CN Rail is exploring the possibility of using old concrete rail ties to enhance marine life on the B.C. coast, and it’s launching the initiative in Prince Rupert.
To demonstrate the artificial reef pilot project, three of the reefs are on public display at the Lightering Dock.
“It’s a study to see how these reefs are going to interact with the local environment and potentially create more fish habitat and kelp colonization,” said Meagan Leicht, a consultant with Keystone Environmental Ltd., the company working on the project.
Mid-November, when there’s less of a risk of disrupting the fish, 22 of these concrete structures will be lowered into the harbour between Westview Pellet Terminal and Ocean Dock.
The complex reef-like structures will allow fish to hide in the crevices and voids. The larger square reef will be more shallow, and will act as a refuge habitat for juvenile fish.
“There will be satellite reefs around the main reefs so we can see if fish are going to migrate from the big reef to the little reef,” Leicht said.
A gravel blanket will be placed under the main structures to prevent scouring.
Once a year, in the high productivity months of July and August, a team will go diving to conduct a video analysis to see what species are growing, and what types of fish are in the area.
CN Rail’s initiative may also benefit coastal ecology students at Coast Mountain College.
“This will provide some opportunities for local experiential education for students. We’re exploring how students can be involved with the monitoring in species identification,” said Ken Shaw, the coordinator with the applied coastal ecology program at Coast Mountain College.
The concept isn’t entirely new. The Port of Prince Rupert and CN Rail have a series of artificial reefs along Kaien Island as a compensation requirement for industrial development in the area. There are 13 subtidal artificial reefs placed along Kaien Island in connection to the expansion of Fairview Terminal.
There are 40 artificial intertidal reefs in Porpoise Harbour with a five-year survey period. Currently, those reefs are in year four of the monitoring project. These reefs have since created an abundance of sea life and a forest of kelp.
If the CN Rail reef pilot project is as successful, a company spokesperson said this would open up a new avenue for recycling old concrete rail ties, which are used in locations across B.C.