Floating Islands Provide Habitat in the Milwaukee River

Project Summary: Floating islands along the industrialized corridor of the Milwaukee River have provided fish, such as smallmouth bass and green-eared sunfish, habitat and a way to navigate upstream.

Project Name: Floating Island Habitat

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Description: A project along the Milwaukee River aims to increase success of fish spawning by providing habitat. The sides of wild

A close-up view of the floating habitat containers. These habitats simulate the nearshore ecosystem, allowing small fish, biofilm, frogs, and other wildlife to thrive. Photo courtesy of Marek Landscaping.

A close-up view of the floating habitat containers. These habitats simulate the nearshore ecosystem, allowing small fish, biofilm, frogs, and other wildlife to thrive. Photo courtesy of Marek Landscaping.

streams are often gently sloping with plenty of plant cover for small fish to rest and feed in. Steel bulkheads that line rivers in urban areas are void of plant life, and provide little or no shelter for young fish as they travel along the channel. About 80 percent of native Great Lakes fish rely on wetland ecosystems for part of their lifecycle, but especially in urban areas along the Great Lakes, these ecosystems no longer exist. Now, a new technology tries to mimic the conditions in wetlands that benefit small, young fish as they make their way from the stream to the lake. Researchers are installing small containers filled with wetland plants and soil that are attached to steel bulkheads along the river. The containers float up and down with the changing water level. The plant communities also support life on the bottom of the food chain, thereby also providing food for the young fish that shelter in the plant life.

Newly installed floating island. Larger than the floating habitat containers, these islands are easier to maintain, all while providing the same services to wildlife. Photo courtesy of Marek Landscaping.

Newly installed floating island. Larger than the floating habitat containers, these islands are easier to maintain, all while providing the same services to wildlife. Photo courtesy of Marek Landscaping.

Approximate Cost of the Project: About $175,000, with $110,000 from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Resource Challenges Addressed: Lack of shallow water habitat, unsafe for small fish to navigate upstream, lack of food for fry fish

Key Partners (Public and Private): Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Fund for Lake Michigan, Groundwork Milwaukee, Marek Landscaping, Milwaukee Community Service Corps, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Types of Jobs Created: Ecologists, engineers, general laborers, and fisheries biologists

Results and Accomplishments: The floating habitats have allowed fish to return to the Milwaukee River and find food and shelter. Biologists have seen large mouth bass and green-eared sunfish more frequently in the river. In addition, ducks, muskrats, birds, and frogs all take advantage of the small, simulated shoreline habitat. In addition to these small floating containers, larger versions of the idea are being implemented—islands. The engineered islands are larger versions of the containers, at about 80 feet long in six segments, and will be easier to remove from the water during the winter when the freeze/thaw cycle of the ice makes it difficult for the floating mechanism in the containers to work.

Website: http://mareklandscaping.com/projects/stewardship/gateway-spawning-gils/

Originally Published: August 30, 2013

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