Photo of Detroit River Belle Isle and Downtown Detroit River Front

Detroit River AOC - Stony Island Habitat Restoration

Funded by: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Project Budget: Design: $389,692 (Design covered both Stony and Celeron Island) / Construction: $7,575,138

Start Date: Design: August 2013 / Construction: September 2015

End Date: December 2018

Stony Island is part of the "Conservation Crescent" surrounding the lower end of Grosse Ile and is well recognized for its biodiversity. However, decades of erosion have greatly reduced the wetlands surrounding this island. Breakwater structures that once protected the Island's north and south bays are nearly eliminated.

In the summer of 2013, Friends of the Detroit River (FDR) received funding from NOAA to do a feasibility and design project to develop construction plans that would address the loss of wetlands around both Stony and Celeron islands. Since this award, FDR and the Detroit River Public Advisory Council (PAC) have worked with NOAA and project partners to develop design and engineering plans addressing both islands' erosion problems and to improve and protect the islands' habitats. A series of projects were developed to conduct field surveys of existing environmental conditions, explore feasibility of habitat restoration options, develop detailed design and engineering plans to construct appropriate habitat restoration strategies and follow through with implementation at both islands.

Stony Island includes 52 acres of uninhabited land in the lower Detroit River and is owned and managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources from the Pointe Mouillee State Game Area. The Island's north and south bays have the capacity to provide tremendous habitat for local fish stock, including important spawning and nursery waters for muskellunge, northern pike, pumpkinseed sunfish, largemouth bass, yellow perch, channel catfish, and bullhead. Historically, lake sturgeon, lake whitefish, white bass, smallmouth bass, walleye and rainbow smelt populations spawned in areas surrounding the island, and this project aids in this activity's recovery. Mink and various species of turtles reside in the island's complex association of emergent, shrub and palustrine and wetland habitats. The area provides a very productive location for rare and transient waterfowl along with nesting and feeding areas for many species of ducks and wading birds. The isle's wetlands and tree stand between the two bays contain the river's largest Great Blue Heron rookery with over 140 active nests. This restoration project will prevent continued degradation of remaining habitat, allow for recovery of areas that have seen loss, and stimulate expansion of quality habitat.

Project Scope: An initial grant award from NOAA combined early investigations at Stony and Celeron Islands into one project involving intense information gathering and analysis. Environmental Consulting and Technology, Inc. (ECT) was engaged by FDR to assist in the planning, design and engineering process. Information gathering was followed by the development and review of various design alternatives for both islands. Once preferred alternatives were identified and vetted through governmental agencies and the general public, the designs were further developed into preliminary construction documents and submitted for permit to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the US Army Corps of Engineers. With additional funding by NOAA, both projects were independently advanced into construction. Both projects are recognized as major steps in completing habitat re-construction among the islands in the lower Detroit River.

Habitat improvements at Stony Island are designed to protect the north, west and south sides of the island. These include the creation of 3,500 linear feet of continuous rock shoals and 600 LF of shoal islands that support vegetation and habitat, while protecting and promoting development of over 50 acres of backwater - a calm, vegetated water zone suitable for fish spawning and nursery activity. Within the south bay, a series of depressions provide deeper water habitat. Material from the depressed areas was placed along the backside of the shoals, providing shoreline habitat. Approximately 100 new habitat structures of various types now provide homes for fish, turtles, snakes and amphibians. Public access to the restoration site greatly benefits birders, fishermen and hunters using the island and surrounding waters for recreation.

E. C. Korneffel Company was selected through a competitive bidding process to construct the project. Work began in the summer of 2016 and was completed in the spring of 2018. Post construction monitoring will follow throughout the year to document changes in wildlife populations based on the restoration work.

Project Outputs/Outcomes: The project provides ecological outcomes specific to removing fish and wildlife Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs) through 1) re-establishment of spawning and nursery habitat for commercial, sport and forage fish species; 2) revitalization of coastal wetlands and 3) protection of terrestrial resources within the watershed.

A variety of habitat design elements are incorporated to provide multiple niche habitats in support of existing fish and wildlife species. These include:

  • 92 habitat structures for mudpuppies, turtles and fish including rock piles, basking logs and woody debris bundles
  • 50 acres of calm backwater for fish spawning and nursery activity
  • 10 acres of vegetation management including invasive species control
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Stony Island Location Map


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Breakwater structures that once protected sensitive wetland in Stony Island's south bay are nearly eroded away.


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The north bay is protected by a continuous shoal and shoal islands topped with fine stone suitable for tern habitat.


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The south bay is protected by a west and south shoal and hosts a variety of new habitat structures.