Environmental Review Toolkit
Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

Alaska's Yankee Cove Artificial Reef Project

Yankee Cove Artificial Reefs
Yankee Cove Artificial Reefs.

In April 2006, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) decided to improve the ferry system between Juneau, the state capital, and the cities of Haines and Skagway. The selected alternative for the Juneau Access Improvements Project was a new highway and ferry terminal along the Lynn Canal. The Alaska DOT&PF partnered with other state and Federal agencies to brainstorm how the effort's environmental effects might be addressed. One result of the partnership was the Yankee Cove artificial reef project, which was the first project in southeast Alaska to consider transportation's environmental impacts from an ecosystem perspective.

An initial analysis of possible mitigation sites in the Lynn Canal determined that sites near the new ferry terminal and highway were unsuitable for habitat formation due to high levels of sedimentation at the terminal site and high wave energy at the highway fill sites. However, Yankee Cove, another site in the Lynn Canal, held potential for enhancing the canal's sub-tidal habitat. The cove already contained a flourishing sub-tidal zone consisting of two natural rocky reefs where kelp, fish, and other marine life lived. It also had a flat, sandy bottom ideal for constructing artificial reefs that plants and animals in the surrounding area would later colonize.

Alaska DOT&PF and FHWA recognized that special expertise on aquatic environments was needed to perform the Yankee Cove mitigation. Since neither agency had the requisite technical knowledge available, FHWA and Alaska DOT&PF invited the National Marine Fisheries (NMFS) and the University of Alaska's School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences (SFOS) to develop and carry out the project.

Researchers from NMFS and SFOS designed artificial rocky reefs similar to the natural reefs already in Yankee Cove. The artificial reefs were 30 feet by 100 feet and were constructed from locally sourced quarry rocks, a cheaper and more environmentally sensitive material than concrete. Rocks were carefully selected for size and shape in order to mimic the form of the natural reefs.

After the designs were complete, Alaska DOT&PF and FHWA provided funding and Alaska DOT&PF hired a contractor to construct the reefs. The partner agencies worked together so efficiently that the reefs were conceived and constructed within a year and a half and were finished before the beginning of the highway and ferry terminal construction.

The artificial reefs have been an innovative way to address ecosystem-level improvements, as well as a valuable site of scientific inquiry. SFOS and NMFS continue to conduct long-term monitoring of the reefs to determine whether artificial reefs constructed from natural materials are beneficial to the marine environment. Although the reefs were only completed in December 2007, initial NMFS and SFOS research has been encouraging. A variety of species, including kelp, red algae, anemones, sea stars, hydroids, and fish, have already colonized the reefs.

As Alaska and other states continue to search for new ways to protect marine life, the Yankee Cove artificial reef project serves as a successful example of agencies integrating efforts to create an ecosystem-level mitigation project.

For more information, contact Reuben Yost, Reuben.Yost@Alaska.gov.

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