Gulf Communities are Creating Fish Reefs from Sunken Ships
Creating Fish Reefs by Debbie Kay
This August, a vessel will sink off San Padre Island in Texas, and everyone is excited about it. The program has been created to make a large artificial reef, which will draw important reef fish like red snapper into the area. The company doing the work, RGV Reef, is intending to bring business to both commercial and sport fishermen and the many tourist community businesses that rely on them.
A History of Sunken Reefs
Humans have been building underwater structures for different reasons for thousands of years. Ancient Persians and Romans both used underwater reefs to stop pirates and naval raiding ships from entering bays. The Japanese began creating them as structures to change water currents, grow seaweed and attract fish. Americans have been creating reefs with logs since the 1830’s for reasons from increasing fish habitat along the barrier islands in South Carolina to creating a surfing reef for a public beach in California. More recently, there has been a switch in reef materials from wood to items destined for landfills or scrapyards like old cars, refrigerators and boats.
How Artificial Reefs Attract Fish
As an ocean current hits a vertical structure, it causes a direction change that creates a plankton upwelling. This creates food for small feeder fish, which then attracts larger fish. Over time, algae, tunicates, sponges and other creatures begin to grow on the reef, which bring in even more small fish who can hide in the structures. Popular fish like red snapper are drawn to underwater structures because of this. They find flat, mud-bottomed stretches of sea floor to be devoid of the things that they need most.
The Texas Project
RGV Reef plans to sink the ship 13 miles out past San Padre Island in Texas, to serve as a barrier island. This is believed to help coax the scattered fish population closer to a major tourist center, and make it easier for fishermen to find the hot spots nearby. The project is modeled after a similar sunken ship in Alabama, which went from a flat bottom to a major commercial and recreational fish industry using only artificial reefs. Alabama has brought in an estimated $60 million in tourist and commercial fishing revenue as a result of their underwater structures. The gulf town of Port Isabel, whose economy centers on catering to sport fishermen is praying that this project will see similar success.
The Future of Reefs
Reefs are not applicable everywhere. You need to have the right currents and location, as redirected water can also be quite destructive if you choose the wrong locale. However, in many situations creating fish reefs can be an excellent way to reuse scrap materials in a positive way and rebuild structures for suffering reef communities. RGV is seeking donations for its next reef project, and if the success of this structure, due to be created on August 15, 2016, is as great as predicted, then it may be an enormous boon for many other struggling Gulf Coast fishing locales.