For more than thirty years, the Texas Artificial Reef program has generally run silent and deep - deep in its positive impact on marine ecosystems, recreational fishing and diving and coastal economies, silent because it's probably largely unknown to most people. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department scientists hope that will change soon with a major website overhaul and new Facebook page.
Since it started in 1990, the Texas Artificial Reef Program has become one of the largest such efforts in the nation, with 68 reef sites in the Gulf of Mexico ranging from 40-to-360 acres in size.
The new web pages feature an animation showing how an oil or gas production rig can be turned into an artificial reef. Also new online are a marine species identification page, the latest program news and an interactive map to reef locations. Looking for red snappert Try the interactive map for some possible offshore hot spots. Got a military vessel or a few hundred tons of concrete you want to donaten The new site tells you how to get started.
Artificial reefs personify recycling Texas-style. The program focuses on three types of materials: decommissioned drilling rigs in the Rigs-to-Reefs Program, highway bridge materials and other types of concrete and heavy-gauge steel in the Nearshore Reefing Program, and large marine vessels in the Ships-to-Reefs Program. In waters ranging from 50 to over 300 feet deep, petroleum production platforms (jackets), scrapped concrete culverts, barges and a variety of decommissioned water craft (including, famously, the Texas Clipper) become undersea oases for a wide range of marine species.
The Gulf of Mexico teems with thousands of plant and animal species that need hard surfaces to cling to for part of their life cycles. Yet the Gulf floor is mostly flat mud, with almost no naturally occurring reefs. Man-made structures like artificial reefs give invertebrates like barnacles, corals, and sponges the hard surfaces they need to thrive. Energy then flows up the food chain, supporting snapper, grouper, mackerel, shark and other fish species.
But it's not just the fish that benefit. Seven artificial reef sites within nine nautical miles of shore offer nearshore fishing and SCUBA diving opportunities, with more nearshore reefs on the way. The most accessible sites are six to 30 miles from major Gulf ports.
The Texas Artificial Reef program is funded through donations from private and corporate partnerships and government grants, not from general tax revenue. Corporate partners in the Rigs-to-Reefs Program donate their post-production rigs, thereby saving substantial costs of moving and dismantling obsolete rigs onshore. The amount of money a company saves varies. Sometimes a company reefs a rig at no savings to itself, while other companies may save upwards of $700,000. Participating companies invest in healthy marine ecology by contributing 50 percent of their cost savings to the artificial reef program. In turn, these dedicated funds go to construct more underwater habitat that supports the commercial fishing industry, diving and sport-fishing tourism and the overall health of the Gulf.
Find the program on Facebook to see videos and updates from Dr. Brooke Shipley-Lozano, Texas artificial reefs chief scientist. See the new Office in the Ocean video profiling the work lives of artificial reef scientists on the TPWD YouTube Channel, or watch for it on the Texas Parks and Wildlife TV series airing on all Texas PBS stations at varying times the week of Feb. 24-March 2. See the TV show web page for stations and airtimes.