As mountains of debris pile up across Southwest Florida, researchers at FGCU are testing if mangroves can be used to keep landfills cleaner.
Experts estimate debris from Hurricane Ian created roughly 15 years’ worth of trash in Florida.
In Lee County alone, enough debris has been collected to fill the Empire State Building three and a half times.
A big concern among scientists is water leeching through the landfill into the groundwater.
“If we have a storm, or big rains, and everything will be leeching out into the ground. And then it becomes nearly impossible to fix that issue,” said Dr. Serge Thomas with the Water School at FGCU.
Thomas and some of his students are now studying ways to filter out the harmful materials in landfills.
Early testing shows optimistic results for mangroves, which grow naturally along Florida’s southwest coast.
“We’re going to actually use (mangroves) and study how much pollutants they remove,” said Thomas. “We’re looking at nutrients, we’re looking at heavy metals, we’re looking at compounds.”
Mangroves grow better in nutrient-rich environments.
But right now, researchers don’t know how the mangroves will hold up to toxic materials.
Thomas says similar research has been done in Africa and has shown positive results.
“It takes a lot of money to treat, chemically, that leeching,” said Thomas. “So, we’re using plants to do the job.”