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Battered Battleships, Derelict Derricks Provide New Home for Fish.

Sunken battleships, derelict oil derricks, huge concrete balls are turning the flat expanses of mud and sand in such places as the Gulf of Mexico into enchanting grottos that lure fish, fishermen, tourists and divers.

A number of states on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts--including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia--are actively building artificial reefs that change the seascape and provide welcoming homes for a variety of marine life.

The Artificial Reef Program continues a long history in Texas. The first such creations in the state--made of tires, old cars and construction rubble--were built nearly 50 years ago. But those materials failed to withstand the onslaughts of storms and time. In the mid-1970s, 12 obsolete World War II Liberty ships were sunk at five different sites; these reefs still are thriving, and the recreation and marine life habitats they helped create have been augmented by the 31 oil rig-based reefs.

Recycled offshore oil and gas platforms, which can provide two to three acres each of marine life habitat, now form the core of the Texas Artificial Reef Program. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department manages some 26 artificial reef sites. Companies that are decommissioning oil and gas rigs can opt to leave them standing in the Gulf and donate half their realized savings to the Texas Artificial Reef Fund, which uses the money to fund research, maintenance and creation of other artificial reefs.

"Tourism and sport fishing are a billion dollar a year industry in Texas," notes Representative Patricia Gray. "The rigs to reefs program is very popular, and my constituents would like to see more such habitat development."

A program under way off Barnegat Inlet in New Jersey involves concrete "igloos," three feet high and four feet wide, that are peppered with holes that fish can swim in and around. These are being installed by the Department of Environmental Protection's New Jersey Reef Program. More than 700 balls that will be deposited along the ocean floor will become homes for sea bass, lobster and other marine life. Luring the wildlife to the artificial reefs also will prove lucrative for the state where sport fishermen and divers spend $5.6 million annually to ply their hobbies along the New Jersey reefs.

Even the Department of Corrections has played a role; the reef balls are made by inmates of the Southern State Correctional Facility in Maurice River Township, New Jersey.

In Alabama, seven conservation organizations have united to construct 10 artificial reefs in Mobile and Baldwin counties. The program, called Roads to Reefs, uses recycled concrete blocks and culvert piping to build the underwater structures. Two of the reefs will serve double duty as fish habitats and oyster bed nurseries.
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Publication:State Legislatures
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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