A field covered in 12,000 tons of dumped orange peel is not something we see every day. This is the result of an experimental conservation project which started approximately 20 years ago. Specialists abandoned and forgot about this project. However, the result was an extraordinary ecological win.
In the mid-1990s, a juice company dumped 1,000 truckloads of orange peel in a barren pasture in Costa Rica. The project helped to revitalize the deserted area which has gradually turned into a lush, thriving forest. Surprisingly, happy accidents also exist where nature gets the chance to flourish and recover after a beneficial human mistake.
The company’s project was forced to close the next year after it started. Therefore, the 7-acre site covered with tons of dumped orange peel led to a 176% increase in above-ground biomass. Even if the plan was canceled, nobody cared to move those tons of orange peel. Eventually, the dumped orange peel did its magic and helped this area prosper.
In only 16 years the barren land transformed into a jungle
Timothy Treuer, an ecologist from Princeton University, indicates that this is the first time when he witnessed cost-negative carbon sequestration. He explained that this ‘accident’ transformed into a win-win situation for both the local park and the company. Furthermore, this turned to be a win for everybody.
The amazing plan developed in 1997. Back then, Daniel Janzen together with Winnie Hallwachs contacted Del Oro, a Costa Rican, orange juice manufacturer. Their intention was indeed unique. The deal consisted in Del Oro donating part of their land bordering the Guanacaste Conservation Area to the national park. In exchange, the national park would allow the company to dump the discarded orange peel on the degraded land of the park.
The Costa Rican juice company agreed. Then, 1,000 truckloads carried 12,000 tons of orange peel and dumped them on a lifeless ground in the national park. The nutrient-rich organic waste proved to have a great effect on the fertility of the land. In approximately six months, the layer of orange peels turned into a thick black loamy soil. Even if the start of the project looked promising, the conservation experiment did not last.
A part of a Costa Rican national park was restored
A rival juice manufacturer decided to sue Del Oro, saying that they stained the national park. TicoFruit, the rival, made these wrongful allegations and managed to win Costa Rica’s Supreme Court of its side. Therefore, the ambitious experiment which was bound to help the whole national park turned to an end. Hence, the site was forgotten for the next 15 years.
However, back in 2013, when Treuer reached Costa Rica, decided to analyze the site. Apparently, the most important problem was to find the former deserted land. He needed two trips to the national park to figure out that the once arid land turned into a vine-filled jungle.
After he visited the site for a few times, he indicated that the six-foot-long sign with big bright letters was impossible to spot due to the dense vines. They were able to find the old wasteland only after a few years.
Tons of dumped orange peel helped nature thrive
Truer and his team decided to compare that site to another control area which was not treated with orange peels. Therefore, they figured it out that the experimental compost heap featured richer soil, a broader tree species diversity, and more tree biomass. The diversity of trees included a massive fig tree that took three people wrapping their arms around its trunk.
Nevertheless, nobody is precisely sure how those tons of dumped orange peel managed to regenerate the site in only 16 years of isolation. Treuer argues that up to this point nobody can figure out an appropriate answer. However, he presupposes that there was some kind of synergy among rejuvenation of severely degraded soils and suppression of the invasive grass.
Even if the exact mechanisms are still a mystery, researchers really hope that the tremendous success of the 16-year-old orange peel dump may inspire other conservation projects. We are so used to destroy natural resources that we forget that we can also do good through the industries we use. Many other industries should use the same practice to dump their benefit waste in wastelands and help them revive.
An abandoned plan proved to be useful
Instead of carrying everything to landfills, we can select what we can use a natural fertilizer and dump it in national parks that have become barren over time. Experts explain that besides revitalizing wastelands and dealing with waste, richer woodlands retain a larger amount of carbon from the atmosphere. Therefore, similar small plots like this can help save the planet.
Treuer indicates that it is sad that we live in a world with nutrient-rich waste streams but also nutrient-limited degraded ecosystems. If these things fell together, the world would be a better place. However, experts’ advice does not encourage all agricultural companies to dump their waste products on wastelands. However, they intend to raise awareness regarding climate change and its effect on our planet.
By implementing similar preserving methods, we can protect and help flourish many more acres of barren land out there. We should start considering this as an option for helping at soil rejuvenation. Authorities should implement thoughtful experimentation to see whether they can obtain similar win-win results in other parts of the world.
The fate of our planet and our natural resources stays in our hands. The environment depends on us to save it. This is not a huge effort, but rather a simple one which can bring a lot of benefits for both us and Mother Nature. Instead of just destroying, we should start thinking about how to repair things until it is not too late to save the planet.
This is how the cancellation of what was supposed to be a great project with win-win results helped nature thrive. All those tons of dumped orange peel reached to be useful. They help the barren land of the national park recover and rejuvenate. Other industries should also see this as an option to restore natural resources and save the planet. Recycling is the key when it comes to protecting the environment.
Image Source: Science Alert