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MERLIN Innovation Awards celebrates innovative approaches to freshwater restoration at 2023 ceremony

February 18, 2023
The Plastic Fischer TrashBoom collects plastic waste in polluted rivers. Image: Plastic Fischer

Last week, the EU MERLIN project announced the winners of its annual Innovation Awards, which highlight cutting-edge solutions for modern freshwater restoration. Entries from organisations across the world were assessed by an expert panel, and shortlists for the two categories – Service of the Year and Product of the Year – were drawn up. Two winners were announced at a busy and energetic ceremony on Wednesday.

The winners of the Service of the Year are Plastic Fischer, a social enterprise which collects and manages river plastic to prevent it entering the oceans. The organisation was founded in 2019 in response to its founders witnessing the continuous stream of plastic, styrofoam and other waste that floated down the Mekong River in Vietnam, towards the ocean. The idea was formed to build a waterwheel that automatically collects plastic waste from rivers, and lifts it to shore to be disposed of.

Plastic Fischer aim to share their open source technology to help other NGOs curb plastic pollution in global rivers. Image Plastic Fischer.

Further work on the Citrus River in Indonesia – one of the world’s most polluted waterways – then led the Plastic Fischer team to develop a floating fence which collected rubbish – the TrashBoom. Now working across India and Indonesia, the organisation has collected over 500,000kg of plastic waste since April 2021, and created over 70 local jobs. Plastic Fischer make their river cleaning technology open source and available for free on the website, with the intention that other NGOs can adopt their approach to help reduce plastic waste in global rivers using simple technology.

“I am very proud that we have been awarded the Merlin Innovations Award for Service of the Year,” said Karsten Hirsch, CEO and Co-Founder of Plastic Fischer. “Thank you so much for recognising the hard work of our entire team and the impact we create.”

The Ecocean artifical rafts and nurseries bring back valuable habitat to aquatic environments where it has been lost. Image: Ecocean.

The winner of the Product of the Year is Ecocean, a French company which specialises in developing new technologies to support the sustainable use of aquatic environments. One of the organisation’s flagship innovations is FLOLIZ – a series of artificial floating rafts which help boost biodiversity, both above and below the water’s surface.

The FLOLIZ rafts are made from recycled (and recyclable) materials, and can be introduced into rivers, canals and lakes to help compensate for habitat loss due to human activity. The rafts are planted with local vegetation species to offer habitat for birds, bees, insects and amphibians.

The Ecocean nurseries act as important spawning grounds and nursery areas for fish species. Image: Ecocean

Underneath the rafts, the Ecocean team install artificial nurseries, called Biohut. These nurseries are made from recyclable materials, including steel, wood and oyster shell, and help provide spawning grounds, nurseries and feeding areas for fish populations. Together, the FLOLIZ and Biohut approaches help bring back biodiversity habitat in aquatic ecosystems where it has been lost.

“Ecocean is very honoured to receive the Product of the Year 2023 award of the MIA awards, for the solutions that we developed with Biomatrix Water to enhance the ecological functions of littoral zones in freshwater,” said a project spokesperson. “The award acknowledges all our efforts to provide functioning habitats to urban and artificial waterbodies, in order to bring back ecological functions, complex ecosystems and biodiversity in habitat-depleted areas.”

The MERLIN Innovation Awards celebrates new and widely-applicable solutions for restoring freshwater ecosystems. The awards – organised by project partner Connectology – recognise the need for restoration projects to better engage with economic markets to support transformative ecological improvements.

You can find out about the ten shortlisted projects, and the expert jury who selected them.

This article is supported by the MERLIN project.

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