The Quarantine Sanctuary

  • Elie Boutros, B.Arch. 2018
  • Hometown Beirut, Lebanon
  • Class ARCH 5116 Magic Hedge Studio
  • Instructor Baird Visiting Critic Ben Nicholson
    Erin Pellegrino

Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary: Lake Michigan recently saw the death of thousands of birds washing up on its shores. The culprit is botulism, an intoxication paralysis caused by the ingestion of a toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. The bacteria itself is present everywhere and safe — however, under the right conditions it produces the toxin that initiates the vicious cycle that is botulism. The number of deaths is not known, however, there have been reports of collections of 250 washed-up birds at once, leading to thousands over the last few years. Seeing that Montrose Point is a bird sanctuary for creatures migrating from all over the world, it has become crucial for us to deal with this issue. Some of these birds are under threat of extinction, and others carry the risk of spreading the toxin elsewhere around the globe, making their vulnerability to epidemics a danger at a much larger and serious scale. Less than a gram of the toxin is enough to kill humans, who risk ingesting it if they get in contact with an infected bird. The lake itself suffers from other contaminations from chromium spills to other pollutants, constantly threatening water quality.

The Cycle: Clostridium botulinum is a bacterium present in the lake. It is not unsafe. However, under the right temperature and when deprived of oxygen, the bacterium releases the toxin responsible for avian botulism.

Invasive quagga and zebra mussels filtrate the water allowing more light in and hold onto the waterbed making it easier for the Cladophora algae to grow and giving it even more surface area to do so. Moreover, the mussels excrete soluble phosphorus that further fertilizes the algae. Settling and rotting of the algae creates an anaerobic condition, producing the toxin. Waves and currents shake up the algae and release the toxins into the water, where it is eaten by bugs scavenging for algae. These bugs are then eaten by fish, which are then eaten by birds. Left untreated, birds suffer from full paralysis and die, then wash up on shore. At the shore, their carcasses decompose and are eaten by maggots and other birds, who carry the toxins and reinforce the vicious cycle.

The Quarantine Sanctuary: The proposed structure aims to create an entity that monitors the site in an attempt to break the vicious cycle of botulism — and potentially any other epidemic that might emerge and endanger the birds and their habitats — and inhibit the spread of such epidemics to other parts of the world. Vulnerable and infected birds are quarantined in a highly monitored sanctuary that is constantly supervised and regulated. The structure itself collects data samples as well as dead birds around the sanctuary to guarantee a safety radius that is continuously ridded from infection. Samples of mussels, fish, aquatic plants, water, soil, and birds are constantly collected, studied, and appropriately dealt with to ensure an equilibrium within the confinement of the sanctuary. Healing birds are slowly released to the wild after spending an appropriate time recovering in the sanctuary, and birds threatened with extinction are immediately moved to the safe zone. As time goes by, the structure rides around the shoreline, scanning the surrounding water body and filtering it, incrementally healing the site by eventually rendering the cycle impotent.