7 Reef Projects to Benefit, Including Accessible Shallow-Water Sites
AUSTIN, Texas — The sand-bottom Gulf of Mexico provides almost no natural reefs for marine life, which is why the Texas Artificial Reef Program was created to provide structures for a thriving ocean ecosystem of aquatic invertebrates and the fish that feed on them. A $1.5 million federal grant will fund creation or enhancement of seven reef sites off the Texas coast in coming years.
Artificial reefs provide a home for species such as barnacles, corals, sponges, clams, bryozoans and hydroids. They function like “an oasis in the desert” for many species that otherwise would not flourish. Artificial reefs form the foundation of food chains that ultimately support popular game fish, and they provide outstanding new opportunities for SCUBA divers and fishermen.
The Rigs-to-Reefs effort is one component of the overall Texas Artificial Reef Program, which is managed by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. For these projects, production platforms or “rigs” are cleaned and toppled, towed to an existing reef site, or left in place and cut down to a depth of 85 feet below the surface to become reefs. Oil and gas companies must remove a decommissioned structure and dispose of it on shore unless it is donated to the Rigs-to-Reefs program. Along with the donated structure, the company donates 50% of their cost savings to the Artificial Reef fund.
Also, at various points along the coast, this innovative conservation initiative has transformed materials from roads, bridges and even obsolete ships into man-made reefs. These projects encompass the Ships-To-Reefs and Near Shore Reefs initiatives, also part of the overall artificial reef program.
The program currently consists of 58 reef sites, composed of materials donated from entities such as the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as from private companies. The sites range in size from 40 acres to more than 160 acres. Nearshore reef sites range from 5 to 9 nautical miles offshore and are designed to provide fishing and diving opportunities for those having smaller boats or who do not wish to travel too far offshore.
The new federal grant of $1.5 million is coming from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program administered by the federal Minerals Management Service, a grant program operated in Texas by the General Land Office. It will fund the construction and improvements on seven reef sites. For four projects, which had already been completed when the grant was awarded, the funds will reimburse the Artificial Reef Program.
The grant will also fund the creation of three new reef construction projects and the improvement of several other pre-existing reef sites. This includes reefing of concrete and 1-ton quarry blocks at new reef sites at Port Arthur (Jefferson County), Matagorda County, and Corpus Christi/Port Aransas (San Patricio/Aransas County).
Additionally, TPWD will extend the reef site permit at SALT reef near Pt. Arthur and the George Vancouver Liberty Ship Reef off Galveston with concrete culverts and quarry block. More than 800 concrete culverts will be reefed at the Port Mansfield reef in Willacy County.
In addition to the grant, several groups such as the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and the Saltwater Fisheries Enhancement Association (SEA) will provide additional funding and assistance in reefing projects. Private groups such as ReefMan, LLC have already deployed smaller individual reefs at the George Vancouver Liberty Ship reef.
The ultimate success of these projects will be judged by the impact of the artificial reefs on fish populations in the Gulf. Research has shown that marine organisms not only are attracted to artificial structures, but many live and reproduce on the structures. This is important for reef fishes, such as red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), a highly prized game and commercial fish in the Gulf. Other marine fish species found at artificial reefs include: gray snapper, vermillion snapper, ling, amberjack, jack crevalle, spadefish, shark, grouper (including Goliath grouper), sheepshead, and mackerel. If the projects are successful, they will serve to create additional habitat for these fish species while providing additional recreational and commercial fishing and diving opportunities in the Gulf off Texas.