In spite of increased awareness about sustainable growth, and much to the detriment of the environment, urbanization often happens with little consideration to the other creatures that inhabit our planet – particularly marine life. “People realize that cars and traffic cause air pollution, but they are not aware that they also cause water pollution,” says Peter Van Metre, Hydrologist at U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). “Increased traffic is frequently linked to degraded air quality, but its effect on aquatic sediment is not as recognized.”

In efforts to give back to marine life struggling on the shores of large metropolises, these cities have decided that, just as people have the right to housing, it’s time to create proper homes for fish and other sea creatures that live along their coasts.

Sydney

Sydney, Australia, grew from 6,742,690 people to 7,739,274 people in the past decade. Replacing up to 50 percent of Sydney’s natural foreshore, the manmade sandstone seawalls have reduced marine life over time. With this urban growth taking its toll on the city’s marine life, the Sydney Opera House has joined forces with University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the University of Sydney to restore the natural habitat of native marine life in and around Sydney Harbor in a project that will last three years.

The project involves installing “apartment blocks” for fish, with the aim of attracting native sea creatures like baby blue gropers and seahorses back to the coast. The project will also create retreats for other species. “We hope to see little juvenile fishes inhabiting these structures that probably wouldn’t have otherwise been in this area [because] there is more habitat and more places for them to hide,” says David Booth, lead researcher and UTS Professor of Marine Biology.

The project is being designed by the Melbourne-based Reef Design Lab, a non-profit design studio. A total of nine one-meter-long (39-inch-long) hexagonal-shaped modules made of fibreglass and concrete will be placed around Bennelong Point. They will play the role of the original habitats of local sea life, like rocky reef edges and mangroves, which existed in the harbor before it was overtaken by construction.

Florida

Florida, U.S.A, has grown from around 18 million  people to over 20 million in the past decade. This rapid urban growth has led to the depletion of fisheries and the degradation of the natural habitats of fish along the coast. A program led by Florida Sea Grant urged the city to respond with a progressive artificial reef program, deploying up to 100 public artificial reefs each year. Florida Sea Grant has led the evolution of Florida’s artificial reef program for three decades.

But there’s more to Florida’s artificial reef program than just providing for marine life; it also provides locals with over 39,000 jobs, generating $3.1 billion of economic activity, accruing $1.3 billion in income to the local community and producing $250 million in state revenues.

With more than 2,900 artificial public reefs in place in state and federal waters, Florida Sea Grant fisheries’ specialist Bill Lindberg argues that coastal communities working on artificial reef projects need to narrow down their objectives. “Artificial reef projects need to focus on either the economic benefits of recreational anglers and divers, or improving the dynamics of fish populations,” he elaborates. “One has shorter-term benefits, the other longer-term. There may be a trade-off to the coastal community.”

In 2005, Lindberg led the development of the Steinhatchee Fisheries Management Area, deployed in the Big Bend region to aid maturing gag groupers grow for better reproduction as well as provide a safe haven for young fish as they journey from the sheltered nursery of inshore waters to known spawning grounds offshore. Today, 500 artificial reef patches are strategically situated across the Big Bend’s relatively flat, featureless inner shelf.

Chicago

Contrary to other cities, Chicago saw its population shrink from 2.8 million in 2006 to 2.7 million in 2016. However the eastern suburbs of the city witnessed a gradual growth in population density due to the moving of factories, which led workers to move with them as housing prices spiraled. This is when Chicago’s marine life began to suffer.

Urban Rivers, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization, created a park on the east side of Goose Island in the Chicago River along the banks of Whole Foods’ Lincoln Park store. As of June 2017, the park measured 139 square meters (1,500 square feet), and Urban Rivers is now fundraising to develop an additional 2,322 square meters (25,000 square feet), which is scheduled to be installed in 2018, building towards their larger 2020 goal of a mile-long park. The park will primarily consist of floating gardens, which will serve as habitat for wildlife and an urban agriculture test site. It will also be used for recreational purposes, with the aim of allowing all species – humans and animals alike – to enjoy it.

Urban Rivers collaborated with their suppliers, Biomatrix Water, to build the floating gardens with fully cross-braced structure, ultraviolet resistant thermo-fused tough floats, marine-grade engineering to withstand all weather conditions, concrete anchors secured using weighted guide rail, locking stainless steel quick connect system, making it easy to add additional gardens. Fish like the bluegill, largemouth bass, common carp, tadpole, madtoms, and spotting shiners have found homes in these floating garden structures. Reptiles and amphibians like the painted and snapping turtles, American tide and bullfrogs have also become neighbors to the fish swimming around the garden structures. Birds, insects and other mammals have also benefited from these manmade habitats.

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