Artificial reefs make it all real.

Why does the Texas Gulf need artificial reefs?

Four Divers by the Rig

Natural tropical coral reef systems are typically found in shallow, warm water environments where sunlight can penetrate the water.

Texas coastal waters can reach roughly 60°F during the winter months, making it an unlikely habitat for the natural tropical coral reef systems. Additionally, Texas coastal waters are impacted from upwelling and strong currents, creating an environment in which lack of water clarity would hinder coral reef growth. Texas is not the only Gulf of Mexico state with barren substrate, as Louisiana is also impacted by the freshwater flows of the Mississippi River. This inflow of sediment from freshwater inputs not only impacts water clarity but also adds to the sandy-silty sea floor.

The combination of colder temperatures, freshwater inflows, and barren substrate creates a situation in which coral reefs do not typically survive..

The Good News About Reefs

Artificial reefs provide complex, durable and stable homes for many fishes and marine invertebrates. More than 50 nations use artificial reefs to enhance ecosystem conservation and fishery production. Scientists use artificial reefs as platforms for rigorous ecological experimentation. Fishery managers sometimes use artificial reefs to help buffer the effects of overfishing and environmental damage. From an economic standpoint, artificial reefs attract anglers and divers and provide a significant fiscal boost to local economies.

In Texas, the Artificial Reef Program has a primary mission to enhance and create marine habitat in the Gulf of Mexico. Obsolete petroleum platforms and ships, concrete bridge material, predesigned concrete reefs such as reef balls and pyramids, concrete culverts, natural quarry rock and other materials are the simple building blocks that create these complex and vital habitats.

Jellyfish

Creating habitat. Since naturally hard sea floor, also known as substrate, is generally lacking in the Gulf, any reef materials we place on the bottom or preserve in place, will soon be covered with abundant marine life. In the case of petroleum platforms, many of those structures have been in the Gulf for 30 years or longer and have already developed a complex marine reef system. It is important that habitat be maintained where possible and enhanced through the reefing of additional materials so that marine life will continue to have areas where it can congregate, live and reproduce.

Repairing marine damage. The importance of artificial reefs is apparent when environmental events such as the Deep Water Horizon oil spill and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita occur. These events caused much habitat damage and destruction. Artificial reefs help to mitigate that damage by providing additional habitat for marine life. They also help marine life populations rebound from overfishing, as with red snapper, one of the most popular game fishes in the Gulf.

Boosting local economies. Artificial reefs have social value in addition to their biological importance. Fishermen and divers frequent many of the artificial reefs of Texas and in some cases, such as the Texas Clipper reef, can generate millions of dollars for the local community through tourism, attracting business for hotels, restaurants, dive and fishing charters, rental car agencies and so on.

How do we know a reef is doing its job?

Diver watches a whale shark.

After creating a reef, the Texas Artificial Reef Program monitors the physical and biological status of each reef site. We ask ourselves many questions, and monitoring helps us learn the answers:

Short-term, onsite observations:

  • Is the reef material stable and staying on the reef site?
  • If material is moving, will it cause an environmental or navigational hazard?
  • Is the material complex enough to provide shelter for marine life?
  • Is marine life growing on the reef, and is it increasing in population size and diversity?

Long-term biological trends:

  • Are some reef sites more successful than others in providing the best environment for marine life?
  • Is there a significant difference in the locations and types of materials used to create reef sites?
  • Do some marine animal life stages benefit from artificial reefs versus living in an open environment?
  • Do some juvenile fish species gain an advantage by living on different types of reefs during different stages of life?
  • Do anglers and divers benefit from artificial reef creation, and if so, how?
  • What is the economic impact of artificial reefs on local communities?
  • What are the best designs for an artificial reef for certain objectives such as increasing red snapper populations, providing the best fishing opportunities or providing a magnificent dive attraction?
  • When do we know a reef system has reached its optimum biological carrying capacity?
  • When do we stop placing reef material at a site and under what circumstances?
  • What is success and how do we measure it?

These questions are simple, but the answers can be complex. Scientists are gaining ground in understanding how artificial reefs function, how best to study them, their benefits and drawbacks and how best to use them in overall fishery management plans. The Texas Artificial Reef Program conducts much of this research in conjunction with local universities and other agencies. Working with its partners, the Texas Artificial Reef Program is taking a lead in the development of reefs in the Gulf and funding research that will aid the national reefing community in protecting and conserving marine resources.

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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