Seattle’s new seawall built to make life easier for fish

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Seawalls help to protect developed shorelines, but they can also destroy crucial habitat.

One project in Washington state aims to fix that.

Ken Christensen of KCTS’ EarthFix explains.

KEN CHRISTENSEN: The Seattle waterfront is changing right beneath your feet.

JEFF CORDELL, University of Washington: When you walk along Seattle’s sidewalk, you will be walking on glass panels.

KEN CHRISTENSEN: But look deeper, and you will see that the changes aren’t for tourists. They’re for natives.

JEFF CORDELL: Their function is to provide light to help thousands and thousands of little baby salmon.

KEN CHRISTENSEN: It’s one feature of Seattle’s new seawall, a $400 million infrastructure project that’s doubling as a really big science experiment, the biggest of Jeff Cordell’s career.

JEFF CORDELL: Nothing has ever been tried on this scale. You’re walking on foot after foot after foot of new habitat.

KEN CHRISTENSEN: Cordell wants to see if coastal cities can better coexist with fish. For 80 years, Seattle’s seawall was like most, a flat, concrete slab that held back the sea, but destroyed shallow water habitat that many species thrive on.

Every spring, young salmon would migrate from Seattle’s Duwamish River to the ocean, and they’re hard-wired to stay close to shore, which means they run right into this.

In the inky darkness under the pier, life can get confusing for a fish.

JEFF CORDELL: There’s a good example of a shadow line from a pier. And they don’t want to cross the shadow line, so they just mill about here.

KEN CHRISTENSEN: The new seawall is supposed to make life easier, not only by providing a naturally lit corridor for fish to pass through on their…

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