Nature’s cleanup crews
Stay positive with this month’s miracle from nature.
With all the unsettling things that are happening in the world as a result of COVID-19, here is a dose of inspiration from nature to brighten your day.
To inspire awe of the planet’s extraordinary biodiversity, Nature and Culture is glad to share our monthly series: 12 Strange Miracles of the Rainforest and Beyond.
Miracle #3: Nature’s cleanup crews
Picture a toxic dump — the kind that’s so terrible it kills every living thing for miles around, and turns the local drinking water into a deadly soup. Sadly, there are more than a few such places.
While we can take the waste somewhere else, that does little more than transfer the problem from one community to another.
Today, there are biodiversity-based industries developing what’s called bioremediation. They are transforming highly toxic sites into relatively benign areas that can be used again in other ways. A more advanced version of this, ecological restoration, is now going even further to recreate the ecosystems that once existed.
That’s right. Communities destroyed by killer oil spills, mining waste, and chemical dumping disasters are being returned to their original natural state.
There are microbes, fungi, and invertebrates that not only thrive in these toxic chemicals, but they also eat pollutants, metabolize them, and transfer it all back into safe, organic material.
White rot fungus, found in the rainforest and other temperate forests, is one hero in industrial waste cleanup. It comes with its own personal bank of chemical systems that break down some of the toughest and most intractable materials.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has identified a variety of microorganisms that leech harsh chemicals out of the soil. Mealworms have gut microbes that eat polystyrene. Waxworm caterpillars can break down plastic in a matter of hours.
The known list of our planet’s garbage eaters continues to grow.
With the help of nature’s cleanup crews, the hope of a more livable world continues to become a stronger reality.
The variety of life on the planet is our greatest treasure. Yet 1 million of the estimated 8 million plant and animal species on Earth are at risk of extinction. Nature and Culture hopes that by sharing these 12 Strange Miracles you’ll be filled with wonder and gratitude for each species that enriches the planet. Stay tuned for next month’s feature!