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Life at an Artificial Reef

Reefed rig structures may be a few miles from shore or almost 100 miles from shore, in waters ranging from 50 to more than 800 feet deep. The most accessible artificial reef sites for divers and fishermen are located 6 to 30 miles from major Gulf ports. What makes these dives so special?

We asked TPWD artificial reef specialist Chris Ledford about the species he finds when his work takes him down to the bottom of oil derricks in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We have seen about 200 species on the rigs,” he reports. “We certainly see plenty of sharks — silky, hammerheads and sandbars are all pretty common. There are a few sites that have resident turtles that are always around.”

Common turtle species include leatherback, Kemp’s ridley, hawksbill, green sea and loggerhead.

Then there’s the “fun” stuff, catching a glimpse of something wonderful.

“We do have a couple of sightings of goldentail moray eels, but they are rare in general,” Ledford says. “Rigs don’t have the nooks and crannies that eels like to hide in, so it isn’t very good habitat for them. The same goes for octopuses.”

Whale sharks and manta rays glide by on rare occasions. Dolphins are usually at or near the surface, so they don’t make it into the surveys much, Ledford says. Giant grouper hang out near the bottom.

Biological monitoring of reef sites is an ever-evolving business for the artificial reef team. Observations made during their dives add to the overall scientific knowledge base of how artificial reefs affect and enhance marine life in the Gulf of Mexico.

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More in our reef series: Deep in the Gulf | Texas Treasure Threatened | Building More Reefs | Swimming with Sharks | Roar of the Lionfish


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