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Kayak with Shedd Aquarium to Explore, Restore Chicago River this Summer

Shedd Aquarium’s Kayak for Conservation Registration Opens Today for June 1 Season Opener

May 08, 2019

A group of participants in Shedd's Kayak for Conservation program float in single-person kayaks on the Chicago river, surrounded by greenery and with a bridge in the distance.

Chicagoland residents and visitors are invited to join Shedd Aquarium on unique kayaking experiences on the Chicago River this summer through the aquarium’s Kayak for Conservation program, which opens for online registration today. Beginner to advanced kayakers can paddle the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River with Shedd’s conservation experts to monitor wildlife, pick up litter and collect data that contributes to the aquarium’s research of the river ecosystem. Running from June 1 through September 28, Kayak for Conservation offers participants the opportunity to make a positive impact on Chicago’s rebounding aquatic ecosystem.

"The Chicago River is much more than just a body of water that weaves through the concrete of our city. It’s a living, breathing ecosystem that aquatic wildlife depends on,” said Jaclyn Wegner, director of conservation action at Shedd Aquarium. “As advocates for animals and the places they live, our team at Shedd Aquarium is dedicated to rebuilding and protecting this important river habitat with the help of program participants. We look forward to mobilizing kayakers and wildlife enthusiasts this summer to make a difference for the Chicago River.”

Shedd Aquarium’s Kayak for Conservation program is an immersive kayaking experience focused on inspiring and empowering stewardship of the Chicago River. Participation in the program will help create new, high-quality aquatic habitat, increase biodiversity and contribute to scientific research of the Chicago River led by Shedd Aquarium researchers. Through wildlife monitoring activities, participants are likely to see painted and red-eared slider turtles, multiple species of herons and ducks, honeybees, butterflies and more.

“You would be surprised at how many animal species call Chicago home, both on land and in water, all of which play essential roles in our local environments,” said Dr. Austin Happel, research biologist at Shedd Aquarium. “As participants help us restore the Chicago River through stewardship activities, it’s also important to document not only our current aquatic residents but what wildlife we invite back. Kayak for Conservation participants, or citizen scientists, can contribute to our study of wildlife in this portion of the river and help us learn more about this ecosystem so we can protect it for the future.”

Participants pick up trash in the Chicago River, paddling on Kayaks and guided by a Shedd expert.

The program is offered for beginner to advanced kayakers, with two program options.

Kayak for Conservation: River Explorers

The River Explorers sessions are an introductory paddling experience focused on acquainting participants with the Chicago River, the threats it faces and ways to take action to protect it. Guided by Shedd Aquarium conservation experts in wildlife monitoring and litter collection, participants are provided with the knowledge to become advocates for Chicago’s blue-green corridor while contributing critical conservation data. 

  • When: Weekly from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Mondays
  • Program Duration: 2 hours 
  • Registration: By individual or by group (for 5-15 people) 
  • Price: $40 per person or $34 for members

Kayak for Conservation: River Monitors

The River Monitors sessions are an intermediate paddling experience focused on deepening participants’ understanding of the ecology of the Chicago River. Guided by Shedd Aquarium conservation experts, participants learn and employ monitoring protocols, contributing rigorous conservation data on Chicago’s blue-green corridor. 

  • When: Every other week from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Mondays
  • Program Duration: 3 hours 
  • Registration: By individual 
  • Price: $50 per person/$42 for members and Shedd staff

During the experience, participants will explore Shedd’s River Island, a custom-built floating habitat that adds more native wildlife to the river ecosystem. Developed in 2018 with environmental nonprofit Urban Rivers, Shedd’s River Island contributes to the “Wild Mile” project – the first mile-long floating eco-park on the Chicago River.

Man-made floating habitats or islands like Shedd’s River Island help improve the water quality of the canal and the river downstream, and make a less trafficked section of the river more user-friendly and attractive. The island hosts over a dozen different plant species that grow both above and below the water’s surface and feature several habitat structures intended to welcome wildlife.

Interested participants can sign up for Kayak for Conservation online at

VISUALS: High resolution photos are available for download:
Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium