. These smaller aquatic life forms will eat mosquitoes and their larvae and will also attract larger game fish to the floating island location.

In the third embodiment of the tethering system, the anchor line is fabricated from TPE material having a high elasticity, and the tether may have a hollow core. This design allows the island to be temporarily pulled to shore for maintenance. After maintenance, tension in the tether returns the island to its original position in the water body. If equipped with a hollow core, the tether can be used to aerate the pond by releasing air bubbles along a portion of the length of the tether. The source of the air bubbles can be either a shore-mounted air compressor or an air compressor mounted directly on the floating island. An island-mounted air compressor could operate from wind, solar, wave, or other power source.

Optionally, the present invention could include a line that attaches the floating island to the shoreline for the purpose of providing power, air and sensor pathways or distribution of food or insecticide, or for a similar purpose (referred to as the “shore monitoring station”). This line could be attached to or within the line that has been secured to the shore for periodic retrieval of the island for maintenance, or it could be a separate line. In a preferred embodiment, photovoltaic plates are located on a fixed foundation such as a support post used in a chain link fence or PVC pipe and are positioned to allow for optimal solar orientation. A weatherproof box containing sensor-registering devices, air and/or water pump(s), and a timing device to optimize the use of such devices is attached to the same support post, and a warning light indicates whether the equipment needs attention. By locating this equipment on shore rather than on the floating island itself, the equipment is more accessible, and concerns relating to weight limitations, accessibility issues, possibility of water damage, and instability are avoided.

The floating island of present invention is designed to avoid biodegradability long enough to establish a self-sustaining floating island structure, after which it will slowly assimilate into the subsurface of the water body. If desired, the island materials can be designed to biodegrade at a controlled rate, thus providing a limited lifetime for the structure. More than one floating island unit can be used, in a modular fashion, if a larger self-sustaining floating island structure is desired immediately.

The floating island is adjustably buoyant in several respects. First, the buoyancy of the TPE itself can be adjusted. The buoyancy of the TPE can be adjusted during manufacture by sparging air into the TPE, adjusting the ratios of polymers to plasticizers, or by selecting the polymers used based on their specific gravities. Second, the buoyancy of the mat can also be adjusted by adding varying degrees of the variety of materials described above, some of which are more buoyant than others. Third, closed-cell foam or other buoyant material can be added to the bedding soil. In one embodiment of the present invention, the adjustably buoyant bedding soil is placed in a water-permeable containment bag. In this configuration, the buoyancy of the structure is set by adjusting the amount of buoyant material within the bedding soil. The “weave” of the containment bag is sufficiently porous to permit adequate flow of water and dissolved nutrients, but it is also tight enough to prevent the escape of potting soil particles.

Fourth, plants with varying buoyancies can be selected to achieve the overall desired buoyancy of the floating island. The floating island can be made as thick or as thin as it needs to be to accommodate particular plants in any given area while still maintaining the desired buoyancy. Fifth, buoyancy can be adjusted through tension on the tethering system to hold the island at the desired elevation in relation to the water surface or the floor of the water body. Sixth, buoyancy can be further adjusted by means of an internal air chamber feature added to the floating island. This feature could be pre-inflated, adjustably inflated, or deflated through a valve and a hand pump or through an air pump powered by a photovoltaic unit, wind turbine, batteries, utility grid electric power, or other means. Seventh, the island could be inoculated with gas-producing microorganisms, which would further contribute to the overall buoyancy of the island.

In addition to the means for adjusting buoyancy described above, the present invention includes optional buoyant waterscape options that can be placed around the perimeter of the island for a more finished look or to improve buoyancy, or they can be placed on the island to provide added habitat for small animals or for terrestrial (non-aquatic) plants. These waterscape options may be compacted and maintained in a “log” shape by means that may include, but are not limited to, external wrappers such as netting, natural or synthetic adhesives, and melting. In the preferred embodiment, these buoyant waterscape options are composed of four layers—an outer layer of plastic netting or similar material, a layer of material that provides buoyancy neutral mass and acts as a shock absorber and growth medium (this layer could be made of any of the same materials as the mat), a layer of malleable material that determines and hold the shape of the waterscape option, and an inner layer that can be air or a buoyant material such as closed-cell foam. The buoyant waterscape options could also be made of natural driftwood.

Buoyancy can also be adjusted periodically by moving the island to shore and adjusting the air/water ratios in hollow chambers within the island substrate, or in situ, by means of inflatable chambers that are pressurized via a hand pump or an air tube connecting the island to a shore-based source of compressed air. Saturation of the mat and/or the growth of foliage above the surface may require adjustment of buoyancy over time, and the present invention allows for such adjustments during the life of the floating island. The periodic inflation and deflation of the floating island's air chambers will contribute to the circulation of water in and through the island.

The ability to adjust buoyancy of the floating island through any or all of the means described above allows the floating island of the present invention to host hydroponic, soil-saturated, or non-saturated plant growth all at the same time. The floating island may comprise additional optional attachments that are specifically designed for providing growth media for submerged-root aquatic plants. The objectives of these attachments are to provide habitat for additional plant species that thrive under submerged conditions, and to increase the total plant production of the island. Vessels made of slightly negatively buoyant TPE can be attached to the floating island to host submerged plants. This latter design aspect would alleviate the adverse effects of changing water levels on submerged plants. Thus, the floating island can host obligate wetland plants, facultative wetland plants, facultative plants, facultative upland plants, and upland plants, or any combination of the above.

The present invention provides a super-enhanced habitat for plants because its highly vascularized design allows for the free flow of water, oxygen and nutrients under, over and through the floating island; the height and width of the apertures can be adjusted to accommodate particular plants; the optimal buoyancy for any particular plant can be achieved by the means discussed above; the apertures actually expand to allow for plant and root growth; large plant-eating fish are prevented from accessing the plant roots by virtue of the net device; and plant-eating animals can be prevented from accessing the floating island by shaping the edges of the floating island so that those animals cannot board or by setting the mat back from the edge of the optionally thin, low-friction TPE layer. Additionally, agents (such as mycorrizhia) that symbiotically enhance root growth and overall plant development can be incorporated into the mat or bedding soil. The width and length of the nutrient channels are designed to manage the buildup of anaerobic bacteria. Furthermore, the present invention is designed to accommodate seed germination, seedlings, plugs, cuttings, bulbs, tubers, roots, mature plants or any other form of plant propagation.

The present invention serves to reduce algae growth by providing nutrient uptake, inexpensive shade, fast plant growth, and oxygen generation. The present invention improves water quality through the inclusion of plants that take nutrients not only from the floating island but also from the pond or other body of water in which the floating island is located. By competing for nutrients, these plants will slow the process of eutrophication, which is caused by the presence of excess nutrients in the water, and decrease the algae population. The shade provided by the floating island interrupts algal photosynthesis, which also discourages the proliferation of algae. The present invention also retards surface evaporation and stabilizes water temperature, both of which result in better pond health. A monitoring sensor or sensors could be installed on or under the floating island to monitor water conditions such as pH, dissolved oxygen, oxidation-reduction potential, and temperature to assist in achieving optimal growth conditions, or to monitor atmospheric conditions related to island or pond health. Mechanical or electrical water conditioning or filtration units could also be provided within or attached onto the present invention.

In addition, a water agitation/oxygenation device that runs on mechanical or solar energy could be added to the floating island to further improve the health of the water body. Such a device would serve both to oxygenate the water and to circulate it through and around the floating island. A mechanical device would likely rely upon wind, current or wave action. A solar device could include stationary panels whose orientation to the sun can be changed by moving the position of the island via the anchoring system, or the island could be equipped with monitoring and control electronics that automatically position the solar panel at the most efficient orientation relative to the current sun positions (i.e., a tracking system). The increased water oxygenation would benefit both animal and plant life while making it more difficult for anaerobic bacteria (like those that contribute to undesirable water conditions such as slime or foul odor) to survive. The increased oxygenation would also benefit nitrifying bacteria, which play a critical role in maintaining the health of aquatic ecosystems by scavenging potentially toxic nitrogen compounds from their surroundings (including ammonia and nitrite) and producing a soluble nitrate end product.

The present invention benefits sensitive and desirable species, both plant and animal, by providing improved security cover as compared to a more predator-accessible land-based island or prior art floating islands, whose focus is not on providing security cover for small animals. The floating island of the present invention can be made with raised, blended or varied peripheral borders to either assist or resist boarding by small animals and waterfowl. A distribution unit can be added to the floating island for the dispersal of agents to aid in feeding fish, fighting mosquitoes, or any other appropriate goal. The fish feeding unit could be synchronized with the water agitation/oxygenation unit to condition both small and large fish to approach the floating island when the water is agitated, thereby enhancing the fishing experience.

The present invention is designed to be aesthetically pleasing and can be customized to meet the consumer market's individualized aquascape goals. A variety of aquatic or riparian plants or seed can be added or substituted at any time, the island can be trimmed to the customer's shape of choice, and folk art can be added at the customer's option. The color, transparency or opacity, texture and flexibility of the TPE can be controlled internally or on its surface as desired for functional or aesthetic reasons. In addition, color can be incorporated into the mat as desired.

The floating island of the present invention may also be used in streams and rivers as undercut banks for improved habitat or in any water body for bank erosion control (protection from wind and wave action). The floating island can be tethered or anchored to the shore of a pond, lake or ocean or the bank of a river or stream. In this position, the floating island will help to dissipate wave energy generated by wind, current and tidal forces, thereby lowering erosion and stabilizing the shore or bank.

FIG. 1 is a side section view of the present invention in a pond setting with the cone netting design. This figure illustrates the mat 1, the TPE layer 2, and the netting 3, which connects to a ring 4 to which an anchor (not shown) can be attached. The cone netting design is one embodiment of the net device.

FIG. 2 is a side section view of the present invention in a pond setting with the triangular netting design. This figure illustrates the mat 1, the TPE layer 2, and the netting 3. The netting is attached to a frame (shown in FIG. 4), and the tethering system is attached to the netting through a hole 5 in the frame. The triangular netting design is another embodiment of the net device.

FIG. 3 is a side section view of the present invention in a pond setting with the triangular netting design and anchor/positioning system. This figure illustrates the mat 1, the TPE layer 2, the netting 3, and the holes 5 in the frame of the net device to which the tethering system attaches. It also shows anchor/positioning system, which includes rope or cable 6 and anchors 7 and which serves to stabilize the floating island.

FIG. 4 consists of three depictions of the triangular netting detail. It shows the netting 3, the frame to which the netting is attached 8, and the hole 5 in the frame through which the rope or cable 6 (shown in FIG. 3) of the tethering system is directed.

FIG. 5 is a schematic drawing of the third embodiment of the tether system of the present invention. The top drawing shows the island in the normal position, and the bottom drawing shows the island in the maintenance position. In this embodiment a tether 9 made of TPE or other suitable elastic material is attached to an anchor 7, which rests on the bottom of the water body. The TPE layer 2 is attached to a retrieval rope 10, which allows a person to pull the island to shore for maintenance. The island is connected to an air compressor 11 by an air hose 12. The air compressor causes air bubbles 13 to be generated along the tether. This embodiment of the tether system also includes netting 3.

FIG. 6 is a top view of the first embodiment of the TPE layer of the present invention. This figure shows the soil/flotation chambers 14, the apertures 15, which are typically smaller than the soil/flotation chambers, and the nutrient channels 16 of the TPE layer 2, which is ovoid in shape. The solid lines indicate an opening to the surface, while the dotted lines indicate sub-surface openings. Although not shown in this figure, the nutrient channels may extend to the outside surface of the TPE layer, open to the water.

FIG. 7 is a top view of the second embodiment of the TPE layer of the present invention. This figure shows the soil/flotation chambers 14, the apertures 15, and the nutrient channels 16 of the TPE layer 2, which is irregularly shaped. As in the previous figure, the solid lines indicate an opening to the surface, while the dotted lines indicate sub-surface openings.

FIG. 8 is an illustration of the mat detail of the present invention. As is shown in this figure, in the preferred embodiment, the mat 1 is made of biodegradable fibers 17 and buoyant fibers 18 and is embedded with seeds 19. During the manufacturing process, the mat is pressed together with a bonding agent or process. In this figure, rollers 20 are shown to depict that process.

FIG. 9 is an illustration of the edge section detail of the present invention. This figure shows the soil/flotation chambers 14, the apertures 15, and the nutrient channels 16. It also illustrates that the mat 1 can be designed to either assist or resist small animal and waterfowl boarding. If the mat extends to the edge of the TPE layer (upper drawing), then that design will assist small animal and waterfowl boarding. On the other hand, if the mat is set back from the edge of the TPE layer (lower drawing), then small animal and waterfowl will have difficulty boarding the floating island because of the low-friction, slick surface of the TPE. If desired, the outer edge of the TPE could be made so thin that it will not support the weight of animals or waterfowl that attempt to board the island.

FIG. 10 is a top view and side section view of a particular embodiment of the present invention that is designed to increase edge habitat for small animals. In this context, “edge habitat” means the space at the interface of the water and dry land. In this embodiment, the floating island contains inner pools 21 and outer pools 22 where there are holes in the floating island that extend from top to bottom. The outer edge of the island consists only of a thin TPE layer 2, which prevents heavier predators from boarding the island, whereas the central portion of the island contains the three layers discussed above (TPE, mat and bedding soil). The pools provide additional edge habitat and underwater escape routes for small animals such as frogs.

FIG. 11 is a side view of various shapes of apertures, showing that the apertures 15 can be made to contain various sizes and shapes of plant roots and bedding material. As shown in this figure, plant material of any height or width can be accommodated with or without additional bedding soil. This can be accomplished by adjusting the thickness of the TPE layer, the mat, or both.

FIG. 12 is a side view of the preferred embodiment of the buoyant waterscape option of the present invention. The outer layer 23 is made of plastic netting or a similar material. The first inner layer 24 is made of a neutral buoyancy material that acts as a shock absorber, such as jute, coconut fiber, wood shavings, or similar material. The second inner layer 25 is a malleable tube that can bend and hold the shape of the waterscape option to conform to whatever design is desired. Inside the malleable tube is a central cavity 26 that can be made of air or closed-cell foam or any other material to provide the desired buoyancy.

One preferred option for fabricating the malleable tube is to use a rigid thermoplastic pipe (e.g., Schedule 40 PVC water pipe). The straight tube stock is softened by applying temporary localized heat, while applying bending pressure. The tube is allowed to cool and harden in the desired shape. Heat can be applied by a commercial pipe bending heater, or alternately, by a custom made heater that fits inside the pipe and maintains a circular cross section within the pipe while the pipe is heated, bent, and cooled.

Another preferred option for fabricating the malleable tube is to use a commercially available semi-rigid metal pipe. Examples of such pipe include FLEX-LOCK aluminum duct hose (McMaster-Carr PN 54995K11) and aluminum light gauge metal hose (McMaster-Carr PN 55335K41). These hose materials can be manually bent by applying bending forces, and they maintain the bent shape after bending forces are removed.

Another preferred option for fabricating the malleable tube is to construct a hose from thermoplastic similar to the flexible metal hoses described above. The bent shape of such a thermoplastic hose could be “locked in” by melting the flexible unions in the hose and allowing them to weld together.

For all of the options described above, the rigidity of the bent pipe can be optionally increased by injecting material such as expandable foam insulation into the interior of the pipe and allowing it to cure and harden. The options described above are meant as representative examples and are not an exhaustive list of all possible options.

FIG. 13 is a top view of the preferred embodiment of the buoyant waterscape option used as perimeter material and a corresponding detail cross-section view. The left drawing in this figure is a top view of the floating island that shows the buoyant waterscape option used as perimeter material. The right drawing in this figure is a cross-section taken at line A-A of the left drawing of one of the perimeter waterscape options. It shows the plastic netting outer layer 23, the neutral buoyancy first inner layer 24, the malleable tube second inner layer 25, and the adjustably buoyant central cavity 26, all in relation to the mat 1 and the TPE 2.

FIG. 14 is a top view of the preferred embodiment of the buoyant waterscape options used as habitat enhancement in the central portion of the floating island and a corresponding detail section view. The left drawing in this figure is a top view of the floating island that shows the buoyant waterscape options used as habitat enhancement in the central portion of the floating island. The right drawing in this figure is a cross-section taken at line B-B of the left drawing of one of the central waterscape options. It shows the plastic netting outer layer 23, the neutral buoyancy first inner layer 24, the malleable tube second inner layer 25, and the adjustably buoyant central cavity 26, all in relation to the mat 1 and the TPE layer 2.

In addition to deployment in or on a body of water, the floating island described herein can also be used as a micro-island for aquariums or terrariums to remove chemicals found commonly in tap water that may negatively affect invertebrate growth and overall water quality or clarity or to serve as habitat for plant or animal life. In this regard, an aquarium could be converted from strictly an aquatic habitat to a combination of aquatic and terrestrial habitats where fish can be raised alongside more traditional terrarium species like frogs and turtles. Referring to FIG. 15, which is a side section view of an aquarium-scale floating island, the aquarium-scale island 27 is comprised of a TPE shell 28, growth medium 29 and buoyant nodules 30. The buoyant nodules 30 may be comprised of any suitable low-density material, such as closed-cell polyethylene foam. Aquatic or emergent plants 31 grow in and protrude through the island. The ability of the TPE to be transparent affords an ability to see the plant roots as they grow.

FIG. 16 is a side section view of an aquarium-scale submersible planter 32 fabricated from TPE or similar material. The planter is comprised of a heavy base 33 with integral weight 34, a shaft 35, and a container section 36. Inside the container section 36 are growth medium 29, buoyant nodules 30, and submerged aquatic plants 37.

FIG. 17 shows an alternate embodiment of the present invention, in which the floating island comprises a TPE layer 2, optional air bubble inclusions 38, optional buoyant nodules 30, molded cavities for plants 39, and plants 31. The molded cavities 39 may optionally contain growth medium, buoyant nodules and/or moisture-retaining material. This embodiment can be full-size or aquarium-size.

FIG. 18 is a side section view of yet another embodiment of the present invention, namely, a TPE plant containment bag 40 (also referred to as the “jellyfish bag” embodiment). In this embodiment, the bag 40 is comprised of a TPE shell 28, growth medium 29, and buoyant nodules 30. The bag may also optionally comprise water retention material 41. The purpose of the water retention material is to absorb water during the filling process and supply water to the plant roots during periods of storage and transportation, when the exterior of the bag 40 is not in contact with water. The water retention material may be any suitable material that is efficient at wicking and holding water. Examples of suitable materials include zeolite (a natural mineral product), fine-stranded nonwoven mesh, and open-cell polymer foam. The containment bag 40 may be used as a stand-alone product to transport and transplant plants, or it may alternately be used as an insert unit within a floating island.

Alternately, the TPE containment bag could be shaped as shown in FIG. 19. In this particular embodiment, the plant containment bag 40 is generally cylindrical in shape, with a rounded top and bottom and a hole at the top. This shape is advantageous for use with nursery-grown potted plants, in which the plant roots are grown within a cylindrically shaped mold.

When used to transport plants, the TPE bags could be filled with moistened bedding matrix or a synthetic polymer material that tends to soak up water. Because the TPE is impermeable to water, the moisture would remain largely contained within the bag. The only avenue for evaporation or leakage would be through the hole through which the plant is inserted into the bag.

When used as an insert for the floating island, the bags would optionally have an opening on the bottom of the bag to allow water to readily reach the plant's roots. Due to the unique qualities of TPE, the plant roots would be able to grow through the TPE, but this process could take one to two weeks. The holes in the bottom of the TPE bags would allow the plant roots to reach the water more quickly and would prevent the plants from drying out.

The TPE plant containment bag embodiment takes advantage of the unique qualities of TPE by allowing a small opening at the top of the bag to be stretched wide enough to accept a bedding plant and bedding matrix, while at the same time serving to retain appropriate moisture for an extended period. These features render the TPE bag superior to conventional plant containers. When necessary, the bags can be adapted to allow water to flow into and through them, as in, for example, the holes at the bottom of the TPE bag.

FIG. 20 depicts a variation of the embodiment shown in FIG. 18. This variation is referred to as the “lily pad” embodiment. FIG. 20 shows a containment bag 40 with a flotation pad 42, which comprises a flotation ring 43 and buoyant inclusions 44. The containment bag 40, flotation pad 42 and flotation ring 43 are made of TPE. This embodiment of the floating island may be formed as a single piece or, alternately, in multiple pieces. Flotation is provided primarily by buoyant inclusions 44, which may be comprised of lightweight foam, air pockets, or any other suitable low-density material. The flotation ring 43 can be molded with a solid cross-section (as shown) or made as a hollow skin (not shown) into which materials are subsequently inserted. Individual “lily pad” units can optionally be hooked together to form a floating group.

FIG. 21 is an illustration of the process by which the TPE embodiments with the soil/flotation chambers, apertures and nutrient channels are manufactured. A common fastener 45 such as a screw, bolt, stud or wing nut is attached to a cover board 46, which sits on top of the seeded mat 1. Positive mold components 47 shaped for the particular soil/flotation chambers 14 and apertures 15 are placed in the hot TPE to form the TPE layer 2. A mold 48 shapes the bottom of the TPE layer 2 to the desired configuration. The nutrient channels (not shown) are formed by pushing a sharp tube through the TPE after the molding process.

The preferred molding process involves the following steps: forming or sculpting a positive (male) upside down on a flat surface using any non-porous durable material; placing a containment rim of sufficient depth around the positive; pouring a silicone rubber compound such as SMOOTH-ON SMOOTH-SIL 945 to cover the positive; and removing and inverting the silicone mold to allow the TPE to be poured into the mold to produce the body of the island. The silicone is durable in high-temperature situations of 400° C. or greater, which makes it suitable for this application.

In an alternative embodiment of the present invention, one without any TPE layer, the floating island consists of a mat with bedding soil and seed scattered over the top of it. The mat could be made of a nonwoven fiber material that is polyester, nylon or vinyl, or any other material that has sufficient interstices to capture and hold the scattered bedding soil and seed and that is permeable enough to allow water to pass through it. Optionally, grit comprising glass, sand or other abrasive particles could be adhered to the bottom of the mat to discourage beaver, muskrat and similar animals from living on the island.

FIG. 22 is a top and a side view of the “bag-type” embodiment of the floating island, in which bedding soil is placed in a water-permeable containment bag. Aquatic or riparian plants are set in an adjustably buoyant growth medium 49 that has nodules of high buoyancy material 30 incorporated into the bedding soil. The bedding soil sits in a water-permeable containment bag 50, which contains holes 51 in its surface for plants to emerge. The bedding soil is also covered by protective netting 3, which acts as a shelter for small fish.

FIG. 23 is a top view and a side section view of an embodiment of the present invention that incorporates a manually adjustable buoyancy system. This buoyancy system can be used with either the TPE or the water-permeable bag embodiments discussed above. An external air compressor 11 is used to adjust the buoyancy of the floating island structure and/or to provide carbon dioxide and oxygen to the water in order to replenish these gases and promote growth of desirable plants and animals. The compressed air is used to adjust the buoyancy of the island by providing a means to vary the inflation of balloon-like devices (which are expandable, air-tight containers) within the island substrate. This feature may be useful to compensate for changes in buoyancy caused by plant growth or saturation of the mat by water. An air compressor 11 is attached to the island structure 52 by a compressed air hose 12, which leads to an inflatable tube 53 or tubes on the island. An exhaust valve 54 extends downward into the water from the bottom of the inflatable tube 53, a controller (not shown) is located on the exhaust valve, and air bubbles 13 are generated.

FIG. 24 is a schematic drawing of the shore monitoring station of the present invention. This shore monitoring station can be used with any of the floating island embodiments. In the preferred embodiment, photovoltaic plates 55 are attached to a support post 56, as is a weatherproof box 57. The weatherproof box 57 contains various sensors 58, an air and/or water pump 59, a battery 60, and a timer 61. A warning light 62 is located outside of the weatherproof box 57. An air hose 12 runs from the support post 50 to the floating island, which contains sensors 63 on, under or above the island. An aeration device 64 is attached to the air hose 12 in close proximity to the island.

FIG. 25 is a side section view of the floating island with optional outrigger attachments for growing aquatic plants. These outrigger attachments can be used with any of the floating island embodiments. As illustrated in this figure, one preferred embodiment of the attachments is via outrigger mechanisms that suspend plant-growth media at selected levels below the water surface. In this context, plant-growth media refers to the assembly comprised of the water-permeable bladder and the soil matrix. One advantage of this arrangement is that the submerged plant-growth media can be extended beyond the shadow footprint of the floating portion of the island, thus enabling maximum sunlight to reach the submerged plants.

The submerged plant-growth media can be constructed of similar materials to the previously described soil matrix for the bag-type floating island, except that the buoyancy is adjusted to be negatively or neutrally buoyant. The outriggers can be constructed of thermoplastic pipe or other similar material. The flotation collar and outrigger supports can be donut shaped, and can be fabricated out of TPE, plastic foam, or other similar positively or adjustably buoyant material.

In this embodiment, an adjustably buoyant flotation collar and outrigger support 65 sits on adjustably buoyant growth medium 49. Protective netting 3 extends below the floating island and is attached to a tether 6 and anchor 7. A rigid or flexible outrigger 66 connects the floating island to a water-permeable bladder 67, which contains negatively or neutrally buoyant soil matrix 68.

FIG. 26 is a side section view of the floating island with optional outrigger and submerged bladder attachments for growing aquatic plants. As in FIG. 25, the outrigger and submerged bladder attachments can be used with any of the floating island embodiments. In this embodiment, the plant-growth media may optionally be positioned directly below the floating portion of the island on the tether or a separate attachment (not shown). The tethered attachments may be used either with or without the protective netting (not shown). These tethered attachments may be used alone or in combination with the outrigger attachments (shown). One advantage of the tethered media is that they provide shaded habitat for plants that prefer less sunlight.

In this embodiment, an adjustably buoyant flotation collar and outrigger support 65 containing adjustably buoyant growth medium 49 is attached to a flexible or rigid outrigger 66, which is attached at its other end to a water-permeable bladder 67 containing negatively or neutrally buoyant soil matrix 68. A tether 6 extends below the floating island and is attached to a water-permeable bladder 67 containing negatively or neutrally buoyant soil matrix 68 and an anchor 7.

FIG. 27 illustrates how the floating island of the present invention can be used to manage orthophosphate runoff from agricultural activities. In this figure, dissolved orthophosphate 69 from agricultural activities enters a pond 70 via surface runoff 71. The dissolved orthophosphate 69 is taken up in a sorption process (as shown schematically by arrows) by free-floating algae 72, intra-island biofilm 73, and island plant roots 74. The orthophosphate 69 is converted to elemental phosphorus 75 and incorporated into plant biomass. When the plants die, the phosphorus 75 settles to the bottom of the pond, where it is stored as a solid. Through this process, the concentration of dissolved orthophosphate is reduced, resulting in a lower concentration of orthophosphate at the outflow 76 than at the inflow 71. This figure applies to all of the embodiments of the present invention that include living plants.

Although numerous embodiments of the present invention have been shown and described, it will be apparent to those skilled in the art that many changes and modifications may be made without departing from the invention in its broader aspects. The appended claims are therefore intended to cover all such changes and modifications as fall within the true spirit and scope of the invention.

Definitions

The term “advection” means the movement of water caused by pressure gradients.

The term “aquaculture” means a technique of growing plants (without soil) in water containing dissolved nutrients.

The term “eutrophication” means the process by which waters rich in mineral and organic nutrients promote a proliferation of plant life, especially algae, thereby reducing the dissolved oxygen content and often causing the extinction of other organisms.

The term “evapotranspire” or “evapotranspiration” refers to the combined effect of evaporation and plant transpiration. Plant transpiration is the process by which water is taken up through the plant roots and escapes through the leaf tissue into the air.

The term “excelsior” means slender, curved wood shavings used especially for packing.

The term “facultative plants” refers to plants that occur in wetlands thirty-four to sixty-six percent (34-66%) of the time.

The term “facultative upland plants” refers to plants that occur in wetlands one to thirty-three percent (1-33%) of the time.

The term “facultative wetland plants” refers to plants that occur in wetlands sixty-seven to ninety-nine percent (67-99%) of the time.

The term “freeform” means having an amorphous or irregular boundary or a boundary that lacks definite form.

The term “geometrical” means having a boundary characterized by lines, angles, curves, circles, squares, or other geometric shapes.

The term “hydroponic” means of or relating to aquaculture.

The term “obligate wetland plants” refers to plants that occur in wetlands more than ninety-nine percent (99%) of the time.

The term “photovoltaic” means capable of producing a voltage when exposed to radiant energy, especially light.

The term “upland plants” refers to plants that occur in wetlands less than one percent (1%) of the time.