Researcher on floating wetland Emerald Tutu

Using nature to fight rising seas

Picture Boston Harbor, a few years from now. The East Boston Greenway, a leafy urban trail, no longer stops a block from the pier, but extends into the ocean. A floating semi-circular trail arcs across the water; cyclists buzz and pedestrians stroll along it.

This is more than a buoyant park. The real innovation surrounds the path. On both sides, marsh grass splays out from hundreds of 6-foot-wide floating spheres, made of deadwood and coconut fiber. The bobbing green-brown globes are man-made, a new wetland riding atop the ocean.

This is the Emerald Tutu — a new coastal defense against rising seas, conceived by Julia Hopkins, a Northeastern University civil and environmental engineering professor, and fellow researchers. If it works, it could protect low-lying East Boston from future floods caused by climate change.

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Photo Courtesy of Julia Hopkins

Marine and Environmental Sciences