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New Floating Wetland Habitats in Chicago River's South Branch from Shedd Aquarium and Urban Rivers

The Islands Will Welcome Wildlife, Increase Ecosystem Health in Historically Industrialized Area

November 03, 2022

Artificial wetlands in the South Branch of the Chicago River being built in the water and on land with skyline and crane in the background.

Recently, Shedd Aquarium and Urban Rivers added new habitat to the South Branch of the Chicago River with the build and installation of a set of wetlands over 3,000-square-feet of floating islands. This new archipelago of floating wetlands is meant to mimic the island clusters found in less developed rivers and will provide food and shelter to native wildlife.

Located where the South Branch of the Chicago River intersects with Bubbly Creek, 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. This new habitat is the first floating wetland installation from Shedd Aquarium and Urban Rivers to be installed in this area, building on lessons learned from the Wild Mile on the river’s North Branch and expanding their partnership.

These new wetlands will also make this stretch of the river more inviting for local communities to enjoy recreational activities like kayaking and birding. Volunteers and community groups joined Shedd and Urban Rivers to build and install the floating islands in the river. 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.

BACKGROUND: Through this project, Shedd Aquarium and Urban Rivers are taking lessons from their collaborative work on the Wild Mile project on the North Branch and building upon their partnership established in 2018.

The South Branch of the Chicago River has historically been developed to serve the needs of industry, transportation and private interests. As a result, diverse habitat types that are crucial for the health and stability of river ecosystems are limited. Despite this, Shedd, Urban Rivers and other environmental organizations have identified that there is great ecological potential here. Preliminary research shows an impressive variety of aquatic life, and Shedd’s team sees the area as a biodiversity hotspot that can be further strengthened.

Many Chicago residents and environmental advocacy organizations have called for environmental justice in this region of the city that has seen industrial pollution and disinvestment over many generations. Shedd and Urban Rivers are listening to and learning from community members and organizations to ensure we are investing in the health and resiliency of people and wildlife alike through projects like this floating wetland installation.

VISUALS: High resolution photos and video of the island installation are available for download:
Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez
Video credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Sam Cejtin