Groups of tires, concrete pipes, boxcars, tugboats and even sunken ships at artificial reef sites transform featureless stretches of sea floor into rich marine ecosystems that support recreationally and commercially significant fish species.
Four artificial reefs off the coast of New Hanover County will undergo enhancement and expansion projects due to a $637,500 North Carolina Coastal Recreational Fishing License grant awarded to the Onslow Bay Artificial Reef Association. A pending source of private funding could also contribute to the project.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Wilmington Regional Office hosted a May 29 public meeting, during which details about the reef additions were discussed.
The Division of Marine Fisheries’ Artificial Reef Program, which oversees 41 ocean reefs and eight estuarine reefs in North Carolina, is working to secure permits for the projects. The process will take between 30-150 days.
“It could be a few months before material actually goes down,” said artificial reef biologist Chris Jensen, adding the reef association’s grant estimates material will be deployed between September 2014 and February 2015.
Once permits are granted, 50 1,200-pound concrete cubes will enhance artificial reef numbers 364, 370, 372 and 378. Additionally, the permitted acreage for Artificial Reefs 370 and 378 will be expanded. A 73-acre site adjacent to Artificial Reef 378, known as 378B, will be formally permitted.
Jensen said additions to the sites will relieve pressure from fishing.
“I’m glad to see money being donated, that there is still some attention going out to these ocean reefs. Anytime you put down more structure or enlarge any existing reef … that’s always going to be better fishing for all hook-and-line fishermen,” said Stephen Taylor, fisheries biologist with DENR’s Wilmington office.
Ocean buoys designate artificial reef sites but Jensen said high maintenance costs and dwindling budget allocations have forced the reef program to seek permission to remove the buoys. Jensen said the program might continue to maintain some buoys.
Jensen said the buoys only mark the general location of a reef site.
“It might be in the middle of a site, but it’s not right over material. It’s usually around the material,” Jensen said.
Without the buoys, fishermen and divers will have to know where reefs are, or locate the sites by GPS coordinates.
Comments on the project can be sent to Jensen by email at
email@example.com or by calling 252-808-8051. The deadline for public comments is June 13.