Ecological engineering is the application of ecological principles and knowledge to design and manage ecosystems. Can this really be a solution to our currently faced global, environmental challenges? If so, then how?
Through the integration of human activities and ecological processes – sustainability, development, restoration and resilience of biodiversity and ecosystems can be promoted. The restoration of wetlands, stream and riverbank stabilization, reforestation, and the creation of artificial habitats for wildlife are all projects that fall under the broad umbrella of ecological engineering.
A key concept within ecological engineering includes utilizing nature-based solutions, which are often more effective and sustainable than traditional engineering methods. Instead of working against nature, engineers are working with natural processes and aim to create resilient and self-sustaining ecosystems that can adapt to ever-changing conditions.
Nature-based solutions therefore harness the power of ecosystems and biodiversity to not only provide multiple benefits to the environment, but also to humans. Not only so, it can also be applied in various sectors including climate change mitigation and adaption, water management, land use planning, and urban development. Aiming, ultimately, to restore and enhance natural infrastructure and ecosystem services like water purification, carbon sequestration, and climate regulation.
One of the many projects under nature-based solutions include algae-based treatment systems which uses bio-stimulation applications and natural processes to remove pollutants from water, not only is it more cost-effective, but also produces less waste. Traditional treatments, on the other hand, often rely on chemicals or energy-intensive processes, which are expensive and have a negative impact on the environment.
Algae-based treatments help mitigate the environmental impact of acid mine drainage and aids in the removal of pollutants like heavy metals and the removal of domestic wastewater infested with nutrients that would otherwise cause, for example, eutrophication and in turn harm aquatic life.
Other projects include an ecologically engineered wetland treating cocktail of anthropogenically impacted water from agricultural, mining and industrial sectors in South Africa, or the integration of phytoremediation and phycoremediation to treat mine and industrial-impacted water – just to name a few.
Nature-based solutions offer multiple benefits compared to traditional approaches – they are often more cost-effective, provide long-term ecological
benefits, enhance biodiversity, and have positive social and cultural outcomes. Furthermore, these solutions are aligned with sustainable development goals and contribute to the conservation and restoration of ecosystems.
The concept of nature-based solutions has gained increasing attention globally as a valuable strategy to address environmental challenges, support sustainable development and the enhancement of greater planetary health.