Artificial Reefs of the Gulf of Mexico: A Review of Gulf State Programs & Key Considerations

New National Wildlife Federation white paper encourages decision-makers to take environmental considerations into account when developing new artificial reefs.

11-08-2013 // Ryan Fikes

ArtificialReef_UnivofFLOver the past few decades the five Gulf States have built artificial reefs both inshore and offshore with the aim of enhancing recreational fishing and diving opportunities. State and local governments on the Gulf Coast have expressed interest in creating additional artificial reefs with some of the money from the federal penalties resulting from the BP oil disaster.

This white paper, Artificial Reefs of the Gulf of Mexico: A Review of Gulf State Programs & Key Considerations, encourages decision-makers to take environmental considerations into account when developing new artificial reefs. The paper provides a review of existing programs and offers key recommendations as governments consider creating additional artificial reefs.

Artificial reefs are materials placed on the sea floor to attract fish or otherwise influence physical or biological processes related to living marine resources. Artificial reefs attract certain species of fish and therefore have high recreational value for both fishing and diving activities.

The Northern Gulf of Mexico has somewhat limited natural reefs; these habitats include rock banks, oyster reefs, and coral reefs. Oyster reefs are a particularly valuable type of natural reef habitat that provide food and habitat for many different species of fish, birds, and other wildlife. Unfortunately, over half of the historic oyster reefs in the estuaries of the Gulf Coast have been lost. Decision-makers should prioritize replacing lost natural habitats such as oyster reefs when considering construction of new reef structures.  

The paper provides considerations for maximizing the potential habitat value of any new artificial reefs. More research is needed in order to effectively compare the functionality of artificial reefs and their impacts on fish and wildlife to their natural counterparts.

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