Artificial Reef Program in Gulf Repurpose Structures and Helps Wildlife

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The water in the Gulf of Mexico gets too cool in the winter and is too murky to facilitate the development and growth of natural coral reefs. Many aquatic creatures depend on coral reefs for their habitats, survival and as a food source. As a result, Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Coastal Fisheries Division created an artificial reef program in the Gulf of Mexico that utilizes recycled building materials to create artificial reefs. Created in 1990 as a program within the Coastal Fisheries Division, the Artificial Reef Program promotes, develops, maintains, monitors and enhances the artificial reef potential of Texas offshore waters.

Rigs, Bridges and Ships Given a New Purpose

ship reef

Photo: Flickr/FWC Fish and Wildlife

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Artificial Reef Program focuses its efforts on repurposing three types of materials:

  1. Decommissioned drilling rigs in the Rigs-to-Reefs Program.
  2. Highway bridge materials and other sources of concrete and heavy-gauge steel in the Nearshore Reefing Program.
  3. Large marine vessels in the Ships-to-Reefs Program.

All materials must meet federal and state guidelines for environmental safety and be free of contaminants, which keeps the Gulf water and the creatures who live there safe.

Clingy Little Critters

artificial reef program

Photo: FWC Fish and Wildlife

The Gulf of Mexico is teeming with thousands of species of plants and animals that need hard surfaces to cling to in order to complete their life cycles. Since the Gulf of Mexico has relatively few naturally occurring reefs, man-made structures like those maintained by the Texas Artificial Reef Program give invertebrates such as barnacles, corals, sponges, clams, bryozoans and hydroids the hard surfaces they need to thrive. Energy then flows up the food chain, providing biological growth that creates additional habitat and provides sustenance for snapper, grouper, mackerel, shark and other fish species. Since artificial reefs become such hotbeds of wildlife, divers and anglers benefit as well.

Artificial Reefs Enhance Marine Life

Grouper reef
Photo: FWC Fish and Wildlife

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