Utilising the boundary layer to help restore the connectivity of fish habitats and populations

Date: 27, Mar, 2019
Author(s):   Jabin R. Watson, Harriet R. Goodrich, Rebecca L. Cramp, Matthew A. Gordos, Craig E. Franklin
Publisher: Ecological Engineering

Culverts are a major cause of habitat fragmentation in freshwater ecosystems, are a barrier to fish movement, and can be regarded as a significant contributor in the decline of freshwater fish populations globally. To try to address this, various culvert remediation designs have been implemented, including the installation of vertical baffles and the provision of naturalistic (rock) substrates. While remediation strategies generally aim to reduce the velocity of water flowing through the structure, there is often resistance to their use because the resultant reduction in culvert discharge can negatively impact upstream flooding while also resulting in debris clogging and increased culvert maintenance costs. In addition, baffles markedly increase water turbulence that may be detrimental to passage by some fish species or size classes. Here we present some novel remediation designs that exploit the reduced water velocity in boundary layers along the culvert wall to enhance fish passage without significantly compromising discharge capacity. These longitudinal designs produce an expanded reduced velocity zone along the culvert margins that generate minimal turbulence. We show that these novel designs are significantly advantageous to the swimming endurance and traversability for six small-bodied Australian fish species. We also provide data on how and why some culvert baffle designs may impede small-bodied fish passage. This data scales with increasing water velocity, encompassing inter-specific differences in swimming capacity. These results have broad implications for the movement of small-bodied fish species, and the successful recruitment of large-bodied commercially important species, where baffles have been implemented.