My name is Rosa Castillo. I am in my last semester of Environmental Science at Dawson, studies that I plan to continue at Concordia University as an honors student starting next fall.
I like to spend time reading, writing or enjoying the company of my family wherever nature predominates.
I want to help in the conservation of our planet’s biodiversity, restore affected ecosystems and promote environmental awareness. My son is my first receiver, but I hope to convince more people to look at the whole planet as our own home to take care of it with greater affection.
Environmentalist Marino Morikawa: A Dreamer in Action
By Rosa Alicia Castillo
The atmosphere seems to be loaded not only with greenhouse gases, but also with pessimism when it comes to addressing the problematic issue of climate change. Environmentalist Marino Morikawa is immune to this negative trend. He faces the problem through actions oriented towards recovering and preserving natural habitats disturbed by human activity. The recovery of El Cascajo wetland in Chancay, Peru, his place of birth, is evidence of his commitment. In this ecosystem, there were once illegal landfills, breeding of pigs, cattle and sheep, and, worst of all, sewage being released into its waters. Sealing its fate, the local authorities decided to fill it in for farming. Having heard of this decision, Morikawa requested a year to recover it, but it took him only fifteen days, using his own funds and a lot of dedication to save nature’s “safety valves” (Harvard Medical School 18). His actions, which inspire locals and foreigners alike, show that ecological damage can be reversed as long as there is a willingness to do so.
Morikawa, who is 40 years old, is a Peruvian-Japanese academic and environmental activist. He holds a master’s degree in Biodiplomacy and a PhD in Bioindustrial Science from the University of Tsukuba, where he worked as a professor and scientific researcher. He has already rejuvenated 30 ecosystems in Asia, Northern Africa and South America. At the end of 2014, he co-founded Nanoplus 7 in order to undertake the recovery of ecosystems threatened by anthropogenic pollution around the world (soachailustrada.com/2016/07). His environmental pursuit began when he was working as an auditor and advisor for the agricultural industry in Peru and learned that the waste from these companies was released into rivers, lagoons, and the sea without treatment or even the possibility for recycling. This motivated him to enroll in graduate studies in order to find a more environmentally friendly way to dispose of waste. Whilst in Japan, Morikawa received word from his father about the deplorable state of El Cascajo wetland and how it was no longer suitable for swimming and fishing, and this motivated him to take action.
In the spring of 2010, he returned to Peru to assess the problem and found out that El Cascajo had shrunk from 150 hectares to 40 hectares. What was left of it was covered by pustia stratiotes, an invasive aquatic plant also known as water lettuce. Below it there were various contaminants, all of which promoted the bloom of bacteria that gave the water a foul smell. “The wetland was a reservoir of wastewater, product of the proliferation of invasive species that covered 100% of its surface,” recalls Morikawa to National Geographic producers making a documentary about his efforts. The growth of these aquatic plants is favored by eutrophication, “a process of nutrient enrichment” (Dearden and Mitchell 135) mainly due to human discharge of sewage and runoff from feedlots. The excess prevents sunlight and oxygen necessary for the survival of benthic plants and other aquatic species from reaching the depths of the freshwater biome. This input of waste also produces a bloom of bacteria as they break down decaying matter (Dearden and Mitchell 137), leaving the wetland lifeless.
Under these conditions, El Cascajo was unable to offer essential ecosystem services that “deliver life-sustaining services for free, and in many cases on a scale so large and complex that humanity would find it practically impossible to substitute for them” (Harvard Medical School 14). Wetlands are considered “safety valves”, because their main role is to absorb and filter water flows in order to prevent floods in extreme weather conditions (Primack and Sher 103). This function guarantees water and food safety for humans, as it purifies the hydric resources for a better adaptation to climate change. Yet the benefits from this freshwater ecosystem also extend to medicinal plants, edible wild fruits and plants, fish, animal fodder, fertile soil, pollution control, biological services (pest control, pollination), drinking water, and recreational and touristic (birdwatching and hiking) activities (Primack and Sher 82), thereby not only promoting life and aesthetic beauty, but also making financial sense as well.
The Center for Health and Global Environment of Harvard University considers “restoring wetlands… [to be] considerably less expensive than [constructing] wastewater treatment plants” (Harvard Medical University 14). Morikawa’s knowledge and experience allowed him to execute this reasoning. He knew he could bring back to life what others assumed to be lost. “The first thing I did was to apologize for having neglected my homeland and for not having created a conscience amongst the people” (Emprende PUCP, youtube), remembers Morikawa in front of an audience at a Peruvian university.
With the consent of the mayor of Huaral, in the province of Chancay, where El Cascajo is located, Morikawa designed a plan for the cleaning of this natural habitat. He started looking for financing, but nobody wanted to commit because there was no obvious monetary return. This did not dissuade him as he used his own savings, as well as borrowed money from banks in Japan, to accomplish his mission. With the help of a few friends, he began cleaning the wetland by removing the water lettuce in sections divided with bamboo. In this way, he removed more than 200 tons of this plant that he later used as compost to reforest the surroundings. Afterwards, he put into practice a system of micro nano-bubbles that he had designed to attract and destroy viruses and bacteria. These bubbles are 10,000 times smaller than bubbles from fizzy drinks and their size allows them to remain in liquid for five to eight hours. During this time, the bubbles become coated with the polluting microorganisms due to their electrostatic current, eliminating them once they reach the surface. He also used bio-filters made of clay to absorb pathogens which stick to the surface of the filter and are later broken down by bacteria.
What started off as a handful of men became a more-than-100-volunteer operation to restore this freshwater habitat. The residents near the wetland were moved to see Morikawa in the contaminated waters from dawn to dusk to remove the invasive plants, risking getting sick. They decided to join his rescue efforts, forming a large group that, to this day, dedicates itself to preserving the cleanup. Even original polluters are now part of a group focused on understanding the benefits that this healthy ecosystem provides to society. Since then, more than 90 species of migratory birds have returned to El Cascajo, including those that fly from Canada to Patagonia (www.efe.com).
At present, more than 60% of wetlands in the world are lost. Also, 98% of streams in United States are degraded, whereas in Europe the estimate is around 70% (Primack and Sher 103). If there were more individuals like Morikawa, these statistics would shrink and reverse the negative impacts of climate change and the natural disasters it causes. He is currently involved in numerous projects, such as the recovery of Lake Titicaca, the Huacachina oasis and the Chira River, all located in Peru, and is in negotiations to do international projects (Emprende PUCP 2016: Marino Morikawa).
Unprecedented population growth puts stress on our natural resources due to our demands for agricultural products, housing, industrial assembly, water and waste management. What Morikawa exhibits is a practical, timely and cost-effective way of fixing our environmental mistakes and recognizing natural spaces as assets to society. Morikawa’s belief is that if humanity, governments and science engage together with a concerted approach, all our natural habitats can be recovered.
Chivian, E. Biodiversity: Its Importance to Human Health. 2002. Center for Health and the Global Environment Harvard Medical School. http://env.chass.utoronto.ca/env200y/ESSAY04/Biodiversity.pdf
Cusirramos, Carolina. “Peruvian scientist who “revived” wetlands aims to clean up Lake Titicaca.” Agencia EFE. 6 July 2016 https://www.efe.com/efe/english/technology/peruvian-scientist-who-revived-wetlands-aims-to-clean-up-lake-titicaca/50000267-2978308
Dearden, Phillip and Mitchell, Bruce. Environmental Change and Challenge. Fourth Edition. 2009. Oxford University Press.
Lozano, Hector. “The Nanotechnology Miracle”. Tea after Twelve. http://www.tea-after-twelve.com/all-issues/issue-02/issue-02-overview/chapter3/the-nanotechnology-miracle/
Primack, Richard B. and Sher, Anna. Introduction to Conservation Biology. 2016 Sinauer Associates, Inc
“NAT GEO Recuperación del humedal ‘El cascajo’ de Chancay Lima – Peru.” YouTube, uploaded by Edsu Darkmazter, 5 November 2013, youtube.com/watch?g=DF5Y-v7QSw. https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=8DEes4PcSOc
“Emprende PUCP 2016: Marino Morikawa / Nano+7.” Youtube, uploaded by CIDE PUCP, 21 February, 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k82in1wtNUs