Fish hotel brings aquatic life to Chicago River

One of Chicago's most unusual hotels is gearing up for a busy summer season.

But it has no beds, bellhops or restaurant.

It's a long rectangle full of plants, and it's designed to provide a nourishing spot in the Chicago River for fish.

The Fish Hotel, an effort to rebuild aquatic wildlife in an urban river, recently opened for its fifth season.

Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River, says the project began because it's hard for fish to live and find food along the concrete- lined walls of the Chicago River.

The hotel, anchored between Dearborn and State streets, looks somewhat like a garden. Beneath the plants are submerged islands made of coconut fiber. They provide fish with food.

“It’s important because there is fish life in an urban environment, but it’s lacking in habitat and natural settings,” says Frisbie.

The Fish Hotel provides the first step in creating an ecosystem. Frisbie says the plants attract other aquatic species, such as crayfish and dragonflies, which then reproduce. Fish can then feast on their larvae.

The habitat has been successful at attracting fish. At times several dozen fish occupy the hotel, says Frisbie.

“We built it in order to demonstrate that this sort of thing is possible,” she says.

The hotel was built by WRD Environmental. Geoff Deigan, a designer with the company, says the goal of the project was to connect people to the environment. He hopes the habitat will be an educational tool and show people the influence they have on the river.

It may seem unimportant to have a lively aquatic life in an urban area. But Deigan points out having an array of critters is vital to everyone on the food chain.

“It’s a cycle of life humans need animals, productive insects and birds just as much as animals.”