One may begin to define the changing nature of FTW’s by engaging in discourses of questions such as, “Is Rotorua being restored for its ecological value, or its instrumental value?” Within the context of New Zealand’s FTW’s, we appropriate the agency of nature through biomimicry causing aquatic wetlands to serve human means as nature-based machines. This is truly fascinating, as our definition of the non-perceiving naturalized nature does not account for this. By engineering functional floating wetlands, ones that are hard to disseminate from the environment, we are tasked with re-defining the old nature into a more contemporary nature.
The Definition of Nature
By description, nature requires us not to think about it, which is what makes it natural. Whitehead (2013) defines nature as “that which we perceive through the senses without thought.” In terms the context of FTW’s, we as users of nature must not distinguish FTW’s as floating mats, but more as wetlands to consider them as part of nature. By cloning the function of nature in FTW’s (i.e. an anthropogenic appropriation), it must be decided whether FTW’s fall under the jurisdiction of nature. We are constructing, altering, and redefining the ecology of what can and can’t be in the water column, which requires much thought. On the other hand, we are proclaiming FTW’s as a new norm. This displaces the old nature and causes it to become that which we will no longer think about as unnatural. In essence, our gain of natures’ autonomy causes the very definition of nature to change. Lave, (2012) argues that environmental research is conducted only when the results turn be used as a marketable commodity and in line with a neoliberal agenda of capital accumulation. Capital accumulation inherently causes waste, as can be seen by the nitrogen effluent being carried into the lakes. By employing wetland nutrient recycling in wastewater management, FTW’s are being used within neoliberal frameworks, where nature is being exploited and losing agency. This presents itself in the form of biomimicry. Benyus (1997) defines biomimicry as a “discipline that studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates those designs and processes to solve human problems.” FTW’s can be seen as machines that mimic nature by borrowing natural principles & processes for industrial purposes of nutrient treatment. This begs the question, how do you distinguish between the natural and nature-based machines? Machines are seen as unsustainable. Rijsberman & Frans (2000) argue that sustainability can be integrated into the construction of wastewater management. In terms of the FTW’s, they are not sustainable, as they require intensive weeding, labour and movement.
Replacing Historical Pillars of Nature; Colonialism
In 2004, when the Crown resettled their claims with the Te Arawa Lakes Trust, the indigenous people reclaimed 14 of their lake beds. This presents a new challenge to colonialism; the construction FTW’s originated, in part, from the efforts and aspirations the local indigenous populations. With the management of lakes in the hands of the Te Arawa Trust, nature is being allowed to exist outside of colonial frameworks, and through education, reverse impacts made by colonial land use change (Te Arawa Lakes Trust, 2012). Johnson & Murton (2007) highlight how the western historical definition of nature was defined by Europeans “[removing] themselves from nature and the savage non-European masses” by the process of colonialism. In New Zealand, this practice was originally founded by displacing native-voice and converting land practices into agriculture. With the lake-bed reappropriation, a self-mediated shift of baseline allows locals to change their perceptions of biological processes not due to experience loss, but experience gained (Pauly, 1995). With re-appropriation, the definition of nature pre-colonization may be once again be used.
FTW’s and Rain Gardens as Living Machines; Victoria, BC, Canada.
Brix (1994) posits that the ability of wetlands to transform and store organic matter has been exploited in constructed wetlands. The idea of FTW’s originated in France, where Cattail (Typha latifolia) was used removal in nutrient build-up of wastewater. By using wetland flora and fauna as mitigation tools, the value of nature was shifted from intrinsic to instrumental. This occurs by propagating aquatic vegetation for human use, as opposed to ecological use. As humans increasingly transform natural landscapes by incorporating nature into architecture, it may seem as if, we are restoring the agency of nature, however this is not the case. This concept of ‘pseudo-agency’ reflects the same agency that can be attributed to machines (Todd, 1994).
In Victoria, BC, for example, routing storm-water runoff through vegetation, flows of contaminants are provided a form of primary treatment process before entering the wastewater treatment system (Fig. 1a; City of Victoria, 2012). Using uniform horticultural species, each layer within the rain garden performs a specific function of removal. These plants are chosen based on two criteria: drought resistance in the summer, and ability to sit in standing water in the winter (City of Victoria, 2012).
These rain gardens are designer eco-systems. By assisted the propagation of species that were historically not present in this area, managers are potentially aiding in the creation of a novel ecosystem. They are built, akin to a machine to perform a function. In doing so, the historical continuity of the area is disrupted, falling outside the definitions of nature. By categorizing rain gardens and FTW’s as nature-based machine, we can begin to understand that our perception of nature is beginning to change. This leads us to question as to what to think of these ecosystems, are they degraded, novel, or something else that has yet to be described in literature (Hobbs & Higgs, 2009).
Anchored Rotorua FTW.
Victoria (BC) Rain Garden. Taken on 03/07/2015. © Parm Gill