'Fish Hotel' Attracts Chicago River Marine Life

Below the Chicago River lies a new hotel... for fish. The protected habitat is aimed at encouraging "desireable" species in a river changed by urban life. Its designer, eco-hydrologist Ted Gray, tells Scott Simon how it works.

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Chicago has quite a few luxury hotels and to be sure occasionally some really scaly creatures stay in them, but some scaly creatures have better excuses than others. Chicago is now opening the nation's first fish hotel in the Chicago River, a place in which green sunfish, bluntnose minnows and black buffalo fish can all rest and nourish themselves. The group Friends of the Chicago River came up with the idea. Ted Gray is the man behind the minnows. He designed the structure near the Michigan Avenue Bridge and joins us from Chicago.

Mr. Gray, thanks for being with us.

Mr. TED GRAY (Designer): Thank you, Mr. Simon. It's a pleasure to be here.

SIMON: And what can a fish hotel do that the Chicago River can't on its own natural self?

Mr. GRAY: The critical purpose of it is to provide much needed fish habitat in the Chicago River which has been pretty severely altered through past history: habitat to feed in, to rest in, to reproduce and spawn in. So as you can imagine, quite a critical element for their life cycle as well.

SIMON: I'm just guessing, Mr. Gray, that there are people who express some skepticism about the idea of a fish hotel.

Mr. GRAY: I suppose. Skepticism and--I guess it depends on the types of goals that we're looking to achieve, but really the two primary goals in this case were to attract some of the desirable fish species in the river and the recent fish surveys have shown some desirable species like pumpkin seed, ormouth(ph). We also have small-mouth bass and large-mouth bass using the river, and we're particularly looking for some of the non-game fish like the orange-spotted sunfish and ninespine stickleback and perhaps sirac bass(ph). The second goal is to promote public interest in the quality of the river.

SIMON: So do you leave dead minnows on their pillows at night?

Mr. GRAY: Oh, I guess we don't have that in the budget, but if we did, we might think about it.

SIMON: Mr. Gray, nice talking to you, sir.

Mr. GRAY: Thank you, Mr. Simon.

SIMON: Ted Gray is an ecohydrologist at Ted Gray & Associates in Chicago.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Looking through the window, you can see a distant steeple, not a sign of people who want people. When the steeple bell says, `Good night, sleep well,' we'll thank the small hotel. We'll creep into our little shell, and we will thank the small hotel together.

SIMON: Twenty-two minutes before the hour.

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