Press release

IISD Experimental Lakes Area and Genome Prairie Launch Unique Research to Explore How Wetlands Help Clean Up Oil Spills

Researchers at IISD Experimental Lakes Area, the world’s freshwater laboratory in northwestern Ontario, have launched a one-of-a-kind experiment to explore how to harness the power of wetlands to clean up oil spills.

August 29, 2019

WINNIPEG, August 30, 2019—Researchers at IISD Experimental Lakes Area, the world’s freshwater laboratory in northwestern Ontario, have launched a one-of-a-kind experiment to explore how to harness the power of wetlands to clean up oil spills.

The FLOating Wetland Treatments to Enhance Remediation (FLOWTER) project, generously funded by Genome Prairie through Genome Canada’s Genomic Applications Partnership Program (GAPP), will investigate how effective engineered floating wetlands (EFWs) are at cleaning up oil spills in freshwater lakes.

Awarded $1.1 million from Genome Canada over three years, and $333,333 from Mitacs and with other co-funder support, the FLOWTER project’s overall funding will total $4.4 million. Genome Prairie will be the lead administrative centre with oversight on project milestones and funding for all co-funders and participants. In collaboration with Génome Québec, and in addition to the main body of research being performed at IISD-ELA, labs in Québec, funded by Génome Québec, will also be active in the project.

FLOWTER co-funders include the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, Natural Resources Canada, Mitacs, TransMountain Corporation, Myera Group, Jacor LLC, and Stantec.

EFWs are small artificial platforms that allow aquatic plants to grow in water that is typically too deep for their growth. A network of roots spreads down through the floating island into the water column, stimulating the development of a ‘biofilm.’

During this multi-year project, researchers will explore the potential for microbes that degrade oil to flourish in that biofilm, and to remediate a situation where oil has spilled into a freshwater lake. FLOWTER is part of a larger project to explore and then inform regulators and industry on which methods are best to employ when cleaning oil spills in sensitive freshwater ecosystems.

“Engineered floating wetlands are a proven method for nutrient and contaminant treatment in many scenarios, but their ability to remediate oil and hydrocarbons from water is a growing area of research,” said Vince Palace, head research scientist, IISD Experimental Lakes Area.

“IISD-ELA is the only place on Earth where you can safely simulate an oil spill in a real lake within enclosures and study the interrelated impacts on the ecosystem. We are thrilled to cut the ribbon on this highly unique and critical piece of freshwater research,” added Palace.

“Protecting our environment from natural and man-made contamination is a responsibility we all carry. The passionate people at IISD Experimental Lakes Area are global leaders in developing ways to prevent and remediate damaged ecosystems. Genome Prairie, and Genome Canada, are very excited to work with Dr. Palace and his team on this innovative project,” said Reno Pontarollo, Genome Prairie’s president and CEO.

“Mitacs is pleased to be part of the supporting cast for this collaborative inter-provincial project,” said Brent Wennekes, Director, Business Development with Mitacs. “Several research interns will perform instrumental roles; these talented graduate students will be exposed to the whole-ecosystem research conducted at the IISD ELA, preparing them to make further contributions to this important field.”

IISD Experimental Lakes Area is the world’s freshwater laboratory. A series of 58 lakes and their watersheds in northwestern Ontario, Canada, IISD-ELA is the only place in the world where scientists can research on and manipulate real lakes to build a more accurate and complete picture of what human activity is doing to freshwater lakes. The findings from its 50 years of ground-breaking research have rewritten environmental policy around the world—from mitigating algal blooms to reducing how much mercury gets into our waterways—and aim to keep fresh water clean around the world for generations to come.

Genome Prairie, one of six independent Genome Canada centres, is a non-profit organization with offices in Saskatoon and Winnipeg that develops and manages genomics and related bioscience research projects, addressing key regional priorities including agriculture, human health, the environment, energy and mining. These efforts play a central role in building the Prairie region’s reputation as a location of choice for innovation and commercialization.


For more information, and to speak to a researcher, contact:

Sumeep Bath, Communications Manager, IISD Experimental Lakes Area, or +1 (204) 958 7700 ext. 740

About IISD

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resource management, and fair economies. Our work inspires better decisions and sparks meaningful action to help people and the planet thrive. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities come together. IISD’s staff of more than 250 experts come from across the globe and from many disciplines. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, our work affects lives in nearly 100 countries.

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