Artificial reefs make it all real.

Tugboat prepares to guide a barge loaded with concrete power poles from Central Power and Light towards a reef site.

It’s hard to image a pile of scrapped concrete culverts becoming an undersea oasis. But with the assistance of Texas Parks and Wildlife, properly permitted materials can become the foundation for nearshore artificial reefs, creating more accessible habitats and bringing marine life closer to anglers and divers.

Why a Public Partnership?

Artificial reefs support marine life that develops into complex undersea communities. Materials that can be used in the construction of artificial reef units must be chosen with safety to the marine environment, durability and stability in mind. The Public Reefing Program is designed to allow private citizens, organizations and corporations to deploy their own artificial reef materials under the guidance of TPWD.

Increasing Accessibility and Income

While reefs created from oil rigs and larger ships are generally located 30 miles or more offshore, the Public Reefing Program creates reefs in closer waters more accessible to fishermen and divers.

Reefing material needs to meet certain criteria. It should be:

  • Stable (does not move, which means it should be at least one ton in weight).
  • Durable (will last a number of years, such as steel or concrete).
  • Complex (have a lot of spaces or openings for marine life to hide in).
Pre-designed reefs.

Suitable materials can include concrete culverts 36” in diameter and larger, large-sized steel piping, bridge material such as jersey barriers or columns/spans or one-ton quarry rock. All materials are evaluated to ensure they meet the criteria for reefing purposes as described in Guidelines for Marine Artificial Reef Materials (PDF, 50 KB).

Nearshore reefs increase the economic potential of coastal communities, bringing tourism dollars from visitors interested in sport fishing and diving and supporting the new and expanded businesses that serve them. Since these reefs are closer to major ports, charter operations benefit from fuel cost savings and increased business.

Anglers generally contribute more than $1,000,000 to a local economy per year, and divers will contribute twice that in coastal communities with an attraction such as the Clipper ship reef.

Research shows anglers enjoy fishing trips more if they stay closer to the coast. We estimate that more than 52,000 anglers and 6,000 divers visit TPWD artificial reef sites on charter boats every year. With an estimated 900,000 saltwater anglers and 250,000 divers in Texas, demand remains high for fishing and diving opportunities at these reef sites.

The Gulf accounts for 80% of all shrimp harvested,
62% of all oysters harvested and more than
1.4 billion pounds
of annual seafood production.

More than 140 petroleum platforms—with more on the way—have found new purpose as marine habitat in the Texas Artificial Reef Program.

Texas boasts 66 artificial reef sites ranging from 5 to 100 miles from shore in the Gulf of Mexico—that’s 3,440 acres of prime fishing and diving adventure.

Seven reef sites within nine nautical miles of shore serve as accessible nearshore fishing and diving opportunities.

Red snapper, the most popular game fish in Texas Gulf waters, thrive around artificial reef sites. Scientific divers see red snapper at TPWD artificial reef sites during four of every ten visits to these locations.

With a few exceptions, the floor of the Gulf of Mexico is flat and bare except for artificial reef sites. Nearly 200 marine fish species have been seen on these complex, stable, and durable habitats among artificial reef structures.

Sixteen of 23 U.S. coastal states (or 70 percent) maintain artificial reef programs.

The Texas Clipper ship reef off South Padre Island generates more than $1 million for the local economy from anglers and $1.4–$2 million from divers. Anglers spend on average $460 per fishing trip, while divers spend upwards of $2,000 per dive.

Thirteen ships have been intentionally sunk as part of the Texas Artificial Reef Program, the largest being the USTS Texas Clipper. She’s 473 feet long—that’s 1.5 times the length of a football field.

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