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Eco-firms see growing profits

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For every overfished ocean reef, every polluted bay, clear-cut forest, and degraded ecosystem on the planet, there should be someone like Keith Bowers out there fixing it up - and there soon could be.

Mr. Bowers can often be found floating face down in Chesapeake Bay in his wet suit and snorkel, grabbing eel-grass plugs from a floating cooler, then swimming down five to 10 feet to stick them in the bay floor.

Replanting eel grass lost to pollution won't restore this bay to its original clean, healthy condition - at least not by itself. But it's a step in the right direction. And a lucrative one. Bowers, who heads a 20-year-old ecosystem restoration company called Biohabitats Inc., is part of a growing phalanx of private companies who make their own green by restoring wetlands and other habitat.

Just a niche market in the 1980s, ecosystem restoration has surged in the past five years, with announced multi-year projects exceeding $70 billion worldwide and annual revenues in the US of more than $1 billion a year, industry sources say.

"From an ecological restoration standpoint, there's something on the order of tens of billions of dollars in the pipeline just in this country," says Bowers, who also is chairman of the Society for Ecological Restoration International in Tucson, Ariz. The group has 2,500 members and 14 international chapters - most of those added in just the past decade.

Some projects are easy to count. Chesapeake Bay is a multiyear, $19 billion cleanup project, Bowers notes. Another mammoth project is the Everglades wetlands restoration in Florida, with $8 billion appropriated. And billions more are being spent in the United States on restoring estuaries, watersheds, rivers, deltas, and fish species such as salmon.


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