Reefs constructed in Lynn Canal

Posted: Friday, December 28, 2007

Two artificial reefs have been completed as part of an experimental project in Lynn Canal through a multi-agency partnership designed to enhance marine habitat.

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The project was initiated by the National Marine Fisheries Service as partial mitigation for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities' proposed Juneau access road up the east side of Lynn Canal. The University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Federal Highway Administration assisted with project logistics.

The artificial reefs - each 30 feet wide by 100 feet long - are made of local stone and lie offshore 18 to 25 feet underwater north of Juneau near Aldersheim Lodge. One of the reefs is located within Yankee Cove, while the other rests just outside the cove's peninsula.

The reefs were completed on Dec. 20 after lengthy planning, research and permitting.

"The actual construction was just a couple of days but the planning and design was several months," said Jon Kurland, assistant regional administrator for habitat conservation for fisheries service.

Trucano Construction was awarded a $141,920 bid contract to construct the reefs. The company placed the rock at the site from a barge.

The site was chosen due to its depth, topography, the proximity to productive natural rocky reefs, accessibility, and low number of green sea urchins that could decimate kelp that researchers expect to grow on the new reef, according to a fisheries service press release.

Kurland said researchers hope the reefs will facilitate the growth of kelp, which assists the spawning of herring.

"What we're trying to achieve with the reefs is to enhance habitat, particularly for the Pacific herring," he said. "The Lynn Canal stock of Pacific herring has been depleting for some time."

The project is separate from the petition to list Lynn Canal Pacific herring as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, Kurland said.

The reefs were built with approximately 30 percent of open space for potential habitat for fish and invertebrates, he said.

"We hope to learn from the potential use of reefs to enhance marine habitat in other areas as well," Kurland said.

Both the fisheries service and UAF will continue to monitor the site extensively over the next year with continued monitoring in the future at a less frequent rate, he said. Daniel Okamoto, a UAF graduate student and diver that did initial research prior to the installation of the reefs, will continue to research and monitor the site.

Roger Wetherell, spokesman for the transportation department, said the state decided to follow through with the commitment to the fisheries service and the partner agencies even though the Juneau access road project is on hold.

"This was a transportation project," he said of funding the reefs. "It has significant relevance to transportation. ... When you have a project of this scope, you're going to have to mitigate for loss."

Much of the funding provided for the project came from the Federal Highway Administration, Wetherell said.

The designs for the contentious project are on hold because of a current lawsuit by Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and further studies of the proposed route up the east side of Lynn Canal.

"The final designs are years off and such designs will have to wait until additional geotechnical studies are completed," Wetherell said.

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