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The Gaia Institute

The Gaia Institute


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The Gaia Institute is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation. Our work couples ecological engineering and restoration with the integration of human communities in natural systems.

While much environmental engineering has the worthy aim of minimizing harm, the Gaia Institute explores, through research and development, design and construction, how human activities and waste products can be treated to increase ecological productivity, biodiversity, environmental quality, and economic well being.

The purpose of The Gaia Institute is to test through demonstration the means by which the ecological components of backyards, communities, towns and cities, as well as watersheds and estuaries, can be enhanced through integrated wastes-into-resources technologies.


The Gaia Institute derives our name and research focus from a well-known scientific idea known as the "Gaia hypothesis," published by James Lovelock in 1965, and joined by collaborator Lynn Margulis shortly thereafter.

The Gaia hypothesis asserts that Earth’s temperature and atmospheric composition are actively controlled by the activities of organisms. This planetary hypothesis states that the biogeochemical work of organisms acts to regulate the Earth’s conditions including the composition of the Earth's atmosphere, temperature and oxidation state. Perturbations caused by asteroids, comets, volcanoes, or other disturbances, are modified by the activities of life, working to re-establish the far from equilibrium conditions which sustain ecosystem growth and development. In simple terms, the responses of life’s processes to disturbances tend to regulate the state of the Earth's conditions to favor life.

Current and Recent Projects

El Jardín del Paraíso, Lower East Side, NY, NY Humus-rich soils and native plant communities were restored in order to capture storm water and re-establish natural cycles in a community garden in Manhattan. Compost from New York City’s waste stream was used to establish soil buffers and create wetlands to re-establish habitat while mitigating historic lead contamination. In collaboration with the community gardeners who built El Jardín del Paraíso on top of the urban rubble and fill of an old tenement site, and in partnership with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, and with the help of NYC Department of Environmental Protection, the Institute carried out the design, development and construction of what is believed to be the first biogeochemical cap and stormwater capture parkland in the New York City region.

Green Roof Technology: St. Simon Stock School, Bronx, New York Over twenty years ago, the Gaia Institute developed the capacity to create ultra-lightweight soil out of the waste stream in order to establish ecological and agricultural systems on rooftops. Much further developed in recent years, a patent was awarded in 2005 for this plant growth medium. A grant from the Bronx Initiative in Energy and the Environment and the Bronx Overall Development Corporation in the Bronx Borough President’s Office made it possible to build an instrumented, stormwater capture and educational green roof facility in partnership with St. Simon Stock School.

The Gaia Institute, with the Green Apple Corps from the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation as well as St. Simon Stock faculty and students, constructed a native plant community and urban vegetable garden on top of the grammar school. After the roof membrane was installed and fully tested for water holding capacity, our ultra-lightweight GaiaSoil was installed and planted with a native meadow in June 2005. The finished green roof was outfitted with a weather station, including rain gauge, heat sensors, temperature, and humidity meters to aid in the educational program of the St. Simon Stock school and to document the behavior of the first green roof in the Bronx.

Green Corridor: Lafayette Avenue/Edgewater Road This urban stormwater capture system addresses urban code requirements by constructing soil buffers and street-side plantings that are directly connected with the standard storm drains on city streets. Because of this direct connection, road and sidewalk drainage infrastructure moves stormwater directly into contact with natural biological and geochemical filters and acts to hold stormwater for plantings, and out of the combined sewer system. This project, funded by Congressman José E. Serrano's Wildlife Conservation Society-National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s Lower Bronx River Partnership has produced full scale plans to retrofit a twelve hundred foot length of roadway in the Hunts Point district of the Bronx River Watershed.

Green Wall: Hugo Neu Metals Recycling Facility Nugo Neu Corporation operates a six and a half acre recycling facility in Hunts Point on the Bronx River. This industrial landscape is presently under construction and modification to improve efficiencies of truck to barge transfer as part of New York City’s solid waste management plan. In addition, the facility also handles thousands of tons of metal each week. Hugo Neu is working with the Gaia Institute to capture and treat all stormwater that is generated from the site before it enters the Bronx River Estuary.

By creating a string of wetlands along the upland edge of the facility, and surrounding the entire landscape with a stormwater treatment wall to be populated with mosses and ferns, natural biogeochemical filters will be established to improve water and air quality while greatly increasing biodiversity in and around the facility and along a thousand feet of New York City roadway. This green wall is designed to remove pollutants from stormwater while increasing the aesthetics and biodiversity of an old industrial landscape while adding value to the commercial and residential properties within a few block radius of the Hugo Neu facility

Salt Marsh Keystone Species Research The Bronx River, Pugsley and Westchester Creeks, Hutchinson River and Pelham Bay Park contain the last remaining salt marsh in the southern and eastern Bronx. The keystone species that create this critically important habitat include salt marsh cordgrass, mussels, and fiddler crabs. Together, these organisms increase the productivity and water filtration capacity of intertidal habitat, and create homes and feeding grounds for more than a hundred species in and around salt marsh systems.

By comparing a number of marshes that have been restored or planted very recently, as well marshes next to large combined sewer outfalls, and documenting the presence and density of plants, mussels, and fiddler crabs, it is possible to determine how well the marshes are developing, and how much impact these local marshes can have on sequestering local pollutant inputs.

Aquatic Habitat Restoration The tidal strait of what is now called the East River was long bordered on the north and west by extensive eel grass and shellfish reefs and beds. The oysters were harvested by colonists and, in the eastern Bronx, remained productive well into the 19th Century. Nearby eelgrass supported thousands of brant and other water fowl fed on the eelgrass, which provide habitat in an extensive fishery in western Long Island Sound. Eel grass was ravaged by disease in the 1930s, and seems to have all but disappeared by the 1950s. High nitrogen and increased turbidity together acted to eliminate near-shore habitat for eel grass thereafter. Increasing sewage discharge removed oxygen and habitat from much of the waterways surrounding New York City and the Bronx, making life increasingly impossible for any remaining oyster beds from the early 20th Century on.

Recent improvements in water quality and clarity have, however, in many places, changed the prognosis for oyster reefs and eel grass ecosystems. In partnership with the Hudson-Raritan BayKeeper, and with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the Gaia Institute is surveying nutrient inputs, sediment quality, and flow regimes favorable to oyster reefs and eel grass beds, with an aim to begin piloting the restoration of these keystone species in coming growing seasons.

Flushing Meadows Lakes and Watershed Restoration, Queens, NY While New York City’s bid for the 2012 Olympics was not successful, mitigation and restoration of the Meadow and Willow Lake system could, and perhaps should, still be used to improve local and regional environmental quality and biological diversity. The nutrient sources from the ancient saltmarshes beneath the lakes will shunt superabundant nutrients into the lakes far into the future, giving rise to the fishkills that have plagued the twin lakes for years. At the same time, stormwater runoff and non-point pollutant input from the Grand Central Parkway and Van Wyck Expressway provide a constant input of non-point pollutants including nitrates and hydrocarbons.

The Gaia Institute program for capturing stormwater in native plantings in deep soils while holding and treating water in wetlands constructed to create a buffer around the lakes' edge would provide high quality and increased quantities of water inputs to both increase throughput and flushing while increasing the diversity and scale of wetlands and other natural filters.

Group Members / View all (7) Group Members

  • Paul Mankiewicz
  • Eric Dalski
  • eve mosher
  • Joseph Baron-Pravda
  • Maynard Clark

Applied & Theoretical Biogeochemistry Ecosystem Services

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The Gaia Institute

440 City Island Avenue
Bronx, New York 10464
United States

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Moderator: Paul Mankiewicz