Floating wetlands installed on South Branch of Chicago River for native wildlife

The project was completed through a collaboration between Shedd Aquarium and Urban Rivers.

SHARE Floating wetlands installed on South Branch of Chicago River for native wildlife
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A 3,000-square-foot floating wetlands sits where the Chicago River meets Bubbly Creek near Bridgeport. It will create new habitat above and below the water’s surface, planners say.

Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Thousands of square feet of floating wetlands have been installed in the South Branch of the Chicago River to attract native wildlife to a historically industrial stretch of the waterway on the Lower West Side.

The new archipelago of more than 3,000 square feet of floating wetlands is situated where the Chicago River meets Bubbly Creek near Bridgeport, Shedd Aquarium officials said in a statement.

The project was completed through a collaboration between the aquarium and Urban Rivers, a group of ecologists and entrepreneurs looking to convert city rivers into wildlife havens.

“The new habitat features a diverse array of native plant species, which will create new habitat above and below the water’s surface, secure nutrients for local wildlife and improve water quality,” officials said.

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Floating wetlands installed on the South Branch of the Chicago River near Bridgeport.

Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Bubbly Creek earned its nickname because gases from tons of decomposing animal carcasses dumped there from the nearby Union Stockyards bubbled to the surface for decades. The stockyards closed in 1971.

The floating wetlands will also make the river more appealing for recreational activities, such as kayaking and birding, officials said. Volunteers and community groups joined Shedd and Urban Rivers to build and install the floating islands in the river.

This year, $1 million in federal funding was directed toward habitat restoration along the South Branch of the Chicago River. At the time, Shedd staff said they would use funds to track fish populations and improve breeding areas in addition to the floating wetlands.

Shedd staff see the area as a biodiversity hotspot that can be strengthened, officials said.

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Volunteers and community groups joined Shedd and Urban Rivers staff to build the wetlands.

Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

“This effort is part of an ongoing commitment to improving access to nature for the public and connecting Chicagoans to the Chicago River ecosystem to foster a community dedicated to restoring and protecting it,” officials said.

Urban Rivers is also in the process of transforming a mile of the North Branch of the Chicago River into an “eco-park” dubbed Wild Mile Chicago. The park would include new wildlife and recreational and educational additions to the waterway along the east side of Goose Island between Chicago and North avenues.

The first phase of the project, which includes a floating walkway, gardens and floating platform was completed in June.

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The floating wetlands will also make the river more appealing for recreational activities, such as kayaking and birding.

Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

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