Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


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Building More Reefs

The Gulf of Mexico is teeming with thousands of species of plants and animals. With relatively few naturally occurring reefs, man-made structures from TPWD’s Artificial Reef Program give barnacles, corals, sponges, clams and more the hard surfaces they need to thrive. An important element of the food chain, reefs provide sustenance for snapper, grouper, mackerel, sharks and other fish species. Since artificial reefs become hotbeds of wildlife, divers and anglers benefit as well.

Decommissioned oil rigs make ideal reefs because they are environmentally safe, are constructed of highly durable and stable material and have already supported a thriving reef ecosystem below the waterline for 30 years or longer. Historically, obsolete rigs had to be moved onshore and dismantled, disrupting the complex marine communities they attracted during their service and costing oil companies millions of dollars in disposal costs.

Another way to create reefs is by sinking decommissioned ships, barges and tugboats. The ships-to-reefs program provides readily accessible reef sites of 12 World War II Liberty ships clustered in five groups on the Gulf floor. Three other ships are located at additional reef sites off Texas. Eighteen vessels have been sunk as part of the Texas Artificial Reef Program, the largest being the Texas Clipper.

While reefs created from oil rigs and larger ships are generally located 30 miles or more offshore, the Nearshore Reefing Program creates reefs in closer waters more accessible to fishermen and divers, using discarded materials like concrete culverts, steel piping, bridge materials and more. Private citizens, organizations and corporations pitch in to deploy their own artificial reef materials under the guidance of TPWD.

More than 52,000 anglers and 6,000 divers visit TPWD artificial reef sites on charter boats every year, so it’s not just an environmental benefit for coastal communities, but also an economic boon.

“Artificial reefs are highly important in overall fisheries management strategy and preservation of marine habitat in the Gulf of Mexico,” says Dale Shively, program leader. “As fisheries and habitat in the Gulf have undergone more impacts in recent years — ranging from increased fishing pressure and oil spills to natural impacts like hurricanes — artificial reefs continue to function as oases of life and shelter in the ocean.”


More in our reef series: Deep in the Gulf | Texas Treasure Threatened | Life at an Artificial Reef | Swimming with Sharks | Roar of the Lionfish

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